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on 26 September 2013
With only a general background knowledge of Islam, and coming from a Christian background, I wanted to know more of what the Koran taught: it's themes and teachings and structure.
The first thing I learnt was that the Koran is not an Islamic Bible. The two are not only different in style and content but very different in the way they are used. This is evident from the way that this short introduction is organised. Of its 14 chapters, just one is devoted to the message of the Koran, and that's placed in the Introduction. This whole book is organised into four main sections: Introduction, The Koran in the modern world, the Koran in the traditional Muslim world and the Koran in the lifetime of the Prophet.
What I had to come to terms with is that the Koran does not contain the same kind of narratives and teachings as a Bible and neither is it used in worship in the same way. It is recited rather than read; memorised not referred to, and the detail and organisation of the original Arabic script is really important in a way that never arises in a Bible, which is by its nature a translation from Hebrew and Greek through Latin into English. Most of Michael Cook's work is about the Koran's language and text, as codex, truth and holy object. I realised how important it is to understand that to Muslims the Koran itself is a holy object, not just its teachings. This affects everything in the way it is used and regarded.
If you're looking for a textbook to teach you the contents of the Koran I'm not sure this will help, but if you are prepared to accept the profoundly different way of thinking between Muslims and Christians about their respective holy books then this has much to offer. I'm very glad I read it, and if nothing else I realise how different are the thought-worlds and assumptions of Muslims and Christians. We need to understand each other better. Here is a good start.
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on 21 August 2015
I read the Koran once when I was a teenager, but did so with no guidance and just went through it cover to cover. It seemed rather disjointed, with some oddly worded concepts and what I considered to be perversions of stories from the Old Testament. The one that stuck in my mind was a re-telling of the story of the garden of Eden, where the serpent of Genesis became Satan (or Shai’tan as I think it may have been rendered) and prompted me to wonder whether this was the impetus for christian theologians to make that identification or whether it was earlier, even if it is commonplace in most expressions of christianity today. Yet I haven’t touched the book since then.

In approaching this book, then, in the hope that it will go someway to filling a hole of ignorance. Already, one may think it wrong to refer to the Koran as opposed to the Qur’an. In his introduction, Cook states that while Qur’an is the more faithful rendering, Koran is readily recognised as an anglicised form that lends itself to a correct stressing of the syllables. As this is the way Cook refers to it, then so shall this review.

The manner in which Cook approaches the book is unlikely to be one that people expect. He works roughly in a sort of anti-chronology, looking at the modern usages of the Koran, moving back in time to tell its story. Though at times, this timeline gets a bit jumbled, that seems to be in order to avoid the exposition itself becoming jumbled. In case it needs highlighting, this is the VSI of the book of the Koran, it is *not* a VSI of Islam. If that it was you’re looking for, then this is not the right book for you.

We begin by considering what the notion of ‘scripture’ is and what the overall message of the Koran tries to tell us. The emphasis Cook brings out is that of the straight path and the nature of God (though I did wonder why Cook referred to God, rather than Allah).

After this introduction, we get to see how the Koran is used today and its influence, which is quite evident to many if you either live in an area where there is a high Muslim population or by putting on the news. Yet the disparity between these two is clear and not a little confusing for the non-Muslim. Such misunderstanding can give birth to Islamophobia.

After looking at how the Koran is communicated (both as a written text and as a self-contained oral tradition in and of itself), there’s a general discussion as to what it means for any text to be regarded as “scripture”. Of course, any writing is, etymologically scripture. Even this review is; but that’s not the common usage of the word, which tends to denote some sacred text of a religion. Contrasts are drawn between the Koran and some of the Vedas, though to many a reader, especially christians like me, the comparisons to the bible are rather thin and it left me feeling a little flat.

One of the bits that didn’t seem to make a lot of sense was the idea of coloured text. There is talk of it, but as the book is published in black & white, apart from the cover, then one cannot tell about the red and gold punctuation marks. It was only when I visited the British Library’s collection of Koran’s that this became clear.

What we don’t get is one clear story of how the Koran is said to have come about. There are hints here and there, but the whole story of Mohammad being told to read is rather lost in amongst the other chapters, partly as the story of where he was when various bits of the Koran were revealed.

