Book Review: A greater context on the interpretation of Al Qur’an

“The Qur’an Discussions: What Would a Muslim Say (Volume 2)” by Ahmed Lotfy Rashed

This is the 2nd volume of Ahmed Lotfy Rashed’s books of e-mail correspondence, which covers a lot of real-life questions on Islam from non-Muslims. On this particular book, Rashed dig deeper into Al Qur’an, with the narrative of a long list of interesting questions from one person that reads the Qur’an cover to cover.

Rashed remarked, “Most Qur’an students notice that the first third of the Qur’an is where most of the social, legal, and political rulings reside, so it is this section of the Qur’an that generates the most questions and discussions. The remaining two thirds deal more with the stories of the previous prophets and general spiritual and moral admonitions, so it is less dependent on historical context.”

And right on cue, this book focuses on that first 1/3 of the holy text.

It talks about Islamic finance, the difference between fallen angel in the Bible and jinn in the Qur’an, the rules of having 4 wives, the rules for women wearing niqab, the rules and context for marriage age, on friendship with non-Muslim. It also talks about Islam compatible relationship with science and its progress, on the difference between the spread of Islam and the expansion of Muslim Empires, the technicalities of zakat and who are entitled to it, and many, many more.

As always, Rashed provides the context for each one of the verse discussed, and at some cases provide more examples, which is vital in understanding the interpretation of the Qu’ran. As Rashed himself commented: “our scholars teach us that knowing the reason for revelation (the context) is a prerequisite for understanding the message that God is relating in any particular passage. When the context is a belligerent treaty-breaking tribe (as was the case for most of Surah 9 and Surah 8), the verses are understood to be applicable only against future belligerent tribes or nations. Likewise, when the context is general guidelines or principles (as was the case for most of the Qur’an), the verses are understood to be applicable in general, thus forming the normative teachings of Islam. This concept alone addresses most of the misconceptions about the Qur’an being a book of intolerance or Islam being a religion of violence.”

All in all, it is an easy to read book, that answers some of the most pressing questions in a simple but powerful way.