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Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations Paperback – January 1, 2007

4.1 out of 5 stars 62 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Despite the rapid growth of Islam in this country, its precepts and scripture remain inaccessible to many readers. It is difficult, too, that many of its believers assert that the Qur'an cannot be translated. This groundbreaking work by Haverford College professor Sells goes a very long way to bridging the gap that separates the non-Islamic reader from the Qur'an; he translates and extensively annotates a careful selection of the earliest "suras" (revelations), setting them in their cultural context. Further chapters discuss sound and gender in the meaning of the Qur'an, and the book includes an hour-long CD of extraordinary field recordings of male and female Qur'anic reciters. Highly recommended.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Michael Sells is to be congratulated for making a major contribution to religious literature with Approaching the Qur'an, the best version of Muslim scriptures available in English. This is an important and illuminating work, one that will be welcomed by scholars, students, believers, and all who seek to better understand Islam and its sacred scripture." -- Carl Ernst is professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina and author of The Shambhala Guide to Sufism

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 236 pages
  • Publisher: White Cloud Press; 2nd edition (January 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1883991692
  • ISBN-13: 978-1883991692
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #125,403 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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!
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