Book Review of the Book, ‘The Story of the Quran’ by Ingrid Mattson
detailed book about the Quran and its place in historical and contemporary Muslim society. The author of the book is Ingrid Mattson, who originally published the book in 2008 in the United Kingdom. Dr. Mattson is an Islamic scholar and teacher as well as an interfaith activist. She is the first woman to hold prestigious positions as a Muslim scholar and a leader in the religious world. The book is written as an overall balanced and correct portrayal of the religion of Islam and the teachings of the Quran, in general. The author has mentioned other religions as well, and the aim of the author is to write in order to clarify the misconceptions and misunderstandings regarding the origins of Islam and its purpose for the Muslims of this world. The author develops her thesis around the matter that the Quran is basically a guideline for the believers, and its origins need to be understood before any judgment about religion and its instructions are gathered. There are no openly emphasized reasons for the book since it is divided into different chapters and sections. Each chapter is a progressive story which follows from a historical perspective of the ascent of the Quran and the development of Islam as a religion from the very initial stages, till the last chapter, which is an exemplification of the understanding of the Quran and how one should go about reading it and learning from it, by Listening to God (Mattson, 2008). Her focus is the religion in its entirety and finding its essence by reading the various instructions by God so that a man can learn and follow His instructions without being misled. In reality, she is simply exemplifying God’s teachings as they are in the Quran so that any blatant misconceptions and ideas can be eliminated..
The first chapter of the book is labeled God Speaks to Humanity. She has very craftily named the chapter this way, so she can initiate the cause of her writing. The Quran begins with God speaking to His people and trying to reach to them, which is how she has interpreted religion herself. The chapter has a first sub-section, which is titled “God Hears and Responds” (Mattson, 2008). The exemplification of this chapter is given by the story she narrates of a woman named Khawla bint’ Tha’laba, who is a victim of the laws of Arabia. She has been shunned by her husband, who has refused to touch her, yet she is bound to him by marital status. The society cannot alleviate her from this situation hence the only source that she can complain to is God’s. The author mentions how the woman laments and complains to God about her predicament but receives no answer. She then goes to the Prophet and asks him what she must do in such a situation, but the Prophet has no answer. He says he has received no such decree from God that can tell him the answer. Nevertheless, Khawla does not lose hope, and she prays with all her heart until she does receive an answer from God (Mattson, 2008). The verses in Al-Mujadila answer her prayers. God reveals that He is All-Hearing and All-Knowing. It is revealed that what is being done to Khawla is unjust and unfair and her husband’s reason of shunning her is also baseless. Therefore, this anecdote mentioned in the Quran becomes the basis of the understanding that people need to gather regarding the Quran, that God is All-Encompassing and has knowledge of everything man does (Mattson, 2008). Moreover, it relates the concept of Divine Justice and that God’s power can overcome manmade rules and regulations, which are highly unfair to them.
Secondly, the book reveals what the people should think of the Quran and the word of God which is an eternal guideline for the generations of people to come. The sayings of God are applicable to people of all times and places, and their significance cannot be altered by any
means. This chapter of the book also reveals the most basic of concepts that were meant to be taught to the Muslims regarding their customs and everyday dealings as well as the general evils present in the society like theft, murder, betraying trust and other issues. The Quran is also more open to issues such as “bonding and strengthening the unity between the people living in the community” (Mattson, 2008). There are basic teachings such as those of charity, caring for orphans and standing up against oppressive forces. The Quran talks about these issues in the words of being righteous and following the ethical guidelines in believing in one God and caring and respecting His creation.
The book flows in the manner of invocations and supplications which are recited by the followers as well. The Quran is a book which is mostly about the way the Prophet conversed with God in the darkness of the night while praying in solidarity. Such actions are mentioned in the Quran and are meant to guide the believers in the way they should spend their lives and believe in the Oneness of God meanwhile instilling faith in His blessing while being patient. The book then flows in the storyline of the origins of the Holy Ka’aba which is the site of worship for the Muslims. The references of Prophet Abraham and his effort in building the earliest basis of the site are also mentioned. The miracle of God was revealed through this reference as mentioned by Ingrid. The man and woman who successfully led one another to the building of this site were Abraham and Hajr, in fact, as Mohammed narrates, Hajr was the first female who used a belt on herself (Mattson, 2008). The famous incident which led to the creation of Zamzam water, at the spot where her son Ismail rubbed his feet from thirst, happens to be the origin of the fountain and its water that flows till date.
