T. B. IRVING
THE QURAN IS A magnificent document that has been known for fourteen centuries because of its matchlessness or inimitability, its essential ijaz (10:iv), to use the Quranic term. A clear strain runs through its message and the intent of this translation is to permit everyone, Muslim or non muslim alike, to understand the sacred document itself, even though they do not understand Arabic.
Here is a necessity, almost an urgency now for an American version in contemporary English. Our holy Book should be recited on solemn occasions, both public and private, for comfort, morality and guidance. This process must begin in childhood in order for it to become familiar, for it is every Muslim's duty to read the Quran and try to understand it. However, the duty has become a problem for those who no longer know any Arabic. A new generation of English speaking Muslims has grown up in North America which must use our scripture differently than their fathers would have done. Their thinking roots have become distinct on a new continent without the familiar use of our holy tongue, and a great difference has developed between their customs and their ancestral faith.
American Muslims face many problems, and the younger ones face more than the usual group of teenagers; many now have reached the second and third generation when the use of Arabic is being forgotten in the home. It has rarely been taught as a formal subject of instruction, nor has the intellectual content of the Quran been studied. The practice which has grown up around the traditional faith has been gravely weakened. Muslims do not have to dance the dabka, wear a fez, cat Arab style bread or shish kabob in order to be good Muslims. You can have soft drinks, but it is harder to handle stronger beverages and remain faithful to Islam.
In the first place, any accurate version is really a tafsir or commentary written in the target language, and it is important for us to have a trustworthy one with Islamic views. The Quran itself says that any divine message should be presented in a people's own tongue: 'We have not sent any messenger unless he was to explain to them in his folk's own tongue (Abraham 14:4). Later on some poetic spirit may bring us the noble paraphrase that we likewise need; I have attempted no such para phrase myself, because I might feel inclined to take too many liberties with it. Right now the message must simply be accurate, and clear enough so that it will convince even a child. It should be a document one can read, as well as offer a basis for research, a useful whole. Centuries of research have in fact been spent on it, by Muslims and non Muslims alike. I am not concerned with later development and exegesis here, but merely with the statement or restatement of the initial message.
The Bible as we know it, and as the Jews and Christians have known it, and especially knew it in the Prophet's day, is not as reliable as the Quran, and has led to constant variation, especially in its interpretation. Thus despite the difficult relations that exist between the West and the Islamic Middle East at present, the basic document for all sides to understand the latter area is the Quran, no matter how social scientists or theologians may try to interpret that part of the world after their own fashion.
Religion leads people to predictable action or reaction when its principles govern the outlook of its followers. Thus the Quran is shunned or favored insofar as its principles lend themselves to controlling human behavior according to the morality or whims of those in power. Sacred symbols offer a way by which people can look at the Universe, give them a life style which tells them how things are and how they should be. The Orientalists who worked for London, Paris, the Hague or Lisbon wanted to control Islam for their own purposes, and they decreed that the word Islam means "submission." How far they strayed is now apparent, as the Islamic lands throw off their yokes and try to regain their ancient principles.
However, translations by Muslims are not always acceptable. Muhammad Ali's is clear but his commentary and at times the English text can be affected by his sectarian tendency. Besides he has used the Havas Arabic dictionary and this is risky because of its hind thoughts carried over from Catholicism. A. Yusuf 'Ali's is more satisfactory as a commentary but his English is over laden with extra words which neither explain the text nor embellish the meaning. True embellishment is the simple telling word which does not detract, but carries the mind directly to the meaning. Marmaduke Pickthall accomplished his labor in the East, and therefore his translation is in heavy Jacobean English laid upon a superstructure of Eastern preoccupations. The Koran by N. J. Dawood which is published in the Penguin series of World Classics is better than most, but it often becomes merely a prosaic paraphrase. 'Abd alMajid Daryabadi is clear, but hard to work with because of its arrangement, especially in the naming and numbering of chapters. Egyptian and Pakistani interpreters often show that they have not been talking to anyone outside of their own circle, and this lack has hurt even their political propaganda. Mercier unfortunately was translated into English from his French version, just as de Ryer and Sale came to us more from previous translations into Latin than directly from the Arabic. Likewise the new Japanese translation was made from the English, as the modern Spanish is from French and German. Andalusia has forgotten its glory!
Since studies like Noldeke's and Bell's exist for those who need a barren type of criticism, it is not my purpose to follow in that line of research, but rather just as painstaking a one in trying to lay before the English speaking world at the end of the twentieth century of their era, or the beginning of the fifteenth century of the Hijra, the message of the Quran in reverent yet contemporary English. My purpose is not to enter into theological controversy, nor to test the ancestry of ideas that can be found elsewhere; I will not indulge in refutation, especially of old chestnuts, but let the text and the message stand for themselves. This is a long and dignified tradition which should be made part of the world heritage in a universal age.
As with the Spanish poet Alonso de Ercilla in sixteenth century Chile the Quran was written down on whatever writing material was available paper, leather, parchment, stones, wooden tablets, the shoulder blades of oxen, and the "breasts of men." Where did they secure such a quantity of paper or parchment which was needed to make the final copies of Uthman's version.
The present and traditional order is not chronological, but arranged topically, as an editor has a right to do with any book in his hands. How to split up corpus has always been a problem, especially for Western critics, but changing the order of the text has not bred believers on the West. The vaunted scientific method of investigating texts at first hand is not practiced by Western experts when dealing with Islam. However, the urge to revise has worried Western critics and Orientalists like Rodwell, Bell and Dawood, as well as many others.
The Book itself consists of 114 chapters of varying size which are arranged roughly according to their order of length. Its paragraphs and sections have a very traditional order that is easily followed and by which the verses can be located. The present order in the Quran was achieved two or three decades after the Prophet's death, or about the year 650 A.D. The third caliph Uthman ibnAffan (644656) appointed a committee to achieve an authorized version of the Quranic text. Uthman's committee was set up to publish the Quran in a standard version, and the members naturally showed great conscientiousness in this respect. This committee fulfilled its task well, and so within a score of years after the Prophet's death, a splendid job was accomplished.
If we follow the traditional order, then we receive the Prophet's essential message; while if we use a revised order, then we follow his historical mission. I prefer to follow the traditional order, and state the message that Muslim scholars can follow this without effort, and on this order I elaborated the present work for contemporary English speaking readers. Within Islamic circles we cannot now produce a good English prayer book until this is based upon a reliable English version of the Quran.
The message of Islam does not come through in most contemporary textbooks used in our schools. Very few have been written by sincere Muslims, so that Islam is derided, and kept at a distance, when we need a clear explanation in our own language, devoid of strained syntax and one which can be read meaningfully and reverently in public. Thousands of Westerners who are now living in or visiting the countries of the Middle East as well as others who never expect to live or visit there, need nonetheless to understand the ethical system which prevails in the Islamic world. The crisis in Iran has shown that.
The present volume (i.e. the English translation) has been planned as an advance edition only. What has been accomplished till now has been done mostly with my own resources. Thanks to the generous help of the Aossey brothers of Cedar Rapids, and the Canadian Muslims, especially those living around Niagara Falls, I was able to accomplish this task because they have indeed helped me financially. So have my friends in Qatar and the Arabian Gulf. God will bless their efforts and kindness, their essential ihsan and sadaqa in other words, true charity.
