An Overview of Qur’ānic Studies in the West: Themes, Approaches and Methodologies


  • Dr. Iffat Batool Lecturer, Department of Tafsīr and Qur’anic Sciences, Faculty of Usuluddin, International Islamic University Islamabad
  • Dr. Taimia Sabiha Assistant Professor, Department of Comparative Religion, Faculty of Usuluddin, International Islamic University Islamabad



Qur’ānic Studies, Orientalism, Qur’ānic Translations, Tafsīr, Islam and West


The Quran, being foremost religious and sacred book of the Muslims, gained a significant place in the western religious studies since long. From medieval polemical refutation to the contemporary academic studies a significant number of anthological works have been produced by the western scholarship in the Qur’anic studies.  A variety of approaches and methodologies have been applied to expound multiple Qur’ānic themes which intermittently resonate among western scholars of Islam. This paper mentions a brief overview of western contribution from medieval to contemporary times and highlights the major themes in the field of western Qur’anic studies. The gradual development in applying the various socio-religious methodologies is cited as well.  


The term Orientalism was coined in 1769 and denotes to both the artists who represented the Orient in their paintings and the scholars who specialized in the Eastern cultures, religions and languages.

Edward Said, Orientalism:Western Conceptions of the Orient with New Afterwards (London: Penguin books, 1995) See also the works of NormanDaniel,Islam and the West: The Making of an Image (Oxford: One World, 1997)

R.W. Southern, Western Views of Islam in the Middle Ages (England: Harvard University Press, 1978). There are many others who have critiqued Orientalism as a discipline. But among Western scholars there are some who have advocated it in the sense that they pointed out the vast corpus of literature produced by Orientalism in the form of translations and edited works such as Albert Hourani and Lewes Bernard.

Pervaiz Manzur,"Method against Truth: Orientalism and the Qur’ānic Studies"

BernardLewis, Islam and the West (NewYork: Oxford University Press, 1993),103.

Abdal Mahish al-Kindi is pseudo-name of an Iraqi Christian writer of the 10th century. His work has been known as Risalāt al Kindi (letters of al-Kindi).He wrote these letters to his Muslim friend who invited him to accept Islam. In these letters, he made a detailed refutation of Islam and he invited his Muslim friend to convert to Christianity. The Arabic text of these letters had a significant impact on Latin European views of Islam via its translation by Peter, The Venerable.

Tolan, “European accounts”, 233-234.

Andrew Shryock,Islamophobia/Islamophilia: (Indiana:Indiana University Press). 30

Southern, Western views, 32

Lewis, Islam and the West (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993) In his assessment of this treatment, he states:“It was fear, more than any other factor, which led to the beginnings of Arabic scholarship Europe, to the discipline which centuries later came to be known as Orientalism.” 13

Daniel, Islam and the West, 86

Endress, Islam, 6.

JohnTolan, “European Accounts”. 232

Fazlur Rehman, "Some Recent Books on the Qur'ān by Western Authors." The Journal of Religion 64, no. 1 (Jan, 1984): 73-95

Southern, Western views, 34-5

Eugene A. Myers, Arabic Thought and Western Learning in the Golden Age of Islam (New York: Frederick Unger Publishing co, 1964), 81

Thomas Burman, Reading the Qur’ān in Latin Christendom: 1140- 1560 (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University Press. 2007), 15.

See also: Southern, Islam through Western Eyes. 85

Gerhard Endress, Islam: an Historical Introduction, Trans. C. Hillenbrand (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002), 7.

Hartmut Bobzin, “A Treasury of Heresies”. In Wild, Stefan, ed. The Qur’ān as Text (New York: E.J.Brill)

Burman, Reading the Qur’ān, 60

Burman, Reading the Qur’ān, 36-7

See also:Bruce Lawrence, The Qur’ān- A Biography (London: Atlantic Books. 2006), 35, 101

Arberry, The Koran, 7

Bell, Introduction to the Qur’ān , 173. See also: HarryClark, "The Publication of the Koran in Latin a Reformation Dilemma" The Sixteenth Century Journal. 15, no. 1 (1984): 3-12. 3

Luthera n den Rat zu Basel, October 27, 1542 as quoted by Hagenbach, in“The Publication of the Koran in Latin: A Reformation Dilemma”, 299

