البحث عن سياق القرآن التاريخي – نبذة عن الدراسات القرآنية الحديثة

  *By Emran El-Badawi | الدكتور عمران البدوي

 

The following is an excerpt of a review article providing an overview of the modern academic discipline of Qur’anic Studies. Its content discusses the ‘traditionalist’ and ‘revisionist’ schools, and academic approaches that fall somewhere in the middle.

(mapsofworld.com)

(mapsofworld.com)

 أشارككم المحاضرة الوجيزة هذه من أجل إعطاء نظرة عامة عن الدراسات القرآنية الحديثة بشأن نص القرآن والتاريخ الإسلامي الباكر بشكل وجيز. ولكن قبل أن نخوض معا في تفاصيل هذا الحديث، أتذكر أن الدكتور نصر حامد أبو زيد ألقى محاضرة مثيرة جدا قبل وفاته العام ٢٠١٠ بقليل عن علوم القرآن في حشد كبير من الأساتذة والطلبة والجمهور العام بالجامعة الأميركية في بيروت. لا حاجة لنا إلى أن نذكر أفكار أبي زيد أو معاناته نتيجة لأفكاره المثيرة للجدل. بل ما أريد التعبير عنه الآن هو أن الجامعات لا بد من أن تبقى منبرا ومنبعا للتقدم الفكري والثقافي . إلى موضوعنا وهو

سياق القرآن التاريخي

هناك تياران في الدراسة القرآنية الحديثة حول مسألة سياق القرآن التاريخي : أحدهما وهو الأقدم يوفق بين النص القرآني  والتراث الإسلامي وأسميه التيار التقليدي ، والآخر يستنبط سياق القرآن من النص وحده، ويبتعد عن السيرة والتفسير بشكل عام ، وأسمي هذا بالتيار التنقيحي. إلا أ نه صدرت مؤخرا أبحاث تقع مناهجها العلمية بين هذا وذاك. نبدأ حديثنا عن المراجع التقليدية التي يعتمد عليها التيار التقليدي ، أي التراث الإسلامي نفسه

**  PDF – إضغط هنا لمواصلة القراءة **

* This blog post is a slightly modified version of http://iqlid.wordpress.com, and it is part of a longer article published in Al-Machreq Online | المشرق الرقميَّة – العدد الخامس – كانون الأول ٢٠١٤

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.

New Book: Never Wholly Other: A Muslima Theology of Religious Pluralism

by  Jerusha T. Lamptey*

The observation that the Qur’an has a lot to say about various religious communities and religious diversity in general is not novel. Even a casual reader will quickly encounter references to the Children of Israel, the Jews, and the People of the Scripture; discussions of a multitude of prophets, revelations and scriptures; and descriptions of different types of people, including believers, disbelievers, hypocrites, and associators/idolaters.

Lamptey_NWO_coverThroughout history, these rich and complex facets of the Qur’anic discourse have spurred polemic and apologetic treatises; juridical debates and delineations of the boundaries between believers and disbelievers; and Sufi reflections on the diversity of prophecy in relation to the unicity of God. These facets continue to preoccupy many contemporary scholars, who are particularly interested in how the text is or can be invoked to promote religious intolerance or religious tolerance.

In Never Wholly Other: A Muslima Theology of Religious Pluralism (New York: Oxford, 2014), I offer a critique of some contemporary engagements with the Qur’an’s discourse on religious diversity. While the majority of these interpretations arising in the US context offer a positive read on the reality of religious diversity, they do so by oversimplifying the Qur’anic content. This occurs by privileging parts of the Qur’an that affirm diversity over other more diversity-ambivalent parts of the text. On an interpretive level, such privileging is accomplished by appealing to methods such as progressive revelation, ethical principles, chronology and abrogation.

In response, I propose a new hermeneutical approach that draws its foundational principles—including Qur’anic unity, polysemy, and textual silence—from Muslim women interpreters of the Qur’an. These foundational principles provide a unique starting point, but they require supplementation in order to avoid oversimplification of the Qur’an’s complex discussion of religious diversity. I find this in a critical retrieval of Toshihiko Izutsu’s method of semantic analysis, in particular his focus on semantic fields and relational meaning of Qur’anic concepts.

Combining the methods of Muslim women interpreters of the Qur’an and Izutsu, I then engage in a close and relational re-reading of the text. This re-reading begins with the identification of two distinct, yet overlapping, semantic fields: that of taqwā (God-consciousness) and that of umma (community of revelation). I then explore the complex interconnections among central Qur’anic concepts, including belief, disbelief, submission, association, and hypocrisy, and argue that they fall within the semantic field of taqwā, rather than umma. This means that these concepts or characteristics are not automatically affiliated with particular communities.

This argument leads to my constructive articulation of a Muslima theology of religious pluralism in which I offer an integrated account of the Qur’anic discourse on religious diversity, weaving together questions of creation, human nature, revelation(s), human diversity and interactions, and divine evaluation.

*Lamptey is Assistant Professor of Islam and Ministry at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. She earned her Ph.D. in Theological and Religious Studies, with a focus on Religious Pluralism, from Georgetown University in 2011. Her research focuses on theologies of religious pluralism, comparative theology, and feminist theology.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2014. All rights reserved.

