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Translation of the Qur'an has always been a problematic and difficult issue in Islamic theology. Since Muslims revere the Qur'an as miraculous and inimitable (i'jaz al-Qur'an), they argue that the Qur'anic text should not be isolated from its true form to another language or form, at least not without keeping the Arabic text along with. Furthermore, an Arabic word, like a Hebrew or Aramaic word, may have a range of meanings depending on the context - a feature present in all Semitic languages, when compared to the moderately analytic English, Latin, and Romance languages - making an accurate translation even more difficult.
According to modern Islamic theology, the Qur'an is a revelation very specifically in Arabic, and so it should only be recited in the Arabic language. Translations into other languages are necessarily the work of humans and so, according to Muslims, no longer possess the uniquely sacred character of the Arabic original. Since these translations necessarily subtly change the meaning, they are often called "interpretations" or "translation[s] of the meanings" (with "meanings" being ambiguous between the meanings of the various passages and the multiple possible meanings with which each word taken in isolation can be associated, and with the latter connotation amounting to an acknowledgement that the so-called translation is but one possible interpretation and is not claimed to be the full equivalent of the original). For instance, Pickthall called his translation The Meaning of the Glorious Koran rather than simply The Koran.
The task of translation is not an easy one; some native Arab-speakers will confirm that some Qur'anic passages are difficult to understand even in the original Arabic. A part of this is the innate difficulty of any translation; in Arabic, as in other languages, a single word can have a variety of meanings. There is always an element of human judgement involved in understanding and translating a text. This factor is made more complex by the fact that the usage of words has changed a great deal between classical and modern Arabic. As a result, even Qur'anic verses which seem perfectly clear to native speakers accustomed to modern vocabulary and usage may not represent the original meaning of the verse.
The original meaning of a Qur'anic passage will also be dependent on the historical circumstances of the prophet Muhammad's life and early community in which it originated. Investigating that context usually requires a detailed knowledge of hadith and sirah, which are themselves vast and complex texts. This introduces an additional element of uncertainty which cannot be eliminated by any linguistic rules of translation.
The first translation of the Qur'an was performed by Salman the Persian, who translated Surah al-Fatihah into the Persian language during the early 8th century. According to Islamic tradition contained in the hadith, Emperor Negus of Abyssinia and Byzantine Emperor Heraclius received letters from Muhammad containing verses from the Qur'an. However, during Muhammad's lifetime, no passage from the Qur'an was ever translated into these languages nor any other.
The second known translation was into Greek and was used by Nicetas Byzantius, a scholar from Constantinople, in his 'Refutation of Quran' written between 855 and 870. However, we know nothing about who and for what purpose had made this translation. It is however very probable that it was a complete translation.
The first fully attested complete translations of the Quran were done between the 10th and 12th centuries in Persian language. The Samanid king, Mansur I (961-976), ordered a group of scholars from Khorasan to translate the Tafsir al-Tabari, originally in Arabic, into Persian. Later in the 11th century, one of the students of Abu Mansur Abdullah al-Ansari wrote a complete tafsir of the Quran in Persian. In the 12th century, Abu Hafs Omar al-Nasafi translated the Quran into Persian. The manuscripts of all three books have survived and have been published several times.
In 1936, translations in 102 languages were known.
Robertus Ketenensis produced the first Latin translation of the Qur'an in 1143. His version was entitled Lex Mahumet pseudoprophete ("The law of Mahomet the false prophet"). The translation was made at the behest of Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, and currently exists in the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal in Paris. According to modern scholars, the translation tended to "exaggerate harmless text to give it a nasty or licentious sting" and preferred improbable and unpleasant meanings over likely and decent ones. Ketenensis' work was republished in 1543 in three editions by Theodore Bibliander at Basel along with Cluni corpus and other Christian propaganda. All editions contained a preface by Martin Luther. Many later European "translations" of the Qur'an merely translated Ketenensis' Latin version into their own language, as opposed to translating the Qur'an directly from Arabic. As a result early European translations of the Qur'an were erroneous and distorted.
In the early thirteenth century, Mark of Toledo made another, more literal, translation into Latin, which survives in a number of manuscripts. In the fifteenth century, Juan of Segovia produced another translation in collaboration with the Mudejar writer, Isa of Segovia. Only the prologue survives. In the sixteenth century, Juan Gabriel Terrolensis aided Cardenal Eguida da Viterbo in another translation into Latin. In the early seventeenth century, another translated was made, attributed to Cyril Lucaris.
