Bruce B. Lawrence, a leading scholar of Islam, is the author or editor of many books, including The Qur'an: A Biography and Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden. He is Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Professor of the Humanities and Professor of Islamic Studies Emeritus at Duke University.
For millions of Muslims, the Qur'an is sacred only in Arabic, the original Arabic in which it was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in the seventh century; to many Arab and non-Arab believers alike, the book literally defies translation. Yet English translations exist and are growing, in both number and importance. Bruce Lawrence tells the remarkable story of the ongoing struggle to render the Qur'an's lyrical verses into English—and to make English itself an Islamic language.
The "Koran" in English revisits the life of Muhammad and the origins of the Qur'an before recounting the first translation of the book into Latin by a non-Muslim: Robert of Ketton's twelfth-century version paved the way for later ones in German and French, but it was not until the eighteenth century that George Sale's influential English version appeared. Lawrence explains how many of these early translations, while part of a Christian agenda to "know the enemy," often revealed grudging respect for their Abrahamic rival. British expansion in the modern era produced an anomaly: fresh English translations—from the original Arabic—not by Arabs or non-Muslims but by South Asian Muslim scholars.
The first book to explore the complexities of this translation saga, The "Koran" in English also looks at cyber Korans, versions by feminist translators, and now a graphic Koran, the American Qur'an created by the acclaimed visual artist Sandow Birk.
The last two hundred years have brought many challenges for Muslims, from colonial subjugation through sporadic revivalism to elitist reform movements and, most recently, pervasive struggles with fundamentalism. During each period, Muslims have had to address internal tensions, as well as external threats. Today Muslims in the post-colonial era, only some of whom are Arab and living in the Middle East, are playing ever greater roles in economic changes, both regional and international. As the impact of these changes has become evident in societies around the globe, new leaders have come into public view. The most remarkable emerging presence is that of Muslim women. Lawrence argues that it is the experience of Muslim women in particular that calls for a more nuanced understanding of Islam today.
It is time, Lawrence believes, to replace inaccurate images of Islam with a recognition of the multifaceted character of this global religion and of its widely diverse adherents. Here he describes changes that are taking place throughout the world, particularly in Southeast Asia, enacted by governments and nongovernmental organizations alike. In a time of rapid international change, Lawrence suggests that it is time for our images of Islam to reflect more clearly the realities of Islam as it is lived. Shattering the Myth provides significant insights into the history of Islam and a greater understanding of the varied experiences of Muslims today.
"An informed interpretation of the contemporary Muslim experience . . . Lawrence's explanations for the particular states of affairs in Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, and Malaysia, among other cases, are compelling . . . [A] distinguished contribution."--From the foreword by James Piscatori and Dale F. Eickelman