Thematic Studies on the Qur’an: 10 Significant Books

By Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray

~‘Thematic Study of Qur’an’ is a significant and recurring theme in the literature on Qur’an and things Qur’anic~

THE WRITINGS ON THE QUR’AN—and more significantly in the area of Qur’anic Studies—is an interesting and exciting academic discipline, spread over a number of branches, to which Muslims (from classical to contemporary era) and non-Muslims (or Western scholars) have contributed extensively. Besides the tafsir literature, ‘Ulum al-Qur’an and translations of the Qur’an in various European and Oriental languages (especially Arabic, Urdu, English, etc.), and other inter-related aspects, there have emerged, from the last few decades, many new trends in this field. These new trends range from Qur’anic hermeneutics, contextualist approach to Qur’an/ Qur’anic Text, thematic interpretations of Qur’an, Qur’an for daily recitation, to simple introductions to the Qur’an, and personal wrestling(s) with the Sacred Text. Among these genres, a significant category—more persuasive and dominant than others—is the ‘thematic’ study and interpretation of the Qur’an.

Some of the important works on the ‘thematic’ study of Qur’an with a focus ranging from key terms or concepts, major themes, to some of the essential/ basic teachings, and major issues and contemporary topics, include: Toshihiko Izutsu, God and Man in the Koran (1964) and Ethico-Religious Concepts in the Qur’an (1966/ 2004); B. A. Dar, Qur’anic Ethics (1960); Qamaruddin Khan, Political Concepts in the Qur’an (1973); Abu al-‘Ala Mawdudi, Four Basic Qura’nic Terms: Ilah, Rabb, ‘Ibadah, Deen (1977); Fazlur Rahman, Major Themes of the Qur’an (1980); T. B. (Taleem ‘Ali) Irving et. al., The Qur’an: Basic Teachings (1992); Muhammad Abdel Haleem, Understanding the Qur’an: Themes and Style (1999/ 2001); Abdur Raheem Kidwai, The Qur’an: Essential Teachings (2005); Farid Esack, The Qur’an: A User’s Guide (2005 & 2007); Massimo Campanini, The Qur’an: The Basics (2007/ 2016); Ziauddin Sardar, Reading the Qur’an (2011/ 2015); Abdel Haleem, Exploring the Qur’an: Context and Impact (2016); Tauseef Ahmad Parray, Towards Understanding the Qur’anic Terms, Concepts, and Themes (2017)/ Exploring the Qur’an: Concepts and Themes (2019), etc.

A passing look at the titles of these works on the ‘thematic’ study of the Qur’an, gives an impression that they (collectively) highlight major themes or basic terms, some essential teachings or main/ key concepts, ethico-religious concepts, or themes, concepts and contemporary topics/ issues altogether. It also gives the impression that it depends on the author’s choice and the expertise, as well as on the circumstances and requirements (or more specifically on the need of the hour) which topics (terms, concepts, and themes) he selects, prefers, and highlights, and which he drops.

As indicated above, the writings in the area of the Qur’anic Studies are spread over a number of branches and one such significant category, in the modern period, is the ‘thematic’ study of the Qur’an, with the aim to highlight some key concepts and important terms, vital and vibrant themes, occurring in the Diving Book. The ‘Thematic Study of Qur’an’ is a significant and recurring theme in the literature on Qur’an and things Qur’anic. Thus, in this context, below is presented an assessment of some important works in this genre of last and present century.

  1. Toshihiko Izutsu, a Japanese scholar, dealt primarily with religious ethics and attitude and on the general Qur’anic worldview, in his two books, God and Man in the Koran (1964), and Ethico-Religious Concepts in the Qur’an (1966/ 2002). Following a ‘semantic approach’, each of these works tries to define broadly a semantic range of vocabulary central to religious discussion, and the two works in combination provide ‘a significant view of the religious and cognitive structures of the Qur’an’ through the ‘semantic method’ that ‘has had a lasting effect on the discipline’ of the Qur’anic Studies.
  2. Syed Abu ‘Ala Mawdudi (d. 1979) specifically focused on the Four Basic Qura’nic Terms: Ilah, Rabb, ‘Ibadah, Deen (God, the Lord, Religious Observance, and Faith; 1977), because they are, in his opinion, ‘basic to the whole teaching of the Qur’an’ and that the ‘entire contents’ of the whole Qur’an, ‘revolve around these four terms only’.
  3. Fazlur Rahman’s Major Themes of the Qur’an (1980) explores the theological, moral and social teachings and principles of Islam, by engaging in a systematic study of the Sacred Text according to specific themes, instead of individual verses. Following a ‘synthetic exposition’ and thematic approach, Rahman provides ‘an introduction to major themes of the Qur’an’ which gives the reader ‘a genuine taste of the Qur’an’.
  4. Abdel Haleem’s Understanding the Qur’an: Themes and Styles (2001) discusses—in an easy-to-understand manner and providing the reader with useful insights—some major themes of the Qur’an that are pertinent to modern debates on Qur’anic interpretation, including, the concept of life, marriage, war and peace, tolerance, paradise, etc. It is ‘intended to help the general reader, and also the scholar, to understand the Qur’an by combining a number of approaches: thematic, stylistic and comparative’.
  5. The Qur’an: Essential Teachings by Abdur Raheem Kidwai (2005) deals, in a lucid and coherent manner, with the articles of faith, basic Islamic Pillars, and with social ethics. Addressed to ‘the English-speaking reading public interested in grasping the meaning and message of the Qur’an’, Kidwai’s work is ‘intended to help readers get an idea of the Qur’anic worldview’: and thus contains and covers topics on the articles of Islamic faith, God-man relationship, religious duties, and the Islamic value system [a detailed review on this book was published in KO on 5th March 2022, p. 5]. (Contd.)

The author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC Sogam, Kupwara (J&K). Email: [email protected]

  • The article is for informational purposes only and is not meant to endorse or dismiss any ideology or group or people. Views expressed are author’s own and do not represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

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