Modern Women Exegetes of the Qur’an

A recent doctoral dissertation in Qur’anic studies, titled “Modern Women Exegetes of the Qur’an: Gender Perspectives on the Creation Narrative, Qiwama and Polygamy in Modern Women’s Exegeses” is summarized in Arabic below. The author, Mohamed Saleck Mohamed Val, defended his dissertation in Fez, Morocco this past July. He is a Mauritanian scholar with an M.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdullah University, who was also a member of the Moroccan Studies Doctoral Centre.

The project begins with a survey of women’s exegetical contributions in Mauritania, Morocco and Egypt, and culminates in an investigation of the interpretive articulations of four modern Egyptian women on gender-related issues—particularly the creation story, Qiwama or male-guardianship and polygamy.

دكتوراه في علم الاجتماع الديني حول التفسير النسوي للقرآن الكريم

نوقشت برحاب كلية الآداب والعلوم الإنسانية بظهر المهراز, فاس, بالمغرب أطروحة دكتوراه باللغة الانجليزية تقدم بها الباحث الموريتاني: محمد السالك ولد محمد فال حول موضوع: “المرأة وتفسير القرآن الكريم: قراءة لقضايا النوع الاجتماعي في تفسيرات نسائية معاصرة: قصة الخلق, والقوامة وتعدد الزوجات نموذجا” “

“Modern Women Exegetes of the Qur’an: Gender Perspectives on the Creation Narrative, Qiwama and Polygamy in Modern Women’s Exegeses.”

وبعد المداولات قررت اللجنة المناقشة منح الباحث شهادة الدكتوراه بميزة مشرف جدا مع توصية بالطبع.

ويعد هذا العمل هو الأول من نوعه في إبراز دور المرأة المسلمة في إثراء حقل تفسير القرآن الكريم, إذ قام فيه الباحث بدراسة استطلاعية شملت كلا من موريتانيا والمغرب ومصر بحثا عن تجار ب نسائية في تفسير النص القرآني.

وقد اشتملت الأطروحة على مقدمة و بابين من ثمانية فصول وخاتمة. جاء الباب الأول تحت عنوان “في استرجاع الدين الحق” وتشكل من أربعة فصول حاول الباحث من خلالها تسليط الضوء على الجانب التاريخي للمعرفة الإسلامية بشكل عام والتفسير بشكل خاص ومدى مشاركة المرأة في صياغة هذا الإرث الحضاري الهام. فعرض في الفصل الأول لدور المرأة في علوم الحديث والفقه والتفسير وغيرها. بينما تناول في الفصل الثاني الظروف والملابسات الثقافية والاجتماعية التي اكتنفت هذا المجهود النسوي وأدت إلى وأده ,خصوصا في حقل تفسير القرآن الكريم. و أما الفصلين الثالث والرابع فقد خصصهما للجدل الراهن القائم حول مفهوم النسائية الإسلامية ومحاولة “تبيئته” ضمن سياقات المجتمعات المسلمة المعاصرة. فيما انصب جهده في الفصل الرابع  على إيضاح بعض المناهج النقدية المتبناة من طرف التيار النسائي الإسلامي كالهرمنيوطيقا الحداثية”, و التاريخانية, وغيرها.

أما الباب الثاني من الأطروحة والموسوم ب: “النسائية الإسلامية المقننة أو الشرعية” فقد تناول فيه الباحث أربعة تفسيرات لكل من بنت الشاطئ وزينب الغزالي وفوقية الشربيني وكريمان حمزة, عارضا لحياة هولاء المفسرات والسياقات المعرفية والسياسية التي أنتجت آرائهن و اجتهاداتهن في الساحة الإسلامية التقليدية. كما ركز في هذا الباب على تقديم آراء المفسرات الأربع حول قصة الخلق ومفهومي القوامة وتعدد الزوجات و مقارنتها بآراء بعض المفسرين التقليديين بالإضافة إلى ما طرحته نساء معاصرات من أمثال الأمريكية آمنة ودود, والباكستانية أسماء بارلاس حول هذه المفاهيم.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.

The Traditions on the Composition of ‘Uthmān’s muṣḥaf.

By Viviane Comerro

Viviane Comerro is Professor of Islamic Studies at INALCO (Paris). This blog is a synopsis of its French book titled “Les traditions sur la composition du muṣḥaf de ‘Uthmān”, Orient-Institut Beirut, 2012

When and how did the Quran become a book? Even though paleography and codicology provide us with useful elements that shed light on this question, we should not overlook the study of Islamic literary sources which, through the diversity of their accounts on the writing of the Quran and the richness of their glosses on the Quranic text itself, remain bolder and more informed testimonies than any collection of manuscripts.

(ukaz.com.sa)

(ukaz.com.sa)

How should we address Islamic sources which provide us with numerous pieces of information on this issue? An initial historical approach based on the transmission of texts could lead us to follow the Ancients in their investigative endeavor by privileging the historical veracity of the version adopted by al-Bukhārī (d. 256/870) in his Ṣaḥīḥ.

A second, historical and critical approach has already achieved its full potential: drawing out a core that is common to the various versions of the account of the event so as to gain some certainty or extracting this historical core from its legendary, theological or ideological gangue.

Reflection upon the literary nature of sources that has developed alongside this approach has resulted in a transitory suspension of the “naively” historical approach. In fact, a tradition always provides the event and its interpretation as closely related. This is a khabar, information, as well as a hadith, an event set as an account. Thus, it is in taking into consideration the twofold nature of a tradition that I have read afresh the totality of the accounts on the writing of the Quran by paying very close attention to the variants and their meanings.

