The benefits of studying the Quran in diverse ways

Reading time: 3 minutes

The benefits of studying the Quran in diverse ways

In a follow-up to his previous comment on diversity in the study of the Quran, our analyst Muhammad Faisal Khalil looks now at the benefits of diversity.

This weekly comment was written by Muhammad Faisal Khalil and reflects his personal analyses and opinions, rather than those of EARS.

Not being able to understand the Quran is not only something that can trouble individual believers. It can also lead to social harm. As we saw in the last comment, it can have a chilling effect on academic work and debate, raising alarms about diversity. It may also let people misuse the Quran, like they can any other religious text, to harmful ends.

The harm of using the Quran out of context

Both the biblical and traditional ways to study the Quran have led scholars and lay readers to understand it as a religious text without an overall context.[1] The Quran is, therefore, often understood verse-by-verse, without looking at the context that the Quran itself is offering. A key drawback of this approach is that anyone can take a verse of the Quran and use it out of context.

This out-of-context use of the Quran’s verses has led to serious crises in recent decades. People have made bold claims about Islam that go against both Muslim traditions and western values. The more well-known of these claims are about the exclusion of women from public life[2] and the use of violence against innocent populations.[3]

For example, the idea that women should be fully veiled and secluded within their homes is in fact historically quite a new idea, most famously proposed by the Islamist Abul A’la Maududi.[4] This position goes against what Muslims traditionally believe, including those belonging to arguably the largest religious movement in the world, the Deobandi.[5] Yet, Maududi’s position has become a popular alternative, and we can find it implemented in the Taliban’s Afghanistan.[6]

The benefits of studying the Quran with its context

There are now ways of studying the Quran that emphasise the context offered by the religious text itself. Proponents of these ways stretch from Dallas[7] to Cambridge,[8] from Qom[9] to Lahore.[10]

One example is of the South Asian exegete Javed Ahmad Ghamidi’s position on seclusion. By contextualising two sets of verses[11] as specific to only to a unique group of people during the Prophet Muhammad’s time, Ghamidi argues that today, Islam only requires etiquettes of modesty equally from both men and women.[12] Seclusion does not exist.

A key benefit of these alternative ways to study the Quran is that these produce compelling counter-narratives that support gender equality, pluralism, and non-violence.[13] Moreover, these counter-narratives are arguably more reliable, given they rely less on getting context indirectly from historical reports or individual interpretation but directly from the Quran itself.

In other words, these counter-narratives may not only be more convincing to Muslims but also more straightforward to policymakers. It follows that supporting diversity in studying the Quran is both a religiously and practically attractive way forward. Including different ways of studying the Quran in academic research and policymaking, particularly in Europe and North America, will help reduce harm by offering solutions to significant problems, including the lack of diversity itself.

This weekly comment was written by
Muhammad Faisal Khalil and reflects his personal analyses and opinions, rather than those of EARS.

To all weekly comments ->

Interested in similar topics? Go to our Dashboard and receive free updates.

[1] Radscheit, Matthias (1996) Die koranische Herausforderung. Die tahadi – Verse im Rahmen der Polemikpassagen des Korans. Berlin: Schwarz

[2] Gender and the politics of space: The movement for women’s reform in Muslim India, 1857–1900

[3] Muslim Militant’s Mindset and Quranic Verses: A Comparison of Narratives from Pakistan

[4] Purdah The Status Of Women In Islam By Sayyid Abul Aala Maududi (Al Hijab) : Sayyid Abul Aala Maududi

[5] Qādir, Shāh ‘Abdul (nd.) Al-Qurʾān al-Karīm. Lahore: Qudratullah Company

[6] The Taliban’s Return Is Awful for Women in Afghanistan

[7] Ghamidi Center of Islamic Learning

[8] Cambridge Muslim College

[9] Tafsir Al-Mizan – Allamah Muhammad Hussein Tabatabai

[10] Amin Ahsan Islahi

[11] The following verses: Sūra al-Ahzāb (59) and Sūra al-Ahzāb (28-34)

[12] These etiquettes of modesty are stated in the following verses: Sūra al-Nūr (24, 27-31)

[13] Narrative and Counter Narrative