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232 of 248 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Unique Approach Geared toward Understanding
I heard Michaels Sells speak at Stanford (he's a religion professor at Haverford), and he said that when he teaches the Qur'an, his students start to get glazed eyes about halfway through the second surah (chapter). He said a colleague appraoched him and said, "Sells, I get to the second surah and I just lose it. I don't know what to make of it. What do you...
Published on May 18, 2002

versus
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some explanation
I would like to explain something that even most muslims dont know. Much of the Quranic verses are connected with incidents and events that took place. Some readers generalise a verse that actually was meant for a specific people.

Abu lahab was infact Mohamed's uncle who was his fierce nemesis,think of him as the bible's Caiaphas or Herod. There were many...
Published on October 10, 2005 by S. Kader


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232 of 248 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Unique Approach Geared toward Understanding, May 18, 2002
By A Customer
I heard Michaels Sells speak at Stanford (he's a religion professor at Haverford), and he said that when he teaches the Qur'an, his students start to get glazed eyes about halfway through the second surah (chapter). He said a colleague appraoched him and said, "Sells, I get to the second surah and I just lose it. I don't know what to make of it. What do you teach?"
Prof. Sells said that the problem in translating the Qur'an comes from the huge grammatical differences between Arabic and English, the difficulty of translating poetry into another language, and the fact that the Qur'an has always been recited out loud. In English, he says, God in the Qur'an sounds angry, whereas in Arabic, God in the Qur'an sounds sad and compassionate. That's a big difference. Sells also says that the grammar in Arabic allows the tone of the Qur'an to achieve "ultimate majesty" at the same time as "personal intimacy." Because of the linguistic difference, that is very difficult to carry over into English.
Therefore, this book is Sells' attempt to get around these difficulties in accessing the Qu'ran. He gives the translation of the surah and then he gives his commentary and explanation of it. There's a CD in the back that has recitations in Arabic, so we can hear that it is poetry and it really does even rhyme and hear how the recited Qur'an can affect a person differently from the printed Qur'an. Sells said, in his talk, that students have actually come up to him with tears in their eyes to tell him that they had previously never had any idea what the Qur'an was like.
Although this is not the entire translated Qur'an, this book will give you a far better idea of what the Qur'an means and what it sounds like and where it comes from than if you pick up a translation of the Qur'an (even one with footnotes) and try to read it and understand it cold. (Many of us get glassy-eyed around the second surah.) This book will give you a much better understanding of the Qur'an than a translation will because it not only explains the meaning of the Qur'anic text, its unique approach solves the problems that those of us who don't speak Arabic have in understanding its nature and its meaning.
Michael Sells said that whenever he's in Damascus, he sits on his rooftop at night and listens to the chanting of love poems drifing toward him from other rooftops, from all directions. Some of that chanting is because Arabic love poems have been around for millennia. But some of that chanting is practicing for the chanting of the poetry of the Qur'an.
That's what Michael Sells has tried to capture in "Approaching the Qu'ran."
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84 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A refreshing and unusual book., August 24, 2002
By 
I initialy bought this book after hearing about the controversy surrounding the University of North Carolina. I was motivated more by curiosity about what was causing the controversy. As a Muslim, I am already familiar with the suras that are translated in this book, so I did not expect to learn much.