By placing back the received version of the event – the one Bukhārī kept in his Ṣaḥīh – in this totality, it appears as made up of several motifs that also exist in isolation as independent traditions. This version is therefore the result of a combination that selects some pieces of information while discarding others.

The author of this combination, or common link in the vernacular of the modern specialists of transmission, is Ibn Shihāb al-Zuhrī (d. 124/742), who certainly did not invent this story but combined different pieces of information on the writing of the Quran, as he did for other accounts.

Beyond this stage, the hadith of Zuhrī evolved even further since a version that is quite different from Bukhārī’s is to be found in the introduction to his Tafsīr by the great compiler of the 3rd century of Hegira, Ṭabarī (d. 310/923).

Apart from the issue of authenticity, wherever we place this version in the chain of transmission, what seems to matter is the reason why such a well-informed exegete as Tabarī chose this version of Zuhrī’s account rather than another one. This question led me to question Bukhārī’s stance and Ṭabarī’s regarding the status of Quranic recitation in the intellectual debates of their time. I came to the conclusion that, to some extent, the issue of the isnād was of secondary importance. What really matters is the content of each account.

For Ṭabarī, who claims that ‘Uthmān reduced the various recitations of the Quran to a single ḥarf in the official muṣḥaf, it is important to note that the Quranic text is not the result of a collection but the writing of a single man, Zayd b. Thābit.

For Bukhārī, it is important to take a stand in a critical debate of his time: that of the created or uncreated Quran, which goes on long after the end of the Miḥna by claiming that the writing of the Quran is created, in contrast with the Hanbali scholars.

Besides, the stance differs from one Ṣaḥīḥ to the other. Muslim (d. 261/875), Bukhārī’s contemporary, who frequented the same circles as him, apparently avoids to take a stand in this debate. Nowhere does he mention the account transmitted by al-Zuhrī. On the other hand, he mentions traditions on the various recitations of the Companions Ubayy, Ibn Mas‘ūd and Abū Mūsā. In this selection of information, one can detect a stand in another significant debate that lasted for centuries about the diversity of Quranic recitations theorized in the form of a prophetic hadith: Unzila l-qur’ān ‘alā sab‘ati ahruf. In this controversy, a stance became more and more a minority, yet it lasted for a long time: it was allowed to liturgically recite ancient qirā’āt, especially that of Ibn Mas‘ūd, due to the fact that the companions of the Prophet and the Successors did it, even though these “readings” were not in keeping with the ‘Uthmānian rasm. It seems that in the 3rd century, prior to Ibn Mujāhid’s reform, the traditionist Muslim was inclined to favor such a stance.

The discrepancies between the accounts about the writing of the Quran, which are already impressive regarding what comes from Zuhrī, are even more so when all the traditions are taken into consideration. They are so not only for the researcher who considers he should not side with the traditionists, now as in the past, but also because all these accounts excluded by the strict selection of the Ṣaḥīḥ reappear in the margin of a commentary or an argumentation by the early (or modern) authors among the most interested in orthodoxy.

Historical description is not the main goal of traditionists, who rather try to solve theological/juridical problems. The diversity of the accounts related to the writing of the Quran, which mostly took place under ‘Uthmān’s caliphate, could result from the traditionists’ worry about the composition of the muṣḥaf in an unfavorable historical context: a challenged caliphate in a time troubled by strong dissensions. The attested circulation of different maṣāḥif of the Quran, one of the sources of legitimacy and authority in the fullest sense of this dīn as the foundation of the new community, represented a danger for Medina’s power. After the historical situation changed, though it was never forgotten, the prime preoccupation concerned the conditions of transmission of the prophetic proclamation. The selection of the ḥarf of Zayd, a man related to ‘Uthmān, had not been consensual. And what to do with the maṣāḥif of Ubayy, Ibn Mas‘ūd, Abū Mūsā, Miqdād and others? Several responses to these unexpressed worries arose in the large corpus of narrative traditions on the writing of the Quran. I have suggested classifying these accounts according to the kind of solution they provided to ensure the faultless transmission of the muṣḥaf.

After this investigation in literary sources, it is to be noted that there is no received version of the writing of the muṣḥaf despite the status acquired by the Ṣaḥīḥ of Bukhārī and the repetition, book after book, century after century, of his hadith on the collection of the Quran, a “thing the Prophet had not done.” In this way, although a 12th century traditionist such as Abū Muḥammad Ḥusayn al-Baghawī reports Bukhārī’s account in his Sharḥ al-Sunna, in his commentary he carries out a rewriting of the event with the memory of other accounts. He claims that the composition of the muṣḥaf is an act involving the Companions as a collective actor of the ijmā‘: they are those who decided together with ‘Uthmān and those who wrote. This rewriting is as perceptible in the 15th century when al-Suyūṭī began his chapter of the Itqān devoted to the collection of the Quran by the blunt assertion that at the time of the Prophet’s death “the Quran had not been collected.” Throughout the text and in the conclusion of the chapter, it appears that the “thing the Prophet had not done” had in fact been accomplished since the muṣḥaf, organized as verses and suras, is exactly the same as that instituted by Muḥammad after the angel’s dictation.

In my book, I left the question of the writing of the Quran at the time of the Prophet open-ended owing to the scarcity of traditions that mention it. This question pertains to another kind of investigation on the oral/written composition of the Quranic text (Angelika Neuwirth) and could rest on the works of linguists and anthropologists dealing with orality and writing.

