I have liberally adapted the bulk of what follows from Abdullah Saeed’s Interpreting the Qur’ān: Towards a Contemporary Approach (New York: Routledge, 2006), pp. 150-154. The additional material is largely by way of clarification or explanation and although some of it is wholly new, I believe it is in the spirit of, if not faithful to, Saeed’s proposed model.
A Model for Qur’ānic Interpretation
Stage 1—Encounter with the world of the text
Stage 1—A broad and general familiarization with the text(s) and its (their) world(s).
Stage 2—Critical Analysis: (a) Linguistic considerations; (b) Literary context; (c) Literary form; (d) Parallel texts; (e) Precedents
Stage 2—Here we are interested in what the text says about itself (its ‘self-referential’ character). This involves various fundamental analyses:
- Linguistic considerations: this entails analysis of the language of the text (linguistic units), semantics (the meaning of words and phrases involving features of the context, conventions of language use, and goals of the speaker), syntax of verse(s), and in general all linguistic and grammatical issues intrinsic to the text. It also covers different ways in which particular words and phrases can be read (qirā’āt).
- Literary context: how the text in question functions within a particular sūra and/or the Qur’ān as a whole. For instance, examining what comes immediately before or after the verse(s); the composition and structure of the text as well as its rhetorical style and qualities.
- Literary form: identifying whether the text is (largely or principally historical), has liturgical function (e.g., a prayer), is a proverb, a parable or other kind of narrative, or has a legal function. Detailing the connection between literary form and meaning (including, possibly, pragmatics: extra-linguistic context of utterance, generally observed principles of communication, goals of the speaker, presuppositions vis-à-vis new information, speech acts, implicature, etc.).
- Parallel texts: exploring whether there are other texts that are similar to the text under consideration in the Qur’ān and, if so, the extent to which they are similar and different.
- Precedent(s): identification of texts that are similar in content or import and whether these were revealed or inspired before or after the text under consideration.
Stage 3—Meaning for the first recipients: (a) Socio-historical context; (b) Worldview; (c) Nature of the message: spiritual, theological, ethical, legal; (d) Message: contextual v. universal; (e) Relationship of message to overall revelatory message of the Qur’ān
Stage 3—Relating the text to the recipients of the Qur’ān:
- Wider contextual analysis: historical and social information that would shed light on the text in question; analysis of the worldview, culture, customs, beliefs, values, and institutions of the first recipients of the Qur’ān in Hijāz (region in the northwest of present-day Saudi Arabia and includes the cities of Mecca and Medina). This analysis includes close examination of the time and place in which, for example, specific cultural, legal, political and economic issues arose.
- Determination of the nature of the message the text conveys: spiritual, theological, ethical, legal, etc.
- Exploration of possible layers of meaning: ‘outer’ and ‘inner,’ overt and implied, or specific and underlying messages of the text; investigation of whether or not the text has universal or simply contextual import and application in the context of the first recipient community. Are there different ways or means other than those specified that can accomplish the specific and clear reason, purpose, or goal of the text in question (e.g., punishment, deterrence, and mercy but without this prescribed form of punishment (which ‘made sense’ at the time and place of the first recipients of this revelation).
- Determination of where message the message is located in a hierarchy of values (metaphysical, devotional and ritual, legal, ethical, etc.).
- Consideration of how the message relates to the broader objectives and concerns clearly evidenced in the Qur’ān.
- Evaluation of how the text was received by the first community of Muslims and how they interpreted, understood and applied it.
Stage 4—Contemporary meaning: (a) Analysis of present context; (b) Contemporary context vis-à-vis socio-historical context; (c) Meaning through time: earliest recipients to the present; (d) Message: contextual v. universal; (e) Applicability to contemporary circumstances and conditions
Stage 4—Relating the text to the contemporary context:
- Determining the current concerns, problems, and needs that appear to be relevant to the message of the under consideration.
- Exploring the present social, political, economic and cultural context relevant to the text.
- Exploring the specific values, norms, and institutions that have a bearing on the message of the text.
- Comparing the present context with the socio-historical context of the text under consideration, taking into account similarities and differences.
- Relating how the meaning of the text as understood, interpreted and applied by the first recipients of the Qur’ān and subsequent historical recipients to the present context, taking into account similarities and differences.
