Translating the Text

Despite the Muslim belief vis-à-vis the untranslatability of the Qur’ãn, Muslim scholars throughout history have endeavoured at translating it with the intention of generating its comprehensive meaning and message and then communicate this message to humanity. In contemporary era, the Qur’ãn has been translated into various languages (almost 215 languages) by Muslims as well as non-Muslims. From 16th century, the English speaking world, also translated the Qur’ãn in their language. The first English translation of the Qur’ãn (hereinafterETQ) was done by George Sale, followed by E. H. Palmer, J. M. Rodwell, Richard Bell and Arthur J. Arberry, which gained familiarity among Orientalists for their renditions of the Qur’ãn. Later, in 1930s, Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall and Abdullah Yusuf Ali translated the Qur’ãn into the English. Between 1649 and 1999, around seventy English translations were produced. In the 21st century, there has been a spurt in the appearance of the ETQ. For instance, in 2018 and 2019, around ten ETQ were published. Presently, there are more than one hundred forty (140) complete ETQ. To this field, among Muslims, the native Arabs have also contributed; for instance, Tarif Khalidi, Abdel Haleem, Ahmad Zaki Hammad and Mustafa Khattab etc. A new addition to this list is The Luminous Qur’ān: A faithful rendition, annotated translation of the first three suras of the Message of God (hereinafter TLQ) byDr Waleed Bleyhesh al-Amri (Associate Professor of Translation Studies, Taibah University, Madina).

A little critical consideration, however, has been paid to them in academic world. A new work Waleed al-Amri’s The Luminous Qur’ãn: Critical Views somehow fills this gap of non-seriousness by analytically evaluating TLQ. The volume under review, published by Brown Books, in association with K.A. Nizami Centre for Quranic Studies (KANCQS), covering the first three Surahs: al-Fatitha, al-Baqarah and Âl-Imran in English, edited by Gowhar Quadir Wani (a young Kashmiri scholar, currently working as Assistant Professor at KANCQS, Aligarh Muslim University, India). Most of the material of this volume has appeared in the e-journal, The Aligarh Journal of Quran Studies in October 2019 issue ( The book can be broadly divided into two parts: part one contains three (3) article and an interview with al-Amri and the other part covers four (4) reviews/ review essays. The book spans over 106 pages and draws the attention to the strengths and weakness of al-Amri’s English translation.

Chapter one “Mainstreaming the mainstream: Introducing ‘authority’ to the Qur’ãn Interpretation in English” (pp. 1-17) by Nazeer Ahmad. Ab. Majeed highlights the methodology of al-Amri’s TLQ. The author argues that “al-Amri is not a sectarian scholar in the strict sense of the term”, for he “remains committed to the representation of canonical views and positions of the Sunni mainstream.” (p.3) He evades quoting any scholar/opinion, the author holds, “whose authenticity or authority can be questioned in the orthodox Sunni circle.” (Ibid.). Regarding the ‘articles of faith’, ‘Naskh (abrogation)’, ‘signs of Allah’ etc., “he invariable cites [Tafsir] al-Tabari along with other masters in the field of tafsir”, however, the ‘modernist’ English translators are cited on ‘the safest places’ (pp.4-9). Further, he offers a comparative study of al-Amri’s translation vis-à-vis other ETQ.

Chapter two “Assessing the Translational Distinctions of Waleed Bleyhesh al Amri’s the Luminous Qur’ãn: Shift from Translation towards Adaptation” by Ubaid V.P.C examines the translational quality of TLQ. A comparative study of Surah al Fãtiha vis-à-vis five other ETQ [Abdullah Yusuf Ali (1989), Taqiuddin al-Hilali and Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Muhammad Asad, Abu’l A’la Mawdudi and Tarif Khalidi] of is presented, in order to highlight its difference with reference “to its selection of target words/phrases”, “source text which is philosophically loaded, competency level over both sources and target languages, bias-free philosophical standpoint and pluralistic outlook.” Based on this analysis, the author argues that unlike others, al-Amri “purposefully uses the name Allah in Arabic in the verse and its westernized version ‘God’ in notes” and his detailed explanation of Arrahmãn and Arrahím, “helps the readers to internalize the sole message of the Qur’ãn” (pp.19-21). To cope the linguistic features of the target language, al-Amri adds ‘explanatory brackets’ and “leaves the Qur’ãn to speak for itself” (p.34).

