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Ziauddin Sardar's Approach to the Qur'an: Timely Lessons from Sura Al-Baqara

WORLD FUTURES 2022, VOL. 78, NOS. 2-4, 136-147 ​

Bruce B. Lawrence 

Duke University, Durham, NC, USA


In Reading the Qur’an: The Contemporary Relevance of the Sacred Text of the Qur’an, Ziauddin Sardar etches his worldview as a progressive traditionalist. In order to map his own in-betweenness, someone perpetually moving between tradition and modernity, using the one to redefine the other, he relies on scripture. His distinctive strategy for reading an alluring yet complex sacred text reflects his own self-definition as a cultural critic who engages post- modernism but also espies its limits. Uniquely Zia charts how the template for reading the Qur’an as a moral guidebook is already evident in the second and longest chapter, Sura Al-Baqara.


I have known Ziauddin Sardar for nearly two decades. I admire him as one of the most prolific and creative cultural critics in the diasporic Muslim community of Britain. Especially notable is his critique of post-modernism. Challenging the core judgment that postmodernism is liberatory and promotes pluralism, Sardar argues that postmodernism effectively promotes further marginalization of those already marginalized by coloniality and modernity. In sum, it projects a form of intellectual hegemony, mirroring even as it claims to correct the earlier excesses of Western domination over the colonized regions of Africa and Asia. What exceptionalizes Zia is his radical in-betweenness. He expresses himself as a Pakistani immigrant living in the UK, but a Muslim public intellectual in sympathy with non-Muslim Asian others. Even while critical of Islamic excesses, he also sees a non-Western cultural alliance, above all, in art, which avoids the ills and evils of Western utopianism, aka modernity, and dystopianism, aka postmodernism. He titles his most comprehensive riposte to the insidious West: Postmodernism and the Other: New Imperialism of Western Culture. In it Zia offers a strategy for surviving postmodernism, especially through art, including Chinese paintings imi- tating Mughal miniatures. “What we witness in these paintings,” observes Zia “is a thriving, dynamic culture ready to confront the problems of modernity and the nihilism of postmodernism: these parameters, as the paintings illustrate so breathtakingly, are common to both Islamic and Chinese traditions, and by corollary to all non-western traditions” (Sardar, 1998).

As the bold italics which I added to the above citation make evident, this approach is not only a survival strategy but an attempt to build alliances along a cultural fault-line demarcated as West/non-West. He rejects the familiar elements of modernism to erect structures, traits and atti- tudes that define and so homogenize large-scale collectivities, but he also rejects postmodernism with its insistent effort on highlighting all culture as unconnected localisms and so denying universal standards for a viable pluralism.

As the bold italics which I added to the above citation make evident, this approach is not only a survival strategy but an attempt to build alliances along a cultural fault-line demarcated as West/non-West. He rejects the familiar elements of modernism to erect structures, traits and attitudes that define and so homogenize large-scale collectivities, but he also rejects postmodernism with its insistent effort on highlighting all culture as unconnected localisms and so denying universal standards for a viable pluralism.

I would like to suggest that Zia the pluralist has also become the trail- blazer of a new form of cosmopolitan scripturalism, (re)reading foundational texts, in his case, the Qur’an, with insight into broad options for pluralist thinking and collective confrontation of global challenges. In one of the early issues of Critical Muslim, I discussed cosmopolitanism as part of a larger historical project, concluding my essay with the hope that “cosmopolitanism not fundamentalism and puritanism inflects the bright- est Muslim future for the perilous twenty-first century”.1

Now that the twenty-first century has become even more perilous with the Arab spring passing into a long autumn, droves of immigrants a regular not a sporadic occurrence, and COVID-19 leaving all parts of the globe aghast with illness and blighted hopes, it seems necessary to argue that cosmopolitanism also requires scriptural resources, and that in turn requires creative rethinking and reapplying of scriptural guidelines. Zia qualifies as a cosmopolitan scripturalist, a progressive traditionalist exploring the past to illumine the future and justify the present. His case study for this intervention is his exposition of the Qur’an. 2

