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American Qur'an

Iftikhar Dadi (Essay Author), Zareena Grewal (Essay Author), Sandow Birk (Artist)

With a Preface by Reza Aslan

Logo markA Liveright book


This triumph of American art, reflecting a decade of travel in the Islamic work, unites two cultures with its transcendent power.

At a time when the United States was involved in two wars against Islamic nations, American-born artist Sandow Birk wanted to understand the Qur'an as it is, and always has been intended: a universal message to humankind. But to do so, he first needed to comprehend what Islam's holiest book meant to an American living in the twenty-first century. Indeed, how has the Qur'an related to us, as Americans, in this life, in this time?

In an attempt to answer his own question, Birk embarked on the most ambitious work of his career. Following in the grand traditions of ancient Arabic and Islamic artists, he began hand-transcribing the entire Qur'an as was done in centuries past—abiding by the traditional prescriptions as to the colors of ink, the formatting of the pages, the size of margins and illuminations of page headings and medallions marking verses and passages. He then took each sura and set it against a backdrop from everyday American life, one that reflected his renowned "skate-surf" ascetic.

Even before the first images of what became known as the American Qur'an began appearing in public, in 2009, veteran art critics were concerned about its reception. While Birk wasn't illustrating the Qur'an itself, the pairing of Islam’s holiest text with scenes from contemporary American life seemed adventuresome, given the climate of the times. The project, however, was not only welcomed by the Muslim community but also celebrated as an "ambitious and valuable undertaking" (New York Times). At the same time, many saw it as taking part in an ancient tradition, one that, according to Yale University professor Zareena Grewal, "eschewed the irony and satire that have become the knee-jerk impulse of so many Western artists."

Now appearing in full for the first time ever, this lavishly designed volume—containing all 114 suras—melds the past with the present, East with the West like nothing before it. The result, hailed by Reza Aslan as "a great favor, not only to Muslims, but also to Americans," is one of the most original art books to appear in decades.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • November 2015
  • ISBN 978-1-63149-018-7
  • 13 × 18 in / 464 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“It is a masterpiece, and its flaws only serve its virtuosity…A masterful reminder that America and Islam are, as ideas and as histories, deeply, painfully interlinked.” — G. Willow Wilson, Washington Post

“It’s quite a panorama, this labor-intensive version of a major historical book embedded within a massive contemporary one.” — Holland Cotter, New York Times

“A Noah’s ark of images…. The reader who doesn’t open American Qur’an out of devotion will be drawn to its images. Birk has created pictures to accompany classic texts for years, and these painted scenes seem like real America, circa 2015—more America than Quran…This is a book whose impact will be felt more in the debate that it generates than in the readers who spend the time that it demands.” — David D’Arcy, San Francisco Chronicle

“From the opening page, Birk's art stuns…in a distinctive and visually impressive style that begs for close attention. Meanwhile, the juxtaposition of words and images prompts the reader to engage deeply with the text…. This masterpiece is important as an accessible and enjoyable introduction to the Qur'an for non-Muslim Americans, but even for Muslims and others familiar with the Qur'an, it bears weighty messages, inviting a reconsideration of sacred texts in the context of ordinary American lives.” — Publishers Weekly, Starred review

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