Dr. Zakir Naik recommends English translation of Qur'an
In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
164. Verily! In the creation of the heavens and the earth,
and in the alternation of night and day, and the ships
which sail through the sea with that which is of use to
mankind, and the water (rain) which Allah sends down
from the sky and makes the earth alive therewith after
its death, and the moving (living) creatures of all kinds
that He has scattered therein, and in the veering of
winds and clouds which are held between the sky and
the earth, are indeed Ayat (proofs, evidences, signs, etc.)
for people of understanding.
The translated Quran is not the Quran and is not translated through
inspiration from God. The translated Quran is not a substitute for the
original Arabic Quran. It is only an attempt to help those who are trying
to learn to read the Arabic text, since it is as close to the written text as
possible. Translating the meanings of the whole Quran is a tremendous
task. The Arabic language of the Quran is like an intimate symphony, the
very sounds of which move people to tears and ecstasy. The rhetoric and
rhythm of the Arabic of the Quran are so characteristic, so powerful and
so highly touching that any human translation is bound to be an imperfect
copy of the glittering splendor and the radiant beauty of the original text.
Most Muslims believe that the Quran cannot be translated properly.
The attitude of the early Muslim community on the translation of the
Arabic text of the Quran was ambivalent. Muslims were concerned that
the translation of the Quran might be viewed as an exact translation of the
authentic Words of God. During the rapid expansion era of Islam, many
non-Arabs, who embraced Islam, believed truly in this great religion and
felt the need to know and master the language of the Quran. Others knew
just enough to perform the five daily prayers that have to be performed
in Arabic. Muslims were also hesitant that translating the Quran might
give new linguistic orientations to the contents of the revelation as, for
example, what happened in the case of the New Testament. This could
lead to unforeseeable and adverse developments within the body of the
Islamic religion itself.
The Muslim need for translating the Quran into English arose
mainly out of the desire to resist the missionary effort. Following a long
controversial tradition, part of whose goal was also the production of
an erroneous and confusing European version of the Muslim scripture,
Christian missionaries started their major offense against a politically
humiliated Islam in the eighteenth century by advancing their own
translations of the Quran.
Christian missionaries have been the most active non-Muslim
translators of the Quran. Their goal was to introduce confusing
translations with a hostile commentary of its own. Small wonder, then
that these ventures are far from being a just translation, replete as they
are with frequent transpositions, omissions, unaccountable liberties and
The first translation of the Quran into a western language was made
by the English scholar Robert of Ketton in the twelfth century. It was
completed in 1143 and enjoyed a considerable distribution in manuscript.
It was developed during the time of the Crusades and just two years before
the second expedition headed by Louis VII, 1145-47. This translation
had numerous inaccuracies, confusions and misunderstandings and was
inspired by hostile intentions. This translation served as the foundation of
the later translations in European languages.
In 1647 Andre du Ryer of France published a French translation,
Alcoran of Mahomet, the Prophet of the Turks. Two years later an
English version of this was published by Alexander Ross, a chaplain of
King Charles I. His intention was: “I thought good to bring it to their
colors, that so viewing thine enemies in their full body, thou must the
better prepare to encounter...his Alcoran.” Thomas Jefferson owned this
translation. It is believed that this translation may have inspired Thomas
Jefferson to write; “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable, that
all men are created equal.”
In the same fanatical anti-Islamic vein are the two appendices in this work
1. “A Needful Caveat or Admonition, for them if they desire to know
what use may be made of or if there be danger in reading the Alcoran”
2. “The Life and Death of Mahomet: the Prophet of the Turks and
author of the Alcoran” (pp. 395-405).
George Sale, a lawyer brought out his The Koran commonly called
The Al Koran of Mohammed, London, 1734, which has been the most
popular English translation. Sale′s exhaustive “Preliminary Discourse,”
dealing mainly with life of Muhammad and the Quran, reveals his deep
hostility towards Islam and his missionary intent in that he suggests the
rules to be observed for “the conversion of Mohammedans.” As to the
translation itself, it exhibits numerous instances of omission, distortion
Dissatisfied with Sale′s work, J.M. Rodwell, Rector of St. Ethelberga,
London, produced his translation entitled The Koran, London, 1861.
