Introduction to Translation of Qur’an

Preface

Allah sent many prophets and messengers for the benefit of mankind. All of them brought the same message of absolute monotheism, accountability and consequences for our choices and actions. Every nation on earth received a messenger at some time in their past. These messengers were sent only to their own nations. But the whole process was completed with Allah’s final message, the first and only message to be directed to all humanity, i.e. not any particular group or nation. The Qur’ân is the keystone of this final message. It is the words of our creator, verbatim and unchanged since the time they were communicated to his final messenger, Muhammad. The book before you is not long, but my hope is that it will give the reader a good idea of what your lord has said to you in his final message to all mankind.

Salim A. Morgan

 

Introduction

All praise is due to Allah. I bear witness that there is no deity other than Allah and that Muhammad is his slave and final messenger to mankind.

 Is ‘Allah’ the Same as ‘God’?

Allah is referred to in English as ‘God’. So the words ‘God’ and ‘Allah’ do not refer to different things.However, in this book I will refer to the Creator as Allah. The reason for this is that ‘Allah’ is a proper noun, whereas ‘God’ is a common noun. There is a different word in Arabic which means “god”. In both languages you can speak of “gods”, “goddesses” and “false gods” by using different forms of this noun. None of these statements are possible with the word “Allah”. Allah is God’s name and unlike the word ‘god’, it is not a common noun. Being unique among Arabic nouns, the name ‘Allah’ has no plural form, no masculine or feminine form or any other variations at all. It is a unique word in Arabic which denotes the one and only lord of all creation, who is not human, not male nor female and not like anything we know or can imagine. Exalted is Allah above anything falsely attributed to him.

The Qur’ân is the Lasting Miracle

Through the ages, Allah sent many prophets to the various nations. He gave the people many chances to attain guidance. They were able to witness the sublime character of the messengers and their actions. They were able to listen to and understand their clear messages and arguments that proved, to any open mind, that they were indeed sent by the creator of all things. And Allah granted his messengers miracles to serve as an additional opportunity for those who witnessed them to become guided. Many of these miraculous occurrences are well known, such as Mûsâ (Moses) crossing the Red Sea unharmed, Ibrâhîm (Abraham) surviving the fire into which he was thrown and `Îsâ (Jesus) feeding a multitude from a small amount of food. Many such miracles were also granted to Muhammad during the 23 years of his prophethood. However, these occurrences only truly benefit those present to witness them. After centuries have passed, they are really nothing but stories which some may understand and believe while others remain skeptical.

Since Allah’s message to humanity via Muhammad is the final message, a different kind of miracle was called for. Such a miracle would have to be accessible to all generations to follow until the Day of Judgment. It would give all of humanity a chance for guidance. Those willing to exert themselves and strive to find and understand the truth would be able to find what they seek. The miracle of Allah’s final messenger to mankind is in fact the words of Allah memorized in the hearts of many thousands from the day they were sent until today, recited publicly many thousands of times every day for over 1400 years and recorded in written form in the Qur’ân. Allah has guaranteed the preservation of this final message until the end of time, and thus it has remained intact until now, and will remain so for as long as Allah wills. No one has been able to change a single word or letter in any verse of the Qur’ân since the day Allah’s angel Jibrîl (Gabriel) impressed it onto the heart and memory of Allah’s final messenger. In this, the Qur’an is unique – no other book or message communicated from Allah to mankind has been preserved intact. All have been modified, re-written, translated and in most cases lost completely. Furthermore, the Arabic language, the language of the Qur’ân, has been alive and thriving for the entire 14 centuries since the time of the Prophet, without interruption. It is spoken by millions of people until today. One only needs to learn this language and read the actual words of Allah – the Qur’ân (which can only be read in its original Arabic) to witness this miracle. Its source is Allah, the creator and lord of everything. This puts the book in an entirely different category than any other book which can be found. There is no other book like it in existence.

