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Approaching the Qur’an

The Early Revelations (second edition)

Michael Sells

A major event in religious publishing, Approaching the Qur’an captures the complexity, power and poetry of the early suras of the Qur’an, the sacred scripture of Islam


In this second edition, Michael Sells introduces important new translations of Qur’anic suras and addresses in a new preface the ongoing controversy over teaching about Islam and the Qur’an in American universities.


Approaching the Qur’an presents brilliant translations of the short, hymnic chapters, or suras, associated with the first revelations to the Prophet Muhammad. Most of these early revelations appear at the end of the written text and are commonly reached only by the most resolute reader of existing English translations. These suras contain some of the most powerful, prophetic and revelatory passages in religious history. They offer the vision of a meaningful and just life that anchors the religion of one-fifth of the world’s inhabitants.


The book includes Sells’ ‘Introduction to the Qur’an’, commentaries of the suras, a glossary of technical terms, and chapters discussing the sound nature and gender aspects of the Arabic text. It is enriched by recordings of Qur’anic reciters chanting several of the early suras, allowing readers an opportunity to hear the Qur’an in its original form. These recordings are freely available as MP3 downloads.

  • Publication date: September 15, 2022
  • ISBN: 9780861546350
  • RRP: £22.00
  • Pages: 256


‘Michael Sells has performed an invaluable service in making the beauty, spiritual energy, and compelling power of the Qur’an accessible to a Western audience for the first time.’

Karen Armstrong, author of the bestselling A History of God

‘Michael Sells is to be congratulated for making a major contribution to religious literature with Approaching the Qur’an, the best version of Muslim scriptures available in English. This is an important and illuminating work, one that will be welcomed by scholars, students, believers, and all who seek to better understand Islam and its sacred scripture.’

Carl W. Ernst, Professor Emeritus and William R. Kenan, Jr., Distinguished Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

‘This revised work by Michael Sells is unrivalled for its ability to make the thought world and religious presuppositions of the Book accessible to the uninitiated… It meets an urgent, plangent need and does so in a clear, jargon-free and deeply learned language. There is no better introductory book on the Qur’an.’

Todd Lawson, Emeritus Professor of Islamic Thought, University of Toronto

‘Sells’ translations combine the highest level of accuracy with a poetic sensitivity to language that is unmatched. I would easily rank this work as the most effective, accurate, and captivating version of the Qur’an for use in academic classes. A breathtaking achievement.’

Omid Safi, Professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Duke University

‘This groundbreaking work goes a very long way to bridging the gap that separates the non-Islamic reader from the Qur’an; [Sells] translates and extensively annotates a careful selection of the earliest “suras” (revelations), setting them in their cultural context. Further chapters discuss sound and gender in the meaning of the Qur’an, and the book includes extraordinary field recordings of male and female Qur’anic reciters. Highly recommended.’

Library Journal

‘A sensitive and unusually accessible first book on the Qur’an and its function as scripture… For the reader who knows little of Islam and Muslim piety, this book opens up many facets of the special role that the Qur’an plays in Muslim life and thought.’

William A. Graham, Murray A. Albertson Research Professor of Middle Eastern Studies and Distinguished Service Professor, Harvard University

‘The response of my students has been very positive… Listening to the [recordings] provoked all kinds of discussion about chant in different religious traditions… The transliterations are excellent; students can follow the Arabic text very easily. The Qur’an is a difficult text to teach to students who have no background. Approaching the Qur’an makes it exciting and accessible to them.’

Shaun Marmon, Associate Professor of Religion, Princeton University

‘Much more than a translation of the Qur’an, the work is a carefully considered introduction to a religious appreciation of the text from within a scholarly framework. By highlighting issues of the multiple levels upon which the text conveys its meaning to its readers and auditors, Sells manages to overcome the first impression that many people have of the Qur’an being a difficult book.’

Andrew Rippin, Professor Emeritus of Islamic History, University of Victoria

‘Scholars and students interested in the Qur’an are indebted to Michael Sells for his outstanding contribution to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Holy Book of Islam. His book, with its scholarly introduction, its sensitive English translation of the early Suras, its insightful commentary on them, its analytical study of the auditory and literary aspects of selected Suras, its visually pleasing illustrations from the Arabic text of the Qur’an, and its accompanying [recordings], is a veritable and enriching spiritual experience for everyone seeking a meaningful exposure to the Scripture of Islam.’

Issa J. Boullata, Professor Emeritus, McGill University

‘Flawlessly communicates the religious and literary verities of the Qur’an… Both Muslim and non-Muslim audiences, beginners as well as advanced students of Islam, will no doubt appreciate the many innovative facets of this extraordinary book. It is an indispensable aid for all students of religion and Islam.’

Ebrahim Moosa, Mirza Family Chair of Islamic Thought and Muslim Societies, University of Notre Dame

Michael Sells

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