What is so refreshing in Zia’s approach to the sacred text is his openness to finding new meanings through traditional passages. At the outset Zia admits that though he spent five years in Saudi Arabia, the Arabic Qur’an does not help him since the languages which he speaks and in which he thinks are Urdu and English. Therefore, “to approach the Qur’an in a way that makes sense to my reason, and therefore allows me to reason with the meaning of its words, translations are essential” (p. 59). He himself has read six translations in depth: Arberry, Pickthall, Yusuf Ali, Asad, Abdul Haleem, and Khalidi. Since all of them are marked by “differences and distinctions in linguistic choices”, he encourages anyone who shares his quest to engage the Qur’an through “the practice of reading multiple translations in conjunction with one another”, as he has done throughout his own work (p. 54).

It is a mark of his in-betweenness that he embraces tradition even while opposing traditionalists. After a largely biographical Part One “Overview”, he entitles Part Two “By Way of Tradition”. It consists of a review of just one sura, Sura al-Baqara, but the tone is set in his Introduction to (re)reading the Qur’an. Zia begins with a necessary but stark admission: he acknowledges that “standing four-square behind tradition and the authority of the traditional educated preservers of traditional interpretation—the imams, the maulvis and the ulama, the learned—serves a desire for unity” (p. 58). But unity also entails conformity, and so the traditional interpretation prevails at the cost of fresh, creative, and practical ways of applying sacred directives. In trying to“discover how the Sacred Text speaks to the pressing concerns of my time and the predicaments of the world in which I live”, notes Zia, “one does not abandon tradition but comes to understand that it is neither as uniform nor as narrow as is usually presented.” One must instead release principles “from the embalming crust of tradition”, that they may be “applied to contemporary circumstances” (p. 59).

Before we explore how Zia uses the Qur’an, let us first place him within the spectrum of contemporary Qur’an interpreters. The range of current Quranic scholarship shifts between two poles: synchronic and diachronic. The former accepts the order of Qur’anic suras as now given in the official mushaf (written copy) of the 1924 Cairo edition. It has been the basis for most translations into English and all the ones on which Zia relies. The latter, the diachronic, by contrast, tries to review, and understand, the Qur’an in the temporal sequence in which the suras were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, beginning with the first and extend- ing to the last.3

In favoring the synchronic approach, Zia is opting for the traditional reading with a focus on Sura Al-Fatiha (‘The Opening’) and Sura al- Baqara (‘The Cow’) as a complementary sequence. The Opening comes from the early Meccan period, The Cow comes from the Medinan period. It may sound trivial to an outsider but to an insider, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, Qur’an scholar or generalist, it matters decisively how one reads a scripture like the Qur’an, and for Zia, as for all traditionalists— even those who are progressives—the sense of the sacred writ comes out differently with the synchronic sequence (1–114 in the Cairo edition) than with the diachronic sequence (from 96 as earliest to 5 as the last, though some differ in their choice at both ends).

I want to explore how Zia uses his synchronic approach to explain the value of Qur’anic passages, and their central message, across time, in varied contexts. Sura Al-Baqara becomes a central organizing chapter not least because of its synchronic positioning within the 114 chapters of the Qur’an. In this endeavor he remains a follower of Fazlur Rahman, the Pakistani/American scholar who trailblazed many facets of Islamic studies today.4 Among others Mona Siddiqui, Muhammad Abdul Haleem, and Abdullah Saeed acknowledge, and develop, insights gained from Rahman.5

Zia, however, choses a sequential unfolding of all the themes, as well as the core messaging, of the sacred book with reference to Sura Al- Baqara. It is a boldly synchronic approach with an agenda at once progressive and cosmopolitan.

1 - Focus on Sura al-Baqara

There are multiple ways that Zia engages and unpacks the several themes of Sura al-Baqara. The first is highlighted in Part Two: By Way of Tradition, when he reviews the entire chapter, clustering passages that together to make salient points of relevance to Muslims, and all human- kind, across time in multiple contexts. We will begin by reviewing these interpretive strategies in Part Two but then also note the two consequential ways that he draws on these same passages in the parts that follow, focusing first on Themes and Concepts (Part Three) and then on Contemporary Topics (Part Four).