Think of the best book you have ever known. Did you read it more than once? Could you enjoy a second reading, let alone a third and a fourth? Now consider, would you be able to read a few pages of that book every day for the rest of your life and never tire of doing so? Would you be able, when reading a passage for the hundredth time years later, to have a sudden flash of light and obtain a new understanding or inspiration from what you have read? Indeed, such things do not exist in books written by humans. And yet many thousands if not millions of Muslims who read and understand Allah’s words have this very experience every day. I hope the subtitle of this book (“God’s Message to Mankind”) did not give you false expectations, since if you want to read the creator’s actual words, you will need to learn the Arabic language. Meanwhile, we will do our best to give you a brief idea of what this Qur’ân contains.

The Challenge

Allah issued three challenges to those in Muhammad’s time who made false claims about his final message. As the Qur’an continued to bring light to more and more people, those who opposed and rejected it tried many arguments to draw people away from it. They claimed that it was sorcery. They claimed it was some new kind of poetry which was affecting people’s emotions as poetry does, even though Muhammad was illiterate and had no history of producing any form of poetry. They even tried to claim that he had secret sources, outsiders who were dictating to him each day what to say next. Most likely they were referring to those they used to call “People of the Book” (the Christians and the Jews) who were known by the Arabs to have received divine messages in the past. As time went on, they became more and more desperate to discredit Muhammad in any way, and stop the rapid spread of enlightenment among the people.

So Allah challenged them on three occasions in the Qur’ân.

First, Allah challenged anyone to bring a book like the Qur’ân:

أَمْ يَقُولُونَ تَقَوَّلَهُ بَلْ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ (33) فَلْيَأْتُوا بِحَدِيثٍ مِثْلِهِ إِنْ كَانُوا صَادِقِينَ (34) (الطور

{Or do they say he made it up? Rather, they do not believe. (33) So let them bring forth a discourse like it if they are correct. (34)}

[Surah At-Tûr (The Mount): 33-34]

Second, Allah challenged them to produce ten chapters like the Qur’ân and invited them to bring in whoever they wanted without limit to either aid them in their task or be witnesses that what was produced was like the words of Allah, the Qur’ân:

أَمْ يَقُولُونَ افْتَرَاهُ قُلْ فَأْتُوا بِعَشْرِ سُوَرٍ مِثْلِهِ مُفْتَرَيَاتٍ وَادْعُوا مَنِ اسْتَطَعْتُمْ مِنْ دُونِ الله إِنْ كُنْتُمْ صَادِقِينَ (13) (هود

{Or do they say he forged it? Say, then bring ten forged chapters like it and call whoever you are able for support against Allah if you are correct. (13)}

[Surah Hûd (The Prophet Hud): 13]

Finally, Allah challenged them to produce even a single chapter (surah) like the Qur’ân and again, to call whoever they want as helpers or witnesses:

وَإِنْ كُنْتُمْ فِي رَيْبٍ مِمَّا نَزَّلْنَا عَلَى عَبْدِنَا فَأْتُوا بِسُورَةٍ مِنْ مِثْلِهِ وَادْعُوا شُهَدَاءَكُمْ مِنْ دُونِ الله إِنْ كُنْتُمْ صَادِقِينَ (23) البقرة

{And if you are in doubt about what we have sent down upon our slave, bring a single chapter like it and call your witnesses or supporters against Allah if you are correct. (23)}

[Surah Al-Baqarah (The Cow): 23]

This challenge remained unmet throughout the time the Qur’ân was being sent down to Muhammad and has remained so until today, although the shortest chapter (surah) is only three lines! Thus, no one has ever been able to produce just three lines of Arabic that any person knowledgeable of the Arabic language would recognize as being even remotely “equal” to Allah’s words. Even those who rejected and opposed Allah’s final message were never able to respond to this challenge – and have not been able to respond to it even until today.