- Evaluating the universality or specificity of the message the text conveys and the extent to which it is related or unrelated to the well-known (i.e., uncontroversial within the tradition) broader objectives and concerns of the Qur’ān.
Most of the last two stages (3 & 4) are not covered by classical tafsīr.
The Qur’ān: A Select Bibliography (in English)
This list includes translations of the Qur’ān into English as well as works examining this sacred scripture from both within and outside Islamic (theological, philosophical, mystical, and legal) traditions.
- Abdel Haleem, M.A.S., trans. The Qur’an. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.
- Abdel Haleem, M.A.S. Understanding the Qur’an: Themes and Style. London: I.B. Tauris, 2001.
- Abu-Hamdiyyah, Mohammad. The Qur’an: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2000.
- Akhtar, Shabbir. The Quran and the Secular Mind: A Philosophy of Islam. New York: Routledge, 2008.
- Ali, Abdullah Yusuf. The Holy Qur’an: Text, Translation and Commentary. Washington, DC: Amanah, 1989.
- Ali, Abdullah Yusuf. The Meaning of the Holy Qur’ān. Beltsville, MD: Amana Publ., 1989.
- Ali, Ahmed. Al-Qur’an: A Contemporary Translation. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.
- Aresmouk, Mohamed Fouad and Michael Abdurrahman Fitzgerald, trans. The Immense Ocean—Al Bahr al-Madīd: A Thirteenth Century Quranic Commentary on the Chapters of The All-Merciful, The Event, and Iron, by Ahmad ibn ‘Ajība. Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 2009.
- Asad, Muhammad. The Message of the Qur’an. Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus, 1980.
- Ayoub, Mahmoud. The Qur’an and Its Interpreters, Vols. 1-2. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1984.
- Baljon, Jon M.S. Modern Muslim Koran Interpretation (1880-1960). Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1961.
- Barlas, Asma. “Believing Women” in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2002.
- Bell, Richard. Introduction to the Qur’an. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1963.
- Bell, Richard. The Qur’an Translated, 2 Vols. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1960.
- Boullata, I.J. Literary Structures of Religious Meaning in the Qur’an. London: Curzon Press, 2000.
- Burton, John. The Collection of the Qur’ān. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1977.
- Cook, Michael. The Koran: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2000.
- Cooper, John. The Commentary on the Qur’an by Abu Ja‘far Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press and Hakim Investment Holdings, 1987.
- Cragg, Kenneth. The Event of the Quran: Islam in its Scripture. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1971.
- Cragg, Kenneth. The Mind of the Quran: Chapters in Reflection. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1973.
- Cragg, Kenneth. Readings in the Qur’ān. Brighton: Sussex University Press, 1988.
- Dawood, N.J., trans. The Koran. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1956.
- Draz, M.A. Introduction to the Qur’an. London: I.B. Tauris, 2000.
- English Translation of the Meaning of Al-Qur’an: The Guidance for Mankind (Muhammad Farooq-i- Azam Malik, trans.). Houston, TX: The Institute of Islamic Knowledge, 1997.
- Esack, Farid. Qur’ān, Liberation and Pluralism. Oxford, England: Oneworld, 1997.
- Esack, Farid. The Qur’ān: A Short Introduction. Oxford, England: Oneworld, 2002.
- Fakhry, Majid, trans. An Interpretation of the Qur’an. New York: New York University Press, 2002.
- Gätje, Helmut (Alford T. Welch, trans. and ed.). The Quran and Its Exegesis. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1976.
- Al-Ghazālī, Shaykh Muhammad. A Thematic Commentary on the Qur’an. Herndon, VA: The International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2005.
- Gwynne, Rosalind Ward. Logic, Rhetoric, and Legal Reasoning in the Qur’ān: God’s Arguments. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2004.
- Hamza, Feras and Sajjad Rizvi, eds. An Anthology of Qur’anic Commentaries, Vol. 1: On the Nature of the Divine. New York: Oxford University Press in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2008.
- Hawting, G.R. and Abdul-Kader A. Shareef, eds. Approaches to the Quran. London: Routledge, 1993.
- The Holy Qur’an: Arabic Text with English Translation and Short Commentary (Maulavi Sher Ali, trans. and Malik Ghulam Farid, ed.). Tilford, Surrey, England: Islam International Publ., 1994.
- Izutsu, Toshihiko. Ethico-Religious Concepts in the Quran. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2002.
