Introduction to the Qur’an

Rated 5 out of 5 by from Immensely helpful! This course is wonderful! Dr. Oliver is incredibly learned and skilled. I learned lots about a subject I never studied previously. The course was for me useful, causing me to grow and contemplate important ideas.
Date published: 2020-08-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Introduction Presenter obviously has a deep appreciation of both the Qur'an and the Bible and is very knowledgeable about both. I enjoyed the readings from the Quran.
Date published: 2020-08-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Repetative Lecturer repeats sections of the Qur'an with same points. I think that he needed to go a little deeper, especially more depth in the problems the Western/Judeo-Christian portion of the world has with extremists of Muslim faith. I think he should have dedicated a whole lecture to it and shortened the other lectures to accomodate
Date published: 2020-08-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A course for the respectful nonbeliever. A clear, coherent presentation of the cultural context, historical development, and theology of the Qur'an from a secular standpoint, yet always respectful of its centrality and spiritual meaning for billions of Muslims.
Date published: 2020-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One caveat This course is an outstanding introduction to the Qur'an and is beautifully presented. The lectures are not all of uniform length, which means that Martyn Oliver uses his time wisely and doesn't feel constrained by the arbitrary half-hour lecture limit. The course is also unusual in that it incorporates chanted recitations of sections of the Qur'an and is punctuated by subject heading titles as the professor moves from one section of the course to another. The Qur'an is written in an unconventional rhetorical style and, at the outset, Oliver does a good job of explaining the structure of the narrative. He also does a good job of describing how the Qur'an is related to the sacred texts of Judaism and Christianity. Adam, Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Ishmael, Moses, Jesus, and Mary all make appearances in the Qur'an. Oliver explains the Qur'an's continuity with earlier sacred texts and also describes ways in which the Qur'an departs from earlier texts. Oliver is also very good at presenting the biography of Muhammad and his life circumstances in sixth and seventh century Arabia. You will learn about the Five Pillars of Islam. You will learn the Qur'an's views about Paradise, the Resurrection of the Dead, and Judgment Day. I learned a lot from this course and, after I completed it, I felt motivated to read an English translation of the Qur'an. My only reservation about this course is that it does not adequately address the punishment that disbelievers and idolators are subject to upon Judgment Day. The Qur'an places equal emphasis on the paradise that awaits people who believe and do good deeds throughout their lives and the punishments that will befall those who veer away from the righteous path.
Date published: 2020-08-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A must "read" Warning ! Be careful, once you listen to the first lecture you may not put it down until you complete all 12 lectures. Read all the reviews. As of 13 July 2020, 26 reviewers gave the course 4's and 5's (no 3's,2's,1's); you know it has to be good ! I have been studying world religions for 20 years in college and with TGC. This is the best presentation on the Qur'an I have heard. The books, and lectures I have heard, on the Qur'an go through the book in numerical order of the Surahs. That is a difficult way to grasp the full meaning of each subject. Professor Oliver does an excellent job of explaining the full meaning of a subject by skipping around to various Surahs that touch on a specific subject. The course is too short. TGC please listen; we need more courses on Islam and the Qur'an taught by teachers with Professor Oliver's lecturing and presentation skills.
Date published: 2020-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good basic introduction. This is a great course for people like me who know little about the Qur'an. Now I know more. However, the course is too short. How can you cover this important topic in 12 lectures?
Date published: 2020-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and thought provoking I knew nothing about the Qur'an, and now have at least a basic understanding of this important work. The teacher was respectful, insightful and well spoken.
Date published: 2020-07-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Well-Done Introduction, Far Too Brief! This is an excellent course to take if you know little or nothing about Islam and the Qur'an. It assumes no background and provides a well-done overview of the key points of the book, as well as of the historical context and the religion itself. But - obviously - six hours is an absurdly short time to discuss all of this. Even as an introduction it should have been at least two or three times as long. I hope (TGC people please pass this along to your powers-that-be!) that the Qur'an will be added to the "Books That Matter" series in order to provide more depth. Professor Oliver is outstanding. He is organized, avoids irrelevant digressions, and speaks in an eloquent, conversational, and well-modulated voice which is a pleasure to listen to. I had no problem maintaining focus. The material is presented in an objective rather than religious perspective; that is, we are learning about the religion in a non-judgmental manner, not being indoctrinated into it. Islam and the Qur'an are fascinating subjects (as, I think, are all religious views). Given our current world situation, I especially feel that non-Muslims should all make an effort to understand Islam in itself, rather than simply being battered by the high-profile incidents that make the evening news. While this course is far from enough, it is a very good place to start.
