Discovering the Qur’an

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Editor’s Note: In its ongoing efforts to provide a forum for Islamic-Baha’i dialogue, Iran Press Watch is pleased to share the text of “Discovering” [the Qur’an] – The Blackwell Companion to the Qur’an along with its Persian translation.  The following brief description introduces “Discovering”. Readers are encouraged to post their reactions and reflections.

Selected as a “Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2007”, The Blackwell Companion to the Qur’an (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), edited by Canadian Islamicist, Andrew Rippin, has been hailed as “undoubtedly the best single-volume introduction to Islam’s sacred text currently available in English” (Choice, January 2007).  Well-published scholar, Dr. Christopher Buck, contributed a lead chapter, “Discovering” [the Qur’an] (pp. 18–35). The section, “How to Read the Qur’an,” begins as follows:

A nineteenth-century mystic once said that the Qur’an eclipses all of the miracles of all of the previous prophets, for the miracle of the Qur’an, alone, remains (Shirazi 1950; Lawson 1988). That is to say, the staff of Moses may have turned into a serpent and swallowed up the magicians’ snakes in Pharaoh’s court, but that prophetic scepter has vanished. Moses may well have parted the Red Sea, as Muslims themselves believe, but that prodigy is long gone. No empirical evidence of either miracle remains today.

What alone abides is the “miracle” of the Qur’an – its prodigious ability to transform the lives of those who believe and accept the Qur’an as the best guide for their lives. This transformation is spiritual alchemy, taking the base appetites that most of us are born with and transmuting these into the pure gold of a refined moral and spiritual character. The Qur’an can transform a pair of horns into a set of wings, changing the pious believer from a devil into an angel. Such is the nature of Muslim belief about the Qur’an.

The Qur’an can and should be taught in the university – not to convert students into pious Muslims, but to convert pious Muslim beliefs into something students can understand, so that they can appreciate the power of the book to influence those who believe in it. However, beyond the question of why the Qur’an should be taught, there is the problem of how it should be taught. In whatever course and context it may be taught, the challenge is to engage readers in the study of this text, to assist them in discovering the Qur’an for themselves.

While “Discovering” is now required reading in several Islamic studies courses across America, there is something else that is significant about this introductory chapter to the “best single-volume introduction to Islam’s sacred text currently available in English.” The author, Dr. Buck, is a member of the Baha’i Faith since 1972.  This fact is significant in that many Muslims mistakenly believe that Baha’is are anti-Islam.  While Baha’is are certainly against any form of oppression — that is, Baha’is decry any deprivation of civil and human rights purportedly done in the name of “Islam” — Baha’is are probably the greatest witnesses to the truth and beauty of the Qur’an (the holy book of Islam) besides pious Muslims themselves!

“Discovering” — authored by a Baha’i — is simply a public representation of that very fact.  How ironic, then, is the persecution of Baha’is by professedly “Muslim” clerics and state officials in Iran!

A Persian translation of “Discovering” [the Qur’an] is available for download, along with the original publication in English. The Persian translation was undertaken by a Baha’i who was imprisoned for several years in Iran simply for being a Baha’i.  For security reasons, therefore, the translator’s name remains anonymous.

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