For Zia, there are no less than 19 discrete traditional topics that are introduced through Sura Al-Baqara. He begins with ‘The Qur’an and Doubt’ (p. 9) but accents ‘A Middle Community’ (p. 14), one whose lead- ership is channeled through the Majesty of God and Freedom of Religion (p. 23), culminating in Prayer (p. 27). While all 19 topics merit consideration, for the purposes of showing Zia’s creative, and distinctive, approach to reading the Qur’an, it is more important to see how he then lines out Parts Three and Four as crucial to an ethical (re)reading of the entire Qur’an by reference to these four indices of Sura Al-Baqara, with a side glance at ‘Fall and Evil’ (p. 12).

In Part Three, Zia offers no less than 12 major themes and pivotal concepts, each a paired element: Prophets and Revelation, Abrogation and Change, Time and History, Truth and Plurality, Humanity and Diversity, Reason and Knowledge, Crime and Punishment, Rights and Duties, Nature and Environment, Ethics and Morality, Reading and Writing. It is a long, challenging roll call of Qur’anic themes, and while no traditionalist would disagree with that listing, no modernist would accept that it provides inclusive coverage of issues confronting today’s world. It is in Part Four that Zia provides the seriatim iteration of themes within Sura Al-Baqara that offer a window into our time and place in a 21st century global society. The topics range from the most Islam specific issue (Shari’a) to the most generically human (Art, Music and Imagination). Between these polar topics, Zia addresses other dyads, such as Power and Politics, Polygamy and Domestic Violence, Sex and Society, Science and Technology, but he also tackles single title topics such as Homosexuality, the Veil, Freedom of Expression, Suicide (Assisted or Otherwise), and Evolution. It is impossible to do justice to his treatment of all these themes, concepts and topics, so let me just focus on some that I deem to be central to his entire approach. There are four elements from Part One: Qur’an and Doubt as the opener, Prayer as the closer, but with special accents on ‘the middle community’ and the Majesty of God conjoined with Freedom of Religion.

Q 2:2 Qur'an and Doubt 

Q 2:2 “This is the Book, wherein is no doubt, a guidance to the God conscious (Zia rendition) At the outset of Sura Al-Baqara Zia makes clear his preference for Muhammad Asad’s interpretation of the key term: muttaqi. The second verse of Q 2 is rendered: “This is the Book, wherein is no doubt, a guidance to the God conscious.’ God conscious is Zia’s preferred rendition of muttaqi yet only one contem- porary translator has provided this accent on taqwa/muttaqi. That is Muhammad Asad. It is no accident that the key phrase that becomes a signature for Asad’s approach is taqwa/God consciousness, and muttaqi, the one conscious of God. As he himself explains in his commentary on the very first usage of muttaqi here in Q 2:2: God conscious is to be preferred to “the conventional translation of muttaqi as ‘God-fearing’ (which) does not adequately render the positive con- tent of this expression—namely, the awareness of His all-presence and the desire to mold one’s existence in the light of this awareness; while the interpretation adopted by some translators, ‘one who guards against evil’ or ‘one who is careful of his duty’, does not give more than one particular aspect of God-consciousness.”(Asad:8 n.2) Throughout his assessment of Al-Baqara and application of its guidelines, Zia returns to Asad’s rendition of taqwa, e.g., Q 2:21: “O humankind! Worship your Lord, who created you and those who came before you, so that you might remain conscious of Him.”

Q 2:143 'a Middle Community', One That Should 'Hasten to Do Good Deeds' (Q 2:148)

