Reflection on the Qur’an, By Irfan Ahmad Khan. The Islamic Foundation, Leicestershire, UK. 2005, xiii, 782 pp. ISBN 0–86037 455 6, 086037=445 9 pbk
In recent years, the tremendous spurt in publications touching upon various aspects of the Qur’an tells the centrality of this book in the contemporary world. Undoubtedly, the Qur’an inspires more than a billion living beings on earth, despite the fact that many only read or recite it, without fully apprehending the depth of the message. The author has made his earnest ‘effort to understand the Qur’an with a modern mind’, and convey its basic message: It is a ‘guide’ for the daily life of all human beings.
The author begins by outlining his approach to the understanding of the Qu’ranic verses: “Every Surah is a complete discourse with perfect systematic coherence.” This stands in sharp contrast with the claims of many western writers who present the Qur’an as a hotchpotch of disjointed statements, and incoherent chapters.
The author firmly believes that the “Ummah’s revival is not possible without people building up their direct relationship with the Divine Words.” A familiarity with the divine text enables one to realize how two basic themes: God is One (and the only one worthy of being worshipped) and all humans will finally appear before Him to give an account of what they did during their life on earth to receive the reward or punishment in a lasting life. This is a very powerful message that changed the human history some fifteen hundreds ago, and has the potential to change it again. What is needed is to spread it by word and in practice.
The Qur’an addresses every human being, and invites him to reflect upon the logical consequences of the relationship between the Creator and the created. Without such a realization, human life on earth loses its relevance. If there is none to whom we are accountable, with the certainty of a recompense then what else can keep us from becoming a bull in a china shop? All the talk of human responsibility and pleasures of a true democracy mean little for a person who lives for himself, disregarding all else.
The book uses a simple strategy to provide the basic tools for gaining the insights into the Qur’anic texts: literal translation in simple words, followed by explanatory notes on a ‘block’ of ‘Aayat’. The notes provide the building blocks for the reader’s reflections. The reader is asked to ‘orient’ himself/herself to gain and develop the skills and ability to find the real meaning. It is a methodology for understanding the book not in ‘abstract’, as many Tafaseer do, but for developing a ‘reflective thinking’ process. The author does not want the reader to restrict to his own given reflections either; instead he requires him to reflect on his own and see if the two streams of thought converge. In his words, “as the author proceeds pondering over Divine Ayaat, newer discoveries are made, confusions are removed and the path becomes clearer.” He asks the readers not to stop after reading his comments as if it was a cooked dish for him to savor. They must continue their own investigation if they wish to understand the Book (i.e. the Qur’an) better.
The introductory chapter explains his motives in bringing out a new commentary, especially the “Tawhidic mission”. The author made a very serious effort to link the Qur’an with the Sunnah of the Messenger (SAW), and explain the distinctive features of both: The Qur’an is the TEXT and the TEXT is DIVINE. Any effort to understand the Sunnah that does not keep the Qur’an (which is thus being explained and applied to life) in the perspective will be seriously mistaken. This part of the Introduction is very provocative and a must read for all.
The author is not only a known Islamic scholar, but is well qualified for the task with his grooming in higher Islamic education, coupled with a Ph.D. in philosophy from a top institution of higher learning in the U.S. His association with the global Islamic work spans over five decades. His deeper understating of the problems plaguing the Muslim Ummah and the humanity at large has reinforced his conviction that only by going back to the Words of Allah we can survive, and he has presented his views very forcefully. The author has spent long years contemplating over the Qur’anic texts and made a diligent effort to transfer his inner feelings in a very easy to read diction and lucid style.
The volume in hand, containing 800 pages covers only the first two chapters – Al-Fatiha and Al-Baqarah and took almost a decade of hard work of writing, reviewing and constant revising. This is among the best of the books coming out about the Qur’an in recent years by a Muslim author. His contribution towards the understanding of the Qur’an is unique. We hope that he will complete the remaining parts, and enlighten the humanity with his insights about its real relationship with God that it has forgotten for long.
We wish the book was published by a reputable publishing house in the West and marketed widely, although the present publisher has done an excellent job in limiting circumstances.
A highly recommended reading.