Attention journalists: A Muslim landmark that belongs on your desk

Media personnel obviously are giving far more attention to Islam than they did years ago -- because they need to.

Therefore “The Study Quran” (HarperOne, 1,988 pages, US$59.99, e-book US$19.99) that was noted in a post by GetReligion’s Julia Duin should be in media company libraries (if they still exist) or in the private collections of all newswriters whose work is in any way linked to religion in the news.

This classy landmark, nine years in preparation, imitates Christians’ many “study Bibles,” a couple of which also belong on newsroom desks. The totally new English translation of Islam’s holy book is accompanied by an extensive verse-by-verse commentary, 16 related essays, an index and other “helps.” The work provides a much-needed option to the useful but somewhat outdated 1934 translation and commentary by A. Yusuf Ali that Saudi Arabia has distributed widely.

To The Religion Guy’s eyes the one big negative is the translators’ ill-advised reversion to fusty King James-ish phrasing, as though it's somehow more reverent: “Dost thou not know?” “God is wroth.” “Thou grant me reprieve till a term nigh.” While the commentary is invaluable, the recent translations by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem or Majid Fakhry may be more useful for journalistic quotations.

With this book, English-speakers can now gain ready access to authoritative scholarship representing the grand tradition of this massive religion. Since much of the relevant literature is in Arabic, the material drawn from 41 standard commentators, and the 43 pages of citations from hadith traditions of Muhammad’s teachings, are especially important for western Muslims and non-Muslims.

The editor-in-chief was the well-respected Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University, working with former students Caner Dagli of the College of the Holy Cross, Maria Massi Dakake of George Mason University (a female scholar’s participation is significant), Joseph Lumbard of American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and Mohammed Ruston of Canada’s Carleton University. Dakake and Lumbard are converts from Christian backgrounds, a plus in this situation, but it’s a thoroughly Muslim reference work, from a team with expertise in the Sunni, Shi’a and Sufi branches.

A key orthodox American endorser, President Hamza Yusuf of Zaytuna College, says this is “perhaps the most important work done on the Islamic faith in the English language to date,” adding that Nasr is “one of the intellectual giants of our time.”

The effort was funded chiefly by two U.S. entities, the El-Hibri Foundation that promotes “peace” and “diversity,” and the Institute for Religion and Civic Values (formerly Council on Islamic Education), with three other organizations and five individuals, including Jordan’s King Abdullah II who traces his family line back to the Prophet Muhammad.

From a quick spot check, it looks like the commentary avoids corner-cutting in hopes of creating some sort of artificial interfaith accord, nor on the opposite end does it countenance today’s rising radical populism bereft of scholarship. Nasr says the team bypassed both “fundamentalist” and “modernist” reinterpretations from recent times in favor of Islam’s “traditional” thinking.  A major interpretive question here is which Quran teachings were “abrogated” by later scriptural revelations, on which opinions vary widely.

The editors were well aware of the “problem verses” and current debates over, for instance, violence, the role of women, and the treatment of religious minorities under Islamic regimes.

An entire news article could be devoted to Dakake’s essay on Islam’s view of human rights, or to Dagli’s treatment of war and peace in the Quran. Would that every westerner tempted to follow al-Queda, Boko Haram, the “Islamic State” and the like would prayerfully ponder this material.

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