The Qur'an: A User's Guide

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The Qur'an: A User's Guide

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Aug 7, 2009, 10:26 pm

Hello Everyone:
I'm getting ready to read _The Qur'an: A User's Guide_ by Farid Esack. Not sure how to place a direct link to this text in the body of the posting, but the ISBN is

Anyway--if anyone would be interested in reading this book and discussing it or sharing impressions and questions, I'd be interested in doing this--either here , if that is acceptable, or via email or library thing inter-message.

I'm new to Library Thing and am trying to catalog my humanities library here. Interests humanities readings, some social sciences, and literary fiction.

Thanks, Sher

Aug 8, 2009, 2:59 am

Rosinbow, I'm not a member of this group and I'm afraid I don't have a copy of the book, but I have met Farid Esack on a number of occasions and had some interesting discussions with him. On that basis I would expect a book by him to be well worth reading.

Edited: Aug 8, 2009, 1:32 pm

I've read other writings -- articles and such -- by Farid Esack, and found them quite interesting, but I've not yet read that particular book. I'd definitely consider doing so, though, if there is a "group read" about it, and I see online that one of my local bookstores is selling a used paperback copy for a very low price.

There's also an LT group called ISLAM, where you might try posting this to see if there is further interest in the book.

johnthefireman, as you have personal experience with Esack, I'd love to hear your insights, as well.


Rosinbow, you can make "touchstones" for titles and authors by the use of square brackets. For instance, if you want to touchstone the title, simply place it in single brackets, like this (using square brackets instead of parentheses):

(The Qur'an: A User's Guide)

To touchstone an author, use double square brackets:

((Farid Esack))

A work/author can only touchstone if at least one person has entered it into their LT catalog. The authors and/or titles in the touchstone will show up in a column at the right-hand side of the page.

You can also embed URLs in your text using HTML, like so (using these instead of the { } ) :

{a href=""}Google{/a}

Aug 8, 2009, 8:06 pm

Thanks for the comments. How did you have the opportunity to meet Esack? Is he still a visiting professor at Harvard? Well--I'd love to ask a variety of questions, but will stick with what I've wrote above.

I am looking forward to reading the book. In the past I have found when you find one person to discuss with--although the discussion may not be as broad--it is more intimate and can be very rewarding. Having led discussion groups in years past and been a member of them, I'm ready to try a new route of asking if one person out there might like to discuss a given book.


Aug 8, 2009, 8:18 pm

Thanks for taking the time to demonstrate touchstones. I saw a mention of them, but I didn't really process what these would do for my postings. Who knows how long it would have taken me to fall into that by myself. :) I'm sure these instructions will come in handy. I will take a look at the Islam group also.

Do you have a strong preference for a group read versus talking with one or two other people about a book? I'm just curious regarding your thoughts on this as your post seem to suggest you preferred group. Rosinbow

Aug 8, 2009, 11:38 pm

I am going to try and get The Qu'ran: a user's guide ordered from a nearby library: it seems worth the effort. (I went ahead and touchstoned the book and it popped up readily. The link to the work is:

Aug 9, 2009, 12:35 am

Rosinbow, Essa, I first met Farid when I accompanied a delegation of Sudanese bishops on a visit to South Africa around ten years ago, where they met government, parliamentarians, faith leaders, human rights groups, etc to advocate for peace in Sudan. We had to really argue with our bishops, who had experienced the worst excesses of Islamism, to persuade them to take the time to visit a Muslim leader. However his first words to them, "I should like to apologise for what some of my people have done to some of your people" completely disarmed them and they had a very fruitful conversation. My Sudanese bishops perhaps began to learn that day, possibly for the first time, what many westerners also need to learn: that Islam is not monolithic and not all Muslims are Islamists.

A few years later, when I was based in South Africa, I organised an international peace meeting on Sudan and Farid was one of the speakers.

I was struck by his commitment to human rights, not only in his own life journey but also in his approach to inter-faith dialogue, where he suggests we should explore human rights together rather than discussing theology.

He is very good on inter-faith dialogue, having studied Islam in Pakistan and Christianity in Germany. He does not gloss over the difficulties nor pretend that there are no problems between the Qur'an and the bible.

He rejected the label "moderate Muslim" on the grounds that no Muslim should be moderate - all should be totally dedicated - but was happy to be called a "progressive Muslim". If I remember rightly he leads a mosque where men and women pray together. He does not represent mainstream Islam, and many Muslims would no doubt find him too "progressive", but for many others within and without Islam people like him are a sign of hope. Another of my favourites is the late Mahmud Muhammad Taha, executed in Sudan in 1985. I am still in touch with some of his followers in Sudan.

Aug 9, 2009, 12:49 pm


Thanks for sharing this. Really interesting and provides some insight into Farid's style, concerns, and character.

