Interview with the translator of the new ‘Plain English’ Quran
Dr Musharraf Hussain has completed the translation of the glorious Quran into plain English with 1500 sections each separated by a topical heading. It will be published in April 2018, Insha Allah. Here we ask him probing and interesting questions about the Quran and in particular, what was the need for a new translation when there are already 2 dozen translations in English.
Question: What is the importance of Quran?
The glorious Quran is the book that contains the Divine Will, the mind of God, it describes the state of man. It presents the loss of the sinners, and the success of the believers. It is a light that directs people on to the straight path, a food to nourish the spiritual hunger, and a comfort for the weary heart, a clear road map for the sincere seeker of paradise. A mine of divine wisdom, and a sea full of pearls that teaches a belief system that is natural and rational. Its rulings are binding, the stories true, and wise in judgement. The beloved messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him) is its central subject.
Question: You have taken on a difficult task; do you think the Quran is difficult to understand?
The fact is that the Quran is a very accessible book, easy to understand, it’s thought is complete and understandable. I didn’t have much difficulty in capturing the meaning of the Arabic and put it into plain English. However, this does not mean that I have fully captured the meanings of the Divine words that is an impossible task. However, I believe what the Quran says “We have made the Quran easy for understanding and learning.”
The Quran uses vivid language that occasionally shocks us, at other times it fills us with the horror of the scenes of hell and its punishments. This may make us unhappy and fearful. People who love the world will be upset by intrusion of the reality that the Quran presents. At other times it delights us by describing the luxuries of paradise; the believers in the cool shades of gardens, relaxing on comfortable couches, enjoying each other’s company, radiant with beauty and charm.
Question: Is your translation ‘word for word’ or a ‘thought for thought’ translation?
Before I answer this question, let me take you through the process of translation. I have been translating books from Arabic and Urdu into English for the past 40 years. Quran translation has been very challenging and perhaps the most fruitful of all the works that I have ever done. I am very grateful to Allah for that. Every time I revised or corrected my translation I felt like crafting and reshaping a great guidebook. My translation has undergone several revisions, so it has been thoroughly examined with my review and revision committee for faithfulness to the Quranic text. We wanted to make sure that the language was accurate and the message clear, fit for reading, teaching, and preaching.
To answer your question, is my translation ‘word-for-word’ or ‘thought for thought’ translation? Let me explain, I focused on each word of the glorious Quran, made sense of the Arabic words, paying attention to their meanings, then combined them together to form a thought that made a sentence. This way I have preserved the integrity of the Divine text. My aim has been to be faithful to the Quranic text.
Extra words have been inserted in some places to achieve clarity, where it was necessary to improve both sentence structure and meaning as required in some places by the context. I decided to use italics for these extra words rather than conventional brackets. Arabic idioms were replaced with English idioms as far as possible for clarity.
We checked the readability of the translation with several groups of people; professionals, University and College students and School pupils. Their comments and feedback helped to improve the language of the translation.
Question: What are the special features of your translation?
My aim in translating the Quran into plain English has been to produce a translation that is:
- Clear, therefore easy to understand.
- A joy to read so that the reader says “I get most of it, if not all of it!”
- Bring the word of Allah alive and make it relevant in everyday language.
- A reader friendly Quran that reaches into the readers’ minds and hearts.
- Useful for the sincere seekers so that they can find the life enhancing truths in its pages.
- The section headings break up the message into bite size chunks, making it easy to understand. The headings are a guide for the reader, to clarify the text, and make links between different parts of a Surah. These are at times simple description of what is coming next, and at other times are more thought provoking and questioning.
Our aim was to produce a translation that is reader friendly, free-flowing, eloquent and accurate. I hope this will give the readers an opportunity to benefit from the inspiration of this vast and boundless treasure house of wisdom. We want Quran readers to understand its meanings as the blessed Messenger (peace be upon him) and his companions understood it and felt it. In some ways it is a creative interpretation of the Quran, and that is what will give readers direct access to the Divine words.
Question: Modern textbooks and writings present ideas and concepts in a systematic and logical order. The Quran doesn’t seem to be coherent sometimes, why is that?
Since the glorious Quran is not a textbook, but a book of guidance that was revealed over a long period of time, 23 years in total, as the occasion required. However, that does not mean it is not coherent, it is connected, a linked text. My grouping of verses into distinct paragraphs with topical headings has made this clear. This is my innovation that I believe will help the reader to see the coherence, the link goodness and the connection of the verses into a meaningful passage thus revealing that the text is continuous.
Question: Since you have spent so much time studying and teaching the Quran, What are the key concepts of the glorious Quran?
I believe there are six key concepts of the glorious Quran:
- Allah is the supreme Lord and Creator of the universe.
- The beloved Messenger (peace be upon him) is the perfect role model for humanity.
- The life of the hereafter is the final destination of humanity.
- Clarification of moral values; the science of human relationships.
- Connecting humanity with Allah through spiritual ideals.
- Human beings are blessed with huge potential to be Allah’s representatives.
The central theme, of course is Allah, the Lord. The success of humanity lies in recognising the Lord and worshipping him, and taking care of his creation. These are the twin pillars of Quranic teachings; worship of the Lord and service to humanity. The Lord is the pivot, the focus and the central theme, everything revolves around Him. The very purpose of human existence is gaining consciousness and awareness of the Lord (Taqwa). The condemnation of those who deny the Lord (Kafir) is presented in most shocking terms in order to make it clear that there is nothing more evil, ominous and unjust than the denial of Allah, the Lord of the universe.
Question: How does the Quran motivate and appeal to the human heart and mind?
As a book of guidance it motivates people to serve Allah, stand up for justice and fight cruelty. It inspires the readers to raise their voices against falsehood and to struggle against injustice. Furthermore it teaches how to overcome the ego, the self-centredness that leads us into temptations. It instils the love of Allah, his beloved Messenger (peace be upon him) and of the righteous people.
Question: You have translated the Basmala as “In the name of Allah the most kind, the most caring” this is different from other translations, why?
Most translators have used mercy for Rahman and Rahim, but I have used “the most kind, the most caring.” Mercy has the idea of being forgiven whilst the Arabic verb ‘Rahm’ from which these two words are derived has the meaning of kindness, feeling other people’s sufferings as one’s own experience, a feeling of closeness and connection with the other person. Kindness brings people together and its absence splits them apart. The warm kindness of a mother can be seen when she sacrifices her personal needs and interests for her child. Kindness is often expressed in the form of friendliness, generosity, and gentleness. For Rahim, I used most caring, this is more accurate since care means; to pay serious attention to someone or to something, regard for and interest in someone, to provide for and to look after them. Therefore it is a special type of kindness. It is this special care and kindness that Allah has for the believers.
Question: You have been a student and teacher of the Quran for some 50 years, tell us how should one study the Quran?
Before opening the Quran always recite “I seek the protection of Allah from the wretched Satan.” This prepares you for the spiritual exercise. Your purpose of studying the Quran should be to spend time with the author of the holy Scripture, being with Him.
I recommend that you read the Quran; to become wise, to be saved, and to practice its teachings. Read it slowly and frequently with focus. Memorise it to fill your brains, let it rule your heart, and guide your steps. Think deeply when reading it, since it constantly invites you to use reason, your experience, and natural observable facts e.g. the sun rise, rain, storms and stars. The purpose of this great book is to immerse our hearts and souls in the divine remembrance and to turn us away from worldly pursuits. When we do that, then it will give real life, it will be the companion in the grave, an intercessor that will stand up for you on judgement day, Insha Allah.