For the last 50 or 60 years, Christians in the U.S. have had access to many different "study Bibles," as they're called. My latest such acquisition is the CEB (for Common English Bible) Study Bible, and from what I've read of it so far it's terrific.
One of the things these various study Bibles do is to remind readers that there are different legitimate -- sometimes even conflicting -- ways to interpret different passages of scripture. It's a way of keeping readers both humble and honest.
Now, finally, there is a Study Qur'an, with extensive interpretive notes to go along with a new English translation of Islam's holy book. Such a book has been needed for a long time, and from what I've read about this one, it has been worth the wait.
The CNN piece to which I've linked you about this new publication even suggests that it might be helpful in curbing extremist interpretations of the Qur'an, interpretations that can lead to violence and terrorism done in the name of Islam.
It's hard for me to imagine members of al-Qaida or ISIS changing their corrupted minds because they got their hands on the new Study Qur'an. But any effort to educate is welcome.
The CNN story reports:
Ten years in the making, "The Study Quran" is more than a rebuttal to terrorists, said Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an Iranian-born intellectual and the book's editor-in-chief. His aim was to produce an accurate, unbiased translation understandable to English-speaking Muslims, scholars and general readers.
The editors paid particular attention to passages that seem to condone bloodshed, explaining in extensive commentaries the context in which certain verses were revealed and written.
"The commentaries don't try to delete or hide the verses that refer to violence. We have to be faithful to the text, " said Nasr, a longtime professor at George Washington University. "But they can explain that war and violence were always understood as a painful part of the human condition."
Nasr, by the way, is the author of an excellent book called The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity. I recommend it, especially for people unfamiliar with Islam or people who learn about Islam from those who are relentlessly hostile to it.
As I have pointed out before, all sacred writ must be interpreted. It cannot be understood otherwise except to be misunderstood. But good interpretation requires knowing how the original hearers would have grasped it. It means understanding the nuances of the original languages used -- Arabic in the case of the Qur'an, Hebrew and Greek (with a little Aramaic) in the case of the Christian Bible. It means having some sense of metaphor, myth and allegory and how those approaches to writing were understood at the time of the writing. And on and on.
It's one reason it is foolish to pick up the sacred writings of a tradition not your own and think you can understand it without help from someone inside of that tradition.
A Qur'an that helps to provide that kind of interpretive background is a welcome addition to sacred literature.
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ANOTHER STEP TOWARD TEACHING RESPECT
In harmony with The Study Qur'an, Syrian refugees at a school in Lebanon are being taught how to respect and get along with people of different faith traditions. It's a small start that needs to grow all around the world, including in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where it's illegal to have worship services for any religion but Islam.