From the Archive
The Myth of Infallible Imams
Religious freedom between Islam and fanatic Muslims
Asking People to Repent and Postponing Judgment till the Day of Resurrection
Why, as a Muslim, I support the congressional hearings about Radical I
The Roots of the Camp of Evil in the West: The Crusades
Quranic Terminology: Makr in the Root M/K/R
Corrupt Egyptian People
How To Reach God
Evaluating South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission
The Holy Quran refuting the Qurayshi war of ideas
How the Muhammadans are impaled by a Pole: the Hadith (Saying) of Deeds Are Considered By Intentions
Muslim Brothers and Ahl Al Quran
How Further Radicalization of Egypt in Post-Mubarak Era Can be Prevent
Safeguarding Houses of Worship
Fatwas Part Sixty-Seven
Did Prophet Muhammad Know the Meaning of Everything in the Holy Quran?
The Weak, Poor Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Christians Have No Supporters at All!
Quran Alone Is More Than Enough
Quranic Terminology: Conceal (3)
Saudi Arabia Under the Lash," The Daily Standard, October 28, 2009þ
Written in August 24, 2002
A glance at Michael Sells’ “Approaching the Quran"

"Approaching the Quran” book by Michael Sells" is an objective western piece which tries to understand Islam from within, using the Holy Quran as the main source of religious authority. The author also makes the distinction between Islam as a religion and Muslims tradition as human history.

Being an outstanding piece in this category that is published in a crucial time, this book will not please the fanatic Christians or the fanatic Muslims. While there is an urgent need for both fanatics to find mutual understanding; this understanding should be built on the great values of peace, justice, freedom of speech and human rights because they are the real core of Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

The real problem is judging the religion by its followers' actions and traditions. According to this inaccurate judgment, Muslims - in defiance to the Quranic teachings – have misjudged Judaism because of Israel’s wars and have prejudged Christianity because of the crusades and the colonialism. 

Many people in the West make the same mistake and blame Islam for Muslims’ actions since the establishment of the Arabic empire under the banner of Islam in the seventh century. Islam's name became so disfigured not only because of Osama bin Laden but also so-called Islamic movements along with the dictatorships in the so-called Islamic world.

In this unhealthy atmosphere, the western reader needs to read this book and the Muslim reader also needs to read the objective books that introduce the beliefs of Christianity and Judaism as divine messages and calls to the great values. The open minded Muslim should learn from the holy Quran how God to believe in all God’s past messages without distinction.

If you read the Quran according to its terminology and its idioms, you will be convinced that Islam is the religion of peace, freedom, justice and human rights. Michael Sells has approached some aspects of that fact.

Western culture tradition is closer to the core of divine religions- including Islam- than the so-called Muslim tradition. For example, Western culture upholds the freedom of speech which is the same value that Islam upholds. As a Muslim scholar grew up between what's called Muslim society in Egypt, I have gone through 25 years of persecution because of my Quranic ideas, some of which are reflected in Michael Sells's book. The difference between the two cultures proves that the Western culture of human rights is nearer to the real Islamic Quranic values that aren’t acceptable in so-called Muslim societies.

Sells assures in his book that " the purpose of this book is neither to refute not to promote the Quranic message.” Rather, the goal is to allow those who do not have access to the Quran to encounter one of the most influential texts in human history in a manner that's accessible” (1). He adds "this volume is devoted to understanding and appreciating the literary aspects of the Quran. Approaching Quranmakes no attempt to adduce catechism or doctrine of the Quran, nor does it claim any legal or religious authority or sponsorship. (2)

The Author attempts to approach the Quran through two ways: first through translation of the Quran with the focus on the Arabic recitation of the Quran voice. The second is his trial to allow the Western reader to approach the Quran's distinctive literary character through understanding the Quran from within. The purpose is to clarify the cultural and historical matrix which the Quran came in, the central themes and the qualities of the hymn Suras and the manner the Quran is experienced and taken to heart within Islamic societies. (3)

Allah says in the holy Quran "Among the people of the scripture (Jews and Christians) those who believe in God and in which has been revealed to you, and in that which has been revealed to them 3:199" But those among them (Jews and Christians) who are well grounded in knowledge, and the believers in what has been sent down to you (Mohamed) and what was sent down before you 4: 162"  "They aren't all alike, among the people of the scripture there are those who are righteous the night and they fall prostrate.. 3:113" This category of believing Jews and Christens the Quran still exist. Among them are those writers who write objectively about Islam through its only divine resource, The Quran.