But I was pleasantly surprised. The approach that Prof. Sells has taken is refreshing in that he treats the Qur'an as literature. Some Muslims may find this objectionable. But I find it helpful to be able to put the suras in the context of popular Arabian culture of that time. I had never actually thought of Qur'anic text in this way before, having learned it in the traditional fashion, by wrote memorisation of the Arabic verses, and then later, reading commentary.
The CD included with the text was also unexpected. I hadn't seen an analysis of the 'soundscape' of the Qur'an before. I do like listening to beautiful recitations of the Qur'an, but I hadn't considered an analysis of the sounds and how they are put together. I had come across something similar in English literature classes that I took in college; and it makes sense that if one is treating the Qur'an as poetry, one could use similar tools for analysis.
The CD and the analysis of the sounds were the best part of the book. Even if one is not a Muslim, I think it is possible to appreciate the beauty of Qur'anic recitation. As an example I have been able to appreciate the beauty of Gregorian chants even though I did not know what was being said or recited.
I am mystified by the controversy surrounding this book. I wonder if the people that brought the lawsuit against UNC ever actually bothered to read the book. Let's hope that this sort of reactionary ignorance doesn't prevail in our country.
I am very grateful to Prof. Sells for such a fine book. It is a very good introductory text for someone who has never read anything about the Qur'an and wishes to gain some insight.
But I would, also, recommend this book as a valuable tool for Qur'anic study for someone who is already somewhat familiar with the contents of the Qur'an.
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110 of 121 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasant surprise, August 19, 2002
I bought this book because of the controversy surrounding it at the University of North Carolina. I did not expect to learn much since I was raised a Muslim and have read the Quran in Arabic and English. To my surprise, Michael Sells' "Approaching the Quran" has unveiled a very differnt way of understanding it. He included so much context and history to which I was oblivious. Things that I took for granted in Arabic has become so clear and gained deeper meaning with Sells' translation.
I defenitely recommend this book to any non-Arabic (and Arabic-speaking) person who wants to gain a deeper understanding of the main messages of the Quran and Islam.
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63 of 68 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Unique Approach, December 27, 2002
By 
W. Rashed (Jabriya, KUWAIT) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Michael Sells is Professor of Religion at Haverford College where he has taught for 17 years in the areas of Islam; Comparative Religions; Islamic and Comparative mysticism, and Middle East love poetry.
Sells noticed the unusual effect the recited Qur'an has on its audience, sometimes moving even those who may not be particularly religious to tears. In fact Qur'an literally means " The Recitation". Sells found that Westerners, who do not read or speak Arabic, cannot appreciate the beauty and power of the Qur'an, because the standard written English translations fail to retain the inner rhythms, sound patterns and textual dynamics of the original. In this book Sells' goal is" to allow those who do not have access to the Qur'an in its recited Arabic form to encounter one of the most influential texts in human history in a manner that is accessible", and "to present in English some of the texture, tone, power and subtlety of the Arabic text". I think the author has definitely succeeded in this respect.