Apart from hurling all sorts of wild and nasty allegations against the
Prophet and the Quran in the preface, Rodwell introduced a “Biblecolored
view” of the Quran Chronological order of the Quranic chapters
that took preference over the Quranic order and inspiration. Moreover,
his translation was full of grave mistakes and projects his own fanciful
interpretations in his notes.
E.H. Palmer, a Cambridge scholar, was entrusted with the preparation
of a new translation of the Quran for Max Muller′s Sacred Books of the
East series. Accordingly, his translation, The Quran, appeared in London
in 1880. As to the worth of Palmer′s translation, reference may be made
to A. R. Nykl′s article, “Notes on E.H. Palmer′s The Quran”, published
in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, 56 (1936) pp. 77-84 in
which no less than 65 instances of omission and mistranslation in Palmer′s
work have been pointed out.
Richard Bell, Reader of Arabic, University of Edinburgh and an
acknowledged Orientalist produced a translation of the Quran with special
reference to its Surah order, as is evident from the title of his work, The
Quran translated with a critical rearrangement of the Surahs, Edinburgh,
1937-39. In addition to describing the Prophet as the author of the Quran,
Bell also believes that the Quran in its present form was “actually written
by Muhammad himself”. In rearranging the Surahs order of the Quran,
Bell, in fact, made a thorough mess of the traditional arrangement and
tried to point out “alterations substitutions and derangements in the text.”
A.J. Arberry, a renowned Orientalist and Professor of Arabic at
the Universities of London and Cambridge, has been, so far, the latest
non-Muslim translator of the Quran. Arberry′s The Koran Interpreted,
London, 1957, no doubt stands out above the other English renderings
by non-Muslims in terms of both its approach and quality. Nonetheless, it
is not altogether free from mistakes of omission and mistranslation, such
as in Al′ Imran III: 43, Nisa′ IV: 72, 147 and 157, Ma′ida V: 55 and 71,
An′am VI: 20, 105, A′raf VII: 157, 158 and 199, Anfal VIII: 17, 29, 41,
59, Yunus X: 88, Hud XI: 30 and 46 and Yusuf XII: 61.
N.J. Dawood is perhaps the only Jew to have translated the Quran
into English. Available in the Penguin edition, Dawood′s translation,
The Koran, London, 1956, is perhaps the most widely circulated non-
Muslim English translation of the Quran. The author′s bias against Islam
is readily observable in the Introduction. Apart from adopting an unusual
Surahs order in his translation, Dawood is blameworthy also of having
mistranslated the Quran in places such as Baqara II: 9 and A′raf VII: 31,
No doubt, the circumstances which brought the Quran into contact
with the English language have left their imprint on the non-Muslim as
well as the Muslim bid to translate it. Unlike, for instance, major Muslim
languages such as Persian, Turkish and Urdu, which have thoroughly
exhausted indigenous linguistic and literary resources to meet the
scholarly and emotional demands of the task, the abundant resources of
the English language have not been fully employed in the service of the
The same rationale of the missionaries, however, applies to
sectarian movements within Islam or even to renegade groups outside
the mainstream of Islam, such as the Qadiyanis. This group was founded
by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiyani in Punjab, India in 1880 AD, who
declared himself a prophet of Islam and the promised messiah. He began
to spread his heretical thoughts one year after the British invaded India. It
is clear that it was encouraged by the British and rapidly spread by British
spies with British money to destroy Islam from within. The Qadiyanis
considerable translational activities are motivated by the urge to proclaim
their ideological uniqueness.
The Qadiyanis, though having abandoned Islam, have been actively
engaged in translating the Quran. Apart from English, their translations
are available in several European and African languages. Muhammad
Ali′s The Holy Quran: English Translation, Lahore, 1917, marks the
beginning of this effort. This Qadiyani translator is blameworthy of
misinterpreting several Quranic verses, particularly those related to the
promised messiah, his miracles and the Quranic angelology.