Nevertheless this translation is not the sacred canon but merely a thread of thought plus some inspiration which appear in the pages I have been preparing. Translation is literally impossible because interpretation in another language is an ongoing process, especially with a document that must be used constantly. Almost every day I learn a new rendering for a word or phrase; then I must run this new thread of meaning through other passages. The Quran is a living Book. We must respect yet find a way to interpret this sacred text, and not deform its meaning. The refrain running through Chapter 54 on The Moon tells us: "We have made the Quran easy to memorize; yet will anyone memorize it?" (54:22). As it claims, the Quranic message is easy to learn. It is divided up so that it can be read in sittings, or read straight through (17:XII). This is clear from the canon itself.
The Quran is not a missionary manual but a record of experience. It forms both a message or risala, an "ideology" carried by a rasul or 'messenger'; and it is also a Book or scripture (kitab) sent specifically via the Messenger Muhammad (rasul Allah or 'God's messenger')may God accept his prayers and grant him peace! However the Quran does not offer minute details about everything such as is found in many other scriptures; it is an existentialist document telling about the Prophet's experience during his mission to the Arabs and the world. It is the Noble Reading (56: III); it is a consecrated Text.
In this new translation, I have attempted to accomplish what the West has generally failed to do with Islam: to study it from within and in the light of its own texts. The Quran is obviously the best preparation for such an attempt. Moreover this book gives the young Muslim something to hold on to in this day when most authority on moral matters is being abdicated. The doctrinal and ethical superstructure raised on the Five Pillars and other beliefs does not belong in this Introduction, which has been presented merely as a means of helping understand the message.
I have tried to find the simplest word so that the Muslim child can understand it easily, and feel strengthened thereby. It is also intended for the pious non muslim who is not already tied up in theology of some other sort: we must be able to discuss Islam on our own terms, terms which have been made up through our own knowledge and our own use of the English language. This present volume has been prepared in order to spread greater understanding of the Islamic religion and to present the English speaking world with a clear rendition of the original Arabic into intelligible modern English. Even in English, the tendency with the Bible now is away from the seventeenth century language which sounds too much like Pickthall, into the English of present day speakers.
The Islamic community in the United States and Canada has in certain fashion commissioned me with this task, and I must thank my good friends of Cedar Rapids, Iowa especially for their constant encouragement in the venture, because the whole project has grown into a massive undertaking directed also to those non Muslims who need an introduction to the basic scripture of Islam. I also would like to thank the many people whose enquiries and requests for information and material have kept me working at the job. I hope that in this new translation I have in some small measure achieved a version of the Noble Reading, Al Quran al Karim, which can open up its treasures and lay the basis for Islamic piety within the English language and throughout the English speaking world. Thus for over twenty three years, I have been reading the Quran carefully in Arabic "at daybreak" (17:ix), with the aim of presenting it in a form which will live for a few decades longer, God willing, or at least until some more gifted worker takes up the challenge and improves on this version.
Grammar and Syntax
A translation from one language to another requires that the translate have the "feel" of both languages he is working with, that of the textual one which is being translated, and that of the target language, Many Quranic translators, however, have been fluent even in a third tongue which has ended by confusing them; a close attachment to Latin, Urdu or French can hinder the smooth flow of Arabic words and phrases into English. Several previous translations of the Quran have likewise bee rendered grotesque by relying on antiquated grammar and twisted syntax without mentioning other problems like terminology or the correct rendering of individual words. There is no reason why our holy Book must be quoted in awkward English: if the Arabic is clear (16:xiv, 26:xi) the why do we need to worry about it?
My aim has been to remain scrupulously faithful to the Arabic text. and still create a version which represents good American English prose and can be used confidently by English speaking people. Arabic is para tactic in its structure while English syntax involves more clauses and phrases, although it does not approach the complexity of either Latin o German to which it is related.
Conjunctions and connectives pose one of our first problems, for on cannot turn English into para taxis and begin each sentence or phrase wit a series of 'and's" as is done in Arabic and Hebrew. Arabic actually has two common words for our single "and"; waw (which is a prefix in Semitic) refers to the simultaneous "and", while fa (also a prefix) expresses the consecutive connector. The letter fa, can be rendered at times by 'then', 'next' and 'so', or even by the interjection 'why ... !'as a further possibility. In English we use "so", "thus", "well", "then", "as well as" to connect sentences and thought groups in the same manner; we use 'so" and "plus constantly in this fashion in normal speech. On the other hand the simultaneous waw can be 'while' with following or linking verbs and 'as well as' with long lists of nouns, especially for the final one at the end of list which needs to be included and have attention focused on it: "to Heaven and Earth, and to the mountains... " (33:IX). The common Semitic para tactic sentence is deadly in dealing with these long lists if it is not handled judiciously in translation. Conjunctions should bind the late coming concept into the body of the main thought, and not just let ideas go on and on. Moreover neither of these particles waw or fa need always be rendered into English.
Some confusion in translation stems at times from the inability to distinguish between noun and verbal sentences, as occurs in other Semitic languages too: "Verily, I say unto you... " or "Verily I, say unto you... " as it should be punctuated, occurs in the New Testament in John 1:51 in the King James version, as well as other places, where the Aramaic dialect shines through the bad Greek. It is really, in contemporary English: 'As for me, I tell you... " In the great hymn to "Light" we have the sentence "Waalladhina kafaru amaluhum kasarab biqiat (24:v). This begins with a noun clause, and the resulting nominal sentence should be: "Those who disbelieve [will find] their deeds are like a mirage on a desert..." (Light 24:39). The need to put the subject first in English often leads us to use the passive.
The disjunctive pronoun precedes the common Spanish phrase: A mi me gusta ... meaning 'I like . . . '; somewhat similar to Le voici for 'Here it is...' in French. In The Opening chapter (Al Fatiha) we find this construction used in the fourth line: "You do we worship and You do we call on for help" (1:15). There is no "only" in this sentence, as some translators insert; the disjunctive position itself gives the needed emphasis they are trying to find.
Verbs cause some difficulty too since they can vary in their usage. The English verbs "to be" and 'to have" are generally expressed in Arabic only by means of the syntax governing pronouns and prepositions. How things exist, and how they should be or how we would like to have them, yields a different quality in Semitic speech; the tone of its ethos has other distinct roots. "Act" and "mean" in my translation are not always placed between brackets since, similar to "to be" and "to have", they are implied as active, mental verbs: "Your Lord acts as an Observer" (34:II (end). The verb "acted [honorably or charitably]" in 2:VIII gives more force to the verbal quality.
"Giving" and "saying" are often not expressed clearly to a Western reader in other translations, and need to be assumed from the context and their prepositions. "Belongs" and "belonged to" are English verbs which sometimes must be inserted, as in "to God [belongs] the Unseen" li'Llah'. ... (16:xi); or "He owns whatever is in front of us, and whatever is behind us" in 19:iv. "Owns" is another verb that can be inserted for the prepositional phrase lahu 'to him [is]', and at times is clearer than'he has' (70:3).
Tense and conditional moods must be expressed with care, especially with the absent verb "to be"; La ikrah fi aldin should be '[Let there be] no compulsion in religion' (The Cow 2:xxxiv). The softened imperative here expresses the difference between how things exist and how they should be, or how we would like to have them.
