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The Qur'an: A Biography

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Few books in history have been as important or as poorly understood as the Qur'an. Sent down in a series of revelations to the Prophet Muhammad, the Qur'an is the unmediated word of Allah: a ritual, political, and legal authority, an ethical and spiritual guide, and a literary masterpiece. It is revered by Muslims throughout the world, in whom it inspires devotion, passion Few books in history have been as important or as poorly understood as the Qur'an. Sent down in a series of revelations to the Prophet Muhammad, the Qur'an is the unmediated word of Allah: a ritual, political, and legal authority, an ethical and spiritual guide, and a literary masterpiece. It is revered by Muslims throughout the world, in whom it inspires devotion, passion, fear, and sometimes incomprehension. In this book, one of the launch titles in the Atlantic Monthly Press's Books That Changed the World series, distinguished historian of religion Bruce Lawrence shows precisely how the Qur'an is Islam. He describes the origins of the faith and assesses its tremendous influence on today's societies and politics. Above all, Lawrence emphasizes that the Qur'an is a sacred book of signs that has no single message. It is a book that demands interpretation and one that can be properly understood only through its history. Lawrence's work is a beautifully written and, in these increasingly troubled times, invaluable introduction to and exploration of the core sacred text of Islam.


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Few books in history have been as important or as poorly understood as the Qur'an. Sent down in a series of revelations to the Prophet Muhammad, the Qur'an is the unmediated word of Allah: a ritual, political, and legal authority, an ethical and spiritual guide, and a literary masterpiece. It is revered by Muslims throughout the world, in whom it inspires devotion, passion Few books in history have been as important or as poorly understood as the Qur'an. Sent down in a series of revelations to the Prophet Muhammad, the Qur'an is the unmediated word of Allah: a ritual, political, and legal authority, an ethical and spiritual guide, and a literary masterpiece. It is revered by Muslims throughout the world, in whom it inspires devotion, passion, fear, and sometimes incomprehension. In this book, one of the launch titles in the Atlantic Monthly Press's Books That Changed the World series, distinguished historian of religion Bruce Lawrence shows precisely how the Qur'an is Islam. He describes the origins of the faith and assesses its tremendous influence on today's societies and politics. Above all, Lawrence emphasizes that the Qur'an is a sacred book of signs that has no single message. It is a book that demands interpretation and one that can be properly understood only through its history. Lawrence's work is a beautifully written and, in these increasingly troubled times, invaluable introduction to and exploration of the core sacred text of Islam.

