“Contemporary Approaches to the Qur’an in Indonesia” (Oxford, 2005) is an edited volume that brings together a wide range of Muslim intellectuals, from traditionalists to modernists, and makes their varied approaches to the Qur’an accessible to an English-speaking audience for the first time. Although Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country, but much of its scholarly work on Islam is not available to a wider readership. Therefore, this work is a fabulous job done by Saeed by bringing together many voices. The topics that are covered in this volume range from textual interpretation and religious pluralism to debates on polygamy within the Indonesian Muslim women’s movement and the use of Qur’anic verses in contemporary Indonesian politics.
“The Qur’an: An Introduction” (Routledge, 2008) is another book by Saeed, but is more important than others for two reasons. Firstly, in this book he has heavily relied on his previous works, and secondly, he has tried to made it as accessible and relevant as possible to provide a broad and engaging introduction to the study of Qur’an. This book provides a student-friendly guide in which the Qur’an can be read; is a concise introduction to all aspects of the Qur’an: history, understanding and interpretation, providing coverage of both pre-modern and modern periods, with plenty of examples to illustrate key points and aid students understanding; and summaries, timelines and a glossary. It examines the Qur’an in Western scholarship as well as gives an overview of the rich interpretive traditions from the time of the Prophet (SAW) to the present day. Written in an easy and accessible language, it is a basic introductory work, designed for both Muslims and Western non-Muslim students.
Saeed writes about the historical context in which the Qur’an was revealed, and the ways in which Qur’an has been understood as both revelation and scripture; the important issue of the Qur’an’s compilation, providing views of both traditional Muslim scholars and more recent scholarship on the subject; major themes of the Qur’an; Qur’an in day-to-day life of ordinary Muslims; the history of “western scholarship” on Qur’an vis-à-vis recent developments in Qur’anic studies; “translations” of the holy Qur’an; Qur’anic view of “other scriptures”; the “complex subject of interpretation”: exegesis, and its various types, an overview of the development of tafsir-writing as a discipline: from classical period to the modern times; contributions of some prominent scholars who are developing and have developed some “innovative ways to interpret the Qur’an’s message for the modern world” like Fazlur Rahman, Amina Wadud, Muhammad Shahrour, Muhammad Arkoun, and Khaled Abou El-Fadl.
Saeed’s aim and objective for writing this book was to design, in an easy and accessible language, a basic introductory work for both Muslims and Western non-Muslim students. In his own words: “Many valuable works have already been written about the Qur’an; some of these deal mainly with classical Islamic principles of interpretation and understanding; others are written by Muslim scholars for a Muslim audience, and some are written by Western scholars for a Western audience. This textbook aims to bring together aspects of [all] these perspectives, by providing a holistic overview of the Qur’an, its place in history and its role in the life of Muslims today”.
One of the most important features of this book is that in each chapter Saeed has provided a list of “recommended readings”, books and articles (with a brief assessment of the main theme of each work), for those readers who wish to “enhance their knowledge of topics covered in this book”. Also, each chapter provides, very briefly, an introduction of what is present in that particular chapter or what the chapter discusses, and is followed by a “summary” of some of the main and important points discussed in each chapter.
His latest work in the field of Qura’nic studies is “Reading the Qur’an in the 21st century: A Contextualist Approach” (Routledge, 2013), which “considers the development of Qura’nic interpretation and highlights modern debates around new approaches to interpretation.” Exploring how Muslims from various theological, legal, socio-political and philosophical backgrounds think about the “meaning of relevance of the Qur’an”, it also elaborates on how their ideas apply in the contemporary world. Providing a practical guide for interpretation, Saeed presents the principal ideas of a “contextualist approach”, which situates socio-politico-economic cum culturo-intellectual context. Besides, advocating a “flexible method of interpretation”, with due recognition given to the earliest methods of interpretation, it tackles the issue from the modern perspective, with emphasis on the “changing conditions and the need to approach the Qur’an afresh today”. The book focuses on these major themes: it reflects on “Textualism”—one of the most dominant approaches to interpretation in the pre-modern period; covers such critical, crucial, and central issues as identifying the hierarchical nature of Qura’nic values, criteria for using ahadith in interpretation, and examines comparatively pre-modern and modern interpretations on some hotly debated issues like authority of men over women; Jesus’ crucification; riba/interest; and Shura-democracy relations.
It is through these works and his other writings that one can understand and come to know Saeed’s scholarly contribution. Saeed’s work on Qura’nic studies make a great contribution to this emerging field, making it an interesting and scope-oriented area of research in the field of Islamic studies. Those who are interested to know more about his writings and other information, visit his personal website www.abdullahsaeed.org.
—The author holds a PhD in Islamic Studies from Aligarh Muslim University. Feedback: [email protected]