Collective nouns are generally considered as abstract feminines in Arabic, exactly what we find in the English words "cattle", "opera", "people". Plurals in Arabic which do not refer to human beings become abstract feminines, and take their adjectives in the feminine singular.
The partitive construction may be known to some educated speakers of English from their study of French; yet this knowledge has rarely used by other translators from the Arabic: "seek some of his bounty we are enjoined in 17:vii; and kulu min tayyibati ma razaqnakum 'eat wholesome things we have provided you with' (20: iv); also "some of We transported along with Noah" (19:iv); and "so We may show you [Moses] some of our greatest signs" (20:I). These examples provide random sample.
The superlative absolute presents another problem. It appears as 'quite Aware' for God's quality as the Alam (17:v); 'quite Observant' for Absar and 'quite Alert' for Asma in 18:iv.
Translating into English has still other problems. For example, English is very deficient when it comes to 2nd person pronouns, which nowadays are found only as "you", "your" and "yours". The old "ye", "thou" an "thee" as well as their respective possessive pronouns are obsolete, especially when teaching our children, even though they appear in the King James version of the Bible and the translation of The Glorious Koran as this has been rendered by Marmaduke Pickthall. His archaic quality cannot live on. The situation is further complicated by the use of the indefinite 'you" referring to "anybody" or "everybody" as in the colloquia expression 'You should do that!" Occasionally I indicate the singular and plural of this pronoun (as these may occur in Arabic), especially when the Prophet is addressed; at other times the message is directed to his audience or to believers. "You all" or "you (all)" is more natural than "ye" in North American English, and I have occasionally used this neutral though dialectal plural with discretion where one must show the difference between the singular and the plural pronoun of Arabic. It sounds more natural even outside of the Deep South, than the obsolete "ye" which few North Americans can use effectively any more. The vocative particle ya ... is usually translated as 'O ... !'; but it is usually omitted in contemporary English. Moses addresses his brother Aaron simply as "Son of my mother!" in 7:XVIII.
English is also defective in the meanings for "man", both as this word i opposed sexually to "woman", and generically to the animal kingdom in general, and also to sprites. The singular insan means '(every) man' in 17:II and 19:v, almost in the spirit of the medieval European mysteries; and i the Chapter Al Asr we meet him "At eventide, everyman /[feels] at loss..." (103:12).
"Man(kind)" and "people" are other defective expressions in English. The 'folk' meant by qawm are literally those who "stand up" alongside you to defend your common interests. Ahl, on the other hand, means those people from one's own tent group, "living down the street" or in the same apartment house, as we would express this in modern urban society. "Adam" is a symbol for original man, mentioned in the Quran, but only referred to as the common ancestor of humanity: Banu Adam. The name is derived from 'red earth' in Arabic referring to the clay God used in fashioning him.
The Arabic pronominal conjunction man is archaic when this is translated as 'whosoever' or even 'he who', and this usage confuses younger readers; generally I use 'anyone who' and only occasionally 'he who' for this pronoun.
On the English side, our word "day" shows lexical deficiencies, for the word can be contrasted first with the concept of 'night" (layl vs. nahar), then with the sidereal day as this is found in calendar dates, in contrast to weeks and months (which is yawm). I use 'daytime' or 'daylight' for nahar; but 'day' only for the broader twenty four hour period.
The simple possessive case occasionally seems to be difficult to translate properly into English, especially the form with the apostrophe. The Arabic word order induces this syntactic error since it apparently follows French or Romance style, especially for Western theological students who have studied Latin first; but it really is similar to elementary Germanic syntax, even to the omission of the article in the possessing element. However, since the sequence in Arabic is possessed possessor, the opposite of English, it seems superficially to resemble French. If you write one under the other, however, then the reverse word order shows up the affinity, a trick I have used successfully on the blackboard with attentive students in my classes in Arabic.
These examples in short are some of the textual difficulties which the translator faces in handling the Quran. It has been a challenging task, but always rewarding.
The dichotomy of life has always intrigued and puzzled people. They have tried to explain this phenomenon by saying the world is made up from pairs, just as they were born from a father and a mother, and themselves expect to marry. Some examples of these associated pairs are Heaven and Hell, Hell and Hades (or Jahannam and Jahim in Arabic, by some alliterative coincidence), Heaven and Earth, night and day, heat and cold, light and dark.
Halal and haram are alliterated twin principles too that appear in 5:3 and other places in the Quran; dividing things into the permitted and forbidden is common for mnemonic purposes. The 'hallowed' or haram is almost like the concept of taboo which the West borrowed from the Polynesians following the voyages of Captain Cook to the Pacific in the late eighteenth century. The 'sacred' or muqaddas is a similar state: Jerusalem is alQuds alSharif or 'the Eminent Sanctuary' which Muslims can no longer visit freely or without sorrow.
Consciousness and the Unseen give us dualistic principles for knowledge as well. Bodily pains contrasted with physical pleasures form another duality linked to Heaven and Hell in our minds. So good and evil form another pair (4:xi) as we find them throughout God's creation; they both come ultimately from God, but are not coequal (5:xviii). We need to turn evil into good (7: xii) since they all derive from God (5: xiii). God may have permitted the presence of evil, but He did not command its existence.
"Where is night when the day arrives?" asked the Prophet rhetorically when he was questioned on this matter of good and evil. We also hear:
If there were other gods
in either [Heaven or Earth]
besides God [Alone],
they would both dissolve in chaos.
This concern for twin principles led to the so called "Persian error" which the Albigensians practiced in southern France until one of the first crusades wiped them out in the twelfth century, the onset of the great pogroms of Europe, as that continent flexed its muscles to practice genocide. Manicheism, as it is called formally, had been brought to western Europe by Roman soldiers before the fall of their empire, if it had not been a remnant from ancient IndoEuropean folk religion, and a sister of Celtic Druidism. The Bogomils in the Balkans formed another dualistic cult like it; in the fourteenth century they welcomed the Turks and became Muslims to escape the political and religious tyranny of both Rome and Byzantium as represented in the Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches respectively. In this case Islam benefited from the industrious Slavs and Albanians who joined Islam, and who contributed statesmen and architects to the Ottoman empire.
In Islam the sin of dualism is part of Association or shirk, and thus is unpardonable (4:48, 116). This "Persian error" considers the presence of evil to be necessary, as are the other pairs like Light and Darkness, Night and Daylight: allayl wa alnahar of 2:164 etc. There has been overmuch study of Jewish and Christian sources for the antecedents of Islam, but little of Manicheism and Zarathustrianism.
How to be both artistic and correct with the dual in Arabic becomes a syntactic problem when it comes to translation into English. A dual of sorts is found in the English words "either" and "both", but English has no adequate inflections for expressions like "both of them", "the two" etc., except with parents and other married couples, such as with Adam and Eve (7:ii). However 'both' is generally the best distinguishing word in English, with verbs and nouns as well. Its use occurs with Moses and Aaron in 20:ii ("they both said"); also 10:viii and 26:ii, and with David and Solomon (21:vi, 27:ii).
A concern for light comes up, as this is contrasted with darkness (2:xxxiv): "God ... brings out of darkness into Light" (2:xxxiv, 13:i and especially 24:v). Bitter cold and darkness make the night seem hideous; though night can also comfort, since it acts as a "garment" (25:v). So do good and evil as we find them throughout God's creation, we have noticed.