30 review for The Qur'an: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    I read this book to give myself some background in the history of the Koran (Qur’an) before reading it. I would never read the Koran (Qur’an) on my own, but a book discussion group I belong to selected it for reading. This book, (The Qur'an: A Biography) kept using terms and expressions that were unfamiliar to me. I was expecting a biography to explain things better and not create needless additional questions. To start off: - Who came up with the spelling of Qur’an? I thought the correct spellin I read this book to give myself some background in the history of the Koran (Qur’an) before reading it. I would never read the Koran (Qur’an) on my own, but a book discussion group I belong to selected it for reading. This book, (The Qur'an: A Biography) kept using terms and expressions that were unfamiliar to me. I was expecting a biography to explain things better and not create needless additional questions. To start off: - Who came up with the spelling of Qur’an? I thought the correct spelling was Koran, which is phonetically correct for the way it is pronounced on the audio recordings of the book. I suspect that maybe Qur’an is closer to the way it may be pronounced in Arabic. It seems to me that the English Language has enough unphonetic spellings. Why add one more? Another thing: – The book kept using the term, “A Book of Signs.” Is that a term translated from Arabic? It is not a term I’m familiar with. I thought for a while that it was an alternative way of referring to the Koran (Qur’an). But it may be an expression that can be applied to other books such as the books of Moses and the Christian Gospels. This book offers no explanation. Below are two quotations from the books showing how the expression is used. First Excerpt: Whether one hears or reads it, in Arabic or some other language, it is A Book of Signs because each of its many verses, like delicate filigree, is more than words: the Arabic word for the smallest unit of Qur'anic text means "verse", but "verse" also means "sign" or "miracle". As tangible signs, Qur'anic verses are expressive of an inexhaustible truth. They signify meaning layered within meaning, light upon light, miracle after miracle. Second Excerpt: However, not all Christians or Jews accepted the Qur'an as true or Muhammad as God's Prophet. Among the doubters was Robert of Ketton, a Christian monk, who first translated the Qur'an into Latin. His role as a hostile but engaged student of A Book of Signs deserves mention along with the parallel role of major Muslim interpreters who elaborated Qur'anic themes in new and imaginative directions. (end of quotations) Another Question I have: -- The book says that in 934 CE the seven different ways of reciting were fixed. Does this mean different text versions? Or does it mean different styles? Different languages? How are they different? This deserves further explanation. If this is referring to seven different texts, that’s a big deal for a canonical scripture. When I pick up an English translation, which of these seven versions am I getting? One thing I found interesting was that the Prophet’s sayings were not immediately recorded in written form. I had previously thought that he had dictated directly to a scribe. The timeline is as follows. The sayings came to the Prophet Muhammad via a divine mediary (the Archangel Gabriel) between 610 and 632 CE. Different people close to the Prophet Muhammad heard these revelations as he uttered them. They remembered the words and repeated them orally. After the death of the Prophet Muhammad, 'Ali, his close relative and supporter, worked with others to compile them into a written text. Then 20 years later all extant versions were arranged into one "standard" version. This version persists substantially unchanged to the present day. As mentioned earlier, in 934 CE there is an indication of “seven different ways of reciting.” So there must have been some remaining variation in the texts. The author’s words sound very respectful of the Koran (Qur’an). The following are some excerpts that show this respect: …. it is an oral book that sounds better spoken than read silently ….. To hear the Qur'an recited is for Muslims unlike anything else. It is to experience the power of divine revelation as a shattering voice from the Unseen. It moves, it glides, it soars, it sings. It is in this world, yet not of it. The Qur'an is a multilayered Arabic text. Even those who hear it understand it in numerous, sometimes divergent ways, and those who cannot hear it in Arabic grasp no more than a fraction of its intended message.

  2. 4 out of 5

    David Harris

    If you're looking for a summary of or guide to the Qur'an, this book probably isn't it. This concept of a biography of a book is not unique to this particular book, but it is somewhat new. It's been effectively applied to several historic books but perhaps nowhere more successfully than here. The Quran: a Biography, by Bruce Lawrence, is part of a series called Books That Shook the World which is being published currently by the Atlantic Monthly. The Book of Mormon: A Biography, on the other hand If you're looking for a summary of or guide to the Qur'an, this book probably isn't it. This concept of a biography of a book is not unique to this particular book, but it is somewhat new. It's been effectively applied to several historic books but perhaps nowhere more successfully than here. The Quran: a Biography, by Bruce Lawrence, is part of a series called Books That Shook the World which is being published currently by the Atlantic Monthly. The Book of Mormon: A Biography, on the other hand, is a part of Princeton University's Lives of Great Religious Books series. But I understand that Bruce Lawrence will be adding a title about the Quran to this series, as well. It will be interesting to see how it differs from his Books That Shook the World volume. I read the Qur'an biography right around the same time I read the Book of Mormon biography, and I have to say that the former is a much better book (but probably mostly just because the Book of Mormon hasn't had enough exposure to the world yet to match up to what Lawrence has covered here in terms of content). Both books are written on a similar model, that of tracking the influence of a specific book across history, noting both how the book changes influential people across the ages and also how the attention those same people give the book changes perceptions of the book and its role in various cultures through time. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on the Dome of the Rock and the Taj Mahal. I will definitely take a copy of this book along with me the next time I visit either of these monuments, particularly the latter one. It would serve as an excellent guide to the inscriptions on these buildings. Also interesting were the chapters about a couple of early Sunni and Shi'ite religious authorities who read the Quran and were molded by it but who also influenced future readers with their own unique assumptions and commentaries about the contents of it. Ja`afar As-Sadiq established the Shi`ite school of law known by his name (Ja`afar) while, in Sunni Islam, four major schools of law developed over time. The chapter on Robert of Ketton, the first person to translate the Quran into a Western language, i.e. Latin, provided fascinating insights into the mindset of Europeans and Christians in general during the 12th century. Among others, the book also covers a 19th century Pakistani poet and an Indian educator from the 1930s along with three personalities from the current era, including Osama Bin Laden, to me the least interesting chapter in the book. I don't think I really did the book justice with my first reading, so I'll plan at some future date to re-visit it so that I can focus on the chapters I only had time to quickly gloss over this time. This really is a spectacular work of scholarship, but one that's accessible to the layman. As such, I hope it won an award of some kind when it came out in 2006... Or several.

