As the most sacred holiday in the Islamic calendar, the holy month of Ramadan is marked by fasting during daylight hours and special evening prayers in the mosque. Reading the Quran during Ramadan, which began last night with the appearance of the new crescent moon, is an essential part of the observance.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, one of the largest Muslim advocacy organizations in the United States, is sponsoring a campaign called "Explore the Quran." The goal is to give the general non-Muslim public a greater familiarity with Islam's holy book by offering it free. The council has received more than 20,000 requests for free Qurans since the campaign began in July.
"Explore the Quran" is CAIR's attempt to counter what the organization regards as continuing negative publicity surrounding the Quran, including the alleged desecration of the holy book at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons. Those who request a Quran receive a thick hardcover book with English translation next to the Arabic on each page.
"We felt the best way to respond was to give Americans the opportunity to read the Quran for themselves," said Rabiah Ahmed, a spokeswoman for CAIR. "The response has been overwhelmingly positive and very heartwarming."
The requests have come from Christian ministers who want to learn more about Islam, students, professors, atheists, prisons and police and government officials in communities with a significant Muslim population.
"We've also gotten lots of requests from rural areas where people don't know any Muslims at all," Ahmed said.
Ahmed said the campaign will continue for as long as the organization is able to support it, and interest from the public continues.
The significance of the Quran campaign also means that many non-Muslims now own a sacred text that can be a challenge to read and understand.
Unlike the Bible, the Quran does not begin literally at the beginning with the story of creation.
"The Quran is often difficult to read for Westerners because it is in a nonlinear structure. It's a nonchronological, nonhistorical book," said Sohaib Sultan, who is a Muslim chaplain at Trinity College and Yale University. Sultan is author of Koran for Dummies, which was published in May as part of the "For Dummies" reference book series.
"It's not a book that talks about historical narrative in which there is moral judgment, but rather it is a moral narrative that uses history to emphasize and reinforce the moral teaching it presents," Sultan explained.
The Quran opens with the prayer that is said daily by Muslims around the world: "In the name of Allah, most gracious, most merciful. Praise be to Allah, the cherisher and sustainer of the worlds; most gracious, most merciful; master of the Day of Judgment. Thee do we worship, and thine aid we seek. Show us the straight way, the way of those on whom thou has bestowed thy Grace, those whose [portion] is not wrath, and who go not astray."
Frances Grandy Taylor is a reporter for the Hartford Courant. To obtain a copy of the Quran, call the Council on American-Islamic Relations at 800-784-7526, or go online to cair-net.org/explorethequran.