About the Diversity of Views in The Study Quran
How should one approach the presence in The Study Quran of views one considers to be wrong or at odds with one’s own view of Islam? This subject is touched upon in the General Introduction by S. H. Nasr, but I would like personally to expand on some points:
Views (related to faith or practice) with which you do not agree, or consider false, are not like plutonium. They do not forever taint you if you are exposed to them. If you have this attitude about Islamic scholarship, you would be very surprised by the entire genre of tafsīr (the systematic and encyclopedic commentary upon the Quran). Open the commentary works by figures such as Rāzī, Ṭabarī, Qurtubī, or Maturīdī and indeed your eyes may fall upon a view that goes against your own. Those who think that tafsīr is there to convey *only* one correct view have not actually read the classical tafsirs we all justly celebrate, or at least have read very little of them.
The Study Quran presents many opinions, including many views the authors of The Study Quran do not personally hold. Some people will surely find the inclusion of descriptions of Shiite views dangerous, while others will find especially worrisome the mention of the insights of Sufis, while still others will warn their friends that Muʿtazilite and even Khārijite arguments make an appearance in the commentary. If you believe the presence of such views taints a text, you may want to avoid the larger classical tafsir althogether, because they are full of them. And no, they are not only there to be refuted; sometimes they are simply included out of historical interest or for some other reason.
We have made every effort to describe what the tradition says, while also not shying away from presenting our own considered insights or synthesis when appropriate, always within the traditional framework and with the utmost care. A reader who is not careless will easily see the difference between the two. The Study Quran is not meant to be like the shorter tafsīrs written for a certain school of thought so that people can know what their own school says about the Quran; those are extremely valuable in their own way. Rather, The Study Quran is a resource for becoming familiar with what the length and breadth of the Islamic tradition has had to say about the Quran, and communicates different and opposing views within that tradition.
It is also worth remembering that on questions of fiqh (law) and ʿaqīdah/kalām (creed/dialectical theology) there often exists not only the view of the Hanbalis or Asharites, for example, but sometimes divergent views within a single school and even from a single individual scholar like Imam Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal. We could not transmit all such variations, but did our best to present as much material as we could.
Classical scholars and writers of Quran commentary were not afraid to mention and even elaborate upon views they disagreed with, for all sorts of reasons. They trusted their readers, as we trust ours. We did not include just anything at all, obviously, and one can read S. H. Nasr’s General Introduction to the book which discusses our approach in greater depth. The Study Quran is a book of and about the tradition.
To take this approach regarding the range of views is not to deny truth. I believe in the truth, as did the luminaries of our tradition. But they were able to both believe in the truth and also acknowledge the views of others, and on secondary matters they were also comfortable in knowing that they could be wrong and their opponent could be right. And they certainly had no qualms about publishing the conversation. We could use more of that intellectual culture today, not less.
I would also remind readers that it is impossible to re-state every detail of a topic every time a verse deals with that particular question. Many verses in the Quran deal with the same topic, and it is assumed that readers will consult all of these; we included copious cross-references in the commentary and made a huge index for precisely that reason. If you want to know what the Quran and the commentary tradition said about Abraham, for example, this information will be found in multiple places, not just one. The great classical tafsīrs are structured in a similar way.
The Study Quran is meant to be an education. It is a 2000-page study of a vast genre of Islamic literature. I consider it a good start, not the final word on a whole tradition.
Indeed it is my sincere wish that many such works on the Quran, elaborating and unfolding different aspects of this limitless text and the works of the incredible people who interpreted it for us over the centuries, will be written by Muslims in the future.
Wa’Llāhu aʿlam (God knows better than all)