The challenges and the rewards of this new translation

The translation of the Quran into any language is a challenge, it is an undertaking of a great magnitude, and its significance is paramount since its interpreting the word of Allah, a claim of understanding the divine mind, an attempt to convey its meaning. The tomes of Tafsir literature show that the early Muslim scholars worked hard to understand the various aspects of the divine revelation, interpreting it, making every effort to serve the Quranic text and extract from it wisdom that they could apply in their lives and to better human condition.

My aim has been to convey the message of the Quran, so my translation presents the equivalent meanings and interprets the words/phrases and verses rather than going for the literal meaning. What some would call thought for thought rather than word for word.

I undertook this translation because I owe so much to the Quran; it has given me meaning and a purpose in life. I feel indebted, this translation is a labour of love. I believe that my translation will offer fresh insights and understanding for readers living in a global village in an exciting age of Science and Information Technology. The purpose of this translation is to convey the meanings and the message of Majestic Quran concisely and in a clear tone of voice. I hope it makes it a readable and an appealing translation.

I have been a serious student of the Quran for 50 years, during this time I have memorised the Quran, studied the Arabic language, the Science of Tafsir and Hadith at the University of Al Azhar in Cairo. I also worked as research Scientist for 10 years. Today I want to focus on the special features and benefits of this new translation.

Imam Suyuti’s conditions for translation

According to Imam Suyuti the translator of the Quran must have mastery of; Arabic and excellent command of the target language, its grammar and the science of rhetoric as well as the following sciences:

1. Linguistics: Semantics, Grammar and the grammatical analysis of the nouns and verbs and the articles, must know, terms, vocabulary and concepts from all branches of contemporary language and sciences. Must be able to understand rational proofs, axioms and deductive arguments, and distinguish between the general verses and those with particular meanings; literal and figurative, and the manners in which the information is conveyed, is it explicit declaration or ambiguous passage, commands and prohibitions.

2. Jurisprudence: From Fiqh ul Ibadah to legal rulings Ahkam, categorising the permissible and the forbidden, including the penalties, and the whole subject of inheritance.

3. Natural sciences: The nature passages, the creation of the universe, natural phenomena, like the rain cycle, night and day, the movement of the celestial bodies.

4. Art of writing and poetry: This helps to appreciate the literary excellence, style, figurative expressions, the fluency, the rhythms, harmonious succession of ideas, forewords and conclusions.

5. Spiritual inclinations: Insightful understanding of terms which discuss Allah’s relationship with humanity and subtle things, the divine presence, fear and love, estrangement contraction and expansion, mindfulness and piety, faith and reliance.

6. History: Knowledge and understanding of primordial, pre-antiquity and antiquity, Jewish and Christian stories and narratives.

7. Oratory: This helps to understand the succinct wise, witty sayings that touch the human heart and mind. Mainly focusing on the promises and threats, the warnings and the glad tidings that the Quran gives at the mention of death and resurrection.

My objectives and methodology

1. Plain and contemporary English

My goal has been to translate the meaning of the divine message, by being faithful and accurate in expressing the meaning of the Quranic words by using the root meanings of the words and how they fit into context. I have aimed for an authentic translation, neither liberal nor free. I used Plain English, simple words and avoided archaic words. It is a message, written with the reader in mind and with the right tone of voice, that is clear and concise. Aiming for short sentences that uses active verbs rather than passive, avoided nominalisation, and used direct speech; ‘you’ and ‘we’.

Wherever possible I used English idioms instead of translating Arabic idioms. By relying on classical commentaries of the Quran, I believe I have an authentic translation. These Tafasir include: Qurtabi, Tabari, Tafsir al Kabir, Madarik, Ibn Kathir and some modern; Safa al tafsir, Zia al Quran, Tadabare Quran.