It is due to the mandate of God conscious behavior that Zia focuses on community, a notion central to religious discourse.6 Zia accents community as he moves from the sacred text and its words, to myriad traditional interpretations, and then to present day options facing 21st century citizens of a global world, both Muslim and non-Muslim. He addresses the query: what is it to be Muslim? not just with reference to Q 2:2 but also with reference to Q 2: 143 a “middle community” and also Q:148 “hasten to the good deeds”. Here the crucial Arabic term ummat wasat is ren- dered again with reference to Asad, but even while he seems to favor Asad’s rendition of Q 2:2, Zia declares himself—yet again—to be a post postmodernist, that is, a resolute cosmopolitan, expanding rather than contracting notions of community. He goes on to define the middle com- munity—or better, community of the middle way—in interpreting Q 2:143 a: “We have appointed you a community of the middle way, so that you might bear witness to humankind”. Even while favoring Asad’s rendi- tion, Zia gives it his own twist, linking it to Q 2:148 “For every community there is a direction of their own, so hasten to do good deeds.” Just as taqwa or God consciousness defines the resolve of individual Muslims, so ‘middle way’ is the collective shape of the God conscious: their characteristic endeavor is “to hasten to do good deeds” without accepting ‘traditional’ limits.

Indeed, the ideal of ‘a community of the middle way’ is refracted, distorted, denied by “communities of extremes—of obnoxious, ostentatious wealth in the midst of abject poverty, of religious zealots and self-righteous chauvinists, of despots and demagogues...”So dire is the collective state of the Muslim world,” laments Zia, “that too many Muslims are sundered, divided and factional within..., not racing to do good deeds, but chasing all forms of human frailty and perversity with steadfast deter- mination” (p. 113).

3 - Q 2:255/256 - The Throne Verse and Freedom of Religion 

Many have argued that each verse of the Qur’an could/should/does stand on its own, and often the best absorption of deep messaging from the sacred text is to focus on a single verse.7 To the extent that the entire Qur’an can hinge on single verses, Q 2:255 looms as a candidate close to the top of that list. For Zia it is Q 2:255 combined with Q: 256 that rings the changes of perspective enshrining a global pluralism worthy of the name. In his view, Ayat al-Kursi “the most beautiful statement of the power and majesty of the Almighty” (v. 255), followed by no compulsion in religion (v.256), reveals the logic of Quranic discourse, confirming again the call to be ‘God conscious’. “Religion that is free from all coer- cion refers to God as embodied in the verse of the Throne,” writes Zia. “The word for religion, and Islam’s own self-description, is deen. As these verses make clear, deen is a way of knowing, being and doing, a way of life. What is more, this way of living, based on God consciousness, brings God near to us, it illuminates our lives” (pp. 180–181).

Parenthetically before we examine these two sets of verses (Q 2: 143/ 148 and Q 2:255/256) it is of value to restate Zia’s overriding concern: to highlight the ethical mandates of the Qur’an, in whatever order one reads it. There is a continuous rather than disjunctive relationship between consciousness of God and pursuit of what God loves: beauty, justice, and the collective good. And that means that context is consistently important, even imperative. The mandate is to never take a given verse and divorce it from its context but rather “to consider how individual verses are con- nected with other verses elsewhere in the Qur’an, and how the parts are integrated within the whole” (p. 212). And so the value of a single verse is not just its own message but its link to other verses with additive value for understanding and applying the same message. Indeed, intertextuality within the Qur’an is crucial for Zia’s reading of Al-Baqara and the Qur’an as a whole. It allows us to see how the elements of Sura Al- Baqara act as rays of light illumining major themes of the Qur’an as a whole. God-consciousness embraces atheists along with believers, all committed “to a way of life that is or certainly should be dedicated to care for justice, equity, the dignity and well-being of all” (p. 75). If the central questions of our day are “how to live in a world of diversity and differ- ence and how to operate in a multifaith society”, then the answers are: to seek divine guidance on “how to live a just, equitable and peaceful life; how to make the world a better place for everyone” (p. 103).

4 - Q 2:284 - 288

It is at the end of Part Two, “By Way of Tradition” that we find Zia at his most nimble exegetical self, interpreting the final verses of Al-Baqara. These verses are interpreted as a prayer, paralleling the prayer of Al- Fatiha. Others have offered a commentary on how the two fit together, 8 but what is distinctive about Zia is not just the bracketing of Al-Fatiha with the end of Al Baqara but his double stress of the concluding ‘prayer’ (vv.285–86 but especially 286: “God does not burden a soul with more than it can bear.”) Not only do we find a Qur’anic interpretation but also a plea for God consciousness in daily moral reflection and decision making: “what matters is doing as much as we are able, and using our intelligence to appreciate what should be done” (p. 207).

