The American Quran is a new English translation of the Muslim holy book, that believers believe was dictated by god to his prophet Muhammad in a serious of visions.
The book aims to explain Islam to the world in a way that is not confined to the rigid Wahhabi interpretation of a typical Saudi version.
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The Daily Beast reports:
A new translation of the Quran, with commentary, is causing a stir—and maybe something of a revolution—in the world of English-speaking Muslims.
Why’s that? Because Salafists—adherents of a very conservative brand of Islam—have dominated the world market for Qurans for decades.
Funded by the oil-rich royal family in Saudi Arabia, which has an especially rigid Wahhabi branch of Islam, the Salafis have exported their teachers, their mosques, their audio and video productions, and religious texts across the Arab world and into Pakistan, Europe, and North America, quashing alternate interpretations that don’t fit their narrow views.
“In all these places, they funded the building of Saudi-style mosques with Wahhabi preachers and established madrasas that provided free education for the poor, with, of course, a Wahhabi curriculum,” religious scholar Karen Armstrong wrote about the Saudi export of religion in 2014. “At the same time, young men from the poorer Muslim countries, such as Egypt and Pakistan, who had felt compelled to find work in the Gulf to support their families, associated their relative affluence with Wahhabism and brought this faith back home with them, living in new neighborhoods with Saudi mosques and shopping malls that segregated the sexes.”
Seeing this new translation as a challenge to their orthodoxy in English-speaking countries, Salafis are none too pleased. In online discussions and reviews, influential Salafis are panning the volume, called The Study Quran, as a soft-bellied facsimile that might be fine for academia, but not fit for following.
In fact, this no mere academic debate. Followers of the Saudi-Wahhabi-Salafi version of Islam in Europe and the United States are increasingly seen by law enforcement as a pool from which radical jihadis can draw recruits.
Some strains of this Salafi interpretation have popularized takfirism—the practice by which some Muslims declare that others are not true believers. The aftereffects are clear in fringe jihadi groups like the self-declared caliphate that calls itself the Islamic State, where those who believe differently are deemed apostates who can be, and are, slaughtered en masse. The vast majority of Salafis are not jihadis and not takfiris. But those who are use their understanding of their Quran to justify killing Shia Muslims, Yazidis, adulterers, gays, and anyone else who runs afoul of their zealotry.
Generations of the world’s Muslims have, now, grown up in the shadow of this Saudi religious empire, ignoring previous centuries of rigorous religious discourse, debate, and dissent.
The Study Quran, setting the record straight, may come as something of a revelation to Muslims and anyone else interested in Islam who speaks English. It is a formidable academic endeavor, and since it was published in November it has been flying off the shelves in a massive hardback edition. (It is also available now on Kindle.)
The editors have compiled a new translation, new commentary, and drawn on dozens of the most prominent mufassirs (interpreters or exegetes), many of whom have never before been accessible to an English-speaking audience. Indeed, “very few” of the sources cited in The Study Quran are available in English translation, head editor Seyyed Hossein Nasr told The Daily Beast.
One soon comes across nuances that are unmentioned or ignored by extremists. The Study Quran notes, for instance, that verse 47:4—used by ISIS to justify beheadings—focuses on “the brevity of the act, as it is confined to battle and not a continuous command.” This interpretation would seem to challenge extremists who attempt to carry out such acts on civilians, whether on the streets of London or in Syria.
The Salafi scholars who have monopolized English-language Muslim resources are disturbed and even frightened by this textual revolution that puts them back in their place.
Salafism “was not in the mainstream of the Muslim tradition,” said Nasr. “It rejected centuries of Islamic thought.” The scholars contributing to The Study Quran, who are both Sunni and Shia, also break with the ultra-Orthodox animus against Shiism.
The Study Quran’s rich commentary, crowding around a few verses on any given onion-paper page of the hardback edition, seeks to remedy the previous absence of solid historical discourse. After all, Nasr said, even centuries ago the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca meant that exegetes, or interpreters of holy texts, were able to have a much richer exchange of ideas—and much more knowledge of one another—than European thinkers of the time.
It’s no surprise then, that Abu Eesa Niamatullah—a British Salafi with a large social media presence—cautioned followers tempted by The Study Quran to “avoid it. Like the plague.”
“It doesn’t just have mistakes, it’s actually dangerous,” Niamatullah said. “This is advice to the 99 percent of people here, those who don’t have the detailed tools necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff.”
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