Michael Birkel is Professor of Religion at Earlham College, a liberal arts college founded by Quakers in Richmond, Indiana. In the introduction to this salutary and enlightening book, he explains:
"The book is written for readers of good will who are curious to learn more, who are rightly suspicious of rancorous distortions of Islam, and who would like to hear thoughtful Muslims talk about their Scripture in ways that outsiders can understand."
It is based on conversations with more than 20 North American Muslim scholars and religious leaders as they discuss the core message of the Qur'an, the diversity of approaches to interpreting this sacred text, gender equality, religious pluralism, and social justice.
Quaker academic Birkel makes it clear that reading the Qur'an is not simply "being told what to do or how to behave." It is to encounter God as mysterious and yet trustworthy. This theme is one which Christian and other mystics can identify with, along with other Qur'anic focuses: Divine mercy, human dignity, and respect for religious diversity.
The scholars do not shy away from controversial passages such as those condoning wife beating and the injunction to "kill idolaters." These commentaries bring to mind all the work John Shelby Spong has done to interpret the true meaning of Biblical passages which have been taken out of context or totally distorted by fundamentalist brothers and sisters within Christianity.
We recommend Qur'an in Conversation to all those who cherish the delights and rich benefits of interfaith dialogue.