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I want to read the Qur'an cover to cover while supplementing it with historical, linguistic, and other Islamic cultural material as I read. However, I am not sure what the best combination of books is. I have a limited amount of free time, so I am not trying to become an Islamic scholar or anything of that level of dedication. Just to be better educated.

After browsing through Amazon there seems to be, books that

  1. merely translate (Haleem)

  2. translate and supplement extensively (Asad)

  3. are not translations but the history of the Qur'an.

I have purchased M.A.S. Abdel Haleem's translation. But I feel this alone isn't enough since I felt like I learned more reading the introduction than I did reading the actual text due to my lack of knowledge.

Can someone recommend the right combination and or progression for reading? Should I buy both a translation and a history book? Should I try to read Asad's 1100 page text on the first go (unlikely)?

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    Pick your favorite translator from the list. My favorite is Muhsin Khan. I would say, most of the time, Qur'an is clear. If you get stuck, then consider going through the history or relevant Tafseer or Hadith which talk about the revelations about those Ayahs. Note: Don't just rely on ONE translation completely. It is better to see what others are saying about a controversial Ayah. – servant-of-Wiser Jul 4 '15 at 2:15
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    Although I guess you're coming from a Sunni bkg, I'd still recommend Tafsir al-Mizan authored by Allama Tabataba'i the most prominent scholar and philosopher of contemporary Shiism. What distinguishes al-Mizan is Allama's innovative method in interpreting the Holy Book known as "interpreting Quran with Quran." Allama also uses historical documents from both Shia and Sunni sources and if necessary established philosophical doctrines to uncover deep meanings of the book. – infatuated Jul 4 '15 at 17:23
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Just read Tafsir e ibn Kathir, it is very extensive, explains each Surah, verse by verse, through its historical context.

For extra reading, go for the life of prophet Mohammad (same author, ibn Kathir). This will shape the bigger picture, because this book contains pre-Islamic history also, once again, very extensive.

I recommend both of these books, which can be found easily online in English.

Ibn Kathir Tafsir

he Life of the Prophet Muhammad - English translation of Ibn Kathir's Al Sira Al Nabawiyya (4 Vol's Set)

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