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Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  600 ratings  ·  39 reviews
Approaching the Qur’án is a major event in religious publishing. Professor Michael Sells has captured the complexity, power, and poetry of the early suras of the Qur’án, the sacred scripture of Islam. In this second edition, Sells introduces important new translations of suras and a new preface that addresses the ongoing controversy over teaching about Islam and the Qur’an ...more
Paperback, 236 pages
Published January 1st 2007 by White Cloud Press (first published 1999)
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4.20  · 
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 ·  600 ratings  ·  39 reviews

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Mar 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: midd-sophomore
Yeah I approached the hell out of the Qur'an this book did not lie.
Sep 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone wanting to understand Islam better
I've been reading a lot of different Qu'rans and commentary lately, and this is by far the best book I have encountered. It focuses only on the earliest revelations, which are at the end of the written Qu'ran, so I might have taken a long time to get to them if I had continued reading on my own. They focus on the fundamentals of Islam (faith, prayer, and good deeds) rather than on the prescriptions that came in the later revelations. Sells also has a long final chapter on the complexities of gen ...more
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
Like most sacred texts, the Qur'an is more easily understood by those familiar with the tradition it supports, so neophytes like me need a basic introduction. This is a good one. Sells focuses on the early revelations (which are placed at the end of the Qur'an) because they are logically first, and the first ones Muslims learn about as children. The Qur'an follows a far less linear narrative than the Bible does, so starting on page one is a good way for a newcomer to get lost pretty quickly. Sta ...more
Oct 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Phenomenol book. Where do I begin to write all that it revealed and all the thoughts it triggered.

Let me begin by saying that Sells has written a masterpiece. If you read this book, no matter which language is your mother tongue-including Arabic-this book will reveal things about the Qur'an, which will amaze you, humble you, and make you submit to the glory of Allah/God. If you are a Muslim, then you should definitely read this book, and recommend it to others, especially your children.

Surah Baq
Apr 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own, mena
A wonderful introductory examination of the early suras (89 to 114), contextualizing and interpreting them as examples of Bedouin poetry, and analyzing some of the recurring themes from the history and literature of the era. (This treatment is probably unorthodox as it departs from beliefs in the Qur'an's uncreatedness). Sells clearly took cares to try to convey the rhyme, structure, and subtle gender dynamics of Arabic into his English translations, and the results are lyrical in themselves. (I ...more
Oct 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: islam
Excellent book for the non-specialist who really shouldn't just pick up an English version of the Qur'an to understand its message. I would say read this first, and listen to the CD that comes with it. Prof. Sells was my thesis adviser, so I've been in his office: he has more Qur'ans than I've ever seen! And trust me, this man understands Arabic and Arabic poetry and prose more than many Arab-Muslims I've met.

The book just flows really well and is enjoyable. And you get to learn a little about h
Definitely glad I read this (and listened), as it provides evidence as to the significance of it being recited and heard in Arabic, as opposed to only read in English in silence. Sells gives you digital access to about 30 recited suras, and also spells them out in elongated fashion, similar to notes and words on sheet music, with the reader practically following the bouncing ball of Arabic sounds, giving you a feel for the musicality or linguistic resonance of the suras.

He also makes a good case
Francesca Elyse
Feb 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
A little dry, but it's a good introduction to the themes and prose of the Qur'an. Sells' translations are painstakingly thorough and it shows in his commentary, helping to lend nuance to places I would easily pass over otherwise. The included CD and section on hearing lends an understanding of how people in the Arabic speaking world interact with the Qur'an that is difficult to explain to an outsider.
Jane Pontiñela
Aug 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It gives a fair introduction and context regarding the Quran which is far inaccessible for people who lacks the definitive background about it. The subject matter, if not that quite exhaustive, is clear, easy to read, and concise.
It's a good introductory read for scholastic study of Islamic religion for non-Muslims.
Munirah MacLean
Nov 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I love this book. Constantly inspiring.
Christopher Porzenheim
Dec 09, 2016 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Someone new to the Qur'an who wan'ts to read it in English
Recommended to Christopher by: A professor of comparative religions
I consulted this book after my first approach at an Oxford English Qur’an ended prematurely. I figured secondary literature on the Qur’an, like this book, might help me “get it.” Help it did.

1. The ‘beginning’ of the Qur’an isn’t the ‘beginning’ of a narrative:

“The written Qur’an begins with the longest and one of the most complex chapters, one from Muhammad's later career [...] For those familiar with the Bible, it would be as if the second page opened with a combination of the legal discussi
Approaching the Qur'an is an introduction to the Qur'an for the non-Arabic speaking, and presumably non-Muslim, reader, and it is an excellent one. Although I appreciate another book, The Qur'an: A User's Guide , for the way in which it contextualizes the Qur'an, this book provided a better introduction for some of the essential form and content of the text.

For one thing, Sells actually provides a translation of much of the primary material. His translations cover a quarter of the Qur'an, at l
Aug 16, 2008 rated it liked it
Islam is a tough subject for many Westerners and I am not speaking in a political sense, it is tough to even know where to start. Does one begin with the Qur'an for instance?