. See: Alexander Ross, “A needful Caveat," appended to the translation of the Alcoran of Mahomet, (1649) cited in Henry Stubb, “An Account of the Rise and Progress of Mahomatenism”, ed. Shairani, H. M. K. (Lahore: Orientala. 1954) 253

Ibrāhīm Kalin, “Roots of misconception by Ibrahim” In E.B.Lombard, Joseph, ed. Fundamentalism and the Betrayal of Tradition (Lahore: Suhail academy, 2007), 157-8

He entirely followed in his edition the Islamic system of numbering of the surahs and Āyāt.’ān/Qur’āns/printed

Bernard, Islam and the West, 88

Burman, Reading, 150

Rodwell, The Qur’ān, 9

A Bausani, "On Some Recent Translations of the Qur'ān". Nuwmen 4, no. 1 (1957): 75-81

Sale, The Qur’ān, viii

Rehman, Major Themes, v

Bell, Introduction. v

For further detail: AbdullahAbdul Karīm and Mustafa Aābi. "Egocentric or Scientific: The Christian Perspective of the Qur’ān." Journal of Qur’ānic Research and Studies. 1, no. 1 (2006): 1-16

In historiography, the term means to reinterpret the historical events opposing traditional view. The application of this term to the second group has been criticized and declared as to be a loose term by recent writers. Angelika Neuwirth, Nicolai Sinay, Michael Marx, ed. The Qur’ān in Context(Leiden: Brill, 2011), Introduction

Actually traditional Western scholars do not accept the Divine origin of Qur’ān. But, what they simply believe is that Muhammad was a sincere and honest person. He truly believed that he was receiving Revelation. But, did the Archangel came to him with Revelation really, is according to them, a disputed issue.

Gabriel.The Qur’ān, 129-30

Saeed, Qur’ān, an Introduction, 105

John Voll,” Changing Western approaches to Islamic Studies”. In Mumtaz Ahmad, ZahidBukhari and SulaymanNyang, eds. Observing the Observer, the State of Islamic Studies in American Universities. (London: The international institute of Islamic thought, 2012), 29

Pervez Manzur, "Method against Truth: Orientalism and Qur’ānic Studies." Muslim World Book Review.7, no. IV (1987)

Khalifa,The Sublime Qur’ān, 58

Khidhar Shaib, Nubuwwatu Muhammad FilFikril Isteshrāqī Al Muā'sir (Riyadh: Maktaba tul Abika, 2002), 280.

Andrew Rippin, “Qur’ānic Studies”. In Clinton, Bennett, ed. The Bloomsbury Companion to Islamic Studies (Bloomsbury: New York. 2013), 68-9

Scholars in the West have attributed the composition of Qur’ān to the Prophet since long. Mingana narrates a well known Western wording about the origin of Qur’ān; “we hold the Qur’ān to be as truly as Muhammad’s words as the Mohammadens hold it to be the word of God”. Alfonse Mingana, Transmission of the Kur’ān, 25

Hatwing Hirschfield, New Researches into the Composition and Exegesis of Koran (London: Royal Asiatic Society. 1902), 5

Theodore Noldeke, The history of the Qur’ān (Leiden: Brill. 2013), 7

Bell, The origin

Ali, The Qur’ān and the Orientalist , 26

The Life of Muhammad (London: Smith, Elder, & Co, 1861)

The History of the Qur’ān.

The Origin of Islam in its Christian environment.

Jüdische Elemente im Koran( Berlin: Selbstverl, 1878)

The Jewish foundation of Islam (New York, 1933)

Rehman, Major Themes, iv.

See for example: KennethCragge, The call of the Minaret (Oxford: One World., 2000), 66

Newman, The Qur’ān, 9

Christopher Buck, “Discovering”. In Rippin, Andrew, ed.The Blackwell Companion to the Qur’ān (USA: Blackwell Publishing. 2004), 39

Bauben Jamal, Image of the Prophet Muhammad in the West, a Study of Muir, Margoliouth and Watt. (Saudi Arabia: the Islamic foundation united kingdom, 1996)

Fred Donner, “The Qur’ān in recent scholarship” in The Qur’ān in its historical contex, 29- 50

M. A. Draz, Introduction to the Qur’ān(London: I. B. Tauris, 1011), 99

Buck, Discovering, 25

Arberry, The Koran, 14

Hirschfield, New Researches 142

Rodwell, The Koran, 2.