From Freedom of Religion to Freedom of Expression 

In Part Three, returning to the theme of middle community, Zia talks about the individual and the community in a way that prizes the indi- vidual yet critiques individualism. Noting after he praises a balanced umma (Q 2:143) and the value of both taqwa (God consciousness) and dhikr (remembrance of God), he accents the need for balance, remembering that “the center of the argument should be shifted to how we strike the proper balance and move toward eradicating need,” that is the crucial need, to strike the proper balance rather than debat- ing individual rights, too often invoked to “release those with abundant means from a sense of obligation to their fellow citizens” (p. 249). And that includes the obligation to respect freedom of expression, even when it goes against Muslim norms and values. It is so difficult to apply this dictum, yet it remains the linchpin of Zia’s project as a progressive traditionalist who is also a cosmopolitan scripturalist. In Part Four he closes the argument for freedom of expression with this fusillade: “The Qur’an’s general advice to believers is to ignore the opinions of those who throw abuse at them... and instead to concen- trate on their own shortcomings and tackle their own problems. ‘Now if you paid attention to the majority on earth, they would lead you away from the path of God. They follow nothing but speculation; they themselves do nothing but guess.’”(Q 6:116) (p. 343)

Zia’s defense of the middle community leads us back to consider the mandate to humankind, as set forth in the Qur’an from the time of Adam, Islam’s first prophet.

Zia foregrounds prophethood within his mandate for progressive trad- itionalism, better, his preference for cosmopolitan scripturalism. Prophetic wisdom becomes a dispersed and enduring divine guidance. Not new with Muhammad, it goes back to Q 2:30–39 and the designation of Adam as successor, viceregent, khalifa for humankind. The exposition of Adam under “Al-Baqara: Fall and Evil” (vv.30–39) is connected later to humankind’s function as “trustees of God on earth”. “Nature,” notes Zia, “is a trust or amana, but also a theater for our moral and ethical struggle”, with deep consequence for maintenance and custodianship for the environment (pp. 265–270).

What Zia makes clear is the scope of the Adamic narrative. It extends beyond the Torah, the Gospel and the Qur’an as documents. It is the product of prophetic truth not limited to Abrahamic prophets but extending to all prophets. “Muslims are to believe the guidance given to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac and Joseph and their descendants, to Moses and Jesus, ‘and all that has been vouchsafed to all [other] prophets by their Sustainer: we make no distinction between any of them’ (v. 136). But to justify the stress on continuous, unerring prophecy Zia quotes the earlier verse, (v. 62) one of the most resolute declarations of universal salvation in the entire Qur’an: ‘all who believe in God and the Last Day and do righteous deeds shall have their reward with their Sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve’ (pp. 104–105). Later, quoting Sufi scholars in Part Three, he includes Ram and Krishna on the prophetic rollcall of “all who believe” (p. 237).

Conclusion: "Hasten to Do Good Deeds" - Plurality, Diversity, Community 

More than most scholars of Islam, Zia projects an ethical, cosmopolitan, always relevant Islamic vision of a better world. Having established the universal scope of prophecy, both Biblical and Qur’anic, extending back to Adam and encompassing all emissaries of Truth till the end of time, Zia develops most dramatically the ethical universalism of his cosmopolitan outlook. In Chapter 31, “Time and History”, Zia questions both reve- lation and tradition as the sole vectors of Truth across time and space. Rather, “the only tradition worthy of the Qur’anic vision is one that continually redefines itself by the pertinence and appropriateness of its moral and ethical precepts to deal with the issues of today” (p. 233). That boldly cosmopolitan affirmation of perpetual vigilance and unflinching creative commitment to the good is developed in chapters addressing “Truth and Plurality” as also “Humanity and Diversity”. While these chapters, like others in Part Three, are peppered with Quranic verses, the ringing endorsement for radical imperatives hastening toward good comes in the chapter titled “Individual and Community”.

