BOOK REVIEW: A Concise Guide to the Quran

A Concise Guide to the Quran – Ayman S. Ibrahim

‘The traditional Muslim claims about the Quran oppose the available evidence.’

A Concise Guide to the Quran is an introduction to the holy book of Islam from a Christian, critical perspective. Though designed for beginners, it would be a useful guide to anyone who wants to build on a general understanding of Islam.

Asking difficult questions

A Concise Guide is split into two sections, with the first focused on historical issues related to Muhammad, the Qur’an and its formation, and the second looking at the contents of the text itself. The book is structured around thirty questions, starting with introductory questions such as ‘What is the Quran?’ and ‘Why and How Was the Quran Compiled?’. Several of these cover more controversial areas, for example ‘Are Jews and Christians Infidels?’ and ‘Does the Quran Really Say the Bible is Corrupt?’.

Each of the answers is written in a way which builds on the ones before but can also be understood alone. Although, as Ibrahim acknowledges, this does lead to some repetition, it also enables the book to be useful as a quick reference. Within just a few pages, chapters explain the mainstream Islamic view on a topic, but also present some alternative views from within Islam and wider scholarship.

Quick answers

Ibrahim comes from an Egyptian Coptic background which allows him to speak from his own experience of growing up in a Muslim-majority context. Although he is sceptical of the Qur’an and the traditional accounts of how it came to be, he is careful to show the diversity of views within Islam and not to generalise or stereotype Muslims. This is particularly important when he talks about issues related to extremism and violence – he condemns radicalism, but of conservative Muslims he notes: ‘They interpret the Quran in relation to living and letting others live; justice, love, tolerance, and respect are driving values of their views.’

One of the downsides to the book’s structure is that complex issues are dealt with quickly, within just a few pages. With little room to expand on counter-arguments, this can lead to some topics feeling slightly one-sided or rushed. However, since the book is designed to be accessible, broad-ranging, and concise, this is an understandable compromise.

Starting point

A Concise Guide is perhaps best treated as inspiration to learn more, rather than a place to end your research. It raises some important and challenging questions that may be fruitful in conversation with Muslim friends and colleagues, making it a useful tool for evangelism. As an introduction to the Qur’an, this is a good place to start.

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