Ludovico Marracci (1612–1700), a teacher of the Arabic language at the Sapienza University of Rome and confessor to Pope Innocent XI, issued a second Latin translation in 1698 in Padua. His edition contains the Quran's Arabic text with a Latin translation, annotations to further understanding and – embued by the time’s spirit of controversy – an essay titled "Refutation of the Qur'an", where Marracci disproves Islam from the then Catholic point of view. Despite the refutatio’s anti-Islamic tendency Marracci’s translation is accurate and suitably commented; besides, by quoting many Islamic sources he certainly broadens his time’s horizon considerably.
Marracci's translation too became the source of other European translations (one in France by Savory, and one in German by Nerreter). These later translations were quite inauthentic, and one even claimed to be published in Mecca in 1165 AH.
The first translation in a modern European language was in Castilian or Aragonese by the convert Juan Andrés (or so he claims in his Confusión o Confutación de la secta mahomética y del alcorán) but this translation is lost. A few dozen Quran verses into Castilian are found within the Confusión itself. Another Romance translation was made into Italian, 1547 by Andrea Arrivabene, derived from Ketenensis'. The Italian translation was used to derive the first German translation Salomon Schweigger in 1616 in Nuremberg, which in turn was used to derive the first Dutch translation in 1641.
The first French translation came out in 1647, and again in 1775, issued by André du Ryer. The Ryer translation also fathered many re-translations, most notably an English version by Alexander Ross in 1649. Ross' version was used to derive several others: a Dutch version by Glazemaker, a German version by Lange.
There are four complete translations of the Qur'an in modern Spanish that are commonly available.
- Julio Cortes translation 'El Coran' is widely available in North America, being published by New York-based Tahrike Tarsile Qur'an publishing house.
- Ahmed Abboud and Rafael Castellanos, two converts to Islam of Argentine origin, published 'El Sagrado Coran' (El Nilo, Buenos Aires, Argentina, 1953).
- Kamel Mustafa Hallak fine deluxe hardback print 'El Coran Sagrado' is printed by Maryland based Amana Publications.
- Abdel Ghani Melara Navio a Spaniard who converted to Islam in 1979, his 'Traduccion-Comentario Del Noble Coran' was originally published by Darussalam Publications, Riyadh, in December 1997. The King Fahd Printing Complex has their own version of this translation, with editing by Omar Kaddoura and Isa Amer Quevedo.
The earliest known translation of the Qur'an in any European language was the Latin works by Robert of Ketton at the behest of the Abbot of Cluny in c. 1143. As Latin was the language of the church it never sought to question what would now be regarded as blatant inaccuracies in this translation which remained the only one until 1649 when the first English language translation was done by Alexander Ross, chaplain to King Charles I, who translated from a French work L'Alcoran de Mahomet by du Ryer. In 1734, George Sale produced the first translation of the Qur'an direct from Arabic into English but reflecting his missionary stance. Since then, there have been English translations by the clergyman John Rodwell in 1861, and E. H. Palmer in 1880, both showing in their works a number of mistakes of mistranslation and misinterpretation, which brings into question their primary aim. These were followed by Richard Bell in 1937 and Arthur John Arberry in the 1950s.
The Qur'an (1910) by Dr. Mirza Abul Fazl Arabic Text and English Translation Arranged Chronologically. Mirza Abul Fazl (1865–1956) was a native of East Bengal (now Bangladesh), later moved to Allahabad, India. He was the first Muslim to present a translation of the Qur'an into English along with the original Arabic text. Among the contemporary Muslim scholars Dr. Mirza Abul Fazl was a pioneer who took interest in the study of the chronological order of the Qur'an and drew the attention of Muslim scholars to its importance.
With the increasing population of English-speaking Muslims around the start of the 20th century, three Muslim translations of the Qur'an into English made their first appearance. The first was the Ahmadi Maulana Muhammad Ali's 1917 translation which is composed from an Ahmadiya perspective, with some small parts being rejected as unorthodox interpretation by vast majority of Muslims. This was followed in 1930 by the English convert to Islam Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall's translation, which is literal and therefore regarded as the most accurate. Soon thereafter in 1934, Abdullah Yusuf Ali (from Bohra community) published his translation, featuring copious explanatory annotation – over 6000 notes, generally being around 95% of the text on a given page – to supplement the main text of the translation. This translation has gone through over 30 printings by several different publishing houses, and is one of the most popular amongst English-speaking Muslims, alongside the Pickthall and Saudi-sponsored Hilali-Khan translations.
