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God in the Qur’an

by gabriel said reynolds
yale, 344 pages, $30

In his latest book, Allah: God in the Qur’an, Professor Reynolds has united deep erudition with clear pedagogical style to introduce the Qur’anic vision of God to Western lay readers. He flies close to the Qur’anic text throughout, while drawing from later traditions to shed light on the portrait of God in it. Each chapter folds into the next, as we are led through the Qur’anic attributes of God. The book culminates in a discussion of the relationship between Divine Mercy and Divine Wrath. Reynolds unties the knot by referring back to biblical conceptions of God, and Christian readers are reminded how this paradox lies—­unresolved—at the heart of this text as well. He concludes by arguing that the Qur’an intentionally keeps God’s nature a mystery, as its homilies and exhortations are designed to persuade its listeners to turn away from sin and toward religious belief.

Reynolds claims he is interested in what the Qur’an itself says about God rather than in later theological debates within the Islamic tradition. He’s searching for the original ­meaning of Qur’anic words instead of depending on an exigetical tradition that—at the very least—can be considered unstable. In Christian terms, this echoes the Protestant principle of sola scriptura. I understand why Reynolds chose this particular method: He is a Qur’anic scholar, and adjudicating later theological debates, especially in a tradition as radically diverse as ­Islam, is a hairy business. I am grateful, ­however, that he chooses not to observe this method too closely. He draws from hadith, particular theological debates, contemporary scholarship, biblical stories, and even pre-Islamic texts. Texts don’t just drop from the sky fully formed, and they are read through, not despite, traditions of inquiry. Reynolds has offered ­Western readers a careful portrait of the Qur’anic God through the gateway of more familiar biblical texts and introduced them to a tradition that struggles with complex interpretive issues in many ways parallel to our own.

—Anna Bonta Moreland