CRAGG, KENNETH, 1971, THE EVENT OF THE QUR’AN, GEORGE ALLEN AND UNWIN, LONDON, 208PP, £24.99, PB
When ‘The Event of the Qur’an’ was published in 1971, there were only a few introductions to the Qur’an. These introductions approached the Qur’an as a product of its seventh century Arabian context. Bishop Kenneth Cragg also understands the Qur’an through an Arabian context, but reads it through the life and work of Muhammad as an event that changed ‘a heathen Arab society of the seventh century into the first generation of Muslims’ (1971:15). As a result, he concludes that Muhammad, as evidenced by the Qur’an, ‘might speak in Arabic but he was plainly ‘anti-Arab’ (1971: 66). In other words, Cragg argues that both Muhammad and the Qur’an profoundly challenged seventh century Arabic norms of wealth, status and justice.
By Danny Crowther
A number of criticisms can be levelled at ‘The Event of the Qur’an.’ First, the prose does not always make for an easy read. Second, Cragg’s penchant for quoting English poetry to illustrate some of his points is not very helpful to readers who are not already familiar with his selected poems (such as this reviewer). Third, the overall framework of the book is not self-evident (at least, to this reviewer). These critiques and others aside, ‘The Event of the Qur’an’ did make a significant contribution to Qur’anic Studies when it was first published, and continues to do so today. In particular, through this book I can see how Christian readers of the Qur’an can understand its importance and appreciate its message without compromising any of their own Christian beliefs in the nature of God or the person and work of Jesus.
According to Cragg, the essence of the original content of the Qur’an can be summed up in the content of four Surah that comprise twenty-two verses: Surahs 1:1-7, 112:1-4, 113:1-5 and 114:1-6. Surah 1, Al Fatiha, is the ‘the only part of the Qur’an, outside narrative of patriarchal prayer and the like, where there is human address to God’ (1971:74). It expresses the prayer of the believer to which the rest of the Qur’an replies. It is a prayer for individual and communal righteousness and justice. In reply to this prayer, Surahs 112, 113 and 114 require the believer to recite clear positional statements in respect to the nature of God, the spirit world (jinn), witchcraft and moral temptation. In regard to moral temptation, the rest of the Qur’an provides clear guidance to the believers: for example, Surah 17:22-39, 16:89-97, 46:15-19 and 25:63-76 address shirk (the association of lesser beings with the One God), attitudes to money, infanticide, adultery, murder, orphans, honest trade and insolence. These, according to Cragg, are very much Arab commandments, in that they are given in Arabic and highly relevant to seventh century Arabian issues; and very much anti-Arab commandments, in that they critique the norms of their seventh century Arab world.