Discovering the Qur'an

A Contemporary Approach to a Veiled Text

Second Edition

Neal Robinson

"I have no doubt that this book is a major publication in its field."
+ Add to Cart Preorder


Request Print Exam Copy

Request Digital Exam Copy

This latest edition of Discovering the Qur'an includes a new preface by the author. Used by students around the world as a reliable guide to reading a translation of the Qur'an, it shows how the Qur'an is experienced by Muslims, describing the rhythmic and rhyme scheme structures, the context in which it is heard, the part played by learning by heart, and the importance of calligraphy. It is also about the Qur'an and its relationship to Muhammed, as well as helping to divine the ordering of the surahs or chapters. In an English-speaking world newly sensitized to Islam and its believers, Discovering the Qur'an will be an invaluable tool to greater understanding.

Table of Contents

Preface to the Second Edition
Preface to the First Edition

Part One: Phenomenology

1. The Qur'an as Experienced by Muslims
Listening to the Qur'an
Having the Qur'an by heart
The Qur'an in everyday life

Part Two: Chronology

2. Anchoring the Revelations in Space and Time
The miracles attributed to the Prophet
Combing the Qur'an for clues to its provenance
Qur'anic clues to the date of the revelations
Early biographies of Muhammad
A plausible chronological framework for the revelations
Concluding discussion

3. An Alternative Account of the Rise of Islam
Stepping outside the Islamic tradition
Critical appraisal

4. Traditional Resources for Determining the Chronological Order of the Surahs
Reports about the occasions of the revelation
Literature about abrogating and abrogated ayahs
Traditional lists of Meccan and Madinan surahs
The surah headings in the standard Egyptian edition

5. Western Attempts at Dating the Revelations
The Nöldeke-Schwally classification of the surahs
The difficulties involved in dating individual surahs
Bell's attempt at dating the surahs and surah sections
The best working hypothesis?
Concluding discussion

Part Three: Morphology, Structure and Coherence

6. The Formal Elements in the 'Early Meccan' Surahs
Surah openings
Eschatological sections
Narrative sections
Signs sections
Revelation sections
Polemical sections
Didactic questions and answers
Messenger sections

7. The Structure of the Meccan Surahs
'Early Meccan' surahs in a single register
'Early Meccan' surahs in two registers
'Early Meccan' surahs in three registers
Bipartite 'early Meccan' surahs in four or more registers
Other 'early Meccan' surahs in four or more registers
'Middle and late Meccan' surahs with narrative sections
Other 'middle and late Meccan' surahs
The interrelationships of the registers in the Meccan surahs

8. The Interrelation of Structure, Sound and Meaning in Three Meccan Surahs
The integrity of Surah 103
The role of word-play in Surah 104
Structure, sound and meaning in Surah 78

9. The Integrative Role of Sound and Intertextuality
Surah 79: 'Has the account of Moses reached thee?'
Surah 17: The Night Journey

10. The Madinan Surahs
The survival and adaptation of the six principal registers
The refrains which mention the divine names
Introduction to Surah 2
Surah 2: The prologue (vv.1-39)
Surah 2: Criticism of the Children of Israel (vv.40-121)
Surah 2: The Abrahamic legacy (vv.122-152)
Surah 2: Legislation for the new nation (vv.153-242)
Surah 2: The struggle to liberate the Ka'bah (vv.243-283)
Surah 2: The epilogue (vv.284-286)

11. The Dynamics of the Qur'anic Discourse
The implied speaker as both 'We' and 'He'
The implied speaker as 'I'
The implied speaker and embedded speakers
The omniscient perspective of the implied speaker
The implied privileged addressee
The objectification of the Messenger
Sudden changes in person and number

12. The Order of the Surahs: The Decreasing-Length Rule
The surahs and their names
The decreasing-length rule: alleged precedents and parallels
Explaining the exceptions to the decreasing-length rule
The alleged order of the surahs in the manuscripts of Ibn Mas'ud and Ubayy
The dovetailing of consecutive surahs

13. The Order of the Surahs: Islahi's Explanation
Summary of Islahi's views
Islahi's analysis of Surahs 50-66
Evaluation of Islahi's approach
Islahi's approach and the exceptions to the decreasing-length rule

Appendix A: Table for converting ayah numbers
Appendix B: A note on English translations of the Qur'an

Index of references to the Bible and Pseudepigrapha
Index of Qur'anic passages
Index of persons
Subject index


"Based on a magisterial command of Arabic, English, French, and German sources [Discovering the Qur'an is] a major analysis of the internal coherence of the Qur'an, taking into account the interrelationship of structure, intertextuality, meaning, and sound."—Muslim World Book Review

"An intelligent, sophisticated, and provocative book on a perplexing subject."—International Journal of Middle East Studies

"Clearly written, this is a very useful, important, and interesting book that will provide scholars with much to talk about concerning the way one is to read the Qur'an. [Robinson] does a great deal with topics that need much more discussion than they usually receive."—John Kelsay, Richard L. Rubenstein Professor of Religion, Florida State University

"If anyone asked me to recommend a clear and comprehensive introduction to the nature and role of the Qur'an, I would look no further than Neal Robinson's Discovering the Qur'an."—Oliver Leaman, professor of philosophy, University of Kentucky, and author of An Introduction to Classical Islamic Philosophy

"I have no doubt that this book is a major publication in its field."—Martin Forward, executive director of Aurora University's Center for Faith and Action, Illinois, and Helena Wackerlin Professor of Religious Studies


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Neal Robinson is a senior lecturer in Islamic Studies at the University of Leeds. He is also the author of Islam: A Concise Introduction (Georgetown University Press, 1999).

360 pp., 6 x 9

Feb 2004
Only for sale in U.S. and Canada

360 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-58901-024-6
Feb 2004
Only for sale in U.S. and Canada

360 pp.

Feb 2004
Only for sale in U.S. and Canada

Related Titles