How to Study the Qur’an Today: Challenges and Concepts

I take this opportunity to discuss the points briefly, especially the point how to study the Qur’an in the present context. I will share my observations on the approach, methodology, and ways for studying the Qur’an in a fruitful and befitting way. At the very outset, we should be very clear that the Qur’an is not just a book of theology; it deals with people, it delves into history, and it refers to geography. So we have to study the Qur’an, in an academic way, and while studying the Qur’an, it is very important to keep in mind the context of the day. In 13th century, when the Greek thought – atheistic, secular, godless worldview originating from Greece rocked the Muslim or Arab world, the great Quranic scholars, whom we call mufassirun, rose to the occasion and gave a befitting reply to the challenge posed by the intellectual questions and challenges. A very bright example is of Fakhruddin Razi (Tafseer-i-Kabeer) that refutes the Greek thought, the Greek Godless philosophy and outlook on life. By the same token, if today someone is studying or writing on the Qur’an, he should be fully aware of the burning issues of the day, as for example, of environment, governance, gender, interfaith dialogue, pluralism, the upbringing of the new generation, or sexual choices or orientations. We live in the age of LGBTQ+, which was unknown 50 years ago. It was unthinkable that this transgender or queer sexual orientation will be on the agenda. Today, it is a gruesome reality. Same-sex marriage is rampant now. So we have to take on all these issues and challenges. So this is my first point: someone writing or discussing the Qur’an should be familiar with the intellectual climate, the challenges of the day, and the currents and cross-currents of the world of thought. That is why there is a need to study the Qur’an in light of the latest developments and findings in history, archaeology, and geography. I give a complete example. So many verses of the Qur’an deal with Pharaoh, the Egyptian emperor. We have a growing rich body of Egyptology, based on archive archaeology; students of the Qur’an are expected to relate this study to these findings. It goes without saying that all these researches and findings will definitely vindicate and bear out the truth of the Qur’an. Equally important it is to study the Near Eastern culture and that is not confined to Saudi Arabia or surroundings, and socio-cultural milieu of the Prophet’s day, of the Companions, of early Muslims, for a better understanding of the Qur’an and Islam, whether it is economics, sociology, governance. All these can be better appreciated while relating these with the Qur’an. So once again I repeat the point, the Qur’an is not to be treated only as a blessed book to be recited for gaining rewards from Allah SWT. We have to make it relevant, contemporary, up-to-date, and in line with the latest research and findings in a variety of fields. 

Image Source: Brownsbuy


Imam Raazi

My other point is that we should be familiar with the Western scholarship on the Qur’an which is known as Orientalism, with a very long history, almost a thousand years old. Western scholars have expressed a variety of views, mostly negative, on the contents of the Qur’an, on the collection, composition, and history of the Qur’an, on the style and language of the Qur’an, and on the authorship of the Qur’an. Today, one cannot afford to study the Qur’an without reference to some of the major Orientalists, whether it is John Wan borough or Andrew Rippin or Jane Mc Auliffe and I will refer to some of the current developments; one is the phenomenon of the Revisionist school and neo-Orientalists. What they have said about the Qur’an it is worth-study. Between 2001 and 2006, there came out five volumes of the huge Encyclopaedia of Qur’an edited by Jane Mc Auliffe. Literally hundreds of entries on various Quranic themes, topics and issues in it should be critically examined. Once again, it is by Western scholars, who are not always faithful in their descriptions of Quranic things, but we have to be aware of this scholarly work. Another scholarly project we should know is Corpus Coranicum at the Free University in Berlin Germany. A whole team of Western scholars has been working for two decades on it. They have been devoted to bringing out a standard edition of the Qur’an. The Uthmanic copy of the Qur’an since the days of the Caliph Uthman Ibn Affan has been the standard copy throughout 1440 years of Islamic history. It has been in circulation for so long that its authenticity is beyond and above the shadow of doubt, but the Western scholars have their own ideas, so they have been preparing a standard edition of the Qur’an. So this project is also to be studied. My last point is very important for the budding scholars of Quranic Studies, especially those from India and the Muslim world. It is to gain if not mastery then at least some thorough familiarity with academic idiom, scholarly presentation skills, writing in an idiomatic language which is accepted.

To sum up, the Qur’an is to be studied in a wider context as I said in the 21st century, settings and background in terms of issues challenges and intellectual thought. The next key point is that we should have some idea of Western scholarship in the form of Orientalists’ writings on the Qur’an, and I mentioned some of the major projects. Last, though not the least is the presentation skill which is also important. There have been writings on the Qur’an by Muslim scholars, but they are not up to the mark in terms of their impact because their presentation is not so good. That is my advice and earnest desire that our writings on the Qur’an or Islam should be in chaste, correct, and presentable English.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here