Anthropology professor’s Qur’an collection gives insight to linguistic and cultural differences

Tareq A. Ramadan, Ph.D., a professor of anthropology, is deeply immersed in several noteworthy projects. Among these, his restoration endeavor for Malcolm X's Inkster House, 'Project We Hope, Dream, and Believe,' stands as a testament to his unwavering commitment to preserving the history of the Civil Rights Movement.

One of the lesser-known facets of Ramadan's scholarly pursuits is his unique collection of Middle Eastern documents. This treasure trove includes Qur'ans (Korans) in various languages and publication dates, offering a rare glimpse into cultural and historical perspectives. 

Ramadan's interest grew from receiving Qur'ans as gifts, one in Spanish and another in Russian. Noticing the differences between the two languages, he obtained them in English; the collection grew there. "I found those fascinating because they're really telling. In that they provide a window of perspective," Ramadan said. One was the Western bias of the publishers written in the preface of the early English texts. "It prejudices you before you even are able to explore the faith. It tells you it's a false religion and a false prophet." He also learned that some founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, had Qur'ans in their collections. 

As Ramadan's collection grew, so did his interest in deconstructing widely held assumptions about the Western world's interactions with the Muslim world. His research, which spans from rare and obscure texts to personally fascinating ones, not only delves into linguistics but also uncovers cultural dynamics. 'The collision of these two worlds in these books is both intriguing and worthy of exploration,' Ramadan emphasized.

Ramadan gave examples of presumptions in the preface of the first printed version in the United States in 1806. The text informs readers that "Mohammed grossly invented this religion. He was a false prophet. Mohammed laid waste to the entire Middle East with the sword. There's an actual ignorance of the Arabic language." The conflicts at the time, such as political motivations, influenced Western writings about the Middle East.

Ramadan's background in anthropology has taught him to detach his beliefs and experiences when researching. "We went to approach something objectively and understand the mechanics that drive the things that shape cultures and societies and peoples." With a renewed interest in the Middle East due to events like Sept. 11 and the ongoing conflict in Gaza, people are examining deeper into the religion and faith of the areas. "These events can be catalysts for further exploration and excavations into these areas of intellectual inquiry," Ramadan said. An objective approach is favorable when researching any topic. Comparing articles, whether the Qur'an or news, having separate, transparent sources is ideal for finding your viewpoints.

Ramadan's long-term goal is to compile his collection of historical documents into a digital archive, a transformative initiative that would provide a window into an unknown and unexplored area. This archive, he believes, would be a valuable resource for students writing reports, their thesis, or dissertation, making their academic journeys more accessible and enriching.

Qur’an collection by Tareq A. Ramadan

By Andy Jeffrey

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