Date published: 2020-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good presentation for difficult subject Prior to this course I knew the Quan existed but that’s about it. The presentation was easy to follow.
Date published: 2020-07-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good introduction to subject The presenter was passionate about the subject and provided a solid introduction to the Qur'an.
Date published: 2020-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A very useful course This is a very helpful introductory course to the Koran itself and to the religion of Islam. The course traces the history of the Koran and provides a great deal of information about the relationship between Islam and the other Abrahamic religions. It details both the similarities and the differences among the three religions. It also usefully clarifies the concepts of jihad and shariya and points out several things associated with Islam that don’t appear in the Koran at all.
Date published: 2020-05-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Difficult & Sensitive Review Presenter is well versed in the Qur'an. Covers a lot of material in a careful sensitive way. Leaves one with a greater appreciation of the complexity & diversity and evolution of Muslim thought and beliefs
Date published: 2020-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A very helpful introduction. I had great difficulty simply reading an English translation of the Qur'an on my own. His lectures clarified and illustrated themes and concepts in a fashion to make the Qur'an much more understandable. Very useful.
Date published: 2020-05-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Information / Culturally sensitive / Factual The course met my goal (as a novice) of wanting to develop an understanding of Islam. I was particularly pleased that professor's love for his subject came through. In my opinion, he was able to communicate it without taking any sides in the current middle eastern challenges. I particularly appreciated his use of "quotes" from the Qur'an to express his points. I expect that these quotes are reflective of Muslim values (both past and present)
Date published: 2020-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An excellent presentation I have taken several courses on comparative religion and this class was an excellent insight into the Qur'an, it's place in history, Islamic history, and religious practices. Valuable in understanding one of the world's great religious heritages.
Date published: 2020-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoughtful, Informative and Absorbing Lectures Professor Oliver offers a thoroughly absorbing presentation of the Qur’an that should serve as an excellent introduction to this holy text for anyone interested. He raises and addresses many important issues, issues that should prompt those who complete his course to do further reading, especially of the Qur’an itself. Professor Oliver and The Teaching Company should offer additional courses on the Qur’an, the Hadith, and Muslims so that those wanting a better understanding of Islam and its followers can have one. Thank you, Professor Oliver!
Date published: 2020-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Informative I purchased this about 3 weeks ago and I am glad I did. Anyone who is interested in learning more about Islam will find this course is a great starting place. Professor Oliver is very knowledgeable and he dispels many myths about Islam and Muslims.
Date published: 2020-03-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Overview Dr, Oliver did an excellent job of condensing a complex course into well designed short presentations, each covering a very important aspect of the Qur'an. History, background, salient points an three approaches to modern interpretation were all covered. It has wheted my appetite to pursue this more. It is too bad it was such a summary course.
Date published: 2020-02-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The professor pronounces the Arabic very well. I have read the Qur'an and have received some insights from the course on the Islamic Golden Age lecture, so this a a good review and provides some further insights into the book. I enjoy the actual reciting of the test in the original Arabic.
Date published: 2020-01-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Loyal : Angry that everything is video only I have bought over 70 courses. I love this product. I hate that now it is only DVD/video only now. I used to be able to listen to a lecture on my way to work. I now have to download the lecture to my phone and listen to it. In January, I bought 9 lectures at a great price. I only unwrap the package when I am ready to listen. The first 3 cds were broken. The GGC broke their promise about replacing defective disks. I had to accept dvds not cds; They were not happy about giving me dvds.
Date published: 2019-12-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent explanation of concepts. Dr. Oliver's overview of the socio-political and historical background to the Qur'an helped me to better understand both the cultural context and the universal truths that can be found in this much maligned and misunderstood text. It has inspired me to learn more in a non-judgmental approach to the world's fastest growing religion.
Date published: 2019-11-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Cleared up questions This shed light on the mysterious side of the subject. Very matter of fact as to absolutes vs. interpretation. Very worthwhile.
