A qur'an from the 9th century. It is an allege...

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Traditionally, the Qur’an is said to have been revealed to Muhammad by Allah (a name that simply means “God” in Arabic) through the archangel Gabriel over the course of twenty-three years, from 610 C.E. until Muhammad’s death in 632 C.E.  It is contested exactly how these revelations came to be written down and collected into one book, but all agree that within twenty-five years of the Prophet’s death the Qur’an was a written document.  Much like with Christians and the Bible, conservative Muslims believe the Qur’an we have today is pretty much identical to the revelations given to Muhammad; liberals allow for omissions, lost passages, and variants.  By and large, though, Muslim textual criticism of the sort seen in the study of the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament is still in its infancy.

The Qur’an is divided into 114 chapters or “surahs.”  Each has a name (e.g., the first is called Al-Fatiha).  Each surah is divided into “ayahs” or verses.  After the first surah — an introduction to the book — all surahs are organized according to length, from longest to shortest.  Because of this the Qur’an is not remotely chronological.  The correct format for making a citation is to give the surah followed by the ayah (e.g., 2:255 or Al-Baqarah 255).

For discussion, the surahs are typically divided into two groups, the Meccan and Medinan surahs.  The former were revealed before Muhammad’s move to Medina in 622 C.E. (the Hijra) when Islam was just beginning.  The latter group comes from after the move.  However, the Meccan and Medinan surahs are not grouped together at all in the Qur’an so at any point one could be reading from one or the other (some versions of the Qur’an label the individual surahs as Meccan or Medinan or this website can help).  Chronological lists show that the Qur’an is very jumbled historically.

It is held that Gabriel told Muhammad where to place each surah, but the angel’s reasoning is unclear today.  It would appear length is the only sure organizational matrix.  All of this means I am going to have to read the Qur’an differently than I am used to reading the Bible where context is everything.

The Qur’an is also grouped into larger and smaller parts useful for weekly and monthly recitations and for use during Ramadan.  Unfortunately, none of these divisions are suitable for a year-long reading schedule.

So, a simple Google search later and I am going to go with the advice to read 125 ayahs per week or 21 ayahs per day, with one day off per week to catch up.  That is equivalent to one New Testament chapter per day — easy!  Generally, I’ll go with that plan and likely take Sundays off.

Several people online have suggested that one read a tasfeer (commentary) alongside the day’s reading (see tafsir.com or quran-online.net for online examples).  But this is exactly what I don’t want to do: read other people’s opinions and religious traditions about the text.  I just want to read the text.  Maybe this is a very un-Muslim sentiment.  So, we’ll see.

Tomorrow, we begin to read the text.  I’ll start with just the first surah, 1:1-7.

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