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Reference book on Qur'an hailed

English encyclopedia to be launched today

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A Prairie Muslim tired of twisted translations of his faith's holy book rallied scholars from around the world to do something about it and will present the first volume of a massive project in Winnipeg today.

"This is the first English encyclopedia of the Qur'an from a Muslim point of view," said Edmonton's Muzaffar Iqbal, editor of the Integrated Encyclopedia of the Qur'an to be launched at the Grand Mosque tonight.

The Qur'an is written in Arabic. Most of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims don't speak the language and rely on interpretations of it, he said.

"An astonishing 80 per cent have absolutely no access to the meaning of the Qur'an," he said, citing numbers from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation that represents 57 Muslim-majority countries.

Only 15 per cent speak Arabic as their native language and about five per cent learn Arabic as a second language, Iqbal said.

"They don't know the Arabic language anymore. They don't know what they're reading."

Internet extremists have taken advantage of that, twisting verses in the Qur'an to radicalize vulnerable youth and incite them to violence, he said.

"They take that one verse out of context and say 'this is what we're commanded to do,' " he said.

"A lot of the stuff going on is based on a lack of understanding of the Qur'an," said Iqbal, 60.

"All of these religious books and scriptures are written within a context. These people don't understand the context and they have no access to the context," he said.

The encyclopedia will counter that with accurate, peer-reviewed information, he said.

"This work taps into 1,400 years of Muslim reflection and scholarship on the Qur'an," said Iqbal.

"It integrates a vast amount of material from several different source commentaries," said the former chemistry professor who founded the Center for Islamic Sciences.

He's launching the encyclopedia in Muslim communities throughout North America this year.

Iqbal expects it will be available at public libraries and online in the near future. Muslims and non-Muslims will benefit from it, he said.

"Any translation is a human reproduction -- no translation is going to be free from the mind of the translator and how they're reading that text -- when one engages with the mind of the translator there can be lots of problems coming just from that," he said.

"This kind of work will provide source-based access to these readers -- what the scripture says on any topic."

It delves into the verses and the concepts in the Qur'an, cross-referencing them.

The encyclopedia will help anyone looking for information on any topic, person or event in the Qur'an.

The project has taken several years to co-ordinate, with the first, 408-page Volume One -- from A to BEA -- published and six more to come, said Iqbal.

"This is going to be till the end of my life," he said. "There is so much to say."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 20, 2013 A9

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