Can anyone recommend a superlative translation, or perhaps even better, a great paraphrase of The Koran?
November 15, 2004 9:58 AM   Subscribe

The Koran. I read it long ago. I found it confusing, odd, hard to understand, in dire need of unpacking. I'd like to try reading it again. Can anyone recommend a superlative translation, or perhaps even better, a great paraphrase. Or at the very least one with decent annotations. I'm not averse to a version that does intelligent re-arranging of the sequence, as I recall chapters on cows following stuff on love. There are a number of current translations so pointers to informed reviews of them would be welcomed too.
posted by kk to Religion & Philosophy (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
$RELIGIOUS_TEXT. I read it long ago. I found it confusing, odd, hard to understand, in dire need of unpacking.
posted by xmutex at 11:26 AM on November 15, 2004

The best two "translations" are probably the Majestic Quran (Abdul Hakim Murad et al) and The Qur'an: A New Translation (Cleary). The former has far more explanatory tags, but is more expensive too.. Most muslims consider translations to be shaky interpretations at the best due to the nature of arabic and it's simultaneous multi-wording etc. The necessity for context (ie with verses about killing etc) means that tafsirs are generally helpful (books which crosslink the quranic verses with other verses and hadith/historical data). Still, those two versions read nicer than some of the standard ones.
posted by Mossy at 11:26 AM on November 15, 2004

Robert Irwin, writing in the LRB last year, recommended A.J. Arberry's translation (in Oxford World's Classics) and had this to say:

There is a fairly broad consensus among academics that Arberry's translation is the best, and it is the one I admire the most .. Though somewhat archaic, Arberry's version preserves the verse arrangement and with it some of the rhythm and rhetorical effect of the original .. It is in the Arberry version that the majesty and mystical power of the Koran is most fully apparent. English readers should not have to endure the drabness and suspect agendas that accompany the fundamentalist translations which are currently fashionable. There is a long and honourable tradition of reading the Koran in other, more open-ended ways ..

If you want a companion guide to the Koran, you might try Michael Cook, The Koran: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2000).
posted by verstegan at 12:49 PM on November 15, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks Mossy and verstegan. I ordered Murad, Cleary and Arberry. Is there a useable translation that re-arranges the non-liner sequence and puts the Koran into the (not orthodox) sequence for newbies?
posted by kk at 1:05 PM on November 15, 2004

for what it's worth (very little), i was completely unmoved by arberry, many years ago.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:27 PM on November 15, 2004

The Cleary is great, it seems to give insight in a way that other translations do not. What also might be helpful is the "selected surrahs" version by Clearly. In my studies, I found this was the most helpful single text, as it picks out some of the most important/interesting/spirtual parts and gives a really great translation. Once armed with that, you can plunge into some of the more difficult translations with a good grasp on the overall 'feeling' of the work.
posted by cell divide at 1:35 PM on November 15, 2004

I recommend the "selected suras" approach for starters; when you try the unabridged, you might keep in mind a remark that I found very helpful (I can no longer remember where I read it): the Koran is not a collection of stories with occasional rules and poems, like the Bible, it's more like Finnegans Wake—fractally organized, with bits of everything scattered throughout, so that the more you read, the more it will start making sense, even though each individual chapter seems incoherent. Of course, what holds it together and keeps the reader/hearer mesmerized in the original is the rhymed prose, which is said to be so glorious that in itself it is proof that the book is the word of God; alas, for those of us who are not Arabic speakers this doesn't do much good.

xmutex, don't be a jerk in AskMeFi, OK? There are two other sections of MeFi for that sort of thing.
posted by languagehat at 2:17 PM on November 15, 2004

This is also what makes the Qu'ran remarkably easy to memorise and cross-reference from memory - something especially pertinent in the context of the oral nature of Arabian society at that time (plus fun today).. One can become hafiz (someone who can quote a verse/location) in about a month. Most people who are hafiz function nicely as walking talking concordances.

Every surah has more than one purpose, it's quite fun realising that the one you read aaages ago is also pertinent to a completely different one you're reading now.

The process of distillation of the message/meaning of the Qu'ran leads into the fun world of Islamic jurisprudence - basically the human attempt to try and see what the author of that text was getting at re: worship and actions..
posted by Mossy at 3:35 PM on November 15, 2004

Response by poster: Thomas Jefferson, among others, cut and pasted the four Gospels of the Bible into a single unified synergetic Gospel, arranged logically. Has anyone been brave (or crazy) enough to make a de-fractualized version of the Koran?
posted by kk at 4:39 PM on November 15, 2004

KK I think a lot of people have tried to do it over the years. It's not that easy, for a lot of reasons.. it's not necessarily telling a single story in order (the Hadith does that, basically, kind of) but people have tried.

Here's the first thing I found doing some googling.
posted by cell divide at 5:41 PM on November 15, 2004

Response by poster: Hey, cell divide, that was incredibly useful. On first glance that is exactly what I need. Maybe I'll print out my own booklet version. Thanks!
posted by kk at 10:08 PM on November 15, 2004

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