A Linguistic Miracle

The miracle of the Qur’ân was apparent to the masters of the Arabic language. It was clear to all, and was not something only seen or believed in by those who answered its call and accepted its message. On several occasions during the lifetime of the Prophet, Arabs who were completely unfamiliar with the Qur’ân and its message, and after hearing only a few lines of it, swore that it was not the speech of any human – though they were not yet believers at the time. On one such occasion, a rider came in from the desert and heard this verse being recited:

فَاصْدَعْ بِمَا تُؤْمَرُ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الْمُشْرِكِينَ (94) الحجر

 {So go forth with what you are ordered and turn away from the pagans. (94)}

[Surah Al-Hijr (The Rocky Tract): 94]

The rider came down off his mount and fell on his face in prostration. When he was asked to what he was prostrating, he explained that he was prostrating to the language he had heard. He exclaimed, “By Allah! This is not the speech of any human being!” He was amazed by only three words, translated as: “Go forth with what you are ordered.” This is because one of the meanings of the word translated as ‘Go forth’ refers to a seedling bursting out of the earth, thus portraying the concepts of openly declaring the message, fearlessly going out amongst the people who are divided on the issue and proclaiming exactly what you have been ordered to proclaim without any hesitation or capitulation. The more one researches into the various meanings, origins, connotations as well as other words related to the first word in this verse, the more amazing this expression becomes. Such responses happened on more than one occasion with bedouin Arabs upon hearing various verses of the Qur’ân for the first time.

What is the Purpose of the Book before You?

This book is intended as a brief look into what is in the Qur’ân. Aside from the Arabic text included, it is NOT the Qur’ân and neither is any translation into any language. The Qur’ân is not human speech and no human had any role whatsoever in its composition or its contents. As the Qur’ân is the verbatim words of Allah, translating it into any other human language is both inconceivable and utterly impossible. What we have done here is only to attempt to render, as closely as possible, the meaning of Allah’s words as they would have been understood by the people who first received them. Effort has been made to avoid any sort of interpretation, interpolation or additions of any kind within the verses themselves. In addition, in the explanations we have relied primarily on the most authentic and clear commentaries to shed additional light on the meaning and/or context of the verses. Maximum effort has been made to ensure that what you see facing the Arabic text contains nothing that is not explicitly there in the original.

The initial plan was to gather 30 representative selections from the Qur’ân, the idea being that this will be easier on the casual reader who is only curious to know what is really in the Qur’ân, but is not prepared to study the entire book to find out. But then we feared that the selection process itself might reflect some kind of unconscious bias on our part or, even if this was not the case, it might arouse skepticism on the part of the reader that we have selected the verses in such a way to present a certain image and that perhaps we have left some things out intentionally.

So, the decision was made to simply start from the beginning of the Qur’ân without leaving anything out and to include the first two chapters which constitute just over 10% of the whole Qur’ân. Allah willing, this will lead to the completion of the entire Qur’ân in a similar manner in the future.

The first chapter is called Al-Fâtihah (The Opener). It is short and filled with supplications to Allah. It is recited in prayer by every Muslim many times per day. The second is the longest chapter in the Qur’ân and is called Al-Baqarah (The Cow). Because it was communicated during the later years of the Prophet’s mission, it reflects Islam in its complete form. For the first 13 of the 23 years over which the Qur’ân was communicated to earth, the Prophet and the believers around him were still in Makkah (Mecca), which was ruled by pagans. As an oppressed minority, they suffered many trials. During this stage, a firm foundation of basic beliefs was established in the hearts. Thus the divine communication during this period did not deal extensively with practical matters like legal rulings, the organization of society, war and peace and the like.

During the last ten years, after the migration to Al-Madînah (Medina) and the establishment of the Islamic nation as a geopolitical entity, the communication from Allah expanded to include what was needed in all of the above-mentioned areas. So you find most of the rulings of the law (called Sharî’ah) were delivered during this second period. Although this chapter – Al-Baqarah – is only about a tenth of the Qur’ân, it is quite representative of what is in the entire message. This includes fundamentals of monotheism and belief, histories of previous nations from which we can learn valuable lessons and rulings of the law to guide us in our individual and collective lives.

So our hope is that, in this short book, the reader can get a good look at what Allah had to say in his final message to mankind. There has been a lot of disinformation from those who wish to distort Islam’s message, especially in recent years. Hopefully, this brief, clear and honest look into what Allah actually said in his final message to mankind will inspire those unfamiliar with this message to proceed to seek more information and knowledge on this most important matter.