In conclusion, the study of traditions informs us on some crucial elements of the history of the text: the plasticity of its composition and oral transmission; the antiquity of its writing; the fixation of a model written under ‘Uthmān; its gradual canonization; the preservation of textual variants as a reflection of the original oral diversity and then the philologists’ interest; the parallel theologizing of the history of transmission.

Yet this study chiefly enables us to understand the Tradition that lends their full weight to the actors of transmission. Through selection, combination, additions or deletions, and when the text is permanently fixed in its letter, through their glosses, commentaries and interpretations, these actors contribute to the fluctuation in meaning in the preservation of religion.

Our Annual Meeting in Baltimore, MD (Full Schedule and Registration Details)

By Emran El-Badawi and Gabriel Reynolds (With special thanks to Charles Haws)

The International Qur’anic Studies Association is happy to announce the full schedule of its first annual meeting, taking place in Baltimore, MD from November 22-24, 2013. You may recall our earlier announcement informing you about our exciting program for the first day. See the schedule below, but note that room assignments are still pending.

(baltimore.org)

(baltimore.org)

Given that this is IQSA’s inaugural meeting as well as the heightened public interest, the directors and steering committee have decided to make registration for to all IQSA panels on Friday Nov 22 (including the keynote lecture and response) free and open to the public. Those interested are further encouraged to attend IQSA panels on Saturday Nov 23 and Sunday Nov 24 by paying the registration fee of the Society of Biblical Literature – or –  American Academy of Religion. Finally, you are encouraged to subscribe to our blog in order to receive weekly news updates about our meetings, as well as informed posts on Qur’anic Studies today.

On behalf of the co-directors, steering committee and partners we thank you for your enthusiasm and support for IQSA.We look forward to seeing you in Baltimore!

International Qur’anic Studies Association
11/22/2013
1:30 PM to 4 PM
Room: Baltimore Convention Center – 345

Qur’an Manuscripts: Text, Object and Usage

Gabriel Reynolds, University of Notre Dame, Presiding

Keith Small, London School of Theology
Gems of the Bodleian: Qur’an Manuscripts at Oxford University (20 min)

Discussion (10 min)

Simon Rettig, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Codicology versus History of Art? Rethinking the Visual Study of Qur’an Manuscripts (20 min)

Discussion (10 min)

Alasdair Watson, Bodleian Libraries
The King’s Mushafs: A Glimpse at Some of the Qur’ans from Tipu Sultan’s Royal Library (20 min)

Discussion (10 min)

Asma Hilali, Institute of Ismaili Studies
The Manuscript 27.1 DAM: Sacred Words and Words about the Sacred (20 min)

Discussion (10 min)

Break (30 min)

International Qur’anic Studies Association

11/22/2013

4:30 PM to 5:45 PM
Room: Baltimore Convention Center – 345

Keynote Lecture: Implausibility and Probability in Studies of Qur’anic Origins

Emran El-Badawi, University of Houston, Introduction (10 min)

Aziz Al-Azmeh, Central European University, Budapest, Panelist (45 min)

Jane McAuliffe, Bryn Mawr University, Respondent (20 min)

International Qur’anic Studies Association

11/23/2013
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: Hilton Baltimore Convention Center Hotel – Paca

Theme: Approaches and Theories on the Translation of the Qur’an

Helen Blatherwick, University of London, Presiding

Maria Dakake, George Mason University
The Original Soul and the “Womb” of Kinship: The Feminine and the Universal in Qur’an 4:1 (25 min)

A. J. Droge, Translator
Traduttore, Traditore? Revisiting Mr. Nabokov (25 min)

Devin J. Stewart, Emory University
The Translation of Divine Epithets in the Qur’an (25 min)

Omar Tarazi, Independent Scholar
Translating the Qur’an’s Aesthetic and Intellectual Features into Plain English (25 min)

Shawkat M. Toorawa, Cornell University
Translation and the Sad Fate of the Qur’an’s Most (?) Important Feature (25 min)

Discussion (25 min)

International Qur’anic Studies Association
11/23/2013
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Marriott Baltimore Inner Harbor – Stadium Ballroom II

Theme: Qu’ran and Gender

Farid Esack, University of Johannesburg, Presiding

Juliane Hammer, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Equity, Equality, or Hierarchy: American Tafsir on Gender Roles in Marriage (20 min)

Discussion (10 min)

Kecia Ali, Boston University
Destabilizing Gender, Reproducing Maternity: Qur’anic Narratives of Mary (20 min)

Discussion (10 min)

Marion Holmes Katz, New York University
The Ethical Body and The Gendered Body In The Qur’an (20 min)

Discussion (10 min)

Hamza M. Zafer, University of Washington
The Sons (and Daughters) of Israel: Gender In Qur’anic Negotiations of Jewish Lineage (20 min)

Discussion (10 min)

Aziz al-Azmeh, Central European University, Respondent (10 min)

Discussion (20 min)

International Qur’anic Studies Association
Joint Session With: International Qur’anic Studies Association, Qur’an and Biblical Literature
11/23/2013
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Marriott Baltimore Inner Harbor – Stadium Ballroom II

Michael Pregill, Elon University, Presiding

Michael Graves, Wheaton College (Illinois)
Kernel Texts and Prophetic Logia: Biblical and Quranic Scholarship in Dialogue (20 min)

David Penchansky, University of Saint Thomas (Saint Paul, MN)
Daughters of Deity in the Bible and the Quran (20 min)

Abdulla Galadari, University of Aberdeen
Begotten of God: A Quranic Interpretation of the Logos (20 min)

