Answered by Shaykh Riad Saloojee
Question: Assalamu alaykum
We are becoming overwhelmed with English translations of the Quran, with many different biases and viewpoints.It becomes harder to know which translations are best and which one to recommend to new seekers.
Are there recommended English translations of the Quran that will satisfy the requirements of above? Are there different recommended translations depending on where the person is on their Islamic journey?
Answer: In the name of Allah and salutations and peace upon our beloved Prophet Muhammad
Wa’alaykumsalam wa rahmatullah,
I pray you are well, by Allah’s grace.
As you noted, there are numerous translations of the Qur’an with differences, whether linguistic, stylistic or substantive. There is no “King James Version” of the Qur’an as there is of the Bible. However, it is important to note that the King James Version of the Bible has itself undergone many updates and changes over the years since its first publication in 1611. And, while very popular, it is not the only version of the Bible used by Christians.
The original source material for the Bible is not available, in contrast to the original Arabic Qur’an. The Qur’an is therefore easily accessible to any for translation.
As for the many Quran translations, this is unavoidable for many reasons: the act of translation is an interpretative exercise; any translation rests on the translator’s scholarly knowledge of the broader Islamic tradition; translators differ in their bias, motive and social context; there will always be tension between a literal rendering and one that privileges meaning or spirit; the translator must possess keen literary and linguistic prowess in both Arabic and English; the Arabic language is rich in its meaning, expression and idiom; and many other factors.
It is therefore difficult to find a single, authoritative translation to recommend to a student. No translation is perfect and translations have deficiencies alongside their benefits.
Instead of relying on one translation, I would recommend consulting a number of translations that have met with approval by the Muslim scholarly and lay community. Such a comparative reading offers the benefit of avoiding the pitfalls of any one particular translation, balancing out literal translations with those that provide wider or deeper meaning, and diversifying the literary renderings of the Arabic.
Modern internet programs that present any number of translations for a given verse make a comparative reading easier and less time-consuming. When difficulties or confusions arise, the student should consult a reputable scholar.
In the past, I have consulted and compared translations by Marmaduke Pickthall, Abdullah Yusuf Ali (his reworked translation), AbdalHaqq and Aisha Bewley, Muhammad Abdel-Haleem, Wahiduddin Khan, Sahih International and Mustafa Khattab. I have found value in them all. And often felt that some renderings of verses were superior to others.
I would feel comfortable recommending any of these translations to someone curious to read a translation of the Qur’an.
Lastly, I would urge you to try your best to invest in a part-time study of the Arabic language in person or online. Whatever you study of Arabic will, inshaAllah, benefit you in your study of the Qur’an, enhance your appreciation for it and help you develop a more personal relationship with it. These effects will carry over, inshaAllah, into your other spiritual works.
May Allah facilitate for us all the understanding, deeper knowledge and practice of His Words.
And Allah knows best.
[Shaykh] Riad Saloojee
Shaykh Riad Saloojee graduated and taught in an Islamic seminary in Cape Town, South Africa. He is a lawyer by training and worked in the field of civil rights advocacy. Currently, he teaches and translates.