Similar distortions ruin another Qadiyani translation by Sher Ali, The
Holy Quran: Arabic Text with English Translation, Rabwah, 1955.
Published under the auspices of Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad,
second successor of the “promised messiah” and head of the Qadiyanis,
this oft-reprinted work represents the official Qadiyani version of the
Quran. Unapologizingly, Sher Ali refers to Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the
“promised messiah” and mistranslates and misinterprets a number of
Quranic verses. Zafarullah Khan′s The Quran: Arabic Text and English
Translation, London, 1970, ranks as another notable Qadiyani venture in
this field. Like other Qadiyanis, Zafarullah too twists the Quranic verses
to preach that the door of prophethood was not closed with the Prophet
Muhammad. The projection of similar obnoxious views upon the Quranic
text is found in the following Qadiyani translations, too:
1. Kamaluddin and Nazir Ahmad, A Running commentary of the Holy
Quran, London, 1948.
2. Salahuddin Peer, The Wonderful Koran, Lahore, 1960.
3. Malik Ghulam Farid, The Holy Quran, Rabwah, 1962,
4. Firozuddin, The Quran, Karachi, 1965.
Another cult was introduced by Rashad Khalifa, who also proclaimed
himself as a prophet of Islam and formed a group called United Submitters
International in Tucson, Arizona, whose belief rejects Hadith, “Saying of
Prophet Muhammad.” He claimed to have discovered intricate numerical
patterns in the Quran involving the number 19. He published The Quran:
The Final Scripture, Authorized English Version, Tucson, 1978. In view
of his blasphemous statements, no reputable Islamic Institution authorized
his English Version!
In the present time, the “apparent” knowledge of TV Evangelists
and Christian missionaries is credited to anyone of the above translation
of the Holy Quran. These translations constitute the principal source
of informed Western knowledge of Islam. This knowledge is not used
to develop the relationship between the two faiths and emphasize their
common heritage, but instead, is selectively deployed by TV Evangelists
and Christian missionaries in their unreasonable assault against Islam.
Obviously, Muslims could not allow the missionary and heretical
effort to go unopposed and unchecked. Hence, the Muslim decision to
present a faithful translation of the Quranic text as well as an authentic
summary of its teaching to the European world. Later, the Muslim
translations were meant to serve even those Muslims whose only access
to the Quranic revelation was through the European languages. Naturally,
English was deemed the most important language for the Muslim purpose,
not least because of the existence of the British Empire which after the
Ottomans had the largest number of Muslim subjects.
Although there is a spate of volumes on the multi-faceted dimensions
of the Quran, no substantial work has so far been done to critically
examine the mass of existing English translations of the Quran. Even
bibliographical material on this subject was quite scant before the fairly
recent appearance of World Bibliography of the Translations of the
Meanings of the Holy Quran (Istanbul, OIC Research Centre, 1986), which
provides authoritative publication details of the translations of the Quran
in 65 languages. The late Indian Prof. Muhammad Hamidullah published
in Paris a bibliography of Quran translations in 120 languages of the world,
along with translations of the first chapter. He also did a comparative
study of all three of the earliest copies of the Quran found in the world.
One in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, another in Istanbul, Turkey and one in India
Office Library, London, UK. All three have been traced back to the time
of third Caliph Othman. Dr. Hamidullah stated that all three were written
on a similar type of skin and look authentic for that period. He also said,
after seeing bloodstains on the Turkish copy, that this was what Othman
was studying from when he was killed.
Appended to the Cambridge History of Arabic Literature Volume
1, Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period, Cambridge
university Press, 1983, is a bibliography of the Quran translations into
European languages, prepared by J.D. Pearson, as is the latter′s article in
the Encyclopedia of Islam. It is, however, of not much use to the Muslim.
Since none of the above-mentioned works is annotated, the reader
gets no idea about the translator′s mental make-up, his dogmatic
presuppositions and his approach to the Quran as well as the quality of
Similarly, the small chapter entitled ′The Quran and Occidental
Scholarship′ in Bell and Watt′s Introduction to the Quran (Edinburgh,
1970, pp. 173-86), although useful in providing background information
to Orientalists′ efforts in Quranic studies and translations, more or less
for the same reasons, is of little value to general Muslim readers. Thus,
studies which focus on those aspects of each translation of the Quran are
urgently needed lest Western scholars misguide the unsuspecting non-
Arabic speaking readers of the Quran. An effort has been made in this
survey to bring out the hallmarks and shortcomings of the major complete
translations of the Quran.
