Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Book Review: The Qur'an, A Biography by Bruce Lawrence

Prof Bruce Lawrence, graduated from Princeton and obtained his Master in Divinity from Episcopal School of Divinity, Cambridge.Did his doctoral thesis in History of Religions at Yale. Has been at Duke University since 1971 and current holder of the chair, Nancy and Marcus Professor of Religion.The Quran: A Biography, receives rave reviews in this post 9-11 era. A small book ,very readable, can be finished in a day of continuous reading.

When I read any book, commenting on the Qur'an, I normally check and recheck the origin of the writer.Bruce Lawrence is definitely an erudite,highly qualified scholar of religions,an orientalist with definite orientalist's leanings but in The Qur'an : A biography, this was not so evident.I would say on superficial reading of the book, Prof Bruce Lawrence seem to be very fair, a rare individual indeed, initially, T thought.Nuances of awe combined with a touch of disbelief are there but very subtle.

The Qur'an : A biography is a 'selective' running commentary of man's varying perception and interpretation of the Glorious Qur'an across time. God's Book of Signs, as the good professor put it.He describes the origins of the faith in seventh-century Arabia and explains why the Qur'an needs to be memorized and recited by its followers. He emphasizes that the Qur'an is a sacred book of signs that has no single message and demands interpretation and can only be understood through history.

He went through a history of interpretations right from Prophet Muhammad himself, then suddenly moved on to an unbelieving[ probably one of the earliest starter of the science and art of orientalism!] 12th century English monk, Robert of Ketton. Writing for the Vatican, who was trying hard to find potholes here and there and chinks in the spiritual armour of Islam as Saladin Al Ayyubi seemed invincible.Bruce moved the scene to Rumi and Arabi, breezes through Sir Ahmad, an anglophile Pakistani engineer and right through to the Islamic reformist, Iqbal, bypassing Mawdudi and Syed Qutb [whom the West reckoned as the chaps sowing latter day radical Islamic discontent] and straight end up with Osama bin Laden.His present day literalist and myopic interpretation of the Qur'an on the issue of 'jihad'.

A good read for the uncommitted non Muslim or agnostic reader who wants to impress and have a lively 'dinner conversation' and show off his or her profound understanding of Islam. To me , I only noted Bruce real colour only when he came to describe the black slave girl whom the aging Sarah had given to Prophet Abraham ,Hagar.I cannot believe what I read: A concubine!

Polygamy is soo politically 'incorrect' to the Western mind they rather have misstreses or concubines!So that relegate the Arab branch of the Abrahamic faith, ie via Prophet Ismail, as a bastard lineage....then what about Muhammad who came from Ismail's lineage...not very subtle, this science of orientalism! That was the only obvious giveaway in the book.Otherwise Prof Lawrence has been fairly fair, but flippant, in his short treatment of the Qur'an. I suspect he respects and is suprisingly astounded by the immense beauty, sincerity and sublimity of the Qur'an, but there are nuances in the book that tells the reader, the writer does not want to believe it is the actual Words of God. A good read though I find his treatment or rather 'non treatment' and avoidance of the central message of Qur'an quite surprising: the central thesis of the Quran ie the unity of God, he lefft it to the reader's imgination, and he definitely stayed clear from the Qur'an frequent criticism of the concept of Trinity.To me it is like going to Restaurant Beriani Gam, ordered a beriani,but without the special rice, please!

Well I can truly understand that as The Qur'an: A Biography is just meant to be a 'Western Hithhiker's guide to Islam'.I am sure it is a best-seller of sort.Well written but it leaves me in no doubt of what Bruce Lawrence wanted ,in his heart of heart:to educate just a 'wee bit' but leave his Western reader's precept of the Qur'an intact. That really, Muhammad had got a repetitive, massive schizoid delusion, after brushing with the Christians in Mekkah and knowing the Gospels,and the Jews in Medinah at the same time learning and copying the Torah!.Muhammad was just a seventh-century Arabian poet, gifted wth a massive dose of delusion of grandeur! This is what the Jews and the Trinitarians would not like their flocks to 'discard'.Forget the true essense of the Message.

Reading the Qur'an ,without faith and sincerity, one will remain deaf, dumb and blind, whatever one's scholastic background!

"We have sent it down with truth,
and with truth has it come down,
And We have not sent you [Muhammad]
except as a herald and a warner."

"Their likeness is as the likeness of one who kindleth the fire, and when it sheddeth its light around him, Allah taketh away their light and leaveth them in darkness, where they cannot see.[2:17]
Deaf, Dumb and Blind; and they return not."[2:18]

"Do they not reflect? Their companion is not seized with madness: he is but a perspicuous warner.[7:184]
Do they see nothing in the government of the heavens and the earth and all that Allah hath created? Do they not see that it may well be that their term is nigh drawing to an end? In what message after this will they then believe?"[7:185]

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