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The Essential Koran: The Heart of Islam Hardcover – January, 1998
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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
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Arabic --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Overall, I am completely satisfied with this earlier translation of the Koran (his later translation, while complete, has no ilucidating or explicating comments), making this the primary edition.
Below are a couple excerpts (from the introduction and from the Chapter entitled "Light" [along with its accompanying notes]), for the interested reader.
"One particular problem in rendering the Qur'an into English is presented by the numerous intensive forms used to refer to attributes of God. There are different forms of intensification in Arabic, with different ways of interpreting or describing even one form. In this English version, general, encompassing terms of intensity are used, with the provision that these expressions are intended to function as points from which the consciousness of the reader is to launch upwards toward contemplation of supernal ideals. The purpose, in other words, is not to represent God in human terms but to use human language as a means of directing the eye of contemplation toward the inexpressible infinity of the spiritual and metaphysical realities symbolized by language.
In stringing these verses together in a rosary for recitation, for the most part I have followed the Arabic original in division of verses. The division of verses into lines, in contrast, has nothing to do with the Arabic original but with the cadence of the English and the psychological weighting of words, which have tremendous individual force in the Qur'an.
In this connection, it is essential to observe that this English version is intentionally designed for reading aloud, for absorption and reflection, because this is characteristic of the Qur'an itself, from the very beginning of its revelation."
IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE COMPASSIONATE, THE MERCIFUL
God is the light of the heavens and the earth.
The simile of God's light is like a niche in which is a lamp, the lamp in a globe of glass, the globe of glass as if it were a shining star, lit from a blessed olive tree
neither of the East nor of the West, its light nearly luminous
even if fire did not touch it.
Light upon light!
God guides to this light
whomever God will: and God gives people examples; and God knows all things.
The light is in houses
which God has allowed to be raised
that the name of God be remembered there, where God is glorified in the mornings and the evenings, by people who are not diverted by business or commerce from remembrance of God and persistence in prayer and giving of alms, as they fear a day on which
hearts and eyes will be transformed,
that God may reward them for the best of what they did, and grant them even more from the grace divine.
And God provides without measure to whomever God will.
As for the ungrateful who do not have faith, their works are like a mirage on a plain, which the thirsty man thinks to be water until he comes to it and finds nothing there-- but he finds God in his presence, and
God pays him his earnings; and God is swift in accounting-- or like the darknesses in an ocean deep and vast
covered over with waves, upon them waves, over them clouds.
Darknesses one on top of another; if one stretched forth a hand, one would hardly see it.
And whoever God gives no light
has no light at all.
Do you not see that God is glorified by all beings in the heavens and the earth, even the birds on the wing?
Each one knows its own mode of prayer and of praise: and God is aware of all that they do.
For to God belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth; and the journey is to God."
"Light (al Nuur) (Chapter 24)
This chapter was revealed at Medina. I begin my selection from the famous Light Verse, one of the most prized of all passages from the Qur'an. The earlier verses of this chapter deal with social mores, including themes of chastity, privacy, modesty, and keeping innocent of vicious gossip.
36 "in houses which God has allowed to be raised": The word "raised" may be understood in the concrete sense of "set up," meaning houses of devotion built especially for constant remembrance of God; and the abstract sense of "elevate," meaning houses ennobled by constant remembrance of God.
37 "people who are not diverted": Some take this to refer to people who leave off worldly occupations to devote themselves completely to remembrance of God; others take it to refer to people whose worldly occupations do not distract them from constant and complete devotion to God.
39 "their works are like a mirage on a plain": Works emanating from human folly are based on subjective considerations and thus ultimately prove objectively insubstantial.
40 "or like the darknesses": This again refers to the works of ingrates who refuse to acknowledge the source of all being. The ocean is their consciousness, the darknesses are layers of ignorance, the waves are impulsive imaginings, the waves upon waves are rationalizations of their imaginings, the clouds are biases and blind spots.
"if one stretched forth a hand, one would hardly see it": The ignorance and blindness of the ungrateful not only hinders them from acknowledging the ultimate end, it veils them from the truth of what is near at hand.
"whoever God gives no light has no light at all": All true knowledge is from Truth: subjective human imagination has no connection with ultimate reality."
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.
Show us the straight way,
the way of those You have graced,
not of those on whom is Your wrath,
nor of those who wander astray.'
This is the opening of the Koran.
The Koran and Islamic tradition holds that there have been 128,000 prophets, who have in their turn revealed 104 Books. The Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel and the Koran are the four most important books according to the Muslim point of view. Theologically, Islam is not exclusionist, and recognises the validity of revelation that has come before (even if not recognising that current practice retains the authority of that validity).
As a priest, I recall the lines
`People of the Book,
do not go to excess
in your religion,
and do not say of God
anything but truth.'
The prophet Muhammad would get irritated if a prayer leader would stretch things out to the discomfort of the attenders.
does not disdain
to be a servant of God,
and neither do the intimate angels.
As for those who disdain
the worship of God
and who aggrandize themselves,
God will gather
all of them up.'
In the search for pure truth, the Koran gives insight.
"It is God, Unique,
God the Ultimate.
God does not reproduce
and is not reproduced.
And there is nothing at all
equivalent to God."'
Philosophy, history, sometimes confusing but mystically-deepening insights are all presented here. Cleary mostly allows the text of the Koran to stand for itself, without analysis, to allow the spirit to speak directly to the reader. More commentary and historical grounding for the non-Muslim reader would be nice
Various parts of the Koran were revealed in different places, and Cleary takes account of this in his organisation. Also, headings allow one to follow lines of thought, but it sometimes takes some real study and meditation to figure out the connexions.
Spend some time with these writings, and approach it with an open mind and heart, holding fast to your own beliefs, to see what new light might be shed upon them.