The early English translations of the Quran by Muslims started
mainly by the pious enthusiasm on their part to refute the allegations
leveled by the Christian missionaries against Islam in general and the
Quran in particular. Illustrative of this trend are the following translations:
1. Mohammad Abdul Hakim Khan, The Holy Quran: ′with short notes
based on the Holy Quran or the authentic traditions of the Prophet,
or and New Testaments or scientific truth. All fictitious romance,
questionable history and disputed theories have been carefully
avoided′ (Patiala, 1905).
2. Hairat Dehlawi, The Koran Prepared, by various Oriental learned
scholars and edited by Mirza Hairat Dehlawi. Intended as ′a complete
and exhaustive reply to the manifold criticisms of the Koran by
various Christian authors such as Drs. Sale, Rodwell, Palmer and Sir
W. Muir′ (Delhi, 1912); and Mirzal Abu′l Fadl, Quran, Arabic Text
and English Translation Arranged Chronologically with an Abstract
Since none of these early translations was by a reputed Islamic
scholar, both the quality of the translation and level of scholarship are not
very high and these works are of mere historical interest. Later works,
however, reflect a more mature and scholarly effort.
Muhammad Marmaduke William Pickthall, an English man of letters
who embraced Islam, holds the distinction of bringing out a first-rate
rendering of the Quran in English, The Meaning of the Glorious Quran
(London, 1930). It keeps scrupulously close to the original in elegant,
though now somewhat archaic English. Although it is one of the most
widely used English translations, it provides scant explanatory notes and
background information. This obviously restricts its usefulness for an
uninitiated reader of the Quran.
Abdullah Yusuf Ali′s The Holy Quran: Translation and Commentary
(Lahore, 1934-37), perhaps the most popular translation, stands as
another major achievement in this field. A civil servant by vocation, Yusuf
Ali was not a scholar in the classical Muslim tradition. Small wonder,
then, that some of his numerous notes, particularly on hell and heaven,
angels, jinn and polygamy, etc. are informed with the pseudo-rationalist
spirit of his times, as for instance in the works of S. Ahmad and S.
Ameer Ali. His overemphasis on things spiritual also distorts the Quranic
worldview. Against this is the fact that Yusuf Ali, doubtless, was one of
the few Muslims who enjoyed an excellent command over the English
language. It is fully reflected in his translation. Though his is more of a
paraphrase than a literal translation, yet it faithfully represents the sense
of the original.
Abdul Majid Daryabadi′s The Holy Quran: with English Translation
and Commentary (Lahore, 1941-57) is, however, fully cognate with
the traditional Muslim viewpoint. Like Pickthall′s earlier attempt, it
is a faithful rendering, supplemented with useful notes on historical,
geographical and eschatological issues, particularly the illuminating
discussions on comparative religion. Though the notes are not always
very exhaustive, they help to dispel the doubts in the minds of Westernized
readers. However, it too contains inadequate background information
about the Surahs and some of his notes need updating.
The Meaning of the Quran (Lahore, 1967), the English version of
Sayyid Abul A′la Mawdud′i′s masterwork, the Urdu “Tafhim al-Quran”
is an interpretative rendering of the Quran which remarkably succeeds
in recapturing some of the majesty of the original text. Since Mawdudi,
a great thinker, enjoyed rare mastery over both classical and modern
scholarship, his work helps one develop an understanding of the Quran
as a source of guidance. Apart from setting the verses/Surahs in the
circumstances of its time, the author constantly relates, though exhaustive
notes, the universal message of the Quran to his own time and its specific
problems. His logical line of argument, generous sensibility, judicious use
of classical Muslim scholarship and practical solutions to the problems of
the day combine to show Islam as a complete way of life and as the Right
Path for the whole of mankind. Since the translation of this invaluable
work done by Muhammad Akbar is pitiably poor and uninspiring, the
much-needed new English translation of the entire work is in progress
under the auspices of the Islamic Foundation, Leicester.