  3. 5 out of 5

    David Harris

    If you're looking for a summary of or guide to the Qur'an, this book probably isn't it. This concept of a biography of a book is not unique to this particular book, but it is somewhat new. It's been effectively applied to several historic books but perhaps nowhere more successfully than here. The Quran: a Biography, by Bruce Lawrence, is part of a series called Books That Shook the World which is being published currently by the Atlantic Monthly. The Book of Mormon: A Biography, on the other hand If you're looking for a summary of or guide to the Qur'an, this book probably isn't it. This concept of a biography of a book is not unique to this particular book, but it is somewhat new. It's been effectively applied to several historic books but perhaps nowhere more successfully than here. The Quran: a Biography, by Bruce Lawrence, is part of a series called Books That Shook the World which is being published currently by the Atlantic Monthly. The Book of Mormon: A Biography, on the other hand, is a part of Princeton University's Lives of Great Religious Books series. But I understand that Bruce Lawrence will be adding a title about the Quran to this series, as well. It will be interesting to see how it differs from his Books That Shook the World volume. I read the Qur'an biography right around the same time I read the Book of Mormon biography, and I have to say that the former is a much better book (but probably mostly just because the Book of Mormon hasn't had enough exposure to the world yet to match up to what Lawrence has covered here in terms of content). Both books are written on a similar model, that of tracking the influence of a specific book across history, noting both how the book changes influential people across the ages and also how the attention those same people give the book changes perceptions of the book and its role in various cultures through time. I particularly enjoyed the chapters on the Dome of the Rock and the Taj Mahal. I will definitely take a copy of this book along with me the next time I visit either of these monuments, particularly the latter one. It would serve as an excellent guide to the inscriptions on these buildings. Also interesting were the chapters about a couple of early Sunni and Shi'ite religious authorities who read the Quran and were molded by it but who also influenced future readers with their own unique assumptions and commentaries about the contents of it. Ja`afar As-Sadiq established the Shi`ite school of law known by his name (Ja`afar) while, in Sunni Islam, four major schools of law developed over time. The chapter on Robert of Ketton, the first person to translate the Quran into a Western language, i.e. Latin, provided fascinating insights into the mindset of Europeans and Christians in general during the 12th century. Among others, the book also covers a 19th century Pakistani poet and an Indian educator from the 1930s along with three personalities from the current era, including Osama Bin Laden, to me the least interesting chapter in the book. I don't think I really did the book justice with my first reading, so I'll plan at some future date to re-visit it so that I can focus on the chapters I only had time to quickly gloss over this time. This really is a spectacular work of scholarship, but one that's accessible to the layman. As such, I hope it won an award of some kind when it came out in 2006... Or several.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ushan

