Translation of the Quran IS NOT THE QURAN

Support to the Muslim - Challenge to the Non Muslim

Source: History of Truth - The Truth about God and Religions Vol. 4, page 152, By Dr. Adel Elsaie

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.

(Quran 2:164)

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 unforgivable errors.

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 entitled as:

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” (pp. 406).

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 and interpolations.

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, etc.

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 Quran.

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 the translation.

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 (Allahabad, 1912).

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 (Singapore, 1920).

♦ 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, 1969).

♦ Hashim Amir Ali, The Message of the Quran Presented in Perspective (Tokyo, 1974).

♦ 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 (London, 1979).

♦ 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 (Elmhurst, 1981).

♦ 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 Holy Quran.

2. Abdullah Yusuf Ali′s “The Holy Quran: Translation and Commentary.

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 examples:

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 give generously.”

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 the Quran.