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.