- Izutsu, Toshihiko. God and Man in the Koran. Salem, NH: Ayer Co. Publ., 1980.
- Izutsu, Toshihiko. The Structure of Ethical Terms in the Qur’ān. Chicago, IL: ABC International Group, 2000.
- Jansen, J.J.G. The Interpretation of the Koran in Modern Egypt. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1974.
- Kassis, Hanna E. A Concordance of the Qur’an. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1998.
- Khalifa, Rashad. Quran, Hadith, and Islam. Fremont, CA: Universal Unity, 2000.
- al-Khu’i, ‛Abu’l Qasim al-Musawu. The Prolegomena to the Qur’an. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1998.
- The Koran. J.M. Rodwell, trans. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1909 (reprint ed., 1974).
- The Koran Interpreted. Arthur J. Arberry, trans. New York: Macmillan, 1955.
- Leaman, Oliver, ed. The Qur’an: An Encyclopedia. New York: Routledge, 2005.
- Madigan, Daniel A. The Qur’an’s Self-Image: Writing and Authority in Islamic Scripture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.
- Mattson, Ingrid. The Story of the Qur’an: Its History and Place in Muslim Life. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008.
- McAuliffe, Jane Dammen, ed. The Encyclopedia of the Qur’an, 5 Vols. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2001-2006.
- McAuliffe, Jane Dammen, ed. The Cambridge Companion to the Qur’ān. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
- Mir, Mustansir. Dictionary of Qur’anic Terms and Concepts. New York: Garland, 1987.
- Nelson, Kristina. The Art of Reciting the Qur’ān. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1985.
- Pickthall, M.M. The Meaning of the Glorious Koran: An Explanatory Translation. New York: New American Library, 1930.
- The Qur’an (Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, trans., with Arabic text). Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 1997.
- The Qur’an Translated, With a Critical Rearrangement of the Surahs. Richard Bell, trans. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1939.
- Rahman, Fazlur. Major Themes of the Qur’an. Minneapolis, MN: Bibliotheca Islamica, 1980.
- Rippin, Andrew. The Qur’an and Its Interpretive Tradition. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2002.
- Rippin, Andrew, ed. Approaches to the History of the Interpretation of the Qur’an. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1988.
- Rippin, Andrew, ed. The Qur’an: Formative Interpretation. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate/Variorum, 2000.
- Rippin, Andrew, ed. The Qur’an: Style and Contents. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2001.
- Robinson, Neal. Discovering the Qur’an: A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text. London: SCM Press, 1996.
- Saeed, Abdullah. Approaches to the Qur’an in Contemporary Indonesia. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.
- Saeed, Abdullah. Interpreting the Qur’ān: Towards a Contemporary Approach. New York: Routledge, 2005.
- Sands, Kristen Zahra. Sūfī Commentaries on the Qur’ān in Classical Islam. New York: Routledge, 2006.
- Sells, Michael. Approaching the Qur’an: The Early Revelations. Ashland, OR: White Cloud Press, 1999.
- Stowasser, Barbara Freyer. Women in the Qur’an: Traditions and Interpretations. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
- Tabarī, al (J. Cooper, trans.). The Commentary on the Qur’ān. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1987.
- Taji-Farouki, Suha, ed. Modern Muslim Intellectuals and the Qur’ān. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004.
- Turner, Colin, trans. (Mohammad Baqir Behbudi, textual exegesis). The Quran: A New Interpretation. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press, 1998.
- Versteegh, C.H.M. Arabic Grammar and Qur’anic Exegesis in Early Islam. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1993.
- Wadud-Muhsin, Amina. Qur’an and Woman: Reading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective. New York, Oxford University Press, 1999 reprint ed.
- Wansbrough, John. Qur’anic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1977.
- Wansbrough, John and Andrew Rippin. Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2004.
- Warraq, Ibn, ed. The Origins of the Koran: Classic Essays on Islam’s Holy Book. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1998.
- Warraq, Ibn, ed. What the Koran Really Says: Language, Text, and Commentary. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2002.
- Watt, William Montgomery. Companion to the Qur’an. Oxford, UK: Oneworld, 1994.
- Watt, William Montgomery and Richard Bell. Introduction to the Qur’an. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1970.
- Wild, Stefan., ed. The Qur’an as Text: Islamic Philosophy, Theology, and Science. Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1997.
[cross-posted at ReligiousLeftLaw]