David Hollenberg, University of Oregon
Ships of Faith, Islands of Salvation: Stories of the Prophets as Intra-Sectarian Shi’ite Polemic (20 min)

Clare Wilde, University of Auckland
Quranic Echoes of the bnay qeyama (20 min)

Discussion (20 min)

Business Meeting (20 min)

International Qur’anic Studies Association
Joint Session With: International Qur’anic Studies Association, Qur’an and Biblical Literature
11/24/2013
1:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: Hilton Baltimore Convention Center Hotel – Johnson B

Theme: Modern Muslim Critics of Bible and Isra’iliyyat

Brannon Wheeler, United States Naval Academy, Presiding

Gabriel Said Reynolds, University of Notre Dame
Reading the Bible with Ahmad Deedat (20 min)

Michael Pregill, Elon University
Modern Critics of Isra’iliyyat and the Problem of Isma’ (20 min)

Younus Mirza, Allegheny College
Abridging the Isra’iliyyat: Shaykh Ahmad Shakir’s (d.1377/1958) Summary of Tafsir Ibn Kathir (20 min)

Roberto Tottoli, Universita degli Studi di Napoli l’Orientale
Isra’iliyyat: A Tool of Muslim Exegesis and Western Studies (20 min)

Discussion (20 min)

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.

Divergence in Qur’an Translations: Causes and Examples

By Sohaib Saeed*

(from citizenwarrior.com)

(from citizenwarrior.com)

The translation of the Arabic Qur’an into the languages of the world has received the broad acceptance of Muslim scholars since the middle of last century, though the practice of translating the whole Qur’an extends back to the sixteenth century or earlier. The original missionary goals were replaced by those of academic research, as well as Muslim efforts to clarify the teachings of their faith not only for non-Muslims but also for new generations of foreign believers. Translation is a particular method of explaining the Qur’anic text and can serve as a succinct way of expressing the meanings of its words and sentences.

Many Muslims make a fundamental distinction between the Qur’an—revealed verbatim in Arabic as a divine challenge—and its translations, understood as human renderings of its meaning into other languages. Any product of the human mind is subject not only to the possibility of error but also to the capacity for difference of opinion. Translation of any complex and highly literary text is necessarily a difficult task, and one in which expert opinions can diverge at various points.

After recognising the particularities of interpreting and translating a sacred text (too many to expand on here), the role of choice in the work of a translator is a reality that must also be appreciated. The translator may have to select exactly which text to translate (in this case, between the canonical readings, qirā’āt). On the level of vocabulary, a single word may have multiple meanings, more than one of which may be possible in a particular context. Indeed, it is possible that both meanings are intended, but that no single word in the target language will carry them both. There is also the challenge of observing the subtle distinctions between near-synonyms, e.g. the various words conveying senses of “fear,” even in a single verse.[1]

Then, on the phrasal and sentence level, the translator must decide which grammatical interpretation (iʿrāb) to follow. While the recent Qur’anic Corpus project is performing a valuable service in presenting the concept of grammatical parsing more widely, what may not be obvious from this project is the scope for diversity of opinion on this matter, as can be readily seen by consulting the books of iʿrāb and tafsīr. Similarly, the translator needs to decide on the referents of pronouns when they are ambiguous (e.g. between “he”, “He” and “it”), and how to incorporate punctuation such as sentence divisions and speech marks. After all this come the stylistic choices, such as how to render idioms and how the text will best flow in the target language.

Accordingly, we can compare between existing translations of the Qur’an to find that the differences between them fall within the following categories:

  • Vocabulary: lexical meanings and subtle distinctions
  • Grammar and sentence structure
  • Pronouns etc.
  • Stylistic choices
  • Multiple readings (qirā’āt) – rarely [2]

What follows is an analysis of a selection of translations of some verses (or parts of verses, as relevant) from the beginning of Surat al-Baqarah, in order to apply the above theory and discover the basis of difference between them. The method is to group the translations that are substantially identical (i.e. in all but style), and then identify the cause of divergence wherever it exists. It should be emphasized that this analysis will not indicate all the translations that could exist, because it is applied to a finite group (namely, those currently available on Quran.com); moreover, it is possible that translators tended to see things the same way, or indeed were influenced by each other. Indeed, there might be more diversity if they were to rely more pronouncedly on the books of iʿrāb and tafsīr, which present obscure interpretations alongside the more obvious.[3]

As such, what follows is designed to illustrate choice and divergence in translation and enable the reader to appreciate what is involved in the task. It is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment, but contains hints for further study. A subsequent project may be to do the same for the rest of the Qur’an, as well as to look at a greater number of actual translations, and indeed possible translations that were not selected by anyone before. It should also be noted that it is outside our present scope to discuss whether some mistakes were made by the translators, or which of their approaches is best in each case.

Translation Study
(Surat al-Baqarah 2:1-20)

2:2       ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ

Sahih International: This is the Book

Muhsin Khan: This is the Book

Yusuf Ali: This is the Book

Pickthall: This is the Scripture

Ghali: That is the Book

Shakir: This Book

Causes of divergence:

  • Whether to render literally the demonstrative pronoun usually reserved for distant things (“that”) or consider the distance here as indicating greatness of “this” book.
  • Whether to interpret the two words as being a complete nominal sentence (thus with “is”), or together as the subject (“This book”) which is then followed by the predicate.
  • Choice between general “book” and the more contextual “scripture.”