Arthur Jeffery, The Koran: Selected Suras (New York: The Limited Edition Club, 1958), 9-21

See also: Gustav Weil. “An Introduction to the Qur’ān”. The Biblical World. 5, no. 3(Mar 1895):181-191

, John E. Merrill,” Dr Bell's critical analysis of The Qur’ān”. The Muslim World: 134-148

Bell, The Qur’ān. vi

Bell himself admitted in his work that he could not solve all the problems of the chronology. Many other recent scholars have mentioned this point in their works.

Buck, “Discovering”, 38

Neuwirth, Angelika, “Structure and emergence of Community” In The Blackwell Companion to the Qur’ān. 153.

Donner, Fred. The Qur’ān, 31

Reynolds, The Qur’ān, 18

Andrew Rippin, The Qur’ān and its Interpretive Tradition (Great Britain: Ashgate, 2001,) xv

“The Rise of Islam” in Blackwell Companion to the history of Middle East ed. Youssef Choueiri, (Blackwell Publishing Limited: U.S.A, 2005),10

"Qur'ān” The Encyclopedia of Religion (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company.),166-76

The Brill Dictionary of Religion. (Leiden: Brill, 2006)

The traditional Muslim belief is that multiple readings of the Qur’ān are the part of revelation and that the Prophet himself taught readings to his companions. Mostly the Western scholars use the word ‘variants ‘for readings. According to a celebrated Muslim scholar, to use the term multiple readings is more suitable than variants. He believes that the variants denotes to uncertainty resulted from corruption in the text or scribal error. On contrary, the case of readings is rather different in the sense that they are authentic was part of revelation. See; A‘zami, Mustufa. The history of the Qur’ānic text, from revelation to compilation. England: Islamic Academy. 155.

Reynold, Gabriel, The Qur’ān. 7

see also: Rezvan, E. December,” Texts and Manuscripts: Descriptions and Research”. Manuscripta Orientalia. 11, no, 4 (2005):5-9. See also: Goudarzi, Behnam Sadeghi& Mohsin. San‘a 1 and the Origins of the Qur’ān[cited 8/2/2015. Available at

Ignác Goldziher, Madhaheb al tafsīr al Islāmī (Egypt: Maktaba Khānjī, 199), 6

He is a German scholar of the Qur’ānic historical orthography. He is also a specialist in Arabic paleography.

ArthurJeffery, Materials for the Historyof the Text of Qur’ān( Leiden: E.J.Brill.1937), Preface

Muhammad A.Chaudhary, “Orientalist on Variant Readings of Qur’ān: The case of Arthur Jeffery”. The American Journal of Islamic social sciences. 12, no. 2 (1995):170-184. 181.

He is a German scholar and a specialist in manuscript study. He was invited to conduct a research on the Ṣan‘a fragments together with Gerd Piun.

Gerd Piun, “Some observations on San’a fragments”. In Wild, Stefan, ed. The Qur’ān as Text(Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996), 107-111.

Rippin, The Qur’ān. x-xi

Burton, The Collection, 199-212

Rippin, The Qur’ān, xviii

Walid Saleh, “The Etymological Fallacy and Qur’ānic Studies: Muhammad, Paradise and Late Antiquity”, in The Qur’ān in context, eds. Angelika Neuwirth, Nicolai Sinai and Michael Marx. ( Leiden: Brill, 2001), 649- 98. 649

Michael Carter, “Foreign Vocabulary”. In The Blackwell Companion to the Qur’ān, 122.

ChristopheLuxenberg, The Syro-Aramaic readings of the Qur’ān (Berlin: Schiler. 2007), 3

Luxenberg, The Syro-Aramaic, 247-253

Luxenberg, The Syro-Aramaic, 121

DevinStewart, “Notes on emendations of the Qur’ān” The Qur’ān in its historical content, 228-9

Heis Professor Emeritus of Arabic Literature at the University of Michigan.

See for detail: James A.Bellamy,“Textual Criticism of Qur’ān”, Journal of the American Oriental Society. no, 1. 121, (2001):1-6.