What is the Qur’ân?

The Qur’ân is the verbatim words of Allah and constitutes one of two parts of his final message to mankind. It was communicated to his final messenger Muhammad through the angel Jibrîl (Gabriel). Previous messages were delivered all at once like the Tablets of Mûsâ (Moses) and the Scrolls of Ibrâhîm (Abraham). But the Qur’ân was communicated gradually over a period of 23 years. It is not organized in chronological order. Rather, when each verse or group of verses was communicated, Jibrîl instructed Muhammad and Muhammad instructed the people exactly where the verses belong in the book that was being assembled piece by piece. The process by which it was delivered to Muhammad (who then delivered it to us) is called Wahy. The meaning of this word in Arabic is the communication of something from one to another in a manner which is both quick and also hidden or non-apparent to those around. When used in relation to Muhammad or any of the other prophets, it refers to language delivered from Allah to one of his messengers. This can be either directly – as when Allah spoke to Mûsâ from the bush or when he spoke to Muhammad on the night of the ascension – or via the angel Jibrîl. Jibrîl is the angel responsible for delivering Allah’s messages to his prophets throughout the ages. The third type of wahy is the true vision or dream given to one of Allah’s messengers. For example, Allah’s order to Ibrâhîm to sacrifice his son Ismâ’îl was given to him in this manner.

There are other matters which were communicated to Muhammad from Allah through Jibrîl but which are not part of the Qur’ân. This is the other half of Allah’s final message. Their meaning was communicated to him and the Messenger explained them to us in his own words. This process is distinct from that of the Qur’ân, which was communicated verbatim and with exact language, which the Muslims memorized, used in the daily prayers and preserved to the letter. Some of these narrations from the Prophet have been reported to us as something Allah said. They are called Ahâdîth Qudsiyyah (divine narrations). Many other narrations or ahâdîth of the Messenger contain teachings and information given to him, which he then explained and clarified to us in his own words and deeds.

If the word wahy is used to refer to what is given to people who are not prophets, it means inspiration. It is something for that person only and is not a message to mankind or to any group or nation. An example of this is when Allah inspired the mother of Mûsâ to put the baby Mûsâ in a basket and float him down the Nile, see [Surah Tâhâ: 38]. When it is from Allah to creatures other than humans, it means the instincts or natural inclinations which are part of Allah’s creation. An example of this is when Allah communicated to the bees where to construct their hives, see [Surah An-Nahl (The Bee): 68]. The same word was used in each of these references.

Notes about Translation

My primary objective in translating Allah’s words is to reflect as much meaning as I am able to in English, as it would have been understood by the Arabic speakers to whom it was first given, while being careful not to introduce anything that is not explicitly there in Allah’s original words in Arabic. If some additional information is needed in order to address any ambiguity or to reflect what is known regarding meaning and application of a verse, for example as taught by the Prophet by way of example, explanation or clarification, it will be placed in the explanation which follows the translation. I believe this makes the reading experience much easier and more like what an Arabic speaker experiences when reading Allah’s actual words.

This is especially useful to one learning Arabic who makes use of the Qur’ân with translation for learning. Many available translations today are of diminished usefulness for gaining understanding of the Arabic language because of the large amount of parentheses and extra words and phrases inserted into the translated text or liberties taken in terms of adding information and meanings to the verse from other sources. Even when such meanings come from widely accepted books of Qur’anic exegesis or sound narrations from the Prophet, they must be kept separate from the actual words of the Qur’an, just as they are in Arabic.

In forty years as an English-speaking Muslim – and at least thirty-four of those as an Arabic-speaking Muslim as well – the main complaint I have consistently heard from English-speakers regarding most available translations is the lack of correlation between the large number of English words on one side of the page and the Arabic original they purport to translate on the other side. The inquisitive Muslim wants to know first and foremost exactly what Allah said in the Qur’ân, nothing more and nothing less. He or she can then proceed to learn the nuances, interpretation and background information after that. Many also remark that with all the parentheses and interjected phrases, the verses are actually less clear and are confusing to read. It is my desire to serve these needs.