The Message of the Quran by Muhammad Asad (Gibraltar, 1980)
represents a notable addition to the body of English translations couched
in chaste English. This work is nonetheless vitiated by deviation from the
viewpoint of the Muslim orthodoxy on many counts. Averse to take some
Quranic statements literally, Asad denies the occurrence of such events
as the throwing of Abraham into the fire, Jesus speaking in the cradle,
etc. He also regards Luqman, Khizr and Zulqarnain as ′mythical figures.′
Apart from these flaws, this highly readable translation contains useful,
though sometimes unreliable background information about the Quranic
Surahs and even provides exhaustive notes on various Quranic themes.
The fairly recent translations The Quran: The First American Version
(Vermont, 1985) by another native Muslim speaker of English, T.B.
Irving, marks the appearance of the latest major English translation. Apart
from the detestable title, the work is deprived of textual and explanatory
notes. Although modern and forceful English has been used, it is not
altogether free of instances of mistranslation and loose expressions. With
American readers in mind, particularly the youth, Irving has employed
many American English idioms, which, in places, are not befitting of the
dignity of the Quranic diction and style.
Some highly useful work in the translation of the Quran had been
done earlier by Professor Hamidullah, whose contribution in this field
includes his translation of the Quran in French, “Le Saint Coran”. It is
more widely used in the French-speaking countries of Africa and France
than Abdullah Yusuf Ali′s translation in the English- speaking world.
In addition to the above, there are also a number of other English
translations by Muslims, which, however, do not rank as significant
ventures in this field. They may be listed as:
♦ Al-Hajj Hafiz Ghulam Sarwar, Translation of the Holy Quran
♦ Ali Ahmad Khan Jullundri, Translation of the Glorious Holy Quran
with commentary (Lahore, 1962)
♦ Abdur Rahman Tariq and Ziauddin Gilani, The Holy Quran Rendered
into English (Lahore, 1966).
♦ Syed Abdul Latif, Al-Quran: Rendered into English (Hyderabad,
♦ Hashim Amir Ali, The Message of the Quran Presented in Perspective
♦ Muhammad Taqui al-Din al-Hilali and Muhammad Muhsin Khan,
Explanatory English Translation of the Holy Quran: A Summarized
Version of Ibn Kathir Supplemented by At-Tabari with Comments
from Sahih al-Bukhari (Chicago, 1977).
♦ Muhammad Ahmad Mofassir, The Koran: The First Tafsir in English
♦ Mahmud Y. Zayid, The Quran: An English Translation of the
Meaning of the Quran (checked and revised in collaboration with a
committee of Muslim scholars) (Beirut, 1980).
♦ S.M. Sarwar, The Holy Quran: Arab Text and English Translation
♦ Ahmed Ali, Al-Quran: A Contemporary Translation (Karachi, 1984).
It is important to use a translation that has been approved by Reputed
Islamic Organization. Islamic Research Academy, General Department
For Research, Writing & translation of the Al-Azhar, Cairo Egypt and
The ministry of Islamic affairs, Endowments, Call and Guidance of Saudi
Arabia recommend the following English translations:
1. Muhammad Taqui al-Din al-Hilali and Muhammad Muhsin Khan,
“Explanatory English Translation of the Holy Quran: A Summarized
Version of Ibn Kathir Supplemented by At-Tabari with Comments
from Sahih al-Bukhari”, King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the
2. Abdullah Yusuf Ali′s “The Holy Quran: Translation and
However, the introductions of these translations warn the reader that
human translation of the Quran cannot escape the defects and drawbacks
that are inherent in every human endeavor and request the reader to
furnish King Fahd Complex with any mistakes, omission or addition that
he or she may find in the translation.