2. The topical section headings

A distinct feature of this translation are the 1500 section headings for the sake of clarity. These headings correspond to the main themes and subject matter presented in the text. The headings of each section are not just attention grabbing but reflect its contents, themes and specific topics that will help the reader to understand the “bursts of revelation”, the Quran was revealed according to the need of the time. However, this is only an attempt at clarity for the sake of understanding the divine text. They are not there to dictate the interpretation of these verses, although they may possibly give a particular interpretation, their main purpose is to join ideas in the section, so joining up the sentences to form a section. This allows the Quran to speak for itself.

In brief, the headings are a useful device for unlocking the meaning and the purpose of the Quran, they help to make its teachings fully transparent. I believe this is a very convincing way for the reader to get a true taste of the Quran. These narrative blocks or sections can be very fluid, particularly the hinge passages that act as buffer zones, a brief comment, glorification or a divine hymn, which allows the previous passage to merge into the next.

The following Quranic stylistic features were very helpful in determining the sections start and end:

Stories, reports and events were natural places to begin a section. Similarly, dialogues and conversations, reports between God and his prophets and between the prophets and people. Passages that contrast and compare the believers and disbelievers, paradise and hell, the living and dead and the Prophetic prayers.

3. Introduction to the surahs

This highlights the period of revelation, the central theme and sheds light on the socio-economic, political, historical and cultural environment of the Arabian Peninsula at the time of revelation.

4. The footnotes

I have sparingly used footnotes to add value to the communicative process of translation, where their absence could lead to misunderstandings, I have used them for explaining metaphors the figurative language of Quran, circumstances of revelation that will help the reader to understand the background and the context of the events.

5. The Quranic lesson

This heading in the margin of the Arabic page is to encourage the reader to reflect on Qur’anic teachings; think deeply about the section/verse; contemplate on its meanings, using reason, emotion and spiritual insights. Intense focusing is going on during the Tilawat; this is an intensely spiritual activity, worship and closeness to the Lord. Its purpose is to gain inspiration so, I hope the reader will use the Quranic lesson to help them reflect about their lives. The messenger (peace be upon him) said “a moment’s reflection is better than 60 years of worship.” This makes the Quran reader more certain of the revelation, they will experience the revelation, as one focuses on a single-point whether an object or an idea.

6. Presentation and layout of the translation

a) The Quran is full of dialogue, sometimes between the Messenger (peace be upon him) and the Quraysh, people of the book and sometimes with entire humanity. By using quotation marks I have endeavoured to convey this conversation in the original text, this has also been useful for identifying start and end of sections.

b) I paid special attention to verses concerned with the Majesty of Allah and honour of the Messenger to avoid using irreverent words. This also applies to anthropomorphic terms used for Allah in the Quran, these include references to Allah’s face, eyes, hands and expressions of Allah’s response to human folly like mocking, deception, etc. In places, these have been interpreted and in others I have used English equivalents as recommended by orthodox commentators.

c) Arabic names of the Prophets have been used instead of the biblical, like Ibrahim not Abraham and Musa not Moses. I have also kept some Arabic and Islamic words for their accuracy and emotional charge.

d) Capital letters are used for Allah’s name, the pronouns, titles, the major concepts and terms in Islamic studies.

e) I have used italics rather than brackets for any extra words I inserted for the sake of clarity. The reason is that omission of words and phrases is a common feature of Quranic style where things are left unsaid.

f) Ayah numbers are postscripts at start in the English translation but are noted at the end of the Arabic.

7. The Ambiguous terms of the Quran

To avoid theological controversy, I have followed the orthodox view point of the Ahl-us-sunnah-wal-jamaat about the use of body parts for Allah, not to take their meaning literally, instead we understand them as metaphors, only Allah knows their true meaning.

“We glorify praise and proclaim Your Holiness,” said the angels (Baqara: 30). Imam Razi comments: “Tasbih, glorifying is eliminating the bodily/material descriptions from the Divine whilst Taqdeesa and Tanzeeha, stating Holiness means eliminating weaknesses and defects in the character of Allah.”