Capitalization

It is customary in English to use capitalization in a variety of situations such as names and anything which refers to God. There is no such written device in Arabic. As such, I have sought to avoid it for the most part, especially when translating the verses themselves. Of course, I capitalize the word “Allah” because it is a proper noun and is the one and only deity’s name. Nevertheless, I refrain from capitalizing all other words, pronouns, attributes or titles which refer to Allah such as “lord of the worlds”, etc. I feel this capitalization is unnecessary, does not add anything to the meaning and since there is no such thing in Arabic I prefer not to use it. There are even some cases where a word such as a pronoun could apply to Allah or it could apply to other than Allah in the original Arabic. Insisting on capitalization forces the translator to restrict the verse to one of its possible meanings where no such restriction is found in Allah’s actual words in Arabic in either their recited or their written form. See [Surah Yûsuf (The Prophet Joseph): 23].

Quoted vs. Reported Speech

There are no quotation marks in the Qur’ân. Quoted speech can be identified in Arabic by other means, but there is nothing to indicate the beginning and end of the quoted speech and on some occasions it may not be exactly clear where the quote ends and the text resumes. I could not just eliminate this completely and put only a sequence of words with no punctuation as in the original Arabic because that could lead to ambiguity not there in the original. For example, if I wrote:

He said we are good.

Does it mean: He said, “We are good.” (He is talking about himself and others with him),

Or does it mean: He said that we are good. (He is talking about “me”, i.e., the one being addressed, and others with me).

My solution is that I identify quoted speech with a colon and by capitalizing the first word in the quoted speech. I make no attempt to identify where the quote ends, just as in the original Arabic. So, the above example would be (assuming it’s quoted and not reported speech): He said: We are good.

Linguistic Meaning vs. Acquired Terminological Meaning

Allah communicated his final message to mankind in the Arabic language. Thus all words found in it had meaning in the Arabic language before Allah used them in the Qur’ân. Some of these words developed new or more specific meanings as the message was communicated, explained and implemented in the lives of the Muslims.

A prime example of this is the word “muslim”. This word means “one in surrender” or “one who surrenders” or “on who has surrendered”. That is what those receiving the Qur’ân would have understood. The word “islâm” is the verbal noun from the same branch of the same root and so means “surrender”. (No, it does NOT mean “peace”, which is another word from the same root with a somewhat distant derivation: “salâm”.) At this point in time, when we hear this word, we clearly understand it to mean a follower of the religion brought by Muhammad. True enough, once Muhammad delivered the message, following him became the only possible way to be among those who surrender and submit in obedience to Allah (God) from that point forward. However, Ibrahim (Abraham) and his followers were also “muslim”. See [Surah Al-Hajj (The Pilgrimage): 78]. In fact, all of the followers of all the prophets and messengers of Allah were “muslim” in this exact meaning and term.

Instead of transliterating “muslim ” in English, why not translate it as “one in surrender”? That delivers the correct meaning without introducing the confusion of meaning caused by the Arabic word “Muslim” untranslated and with a capital ‘M’. This is now universally understood to mean the followers of the final religion brought by Muhammad. All those who follow the message of Muhammad are certainly among those who submit to Allah’s commands (muslims), but there were large numbers of such muslims prior to the arrival of the final message sent to Muhammad. As understood today, every Muslim is a muslim but many muslims in the history of mankind were not Muslims, since the message of Muhammad – the final version of what it means to submit to Allah – had not appeared yet.

Surrender in human terms can be absolute or with negotiated terms. Surrender to Allah is complete and unconditional and thus “submission” is in most cases a better translation. We cannot possibly negotiate or impose terms on the one who created us from nothing. There are, however, terms to this complete surrender to Allah which Allah himself has stated:

{Allah has purchased from the believers their selves (i.e., lives) and their wealth and in exchange for them is Paradise. They fight in the path of Allah, they kill and are killed. This is a true covenant from Allah in the Torah, the Injeel and the Qur’ân. And who is more absolute in fulfilling covenants than Allah? So rejoice in the exchange which you have made. It is the greatest success.}

[At-Tawbah (Repentance): 111]

Another one of the “terms of surrender” which Allah has given us unilaterally is that once one surrenders to Allah, every good deed will be rewarded many times over – at least 10 times and as high as 700 times – while every bad deed will at most be recompensed as 1 – but Allah forgives much. Also, entry into surrender or a sincere repentance for one’s sins committed after surrender to Allah completely erases all that came before it except for the rights of other people which were violated. This is another of the “terms of surrender” or complete submission to Allah, our creator.