    Over the past few years, I have read about a dozen popular books on the Hebrew Bible. All or almost all of the authors are Jews; one is a convert to Judaism; yet they are not fundamentalists. In their books, they explain why scholars now think that the first five books of the Hebrew Bible were written not by a single person at once, but by different people over centuries in different dialects of Hebrew; that the story of the Exodus is wildly anachronistic, and is supported by absolutely no arche Over the past few years, I have read about a dozen popular books on the Hebrew Bible. All or almost all of the authors are Jews; one is a convert to Judaism; yet they are not fundamentalists. In their books, they explain why scholars now think that the first five books of the Hebrew Bible were written not by a single person at once, but by different people over centuries in different dialects of Hebrew; that the story of the Exodus is wildly anachronistic, and is supported by absolutely no archeological evidence; that the Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible comes from manuscripts written about 1000 CE, and the Dead Sea Scrolls, which are far older, are sometimes textually closer to the Septuagint. I wanted to read a similar book about the Quran: how do we know its text, how confident we are in that it was actually dictated by Muhammed, what the retellings of the Biblical stories in it show about its composition. However, this is the worst book to use for this purpose. The first part talks about the composition of the Quran. It sticks closely to the traditional Muslim narrative, never once deviating from it, or asking whether it is accurate. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem has some inscriptions that are similar but not identical to the accepted Quranic text; a reasonable interpretation of this is that they were made from a copy of the text that was similar but not identical to the canonical one; yet Lawrence says that they are examples of drawing upon the text for rhetorical purposes, which amplifies the text but not challenges or changes it. Later parts talk about different interpreters of the Quran; a 19th century Indian Muslim scholar found verses in the Quran that he claimed supported the abolition of slavery; what Lawrence doesn't mention is that this interpretation was shared by few Muslims; Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman had slavery well into the 1960s.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Md Ahsan

    A good collection of a wide range of references for interested people to investigate further. Obviously the first few chapters are very familiar to most Muslims, later chapters discuss a lot of different perspectives, and views and interpretations of various scholars. Not surprisingly, the name of Osama Bin-Laden seemed light to some readers, but it was an example how anything can be used out of context to fool people. Overall, I find this books is a good index of topics for more readings.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Aditya Hadi

    Why i read this book? First, is because i have to translate this book into Indonesian. Yup, i'm the translator of this book in Indonesia. This book told us about how Western's scholar think about this holy book of Islam. It summarize how moslem interpret they own holy book, which is so different from one moslem with another. If you want to know deeper about Islam and its Qur'an, please read this book and be fun with it :) Why i read this book? First, is because i have to translate this book into Indonesian. Yup, i'm the translator of this book in Indonesia. This book told us about how Western's scholar think about this holy book of Islam. It summarize how moslem interpret they own holy book, which is so different from one moslem with another. If you want to know deeper about Islam and its Qur'an, please read this book and be fun with it :)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chunyang Ding

    An interesting, short book, that wasn't exactly up to my expectations. I had expected something closer to America's Constitution: A Biography, which focuses on the development and interpretation of the text. While that is partially achieved, through the vignettes of notable quran interpreters, those themes seem very scattered throughout, instead of offering a holistic view of this holy text. As other reviewers have mentioned, I am also confused as to the intended audience of this book. The writin An interesting, short book, that wasn't exactly up to my expectations. I had expected something closer to America's Constitution: A Biography, which focuses on the development and interpretation of the text. While that is partially achieved, through the vignettes of notable quran interpreters, those themes seem very scattered throughout, instead of offering a holistic view of this holy text. As other reviewers have mentioned, I am also confused as to the intended audience of this book. The writing style, as well as the prerequisite knowledge, makes it feel more like a Sunday School lesson for young Muslims, rather than for individuals curious about learning the basic concepts of the religion. However, through reading this volume, my takeaway is that there are a considerable number of overlaps between these three Abrahamic faiths, but that the holy book of Islam is much more written in the poetic style of the psalms, especially compared to the Gospels or the Epistles.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Hina Zephyr

    This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for years and I wish I'd read it much earlier. Highly recommend it to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Professor Lawrence has broken down the vast subject of Quranic revelation and its impact on societies which have been affected by Islam through the centuries in simple nuggets of unbiased information. Starting with the simple words of the first revelation to Prophet Muhammad, "Read!" To Osama Bin Laden's violent interpretation of the verses of The Book a This book has been sitting on my bookshelf for years and I wish I'd read it much earlier. Highly recommend it to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Professor Lawrence has broken down the vast subject of Quranic revelation and its impact on societies which have been affected by Islam through the centuries in simple nuggets of unbiased information. Starting with the simple words of the first revelation to Prophet Muhammad, "Read!" To Osama Bin Laden's violent interpretation of the verses of The Book and beyond, he's shed light on many major players in Islamic History, the Shia Sunni divide, the significance of the Dome of the Rock and the magnificence of the Taj Mahal in a narrative that should have felt academic, dull and stilted but instead feels like a friend is giving the gist of a history lesson. I had many "aha" moments when names I've heard or places I've read about suddenly made a lot more sense because I understood their context and historical importance.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Brady Postma

