Reading the Qur'an in the Twenty-First Century: A Contextualist Approach, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Reading the Qur'an in the Twenty-First Century

A Contextualist Approach, 1st Edition

By Abdullah Saeed


200 pages

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Reading the Qur’an in the Twenty-First Century considers the development of Qur’anic interpretation and highlights modern debates around new approaches to interpretation. It explores how Muslims from various theological, legal, socio-political and philosophical backgrounds think about the meaning and relevance of the Qur’an, and how their ideas apply in the contemporary world. The book:

  • reflects on one of the most dominant approaches to interpretation in the pre-modern period, textualism, and the reaction to that in Muslim feminist readings of the Qur’an today.
  • covers issues such as identifying the hierarchical nature of Qur’anic values, the criteria for the use of hadith in interpretation, fluidity of meaning and ways of ensuring a degree of stability in interpretation.
  • examines key Qur'anic passages and compares pre-modern and modern interpretations to show the evolving nature of interpretation. Examples discussed include: the authority of men over women, the death of Jesus, shura and democracy, and riba and interest.

Abdullah Saeed provides a practical guide for interpretation and presents the principal ideas of a contextualist approach, which situates the original message of the Qur’an in its wider social, political, cultural, economic and intellectual context. He advocates a more flexible method of interpretation that gives due recognition to earlier interpretations of the Qur’an while also being aware of changing conditions and the need to approach the Qur’an afresh today.


"Readers seeking to understand the current diversity in ways Muslims read and interpret the Qur'an will find in Abdullah Saeed a sure-footed guide. He demonstrates how a reading that respects context is firmly rooted in the Islamic tradition from the earliest days." -Daniel A. Madigan, Georgetown University, USA

Table of Contents

PART 1: BACKGROUND AND EXAMPLES OF CONTEXTUALISM: PAST AND PRESENT Chapter 1: Introduction and Modern Emphases in Qur’anic Interpretation Chapter 2: Traditional Interpretation, Textualism and the Emergence of Contextualism Chapter 3: An Early Form of Contextualism: Umar and Interpretation Chapter 4: A Modern Form of Contextualism: Women’s Perspectives in Interpretation PART 2: KEY IDEAS AND PRINCIPLES OF CONTEXTUALIST INTERPRETATION Chapter 5: Revelation and Contexualisation Chapter 6: Hierarchical Nature of Qur’anic Values Chapter 7: Parallel Texts from the Qur’an and Dealing with Hadith Chapter 8: Meaning in a Contextualist Framework Chapter 9: ‘Fundamentals of the Religion’ and Interpretation Chapter 10: Contextualist Interpretation in Practice PART 3: DIFFERENT INTERPRETATIONS FOR DIFFERENT CONTEXTS: FOUR CASES Chapter 11: Men’s ‘Authority’ Over Women and Equality Chapter 12: Crucifixion and Death of Jesus Christ Chapter 13: Shūra and Democracy Chapter 14: Riba and Interest PART 4: CONCLUDING REMARKS Chapter 15: Epilogue

About the Author

Abdullah Saeed is Sultan of Oman Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Melbourne, Australia. His previous books for Routledge include Interpreting the Qur’an (2005), Islamic Thought: An Introduction (2006), and The Qur’an: An Introduction (2008).

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
RELIGION / General
RELIGION / Islam / General
RELIGION / Islam / Theology