With few new English translations over the 1950–1980 period, these three Muslim translations were to flourish and cement reputations that were to ensure their survival into the 21st century, finding favour among readers often in newly revised updated editions. Orientalist Arthur Arberry's translation c. 1955 and native Iraqi Jew N. J. Dawood's unorthodox translation c. 1956 were to be the only major works to appear in the post-war period. A. J. Arberry's The Koran Interpreted remains the scholarly standard for English translations, and is widely used by academics.
The English Translation of Kanzul Iman is called "The Treasure of Faith," which is translated by Farid Ul Haq. It is in simple, easy-to-understand modern-day English. Explanations are given in brackets to avoid ambiguity, provide better understanding and references to similar verses elsewhere.
Dr. Syed Abdul Latif's translation published in 1967, regarded highly by some (he was a professor of English at Osmania University, Hyderabad), was nevertheless short-lived due to criticism of his foregoing accuracy for the price of fluency.
The Message of the Qur'an: Presented in Perspective (1974) was published by Dr. Hashim Amir Ali. He translated the Qur'an into English and arranged it according to chronological order. Dr. Hashim Amir-Ali (1903-c. 1987) was a native of Salar Jung, Hyderabad, Deccan. In 1938 he came under the influence of Dr. Mirza Abul Fazl Allahabadi, and took a deep interest in the study of the Qur'an and was aware of the significance of the chronological order of the passages contained in it.
Professor Ahmed Ali's Al-Qur'an: A Contemporary Translation (Akrash Publishing, Karachi, 1984, Reprinted by Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1987; Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 1988, with 9th reprinting 2001), brought new light to the translations of the Qur'an with Dr. Fazlur Rahman Malik of the University of Chicago saying: "It brings out the original rhythms of the Qur'anic language and the cadences. It also departs from traditional translations in that it gives more refined and differentiated shades of important concepts". According to Dr. F. E. Peters of New York University: "Ahmed Ali's work is clear, direct, and elegant – a combination of stylistic virtues almost never found in translations of the Qur'an. His is the best I have read".
At the cusp of the 1980s, the 1974 Oil Embargo, the Iranian Revolution, the Nation of Islam and a new wave of cold-war generated Muslim immigrants to Europe and North America brought Islam squarely into the public limelight for the first time in Western Europe and North America. This resulted in a wave of translations as Western publishers tried to capitalize on the new demand for English translations of the Qur'an. Oxford University Press and Penguin Books were all to release editions at this time, as did indeed the Saudi Government, which came out with its own re-tooled version of the original Yusuf Ali translation. Canadian Muslim Professor T. B. Irving's 'modern English' translation (1985) was a major Muslim effort during that time.
Qur'an: The Final Testament, Islamic Productions, Tucson, Arizona, (1989) was published by Dr. Rashad Khalifa (Arabic: رشاد خليفة; November 19, 1935 – January 31, 1990) Khalifa wrote that he was a messenger (rasool) of God and that the Archangel Gabriel 'most assertively' told him that chapter 36, verse 3, of the Quran, 'specifically' referred to him. He is referred to as God's Messenger of the Covenant, by his followers. He wrote that the Quran contains a mathematical structure based on the number 19. He made the controversial claim that the last two verses of chapter nine in the Quran were not canonical, telling his followers to reject them. His reasoning was that the verses, disrupted an otherwise flawless nineteen-based pattern and were sacrilegious inasmuch as they appeared to endorse worship of Mohammed. Khalifa's research received little attention in the West. In 1980, Martin Gardner mentioned it in Scientific American. Gardner later wrote a more extensive and critical review of Khalifa and his work.
The arrival of the 1990s ushered in the phenomenon of an extensive English-speaking Muslim population well-settled in Western Europe and North America. As a result, several major Muslim translations emerged to meet the ensuing demand. In 1991 appeared an English translation under the title: The Clarion Call Of The Eternal Qur-aan, by Muhammad Khalilur Rahman (b. 1906-1988), Dhaka, Bangladesh. He was the eldest son of Shamsul Ulama Moulana Muhammad Ishaque of Burdwan, West Bengal, India, - a former lecturer of Dhaka University.
In 1996 the Saudi government financed a new translation "the Hilali-Khan Qur'an" which was distributed free worldwide by the Saudi government as it was in line with their particular interpretation .
In 2009 Maulana Wahiduddin Khan translated the Quran in English, which was published by Goodword Books entitled, The Quran: Translation and Commentary with Parallel Arabic Text. This translation is considered as the most easy to understand due to simple and modern English. The pocket size version of this translation with only English text is widely distributed as part of dawah work.