    I found this book tremendously informative and uplifting. The many different interpretations of the Qur'an are really fascinating! It includes perspectives from Muhammad himself (Muslims traditionally follow his name with a showing of reverence, such as "Peace Be Upon Him" or "PBUH" for short), to great poets, the architectural masterpieces of the Dome of the Rock and Taj Mahal, Islamic rationalists, the American post-racial Muslim leader W. D. Mohammed, and even the fringe violence of Osama bin I found this book tremendously informative and uplifting. The many different interpretations of the Qur'an are really fascinating! It includes perspectives from Muhammad himself (Muslims traditionally follow his name with a showing of reverence, such as "Peace Be Upon Him" or "PBUH" for short), to great poets, the architectural masterpieces of the Dome of the Rock and Taj Mahal, Islamic rationalists, the American post-racial Muslim leader W. D. Mohammed, and even the fringe violence of Osama bin Laden! No holds are barred in exploring the many meanings of the Qur'an. I'm not Muslim, but I feel that I understand Muslims significantly better and have more respect for their scripture and their beliefs after having read this book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kataklicik

    Yes, the Quran is a book that shook the world. But THIS book by Bruce Lawrence, well, it won't move the world a whit. Not even ruffle any feathers at that. Sorry Mr. Lawrence, your book had no impact. It didn't even live up to the title of being a biography. As an introduction to the Quran, your book fails abyssmally. Frankly Mr. Lawrence, I don't get it. Yes, the Quran is a book that shook the world. But THIS book by Bruce Lawrence, well, it won't move the world a whit. Not even ruffle any feathers at that. Sorry Mr. Lawrence, your book had no impact. It didn't even live up to the title of being a biography. As an introduction to the Quran, your book fails abyssmally. Frankly Mr. Lawrence, I don't get it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cris

    I was looking for an exegetic historical explanation of the Qur'an. This is not it. It addresses the current concerns about Islam as a violent religion in its preface and throughout, but it only addresses the 'ideal' as opposed to the schools of thought. Overall I learned something, even if predigested, about the family of The Prophet. This is not a book for historical understanding. I was looking for an exegetic historical explanation of the Qur'an. This is not it. It addresses the current concerns about Islam as a violent religion in its preface and throughout, but it only addresses the 'ideal' as opposed to the schools of thought. Overall I learned something, even if predigested, about the family of The Prophet. This is not a book for historical understanding.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    Lawrence, the author of this Quran biography obviously knows his stuff. But I can't help wondering 'who is this book for'? The history is simple enough that any Muslim would already know it, and yet for those of us not muslim I was left wanting for more information. Lawrence, the author of this Quran biography obviously knows his stuff. But I can't help wondering 'who is this book for'? The history is simple enough that any Muslim would already know it, and yet for those of us not muslim I was left wanting for more information.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Khairul Hezry

    A short primer on the history of Islam and the Quran. Good for those unfamiliar with Islam but want to learn but people who are already knowledgeable on the subject may want to skip this book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ibrahim

    The book does not serve the purpose of introducing the Quran especially to the non-muslims, who have a very worng undersatnding of THE BOOK THAT CHANGED THE WORLD.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mason

    No heavy lifting here. So far, this is the weakest I have read in Atlantic's "Books That Changed the World" line, however it is an adequate, light read for a holiday morning. No heavy lifting here. So far, this is the weakest I have read in Atlantic's "Books That Changed the World" line, however it is an adequate, light read for a holiday morning.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Shiela

    A step towards understanding. Historically informative. Still a huge mystery.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michael de Percy