Sex of course is based on dualism: "He has placed two pairs for every kind of fruit on it" (13:i).
The fascinating matter of root meanings in Arabic is a linguistic matter which I will now deal with in this section on terminology. As soon as one begins to use our current Arabic dictionaries, it becomes evident that they have not been compiled by believers. One can tell this by the approximation of many otherwise clear Islamic terms, as well as the prejudice or worry shown by outsiders, even in Wehr, which in any case was translated from the German. These modern lexicographers have never sat in a mosque, so concerned are they with Christian ceremonies and festivals. Penrice's dictionary and glossary of Quranic terms is helpful, but it too must be used with caution, for it is over laden with nineteenth century missionary terms. Havas is clearly Catholic, and at times abysmal in its ignorance of Islam. Professor Izutsu of Tokyo has best shown why it is so difficult to translate each term adequately. He is to be commended for this, but then he is not a Westerner, full of their ingrained prejudice es.
Let us discuss some terms in more detail. For instance, with the shades of meaning in the root to 'remember', 'recall', and also, perhaps surprisingly, 'male'; in the II or causative form "dh kk r" it means to ,remind'; and in the V, which is the reflexive of II or the causative, to 'reflect', 'bear in mind' (for one's own benefit). The root gives us assalam meaning 'peace' as a greeting to persons; asIslam for 'surrender' and 'submission' for the colonialist nonbeliever (infidel is how he would call himself elsewhere), but for us, 'commitment' to God Alone; and Muslim as the one 'who has so surrendered' or 'committed himself to the Deity, the man who lives 'at peace.' For Islam, the word 'commitment' is more positive, active and responsible than are 'surrender" or 'submission" which the Orientalists and missionaries use; we Muslims have a right to choose our own terminology in English. We must forge our own words for our terms and parables like those about Satan, Ishmael, Jesus, Diabolis etc.
The majestic figure of God Alone or Allah forms the capstone of Islamic worship and thought. He is asSamad of Chapter 112:2, the 'Focus' and 'Source' for everything. How should reverent Muslims name Him? God has a Hundred of the "Finest Names" (59:end). The names and attributes for God are many: "All knowing" in our Germanic roots becomes the "Omniscient" in European Latinized parlance, which has given us other terms like "circumambulations", &qu ot;genuflexion", "ablution", as well as "submission" and 'surrender" as meanings for Islam.
Training for this purpose will come through study and spiritual exercise. Let us therefore discuss some secular virtues. I use the word 'achievement' rather than the more old fashioned term 'triumph' for fawz. The virtues themselves are: first of all, birr, as the basic one which we meet in 2:xxii for the first time; 'righteousness' sounds too old fashioned now. Muhsin is 'kindly', a concept that comes from the heart. It might be 'beneficent' in Latinized jargon, for bene means 'good' or 'well' that is similar to khayr; while ficent means 'doing [it]'. The abstract noun in the causative IV form is ihsan or 'kindness' and parallel in morphological pattern (IV vn.) to Islam, and iman ('faith' or 'belief'). The ideal was static. Reverence calls for restraint before things holy, giving sanctity to attitudes. Rushd or rashad is the social ideal of 'common sense' or 'normal behavior'. We find it in the name of the twelfth century Spanish Arab philosopher IbnRushd, who prepared the text of Aristotle for the scholastic teachers in the rising European universities of the following century.
Similarly kufr is 'disbelief, 'ingratitude' and a kafir is a 'disbeliever'; shirk means 'associating [someone else with God],' and a mushrik is such an 'associator'; taghut are those 'arrogant' persons who deliberately come between man and his God. Almuttaqin are 'the heedful', 'those who do their duty', while taqwa is the quality of 'heeding [God's decrees]', or 'heedfulness', 'piety', just plain 'doing one's duty' before God and man. The moral basis of the new state in Madina is seen in the 'realm' or mulk in what we now know as 'control' today, and this can be used both as a noun and a verb: "O God, Holder of Control!" (3:26)
The passage Laysa albirr..., is rendered "It is not virtue.. . "; 'virtue' rather than 'piety' for this concept seems in order. Alfasiqun are 'perverse', 'corrupt' or 'immoral' people (2:xii). We should notice how the terms Heaven and Hell are alliterative in both English and Arabic (aljanna and aljahannam), to which we might add jahim which I have rendered 'Hades' to maintain the poetical effect. I also want to keep addunya and alalamin separate as this 'nearer [world]' and 'the (greater) Universe' respectively, so they can be separate in the text and in the reader's mind. The latter is really a plural in Arabic, but I have unified this concept in English. Jinn and Ruh are two terms for 'sprite(s)' and 'Spirit' respectively. Jinn is often rendered as 'spirit' too, although these are really separate concepts; I am rendering the former 'sprite(s)' and leaving the second as 'Spirit' or 'Breath' for Ruh as we see in 17:x (beginning). Sprites or jinn, as a term, is handled wretchedly by most commentators, because it represents a plural in itself, while jinni is the proper singular. Jinn are what are called elves or fairies in English folklore, and mean the personified powers of the supernatural which are vaguely sensed by less sophisticated people, whose forces we meet in Robert Frost's "Mending Wall". These sprites found in the title of Chapter 72, were made from the glow in fire (55:i), like the angels or Diabolis (7:ii).
There are foreign based words like mil, the Roman 'mile' or a "thousand" paces; the sirat from Latin strata meaning 'street', its English derived descendant; qasr from castrum which is Latin too, which via the Arabic, gives Spanish its alcazar (as well as Castro); thawr or 'bull' has its memories of the Minotaur in Crete, and los toros in Spain; ard or 'earth' reveal this kinship, especially in terms connected with ancient agriculture; Burg in Germanic is linked with the title of Chapter 85 or AlBuruj meaning Constellations, those 'castles' that we see in the night sky which give us 'borough' in English and 'bourgeois" in European sociology and politics.
Many expressions are given an ironic cast in some translations like "grand vizier" for the Turkish prime minister, when a simpler term like 'prime minister' or 'premier' would take it out of the Arabian Nights and make it sound more appropriate and fitting for statecraft. "No burdened [soul] shall bear another's burden" (6:xx etc.) shows what a cabinet minister carries in his portfolio. Other Turkish or Anglo indian forms are "muezzin" and "kismet". Crusading terms like "infidel" for the nonbeliever or misbeliever, one who flashes "scimitars" instead of waving swords. Spellings of this sort are 'Kaaba" and Port "Said" as if this latter were the past participle of our verb to "say"; they should read instead: 'Kaba" and 'Said" .
The etymology of the word "worship" in English should be borne in mind, as an exercise giving 'value' or 'worth' to superior beings, what we might call reverence, and thus linking it to ibada in Arabic. The true worshipper or abd (96:i) we meet in many Islamic names (and which is reduced to the ironic 'Abdul" or 'servant of the.. .' in Orientalist jargon exactly like "admiral" who is literally 'prince of the...', we must presume "of the sea").
There is also much prejudice in many of the Orientalist weasel words such as the term "Moorish" in connection with Spanish Islam or the French Foreign Legion. Jinete meaning 'horseman' or 'rider' and zanahoria for 'carrot' are the only truly Moorish or Berber words in the common Spanish lexicon, while true Arabic ones occur there frequently; yet they are all called "Moorish". What does the term Moorish mean? Who invented the name "Mauretania" in this century to describe the region south of Morocco which really should be Shinqit, as its inhabitants call it. Mauretania lay north of the Atlas Mountains in Roman times, and is probably derived from a Phoenician cognate with the modern Maghrib or 'place where the sun sets' or "West".
