The Koran has constituted a remarkably resilient core of identity and continuity for a religious tradition that is now in its 15th century. In this Very Short Introduction, Michael Cook provides a lucid and direct account of the significance of the Koran, both in the modern world and in that of traditional Islam.He gives vivid accounts of its role in Muslim civilization, illustrates the diversity of interpretations championed by traditional and modern commentators, discusses the processes by which the book took shape, and compares it to other scriptures and classics of the historic cultures of Eurasia.
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"It is surely a noble Koran in a hidden Book - none but the purified touch it - a sending down from the Lord of all Being." - Q56:77-80
I've been thinking of reading/listening to the Koran for a couple years now. I've read various Sura before, and have a fair working knowledge of the book, but have never approached it from beginning to end. Recently, with the publication of The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary, I'm close to taking the plunge. Because of the strong oral tradition of the Koran, however, I also wanted to listen to it. Listening to it in Arabic presents the obvious issue: I don't understand Arabic, so I found a good Modern English reading based on interpretations of the meaning by Dr Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali and Dr Muhammad Muhsin Khan. I've also got a version the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sent me (I actually have an English AND Turkish translation) once when I wrote requesting it. This translation is fairly dominant in English and from what I've read has a fairly conservative, dare I say fundamentalist, bent to it. Again, I don't read Arabic so when I eventually approach the book I will ALWAYS be dependent on others for their scholarship, interpretation, and thus biases.
That is part of the reasons I wanted to read Cook's VSI to the Koran before I started reading the Koran itself. In broad strokes, I knew much of what he spoke about before, but his details were interesting. I was hoping for more of an overview of the text itself, but Cook's introduction mainly sets the table for reading the text by explaining (going backwards in time): The Koran in the Modern world, the Koran in the traditional Muslim world, and the formation of the Koran. The most interesting part to me was the middle section, which delved into the Koran in the tradition Muslim world. In this section he explored the Koran as codex, text, worship, truth, and object of dogma. That said, I also liked the first section's exploration of the idea of scripture (which extends, obviously beyond the Koran) and the dissemination, translation, and interpretation of the Koran.
So, in many ways this book didn't give me all of what I wanted, but it did give me much that I think I will need to read and better understand the Koran.