It is in this chapter (p. 34) that Zia returns to the link between the sin- gular and the collective, the individual and the community. Here he gen- eralizes the directives that had appeared in his commentary on prayer at the end of Al-Baqara, to wit, “that what matters is doing as much as we are able, and using our intelligence to appreciate what should be done” (p. 207). But now the mandate for individual and community expands, so that it is not a case of either/or but both/and, to wit, “there is a responsibility on all to contribute to basic services for all”, but also “the obligation to make individual contribution by those who have the means to provide for those in need” (p. 249).” It is a clarion cry for social justice as a universal mandate.

What undergirds Zia’s insistence that the Qur’anic message is universal is the seamless, open ended blending of belief and action. Yes, one must believe in God and the Last Day but central to that belief, the necessary consequence of its embrace, is to do righteous deeds, and the stress on diversity reinforces rather than diminishes the need to act righteously. Al-Baqara makes that point clear in v. 148: “For every community there is a direction of their own, so hasten to do good deeds”. We noted Zia’s preference for this phrase earlier, but it also elides with the same message further elaborated in Sura Al-Maida (Q 5:48) when God promises that “for every one We have made a law and a way of life. If God willed, He could have made you one community but He willed otherwise to test you, so hasten to do good deeds”. In both instances, the stress is not on overcoming differences but on respect for others, recognizing the equiva- lent challenge in each direction, each law, each way of life to hasten to do good deeds.

In other words, diversity is a divinely sanctioned contract. The goal— hasten to do good deeds - marks the dividing line between the ideal com- portment of Muslims and the actual deeds of Muslim extremists. Zia is a master of double critique—criticizing the West for excesses of colonialism and modern injustices, while criticizing Muslims who act contrary to the Qur’anic mandate: hasten to do good deeds. He laments the extremists in our midst. “I see those who peddle the panacea of violence, the quick fix of the gun and the bomb.... These are not communities displaying the quality and character they should derive from turning toward the Kaaba in prayer. And it is definitely not integrated and coherent as a commu- nity that ‘races to do good deeds’ (v.148).” Too often Muslims “are sun- dered, divided and factional within...not racing to do good deeds, but chasing all forms of human frailty and perversity with steadfast determi- nation” (p. 113)

The strength of Zia’s exegetical creativity is his ability to stress the hope of verses that often are taken as legal or ritual in scope and apply them to ethical mandates at once challenging but open ended. The final verse of the longest Quranic sura begins: “God does not burden a soul with more than it can bear. To its credit, that which it has earned; and against it, that which it has deserved.” (Q 2:286a) While most commentators take ‘the burden’ to be performance of duties in prayer or other prescribed activities, Zia sees the burden as a quest to pursue the common good, a pluralist vision encompassing humankind. “To the extent that we can, we should do something about the untold suffering we see all around us ... and using our intelligence (as God conscious humans) to appreciate what should be done. The religious temper is to open our hearts, minds and spirit to the understanding that things can be better” (p. 207).

In a time of COVID-19, where restrictive rather than expansive visions of the common good abound, may the vision of Zia and his cosmopolitan scripturalism find traction! May his creative engagement with the sacred word inspire others to (re)read the Qur’an, at once locating themselves in the middle community and hastening to do good deeds!

Disclosure Statement 

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author(s).


  1. See Critical Muslim 02, 2012.

  2. All further intext references are to: Sardar (2011).

  3. A leading Qur’an scholar, Mustansir Mir, has noted that the trend is now

    moving in the direction of synchronic readings of the sacred text. “Modern Qur’anic scholarship seems to be attaching considerable attention to a synchronic study of the Qur’an,” argues Mir, “and it is not inconceivable that the hitherto dominant diachronic study of the Qur’an will require a re- examination of its results and conclusions...” (especially) “if an independent analysis of the Qur’anic corpus in its received form (that is, the1924 Cairo edition), shows this corpus to be possessed of significance and sophisticated structure” (Mustansir Mir, 2020).

  4. See Yuskaev (2017) for a full analysis of Fazlur Rahman as an influential scholar-activist in Anglo-American academia. In Yuskaev’s view, Rahman approached the Qur’an ‘with a double movement’ akin to a dance, a dance in which one moves backward in time to understand the original contexts of Qur’anic revelations and highlight ethical themes but then one sashays forward to apply these same ethical dicta in contemporary contexts.

