Honouring the Qur’an translators

The Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.S.) recommended completing the reading of the Qur’an during the month of Ramadan. Like many non-Arab speakers, my main avenue for learning and reflecting on the message of the Qur’an is through one of the many translations now available in the English language.

It was twenty-three years ago that I first read the Qur’an in translation. Prior to that I had been to madrasa every weekday for six or seven years and (astonishingly when I now look back on it) had been taught virtually nothing there about the actual message of the Qur’an or any facts whatsoever about the life of the Prophet.

Anyway, the year was 1987 and during the long summer break following my ‘A’ level exams I found a copy of a Qur’an my mother had bought for me some years earlier. It was a Taj Company edition of the Qur’an in which the page was divided into three columns featuring the Arabic text and the Urdu and English translations respectively. The English translation was dated 1930 and had been done by Marmaduke Pickthall. The Taj Company edition of the Qur’an also contained a short (few pages) summary of the life of the Prophet Muhammad which was very useful in understanding the context and making sense of some passages of the Qur’an.

In the months and years that followed I eagerly sought out additional English translations of the Qur’an and acquired ones by (roughly in the order I bought them): Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Sayyid Mawdudi (which was itself a translation from Mawdudi’s Urdu original), Muhammad Asad, Arthur Arberry, JM Rodwell, George Sale, Muhammad Hilali and Muhsin Khan, Ayatullah Pooya Yazdi and Mir Ahmed Ali, Abdalhaqq and Aisha Bewley, Muhammad Mohar Ali, Muhammad Abdel Haleem.

The ones by Yusuf Ali, Mawdudi, Asad and the Yazdi-Mir Ahmed Ali translations were all  accompanied by extensive commentaries by the translators which (apart from the very sectarian Shi’i effort by Pooya Yazdi and Mir Ahmed Ali) I found enormously helpful.

A huge amount of effort must have gone into researching and translating and providing the commentary for these editions and I think today’s generation of English speaking Muslims owe a great debt to these translators.

May they all find forgiveness and reward with their Lord.

This year I am re-reading the translation by Muhammad Asad who was born an Austrian Jew and was descended from a long line of Rabbis.

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8 Responses to Honouring the Qur’an translators

  1. The Count of Monte Cristo in a Bubble Car says:

    Inayat, speaking of translations of holy books, I was wondering what your thoughts were on the translation of the Holy Bible (or other religious books) into Arabic or other languages used in the Islamic world. For a Muslim to be caught in possession of the Holy Bible translated into Arabic in the Arabic world (and I dare say into Persian in Iran also) is, as you know, very dangerous; life-threatening, in fact. I saw a piece the other day about a former Egyptian Muslim who read the Holy Bible in Arabic and as a result converted to Christianity. What happened to him next is so predictable, that I won’t even bother relating it here. Inayat, why is the Islamic world so insecure and so unfair when it comes to giving people freedom of choice when it comes to religious belief (or no religious belief for that matter)? Why can’t Muslims change their religion without putting their lives at risk?

  2. Julie says:

    Good one Inayat, nice reminder and yes, surely prayers are due in abundance to each and every one of them over the years. Have you tried Thomas Cleary? My favourite and the first one I have literally been able to easily read word for word in English. Nice use of English and no commentary at all. Really good! here’s to many hours of reading and contemplating the beautiful book…

  3. The Count of Monte Cristo in a Bubble Car says:

    Inayat, thank you for your welcome; I bet you missed my thought-provoking comments when I was away. I see that you’ve allowed two out of my three replies to get through this time; but as Meatloaf said, two out three ain’t bad.

    Incidentally, Inayat, have you seen the BBC’s Panoroma programme on the Gaza flotilla? Rather bizarrely for the BBC the programme is actually supposed to be quite fair to Israel instead of the usual anti-Israel bias for which the BBC is renowned. Anyway, as we suspected, some of the so-called peace activists have turned out be a rather unpleasant lot (especially that clown O’Keefe, with the tattooed tears on his face) who planned a confrontation with Israel from the start. In a word, they set a trap for Israel and then cried foul when the Israeli forces tried to defend themselves, milking the incident for as much dishonest anti-Israeli propaganda as they could hope to get away with. Anyway, the world can now see these so-called peace activists for what they are: war activists and Israel haters, with all that entails.

  4. Count: I didn’t see the Panorama programme – I will see if I can catch it on the i-player. Still, I think your characterisation of the aid activists as ‘war activists’ resembles the lunatic criticism of Mel P, whom you have on this blog stated you admire. If they were really ‘war activists’ intent on killing Israeli commandos do you not think they would have been rather better armed and would have carried actual guns, instead of having to resort to using kitchen knives and metal bars to defend themselves against the murderous Israeli pirates?

  5. The Count of Monte Cristo in a Bubble Car says:

    Inayat, I suspect the purpose of the war activists was not to kill Israeli commandos per se, but to manufacture an incident that they could milk for propaganda purposes. You may recall the Mohammed Al Dura incident a few years back that manufactured so much hatred against Israel even though it was later shown to be a stage-managed fake in which no one was killed ( http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_article=855&x_context=3). Israel is a democratic and open country, unlike any of its Arab neighbours including the Gaza Strip, and as such is always vulnerable to propaganda and lies.

    Nevertheless, I’m sure there were a few on the boats who took great delight in the prospect of killing a few Jews. Here is some Youtube footage of the antisemitic war activists on the flotilla-of-hate (as I call it) invoking the killing the Jews: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3L7OV414Kk

  6. Count: I can understand why the Israelis and their loony supporters would seek to characterise the disgraceful IDF killing of the 12-year-old Palestinian boy Muhammad al-Durra as a ‘staged incident’. After all, to rabid Zionists the Palestinians are sub-human scum who fully deserve to be uprooted from their own land, routinely beaten up and murdered.

    Thanks for directing me to Zionist hasbara sources such as camera.org to understand what happened to the young boy al-Durra – but I think I will pass. I prefer to listen to first hand sources such as this programme which contains an interview with Muhammad’s own father, Jamal al-Durra in whose arms the boy died in front of the eyes of the world.

  7. The Count of Monte Cristo in a Bubble Car says:

    Inayat, further to my previous comments on the Mohammed Al Dura case, I suggest you go to the following link: http://www.takeapen.org/Takeapen/Templates/showpage.asp?DBID=1&LNGID=1&TMID=84&FID=1994.

    You will see there that the BBC (which, remember, is almost entirely hostile to Israel) was forced to issue an apology in February of this year when one of its presenters incorrectly said that the IDF shot Mohammed Al Dura; the evidence now strongly suggests that they did not. After all, we know what Hamas thinks of children; it even uses educationally sub-normal children as potential suicide bombers. I am sure you will recall the famous case where, with great humanity, the IDF disarmed such a potential child suicide bomber without injuring him. We could never expect such humanity from pure scum such as Hamas, could we?

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