The late Fazlul Reḥmān was of the view that this genre has received the least attention of the Western scholars. The major themes, xii

See for instance the works of; Tamara Soan, “Introducing” and Buck, Christopher “ Discovering” in

Blackwell . These works have in general dealt with the basic topics of the Qur’ān. The article of Denial Madigan on the themes of Qur’ān specifically represents the idea of God and His attributes in the Qur’ān. See: McAuliffe, Jane, ed. The Cambridge companion to the Qur’ān.79-98

Originally,the work was produced in 1997 in French. It was translated into English by Zoe Hersov.

AndrewRippin, ‘Qur’ānic Studies’. InBennett, Clinton, ed. The Bloomsbury companion to Islamic studies (London: Bloomsbury. 2013), 88

Humanist is the scholar believing in Humanism. Humanism is a philosophical approach developed in Modern times that believes in value and agency of human beings and generally deals doctrines of faith with critical approach giving priority to human rationale. It also believes in the capability of human beings to lead their moral and ethical life without the help of religious dogmas.

Hasan, Khalifa. Dirasatul Qur’ānul Karim. 4-5

HavaLazarus, Intertwined Worlds; Medieval Islam and Bible Criticism (New Jersey: Princeton Legacy Library, 1992), 130-32.

The Cambridge history of the Bible: The West from the fathers to the Reformation, ed. Lamp, G.H.W. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,1969)238-40 to check

Edgar Krentze, The Historical- Critical Method (Philudelphia: Fortress Press. 1977)16-17

Neuwirth, Angelika, ed. The Qur’ān in context. introduction.

Rippin, Andrew, Western Scholarship, 239.

N. Richard Soulen, A Handbook of Biblical Criticism (Cambridge: James Clark & Co, 2002.)158-59.

Thomassen, Einar. “ Philology” in Stausberg, Michael, ed. The Routledge handbook of research methods in the study of religion (New York: Taylor and Francis.2011), 349.

"Biblical Criticism." The Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 12. (New York: McMillan Publishing Company, 2010) 196.

See also: www. literary- criticism

Khalifa. Dirasatul Qur’ānul Karim. 10.

Khalifa, Dirasatul Qur’ānul Karim, 19-20

There are numerous works that have approached this theme. An instance of the recent works that are entirely dedicated to this theme is “The Qur’ān in context”.

“Research methods and problems”. In Clinton, Bennet, ed. The Bloomsbury companion to Islamic studies (London: Bloomsbury. 2013), 39

Perhaps, one instance will suffice here. Following the idea of Noldeke, Kavin Blader says that the prophet must have heard orally the story of Alexander the Great as the story was already circulating in the surroundings of Makkah. “The Alexander Legend in the Qur’ān”. In The Qur’ān in its historical context, 175

In the same book, many examples based on this concept can be located. See for instance;

Samir Khalil, “The Theological Christian influence on the Qur’ān”, 141. Another recent work that conducts a comparative study of the Qur’ānic contents with Christian poetry of thence Arabia is “An early Christian Arabic account” in The Qur’ān in context, 349

The new Cambridge history of the Bible; from 1750 to the present, ed. Riches, John (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) 160- 62.

WilliamAl-Sharif, Rethinking Qur’ānic Studies (Scotland: Jerusalem Academic Publications), 7

See for instance: Jamro Houtsonen, “Traditional Qur’ānic Education in a Southern Moroccan Village”.International Journal of Middle East Studies. 26, no. 3 (Aug., 1994), pp. 489-500.

See also: Yahya Oyewole, “The Tradition of Qur'ānic Learning in Borno”. Journal of Qur’ānic Studies. 6, no. 2 (2004), pp. 96-102.

See for instance: Elizabeth Urban, “The foundations of Islamic society as expressed by the Qur’ānic term Mawla”. Journal of Qur’ānic Studies. 15, no. 1. 1-22.

The writer has attempted to show that how this term identify the bonds of help, cooperation and assistance that united the early Muslim society as one entity.



How to Cite

Dr. Iffat Batool, and Dr. Taimia Sabiha. 2021. “An Overview of Qur’ānic Studies in the West: Themes, Approaches and Methodologies”. Al-Qamar 4 (4):45-70.