Spelling and Phonetics
Throughout this translation I have consistently used the Library Congress system of transliteration. This is essentially the same as that employed by the Royal Asiatic Society of London and the Board Geographic Names in Washington, which ran into much incongruity during its survey of the Middle East and North Africa.
A standardization of Arabic nomenclature is needed for the countries which were under different colonial rule. Shatt alArab formed by the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates upstream from Basra southern Iraq becomes Chott alJarid in Tunisia and Chott achCharqui in Algeria. The word for 'mountain' jabal, has half a dozen spellings as crosses the map of the Arab world. Besides the colonial styles used by the European occupiers in their former colonies, we run into Egyptian a Pakistani spellings of Arabic words, neither of which are standard Arabic. The Spanishstyle 'Tetuan" in the former Spanish zone of northern Morocco has recently become "Tetouan" because King Hasan or "Hassan" speaks French. This is pure verbal baroque, as French Orientilsm too often is.
The spellings of 'Moslem", "Kaaba" (for Kaba) have a true beginning in ignorance, but they never seem to point any way to salvation. The spelling "Koran" is often used by non Muslims and western trained Muslims, the same people as use the spelling "Moslems", as the late Professor Hitti did in his book Islam in his incredible quotation: "An old fashioned Moslem (sic) goes through the legal ablutions before he open the book" (pp. 2627) ! What sort of Muslim did he get his information from? When this is pronounced with a voiced "s", it gives us 'Mozlum" which means the exact opposite of a man of peace, for dhulm or zulm is 'harm', 'evil' etc. A "Moslem" thus means a 'cruel' individual like an Oriental tyrant.
Fortunately Arabic itself has a standard orthography and has had one for 140 years; it is only the ear of the former colonial master or the present glib newspaper or television reporter which needs training or to be eliminated altogether. English moreover is a deficient language in it use of the Roman alphabet, while French is even worse, or perverse. Some aspects of Arabic spelling should be indicated clearly, and not confused especially with long vowels and emphatic or verbalized consonants: t, d, dh (or z), s and the occasional 1. These consonants all express phonemic and semantic differentiation, and so they should be indicated clearly in some fashion.
Similar needs exist in phonetics. The sounds of hamza and ayn are two difficult letters to transcribe consistently, as well as to explain the uninitiated. The first or hamza is the glottal stop which gives English the need of its alternate indefinite article "an" in order to avoid between words that begin with a vowel (as we bear in the childish for "I want a apple"). The ayn is the voiced pharyngeal fricative, historically has given us the capital "E" in the Roman alphabet, which represented this originally in Phoenician; and this might be used to express this sound, except that it would lead to confusion, especially among uninitiated. These two important letters in the Arabic and other Semitic alphabets are not usually indicated in the Roman transliteration that many people use; nevertheless they require some representation, especially students may learn more easily. The words Saudi Arabia and Port Said are two common examples of this confusion; many people pronounce common "Saudi" as two syllables only, even newscasters who might know better, while 'said' is not the past participle of the English verb to "say". In the name of the Prophet's youngest wife Aisha both ayn and hamza appear together within the same word which is known fairly commonly but almost always spelled merely approximately (it is the feminine present participle of the verb ash, to 'live', and thus means a 'living ' woman.
Long and short vowels moreover should be indicated clearly and not confused; these distinctions are basic to Arabic prosody and especially proper Quranic diction. I use the grave accent of French " ` " to show alif maqsura, or the long "ou" representing a hidden i or y in the root as in names Musa or Isa. The digraph "ou" is a hopeless representation because it cannot show whether the Arabic vowel is long or short. Emphatic velarize d consonants all have phonemic and semantic differentiation, and so they should also be expressed clearly. Perhaps capital letters might be used for typewriters without any symbols for such foreign accents. Many booksellers, for instance, do so.
Are Eastern non arab Muslims able to explain these sounds speakers of English, especially to North American children who educational system has little contact with the Middle East or with foreign language instruction? Do Pakistanis hear these sounds clearly, or can Egyptians explain them to young Americans or Canadians? It is likewise grotesque for English speaking persons to be advised to say a "z" or "s" the voiced "dh" (j ) or the voiceless "th" which they already say "they" and "other", or in "think" and "with". English speakers have enough difficulties already in learning a foreign language without having an unnecessary one thrust upon them.
Thus we come to
I have felt a need to break away from the usual type of commentary Christian, Orientalist and even some Muslim ones at times, in order to provide a fresh outlook on the Quran to move it out into the English speaking consciousness. I am interested only in stating the Quranic message in clear contemporary English. This task has thus been tackled gradually as I read the Arabic text over and over for more two decades, trying to find an English cadence for it. This must not falsify message but should a llow fresh words and concepts to enter the English speaking mind and emotions.
The English speaking world already has a great tradition of reading scripture. We have had a long tradition of Psalm and Gospel reading in our Protestant communities which can lead us along the way, and give us a sense of direction or manner. Some Quranic translators have tried match this mood by making their versions archaic or Jacobean, although this is not the means to achieve reverence in our youth, who understand what they are hearing or reciting. They need comprehensible yet reverent English which will be respected by future generations. I should like to duplicate the terse yet vibrant quality of the original Quranic message. We must make our message simple and go back to the primitive Arabic meaning wherever this is possible; but the whole vocabulary will have to be made over in painstaking fashion. We need to take a fresh at the original text and explore it for new content and present day application.
Matters of style thus come up. There is as much use of the abadan or 'never' in the chapter on Light (anNur) 24 as there is in Poe's The Raven. "Among his signs are... " begins in 30:III and gives introductory refrain to each section of that chapter. There is a narrative quality to The Ants (anNamal 27 which is succinct, especially in Lot's story following verse 57. A phrase is repeated at the end of each section in this chapter: "You r Lord is the Powerful, the Merciful", as well as in [Drawn up in] Ranks (alSafat) 37. In 16:xiv, the style becomes rapid, as if one were being spoken to, as well as in chapter 28 (alQasas) when Moses sees the Burning Bush. We have similar narrative at times in 25 TheStandard (or Criterion) (alFurqan) and 26 Poets (ashShuara,) telling about Moses' visit to Pharaoh's court. The style throughout this chapter (cf. viii) is rapid, and the passages are almost the same as they describe each prophet in turn, since these are examples to show how each separate messenger had been called a poet when he was literally inspired. The allegorical or analogous verses mentioned in 3: I and the parables in 2:xxxv are important. The style in 20:i i reminds us that the Quran is narrated by the Deity, and has been received directly through inspiration.
Style creates mood: rhymed prose meets the ear, to offer us diction. As a corollary, this edition is arranged in paragraphs, verses or lines so the reader, in both public and private, is guided to the rhythm and movement of the passage. Saj (rhymed prose) is ancient, oral punctuation; it tells the reader where to pause during his recitation so that his listeners can hear the message reverently, and understand it more easily. Non english speakers often read English translations without realizing where to make the proper pauses needed for reverent attention. We find this rhythm in Chapters This Land (alBalad) 90 and Morning Bright (adDuha) 93 as well as in the two final ones, Dawn (alFalaq) 113 and Mankind (anNas) 114, which I have not attempted to reproduce. The contrasting English words "night" and "daylight" rhyme, while Heaven and Hell or Hades alliterate; but these must not become cacophonic or a jingle, because such is not within the spirit of the Quran.
