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The Essential Koran: The Heart of Islam Hardcover – January, 1998

3.8 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This collection of readings from the Quran is designed to help non-Muslim Westerners approach this sacred book and savor something of its amazing power through a selection of chapters and verses encapsulating some of its central ideas and essential beauties. A "rosary of readings and recitations," the excerpts chosen represent the "six aims" of the Quran (which range from knowledge of God to refutations of unbelievers' arguments), all of which point to the need for intelligent, considered faith in order for humans to come to a true knowledge of God. The selections, from hymns of praise to calls for compassion toward the most needy, reveal the majesty and poetry of this extraordinary text while illuminating its spiritual lessons. Cleary's graceful translation makes the ancient verses clear and accessible to the modern reader:

Worship nothing but God;
be good to your parents and relatives,
and to the orphan and the poor.
Speak nicely to people,
be constant in prayer,
and give charity.

The excellent linguistic notes, which Cleary calls an intrinsic part of the translation itself, amplify the meanings of untranslatable words through reference to their Arabic roots and related derivatives. The book is a first-rate introduction for non-Muslims both to the beauty of the Quran and to the core teachings of Islam, which have too often been misrepresented or misunderstood in the West. --Uma Kukathas

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Arabic --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 203 pages
  • Publisher: Book Sales; New edition edition (January 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0785809023
  • ISBN-13: 978-0785809029
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,156,895 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on February 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I am a Muslim who has read several different English translations of the Qur'an; I find this one unmatched in articulation, beauty, and accessibility.
Cleary departs from the standard of English translations written in some funky Olde English style, and attempts to capture the rythms and eloquent poetic descriptions found only in the original Arabic.
The Qur'an is an extraordinary literary masterpiece; I have never seen an English translation even attempt to hint at revealing that essential appealing style.
The introduction to the book is thorough and a pleasure to read.
If you are tired of incomprehensible translations, I highly recommend this one.
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Format: Hardcover
In this continuation of the Essentials series, Thomas Cleary presents a basic introduction to the Koran.
Koran (Qur'an, in some transliterations) literally means 'reading' or 'recitation'. According to Islamic tradition, the Koran is a spiritually revealed book, in the way Torah was revealed to Moses or the Gospel message was revealed to Jesus. Connecting to these earlier voices of the same God, the Koran also serves as a clarifier, a standard. The prophet Muhammad, born about year 570, orphaned early, led a fairly unremarkable life until about age 40, when he had a revelation, which his wife was perhaps first to recognise.
This is a work in English; it is an article of faith among Muslims that the Koran cannot be truly translated into any language apart from the classical Arabic in which it was revealed. There is a fundamental difference between Arabic (or, more precisely, semitic) language and western languages. While all of the Koran is sacred for Muslims, there are portions which are more understandable and accessible to the Western reader; Cleary has assembled these together here.
`Arabic, most precise and primitive of the Semitic languages, shows signs of being originally a constructed language. It is built up upon mathematical principles--a phenomenon not paralleled by any other language.'
Given this view of the language, there are extensive notes throughout Cleary's translation to try to clarify some of the linguistic elements that are lost in translation.
`In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
All praise belongs to God,
Lord of all worlds,
the Compassionate, the Merciful,
Ruler of Judgment Day.
It is You that we worship,
and to You we appeal for help.
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Perhaps a good book for those remotely interested in the Koran, but no use for classwork. And to those who have a yen for completion, it will be frustratingly incomplete. Its 202pp is a significant truncation, cf., Dawood's Penguin translation at 437pp. And these are a short 202pp, being written in a verse format leaving vast amounts of white on the right margin. So it's probably only 100pp or less of actual text. For an introduction, it may not be bad, but you can buy a 'real' complete Koran for less money -- which you will probably want to buy after reading Cleary in any event. I'd save myself the trouble and money (and perhaps some intellectual shame: imagine getting caught with 'Selected sections of the Bible') and purchase a complete translation. The Koran is important enough to read cover to cover, although, I must admit, this is a bit of a chore.
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Format: Paperback
The most successful English translation of the Quran I have read so far. While any translation inevitably weakens the powerful imagery of an original language, Cleary's deep understanding of the Quran's language has allowed him to retain much more of the original Quran's meaning. I wish he'd translate the entire book!
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Format: Paperback
At a little over two hundred ages this isn't meant to be a whole translation of the Quran. Selected surahs are translated and Cleary provides notes on them in the back of the book. As he also translates eastern religious texts many times he will provides parables from Buddhism within the notes. He has a very poetic and simple way of translating the surahs.
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Format: Hardcover
I was so distressed by this translation of the Koran that I went to a scholarly Muslim friend--for I read no Arabic. He assured me I was right: "It's a terrible translation." The tone is inconsistent, the annotation hardly helpful, and the insistance on using "God's" instead of "His" annoying and clumsy. The device seems to be borrowed from PC Christians. I am sorry I am required to use it with my students.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Here, Cleary successfully captures the lyrical, lilting, poetic prose of the Arabic language that has served to spiritually lift the emotions and minds of the readers of the Koran. Cleary explains the main reason why Arabic an present complex ideas and emotions.
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Format: Paperback
Having read Cleary's translation of various Taoist works, this book doesn't totally surprise me, though it does somewhat surprise me that he's even more "in the tank" for Islam than for Taoism or Buddhism.

Essentially, this is a gloss on the Quran that tries to make it, and Islam, part of Huxley's "perennial philosophy." As such, yes, a Sufi, or a liberal non-Sufi Sunni, might indeed like it. (Funny that Shi'ites aren't even mentioned in the introduction.)

That said, it's not all bad. Contra right and far-right Christians who want to stereotype all Muslims based on a portion of them, it does give some PR to Islam that's not totally inaccurate.

Contra Christians, it's wrong for other reasons, though.

Claims of the ineffability, or whatever, of Arabic for wariness of translations of the Quran are bogus. (Amazon might hold up the review if I spoke more bluntly.)

Many Jews got over similar attachments to Hebrew. (And, as a Hebrew reader, his comparison of Arabic to Hebrew in this way is both laughable and insulting.) Christians never got attached to Greek in this way.

Rather, if Arabic really is that ineffable, the logical answer is that the Quran should never have been put in written form. And, there's precedent of sort. The Brahmans of pre-Hinduism kept the Vedic Hymns oral-only for centuries.
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