In 2007 appeared the English translation of Laleh Bakhtiar under the title of The Sublime Quran. Her translation of the Qur'an was the first ever by an American woman.
A rhymed verse edition of the entire Qur'an rendered in English by Thomas McElwain in 2010 includes rhymed commentary under the hardback title The Beloved and I, Volume Five, and the paperback title The Beloved and I: Contemplations on the Qur'an.
There have been numerous translation of the Qur'an into Urdu, the most famous of which is Kanzul Iman [by Aalaa Hazrat Imam Ahmad Raza Khan] the most learned Sunni scholar in the Sub-Continent. This is considered as most accurate translation of the Holy Quran which really helps to understand the meanings of Quran. The fame of this translation of Quran is recognised by many scholars in the world and Kanzul Iman the Urdu translatino of Quran has been translated in to many languages.
Kanzul Iman was also translated into the national language of India, Hindi, followed by Bengali and Gujarati. The majority of Indians who do not understand the Urdu version have accepted this translation of the Quran, due to its simple and moderate translation.
The first translation into Japanese was done by Sakamoto Ken-ichi in 1920. Sakamoto worked from Rodwell's English translation. Takahashi Goro, Bunpachiro (Ahmad) Ariga and Mizuho Yamaguchi produced Japan's second translation in 1938. The first translation from the Arabic was done by Toshihiko Izutsu in 1945. In 1950, another translation appeared by Shūmei Ōkawa (1886–1957), who had been charged with war-crimes after the World War II on account of his anti-Western sympathies. Other translations have appeared more recently by Ban Yasunari and Osamu Ikeda in 1970 and by Umar Ryoichi Mita in 1972.
It is claimed that Yusuf Ma Dexin (1794–1874) is the first translator of the Koran into Chinese. However, the first complete translation into Chinese did not appear until 1927, although Islam had been present in China since the Tang dynasty (618–907). The translation was by Lǐ Tiězhēng, a non-Muslim, who did not translate from the Arabic, but from Rodwell's English via Sakamoto Ken-ichi's Japanese. A second non-Muslim translation appeared in 1931, edited by Jī Juémí. Wáng Jìngzhāi was the first Chinese Muslim to translate the Koran. His translation, the Gǔlánjīng yìjiě, appeared in 1932, with new revised versions being issued in 1943 and 1946. Other translations appeared in 1943, by Liú Jǐnbiāo, and 1947, by Yáng Zhòngmíng. The most popular version today is the Gǔlánjīng, translated by Mǎ Jiān, parts of which appeared between 1949 and 1951, with the full edition being published posthumously only in 1981.
Tóng Dàozhāng, a Muslim Chinese American, produced a modern translation, entitled Gǔlánjīng, in 1989. The most recent translation appeared in Taibei in 1996, the Qīngzhēn xīliú – Gǔlánjīng xīnyì, translated by Shěn Xiázhǔn, but it has not found favour with Muslims.
Girish Chandra Sen, a Brahmo Samaj missionary, was the first person to produce a complete translation of the Qur'an into Bangla language in 1886. It was his finest contribution to Bangla literature. Some organisations claim that it was translated by Amiruddin Bosunia in 1808. Abbas Ali of Candipur West Bengal was the first Muslim who translated the entire Qur'an into Bangla.
The Koran has also been translated to Acehnese, Buginese, Gorontalo, Javanese, Sundanese, and Indonesian of Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world. Translation into Acehnese was done by Mahijiddin Yusuf in 1995; into Buginese by Daude Ismaile and Nuh Daeng Manompo in 1982; into Gorontalo by Lukman Katili in 2008; into Javanese by Ngarpah (1913), Kyai Bisyri Mustafa Rembang (1964), and K. H. R. Muhamad Adnan; in Sundanese by A.A. Dallan, H. Qamaruddin Shaleh, Jus Rusamsi in 1965; and in Indonesian at least in three versions: A Dt. Madjoindo, H.M Kasim Bakery, Imam M. Nur Idris, A. Hassan, Mahmud Yunus, H.S. Fachruddin, H., Hamidy (all in the 1960s), Mohammad Diponegoro, Bachtiar Surin (all in the 1970s), and Departemen Agama Republik Indonesia (Indonesian Department of Religious Affair).
William Shellabear (1862–1948) a British scholar and missionary in Malaysia, after translating the Bible into the Malay language began a translation of the Qur'an, but died in 1948 without finishing it.
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