Thursday, December 1, 2022 - 7 Jumada al-Ula 1444

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The accuracy of the different translations of the Quran

There are many translations of the Quran and I do not know which one is correct. How can I choose which one to read?

Answer

This is not a problem of translation alone. To start with, it is part of the unique nature of the Quran since many of its verses allow more than one interpretation.

When we read the Quran in Arabic, we are aware of at least some of these differences and accept them all as being intended in the overall meaning of the Quran. Since we acknowledge that the Quran is God's word, we cannot say that a correct meaning of what He has revealed is not intended. However, a study of the Quran itself and the Prophetic traditions explain a great deal of the meaning of each Quranic statement.

Some people may say that they do not have time for such an undertaking and so they need to ask those who devote much of their time and energy to studying the Quran, Prophetic traditions, and Islamic studies in general. This is nothing new. Even in the very early days after the Prophet’s death, some of the Companions were known for their scholarly knowledge and they were asked for rulings on different matters.

When it comes to translation, a translator has the difficult task of producing in his language what someone else has expressed in a different language. There are methods of expression, nuances, words, phrases connotations, and other subtleties, which cannot be reproduced in another language. These have much to do with the culture of the two languages used. This applies to the translation of any written text. The more literary the style, the more difficult it is to reproduce it in another language. When it comes to the Quran, the word of God, the difficulty is even greater. The Quranic style is so refined that it surpasses that of any other language. The challenge to the non-believers to produce anything similar has been stated at the time of the Quran’s revelation and still stands today.

What do we expect then from translators, as competent as they may be? At the end of his work, Muhammad Asad who produced one of the best translations of the Quran in English, said, "In all humility and sincere submission ends the attempt of a powerless servant of God in interpreting the immortal word of his Lord."

Therefore, we do not blame translators provided they make an honest attempt to produce a good translation. We take all meanings that are within a reasonable interpretation of the text. We study the Quran and Prophetic traditions to acquire a good insight into the message of God.

If we cannot undertake such a study, we ask scholars to explain what we need to know. Then we turn to God in true submission and worship Him as best as we can. We cherish the hope that He will accept our humble endeavors and reward us as He is the Most Generous and will overlook our mistakes as He is the Most Merciful.

And God Almighty knows best.