Overall, it is a useful VSI, though I can’t say it was particularly memorable. I’m publishing this review some time after having finished it and find myself having to keep opening it to remind myself of the book’s contents. It’s one to keep and refer to, yet I couldn’t help but think there are better introductions available.
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on 11 July 2002
I have been impressed by the "Very Short Introduction" series, and this is perhaps the best of them that I have seen so far. It is like attending a series of brilliant introductory lectures - it isn't so much that it gives you basic facts (although these are covered) as that it enables you to make sense of the topic, and to get some orientation. Most westerners have some idea about how the Bible is interpreted by Christians (fundamentalist or otherwise), but would not realize that the interpretation of the Koran "works" differently. For example, one part of the Koran may be held to be abrogated by another part. At the end of the book, you realize that you only know a little, but you feel that you know enough to start making sense of more advanced books.
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on 26 April 2007
This book is not for beginners. If you only want to know what the Quran says and what its teachings are, look elsewhere (and not the least in the Quran itself ...). But for those, who already have some ideas about the content of the Quran, Cook's book is essential reading: It will tell you neatly what the problems are in interpreting the Quran; what its role in daily Muslim life was and still is; what impact it has had as a sacred Scripture down the centuries. And yes, it does demand some attention from the reader, and it is not the classical book to be read in the tube, so the book's designation as "Introduction" comes with a grain of salt. But things are not easy, and it is much to the credit to the author that he doesn't shun difficult and long-winding explanations if they seem necessary. There is, simply, no "Quran made easy", and if you don't like putting your brain in motion then just get interested in other arguments. After all, mankind's sacred Scriptures are not meant to entertain people going to work or getting bored on a sunny afternoon. I like to add that the book contains numerous illustrations which are very helpful to the lay reader and the non-Muslim in general.
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on 6 June 2015
A bit obscure but worth a read as it gives an insight in what is, today, something that should be of interest
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on 23 June 2015
Very informative. Worth buying as an introduction into an evolving theme and pertinant for today.
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on 6 August 2002
This book is obviously aimed way above my head. I was looking for a short insight into the Koran and I found myself in the middle of a phylosophical discussion about Arabic script and the subtleties of 'little slanting lines above the consonantal script'.
If you are just an average joe who want's to read something before tackling the Koran itself then look elsewhere.
Personally, I gave up before then end.
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on 26 February 2013
This small book is nice to get basic knowledge on the Koran. It also shows how the Koran functions within in Islam and muslim societies. If you are looking for ideas on the origins of the Koran the conext of Late Antiquity you will by dissapointed because the author only devotes a few pages on that subject.
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on 6 June 2004
As a summary of contemporary academic Quranic scholarship, there are few books to compare to this one. Despite a number of contentious standpoints and omissions, Cooks glib tone and dry wit and have won him many admirers, and his doesn't let up even in the face of this most sacred Muslim text.
Yet whatever the books merits or otherwise, Cook does not succeed in providing an introduction that would make sense to people without substantial study experience in either religious or Islamic studies. There is sparce consideration of the actual content of the Qur'an - except to illustrate academic disputes, and allusions to Veda, Confuscius and other sacred texts would simply fly over the head of most non-specialists.
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on 6 May 2016
Cook makes the fatal mistake of mistaking Allah for God.
Muhammad was the messenger of Allah, not God.
The Qur'an is about Ilah, God and Allah the god.
This is absolutely clear in the text of the Mecca chapters.
In Arabic, the Qur'an and Sharia, Almighty God is Ilah and Allah is ‘the god’ in English.
Almighty God is Ilah, Ar Rahman, the Beneficent, the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious.
Therefore the Qur’an was named The Criterion, the criterion between good and evil.
Qur’an 41:84 It is He Who is the only God in the heaven and the only God on the earth.
Ibn Kathir: This means He is the God of those who are in the heaven and the God of those on earth.
Qur’an 43:84 It is He Who is Ilah, God in the heaven and on the earth.
Qur’an 19:65 Lord of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them, so worship Him and abide patiently in His worship. Do you know of any other with His Name?
Ibn Kathir: Ibn Abbas says, ‘There is no one named Ar-Rahman (the Most Beneficent) other than Him, Blessed and Exalted is He. Most Holy is His Name.’
See Quran chapters 19, 21, 25, 26, 36, 37, 41, 43, 67, etc.

Allah is always and only called Allah in Arabic.
Qur’an 6:3 And He is Allah in the heavens and on the earth.
Ibn Abbas: He is the One who is called Allah in the heavens and on the earth.
The Qur'an states that the religion of Allah abrogates the religion of Abraham.
The Shahada, the Muslim pledge of faith, denies God:
La ilaha ill-Allah, there is no God/god but Allah.
The sentence comprises a denial and an affirmation.
Negation: 'La ilah' negates all forms of God or god.
Affirmation: 'illAllah' affirms that there is only Allah.
Before you can say ‘I believe in Allah’(illa Allah) you have to reject or disbelieve in any other god or God (La illaha).
Question 179 Islam Q&A[...]
Questions 114, 6703, 11819, 20239, 20815
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