The present version has been arranged either in prose form or as rhythmic free verse, depending on the nature of the Arabic original. I have laid the more lyric sections in the form of free verse and rough stanzas. An ecstatic quality is found in the early Meccan chapters towards the end of our canonical text (but actually at the start of the primitive prophetic message). Here is seventh century Arabia speaking to North Americans in the closing years of the twentieth century, or perhaps we should now say, to mark the opening of the new fifteenth century of the Hijra era.
Giving cadence and rhythm form part of ritual through visual and auditory formulae. Through rhythm we achieve a glimpse of reality and thereby become more familiar with the Universe and how it functions. Ritual leads us through initiation and passage, especially for the adolescent who needs it; in this fashion young people begin to participate in the collective advance whereby mankind achieves its vision of reality.
What is reality, we ask again? What is that central focus for life on which everything depends, that we hear about in "God is the Source [for everything]" (I 12:2 Sincerity)? Through reverence and restraint we achieve its image, a visual or verbal formula, but without setting up any idols.
I hope that these ideas can bring the reader closer to reality, to the Unseen, that mystery of the world and life. The way we respond to the call of reality, gives us visual and auditory cadence and rhythm. Narrated style is what we hear, as this is related by the Deity Himself: "Do not fear; I am with you both. I both hear and see." (20:26). God is Omnipresent.
The Sleepers in The Cave (alKahaf) (18:iiv) has been one of the most difficult stories to translate into flowing and convincing English; likewise, Moses' Mystic Journey in the same chapter (ixx), and the tale of Double Horns or Alexander the Great that follows it (xi). At 20:iv we learn how Pharaoh was overwhelmed; while in 53:i we see "the Hawthorn on the Boundary/ alongside the Garden of Repose" covered with its wonderful golden moths or blossoms. The poetic chapters towards the end of our Book, plus passages throughout the sacred Text require talent and artistry, the use of the telling word wherever one can find one. The fascination rises towards the end of the Book, mounting in real rhythm: great verses require vivid concepts. I have continually sought the choice poetic figure which we can all enjoy, plus some word magic if this can be achieved.
The present work has been a long story, undertaken in many cities and regions, in Baghdad on the Tigris initially, then in Minneapolis on the Mississippi, in sight of the volcanoes of Guatemala, in a Chicago suburb, at home once again in Canada, and finally in the mountains of Tennessee; but the end is here at last.
The first attempt for my original presentation was the well known Cedar Rapids edition called Selections from the Noble Reading. That slender yet beautiful volume was edited over a decade ago, and slowly it has received recognition, especially in North American Islamic circles and to some extent abroad. A second, revised edition has appeared in Lagos, Nigeria for school children and travelers in English speaking West Africa. In the dozen years that have passed since the Cedar Rapids edition first appeared, I have kept polishing my text, comparing it with other versions, and bringing the religious concepts into focus more clearly. The task will never cease for as one generation grows and changes, so does its language and method of response. Only the Arabic is eternal, and the present work is merely an attempt to give the present generation of Muslims in North America an idea of their Noble Reading, where God speaks at times in His plural of majesty.
"Cantillation" is a quaint word that has crept into Orientalist studies on Islam to describe the traditional manner of reciting the Quran for public worship. Others of this sort are "circumambulation" for walking around the Kaba, "submission" or "surrender" for the believer's commitment to live 'in peace'; "genuflection" for kneeling in prayer, and "ablution" for washing before it. Those who use the terms must never have sat quietly in a mosque waiting for divine service to begin; or if they did so, it must have seemed unusual to them. Yet English has a long tradition in this field with Gospel reading and the responsive recital of the Psalms.
The Quran was called the divine "Reading" of Islam and it exists precisely for that purpose. It was generally read out loud and most frequently from memory after thorough training, the usual method of reproducing sacred books which is still in use today. One Part or juz a day can be recited during Ramadan, which lasts thirty days in all; these thirty Parts are indicated with capital Roman numerals in the upper left hand corner on each page of this edition.
As it claims, the Quran is easy to memorize, and is divided up so that it can be read in sittings, or it can be read straight through (17:106). This is clear from the canon itself. Mercier and Arberry are the only non muslim.
Western scholars who have approached this matter of Quranic recital, and we refer you to them for the time being; the late Professor Mercier's liturgical preface on prosody to his anthology in some ways is better than Arberry's which is expressed in the Introduction to his first or shorter version; The Koran.
In pre literary times, and especially before the invention of the printing press, public recitation was the way most scriptures were taught and memorized. Chanting was performed in a print less culture so that others could hear the sacred text, and thus participate in "reading" it. We should try to capture this effect again. Before the invention of the electric light, the motion picture and other mechanical contrivances which entertain us today, novels and scriptures were read in North America and other Western countries by families, especially on long winter nights. In the same way a tradition of recitation and schools to teach this method grew up within Islam and other religions. The hafidh and the qari, who memorize and recite the Quran belong to an honorable profession in Islamic countries, and today phonograph records and cassettes are made of their art. As the liturgy was worked out, the chant developed just as the Gregorian chant did in Catholic countries. This had probably been worked out originally in the cities of Mecca and Madina, the twin Haramayn of Islam.
Few musical instruments are mentioned in the Quran, only the trumpet (assur) in 18:99 and bugle (an naqur) in 74:8. None are rhythmic or percussive although some drums may have existed, and they are easy to improvise. Much rhythm in the Middle East is maintained by hand clapping anyhow. The Sufi orders later on and the craft guilds which supported them, eventually gave us the so called 'whirling dervishes" who sought to find God and recall Him in their ecstasy.
The lilt of the Quranic style makes it easy to read and recite: "We have made the Quran easy to memorize" (54:17 ff). Rhymed prose meets the ear just as paragraphs, lines of verse and punctuation marks meet the eye in reading the printed page, In divine worship these indications become a part of ritual; the image or visual formulae are thus important. Worship means devotion, as this is seen in the verb to 'devote' oneself, to give a vow to, for it means to render the sort of 'service' which we find outlined in The Opening chapter of the Quran itself, the Fatiha (1:5): " You do we worship and You do we call on for help". The Universe moves on rhythm, which is part of its reality. Consciousness and the Unseen show that God is ineffable Intelligence, alaql: "Whenever We do read it, follow in its reading," we are told in 75:18, for the Quran has reached us in clear Arabic (12:23, 43:23 etc.).
The poetry of the early Muslims came from the Badu or Beduin, who had little formal culture or education; they preserved what their ancestors had taught them to remember in their great odes, even though the Prophet himself was declared not to be a poet, and rejected the term (52:29 and 69:41). Cadence and rhythm mold the phrase and sentence; God's hovering spirit can thus be sensed. Phonograph records, tapes or cassettes now help in learning to chant, either for listening or in order to learn the passage by heart; they provide the best contemporary way for the uninitiated to hear this art.
