Book Review: Aspects of the Quràn By Jeremy R. Hammond

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by Jeremy R. Hammond
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
Foreign Policy Journal
19 October 2009

Aspects of the Quràn by Syed Zahoor Ahmad sets out to “clear some of the misconceptions surrounding Islam and present it in its true colors” by presenting nine aspects of Islam that are commonly misrepresented in the West.

The author’s means of doing so, for better or for worse, is to simply let the Quran speak for itself. Ahmad offers a few brief introductory remarks in the beginning of the book touching on distortions of Islam. But the bulk of the book’s pages are devoted entirely to collections of verses from the Muslim holy book.

For anyone picking up the book with the hopes of reading a scholarly analysis of how Western media and popular culture distorts the religion and the true meaning of the Quran, they are sure to be disappointed. Ahmad offers a mere 32 pages by way of introduction to the aspects of Islam he sets out to clarify and correct, and the collection of verses that follow are unfortunately not accompanied with any commentary or scholarly insight, such as examination into the historical context in which a verse was written, and so on.

The lack of commentary does no credit to the author’s stated purpose. As he notes in the introduction, quotes from the Quran are commonly taken out of context. A quote may just as well be taken out of context quoted from Ahmad’s book as from the Quran itself, though. With no discussion of the Quran’s true meaning, one is probably just as well off in most cases simply reading the Quran instead.

The clearly intended target audience is people who know little or nothing about Islam except for the distortions they get from the news, movies, their Church pulpit, or wherever. But the lack of original commentary unfortunately means anyone already holding a particular view of Islam would likely never pick up the book—any more than they are likely to pick up the Quran itself. In a sense, therefore, Ahmad is preaching to the choir, so-to-speak.

The book does have its usefulness, however. For anyone interested in what the Quran says about certain topics without actually wishing to read the whole thing, Ahmad’s book offers a useful collection of verses that serve well as a quick reference guide.

The aspects of the Quran chosen for scrutiny include the man Muhammed, Islam’s relationship with Judaism and Christianity, social justice, women, jihad, and terrorism. Anyone looking to do a quick study of what the Quran has to say about any one of these or the other aspects Ahmad has chosen to collect verses on would find his book a useful guide.

Similarly, for anyone who has actually read the Quran and is familiar with what it actually says (as opposed to what pundits and preachers say it says), Ahmad’s book provides a useful cross-reference tool. One may easily find verses on a particular topic in Aspects of the Quràn they would otherwise have to go hunting for.

In the end, though, the book’s shortfall remains its lack of discussion of these topics. Any person picking up the book in the hope that they might better arm themselves to confront misperceptions about Islam and offer a challenge to prejudices against Muslims witnessed in their own lives will find they are given little guidance by the author. It’s left to them to read, interpret, and draw their own conclusions—which is part of the problem and part of the reason so many misconceptions about Islam exist in the first place, including among Muslims themselves, as the author also points out in his introduction.

In other words, instead of offering useful critical analysis of aspects of the Quran by putting relevant verses in historical and cultural context and explaining why certain perceptions of the religion are distortions or why some other interpretation is the correct one, and so on, the author simply gathers verses on a given topic and essentially says to the reader, “Here you go. Now do your own homework.”

To put it another way, Ahmad invites the reader to discover the Quran. But rather than bringing the Quran to the reader, the reader must go and find it for themselves. As useful a reference guide as it may be, this obviously puts limits on the book’s effectiveness as a tool for addressing distortions about Islam that are badly in need of being challenged.

If you’re interested in knowing what the Quran says, go buy and read the Quran. If you only care to know what the Quran actually says about, say, the concept of jihad, then Aspects of the Quràn just might be what you are looking for.

Jeremy R. Hammond is the editor and principle writer for Foreign Policy Journal, an online publication dedicated to providing news, critical analysis, and commentary on U.S. foreign policy, particularly with regard to the “war on terrorism” and events in the Middle East, from outside of the standard framework offered by government officials and the mainstream corporate media. He has also written for numerous other online publications. You can contact him here.