2:2       لا رَيْبَ فِيهِ

Sahih International: about which there is no doubt

Ghali: there is no suspicion about it

Muhsin Khan: whereof there is no doubt

Pickthall: whereof there is no doubt

Shakir: there is no doubt in it

Yusuf Ali: This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt

Causes of divergence:

  • Whether to render it literally as “in” or understand it as “about”/“whereof.”
  • Different sentence structures depending on stopping place. Yusuf Ali’s rendering depends on reading it as ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لا رَيْبَ followed by فِيهِ هُدًى لِّلْمُتَّقِين—resulting in the Book containing guidance, rather than being guidance. He has adjusted the phrasal order for flow in English.

2:2       هُدًى لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ

Yusuf Ali: in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who fear Allah

Sahih International: a guidance for those conscious of Allah

Ghali: a guidance to the pious

Pickthall: a guidance unto those who ward off (evil)

Shakir: a guide to those who guard (against evil)

Muhsin Khan: a guidance to those who are Al-Muttaqun

Causes of divergence:

  • Different approaches to rendering the concept of taqwā, including the strategy of retaining the Arabic term.
  • The literal “guidance” (verbal noun) or a more contextual “guide” (active participle).
  • The different sentence structure used by Yusuf Ali, as explained previously.

2:3       الَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْغَيْبِ وَيُقِيمُونَ الصَّلاةَ

Sahih International: Who believe in the unseen, establish prayer…

Pickthall: Who believe in the Unseen, and establish worship…

Yusuf Ali: Who believe in the Unseen, are steadfast in prayer…

Shakir: Those who believe in the unseen and keep up prayer…

Ghali: Who believe in the Unseen, and keep up the prayer…

Muhsin Khan: Who believe in the Ghaib and perform As-Salat (Iqamat-as-Salat)…

Cause of divergence:

  • Rendering certain Arabic terms as they are. As this is a regular occurrence in Muhsin. Khan’s translation (as well as its excessive glosses), it will not be mentioned further.

2:5       أُولَٰئِكَ عَلَىٰ هُدًى مِّن رَّبِّهِمْ

Sahih International: Those are upon [right] guidance from their Lord

Muhsin Khan: They are on (true) guidance from their Lord

Yusuf Ali: They are on (true) guidance, from their Lord

Ghali: Those are upon guidance from their Lord

Shakir: These are on a right course from their Lord

Pickthall: These depend on guidance from their Lord

Causes of divergence:

  • Renderings of the word hudā, with Shakir perhaps being influenced by its being indefinite here.
  • Interpretations of the metaphor of being “upon” guidance. Pickthall has apparently understood that a word was left unmentioned; perhaps this ought to have been placed in parenthesis.

2:5       وَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ

Sahih International: and it is those who are the successful

Muhsin Khan: and they are the successful

Pickthall: These are the successful

Ghali: and those are they who are the prosperers

Yusuf Ali: and it is these who will prosper

Shakir: and these it is that shall be successful

Cause of divergence:

  • Reading the active participle as indicating the present or the future.

2:6       لا يُؤْمِنُونَ

Sahih International: they will not believe

Muhsin Khan: they will not believe

Yusuf Ali: they will not believe

Shakir: …will not believe

Pickthall: they believe not

Ghali: they do not believe

Cause of divergence:

  • Reading the imperfect verb as indicating the present or the future.

2:8       وَمِنَ النَّاسِ مَن يَقُولُ آمَنَّا بِاللهِ وَبِالْيَوْمِ الآخِرِ

Sahih International: And of the people are some who say, “We believe in Allah and the Last Day”

Yusuf Ali: Of the people there are some who say: “We believe in Allah and the Last Day”

Shakir: And there are some people who say: We believe in Allah and the last day

Muhsin Khan: And of mankind, there are some (hypocrites) who say: “We believe in Allah and the Last Day”

Pickthall: And of mankind are some who say: We believe in Allah and the Last Day

Ghali: And of mankind (there) are some who say, “We have believed in Allah and in the Last Day”

Cause of divergence:

  • Whether to consider al-nās as referring to a specific number of people, or all mankind. This distinction is significant in certain other verses.
  • Here and elsewhere: approaches to the past-tense verb “believed,” often rendered in the present to suit the meaning.

2:10     وَلَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ بِمَا كَانُوا يَكْذِبُونَ

Sahih International: and for them is a painful punishment because they [habitually] used to lie

Muhsin Khan: A painful torment is theirs because they used to tell lies

Pickthall: A painful doom is theirs because they lie

Shakir: and they shall have a painful chastisement because they lied

Ghali: and for them is a painful torment for (that) they used to lie

Yusuf Ali: And grievous is the penalty they (incur), because they are false (to themselves)

Cause of divergence:

  • Taking the verb to apply to the act of lying, or as a mode of behaviour which is the opposite of being true (i.e. sincere).

2:11     قَالُوا إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ مُصْلِحُونَ

Sahih International: they say, “We are but reformers”

Muhsin Khan: they say: “We are only peacemakers”

Pickthall: they say: We are peacemakers only

Yusuf Ali: they say: “Why, we only want to make peace!”

