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on 15 September 2004
A beautiful, sensitive summary of the word of God. Out of interest, this was the book given to George W. Bush by the Islamic scholar Hamza Yusuf to help him understand Islam.
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on 23 June 2014
Many years ago, this was the very first book that I read as an introduction to the Qur'an. In fact, it may have been responsible for leading me to study the Qur'an in much more detail in the following ten years, so in this sense it may have achieved its aim.

The style of language is indeed quite different from the various mainstream translations out there; the language is much more brief and terse. The style may well have been influenced by Cleary's deep interest in Taoist and Buddhist literature - or it may be a welcome attempt to reflect the brevity and terseness of the Arabic original, which can easily be lost in the more wordy English translations (especially those which ape the Elizabethan style of the KJV). The style is refreshing but in some parts the accuracy is suspect to say the least (and regrettably, I'm left wondering whether this is deliberately so).

But beware; the "selection of readings" really is only a small portion of the Qur'an. He has selected a number of verses from each Surah, and omitted some Surahs entirely. This is understandable as the book is meant to be an initial introduction to the Qur'an, but there is no doubt that the verses that have been selected are those that will sound most innocuous or agreeable to Western ears. They are in no way representative of the whole text (which you might assume like I did, if you knew no better). The selections are heavily skewed towards the early Makkan period; these verses have a very different style and impact to the majority of the Qur'anic text.

Immediately after reading Cleary's book, I went on to read two full translations of the Qur'an and I have to admit I had the feeling that I'd been "lied to" or "misled" (I hesitate to use those words, but it's the very strong feeling I got at the time). It's easy to suspect that Cleary had an agenda other than providing a balanced selection of verses that would give a flavour of the whole Qur'an. Since that time, I studied Arabic, which led me to be particularly suspicious of parts of Cleary's translations.

The lengthy introduction is useful for beginners - it will undoubtedly give you a desire to find out more. The introduction is well worth reading but should be taken with a large pinch of salt. He is clearly trying to represent the religion and its main text in the most favourable and least controversial way possible, which could be dangerous considering the typical reader will be a naive Westerner with little prior knowledge of Islam.

Overall I WOULD recommend this book to someone who currently knows little about the subject and wants a primer. But it is strongly recommended that you invest the time in reading a FULL translation of the Qur'an soon afterwards, and find out about Islam from varied sources. Be prepared that it might not be quite what you're expecting on the back of Cleary's work.
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HALL OF FAMEon 18 September 2003
In this continuation of the Essentials series, Thomas Cleary presents a basic introduction to the Koran.
Koran (Qur'an, in some transliterations) literally means 'reading' or 'recitation'. According to Islamic tradition, the Koran is a spiritually revealed book, in the way Torah was revealed to Moses or the Gospel message was revealed to Jesus. Connecting to these earlier voices of the same God, the Koran also serves as a clarifier, a standard. The prophet Muhammad, born about year 570, orphaned early, led a fairly unremarkable life until about age 40, when he had a revelation, which his wife was perhaps first to recognise.
This is a work in English; it is an article of faith among Muslims that the Koran cannot be truly translated into any language apart from the classical Arabic in which it was revealed. There is a fundamental difference between Arabic (or, more precisely, semitic) language and western languages. While all of the Koran is sacred for Muslims, there are portions which are more understandable and accessible to the Western reader; Cleary has assembled these together here.
'Arabic, most precise and primitive of the Semitic languages, shows signs of being originally a constructed language. It is built up upon mathematical principles--a phenomenon not paralleled by any other language.'
Given this view of the language, there are extensive notes throughout Cleary's translation to try to clarify some of the linguistic elements that are lost in translation.
'In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
All praise belongs to God,
Lord of all worlds,
the Compassionate, the Merciful,
Ruler of Judgment Day.
It is You that we worship,
and to You we appeal for help.
Show us the straight way,
the way of those You have graced,
not of those on whom is Your wrath,
nor of those who wander astray.'
This is the opening of the Koran.
The Koran and Islamic tradition holds that there have been 128,000 prophets, who have in their turn revealed 104 Books. The Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel and the Koran are the four most important books according to the Muslim point of view. Theologically, Islam is not exclusionist, and recognises the validity of revelation that has come before (even if not recognising that current practice retains the authority of that validity).
As a priest, I recall the lines
'People of the Book,
do not go to excess
in your religion,
and do not say of God
anything but truth.'
The prophet Muhammad would get irritated if a prayer leader would stretch things out to the discomfort of the attenders.
'The Messiah
does not disdain
to be a servant of God,
and neither do the intimate angels.
As for those who disdain
the worship of God
and who aggrandize themselves,
God will gather
all of them up.'
In the search for pure truth, the Koran gives insight.
"It is God, Unique,
God the Ultimate.
God does not reproduce
and is not reproduced.
And there is nothing at all
equivalent to God."'
Philosophy, history, sometimes confusing but mystically-deepening insights are all presented here. Cleary mostly allows the text of the Koran to stand for itself, without analysis, to allow the spirit to speak directly to the reader. More commentary and historical grounding for the non-Muslim reader would be nice
Various parts of the Koran were revealed in different places, and Cleary takes account of this in his organisation. Also, headings allow one to follow lines of thought, but it sometimes takes some real study and meditation to figure out the connexions.
Spend some time with these writings, and approach it with an open mind and heart, holding fast to your own beliefs, to see what new light might be shed upon them.
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on 30 June 2005
I would never heard of Thomas Cleary. I came accross him from Hamza Yusuf lecture, this is the book he recommended to all foreigners as a begginers in Islam.
It is translated brilliantly, with detailed expalnation of selected Koranic verses.
Very interesting
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on 29 January 2015
Cleary is a fantastic translator and commentator
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on 6 August 2016
Beautifully translated
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