Ãyat al-Kursí – the most precise and concise discerption of the Attributes of God in a single verse– is discussed in chapter three entitled “Translating the Throne Verse (Ãyat al-Kursí): A Study of …al-Amri’s The Luminous Qur’ãn” by Gowhar Quadir Wani. The author provides a comparative study of al-Amri’s translation of Ãyat al-Kursí vis-à-vis Khattab (2016), Khalidi (2008) and Ahmad Zaki Hammad’s (2007) ETQ. Based on this assessment, he offers three critical points:(i) the selected translators “have translated Allah as God”, however, “al-Amri has retained it”, but “a separate and sufficient discussion on the preference of the word ‘Allah to God’…is completely missing” (p.45). (ii) His translation of the Qur’ãnic catchphrase ‘al-Kursi to footstool’ is “neither a proper linguistic equivalent of al-Kursi nor a catchy and eloquent usage, especially in relation to God.” Wani argues that in Islamic cosmologies, “al-Kursi is above the cosmos, and al-Arsh is above al-Kursi, a symbolism which cannot afford the translation of al-Kursi as ‘the footstool’ because a footstool sits in front of a throne, not underneath it.” (pp.46,47). (iii) Al-Amri’s translation of the Divine Names, al-Aliyy and al-Azim, in this verse, as ‘the Most High’ and ‘the Most Great’ respectively is “not a perfect choice on the part of al-Amri in comparison to the other translators” (p.47).

The fourth chapter is based on an interview with al-Amri by Sajid Shaffi, wherein he raises some basic questions like “Qualifications for translating the Qur’ãn” (p.50), “Issues of Qur’ãn Translatability” (p.54), “Addressing Contemporary Issues in ETQ” (P.58) and “Orientalist and ETQ” (P. 63) etc.

The next portion of the book is based on four reviews of TLQ by Hamid Sayeed Ekram Ahmed, Abdur Raheem Kidwai, Tauseef Ahmad Parray and Muhammad Mubeem Saleem respectively. Ahmad holds that Al-Amri in the introduction has given “a definition of the Qur’ãn followed by a brief explanation of what it is, whom it is revealed to and its importance for mankind”, which constitute the significant features of TLQ (p.67). His major argument is that TLQ is a “marvellous work” and “seems to be much faithful to the original text” (pp.67,69). Ahmad’s argument is furthered by Kidwai, who argues that al-Amri has been “successful in conveying the meaning of the Qur’ãn in the chaste English” and “appears to have carried out a thorough analysis of the need of readers before taking up this assignment” (p.75). Among more than 140 complete ETQ, Kidwai asserts, “only few may be recommended” and “the Luminous Qur’ãn belongs to the same enviable category” (p.75). He also highlights four ‘noteworthy features’ of the translation; viz. (i)  it provides “easy-to-understand information on a range of key Qur’ãnic terms and concepts such as Yawm al-Din, al-huruf al-muqatt’ah… and hadud Allah” (ii) he has “done well to readers to learn about the occasion of revelations of some verses” (iii) “safest and most effective pedagogic approach to the Qur’ãnic interpretation” namely Tafsir al-Qur’ãn bi’l-Qur’ãn and (iv) highlighted the “pressing issues and concerns of 21st century” such as “exploitation of wives by unscrupulous husbands, marital affairs…and gender parity” (pp.76,77). The most interesting and remarkable feature of TLQ, Parray upholds, are (i) the seventeen 17 “right keys to understand the Qur’ãn”, which are helpful in understanding the message of the Qur’ãn” (p.810). (ii) “Each Surah is supplemented with ample annotations to make the message of the Qur’ãn more understandable” for instance, “Surah al-Fatihah is provided with nine (9) footnotes, while Surah al-Baqarah and Ãl- Imrãn are supplemented with 507 and 265 footnotes, respectively” (p. 83). To highlight uniqueness, similarities and differences of TLQ, Parray compares it with the translations of Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Dr Peachy and Dr Al-Johani. Other four significant features of the translation, Saleem focuses on, are; (i) Tafsir al-Qur’ãn bi’l-Qur’ãn, (ii) Tafsir al-Qur’ãn bi’l-hadith, (iii) “usage of semantically non-charged, transparent English lexical items for some Islamic terminology” which is an attempt at Islamising the English, and (iv) selection of appropriate vocabulary.  (pp.96,97).

There are several shortcomings in the book; it neither contains any ‘Introduction’ nor ‘Bibliography.’ It does not do justice to its title. In consonance with the general methodology of the book, most of the chapters and reviews offer a comparative, not ‘critical’, analysis, so it would have been more appropriate and better on the part of editor to retrain from the sub-title ‘Critical Views’.

Apart from these inadequacies, Waleed al-Amri’s The Luminous Qur’ãn: Critical Views is a good read for everyone as it helps in understanding the ‘merits and limitations’ of English translation of the Qur’ãn. It is a good initiative to bring seriousness in ill-considered subject of ETQ.

Owais Manzoor Dar is doctoral candidate, Department of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India.