Translations of the Quran

The Quran is a book that was revealed in Arabic over a period of 23 years.  God emphasized eleven times that it is a book revealed in Arabic. God said:  An Arabic Quran without any crookedness, that they may guard (against evil)39:28   The language that appears in the Quran is indisputably the finest form of classic Arabic literature.  Most, if not all of the people in Arabia were convinced that neither Muhammad nor anyone else had the intellectual capability to come up with a language as extraordinary and incomparable as this. The Quran challenged the Arabic speaking community of the time to bring forth something similar however they could not.

In the nineteenth century there was a significant debate between Muslim scholars as to whether or not to support the concept of translation. Some were of the opinion that translations altogether should be disallowed.  However, it became agreeable amongst them all that a translation is a necessity especially when the Quran itself states:  And We never sent a messenger save with the language of his folk, that he might make (the message) clear for them (14:4).

While we value various translations of the Quran, we recognize that having translations can also be problematic for various reasons. Although a noble effort was made by mankind to translate the divine word of God, the Arabic language in the Quran is in itself a miracle. Much of the language in the Quran is broad in a sense, and allows for scholars to interpret it based on the needs of the times and the individuals’ conditions, provided that it aligns with the principles of Islam. While the expansive language is a very powerful tool indeed, unfortunately it also allows the translator in some cases to impose his or her own understanding of the religion which can lead the reader with the assumption that this is what God wants for them. This is evidenced by doing a quick analysis of the translations of the Quran that are available to us; we can see there is a wide interpretation/understanding to it’s verses.

It is important to note that when looking at linguistics, both the region and/or time has their own use of expressions and terminology.

For the above reasons as well as others, Muslim and scholars of other faiths such as Arthur Arberry have concluded that it is impossible to translate the Holy Quran. Arberry therefore named his translation “The Koran Interpreted”.

Being mindful of the above, can assist us in understanding how a person of good will and sincere intention can reach an incorrect conclusion about different aspects of the Islamic traditions.  The ideal tool for someone to understand the Quran is to be equipped with the language and necessary knowledge. If not, he or she should study many translations to have a better appreciation of the actual meaning and consult a qualified scholar.   Needless to mention, a translation is not the Quran.