‘The Qur’an: A Bibliography’ is one of the first titles in the ‘Books that Changed the World’ series by Atlantic Press. Lawrence’s work provides an interesting overview and enlightening discussion of the Qur’an. Bruce Lawrence is a professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University in the United States.
Lawrence presents a historical narrative of the Qur’an. He begins his analysis by considering the recipient of the Qur’an, the noble Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as a merchant, messenger, organiser and strategist.
The author then goes on to outline how the Qur’an and its message has been understood, appreciated and articulated differently throughout the ages. He discusses the methodologies of early commentators such as Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) and at-Tabari.
By way of example, the book describes on p.79 the methodology employed by Imam as-Sadiq which integrated three complimentary approaches to Qur’anic commentary:
- A linguistic approach which involved translating Qur’anic Arabic into vernacular Arabic, the Arabic spoken at the time.
- A historical approach which focused upon contextualising verses and considering the circumstances in which different verses were revealed.
- An allegorical approach through which the Imam elucidated the multiple meanings of some of the ambiguous verses of the Qur’an.
Lawrence also considers later interpreters such the mystical philosopher Ibn Arabi and the colourful poet Rumi. Lawrence (2006, 109) describes Ibn Arabi as a “deep-sea diver in the ocean of the Qur’an” and advances that Rumi’s approach differed from Ibn Arabi. Lawrence (Ibid, 121) contends that Ibn Arabi was awestruck by the layers of meaning of the Quran whereas Rumi was:
“captivated by the Divine magic that infuses the natural world, from plants to planets and, above all, to the sun”
On that basis, Rumi sought to display the everyday wonders of the Qur’an through his poetry whereas “Ibn Arabi sought the inner meaning of the Qur’an in universal forms” (Ibid, 120).
Lawrence then highlights the diverse impact that the Qur’an has had across the world. He deals with the influence that the Qur’an has had in Asia for example. The Taj Mahal is emblematic of this as Qur’anic inscriptions have been made on its marble surfaces.
Lawrence also examines contemporary impacts of the Qur’an through considering for instance the way in which the Qur’an is being used as a prescription for mercy and source of healing for AIDS victims in Africa.
‘The Qur’an: A Bibliography’ is a valuable and insightful introduction to the Qur’an. This measured work provides the reader with a nuanced understanding of the Qur’an and a flavour of how the Qur’an has been looked at and applied differently over time.
The book also conveys the sense that the Qur’an is a living text and an ever-unfolding miracle. It also inspires the reader to evaluate what role the Qur’an has played in their life history.