Any new reader, especially a fresh convert, needs to find the cadence when he is meeting this for the first time. For this reason, my translation has not been designed for memorizing but rather for reading from the printed page. The Quran is literally untranslatable: each time one returns to it, he finds new meanings and fresh ways of interpreting it; the messages are endless for it is a living Book.
If this is the first time that you are reading the Quran, then you may look for special passages to begin with. For instance, the first call to Muhammad comes in the chapter 96 called A lAlaq The Clot (or Read!) Here we find the beginning of that respect for reading and learning on which the later Islamic commonwealth was built up. His second call come at the beginning of alMudaththir The Man Wearing a Cloak 74, and is confirmed in alInshirah, Consolation 94: "Did We not relieve your breast for you?" These are the first thrilling words which God the Merciful spoke directly to His chosen messenger Muhammad. Then followed the commission heard in alAla Glory to your Lord in the Highest! 87. There is comfort for the Prophet during his trials in adDuha Morning Bright! 93, and more consolation in alKawthar Plenty 108. Two of Muhammad's visions appear at the beginning of anNajm The Star 53. He is told to reject alKafirun Disbelievers (or Atheists) in 109, and rebuttal of the charge of being a poet is found in 52:29. Muhammad clearly understood he was not one (36:69), although prophets are compared with ashShuara, Poets 26 in the chapter by that name, because of the inspiration which both receive.
Muslims do not need to "cantillate", but to read the Quran reverently. A traditional method of reading our holy Book has been built up for this purpose in Islamic countries; in North America we will have to work out manner of our own. In the East, the Book is intoned or chanted somewhat like the Gregorian chant or the method of reciting the Psalms of Beatitudes in some churches. In divine worship this becomes the full dhikr or liturgic 'Mention' of God's names and attributes: "Whenever We read it follow in its reading", we are told in 75:18, for the Quran has reached us in "clear Arabic" (16:103). A true ecstatic quality can be felt in the earl Meccan chapters, at the outset of the Prophet's missions.
The inimitability or ijaz of the Quran is stated: "Do not make up an parables about God;" (16:74); one should never compare God wit anything. "No falsehood shall approach it from either in front of it or behind it" (41:40).
It need hardly be said that writing materials were scarce in the ancient world, let alone in seventh century Arabia, and Muhammad could have everything copied down verbatim as he received it through divine revelation. Men's breasts were important depositories for a limited time their memories were more developed than our children's are today.
The first collection of our sacred Text was possibly attempted by close companion and protégé Zayd ibnThabit; the Prophet's wife Hafsa is also mentioned as preserving much material, as is 'A'isha. The way in which the Prophet's wives were entrusted with the text is exemplary.
A committee was then set up to establish the canonical text of the Quran by the third 'rightly guided" caliph or Successor to the Prophet, 'Uthman ibnAffan. The commissioners worked at compiling the scattered Quranic document during the years 650655. Once this task was finished and the canon established, Uthman then gave one copy each to Mecca and Madina, and sent others to the new administrative centres of Basra and Kufa in Iraq. Kufa is said to have possessed a variant much later. Uthman kept the original papers in Madina for himself and the authorities there; this copy disappeared into the imperial German archives towards the end of the First World War when both Germany and Turkey suffered defeat, but may be in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul today. Mention of old codices like the Kitab alMasahif of Ibn Abit Dawrid, together with a collection of the variant readings can be found in Professor Arthur Jeffery's Materials for the History of the Text of the Quran (Leiden 1938, and W attBell, p. 40).
The layout of my translation has been reached through a gradual process of trial and error which came chiefly so that I could locate significant material for myself, which I needed to refer to. Layout and editing are important just as ancient saj resembles the wild pigeon's broken cooing. Rhymed prose meets the ear, but since the invention of the printing press, it is punctuation and paragraphs that meet the reader's eye. Verse form and punctuation are both matters of literary structure; when the rhyme shifts in the Quran, it is shown roughly in this version by using different lines and paragraphs in English, so that the reader can achieve a similar rhythmic effect, especially for public reading or recitation.
Layout on the page may seem more important than rhyming today, for the eye rather than the ear is our contemporary instrument: "the blind and the sighted are not equal / nor are darkness and light" (35:1920). In the seventh century, and during the West European middle ages until the invention of the printing press and the growth of a general reading public, learning largely meant such oral training.
Further problems were those of paragraphing and capitalization so as to follow English usage. Straight adjectives which refer to the Deity are capitalized, as well as unique qualities or symbols like the Path, the Way, Truth and so on. All pronouns: We, He, You etc. representing the Deity are capitalized here, including their possessive form (His, Your, Our etc.) as occurs with other mention of the Deity. This use of capitals is employed to ensure a mood of reverence for the name and mention (dhikr) of God, especially with younger or non muslim readers thus the names of God, including the pronouns You and Your, He, Him and His etc., are kept distinct in this work.
Capital Roman numerals refer to one of the 30 more or less equal PARTS into which the Quran has been traditionally divided for the purpose of continuous recitation. Lowercase Roman numerals refer to the SECTIONS into which each longer chapter is divided. I use the asterisk * to mark the beginning of a verse; two of these ** indicate the 5th, 10th etc. verses; triple asterisks *** show 100's.
Capital Roman numerals, placed in the upper inside corner of the page indicate the Part of the Quran; following this are numbers (Arabic and lowercase Roman) indicating the Section and Verse. This system has bee devised so that the Concordance, which in Sha Allah will follow with some 2000 pages, will provide easy reference for each page, without referring to future page numbers.
Marginal headings appear in the outside margin. The verse number for each 10th verse also appears. The Arabic names for chapter titles are to be found in the Table of Contents. Some titles are alternates even in the original Arabic, such as Quraysh or Winter for Chapter 106, with np parentheses; others are further possibilities or alternates in English translation like Eventide (or Nightfall) 103 because the Arabic word, Asr has been difficult to render convincingly. Parentheses here indicate the alternative.
Long and short vowels need to be distinguished in Arabic, as well a emphatic consonants. The use of digraphs like th, gh and dh may be deplored, but English already has them in ch, sh, th, ng etc. These emphatic consonants are d, dh (or z), and the occasional 1. Parentheses ( ) or so called "round brackets" are used for implied statements, while "square" brackets [ ] are for elliptical insertions. Single quotation mark indicate direct translation from the Arabic: salih for 'honorable'; alRahim 'the Merciful'.
Also the system of underlining or the use of fonts should be explained. Italics have been saved for special emphasis, and especially with the Invocation: In the Name of God, the Mercy giving, the Merciful!; an black face, or bold type is for Chapter titles (The Cow 2), (The House o Imran 3), etc., so these will be recognized as chapters and not as book titles. Black face is also used for phrases with special importance. The use of hyphens must be more careful: IbnRushd, AbuBakr, Ibnkhaldun alaykum show pronouns and prefixes clearly for beginners and the amateur whom we have attracted to read this book. I am tired of reading student papers which talk of "Khaldun" and "Rushd" quite baldly, no realizing that this person, if he ever existed, is an ancestor or a symbolic concept, and that ibn and banii mean 'sons of' (like Mac, Mc in Celtic and abu means 'father (of)'. We need a style here that will make Quranic study valid and easier for our children and students.
SAY and SEE in small capitals denote God's own upcoming words an signs to the Prophet and to mankind. We also use NOTE and OR in the same small capitals for similar notations which are parallel.
