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.
For non-Muslim, English-speaking readers of the Qur'an who become overwhelmed and perplexed, Wagner (theology, Moravian Coll. & Moravian Theological Seminary) comes to the rescue. After a chronological listing of key events in Islam's early history - from Muhammad's birth in Mecca c.570 C.E. to the widening rift between Sunni and Shiite believers in 680 C.E. - Wagner provides in Part 1 a historical context and geographical setting to the Qur'an and Islam, comparing it to the Bible and the other two Abrahamic faiths (i.e., Judaism and Christianity). Part 2 delves into the content and teachings of the Qu'ran's 114 Surahs; Wagner is not afraid to wrestle with controversial topics such as jihad (struggle), martyrdom, the place and role of women, and the treatment of non-Muslims. Finally, in Part 3, he focuses on challenges to readers of the Qur'an as well as critics' challenges to the Qur'an. Keeping with his methodical structure, he also includes three appendixes covering the t raditional names and the order of the Surahs, all the biblical characters and figures mentioned in the Qur'an, and an indispensable glossary that covers terms from adhan to Zakat. A selected bibliography points readers to resources about the Qur'an in Arabic and English translation, along with guides to interpreting the sacred book. In sum, this is a well-researched, thoughtful, and fair-minded treatment. Highly recommended for academic collections and general public library readership. - C. Brian Smith, Arlington Heights Memorial Lib., IL