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How to Read the Qur'an

A New Guide, with Select Translations

Carl W. Ernst


A compact introduction and reader's guide to the Qur'an

This is an ideal introduction to the Qur'an, featuring the most up-to-date methods for reading and understanding the text. It deals with sensitive issues regarding the interpretation of sacred texts as well as differing points of view and major debates. A substantial explanatory introduction summarises the historical and literary issues and engages with the religious and political context of understanding the Qur'an today, including an appreciation of the ritual and oral uses of text.

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Introduction: The Problem with Reading the Qur'an
1: The History and the Form of the Qur'an and the Practices of Reading
2: Early Meccan Suras
3: Middle and Later Meccan Suras
4: Medinan Suras
Conclusion: Toward a Literary Reading of the Qur'an
Appendix A: Reading the Structure of the Meccan Suras
Appendix B: Ring Structure in Sura 2 and Sura 5
Appendix C: Suggested Interpretive Exercises
Suggested Reading
Index of Scriptural Citations
General Index.

About the Author

Carl W. Ernst is a W.R. Kenan Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and Director of the Carolina Center for the Study of Middle East and Muslim Civilizations at UNC Global. He is author of several books including Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World (EUP, 2004), Sufi Martyrs of Love (Palgrave, 2002) and Teachings of Sufism (Shambhala Publications, 1999).


This elegant guide on how to read and understand the text sacred to Muslims … clearly explains several scholarly concepts behind Qur’anic understanding … and the interweaving and symmetrical structure of the book.

- Publishers Weekly

'This book is aimed at University students, particularly those working in Islamic Studies and Comparative Religion, digesting the main current scholarship on the Qur’an, as well as a wider (non-Muslim) audience…Ernst’s structural and literary analyses provide thought-provoking reflections on the Qur’anic text and his literary approach to the Qur’an has a great many merits. Most importantly, Ernst’s analysis reveals the complex literary nature of the Qur’an, bringing out the nuances and complex internal interactions within the Qur’anic suras.'

- Stephen R. Burge, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol 42, No 4

'Outstanding, timely and much needed.'

Amir Hussain, Professor of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymount University


'A very well-written, remarkably accessible, timely and important book. It is sure to be ready widely.'


Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Robert H. Niehaus '77 Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Religion, Princeton University



- Amir Hussain/Muhammad Qasim Zaman