The 30-page Introduction contains valuable information about the historical and cultural background of Arabia, the core teachings of Islam, the narrative style of the Qur'an, and an interesting discussion of the difficulties inherent in any translation, but especially in the translation of the Qur'an and the author's different and distinctive approach to translating the early Suras (Chapters). Contrary to the opinions expressed by many viewers, who gave this book bad reviews because it contains only the early revelations, Sells' aim was not to promote the Qura'nic message by omitting disturbing verses (if there is such a thing!), but he chose these Suras because they are the ones that best serve his stated goals,as they are characterized by "hymnic quality, condensed and powerful imagery and sweeping lyricism" and so offer the best example of the sound patterns and "sound vision" (the relationship of sound to meaning) of the Qur'an. To further facilitate the appreciation of this sound vision of the Qur'an, the author encloses a CD with the book, and he offers a full transliteration of the six Suras recited in the CD, accompanied by a word-for-word English gloss, so the reader can follow the Arabic recitation on the CD with the help of the transliteration and gloss.
The core of the book is a sensitive translation of Sura 1, the first 18 verses of Sura 53, and Suras 81-114. Facing each translation is a commentary on the Sura, including: interpretation, historical context and key themes.
Although the author did not really have me in mind when writing this book (me being an Arab Muslim), I enjoyed reading the beautiful translation and commentaries, as there is always something new to learn when reading about the Word of God. What I liked most about the CD is that the six Suras are recited, in different styles, by six different reciters from around the world, including two women (living in Kuwait I have, never before heard Qur'an so beautifully recited by women).
This book is a brilliant approach to the Qur'an, which allows those who do not read or speak Arabic to encounter its unique sound effects, and that also boasts a beautiful translation and an insightful commentary! The many bad reviews this beautiful and valuable book got on this forum have nothing to do with the book. These reviewers attacked the book and the author because they do not accept any book that contradicts the negative opinion they've formed about Islam. However, if you want to open up your mind and learn about Islam directly from its source, this is definitely a good book to start with. Later if you want to learn more I recommend: The Message of the Qur'an by Mohammad Asad (the best interpretation but may be difficult to find as it's currently out of print), or The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an by Abdullah Yusuf Ali.
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48 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Approaching the Qur'an, October 18, 2001
Both non-Muslims and the large non-Arabic-speaking Muslim popluation for whom English is a second language can be deeply thankful for this book, in which Michael Sells literally does lead the reader to "approach" the Qur'an -- to get as close as can be in translation and without the linguistic and cultural context of a Muslim society -- first by being pointed to the mystical, early, short suras that were the first revealed to Mohammed; and then by being offered the best English translation ever of these chapters. Many of these remain deeply lyrical in English, thanks to Sells's readiness to stay close to the Arabic meaning and cadence. Sells explains the subtlety of the Qur'an's Arabic and shows the inadequacy, for example, of the male or female pronoun to translate the Qur'anic "hiya" that is "all peace, until the rising of the dawn" in the Surat al-Qadr (Chapter of Power). Best of all, one can actually hear the words of the Qur'an chanted by some of the best muezzins of the Muslim world, thanks to a CD included with the book. Sells writes of Islam with deep respect and love for both its spiritual basis and its incomparable language.
Muslim friends to whom I have read from these translations have been deeply moved by the sincerity and the success of Sells's project, and I imagine this book being given by many Muslims in the West to their Christian and Jewish friends.
Now is certainly the time for this book, as we all struggle to understand each other's faith and practices.
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32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some explanation, October 10, 2005
I would like to explain something that even most muslims dont know. Much of the Quranic verses are connected with incidents and events that took place. Some readers generalise a verse that actually was meant for a specific people.

