A Beginner's Guide to Reading the Quran

How to Read Islam's Holy Text

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A great deal of turmoil in the world occurs because we do not truly understand the cultural perspectives of our fellow humans. A good place to start in the effort to develop mutual human understanding and respect for another religious faith is to read its most holy text. For the Islamic faith, the core religious text is the Quran, said to be the revelation of spiritual truth from Allah (God) to mankind. For some people, however, the Quran can be difficult to sit down and read from cover to cover.  

The word Quran (sometimes spelled Qur'an or Koran) comes from the Arabic word "qara'a," meaning "he read." Muslims believe that the Quran was verbally revealed by God to the prophet Muhammad through the angel Gabriel over a period of roughly 23 years. These revelations were transcribed by followers in the period following Mohammad's death, and each verse has a particular historical content that does not follow a linear or historical narrative. The Quran assumes that readers are already familiar with some of the major themes found in Biblical scriptures, and it offers commentary or interpretations of some of those events. 

The themes of the Quran are interwoven among the chapters, and the book is not presented in chronological order. So how does one begin to understand its message? Here are some tips for understanding this important holy text. 

Gain a Basic Knowledge of Islam

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Before embarking on a study of the Quran, it is necessary to have some basic background in the faith of Islam. This will give you a foundation from which to start, and some understanding of the vocabulary and message of the Quran. Some places to gain this knowledge: 

Choose a Good Quran Translation

The Quran was revealed in the Arabic language, and the original text has remained unchanged in that language since the time of its revelation. If you do not read Arabic, you'll need to obtain a translation, which is, at best, an interpretation of the Arabic meaning. Translations vary in their style and their faithfulness to the Arabic original.​

Choose a Quran Commentary or Companion Book

As an accompaniment to the Quran, it is helpful to have an exegesis, or commentary, to refer to as you read along. While many English translations contain footnotes, certain passages may need extra explanation or need to be placed in a complete context. A variety of good commentaries are available at bookstores or on-line retailers. 

Ask Questions

The Quran challenges the reader to think about its message, ponder its meaning, and accept it with understanding rather than blind faith.  As you read, feel free to ask for clarification from knowledgeable Muslims.

A local mosque will have an imam or other authority who will be happy to answer serious questions from anyone with a sincere interest. 

Continue to Learn

In Islam, the learning process is never complete. As you grow in understanding of the Muslim faith, you may come across more questions, or more topics you want to study. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) told his followers to "seek knowledge, even unto China—in other words, to pursue your study to the farthest reaches of the earth.