    I remember reading about this book while in Amman, Jordan in 2006. Bruce Lawrence mentions that he was assisted by Dr Ibrahim Abu Nab of Amman in the beginnings of this book. I have had it on my "reading now" shelf for years, and despite being half-way though, I started from the beginning yesterday and finished it today. I think the problem with my earlier attempt at reading the work was my lack of historical, geopolitical, and theological knowledge at the time. So this reading I found rather gr I remember reading about this book while in Amman, Jordan in 2006. Bruce Lawrence mentions that he was assisted by Dr Ibrahim Abu Nab of Amman in the beginnings of this book. I have had it on my "reading now" shelf for years, and despite being half-way though, I started from the beginning yesterday and finished it today. I think the problem with my earlier attempt at reading the work was my lack of historical, geopolitical, and theological knowledge at the time. So this reading I found rather gripping. The book is a chronological biography of the Qur'an, and is part of a series of "Books that Shook the World". If this book is the standard for the series, then I will invest in some of the other books. What I like about Lawrence's work is that it is scholarly, contemporary, and pragmatic all at once. The fifteen chapters each present a different story about the Qur'an, in chronological order, and from various cultures and geographical locations. It might have been useful to read this book before I read Pioneers of Islamic Scholarship by Adil Salahi, and I may now revisit this work to pick up on many of the names and chronologies that I struggled with on my first reading. I do not think this is a book for beginners, although it is easy enough to read, but much would be lost without a basic understanding or a willingness to undertake background study while reading the book. While it took me a long time to read, I am glad I had put it off for so long, otherwise I would have missed a good deal from my lack of background knowledge.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Duncan McKinnon

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Interesting book, but seemed to focus more on the lineage of the Qur'an than on the actual book or its author. Seemed like only a chapter or two talked about the contents of the book or the life of Mohammed. The rest was about how the book was interpreted and the lives of later leaders in the Islamic religion. I guess I was hoping for more of a biography of Mohammed and his contemporaries. Interesting book, but seemed to focus more on the lineage of the Qur'an than on the actual book or its author. Seemed like only a chapter or two talked about the contents of the book or the life of Mohammed. The rest was about how the book was interpreted and the lives of later leaders in the Islamic religion. I guess I was hoping for more of a biography of Mohammed and his contemporaries.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Phillip

    Informative short introduction to content and historical interpretation of the Koran. Interesting easy to read, but frequently moves through topics too briskly for understanding of the novice.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Roy

    Not one of the better ones in this series

  21. 4 out of 5

    Shameer Ks

    I read this book to prepare for talks at Kuwait and Doha on the Quran and translations. An incisive and in-depth overview of the Quran in English language

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mehmed Gokcel

    A great book attesting to the timelessness of the message of the Qur'an and the key factor that interpretation plays in its application. A great book attesting to the timelessness of the message of the Qur'an and the key factor that interpretation plays in its application.

  23. 5 out of 5

    James Romanow

    Realistically the book deserves 3 stars for the non-Muslim and 5 stars for the believer. It is a series of essays on the various interpreters of the Koran over the centuries. If you are not Islamic, nor a mystic, I doubt you'll find it a great read, other than the early chapters attempt to explain the joy and beauty Muslims find from their religion and text. Realistically the book deserves 3 stars for the non-Muslim and 5 stars for the believer. It is a series of essays on the various interpreters of the Koran over the centuries. If you are not Islamic, nor a mystic, I doubt you'll find it a great read, other than the early chapters attempt to explain the joy and beauty Muslims find from their religion and text.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Greg

