Find me a Qur'ān!
March 24, 2007 7:55 PM   Subscribe

Which translation of the Qur'ān should I read?

I have a copy of the translation by Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilali. The footnotes are sprawling and unhelpful, and the language in general is awful — stilted, awkward and cluttered with parenthetical attempts at clarification.

Can you recommend a more readable translation? I'm more concerned about the quality of the language than its modernity. If it were the Bible I was reading, I'd be happy with the Authorised ('King James') Version.

I'm reading it out of interest, not because of any desire to become a believer (nor am I a linguist or a theologian, if that matters). Cost is not an issue, because I can borrow from my university's divinity faculty library.
posted by Aloysius Bear to Religion & Philosophy (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Tomorrow's NYT has an article on a new translation of the Koran due out in April. There's a discussion of several translations.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 8:52 PM on March 24, 2007

Best answer: When I work with the Qur'an I use a combination of the Pickthall and Arberry translations. Arberry is truer to the poetics of the language, but Pickthall is easier to read, and his translation fits more with what Western readers expect a holy book to read like.

The reason for the parentheticals is that, as you might know already, Arabic is a language based on a series of roots, and any word can have a number of subtexts given the related meanings of other words derived from the same root. As a result, Islamic scholars secular and otherwise, when approaching the Qur'an, in determining the meaning of a particular phrase, resort to many different explanations. I've found that religiously-oriented translations tend to have more of these, and refer to traditional works of scholarship (tafseers), while secular scholars try to minimize extratextual comments in order to produce a more elegant appearance. There are merits to both of these approaches, and it really depends on the purposes of the reader.

Where there is consensus, it's that the Qur'an really is an untranslatable book. Any rendering in another language will necessarily be removed from the poetry and power of the original.
posted by awenner at 9:47 PM on March 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

I like Thomas Cleary's for its readability, but as everone else notes it's a mistake to think of any translation as authoritative.
posted by pullayup at 5:39 AM on March 26, 2007

I found this blog post helpful.
posted by zamboni at 6:01 AM on March 26, 2007

I am very fond of Ahmed Ali's translation, ISBN: 0-691-07499-2.
posted by CRM114 at 10:27 AM on March 26, 2007

I like Muhammad Asad. Great notes, and the translation is very readable.
posted by languagehat at 1:12 PM on March 26, 2007

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