In an effort to bring about a richer understanding of the Quran, a group of mostly American-born and university-based Islamic scholars have produced a new translation of the Islamic sacred text.
They say a key aim of the new translation and commentary—titled “The Study Quran” and published by HarperOne—is to show how the Quran’s verses have been understood historically in order to better understand their meaning and applicability today.
A byproduct of that work is that it could lead to a better understanding of some of the more controversial topics in Islam, such as when use of force is permitted, one scholar involved in the project said.
“This is not a work that is geared toward the twenty-four-hour news cycle or social media or something like that,” said Dr. Caner K. Dagli, an associate professor of religious studies at the College of the Holy Cross and one of several editors of the project.
“It’s a work of scholarship,” Dagli said. “We wanted to dig deep into the tradition not just at one level or two levels, but go many levels deep to bring out the richness of it.
“And if along the way we answer people’s questions on these hot topics, that’s fine,” he said.
The new 2,000-page translation and commentary, which will be formally released later this month, is the culmination of a decade’s worth of research that began after editors at HarperOne approached Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, longtime University Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University.
Nasr said that, although the project began several years after the 9/11 attacks, which caused interest in the Quran to soar, the publisher’s interest in producing “The Study Quran” actually pre-dates the 9/11 attacks.
Nasr said he initially declined to take on the project but eventually agreed to do so out of religious conviction and on the condition that it be produced entirely by practicing Muslims. The Iran-born Nasr also said he wanted all of the scholars to be America-born and at least one to be a woman.
In addition to Dagli, Nasr selected Dr. Maria Massi Dakake, associate professor of religious studies at George Mason University, and Dr. Joseph Lumbard, assistant professor in the Department of Arabic and Translation Studies at the American University of Sharjah, as co-editors of the book.
“They’re all excellent Arabists,” Nasr said during a recent panel discussion at Georgetown University in which they all joined to discuss their new work.
The scholars’ expertise in Arabic is important because Muslims believe the Quran, which they regard as the word of God, was revealed in Arabic to the Prophet Mohammed [PBUH] in the 7th century AD.
“The Quran was revealed as sound, not as [a] book,” Nasr said. “The Prophet heard the Quran. It was written down later on.”