    Lawrence has, in this book, attempted to provide an overview of the history of the Qur’an, along with its various interpretations throughout its history to the present day. He is a scholar, and this is a short book. It is a summary, so for those looking for deeper insights and knowledge, this is not the book for you. His prose is highly readable, and despite the reviews of others, I fully believe that Lawrence has attempted to provide an accurate accounting in this book. Unfortunately, to me he Lawrence has, in this book, attempted to provide an overview of the history of the Qur’an, along with its various interpretations throughout its history to the present day. He is a scholar, and this is a short book. It is a summary, so for those looking for deeper insights and knowledge, this is not the book for you. His prose is highly readable, and despite the reviews of others, I fully believe that Lawrence has attempted to provide an accurate accounting in this book. Unfortunately, to me he did make some strange choices throughout. The first half of the book is very insightful. Many events reverberated throughout history. Lawrence describes the early history of Islam and its difficulties with Medina. After ordering, in 623, the Muslims who had been exiled from Medina, to spy on a caravan traveling on the route to Yemen, Muhammad’s followers disobeyed him by attacking and murdering some of the caravan. Not only had they disobeyed, but they had desecrated a holy month. Distraught, he prayed for guidance and received guidance that eased his mind: They ask you about war in the holy month. Tell them: ‘To fight in that month is a great sin. But a greater sin in the eyes of God is To hinder people from the way of God, And not to believe in Him, And to bar access to the Holy Mosque, And to turn people out of its precincts. And oppression is worse than killing.’ In this view, an order of relative importance was placed on rules to be obeyed. Violence is justified in these words against oppressors of faith. (43) Lawrence addresses the subject of the role of women in early Islam directly, and centers on the roles of Khadijah (the first Muslim and mother of the Prophet’s children), and the much younger ‘A’ishah. ‘A’ishah recorded more than 2,000 traditions of the prophet, making her one of the four most prodigious of the Companions in recording these traditions. Her honesty is especially revered, as some of the traditions are unflattering to herself, especially in matters of jealousy. I had not known of the central contributions of these women. I learned many things in this book. Of interest especially to me is the history of ‘A’ishah. Despite vouching and Muhammad’s proving her innocence after an incident in which she was left alone with another man, ‘Ali favored divorcing her. This caused ill will that would not be forgotten. Later in her life, she opposed “Ali as the Fourth Caliph and sided with two other Companions. This resulted in the battle of the Camel in 656, and gave way to the Umayyad dynasty. (60) Lawrence then goes on in this book to discuss the major contributions of Islamic thinkers. There is a great quote by Rumi on A Book of Signs. “Wisdom is like the rain: at the source there is no end to it, but it comes down in accord with what is best, more or less according to season. Other interpreters that are given chapters are the early Shi’ite Ja’far as-Sadiq and the early Sunni Abu Ja’far at-Tabari, the interpretations of Robert of Ketton and Muhyiddin Ibn’ Arabi, and later interpretations from the Taj Mahal, Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Iqbal, W.D. Mohammed, Osama bin Laden, and a chapter on the Qur’an as mercy provided to AIDS victims and sick women. All in all, the best part of the book is by far the first half. The early history of the first Muslims is well written and informative. Some of the chapters of later interpreters are also very informative, but it is a strange grouping. Lawrence tries to give fair and honest treatment to the diversity in thinking in modern Islam, from the peace loving to the foundations of modern terrorism. The last chapter doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the book as well. See my other reviews here!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Damarindah

    My expectation when I took this book off the shelf was finding more about the Holy Qur'an contents. Not sure what I was looking for, but this book gave a view from a different angle than I would expect. It contains stories of 13 persons and how Al Qur'an had dominated their actions and decisions in an important stage of their lives. Included in the book were Prophet's life, Aishah, Taj Mahal and Osama bin Laden. It didn't really serve the purpose of introducing Al Qur'an, especially to a beginner My expectation when I took this book off the shelf was finding more about the Holy Qur'an contents. Not sure what I was looking for, but this book gave a view from a different angle than I would expect. It contains stories of 13 persons and how Al Qur'an had dominated their actions and decisions in an important stage of their lives. Included in the book were Prophet's life, Aishah, Taj Mahal and Osama bin Laden. It didn't really serve the purpose of introducing Al Qur'an, especially to a beginner to Islam's history. I didn't know about the persons described in the book, and it failed to give me a kick for further finding out about the subject. Nevertheless it is an interesting writing idea to collect stories in different eras of the history, and I appreciated the writer for his research and putting it together - it is not an easy thing to do.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nazim Suzaly