An Index or Concordance will come later because it will consist o perhaps 2000 pages. I wish eventually to achieve a useful whole with note and an index for North American and English speaking Muslims the world over. It should be a document one can read with pleasure and profit spiritual profit.
Finally we need some reflections on the art of translation: how does one use language, especially when it is the elevated expression of the Quran? Is it possible to render such lofty style into foreign tongue?
This new version of The Noble Reading which I am presenting has a serious purpose, which is to make its clear message available for the English speaking world at the end of the twentieth Christian, or the beginning of the Islamic fifteenth century, which started in the last weeks Of 1980 A.D. This task is comparable to translating any great classic like Homer, Virgil, Quijote or Faust, since it involves a transfer of true literature into the medium of a parallel culture. It is a problem more for the quality which must be matched in English than for any inherent difficulty or obscurity in the text itself.
This present version is not addressed so much to scholars as to godly minds and especially to those who are growing up speaking English, and thus need a simple, clear text of the historic writ to guide them. The Qur)an itself says: "We have not sent any messenger unless he was to explain to them in his folk's own tongue" (14:i). For this reason, any attempt at translation has validity if each nation is to receive its message in its own language. It should be a document one can read, and it also, if possible, must offer a basis for ongoing research. We should respect the sacred text, yet interpret it accurately and reverently. This is not an intellectual game but has a serious purpose.
The Quran could be considered untranslatable, because each time one returns to the Arabic text, he finds new meanings and fresh ways of interpreting it. It is a living document. I have at all times tried to find the simplest word so the Muslim child can understand it easily, and thereby feel strengthened by it. Any translation which is to have a use in divine worship must be simple yet noble, and not over laden with higher criticism. No translation should confuse, but teach and make things holy; we do not need criticism so much as constructive explanation. I myself must remember to act as a Westerner before this document in order to keep its meaning from being blurred. It must be translated respectfully for our own worship, and so that we and others can understand its message. The forms of piety are important, as well as the thought and mood which they engender. In our faith this leads to direct contact with God, with no need of any intercession, a condition achieved through literal and moral purification, and through prayer.
The Islamic world is growing again, its centre is widening, and Muslims everywhere, especially throughout the English speaking part of it, need a version of their Scripture they can confidently give to their children as well as to friends who have not yet captured the full message of Islam. Our aim is to give pride to young English speaking Muslims in North America especially, and also in Britain, the West Indies like Trinidad and Guyana, and the English speaking parts of Africa. It can also be used by college students and interested non Muslims who want a contemporary translation of this great world classic.
I have tried to be as objective as possible, but yet to provide the basis for evaluation by English speaking readers who know no Arabic. This should make it usable so the intelligent person engaged in research can quote the Quran in today's English. There is a necessity for an American version in contemporary English, to help in the revival of the Quranic sciences during the coming fifteenth century of the Hijra, and this must occur in the English speaking world. If my translation has any merit, it will simply be that it is intended for North Americans, so young American and Canadian Muslims can understand, when they are still teenagers or younger, what God told Muhammad fourteen hundred years ago in Arabia, with no artifice or bombast, but in clear, simple and I hope beautiful English. Otherwise our message will be lost here in America. The next generation will speak English, and few of them will take the time or the trouble to learn Arabic properly, so someone has to put it into the language of the next two or three hundred years.
It would be a waste of time at present to do any work on Sunday school materials until we have a good copy of the Quran we can trust. For this reason, several years ago I decided to dedicate time at the beginning of each morning to accomplishing this, so it would be done properly. This is the basic need for any propaganda in Islam on this continent, and until we have a version in good English, we will continue to read translations which evoke no reverence or beauty in the minds of the listeners.
We also need a good chapbook on prayers. Young American Muslims simply do not know their prayers, and that is the need in any "programmed learning" for Islam. But it must be done in Arabic, with the original text, in Romanized Arabic so those who cannot read the script can approximate the sound (and especially, avoid the dialectal variants one gets from Egyptian, Lebanese or Pakistani material), and again, a decent translation of the same into good English. This should be done with photos of the positions of prayer, and a tape recording of each of the individual prayers, not done in a hurry, but by a trained teacher with proper voicing of the material in Arabic, by a native speaker who reads the Quran and recites prayers well, at slow speed, then at normal speed, and chanted if that is necessary; but all done so that Sunday school students can learn from them, and even an untrained Sunday school teacher would be able to handle the tapes. The chapbook should be published in a dignified way.
Some direct problems of translation might bear discussion at this point. Through the original Arabic we learn what Muhammad was striving to express to his followers, but our problem is to catch how he might want this expressed for the people of today who speak English, and to translate it so that an intelligent and reverent American, especially in the teenage group, can grasp the message which the Prophet received fourteen centuries ago in Arabia. Most versions give one the sensation of being thrust upon the reader through the translator's own mentality and purpose, a failing I cannot avoid completely. However, anything translated must lie close to the heart of future generations of English speaking Muslims. I do not want to render a traditional paraphrase, nor to make a display of erudition with so many notes that they will confuse the younger student; notes must be such that they will help even the random reader. One's language should be meaningful above all, and its beauty come forth from the meaning, using the English of today in all of its richness, with both our Germanic and Latin roots. Our texts have been vitiated, and higher criticism has not led many to the faith. However if the Arabic is clear (16:xiv, 26:xl), then why does it need to be worried over so intensely?
Most renditions have been so antiquated that they make the Quran and Islam appear to have little connection with living circumstances. Thus I have tried to avoid strictly Christian terms like 'infidel," "piety," "sin," etc., except where such are unavoidable. The Quran possesses a definite language and style which becomes clearer as one works along with it. One English word if possible should be chosen in all of its range of meaning for each Arabic concept, using roots that can be turned into adjectives, verbs, nouns or other grammatical forms based on it. This in fact is not a translation but a version, a modest tafsir for the English speaking Muslim who has not been able to rely on Arabic for his meanings, and for sincere enquirers, those modern Hanifs who are tired of the trinity, or of chaos and confusion in matters religious. The carper should look elsewhere.
Let us hope therefore that this enterprise will lead us on into the triumphant fifteenth century of Islam, which is now upon us. Our religion is once more resurgent, and its message can be stated with full clarity. Muslims everywhere hold their fate in their own hands now, and it is their will that in the end will prevail. Once we have trained our children.
I would like to thank Professor Thomas A. Lathrop of the University of Delaware for his work in typesetting the book. And lastly, I wish to thank my wife, Dr. Evelyn Uhrhan Irving, for her support in this project over more than twenty three years, including typing of the final manuscript, and proof reading at many stages of the document.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
For the order of the chapters, one should consult Dr. S. Abid Ahmad Ali's excellent pamphlet on "The Quran, an Exposition of its Position" from The Dawn (Sargodha, Dec. 1961, pp. 2355), where he discusses Arberry's original attempt at an anthology.
This Noble Reading or alQuran alKarim as it is called in 56:iii; in 50:1 and 85:i. It is called the Masid or'Glorious','Majestic', in 15:vi; it is also the 'Mighty', Adhim.. See R. A. Nicholson, A Literary History of the Arabs, p. 141, n. I and p. 159 on the word Qur,an itself.
A detailed discussion on Bible translation can be found in Barry Huberman's recent article, "Translating the Bible: an Endless Task" (The Atlantic, February 1985, pp. 4358).