Another example of a word whose meaning has been modified is the word “taqwâ” and its derivatives. This word means to be vigilant and on-guard and to deflect blows and otherwise prevent any harm from coming to you. When those who received the Qur’ân first heard the command to have “taqwâ”, this is what the word meant – to be vigilant. To the best of my knowledge, this word had no religious or spiritual use or connotation prior to the Qur’ân. Over time, they came to understand what being “vigilant” or “guarding oneself” meant in this context. It meant to actively seek to protect yourself from Allah’s displeasure and his punishment. How can anyone possibly “defend themselves” from Allah the all-powerful? By learning what is required of you and striving your utmost to fulfill your obligations and avoid all sin and transgression. This has been translated as being “pious”, which is quite problematic. First, it gives little justice to the original linguistic meaning of the word. Second, since it has been used in the context of other religions, it has “baggage”, some of which is quite inappropriate. Just look at these definitions from a dictionary, especially numbers 2 and 3:

1. Having or showing a dutiful spirit of reverence for God or an earnest wish to fulfill religious obligations.

2. Characterized by a hypocritical concern with virtue or religious devotion; sanctimonious.

3. Practiced or used in the name of real or pretended religious motives, or for some ostensibly good object; falsely earnest or sincere: a pious deception.

4. Of or pertaining to religious devotion; sacred rather than secular: pious literature.

5. Having or showing appropriate respect or regard for parents or others.

Therefore, this word and its derivatives should be translated in a way which reflects both its original meaning in the Arabic language and its acquired meaning in the terminology of Islam. Thus, “taqwâ” itself is vigilance or being on-guard, the people of taqwâ (the “muttaqûn”) are those who guard themselves, the vigilant, the conscientious, etc.

Another example is the word “kâfir” and its derivatives. This word entails rejection and also ingratitude. It is active and not passive. It is usually translated “disbeliever”. The word “disbeliever” could have a similar meaning, but it could also simply mean “one having no belief” or “skeptic”, a passive and not an active concept. Kâfir is not that in the Qur’anic context. It means those who, when presented with Allah’s final message and monotheism, refuse, reject and oppose that message. Thus, this word is more properly translated as “rejecter” or possibly “rejectionist” rather than “disbeliever”.

Allah refers to the process by which the Qur’ân was transmitted to Muhammad (who then gave it to us) using the Arabic word “wahy”. (See previous discussion of this word above.) This word means a process whereby one communicates to another in a manner not apparent to others. It can refer to non-verbal communication between humans. See [Surah Maryam (Mary): 11]. It is usually translated as “revelation”. This is inappropriate for two reasons. First, adopting religious terminology from other religions is problematic because of possible “baggage” as illustrated previously. Also, the meaning is not accurate. To “reveal” means to simply expose something which is already there by removing a barrier or obstacle. Allah spoke the Qur’ân and it is his words. They were not “revealed” to Muhammad, they were communicated to him by the angel Jibreel.

Finally, I ask Allah that this book may benefit those who read it. I wish for everyone to experience the Qur’ân and benefit from its guidance to all that is good. I ask Allah that it inspire every Muslim who reads it to make the effort to learn the Arabic language in order to read Allah’s actual words. And, for the non-Muslim reader, I ask Allah that it inspire you to search more and read more as I firmly believe that open, honest and persistent seeking is all that is needed to find the guidance you seek, Allah willing. This is why Islam is the fastest growing creed in the world today. It spreads itself, with or without our help, and its truth is apparent to those who are blessed to approach it with an open heart. May Allah bless all who approach it to do so with an open heart and an open mind.

May Allah guide us all and give us all good of this life and the life hereafter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *