This collection of readings from the Quran is designed to help non-Muslim Westerners approach this sacred book and savor something of its amazing power through a selection of chapters and verses encapsulating some of its central ideas and essential beauties. A "rosary of readings and recitations," the excerpts chosen represent the "six aims" of the Quran (which range from knowledge of God to refutations of unbelievers' arguments), all of which point to the need for intelligent, considered faith in order for humans to come to a true knowledge of God. The selections, from hymns of praise to calls for compassion toward the most needy, reveal the majesty and poetry of this extraordinary text while illuminating its spiritual lessons. Cleary's graceful translation makes the ancient verses clear and accessible to the modern reader:
Worship nothing but God;
be good to your parents and relatives,
and to the orphan and the poor.
Speak nicely to people,
be constant in prayer,
and give charity.
The excellent linguistic notes, which Cleary calls an intrinsic part of the translation itself, amplify the meanings of untranslatable words through reference to their Arabic roots and related derivatives. The book is a first-rate introduction for non-Muslims both to the beauty of the Quran and to the core teachings of Islam, which have too often been misrepresented or misunderstood in the West.
From the back cover: "Finally the riches of Islam are offered accessibly to the West in this annotated translation of the heart of the Koran's spiritual wisdom. With the rise of Islam in the world arena, the Essential Koran is an indispensable aid to understanding the religion of nearly one billion people. Cleary's work clearly reveals the depths of Islamic spirituality. Thomas Cleary is the preeminent translator of classic Eastern texts, including The Essential tao, The Essential Confucius, The Secret of the Golden Flower, and the best-selling The Art of War. "Cleary has crafted a stunning evocation of the 'untranslatable' verses of the holiest of holy books in Arabic, the Noble Qur'an....essential reading."
-Bruce B. Lawrence, Duke University, author of Defenders of God.
Thomas Cleary (born 1949) is a prolific author and translator of Buddhist, Taoist, Confucian and Muslim classics, and of the Chinese Art of War tradition of strategy and statecraft.He lives in Oakland, California in the United States.
Cleary "got into Buddhism... in [his] teens", and was driven to research Buddhist texts because he "wanted to learn". He usually translates texts that are not yet available in English; however, he has made some exceptions for books he felt had English translations that were "too limited," such as Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Cleary received a PhD in East Asian Languages and Civilizations from Harvard University as well as a JD from the University of California, Berkeley, Boalt Hall School of Law, but has had minimal involvement with the academic world, claiming that "there is too much oppression in a university setting" and that he wants "to stay independent and reach those who want to learn directly through [his] books." He reserves some praise for his alma mater, though; "a good thing about Harvard was language training was done by native teachers. You did not find that everywhere."
Cleary's first publication, with his brother J.C. Cleary was the translation of the Zen koan collection, The Blue Cliff Record (ISBN 1-59030-232-X). Cleary also translated the monumental Avatamsaka Sutra (Huayan Jing / Flower Ornament Scripture).