Well, a little research will tell you that the Qur'an is not put together the way that the Bible or the Tanakh is--the narrative style is very different so the Qur'an opens with some of the last thing that Mohammed wrote and said and initially deals with some interesting legal issues in Islamic Law which for a law scholar o
Dec 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
In this so-called 'post-truth' society I believe that it always helps to go to primary sources to gather your information. Seeing that the Muslim faith seems to be such a major point of contention in Western society at the moment I thought I should educate myself a little on its primary text, the Qur'an. This is a great book for those in the West who want to get at least a basic understanding of the thrust of the early-Meccan parts of the book. As the author points out the Qur'an is not laid out ...more
Feb 01, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Muslims or those interested in learning about Islam
Shelves: islam-belief
Approaching the Qur'an started off strong with a brief overview of Islamic history and Belief, then provided a glossary of common Islamic concepts mentioned in the Qur'an. Sells's translations were the most interesting part of the book; they were clear and poetic. He followed each translated section by a page or so of commentary. After the translations, though, the books became a bit redundant. Sells went over the same passages again, this time looking at them from the perspective of sound. For ...more
Mar 04, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I happened upon this book in the Harvard Coop and was afraid at what I would find looking inside...but I was pleasantly surprised. The introduction takes a wide, venerating view of revelation, but also touches on the extent to which non-Muslimsm through history have approached the excellence of the Qur'an. I was afraid at certain points in that introduction that tell-tale signs of orientalist criticism that were glossed in the intro would end up infiltrating the translation or contextualization ...more
Jan 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
A scholar of Arabic literature who has published his translation of pie-Islamic odes which have difficult and unfamiliar words even for the native speakers of Arabic and thus force their translators to go through the roots of the words, Michael Sells shows the same attitude in his approach to the early revelations in the Quran. His linguistic sensibility is at the forefront in this translation. As a scholar who did not grow up as a Muslim and but studied Islam as a "science," Sells is free from ...more
William Crosby
Apr 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had tried to read the Quran (Koran) several decades ago and found it incomprehensible and without a narrative form.

Since then I have learned that it is best to treat the Quran as poetry. This book was recommended by a Muslim professor. It has several of the Sura's along with a commentary by the translator.

I found it much easier to read and understand. It was helpful to have a context of the time period to explain some of the words and references.

This is not the entire Quran. But, if you wish
Jun 09, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, religion
I read this book as a part of the Summer Reading Inititative at my undergrad university amid a lot of controversy ('s a long story). In retrospect, I thought it was a very well-written and eye opening read about the Qu'ran. I also remember the CD that went along with it and listening to the suras, and how beautiful of an addition it was to learning about the early interpretations of the passages.
May 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This wonderful book which comes with a CD of many of the early revelations (Suras) with various Quranic reciters chanting several of the key Suras. This is a major work and it is beautifully done. Anyone who wants to better appreciate the world of Islam from its liturgical presentation in the chanting of the Qur'an should read this book. Michael Sells, is the translator and ones guide through these early revelations and comments on each after presentation.
Jan 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for anyone in the English-speaking world interested in the Qur'an. Simply jumping into any English translation of the Qur'an only gives the reader part of the picture, that is, what the translator interprets the Qur'an to say. Sells here explains that a huge part of the Qur'an is in its aural qualities tied to the intricacies of the Arabic language, making the Qur'an untranslatable. Furthermore, the book comes with a CD of recitations of several Qur'anic suras.
Matt Friedman
Beautifully done translations of the early surahs of the Qur'an, with some very insightful commentary. The section on sound may be lost on those who have difficulty with 'Arabic, although the author does a wonderful job of seeking to introduce the reader to this most untranslatable element of the 'Arabic Qur'an. His analysis of "Sound, Spirit and Gender in the Qur'an" is alone worth the price of the volume.
Zahra Khan
Aug 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book is a unique way of learning about Islam. Focusing on the music and poetry of the Quran as experienced by Muslims daily.

Sells provides his own translations of certain chapters of the Quran which aren't particularly accepted translations but focus on the lyrical quality of the original Arabic.

The book comes with a CD or downloadable audio of Quran recitations.
Jul 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
The 114 oldest surahs of the Qur'an, side by side with commentary, to help non-Muslims understand the key messages. I wish I'd started with this instead of reading the entire Qur'an on my own with no guidance. Also comes with an awesome CD of various of the surahs being recited in different manners.
May 27, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: for-class
I appreciate the language-oriented perspective of this book, but my favorite part is the list of audio downloads of Arabic recitations of Qur'anic verses. Listening to these helped me better understand the points Sells was making, but it also helped me get a glimpse of the power and the beauty of the Qur'an. Some of the recordings gave me chills.
Ah Hadith
Jul 22, 2014 marked it as to-read
This is a book which has been written by the islam enemies just tried to defame islam, who ever want to read islam, its very easy and simple get on to google and read the original quran in every languange u loved to. Not the book by the islam enemies. Thanks
Lisa Bauer
Sep 08, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: islam
Interesting book that looks in detail at several of the short, early surahs from the last 30th of the Qur'an, Juz' Amma. Also includes a CD of Qur'an recitation by many famous qaris (reciters)...including some by an Indonesian female reciter!
A good introduction that presents the Qur'an in its proper context: as something to be recited and heard rather than simply as text to be read. The CD provides a nice sample of the different styles of recitation. If I had to teach the Qur'an to college students again I would start here.
Jon Cooper
Jun 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely incredible translation with rich, accessible commentary.
Sep 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
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Michael Sells studies and teaches in the areas of qur'anic studies; Sufism; Arabic and Islamic love poetry; mystical literature (Greek, Islamic, Christian, and Jewish); and religion and violence. The new and expanded edition of his book Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations appeared in 2007. He has published three volumes on Arabic poetry: Desert Tracings: Six Classic Arabian Odes, which f ...more