  5. All three books echo the title of Rahman’s work yet move in different directions: Mona Siddiqui (2007) views Rahman as a pioneering Muslim modernist who argues for the ongoing need to have moral guidance “since man not become mature in the sense that he can dispense with divine guidance” (p. 36). Muhammad Abdel Haleem (1999) offers an overview of multiple topics, but cites Rahman as his antecedent model for disproving the Qur’an is “no more than an echo of Judaism or Christianity” (viii), especially when offering Biblical and Qur’anic perspectives on Adam and Eve and the prisoner prophet Joseph (pp. 123–157). Methodologically attuned to Rahman is Abdullah Saeed (2014). Abdullah Saeed cites Rahman extensively, with special emphasis on the latter’s insistence that the raison d’etre of the Qur’an is, above all, guidance for humankind, with the cosmos a mere backdrop “to elucidate humankind on their position in the order of being,” accenting above all the need for moral action (pp. 96–97). At the outset of his own book, Zia mentions Siddiqui and Saeed as well as Rahman (pp. 21–29), while Abdel Haleem is cited for his popular translation of the Qur’an (pp. 51–52) and choice of words for describing nushuz in Q 4:34 (pp. 306–307).

  6. In Lincoln’s view, “religion is: (1) A discourse whose concerns transcend the human, temporal and contingent, and that claims a similarly transcendent status. (2) A set of practices whose goal is to produce a proper world and/or proper human subjects, as defined by a religious discourse to which these practices are connected. (3) A community whose members construct their identity with reference to a religious discourse and its attendant practices. (4) An institution that regulates religious discourse, practices, and community, reproducing them over time and modifying them as necessary, while asserting their eternal validity and transcendent value” (Lincoln, 2006, pp. 5–8).

  7. “The quality of the Quran is judged from the findings on its individual verses.” Al-Jurjani here epitomized in Navid Kermani (2007, p. 223).

  8.  See an interesting parallel in Robert A. Campbell (2009, pp. 171–172). Like Zia, Campbellconfirms a higher truth: the value of reading the Qur’an synchronically rather than diachronically, in this case, linking the message of the initial two suras. This Christian admirer of the Qur’an noted that the final three verses constitute not just an epilogue but also a prayer, providing a structure for framing Q 2 Sura Al-Baqara that allows it to supplement and complement Q 1—Sura Al-Fatiha. “When viewed as a prayer,” notes Campbell, “the epilogue can be understood as a parallel to The Opening, with the two sequences (1:1–7 and 2:285–286) forming a prologue and epilogue to the second surah ... ” (Campbell, 2009, p. 171).


Abdel Haleem, M. (1999). Understanding the Qur’an: Themes and Style. IB Tauris.

Campbell, R. A. (2009). Reading the Qur’an in English (pp. 171–172). Cape Breton University Press.

Critical Muslim 02. (2012). The Idea of Islam – April–June 2012 (p. 39). Hurst & Co.

Kermani, N. (2007). God is Beautiful: The Aesthetic Experience of The Qur’an (p. 223). Polity Press.

Lincoln, B. (2006). Holy Terrors: Thinking about religion after September 11 (pp. 5–8). The University of Chicago Press.

Mustansir Mir. (2020). The structure of the Qur’an: The inner dynamic of the Sura. In Mustafa Shah & Muhammad Abdel Haleem (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Qur’anic Studies (p. 372). Oxford University Press.

Saeed, A. (2014). Reading the Qur’an in the twenty-first century: A contextualist approach. Routledge.

Sardar, Z. (1998). Post-modernism and the other: New imperialism of western culture (p. 273). Pluto Press.

Sardar, Z. (2011). Reading the Qur’an: The Contemporary relevance of the sacred text of the Qur’an. Hurst & Co.

Siddiqui, M. (2007). How to Read the Qur’an. Norton.

Yuskaev, T. (2017). The Speaking Qur’an: An American Scripture. University of South Carolina Press.