Shakir: they say: We are but peace-makers

Ghali: they say, “Surely we are only doers of righteousness” (i.e. reformers, peacemakers)

Cause of divergence:

  • Meanings of the term iṣlāḥ

2:12     أَلا إِنَّهُمْ هُمُ الْمُفْسِدُونَ وَلَٰكِن لا يَشْعُرُونَ

Sahih International: Unquestionably, it is they who are the corrupters, but they perceive [it] not

Muhsin Khan: Verily! They are the ones who make mischief, but they perceive not

Yusuf Ali: Of a surety, they are the ones who make mischief, but they realise (it) not

Shakir: Now surely they themselves are the mischief makers, but they do not perceive

Ghali: Verily, they, (only) they, are surely the corruptors, but they are not aware

Pickthall: Are not they indeed the mischief-makers? But they perceive not

Cause of divergence:

  •  Interpretation of the opening particle as being interrogative (its origin), rather than emphatic. Similarly in the following verse: “Are not they indeed the foolish?”

2:15     اللَّهُ يَسْتَهْزِئُ بِهِمْ

Sahih International: [But] Allah mocks them…

Muhsin Khan: Allah mocks at them…

Pickthall: Allah (Himself) doth mock them…

Ghali: Allah mocks them…

Shakir: Allah shall pay them back their mockery…

Yusuf Ali: Allah will throw back their mockery on them…

Cause of divergence:

  • Taking the verb as being a direct action in the present, or as an expression of the punishment which God will enact on the hypocrites, described with a verb that matches their wicked behaviour to indicate that the punishment will fit the crime in perfect justice and wisdom.

2:17     وَتَرَكَهُمْ فِي ظُلُمَاتٍ لَّا يُبْصِرُونَ

Sahih International: and left them in darkness [so] they could not see

Muhsin Khan: and left them in darkness. (So) they could not see

Pickthall: and leaveth them in darkness, where they cannot see

Yusuf Ali: and left them in utter darkness. So they could not see

Shakir: and left them in utter darkness– they do not see

Ghali: and left them in darkness(es) (where) they do not behold (anything)

Cause of divergence:

  • The plural form of “darkness” being ignored, treated as an emphasis (“utter”) or rendered literally (“darknesses”) as a new coinage in English.

2:19     أَوْ كَصَيِّبٍ مِّنَ السَّمَاءِ

Sahih International: Or [it is] like a rainstorm from the sky

Muhsin Khan: Or like a rainstorm from the sky

Pickthall: Or like a rainstorm from the sky

Yusuf Ali: Or (another similitude) is that of a rain-laden cloud from the sky

Ghali: Or as a cloudburst from the heaven

Shakir: Or like abundant rain from the cloud

Cause of divergence:

  • How they understood these two terms and their meanings and relation in the context.

2:20     وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللهُ لَذَهَبَ بِسَمْعِهِمْ وَأَبْصَارِهِمْ

Sahih International: And if Allah had willed, He could have taken away their hearing and their
sight

Muhsin Khan: And if Allah willed, He could have taken away their hearing and their sight

Pickthall: If Allah willed, He could destroy their hearing and their sight

Yusuf Ali: And if Allah willed, He could take away their faculty of hearing and seeing

Shakir: and if Allah had pleased He would certainly have taken away their hearing and their sight

Ghali: and if Allah had so decided, He would indeed have gone away with (i.e., taken away) their hearing and their beholdings (Literally: eyesights)

Causes of divergence:

  • The latter translator’s understanding of the literal meaning of the transitive construction dhahaba bihi.
  • His attempt to convey the plural nature of abṣār, because the word for hearing (samʿ) occurs in the singular.

To be continued

[1] See Q 4:9. This example is interesting, because the generally precise translators of Saheeh International have simply written “fear” three times. Yusuf Ali and Muhsin Khan have even combined the first two and called them “the same fear”! Dr. M.M. Ghali (who pays particular attention to synonymy) has perhaps done the best job of distinguishing between their senses in the verse; likewise Pickthall.

[2] The vast majority of translators have relied solely on the reading of Ḥafṣ ʿan ʿĀṣim, being the preponderant narration throughout the Muslim world since the era of publishing and indeed earlier. However, ten canonical readings (qirā’āt) are recognised as being equally authentic and authoritative. While most differences between them pertain to pronunciation only, some affect meaning and thus translation. The Bewley translation (1999) is based on the reading of Warsh ʿan Nāfiʿ. In addition, there are instances where translators deviate from the reading of Ḥafṣ, whether knowingly or unwittingly. These issues will receive a detailed treatment in the future.

[3] The books of tafsīr also contain divergence based on their stances concerning certain creedal and juristic matters, and so on. It is unclear to what extent many translators have relied on works of tafsīr to develop their interpretations; one could imagine that a linguistic treatment would be enough. We know that some, such as Muhsin Khan, make explicit reference to works of tafsīr; such can be seen in Yusuf Ali’s footnotes too. Unfortunately, most translators make little to no use of footnotes, and those who do write footnotes tend not to use them to explain their choices in translation.

Sohaib Saeed is presently pursuing a degree in Qur’anic Studies at the Faculty of Theology (Usul al-Din) of the world-renowned Al-Azhar University, Egypt, after attaining degrees in philosophy from the University of Edinburgh.

*This blog post is a slightly revised version of Sohaib Saeed’s essay from the website Quranica.com, which he manages.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.

Translation and Exegesis: Travis Zadeh’s The Vernacular Qur’an

By Michael Pregill

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The claim that Muslims do not translate the Qur’an, or rather that a translation of the Qur’an is not
 really the Qur’an at all but only a dim approximation of the basic sense of the text, has often been 
repeated by scholars. This notion has even informed the production of translations by Muslims 
themselves at times, as in the case of Marmaduke Pickthall’s famous The Meaning of the 
Glorious Koran (1930)—the title implying that the text in English represents only the meaning,
 with something substantial literally having been lost in translation. It is difficult to escape the
 conclusion that any rendition of the Qur’an into the vernacular—that is, into any language other 
than the original Arabic—should and must have a secondary and marginal status in Islamic
society.