I'll be starting the book this week, and I plan on starting a LThing group for readings in the humanities--as this is a group I've been thinking about creating for the past several years. And as I go about cataloging and literally building my own library (that I hope is completed by spring 2010) I will be around LThing a lot and can put some energy into a humanities group, so seems like good timing.

Thanks again for the interesting and indepth details you shared about your experiences with Farid Esack.


Aug 9, 2009, 1:22 pm

Thanks, johnthefireman -- what fascinating and enriching experiences those must have been. Did you meet Mahmud Muhammad Taha, as well?

Ebrahim Moosa is another South African Muslim who comes to mind (as with Esack, I've not read any of his full-length books, only articles and chapters and such). Both Moosa and Esack appear, along with others, in African-American Muslim Amina Wadud's description of her time spent in South Africa, in her book Inside the Gender Jihad: Women's Reform in Islam. (For whatever reason, touchstones do not function for any of these authors.)

Prior to such reading, I hadn't really given a lot of thought to the presence of Islam in South Africa, but apparently there is a strong presence and it includes progressivist forms as well, such as Esack, Moosa and so forth. I'll do my best to acquire Esack's Qur'anic user guide in a few days and start reading it. :)

Aug 9, 2009, 1:59 pm

Essa, it was indeed fascinating and enriching.

I never met Mahmud Mohammad Taha, although I was outside the prison when he was hanged in 1985. Inside was a rent-a-mob cheering his execution; outside was a sombre silence, as I think there was a general recognition, even by those who were not supporters of Taha, that a wise and holy man had been killed for political reasons. It was one of the catalysts that culminated in the overthrow of President Nimeiry by intifada (popular uprising) a few months later, so it was a momentous event.

I'd quite like to read Esack's book, but the Kenyan postal system (where I am now) militates against it so I'll pick one up on my next trip to UK or South Africa. I may be able to add a comment of two to this conversation several months behind the rest of you!

Aug 15, 2009, 12:35 am

I've just contacted Farid. He's now at the University of Johannesburg. I mentioned the interest in this book, and asked him if there is one of his books that gives a good overview of his thought. His reply:

"On Being A Muslim" is much more interesting (pleasant, funny and very humane); for a more serious Isalmic liberation theology "Qur'an, Liberation and Pluralism" is a great read

Looks like I've got several books to order!

Aug 15, 2009, 1:37 am

Hello johnthefireman
Glad to know of two other books by Farid that sound like good reads. I'm sorry you cannot get the Qur'an A User's Guide, but you may still be able to pipe in as we go along.

I finished the intro despite having all sorts of things happening this week--like the library being built and some construction issues, husband planning his retirement ( a surprise), and various animals needing attention--a cat having his tail amputated and so on. :)

I like the way Esack sets up the book. He points out various ways the Qur'an is read and various motivations for interpretation. Esack clearly states he is " a critical and progressive Muslim" and that this book "is arguably the first attempt to present various views and trends in Qur'anic scholarship in a critical manner without forcing a particular position."


Edited: Aug 15, 2009, 2:36 pm

I've just contacted Farid.

I'm not at all given to awe of celebrities or the glamor of famous people, but the fact that one can just casually contact a noted author and thinker, is awesome. :D Thank you, johnthefireman, for the info. One of my local libraries does have the "On Being a Muslim" book so maybe I can start with that.

I should be picking up the book -- finally! -- today, so I can play catch-up on the reading and try to have something of substance to contribute.

Edited to fix a typographical error.

Sep 22, 2009, 4:45 am

Just got my copy, along with the other two books by Farid Esack mentioned in >11 John5918:. Will start reading and commenting.

Sep 23, 2009, 12:23 pm

That's great! I didn't realize you ordered the books. I'll keep checking here as t what you post.

Also, I would like to read On Being a Muslim with you once you are ready to do so. Let me know if this may interest you in the next few months, and I will get the book ordered! rosinbow

Sep 23, 2009, 2:43 pm

I've gotten bogged down in other books/life activities the last week or two, but am still hanging in there. Should be able to get back on-track with Esack in a few days. :) If memory serves, I am currently in Chapter 3.

One thing that has struck me, esp. in Chapter 2 but elsewhere -- is Esack's willingness to acknowledge and even engage a bit with the critics. E.g., he's mentioned several critics, their books, and their arguments, as well as provided his own measured response to same. I think that's a very fair approach and, as an added bonus, he's alerted me to the existence of several authors/books which I am now keen to investigate. :)

I'm enjoying all the comments so far. :) I had several thoughts while reading chapters 2 & 3 but would like to wait till I get home and have the book in hand before trying to post about them.

Sep 29, 2009, 6:12 pm

Hi Essa
Thanks for the comments, and I agree, I also noticed how fair and balanced Esack is. It is what helps me feel very comfortable about paying attention to what he says. And yes, the authors he mentions throughout gives one a place to go should you want to. rosinbow