Abu lahab was infact Mohamed's uncle who was his fierce nemesis,think of him as the bible's Caiaphas or Herod. There were many detractors & opponents of Mohamed not just his uncle.

Now about the verses dealing with conversion or jizya or execute, that verse is known to have dealt specifically with Quraysh Tribe & not the whole world as many claim.

Terrorists & fanatics use these verses to generalise them & spread their evil message to gain followers,but its not absolute, noteven with Quraysh, as upon entering Mecca, Mohamed spared the Meccans,who were his bitter enemy, the slaughter that was expected as per the verse.

To understand the Quran, one must also read history of that era in full details to understand many verses.

There are verses that talks well of christians and jews & other verses that pour scorn, but again, it didnt generalise every single christian & jew, it meant a specific group who had done something, like the Torah condemning the egyptians for mistreating the hebrews & imagine extending it to egyptians of today. I would urge anyone to read more and not to read it with a prejudiced eye like fanatics do. The book is Helpful & throws new light over the quran but extra history reading is needed.
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55 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Strike a Blow for Freedom of Thought and Buy This Book, August 19, 2002
By A Customer
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
"Scientists tell us that the most abundant substance in the universe is hydrogen. It is not. Stupidity is way more abundant than hydrogen." Frank Zappa
As I write this, there is a campaign to ban this book from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It is being cast as a "religious" versus "secular" debate. It is not.It is really a clash between those who believe young Americans are smart and capable of understanding/tolerating cultures that may be unfamiliar and those who believe young Americans are idiots who can't be trusted to think for themselves.
In fact, most Americans, of whatever religion or lack of religion, surely welcome the opportunity for a thoughtful investigation of the qu'ran by college students, as well as many other texts from this fascinating religious tradition. One reason among many: The more we know about Islamic religion and culture, the easier it will be to respond effectively to the bin Ladens of the world and to neutralize their impact.
A small, ignorant minority wish to preserve their ignorance and the ignorance of their no longer young kids. Incredibly, they have sued UNC Chapel Hill to prevent the reading of this book. The Wall Street Journal, which really should know better, supports them.
I have ordered this book partly out of interest and partly out of protest against this preposterous and wildly inappropriate attempt to restrict the rights of young Americans to study important topics that are, perhaps, foreign, or uncomfortable to them.
The ignorant might respond: What if incoming students were forced to read excerpts, with objective commentary, of Mein Kampf or Protocols of the Elders of Zion? Wouldn't you, a Jew, object to that and seek to ban those books? The answer is: Of course not. The problem is less reading, not more.
Do your bit to reduce universal stupidity. Encourage kids to read more, and to read things that make them think and that they may disagree with.
And buy this book.
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52 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Approaching the Qur'an, November 8, 2001
By A Customer
Approaching the Qur'an thrusts the reader into the multifaceted, supple world of Islam by coupling delicate, sensitive, lyrical translations of Islam's sacred text with an extensive commentary on each Sura translated. These commentaries discuss the religious and historical context surrounding each of these Suras' revelations, resulting in the reader gaining insight not just into the Qur'an's message, but into the other major religious themes of Islam as well. Sells's sensitive contextualization of the Suras is complemented by his section on "Hearing the Qur'an," an introduction to the critical importance of the Qur'an's aural components. The CD included in this book allows the reader to experience firsthand just how powerful the force of Qur'anic recitation is, even if the listener does not speak any Arabic.
Michael Sells should be commended most highly for his exceptional translations that are both sensitive to those within the tradition, and, because of their commentaries, are also accessible to new students of the Qur'an.
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41 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book on how to understand the Qur'an, October 7, 2002
By A Customer
Sells is a professor of religion at Haverford. He runs into all kinds of linguistic problems when he teaches the Qur'an as part of Haverford's comparative religions program. This book is his way of trying to get around those linguistic problems. It is not the entire Qur'an -- he takes those verses that are representative of the Qur'an and analyzes them in detail, giving us tools to analyze them in detail ourselves. The Qur'an was totally incomprehensible to me until I read this book.
For those insistng that this book is not representative of the Qur'an because it doesn't include any fighting verses (that's the view of the Christian fundamentalists suing UNC), it's useful to remember that only about 47 of 6,236 Qur'anic verses urge fighting. That's less than 1 percent of the Qur'an, and thereore hardly representative. I had to read the Bible as a freshman, and we didn't discuss the violent passages in the Bible (of which there are many). And if some Muslims have based violent actions on the Qur'an, just as many non-Muslims, like the Ku Klux Klan, Timothy McVeigh, David Coresh, the instigators of the Jonestown massacres, and people who blow up abortion clinics all base their actions on the Bible. That's not even taking into account the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars islamic civ professors take note!, November 14, 2006
By 
Frau Dr. (Cincinnati, United States) - See all my reviews
On the surface, the book is an esoteric discussion of the language, poetry and mysticism of the early Suras --But I've used it in the classroom, and it is much more than that. We start with it; it's the first and only material we cover during the first week of class. It concisely, and dramatically, aids in making clear the significance of the Arabic language, the performative Qu'ran, the literary and mystical relationship with other sacred and secular texts, and, taken as far as it will go by the instructor making use of the multi-gender, multi-cultural, multi-circumstantial performances of the Qu'ran on the accompanying CD, makes the central position of the Qu'ran within a variety of Islamic societies comprehensible. This is easily taught , but not easily internalized without a book like Sells'. Much of what one covers in an Islamic Civ. course makes little sense without this level of understanding - imagine teaching Western Civ. without Homer or the Biblical tradition. Order it for your class! Your students will thank you for it.
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Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations
Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations by Michael Anthony Sells (Paperback - January 1, 2007)
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