Title: Reading the Qur'an in English
Author: Robert A. Campbell
Rating: Must Read!
Publisher: Cape Breton University Press
Web Page: www.cbupress.ca
Reviewed by: Eric Jones
Robert A. Campbell’s introductory study guide for reading the Qur’an should be required for students or anybody preparing to tackle one the world’s most controversial and confusing religious texts. “Reading the Qur’an in English” may sound daunting at first, (yes, you need to read a whole book just to prepare you for reading another book) but even into its first pages it becomes clear that Campbell isn’t just listing definitions for words you should know, or trying to shoehorn a speculative agenda into your study. He’s actually providing valuable tools that you’ll need for when you take the Qur’an out on your own once Campbell lets go of the handlebars.
Clocking in at just under 200 pages, and lined with some hefty one-inch margins for your scribble-scrabble, the book reads fairly quickly. This is mostly attributable to Campbell’s eager and easy prose which moves in a torrent of discussion and never dips into confusing word-use or banal rambling. Often, in fact, the author evokes a more colloquial tone that makes him feel as if he’s sitting in front of you, teacup and saucer at the ready in a red Masterpiece Theater velvet robe, merely suggesting “that the Qur’an be read in reverse, starting with the smaller surahs and moving towards the longer more complex surahs as one becomes more comfortable with the style.” Your eyeballs just fall out of your head and you think “backwards!?” And now you’re listening. And you think that it might end there. That’s his big tip, and now he’ll just use the rest of the book to explain why you should read the Qur’an from back to front. But, you’re wrong. He never comes back to it. That’s merely a suggestion he drops as easily as if it were lint from his pocket in the introduction. Now he’ll move on into the stuff that you really need.
Much of the basic structure for reading the Qur’an, you’ll discover, is different than western students are used to. Surahs have often been translated into chapters, but Campbell will explain why they aren’t really chapters. Also, each of these chapters has a title, but Campbell will also explain why these aren’t really titles. Even your normal eye movement on the page (left to right, top to bottom) will be called into question. All of this spun in such a fascinating way that it escapes its own academic trappings and becomes a pleasurable read in its own right.
The material itself never seems uniform and is fluidly moving from structural diagrams to dramatic analysis to comparative studies and so on, and so on. Each chapter is broken up into subsections, each one clearly titled and short so that it can be referenced later on without a lot of text searching. Once it’s been given a once over, going back to find sections for information is as easy as opening the book. Simply put, “Reading the Qur’an in English” is every bit as informative and accessible for beginning students of the Qur’an as William Strunk and E.B. White’s “Elements of Style” is for English students. Do yourself a favor and get a copy to stash inside your monstrous annotated/interpretated/extrapolated/illustrated Modern English version of the Qur’an.
You’ll need it.
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