Date published: 2019-11-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview... Very good coverage for the length of time over twelve lectures.
Date published: 2019-11-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Focus on the Qur’an as a Book This course is a worthy addition to The Great Courses collection on Islam. It focuses specifically on the most sacred literature in Islam, the Qur’an. It is not a survey of the religion in general. It mentions but does not dive deeply into what might be called the oral tradition, the Hadith. This is a short course (12 lectures) and it is beneficial as a follow-on to other TGC courses on Islam. This course is *about* the Qur’an. It does not judge its injunctions. It does not advocate for or against it. It treats the book respectfully but it neither assumes it is mere literature nor that it is divine. The course starts by providing the historical context including the life of Mohammad. (This is an overview; more details are provided in other TGC courses.) The course then discusses certain important themes in Qur’an including the unity of Allah (although note that Dr. Oliver always refers to this deity as “God” and never as “Allah”), creation, the judgment day, and certain persons familiar to Jews and Christians such as Abraham and Moses. Dr. Oliver did not address some themes that I thought might be pertinent such as how Qur’an is organized, what might be a good approach for a newcomer to read the book, the extent to which translations might be trusted, and the various schools of interpretation. Dr. Oliver is a thoughtful and respectful teacher. I appreciated how he respected Islam and Muslims, neither getting too critical nor becoming an apologist. Dr. Oliver is easy to follow. I used the video version. I believe that the Audiobook would have been just fine.
Date published: 2019-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Five Stars Plus! This course is indispensable for the correct understanding of a maligned religion that should not be equated with its warped interpretation by terrorist movements, just as the teachings of Jesus should not be equated with the maniacal fanaticism of the Inquisition in medieval Europe. Professor Martyn Oliver has created a course of the highest order, one that serves to induce a positive perception of Islam as a monotheistic faith that has so much in common with the sources of Judaism and Christianity.
Date published: 2019-11-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Commendable effort I liked and enjoyed this course. I wasn’t expecting a serious scholarly work for one who himself is not a scholar. But it met my expectations and indeed added a new perspective to my understanding.
Date published: 2019-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very good (and objective) introductory course I have very little knowledge of the Qur'an, either his Islam "came to be" and how the Qur'an was actually written. I have lots of "heresay" but I wanted to get beyond what I have incidentally picked up over the years (obviously, mostly bad). This course is a true eye-opener! The most surprising part (I'm about half way through) is the number of Christian Biblical figures who form parts of the Qur'an! I really look forward to finishing this class and maybe taking others which could get more into Islamic theology. This class is historical knowledge of the Qur'an and Islam.
Date published: 2019-10-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Only 12 lectures? A good introduction, but would 24 (or 36) lectures have made it less appealing to Great Courses customers? Maybe so, but I, for one would like more. When I purchased the course I suspected that its brevity would be a negative. And indeed it is, but it is the only negative that I am aware of. I am curious how an "insider" of the Islamic faith would evaluate this as an introduction. I do appreciate the effort to dispel at least some of the erroneous ideas about Islam. Also the inclusion of Arabic recitation provided another element of interest when they were more than an interlude between topics. Content: tantilizing is the word that comes to mind. The specific topics covered were insightful. But several times the professor seemed to be apologizing for the limited time available. At one point he mentioned pre-Islamic Arab "prophets" but never had time to get back to or name any of them. This course opens up many possible avenues for becoming more aware of the Islamic tradition and the various currents within it. Hopefully some of those avenues will be explored by those viewing this course. Presentation: Even in this short course it was obvious that the professor grew more comfortable with the process. Halfway through I was wondering if he ever changed with facial expression. Toward the end he did. Made him much more human. He seems to be a good addition to the list of professors the Teaching Company employs.
Date published: 2019-10-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well designed, challenging course This is one of the best Great Courses I have purchased. Dr. Oliver is a polished speaker, whose every word conveys meaning. He has organized an introductory course to the Qur’an which educates and challenges the student. While he covers an amazingly broad content, my only objection is limiting the course to twelve lectures. I look forward to future courses by the professor. Regardless of your religious background or interest, you will benefit from this course.
Date published: 2019-10-21
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Introduction to the Qur’an
Course Trailer
Finding a Path into the Qur’an
1: Finding a Path into the Qur’an

