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Understanding the intricate language and nuances of the Qur’an is something every Muslim aspires towards in their life. However – contrary to what most people think – not all Muslims speak Arabic. In fact, according to a 2017 study, less than 15 percent of Muslims are Arab. Most of the 1.8 billion Muslims in the world live in Southeast Asia, so the issue at hand is how we as Muslims are able to understand our Holy Book, the Qur’an, when we don’t understand the language it was revealed in. The hurdle from this point forward that most people come across is finding a sufficient English translation of the Qur’an.

The fact of the matter is that there is no best English Quran translation. There are many, many Quran translations that were written with the best of intentions and effort , so we should try and appreciate them all for what they intended to do. Each Quran translation has different features that are specific to it and what the publisher intended by creating it. But it’s important to keep in mind that Arabic is indeed an incredibly deep, eloquent, and illustrative language, so there will always be some meaning lost in translation. The only way to command a language is to know the language itself. But here, we shall discuss the following English translations of the Qur’an that have been rooted in our history and used in our communities for years – so it is only right to highlight their qualities and honor them.

Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall’s English translation of the Qur’an was first published in 1930, followed closely afterwards in 1934 by Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation. Both of these translations were compiled scholars and activists (Kidwai). Although neither of their translations may not be as relevant to us because they were done in the early 1900s, these two translations remain two of the most widely-known and well-used translations today (Ansari). As activists, both of these scholars had aims and goals. For instance, through his translation, Yusuf Ali was trying to show how poetic the Qur’an was to a colonized Muslim population in India. And both of these translations are extremely poetic, using words like thee, thou, and thy. If you’re looking for a deeply poetic experience and translation, then pick one of these up.

In 1980, Muhammad Asad published The Message of the Qur’an, an English translation and interpretation of the Qur’an. Since then, it has been translated into many different languages and has become one of the most well-known of translations. Asad was an Austrian Jew who converted to Islam and spent many, many years dedicated to working on this translation and doing scholarly research (Kramer). The language is a bit older and more poetic, using words like hence and thereof, but it is definitely more literal and modern than both Pickthall and Yusuf Ali.

One of the most well-known and widely-used English translations of the Qur’an was actually created by a group of Muslim women. That’s right! Three American women – Emily Assami, Mary Kennedy, and Amatullah Bantley – converted to Islam in the 1980’s and joined together in Saudi Arabia to work under the name “Saheeh International”. The translation they published in 1997 became and to this day is still one of the most influential translations of the Qur’an. In fact, many well-known scholars have reviewed and commented on it (Zavadski). But as compared to Pickthall and Yusuf Ali, this English translation of the Qur’an is far less poetic and much more literal in meaning. It is to-the-point and does not embellish the language in any way. The intent is clear – understanding the meaning through simplified English. We really like this translation for students of Arabic because it is really close to the literal Arabic.

Finally, published by the Oxford University Press, the English translation of the Qur’an by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem is a hidden gem within our expansive Islamic libraries and collections. It is not only the latest translation, but a resource for Islamic history as well. One very unique aspect of Abdel Haleem’s English translation of the Qur’an is that before every chapter begins, there is a short introductory description that provides a bit of context as to what the chapter is about, when and where it was revealed, and the content of the chapter itself (Haleem). They were all revealed at different times and for different reasons, so they have to be read with these contexts in mind, which is exactly what this translation allows for. If you’re looking for something easily read and accessible for Muslims and non-Muslims alike without losing the literal word of the Qur’an – then this translation is for you.

Pickthall, Yusuf Ali, Muhammad Asad, Saheeh International, and M.A.S. Abdel Haleem’s English translations of the Qur’an are not only resources for Muslims everywhere, but for everyone. They are truly works of great effort that should be appreciated, honored, and respected. Instead of it being a daunting and overwhelming challenge to understand the word of Allah, it has become an enjoyable, eye-opening, and heartwarming experience, due to these translations. Because although Arabic is an eloquent and an incredibly beautiful language – unfortunately, not all of us know Arabic.

Now, go get a translation. 🙂

And… if you’d like to skip a translation some day:

Sources:

Ansari, Khizar Humayun. “Ali, Abdullah Yusuf (1872–1953), Indian Civil Servant and Islamic Scholar | Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 18 Dec. 2017, www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-95416;jsessionid=286B9A1AA057FC0DFE534F8F05226E2D.

Haleem, M.A.S. Abdel. The Qurʼan: a New Translation. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Huda. “The World’s Muslim Population.” Learn Religions, Learn Religions, 24 Oct. 2018, www.learnreligions.com/worlds-muslim-population-2004480.

Kidwai, A.R. “Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall’s English Translation of the Quran (1930): An Assessment.” Marmaduke Pickthall: Islam and the Modern World, edited by Geoffrey P. Nash, Brill, LEIDEN; BOSTON, 2017, pp. 231–248. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1163/j.ctt1w76wrn.16.

Kramer, Martin. “The Road from Mecca: Muhammad Asad.” Martin Kramer on the Middle East, martinkramer.org/sandbox/reader/archives/the-road-from-mecca-muhammad-asad/.


Zavadski, Katie. “How Three American Women Translated One of the World’s Most Popular Qurans.” The Daily Beast, The Daily Beast Company, 26 Mar. 2017, www.thedailybeast.com/how-three-american-women-translated-one-of-the-worlds-most-popular-qurans.