THE WRITINGS ON THE QUR’AN—and more significantly in the area of Qura’nic Studies—is an interesting and exciting academic discipline, spread over a number of branches, to which Muslims (from classical to contemporary era) and non-Muslims (or Western scholars) have contributed extensively. Besides the tafsir literature, ‘Ulum al-Qur’an, translations of the Qur’an in various languages (especially English), and other inter-related aspects, there have emerged, from the last few decades, many new trends in this field—ranging from Qura’nic hermeneutics, contextualist approach to Qur’an/ Qura’nic Text, thematic interpretations of Qur’an, Qur’an for daily recitation, to simple introductions to the Qur’an, and personal wrestling(s) with the Sacred Text. Among these genres, a significant category—more persuasive and dominant than others—is the ‘thematic’ study and interpretation of the Qur’an.
Some of the important works on the ‘thematic’ study of Qur’an—the aspect which forms both the basis (foundations) as well as incentive and inspiration for my work—with a focus ranging from key terms or concepts, major themes, to some of the essential/ basic teachings, and major issues and contemporary topics, include: Toshihiko Izutsu, God and Man in the Koran (1964) and Ethico-Religious Concepts in the Qur’an (1966/ 2004), B. A. Dar, Qura’nic Ethics (1960), Qamaruddin Khan, Political Concepts in the Qur’an (1973), Abu al-‘Ala Mawdudi, Four Basic Qura’nic Terms: Ilah, Rabb, ‘Ibadah, Deen (1977), Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes of the Qur’an (1980), T. B. (Taleem ‘Ali) Irving et. al., The Qur’an: Basic Teachings (1992), Muhammad Abdel Haleem, Understanding the Qur’an: Themes and Style (1999/ 2001), Abdur Raheem Kidwai, The Qur’an: Essential Teachings (2005), Massimo Campanini, The Qur’an: The Basics (2007), and most recently Ziauddinm Sardar’s Reading the Qur’an (2011/ 2015).
A passing look at the titles of these works on the ‘thematic’ study of the Qur’an, gives an impression that they (collectively) highlight major themes or basic terms, some essential teachings or main/ key concepts, ethico-religious concepts, or themes, concepts and contemporary topics/ issues altogether. It also gives the impression that it depends on the author’s choice and the expertise, as well as on the circumstances and requirements (or more specifically on the need of the hour) which topics (terms, concepts, and themes) he selects, prefers, and highlights, and which he drops.
‘Thematic’ Studies of Qur’an, and the Present Work: Contents, Context, and Contribution
As indicated above, the writings on the Qur’an—and specifically in the area of the Qura’nic Studies—are spread over a number of branches, with contributions from Muslims and non-Muslims, and in a number of languages (especially in English presently). The above genres and categories of works in the field of Qura’nic Studies reveal that there have been many attempts by various scholars and writers to study the Qur’an in a variety of ways, with different aims and purposes. And one such significant category, in the modern period, is the ‘thematic’ study of the Qur’an, with the aim to highlight some key concepts and important terms, vital and vibrant themes, occurring in the Diving Book. The ‘Thematic Study of Qur’an’ is a significant and recurring theme in the literature on Qur’an and things Qura’nic.
Moreover, it is also significant to mention that all the above-mentioned works on ‘thematic’ study of Qur’an highlight—as the titles clearly reveal—different kinds of concepts, terms, themes, and teachings of the Qur’an.
For example, Toshihiko Izutsu (d. 1993), a Japanese scholar—following a ‘semantic’ approach—dealt primarily with religious ethics and attitude and on the general Qura’nic worldview, in his two books, God and Man in the Koran (1964), and Ethico-Religious Concepts in the Qur’an (1966/ 2002). Each of these works tries to deﬁne broadly a semantic range of vocabulary central to religious discussion, and the two works in combination provide ‘a signiﬁcant view of the religious and cognitive structures of the Qur’an’ through the ‘semantic method’ that ‘has had a lasting effect on the discipline’ of the Qura’nic Studies. Syed Abu ‘Ala Mawdudi (1977) specifically focused on the Four Basic Qura’nic Terms: Ilah, Rabb, ‘Ibadah, Deen (God, the Lord, Religious Observance, and Faith), because they are, in his opinion, ‘basic to the whole teaching of the Qur’an’ and that the ‘entire contents’ of the whole Qur’an, ‘revolve around these four terms only’.
Fazlur Rahman’s Major Themes of the Qur’an (1980) explores the theological, moral and social teachings and principles of Islam, by engaging in a systematic study of the Sacred Text according to speciﬁc themes, instead of individual verses. Following a ‘synthetic exposition’ and thematic approach, Rahman provides ‘an introduction to major themes of the Qur’an’ which gives the reader ‘a genuine taste of the Qur’an’.
This trend continued with more objectivity, rigor, and precision in the 21st century as well. For example, Abdel Haleem’s Understanding the Qur’an: Themes and Styles (2001) discusses—in an easy-to-understand manner and providing the reader with useful insights—some major themes of the Qur’an that are pertinent to modern debates on Qura’nic interpretation, including, the concept of life, marriage, war and peace, tolerance, paradise, etc. It is ‘intended to help the general reader, and also the scholar, to understand the Qur’an by combining a number of approaches: thematic, stylistic and comparative’.
The Qur’an: Essential Teachings by Abdur Raheem Kidwai (2005) mainly deals, in a lucid and coherent manner, with the articles of faith, basic Islamic Pillars, and with social ethics. Addressed to ‘the English-speaking reading public interested in grasping the meaning and message of the Qur’an’, Kidwai’s work is ‘intended to help readers get an idea of the Qura’nic worldview’: and thus contains and covers topics on the articles of Islamic faith, God-man relationship, religious duties, and the Islamic value system.
Another addition to this genre is Ziaudin Sardar’s Reading the Qur’an (2011/ 2015)—one of the significant, substantial, and latest work in the genre of ‘thematic’ study—includes themes and concepts as well as contemporary issues. By looking at ‘the Qur’an as a whole, an integrated text’, the major themes and key concepts, explored by Sardar, range from Prophets and Revelation, time and history, truth and plurality, humanity and diversity, individual and community, to reason and knowledge, crime and punishment, rights and duties, nature and environment, ethics and morality, and reading and writing. Similarly, he also brings forth some of the ‘pressing issues of our time’, which range from ‘the Shari’ah (Islamic Law) to suicide bombing, politics and democracy, sex and homosexuality, science and evolution, to freedom of expression and the veil’, etc.
Thus, a step forward, and a humble contribution in the area of ‘thematic’ study of the Sacred Text, the present work, Towards Understanding Some Qura’nic Terms, Concepts, and Themes—published by Qirtas Publishers, from Karachi, Pakistan; and released in September 2017—is a collection of twenty-two (22) topics/ essays which reflects on various key terms, basic concepts, vital and vibrant themes of Qur’an and things Qura’nic, and some (much-debated and constantly-contested) contemporary issues. This list is diverse, but is inter-related, and thus significant.
Forwarded by Professor Abdur Raheem Kidwai (a renowned academician and a specialist in the field of Qura’nic studies, from Aligarh Muslim University, India), the work is divided into two sections, viz: ‘Key Terms and Basic Concepts’ and ‘Vital Themes and Some Contemporary Issues’. This list is diverse, but is inter-related, and thus significant. The topics covered in the first section are: Concept of Human Life (Hayat al-Dunya and Aakhirah), Worship (‘Ibadah), Sincerity (Ikhlas), Piety (Taqwa), Virtuousness (Salih), Love (Hubb), Excellence (Ihsan), Intellect (‘Aql), Thinking (Tafakkur), Knowledge (‘Ilm), and Time and Dynamics of Change (in the light of Surah al-Asr, Q. 103).
In the second section, themes and issues dealing with different aspects of human life—ranging from ethico-religious, socio-political, to historical and contemporary aspects—discussed in the light of Qura’nic perspective, are: human nature and psyche, ethics and morality, modesty and indecency (Haya and Fahisha), social ethics, individual-society relationship, concept of history, rise and fall of nations, moral corruption and its Qura’nic solution, (and among the contemporary issues discussed are) Ijtihad (as a dynamic tool for reformation), Shura-Democracy nexus, and Religious Pluralism.
To put it briefly here, the contents and subject-matter of this book touches some of the significant concepts and themes, topics and issues; those aspects, themes, and issues which have either been overlooked, or are newly emerged (and thus fiercely debated), or have been misunderstood (and misread) due to the diverse interpretations, altered evaluations, and varied versions: examples include Salih, Hubb, Ihsan, ‘Aql, Tafakkur, Haya, Ijtihad, Shura, and Pluralism.
The book is written in a concise and succinct, clear and coherent, and in lucid and persuasive manner. Blending the scholarship of past and present (produced by Muslims and non-Muslims), and reflecting on the major themes and issues of diverse nature—from ethico-religious, socio-political, to historical and contemporary issues—Towards Understanding Some Qura’nic Terms, Concepts, and Themes will prove, it is expected and anticipated, valuable and appealing to the students and general readers of the field of Qura’nic Studies, and helpful/ useful for (all) those seeking solution(s) to the current issues and challenges of ethico-religious or socio-political nature in the light of the teachings of the noble Qur’an—the Timeless “Guidance Unto Mankind” (Q. 2: 185), “explained on the basis of true knowledge” (Q. 7: 52)
Excerpts from the ‘Foreword’ by Prof. Abdur Raheem Kidwai (Aligarh Muslim University, India):
“Towards Understanding Some Qura’nic Terms, Concepts, and Themes … provides an excellent opportunity to gain or renew acquaintance with the meaning and message of such a masterpiece as the Qur’an, the Word of God. […] Dr Parray deserves credit for having assessed well the needs and wants of the English speaking readers. For his work provides a helpful overview of the contents of the Qur’an by way of having elucidated its main contours and rubrics. […] In a more helpful vein Dr Parray has conscientiously identified some Key Terms and Basic Concepts of the Qur’an. This once again, provides readers with a kind of road map with clear, intelligible signs, guiding them to the kernel of the Qur’an. … Equally masterly is his account of eleven key Qura’nic terms on which hinges the Qura’nic discourse. Included amid these are Worship, Piety, and Knowledge in particular. […] Of special interest are Dr Parray’s discussions on such timely and immediately relevant issues as ‘Shura-Democracy nexus’, ‘Religious Pluralism and its Scriptural Foundations’, and ‘Ijtihad’. … Dr Parray is to be complimented for raising and addressing these concerns of the day.
Towards Understanding Some Qura’nic Terms, Concepts, and Themes stands out as a useful addition to the earlier titles in this particular field of the Qura’nic scholarship. … Dr Parray has enriched the field admirably and facilitated a better understanding of the eternal source of guidance. So doing he has accomplished a task which promotes goodness and makes this world a better place to live in …”. ***
Note: This article consists of the excerpts from the ‘Preface’ (pp. 19-30), ‘Introduction’ (pp. 31-68), & ‘Foreword’ (pp. 7-12), of the author’s recently published work, ‘Towards Understanding Some Qura’nic Terms, Concepts, and Themes’ (Karachi, Pakistan: Qirtas Publishers, 2017); ISBN: 9789699540446; Pages: 296; Price: 340/- (Pakistani Rupees).
About the Author: Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray is presently working as Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies in Higher Education Department, Jammu & Kashmir (India). He completed his PhD from Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India (2009-14), and Post-Doctorate from ‘Iqbal International Institute for Research & Dialogue’ (IRD), International Islamic University, Islamabad (IIUI), Pakistan (Mar-Aug’2014). From 2010, he has published in numerous reputed academic journals and magazines (of Islamic Studies and Social/ Political Science), from over a dozen countries around the world. His major areas of interest are: Islam and Democracy; Modern Islamic Political Thought; Islamic Modernist/ Reformist Thought in Contemporary South Asia; and Modern Trends & English Scholarship in Qura’nic Studies. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org