But there is a paradox here, inasmuch as the public recitation and explanation of the Qur’an has
played a significant role in attracting converts to Islam since the earliest days of the community’s
 expansion after the Arab conquests. Historically, the process of reciting and explaining the 
Qur’an surely involved some element of translation; the parallel with the reading of the Torah 
and exposition of targum in Jewish synagogue services is obvious here. Further, scholars have
 often asserted (at least since the time of Goldziher’s seminal Die Richtungen der islamischen
 Koranauslegung, 1920) that tafsir (Qur’an commentary) most likely originated in this context, 
built upon the most ancient understandings of the Qur’an that had circulated among the earliest
followers of the Prophet. Initially grounded in the need to interpret the Qur’an’s essential message
for converts—often with considerable mythological and homiletic expansions—this tradition 
eventually coalesced into one of the core disciplines within the ulum al-Quran or “Qur’anic 
sciences.” All of this implies that translation of the Qur’an has in fact been central to Islamic 
society, at least at times, and that such translation has been absolutely vital for the survival and
 expansion of the community at numerous junctures in Islam’s long history.

The complex relationship between translation of and commentary upon the Qur’an is explored in
 depth in Travis Zadeh’s magesterial and far-ranging study, The Vernacular Qur’an: Translation
and the Rise of Persian Exegesis (Oxford University Press in association with the Institute of
 Ismaili Studies, 2012), which specifically examines the phenomenon of translation as it lies at
the foundation of both Persian literary and Iranian Islamic religious tradition. The significance 
of this study cannot be overstated. Iran was most likely the first region or culture area outside
 of Arabia proper to achieve a Muslim majority. Further, several of Iran’s urban centers became
preeminent centers of religious learning in the ninth and tenth centuries, producing ulama whose 
works became critical for the further development of the religious sciences, especially hadith; 
and, as is well known, by the high Middle Ages, so-called New Persian came to rival—and 
eventually surpass—Arabic as the preeminent literary language of Islamic society, at least in the 
eastern regions of the Dar al-Islam.

Zadeh’s study explores the intersections between theological and juridical controversies,
 devotional practice, and an emerging Persian literary culture, informed both by an admirable command of the theoretical literature on translation and a nuanced understanding of the complex 
conjunction of factors that contributed to the misrepresentation of Qur’an translation as somehow
 inferior or illegitimate. In Western scholarly discourse, the claim of the Qur’an’s untranslatability 
originates in medieval Christian polemic, in which Muslims’ supposed insistence that the Qur’an
 can only be approached in the original Arabic was caricatured as proof of Muslim “rigidity” 
and legalism – ritual rectitude purportedly being more important in Islam than rational 
understanding. This gross oversimplification of Muslim attitudes was then reinforced by the
 misapprehensions of more contemporary (and well-meaning) scholars such as Wilfred Cantwell
 Smith, who inadvertently conflated theological assertions of the Qur’an’s inimitability with some
 jurists’ opposition to the use of verses of the Qur’an in other languages in the devotional context
into a blanket prohibition on translation that somehow applied to all times, places, and contexts.

Smith thus characterized an opposition to translation as somehow essential to Islam, but as 
Zadeh demonstrates, the translation of the Qur’an into Persian, even for devotional purposes,
 appears to have been a basic fact in the Iranian milieu; the “early pattern of wrapping the sacred 
language of the Qur’an in Persian reflects the practical hermeneutic, if not liturgical, importance
 of approaching scripture through a linguistic medium other than Arabic” (133). Moreover,
translation into Persian was not simply driven by the practical considerations of disseminating 
the Qur’an in a recently converted, and thus only superficially acculturated, population. 
Rather, Zadeh’s theoretically sophisticated approach shows that the general recognition of the
 polyvalence of scripture—for example, the idea that the Qur’an was revealed in seven ahruf 
(modes or recitations)—opened up a wide discursive space in which many scholars not only 
tolerated but even explicitly sanctioned the ongoing use of the Qur’an in Persian and other
languages for a variety of purposes.

Astonishingly, Zadeh’s treatment of his subject stretches from the period just after the Arab
 conquests of the seventh century all the way to the flourishing of Persian tafsir in the eleventh 
and twelfth centuries with figures such as Abu’l-Futuh al-Razi, Surabadi, and Isfara’ini, as well
 as discussing the later reception of this tradition in subsequent centuries. Even as the use of
 Persian renditions of Qur’anic verses was largely abandoned in specifically devotional contexts,
 the dynamic interplay between the Arab and Iranian cultural and linguistic milieux continued to 
inform the evolution of Islam in the Persian-speaking world. As their tradition matured, Iranian 
scholars continued to have a complicated relationship with Arab Islamic religious authority and
 exegetical discourse—especially the latter, as “exegesis served as a platform for the articulation
 of religious commitments” (448), particularly as attitudes towards Persian came to inform and in
 turn be inflected by sectarian considerations.

This brief notice hardly does justice to Zadeh’s wide-ranging, yet lucidly argued and eloquently written, treatment of the Qur’an in Persian and the Persianate world. We may hope that his nuanced and imaginative study draws attention to this long-neglected subject and inspires new scholarly research in this area in the future.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.