    If the purpose of this book was to give readers a glimpse of what the quran is all about then to me it was not that clear. However since I am a little familiar with the history and contents of the Quran therefore I could understand the views it was trying to give from how the islamic figures use the Quran as a book that co-relates with their thinking. But for someone who just wants to know what the Quran is all bout without having to read it, I wouldn't recommend this book since it can be quite If the purpose of this book was to give readers a glimpse of what the quran is all about then to me it was not that clear. However since I am a little familiar with the history and contents of the Quran therefore I could understand the views it was trying to give from how the islamic figures use the Quran as a book that co-relates with their thinking. But for someone who just wants to know what the Quran is all bout without having to read it, I wouldn't recommend this book since it can be quite complex. But I love the part on Bin Laden and how he uses the Quran as his guide. This book shows that how different individuals will decipher and understand the Quran differently and not everybody has the same view on it.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Emmy

    I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did. After all I’m familiar with the history. But the level of detail included helped me clear some notions and added weight to others. I liked, a lot, the parts that dealt with Islam OUTSIDE the Arab Countries. This I did not know. But to me the highlight was the translation of the Quoranic verses. I is very difficult to translate a work that depends on the language and its use to make a point. Most translations use the same structure and repetitio I didn’t expect to like this book as much as I did. After all I’m familiar with the history. But the level of detail included helped me clear some notions and added weight to others. I liked, a lot, the parts that dealt with Islam OUTSIDE the Arab Countries. This I did not know. But to me the highlight was the translation of the Quoranic verses. I is very difficult to translate a work that depends on the language and its use to make a point. Most translations use the same structure and repetition used in the original - which renders a weak, if not incomprehensible, text. Here the author gave his own translations making the verses meaningful.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Erika RS

    I abandoned this book after the introduction. Based on the introduction, which treats the divine revelation of the Qur'an as fact, it seemed that this was a historical look at the Qur'an through a a non-critical lens rather than a textual analysis lens. By this, I mean that it is treated as a sacred text rather than as a text that people treat as sacred. If the former is what you are looking for, this could be a worthwhile read. If the latter is what you are looking for, this is not the book you I abandoned this book after the introduction. Based on the introduction, which treats the divine revelation of the Qur'an as fact, it seemed that this was a historical look at the Qur'an through a a non-critical lens rather than a textual analysis lens. By this, I mean that it is treated as a sacred text rather than as a text that people treat as sacred. If the former is what you are looking for, this could be a worthwhile read. If the latter is what you are looking for, this is not the book you want. (I'm intentionally leaving this unrated since it is unfair to rate a book badly for not being what I hoped it would be.)

  29. 4 out of 5

    Einschrein

    This book could have been wonderful and instead (to me) was simply average. The opportunity to provide Westerners with a comprehensive view of the Qur'an, and by extention Islam, was unfortunately lost here, but worth a look nevertheless. The author does mention the many different versions of the Qur'an floating around prior to the collection being put together officially (just like the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament), but does not explore the canonization of Mohammad's revelations and sayin This book could have been wonderful and instead (to me) was simply average. The opportunity to provide Westerners with a comprehensive view of the Qur'an, and by extention Islam, was unfortunately lost here, but worth a look nevertheless. The author does mention the many different versions of the Qur'an floating around prior to the collection being put together officially (just like the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament), but does not explore the canonization of Mohammad's revelations and sayings - a very important omission.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nura Yusof

    A balanced account of the different interpretations of the Quran through out the ages. There is danger in entrusting the interpretation of the Holy Book in the hands of psychopaths the likes of Bin Laden, who picks and chooses the verses that suits his evil purpose. The same applies in trusting those interpreters who seek to subjugate women. The problem is never the Holiest of Books. It is always these mad interpreters, who cannot keep their warped interpretations to themselves and instead preferr A balanced account of the different interpretations of the Quran through out the ages. There is danger in entrusting the interpretation of the Holy Book in the hands of psychopaths the likes of Bin Laden, who picks and chooses the verses that suits his evil purpose. The same applies in trusting those interpreters who seek to subjugate women. The problem is never the Holiest of Books. It is always these mad interpreters, who cannot keep their warped interpretations to themselves and instead preferring to subvert countless others into acts completely unIslamic.

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