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New Book Provides Introduction to the Qur'an for Non-Muslims

Bethlehem, Pa., December 10, 2008—Walter H. Wagner, adjunct professor at Moravian Theological Seminary, recently authored Opening the Qur’an: Introducing Islam's Holy Book (University of Notre Dame Press).  The book is described as a masterful work that offers a comprehensive and extraordinarily readable, step-by-step introduction to the Qur’an, making it accessible to students, teachers, clergy, and general readers.

Wagner’s background provides him a great sensitivity toward the risks and opportunities for non-Muslims who attempt to interpret the Qur’an, and a sympathy for the long struggle to build bridges of mutual trust and honest appreciation between Muslims and non-Muslims.

According to Wagner, an ordained Lutheran pastor who has taught graduate and continuing education courses at Moravian since 1993, “this book would not have been possible had it not been for my teaching at Moravian Seminary.”  He cites his long history of preparation for classes such as Christianity and Islam, Qur’an and the Bible, Opening the Qur’an as having broadened his own knowledge base and heightened his awareness of the thirst among non-Muslim’s to better understand the Qur’an.

In addition to his teaching at Moravian, his relationships with leaders of the Lehigh Valley Sunni and Shi’a communities and his work with the Lehigh Interfaith Dialogue Center in Bethlehem has richly informed his appreciation of Islam and the Qur’an. These relationships have also helped to focus his energies on ways to engender greater understanding among the members of the major faith traditions of our community.  Wagner often shares the stage with Muslim and Jewish leaders at Interfaith Dialogue events, where he most commonly serves as the expert on Christianity.

His publisher, Notre Dame Press, commends Wagner for Opening the Qur’an, which first places the Prophet Muhammad, the Qur’an, and the early Muslim community in their historical, geographical, and theological contexts. This background is a basis for interpreting the Qur’an and understanding its role in later Muslim developments as well as for relationships between Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Wagner then looks in detail at specific passages, moving from cherished devotional texts to increasingly difficult and provocative subjects. The selected bibliography serves as a resource for further reading and study. Woven into the discussion are references to Islamic beliefs and practices.

Among the experts who reviewed Opening the Qur’an was interfaith pioneer, Harold Vogelaar director of the Center of Christian-Muslim Engagement for Peace and Justice at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. He states, “This is not just a book that is being introduced but a context, a culture, its teachings, and the way Muslims have been interpreting, finding meaning, and living in obedience to the Qur’an over the centuries. . . . I highly recommend this book for use in schools and seminaries and even church study groups where people are serious about learning why the Qur’an is considered by Muslims to be God’s final revelation. The book’s step-by-step procedure and the important glossary of key terms in the back are extremely useful for readers who are being introduced to the Qur’an for the first time.”

Retired in 2001 from full-time parish ministry in the ELCA after 41 years, Wagner continues to serve as interim pastor for congregations in pastoral transition.  Dr. Wagner has also served as adjunct faculty member at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Moravian College, and Muhlenberg College.  In addition to his expertise in Islamic Studies, he is a scholar of the New Testament, Church History, and Theology.  He has authored several books including After the Apostles: Christianity in the Second Century and The Zinzendorf-Muhlenberg Encounter: A Controversy in Search of Understanding.

Moravian Theological Seminary, located in Bethlehem, Pa. is the seminary of the Moravian Church in the United States. The Seminary awards three degrees: Master of Divinity,

Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling, and Master of Arts in Theological Studies. The institution also awards certificates in theological studies. For more information, visit www.moravianseminary.edu.