An important feature of belief in the oneness of Allah is: He is unique in His being, in His qualities, His works and He is matchless. His qualities are of two types: 1. Positive qualities particularly He is: the Living, the Knower, The Willing, the Controller, the Hearer, the Seeing, the Creator, the Speaker. 2. The elimination of anthropomorphic terms from the belief about Allah is central to proper understanding of Tawhid, namely Tanzeeha, declaring that Allah is free of all defects, flaws and weaknesses. He is not like anyone or anything. He is not like the creation, He does not die, get ill, tired, frustrated, sleep, or slumber. He has no father, no children, no wife, no place, no specific direction. He never lies, cheats, treats unjustly, dishonestly or deceives. He neither laughs nor makes jokes, so mocking, joking and teasing can’t be ascribed to Him

“God is mocking them” M. Abdul Haleem, “God will mock them” (NJ Dawood).” In my translation, I wanted to be respectful so, I translated this as, “Allah will punish them for mocking.” The Arabic verb Istahza means to laugh at someone, to ridicule them, and to mock someone. However, it is not befitting for Allah, these are negative behaviours not appropriate for the Divine.

Other examples are: ascribing vices like deception and cheating to Allah in: “the hypocrites seek to deceive God, but it is He who deceives them” (al Nisa;142, NJ Dawood).

“The hypocrites think to deceive God, but He is deceiving them” (Saheeh international translation).

Deceiving is a negative term that violates the Divine Glory and Majesty in fact it is an affront to the Divine, that’s why I have translated it as; “The hypocrites try to deceive Allah, but Allah allows them to be deceived by their delusion.”

“They plotted and God plotted, God is the supreme plotter” (Ale Imran; 54) (NJ Dawood).

Again, plotting is a vice, secretly trying to undermine others, Allah Is free of such devious behaviour. My translation is: “The hypocrites among the Israelites plotted, and Allah prepared a counterplot. Allah is the Best of the planners.” At such place the commentators have interpreted them in such way that is consistent with Divine dignity and avoids rudeness. My translation overcomes this, these are the ambiguous verses (Mutashabihat).

“God will scoff at them” (Tauba;79, NJ Dawood) and “But God it is who scoffs at them” Abdal Haleem. In my translation, I have avoided this pitfall, “Allah will make a laughing stock of them.”

Ascribing bodily qualities to Allah is also problematic for proper understanding of Tawhid, so in following examples;

“The Merciful who sits on throne on high” (Taha; 5) Al Rahman al alarshistawa and “The most merciful who is above the throne established” (Saheeh international translation).

My translation; “The Most Kind is established on the throne as befits Him.” Words like ‘sitting, and ‘above’ are bodily functions that contradict the belief in the sublime and matchless being.

The Ulama are unanimous that Allah is free from bodily parts. In these situations, it is best to do tafwid, i.e. leave the meaning to be determined by Allah, they are obviously ambiguous phrases.

8. Gender Inclusive Language

It is now considered outdated to refer to someone of unspecified sex as ‘he’. ‘He or she’ is now the widely used alternative, but its overuse can become tiresome. So, in places I have rewritten the sentences in plural form using ‘they’ and in some places, ‘Humanity’ is used rather than ‘Man’, when referring to human beings in general, or ‘Mankind’.

Conclusion

I have been guided by the past English translations of the Majestic Quran, however, I hope I have taken the work of those renowned scholars a bit further. I have learnt a lot from my predecessors and I have tried my best to avoid some of the pitfalls, the biases, the inaccuracies they made. However, the most widely read and circulated English translations of the Quran have unfortunately been done in old-fashioned English; Marmaduke Pickthal, Abdullah Yusuf Ali and the Saheeh, which makes the Quran appear an outdated book that has nothing to do with the contemporary society. In my translation, ‘Majestic Reading’ I have avoided old terms as far as possible.

I hope ‘The Majestic Quran’ will be widely read world over, the Quran is a living book, it’s message, Islam is a living message, a message of hope, spiritual and material prosperity and happy life. The Muslims are a young community that need guidance, what can be better than the guidance of Allah? That’s why this ‘Majestic Quran’ must be once again presented with clarity. This translation attempts to give clarity to the message, it’s to the point, easy to understand and readable in contemporary English.