Since the late nineteenth century, Muslim movements for religious and social reform have underscored the value of making scripture accessible to a broad public. Scholars and activists alike have urged ordinary Muslim men and women to study and follow the Qur'ān and the hadīth (the reports of the Prophet Muhammad's words and deeds), and to do so they have rendered these scriptural writings and commentaries on them into the vernaculars of Asia, Africa, and Europe. They have also framed a wide range of appeals—to study the sciences, to modernize society, to stage a revolution—in the language and format of scriptural commentary. Vernacular writings (and, more recently, audio and videocassettes) based on scripture provide the foundations of popular religious education (Shahrani 1991), figure prominently in political movements (Fischer 1980; Kepel 1985), and serve as guides for living for Muslims traveling outside their homelands (Kepel 1987). The modern period has seen an explosion in the range of languages, genres, and contexts in which Muslims have authoritatively deployed scripture.

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