How to Read the Qur'an

How to Read the Qur'an: A New Guide, with Select Translations

Carl W. Ernst
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    How to Read the Qur'an
    Book Description:

    How to Read the Qur'anoffers a compact introduction and reader's guide for anyone, non-Muslim or Muslim, who wants to know how to approach, read, and understand the text of the Qur'an.Using a chronological reading of the text according to the conclusions of modern scholarship, Carl Ernst offers a nontheological approach that treats the Qur'an as a historical text that unfolded over time, in dialogue with its audience, during the career of the Prophet Muhammad. Ernst explores the history of the text and its development in the Meccan and Medinan periods; the Qur'an's important structural features, including symmetrical or ring composition; recent revisionist challenges to its textual integrity; and intertextual references in the Qur'an that relate to earlier works, such as the Bible. Featuring Ernst's illuminating new translations of 725 Qur'anic verses, close studies of numerous key passages, and appendices with tools to help readers work their way through the entire text,How to Read the Qur'annot only summarizes historical and literary issues but also engages with the religious and political context of understanding the Qur'an today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0244-8
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction The Problem of Reading the Qurɔan
    (pp. 1-19)

    The genesis of this book comes from a simple question: how should non-Muslims read the Qur’an? On one level, this would seem to be a relatively straightforward issue. The Qur’an is a sacred text, comparable to the Bible and the scriptures of other religious traditions, which are often read and studied in academic and literary contexts. From that point of view, the questions might seem to be primarily technical—how is the text organized, what are its primary features, and what is its audience and principal interpretive traditions? Surely the Qurɔan should be approached like any other text.

    But with...

  5. 1 The History and Form of the Qur’an and the Practices of Reading
    (pp. 20-75)

    The Qur’an is most frequently approached as a religious text that makes authoritative claims, which are to be either rejected or accepted. Certainly there are religious contexts where such an approach makes sense, whether it be in Muslim circles where reinforcement of Islamic religious teachings is the aim or in non-Muslim religious groups where the message of the Qur’an is fiercely opposed. Yet there are other ways of approaching the Qur’an as a literary text embodied in concrete historical situations; it is the argument of this book that situating the Qur’an in history with literary analysis is the most appropriate...

  6. 2 Early Meccan Suras
    (pp. 76-104)

    Our literary investigation of the early Meccan suras begins with an overview of the structural composition and principal themes of these texts. This includes close analysis of several suras that are translated in full and broken down into their components or building blocks. Then follows a critical survey of a particularly important literary form that is prominent from the first stage of the Qur’an’s unfoldment: apocalyptic or end-times scenarios. It will then be possible to consider the question of later additions to the early Meccan suras, with a detailed focus on sura 53, “The Star,” in relation to the notorious...

  7. 3 Middle and Later Meccan Suras
    (pp. 105-154)

    The forty-eight suras of the early Meccan period are followed by the twenty-one suras of the middle Meccan period and the twenty-one additional suras of the late Meccan period. What is the stylistic or literary basis for distinguishing these groups? To be sure, there are overlaps and continuities, but certain trends unmistakably appear. Comparison strongly suggests a shift away from short and powerful oath formulations of the early Meccan suras to lengthier affirmations of revelation.¹ The terse and distinctively memorable rhyming structures of the early suras yield to the simplified and repetitive use of formulas with plural nouns and verbs...

  8. 4 Medinan Suras
    (pp. 155-204)

    It is widely acknowledged that the Medinan suras present much greater difficulties for the interpreter than the Meccan suras, in good part because a number of them are quite long, making the determination of their structure a more difficult task. In addition, they demonstrate a range of different styles in terms of their openings and the identity of the audience. This has led a number of scholars to argue that there is a lack of coherence in the Medinan suras in comparison with the much tighter structure observed in the Meccan suras.¹ Indeed, it would be fair to say that...

  9. Conclusion Toward a Literary Reading of the Qurɔan
    (pp. 205-212)

    This book began by raising the question of how non-Muslims should read the Qur’an, followed by an account of the obstacles that make it difficult for non-Muslims to read the Qur’an at all. Most of these impediments arise from a nearly complete lack of acquaintance with the text itself, except via media-inflated claims of the contemporary relation between religion and violence. There are other cultural barriers, such as the notion that one can evaluate religious beliefs by a quick look at a text that is assumed to have only one simple meaning, or the idea that everything that people do...

  10. Appendix A Reading the Structure of the Meccan Suras
    (pp. 213-222)
  11. Appendix B Ring Structure in Sura 2 and Sura 5
    (pp. 223-228)
  12. Appendix C Suggested Interpretive Exercises
    (pp. 229-234)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 235-256)
  14. Suggested Reading
    (pp. 257-258)
  15. Index of Scriptural Citations
    (pp. 259-264)
  16. General Index
    (pp. 265-273)