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Opening the Qur'an

Introducing Islam's Holy Book

Walter H. Wagner

Publication Year: 2008

Opening the Qur'an can be a bewildering experience to non-Muslim, English-speaking readers. Those who expect historical narratives, stories, or essays on morals are perplexed once they pass the beautiful first Surah, often shocked and then bogged down by Surah 2, and even offended by Surah 3’s strictures against nonbelievers. Walter H. Wagner “opens” the Qur’an by offering a comprehensive and extraordinarily readable, step-by-step introduction to the text, making it accessible to students, teachers, clergy, and general readers interested in Islam and Islam’s holy Book. Wagner first places the prophet Muhammad, the Qur'an, and the early Muslim community in their historical, geographical, and theological contexts. This background is a basis for interpreting the Qur'an and understanding its role in later Muslim developments as well as for relationships between Muslims, Jews, and Christians. He then looks in detail at specific passages, moving from cherished devotional texts to increasingly difficult and provocative subjects. The selected bibliography serves as a resource for further reading and study. Woven into the discussion are references to Islamic beliefs and practices. Wagner shows great sensitivity toward the risks and opportunities for non-Muslims who attempt to interpret the Qur'an, and sympathy in the long struggle to build bridges of mutual trust and honest appreciation between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Front matter

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pp. vi-vii

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pp. viii

Many persons over nearly twenty years have assisted, encouraged, and helped make this study possible. The selected bibliography recognizes the community of scholars whose insights stand behind the text. I am grateful to student and faculty colleagues at Muhlenberg College (1984–93) ...

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pp. viii-xvi

The words with which the Qur’an begins open us to understanding this holy Book of Islam and through it Islam, Muslims, contemporary situations, and ourselves. The Gambian Muslim scholar Sulayman Nyang advised a group of non-Muslim professors who ventured to teach others ...

Chronology, From 570 to 680 CE

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pp. xvii-xix

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Part I

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pp. 1-3

Being introduced to the Qur’an is somewhat like being introduced to another person. One or both may have heard about the other. Each may have expectations, perhaps anxieties, about the meeting and its results. Introductions are often arranged and guided by an intermediary. He or she ...

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One. Risks, Perspectives, and Understandings

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pp. 5-22

Being introduced to and introducing others to a religion involves risks and opportunities.We come with culturally conditioned understandings about ourselves and the faith we are about to consider. Those understandings are confirmed, corrected, adapted, or amended as we engage the other ...

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Two. Basic Narratives for Judaism and Christianity

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pp. 23-56

Judaism and Christianity occupy special places in the Qur’an. Here I consider Judaism and Christianity through what I call “basic narratives,” which furnish an overview of the two religions up to the beginning of the seventh century CE. I tilt the narratives toward issues and references reflected ...

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Three. Islam’s Basic Narrative and Core Positions

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pp. 57-91

This chapter introduces Islam through a narrative developed around seven covenants and comments on the Five Pillars and Five Teachings. Its aim is first to present the essential positions in Islam, set up some key issues that we will encounter in the Qur’an, and prepare us to move ahead; and, ...

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Four. The Setting: Reflections on Arabia

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pp. 92-103

Islam claims that God created all that exists and that the entire creation testifies to and is covenantally related to al-Khaliq, the Creator: Whatever is in the heavens and on earth doth declare the Praises and Glory of Allah: to Him belongs Dominion and to Him belongs Praise: ...

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Five. Times and the Messenger

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pp. 104-139

The time had come. Millennia of preparatory revelations, exhortations and warnings by prophets and messengers were over. God readied one individual to receive, proclaim, and live the final Revelation and to form the community that would lead the world into a new time until the Day of ...

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Six. The Origin, Transmission, and Structures of the Qur’an

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pp. 140-167

What is the Qur’an? The answers to this question range from an expression of a celestial tablet disclosed by an angel to an account of an individual displaying signs of psychological excitations or of virtually official memorizers or scribes writing on dry bones to the consensus of an editorial ...

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Seven. Interpreting the Qur’an

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pp. 168-192

Our study opened with references to the risks involved in opening the Qur’an and raised questions about who can interpret the Qur’an. To this point, we have located the Qur’an in the context of Islamic faith and its geographic and historical settings, introduced the Messenger, and gained ...

Part II. The Qur’an Opened

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Eight. Four Cherished Passages

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pp. 195-230

Some scriptural passages have continual significance for believers and even for those who are not in the faith community. Psalm 23 in the Hebrew Bible and 1 Corinthians 13 in the Christian New Testament are such passages. The Qur’an, too, contains surahs and ayas that hold distinctive places ...

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Nine. The Qur’an On The End Of This World And Life In The Hereafter

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pp. 231-254

Many religions have revelations, teachings, traditions, and expectations about the connections between life in the present, death, life after death, the end of the current world, and what may happen next. The often puzzling and sometimes lurid descriptions about the end of a person’s and the cosmos’s ...

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Ten. The Qur’an on Woman and Women

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pp. 255-296

Is the female, whether as an abstract principle or as a living woman, a threat to men and to themselves? It would seem so, according to numerous Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian traditions throughout North Africa, the Syrian-Palestinian corridor, and Asia Minor.1 The message was ...

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Eleven. The Qur’an on Biblical Figures, Jews and Christians

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pp. 297-349

Islam, the Qur’an, and the Messenger constantly engage the Bible, Jews, and Christians. Historically, the presence of significant Jewish and Christian communities in Arabia challenged Muhammad and the Message while providing a pool of potential converts and possible allies. This chapter ...

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Twelve. The Qur’an on Justice and Jihad

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pp. 350-396

In the Muslim world justice and jihad are watchwords for revolution, societal development, and spiritual renewal. The same words evoke anxiety and repression by some Muslim-dominated governments and visions of cruel punishments and fanatics in the Western world.We are indeed on ...

Part III. The Ever-Open Qur’an

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Thirteen. Challenges from the Qur’an

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pp. 401-424

Iqra! Read! Recite! Proclaim! The words Muhammad began to hear on the Night of Power still challenge men and women to obey the One-Only God. Political to its core, social in its structures,missionary in its purpose, and confident in its ultimate success, Islam always challenges its believers ...

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Fourteen. Challenges to the Qur’an

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pp. 425-436

In the beginning there was ridicule and rejection. Meccans scoffed at Muhammad’s claims to have received revelations through an angel, dismissed his calls for them to forsake their ancestral gods, and opposed the Message that threatened to change their lives and livelihoods. Some medieval ...

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Fifteen. The Qur’an Opened and Open

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pp. 437-445

The Qur’an’s last words open this book’s final chapter.We have traveled not only from an Arabia distant in geography and time but also into the present with some intimations of the future. As is the case with any serious study of religion, we have also seen and heard how other persons ...

Appendix A

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pp. 446-449

Appendix B

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pp. 450

Appendix C

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pp. 451-455


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pp. 456-501

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 502-515

General Index

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pp. 516-537

Index of Religious Texts

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pp. 539-547

E-ISBN-13: 9780268096540
E-ISBN-10: 0268096546
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268044152
Print-ISBN-10: 0268044155

Page Count: 568
Publication Year: 2008