Translating the whole Quran is a tremendous task. It requires
scholars who are fluent in the Arabic language and the language to which
the Quran is being translated. It also requires knowledge of the grammar
of the two languages. If the translation is intended for those who are
blessed with faith or for those who seek the basics of Islam, then the
existing translations are a great dose of faith and spiritual guidance. May
Allah rewards the translators of the Quran for their efforts in spreading
the Words of God. If, on the other hand, the translation is intended to
address the scientific miracles, the knowledge and mastering of the
Arabic language is crucial as indicated in the case of the French surgeon
Maurice Bucaille. He studied the Quran with an open mind for ten years.
The purpose of his study was to form an opinion about contradictions
in the Quran. He studied the Arabic language. Then after ten years of
research, he declared in his books that he did not find one single scientific
contradiction in the Quran. Another approach for the scientific translation
of the Quran is to have an organization consisting of specialists of all
branches of science such as cosmology, medicine, geology, anatomy and
engineering, as well as Islamic studies.
Some non-Muslims scholars claim that the “translated” Quran
contradicts scientific known facts. There are many reasons for that.
First, there may exist a conflict of theological interest. Second, the lack
of knowledge of the Arabic language and its grammar can mislead the
meaning of some verses. Also, the translation of the Quran to other
languages may be, in some verses, difficult, thus not conveying the Arabic
meaning of short sentences. Allah is the only Author of the Quran and
there are no contradictions in the Quran. Translations of the Quran are
nevertheless the work of highly eminent Arabists. It is well known fact,
that a translator, however an expert, is liable to make human mistakes in
the translation of a highly specialized scientific Ayah, unless he happens
to be a specialist in the discipline in question.
An example of translating scientific verses in the Quran deals with
the definition of the building block of all matters. Atoms were assumed to
be the smallest unseen part of matter. Neither the atom nor its components
can be seen. However, each atom has a weight and scientists discovered
the constituents of the atom. In one such Ayah, Allah addresses the
unbelievers with a challenge about the weight and components of atoms:
“The unbelievers say′ “never for us will come the Hour (Day of
Judgment): say, Nay. But most surely, by my Lord, it will come upon
you by Him who knows the unseen. From Whom is not hidden the
weight of an atom in the heavens or on earth: nor is there anything
less than that or greater, but is in the Record Perspicuous”
(Surah 34, Ayah 3)
The available translation refers to the above Arabic words “the
weight of an atom” as “the least little atom,” and the word “weight”
is taken out. This demonstrates the difficulty in translating the Quran.
Thank God, anyone can refer to the original Arabic text and get better
translation. From the above Ayah, one can state the following:
♦ The atom is unseen.
♦ The atom is not the smallest thing in the universe.
♦ The atom has a weight.
Ancient commentators considered the weight of the atom to be equal
to the weight of an ant! They believed this because the ant is the smallest
thing that can be seen with the human eye. However, this is not correct
because the Ayah clearly refers to the unseen not the seen ant. When the
fourth Caliph, Ali, the cousin of the Prophet, was asked about the meaning
of the atom, he said:
“If we look inside the atom, any atom, we will see a sun in its core.”
This statement, showing the spiritual vision of Ali, was never understood
until the twentieth century. But it clearly simulates the atomic structure
with that of the solar system.
In my attempt to address the subject of the scientific miracles of the
Quran, I tried to use the existing English translations. In many places,
I found difficulty in using these translations. The following are some
1. Stars are translated as planets and planets are translated as stars.
2. The basic rules of the conjunctions in the Arabic language are not
translated correctly. For example, existing translations do not address
the difference between Arabic conjunctions “fa” and “thumma”.
The first implies immediate succession, while the second implies
succession after a delay in time and this can make a big difference in
some branches of science such as cosmology and embryology.
3. Some translators do not reflect the actual Arabic meaning or are
unable to grasp the scientific meaning. For example, God states that
He is expanding the universe; this is translated as the universe is “so
expanse, to make wider, more spacious, to extend, to expand, we
Finally, there are rules for interpreting the Quran. The basic rule is
that the Quran interprets itself. This implies that the words are divinely
inspired; so any text can be interpreted in the light of other texts where the
same word exists. Moreover, the statements of Muhammad interpreted
many verses of the Quran. He was the living example of the teaching of