Why study the Qur’an? Dr. Martyn Oliver explores the myth and mystery of the Qur’an, including the origins of this most central of Islamic texts, God’s perfect word as revealed by Muhammad. For believers, the Qur’an and its divinity are certain, but for the scholar, the text is not so neatly defined.

30 min
7th-Century Mecca: Religion and Oral Tradition
2: 7th-Century Mecca: Religion and Oral Tradition

Ancient Mecca and its surroundings, into which the Qur’an was born, was a place founded economically and socially upon a diverse range of customs, traditions, and peoples. Examine the religious history of the region and the ways in which this cosmopolitan city undoubtedly influenced the messages of the Qur’an.

23 min
The Qur’an Becomes a “Book”
3: The Qur’an Becomes a “Book”

Muhammad, like most of the people in 7th-century Mecca, was illiterate. What challenges of interpretation for modern scholars are presented by translation from oral tradition to written text, and again from that text into other languages? Was anything lost (or added) in translation between the death of Muhammad and the first canonized text of the Qur’an two hundred years later? Perhaps.

36 min
From Mecca to Medina: The Revelation Transforms
4: From Mecca to Medina: The Revelation Transforms

Learn how the Meccan verses are both radical and evangelical—an economic and cultural threat to Mecca, but also statements of a powerful ideology defining Allah as sole creator and ultimate judge. Later verses of Medina focus, as did Muhammad, on the development of an enduring and cohesive community of diverse peoples, eventually uniting much of the Arabian Peninsula. In these origins of the revelation is where the history of Islam is born.

25 min
God and Tawhid: Divine Nature in the Qur’an
5: God and Tawhid: Divine Nature in the Qur’an

What does the Qur’an tell us about God? Cultures throughout human history have speculated about the essence of the divine. As we move into the content of the Qur’an itself, we explore the nature of an experiential God, who is both the narrator and central focus of this revelation to Muhammad.

36 min
The Qur’anic Creation Story
6: The Qur’anic Creation Story

Origin myths provide insight into the values of a people. While the Qur’an lacks a traditional “in the beginning” narrative, it reveals a number of stories about the first humans and divine creation. Learn here about Satan’s fall from grace, his arrogant disobedience of God’s command, and his promise to lure humans into the selfsame fall.

27 min
Judgment Day and the End Times: Yawm ad-Din
7: Judgment Day and the End Times: Yawm ad-Din

Did Dante Alighieri model his Divine Comedy after the Qur’anic descriptions of heaven and hell? In this lecture, we will delve into the regional history; the co-existing theologies; and finally, the actual Qur’anic depictions of both a beautiful garden of endless, sensual bliss and, for the less deserving, a fiery pit of eternal torment.

25 min
Abraham, Moses, and Qur’anic Faith
8: Abraham, Moses, and Qur’anic Faith

In both Christian and Jewish traditions, Moses and Abraham are held as prophets and ideal examples of faith. In this lecture, discover how these Biblical characters appear in the Qur’an in ways that cement Muhammad’s role as prophet, and Mecca’s place as the geographic center of Islam.

28 min
Prophethood in the Qur’an: Jesus and Others
9: Prophethood in the Qur’an: Jesus and Others

We will learn that numerous other Biblical figures also appear in the Qur’an, including Jesus, Mary, Noah, and Joseph (of Genesis). Each account has parallels to the stories presented in the Christian and Jewish traditions, but the Qur’anic versions emphasize the oneness and exclusive divinity of God.

27 min
From the Qur’an to Islam: Creating a Practice
10: From the Qur’an to Islam: Creating a Practice

How did the Five Pillars of Islam grow from deep roots in the Qur’an? How might the words and deeds of the Prophet provide insight for believers? Finally, what role does this struggle to understand, from the Arabic word ijtihad, play in the ritual practices that define Islam? Delve into each pillar and its Qur’anic origins, as well as the substantial interpretive history of Islam.

29 min
Sharia and Jihad: The Qur’an as Legal Text
11: Sharia and Jihad: The Qur’an as Legal Text

The untranslated words sharia and jihad might best be understood as “searching for God’s will” and the “universal struggle for justice,” rather than the simplistic, and thus fundamentally inaccurate, concepts of judicial law and holy war. Consider the complex meaning of each term, and how it is further explicated through a rich history of fatwa, or legal opinion.

26 min
Qur’anic Philosophy, Theology, and Mysticism
12: Qur’anic Philosophy, Theology, and Mysticism

The final lecture in this outstanding series reflects on the extensive philosophical, theological, and mystical underpinnings of Qur’anic study. Dr. Oliver speaks powerfully about the role of personal struggle to live according to God’s will—a struggle that shapes the religious life of individual Muslims and Islamic communities alike around the world.

40 min
Martyn Oliver

The Qur'an is an endlessly fascinating, complicated, often misunderstood text. It is also a beautiful, moving text full of moments of tenderness, authority and mystery.


Boston University


American University

About Martyn Oliver

Martyn Oliver is a Senior Professorial Lecturer at American University, where he also serves as the director of the Undergraduate Religious Studies and Arab World Studies programs. He received his B.A. in Religion from the University of Puget Sound and his Ph.D. in Religion and Literature from Boston University. In 2015, he was the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

As a scholar of religion and Islam, Dr. Oliver has published widely in both academic and popular publications. He is recognized for his expertise on Islam in American culture, and he has had speaking engagements with the U.S. Department of State and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Dr. Oliver has also made media appearance on CBS and NPR. From 2009 to 2013, he served as the president of the American Religion and Literature Society.

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