The Kaa’ba, meaning cube in Arabic, was built by father and son, Abraham and Ismail and this became the center of Islamic worship and divinity. It was built for God, and till date, it remains there as the means of worshipping God. After Abraham, there were several measures which had to be passed before the people of Arabia could see eye to eye with Islam and understand its message. God revealed Himself in various ways such as the narration of the famous ‘battle of the Elephant’ which, the Arabians thought was an act of supernatural forces acting upon them rather than an act of God (Mattson, 2008). Since these incidents had been occurring around the hills of Safa and Marwa, where Hajr had run to find water for her son, the Arabs considered these areas to be sacred and special. When Prophet Mohammed was born, the importance of these areas increased. Hence, as Mohammed’s grandfather rediscovered Zamzam, the family gained reverence and importance. Therefore, the writer has built a historical account of how the family of the Prophet and his own importance was paved, due to the previous prophets and their efforts to spread the word of God.
Religions are sprung from the word of God, in the stages of revelation and their number of followers. The book has mentioned that various other religions like Christianity, Judaism, and Zoroastrianism existed in Mecca, Arabia and they had a considerable following. The Quraysh happened to be the major race and tribal community in Arabia, and they did not come under the influence of other religions, but they were idol worshippers in Kaa’ba (Mattson, 2008). It was up to Prophet Mohammed to defeat idol worshipping in the Kaa’ba and establish the word of God.
Moving on, the writer implies that religion was beautified with the help of language. Arabic was used as the medium of language for communication between God and Prophet Mohammed and it also happened to be the language of the natives. The beauty of Arabic was more pronounced with the use of poetry, which is actually true because the Quran itself is written as poetic dictum. Therefore Islam grew around an eloquent language and the Arabs themselves were very proud of their language. The Quran came as a guideline to guide the people out of ignorance or Jahiliya (Mattson, 2008). The author writes that there are narratives which actually help to reveal how the Arabs were a society that was backward, misled and lived uncivilized lives before the religion of Islam was bestowed upon them. Therefore, religion at the time did not come as a means of suppression or oppression; rather it was a savior for the people who needed religion to come out of wrongdoing and moving towards righteousness.
In the following chapter, Ingrid talks about the importance of the Quran as a Book which professed monotheism and urged the people to follow one God. Humans were created to worship God and to follow Him in obedience as they were His servants. The Quran is a Book which has passed from generation to generation and has come as the light that people will follow for all times to come. Quran was passed on by oral traditions until it was jotted down as a Book, which has recorded to be unaltered in the years following its earliest release (Mattson, 2008). People in the present time are also used to its recitation, and they do so with the aim of learning from the Quran and spreading its light to their coming generations. What Ingrid makes the user realize is that the Quran was not revealed to the people with the ease they experience in reading it today. Rather it took many efforts, sacrifices and hard work which the Prophet and his followers and companions faced in spreading its word. While people today might take it for granted, it should not be done so by those who are reading it in the leisure of their homes in the present day. Moreover, the author mentions how the Quran is not just a written narration rather it is an inspiration for the multitude of people who can use it to learn to beautify their lives through religion.
Calligraphy in mosques and other written work is inspired by the Quran, and people are using its verses, chosen according to relevance in meaning and interpretation and implying them to spread the word of God. There has also been much importance paid off some of the verses in the Quran which are recited on special occasions such as the recitation of Surah Yasin on funerals (Mattson, 2008). The importance lies in tradition, meaning and the blessings which a person can avail with the recitation of the verses at the appointed occasion.
Ingrid also talks about the recitation of the Quran and its interpretation in the present day. She says that interpretation is an important aspect even for those whose native language is Arabic. It was different when people were able to ask the Prophet about the meaning of a certain verse while he was living amongst them, however, it is not the case today, and they have to rely on the meaning which is delivered by the various scholars and books written by them. Interpretation is not easy or too simple because there are verses that can have multiple meanings attached to them and people are prone to making analysis and comprehension of their own. This is the reason why religion becomes such a debatable topic since it is the interpretation which matters and influences actions.
Mattson, Ingrid. “The Story of the Quran: Its History and Place in Muslim Life.” Wiley-