Ali Asani, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures
Harvard edX: Islam Through Its Scriptures
Qur'an Scriptural Studies
Introductory Books on Islam
- Bulliet, Richard W. The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
- Ernst, Carl W. Following Muhammad : Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World. Islamic Civilization & Muslim Networks. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
- Esposito, John L. Islam : The Straight Path. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.
- Murata, Sachiko, and Chittick, William C. The Vision of Islam. Visions of Reality. Understanding Religions. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 1994.
- Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. The Heart of Islam : Enduring Values for Humanity. 1st ed. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002.
- Schimmel, Annemarie. Islam : An Introduction. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.
- Sells, Michael Anthony. Approaching the Qurʼán : The Early Revelations. 2nd ed. Ashland, Or.: White Cloud, 2007. This is a must-read for those interested in the poetic and oral power of the early revelations of the so-called Meccan period. Sells offers his own translations and analysis of the orality and form of these early sūras.
- Graham, William A. Beyond the Written Word : Oral Aspects of Scripture in the History of Religion. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire] ; New York: Cambridge UP, 1987. In this book, Graham argues for expanding the category of "scripture" from merely a literary one (and, therefore, a textual one), to a religio-historical one (thereby including oral and aural aspects of scripture). He turns to various case studies from the Christian, Jewish, and South Asian traditions before examining his own area of speciality: the Islamic religious tradition. From his analysis, it becomes clear that scripture was primarily performative and thus experienced rather than merely declarative and static. In fact, it would be safe to say that our own horizon of understanding, that is, how we "moderns" encounter texts in print (papers, books, and now digitally) is historically an exception and rather anomalous to the larger history of encountering texts, and especially sacred texts such as scriptures
- Esack, Farid. The Qurʼan : A User's Guide : A Guide to Its Key Themes, History and Interpretation. Oxford: Oneworld, 2005. In this book, Esack does an excellent job of introducing the key themes of the Quran, explaining its historical and cultural context while also examining controversial aspects. We will be reading chapters of this book later in this course.
- Kermani, Navid. God is Beautiful: The Aesthetic Experience of the Quran, Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2014.
- Robinson, Neal. Discovering the Qurʼan : A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text. 2nd ed. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown UP, 2003. Another fine introduction to the study of the Quran.
- McAuliffe, Jane Dammen. The Cambridge Companion to the Qurʼān. Cambridge, UK ; New York: Cambridge UP, 2006. This is a solid volume that offers a series of essays about the Quran, from the formation of the Quranic text to modern, contemporary interpretations.
- McAuliffe, Jane Dammen, and Graham, William A. Encyclopaedia of the Qurʼān. Leiden: Brill, 2001. This is one of the best reference works for the study of the Quran.
- Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, Dagli, Caner K., Dakake, Maria Massi, Lumbard, Joseph E. B., and Rustom, Mohammed. The Study Quran : A New Translation and Commentary. First ed. 2015. This is the newest translation to be published; it contains translations and summaries of many and various commentaries from the classical and post-classical Islamic tradition, in addition to insightful essays regarding the Quran and the broader Islamic religious tradition. See here for a video introducing The Study Quran.
- Specifically Chapter 4, "Gathering the Quran," of Esack, Farid. The Qurʼan : A User's Guide : A Guide to Its Key Themes, History and Interpretation. Oxford: Oneworld, 2005.
- Morris, James Winston. "Qur'an translation and the challenges of communication : Towards a 'literal' study-version of the Qur'an". Journal of Quranic Studies 2, no. 2 (2000): pp. 53-67
- Morris, James Winston. "Encountering the Qur'an: Contexts and Approaches," in Volume 1 (Voices of Tradition) of Cornell, Vincent J. Voices of Islam. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2007, pp. 66-96.
- Asani, Ali S., Abdel-Malek, Kamal, and Schimmel, Annemarie. Celebrating Muḥammad : Images of the Prophet in Popular Muslim Poetry. Columbia, S.C.: U of South Carolina, 1995.
- Brown, Jonathan. Hadith : Muhammad's Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World. Oxford: Oneworld, 2009. Sections found here.
- Schimmel, Annemarie. And Muhammad Is His Messenger : The Veneration of the Prophet in Islamic Piety. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina, 1985.
- Lings, Martin., and Islamic Texts Society. Muhammad : His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. Rev. ed. London: Islamic Texts Society, 1991
- Daftary, Farhad. "Diversity in Islam: Communities of Interpretation", in The Muslim Almanac (Gale Research Inc, Detroit, MI: 1996), pp.161-173, ed. A. Nanji.
- Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. "Sunnism and Shiism", in Ideals and Realities of Islam. New York: Praeger, 1967, pp. 147-178. "The Prophet Muhammad Was Once Glorified In Art", radio segment from WBUR's Here & Now, a National Public Radio production, 16 Jan 2015.
It is probably easiest for new readers of the Quran to identify these techniques by first listening to the shorter sūrahs near the end of the Quran; or a number of well-known passages from the longer sūrahs, such as the Pedestal Verse (āyat al-kursī; 2:255) or the Light Verse (āyat al-nūr; 24:35); or the sūrahs al-Raḥmān, "The Compassionate" (55), Yā Sīn, "Yā Sīn" (36), or al-Wāqiʿah, "The Event" (56). Here we find successive verses ending in various kinds of rhymes. For example, in al-Māʿūn, "Small Kindnesses" (107), the verses follow two imperfect rhyming patterns in which the first four verses end in -īn (dīn, yatīm, miskīn, muṣallīn) and the final three verses end in -ūn (sāhūn, yurāʾūn, māʿūn; here the rhyming is even more sophisticated, as we note the consistent ā followed by a glottal sound before the final rhyming syllable).
For example, in al-Balad, "The Land" (90), the first five verses begin with words sharing a similar sound: lā ("verily"), wa ("and"), wa ("and"), laqad ("indeed"), and a (an interrogatory); the rest of the sūrah continues in a similar fashion.
Al-Ḥujarāt, "The Private Apartments" (Sūrah 49), for example, discusses the corrosive effects of gossip, backbiting, and social marginalizing and emphasizes the need for a sense of community among Muslims.
The Quran stresses both the individual moral responsibility of adults (e.g., None shall bear the burden of another; 6:164; 17:15; 35:18; 39:7; 53:38) and the need for individuals to work collectively to establish communities and cultures where such morality is nurtured.
One might begin, then, by reading the last two sections of the Quran (i.e., parts 29 and 30, beginning with Sūrah 67)
- The Chapter of Sincerity (112)
- The Chapter of Light (24), Verse 35 (Known as 'the Verse of Light')
- The Chapter of the Cow (2), Verse 255 (Known as 'the Throne Verse')
- The Chapter of the Gathering (59), Verses 21-24
- The Chapter of The Iron (57), Verses 1-3
- The Chapter of Joseph (12)