Sells tries to discuss the Quranic recitation whose influence seems to have overwhelmed the author as he also mentions how the Quran challenged the people to produce anything like it but they failed.  "Then Quran is clearly beyond the capacity of a human being", he says, and Mohamed wasn't its author but simply its messenger. (4)

Sells tries to understand the unfathomable effect and the magic of the Quranic voice or the Quranic recitation. His explanation is full of words such as rhythm, cadence, rhyme, hymn, lyricism and etc. Being familiar with the Arabic language, he could feel inimitable rhythm of the Quranic voice or (Nazm) but the difficulty is in expressing and identifying this magic in words. The scholars whose mother tongue is Arabic have failed even with the great number of books they have written. As a revelation from Almighty God to defy the human beings, it's impossible to understand its transcending's magic. However, any one has the chance to try, just like sells’ great accomplishment, especially from western author whose native language is not Arabic.

Sells shares some Quranic verses that do not please the Muslim fanatics because these Quranic facts contradict their traditions which were attributed to the prophet Mohamed some centuries after his death. Sells says "When a listener challenged Mohamed to prove he was a prophet by performing a physical miracle, the Quranic answer was that the Quran itself is the miracle." Actually, the Quran assures that the only miracle Mohamed has was Quran (29: 50-51) & (21:5) & (17:69, 90-93) & (6:33-37,109-111). I have cleared this fact in the early 1984 in my book Research in the resources of the Islamic religion(6)but some Muslims believe that Mohamed not only performed a great number of miracles but that Muslim saints had also performed miracles and that those who deny them considered infidels and don't believe in Mohamed as a prophet.

Sells refers to the word (Ruh) or spirit as Gabriel (7). The Quran assures this fact (26:193-195) (19-17) (16:102) (2:97) which has also been clarified in many of my articles and researches (8), but Muslims as well as Christians and Jews believe that the spirit (Ruh) is some identity in the human being beside the self that comes from God.

Sells makes a distinction between the revelation of Quran as a scripture in one time and the oral Quranic revelation.(9) This Quranic fact has been explained in my "introduction to the book: Rereadingofthe Quran (10).Many Muslims, however have a different traditional beliefs.

Sells identifies (Zakat) or the Muslim charity as a purification (11). Actually, the Quran considers all the ritual deeds as means of purification, but Muslims believe them to be an aim. Their target of doing this is to be rewarded from God regardless of any crime they might commit.

In 1987, I was put in jail for rejecting this idea in my book "The sinner's Muslim" (12). Sells identifies the word (Iman) or belief as the English term "keep the faith". He says "The word also carries connotations of safety, trust and peace". At the same time, Sells says that the disbelievers are depicted as active deniers of the Quran who actively "persecute those who believe" meaning the peaceful ones. Thus, peaceful believers need patience in the face of persecution. Sells adds "the Quran assures those whose who are suffering hardships that after every hard time there is an easing. Muslim tradition was written during their mighty empire in the middle ages. This tradition has been colored by the culture of terrorism and bigotry which had dominated both the Muslims and the Christian worlds during that time.   

Sells says "the Quran assures those who are suffering hardship that after every hard time, there is an easing (13). Muslim tradition was written during their mighty empire in the middle ages. This tradition has been colored by the culture of terrorism and bigotry which had dominated both the Muslim and the Christian world during that time. The contemporary so-called Muslim movements, the Saudi state and Iran have revived medieval culture in our time. At Ibn Khaldoon center in Cairo, Egypt. Dr Saad el-din Ibrahim and I have tried to reform the Egyptian education to make it more tolerant and to combat the culture of terrorism. The result was the imprisonment for Dr. Saad and my escape to the USA as a political asylee. I have proved that Islam is the religion of peace but Muslim traditions is the culture of terrorism.

Finally, Sells has some mistakes in his discussion about the issue of gender. He says that "the earth, the sky, the night, the soul and the moon are all grammatically feminine. But, the moon is grammatically masculine. He says "late Quranic passages defined more specifically the ritual prayer, set the number of observances at five times per day…" (15) but it doesn't happen because of the obligatory the prayers have inherited from the prophet Abraham. Regardless "Approaching the Quran" is one of the best writings about Islam in the western writings.



(1)Sells MichaelApproaching the Quran 5&31

(2)It's clear that he tried to avoid the potential protest, but it happens. Actually real great ideas usually need a struggle as they try to change in order to face the a stereotype attitude.

(3)Ibid: 3&4&16

(4)Ibid: 2

(5)Ibid: 2

(6)Published in Arabic: Cairo 1984

(7)Sells:  Approaching 26& 184

(8)In Egyptian newspaper like Al Ahrar in 1990's, and finally in my book The Religious Thoughts in Egypt in the Mamlouk Era in Cairo 2000

(9)Sells: 7

(10)                    Published in Cairo in 1996, then that issue became a big debate in the Egyptian mediabecause I have proved that the Prophet Mohamed wrote the Quran by his own hands not by other people.

(11)                    Sells: 39

(12)                    Published and banned in 1987in Cairo, Egypt

(13)                    Sells 36, 37,38

(14)                    Sells: 15

(15)                    Sells: 20&39 

The views and opinions of authors whose articles and comments are posted on this site do not necessarily reflect the views of IQC.