non-arabic Qurans

Somebody give me the SD on the “kosherness” of Qurans in languages other than Arabic. When I Google, I get fundamentalist sites that say it is absolutely wrong/forbidden to translate the word of Allah, but obviously these do exist.

Is there anything in the Quran that says “don’t translate this book,” or is it tradition, Arab prejudice, or what?

I thought the principle of keeping it arabic was so that there were no mistranslations. Since it’s supposed to be the actual (IIRC) word of God, translating it might seem sacreligious.

Here’s an online Qu’ran site I referenced a lot in the days after September 11, when there was a lot of discussion of things Islamic.

Technically, there’s no such thing as an non-Arabic Qu’ran as Muslims hold that the Qu’ran “cannot be translated.” There are, on the other hand, a number of interpretations (that’s a different thing than a translation) of it. I’m sure Tamerlane can recommend a couple of good ones. Since I keep losing printed books, I’m using an electronic version which displays both the Arabic Qu’ran and an English interpretation, the latter al-Hilali and Khan.

There are also extant more than one version in Arabic; however, IIRC, the differences are minor.

I actually already have a copy; my question is more in the line of how such “interpretations” are seen. Is it a bone of contention among Muslims? Are there hard-liners analogous to the KJV-only crowd? Is learning to read Arabic a sign of piety? Can a person be a cleric (if not necessarily a scholar)without speaking/reading Arabic?

Those kinds of things.

My high-school library had an English-language Koran.

A good analogy without religious overtones would be to consider the works of Shakespere.
I think you will agree that it is impossible to render Shakespere into modern English and have it still remain the works of Shakespere. Sertainly you would have to either lose some of the meaning or lose some of the rhythmic structure. Similarly it is impossible to translate the Qu’ran and have it remain the works of Allah (or Mohammed).
No work of literature can be translated, even between old and new versions of the same language, and remain the same work of literature.

The religious overtones are exactly what I’m asking about.

There is no one (AFAIK) that it is saying it is wrong/evil/immoral to translate Billy Shakes. There are in fact those within Islam who say the Quran should not be translated at all.

“Note that any translation of the Qur’an immediately ceases to be the literal word of Allah, and hence cannot be equated with the Qur’an in its original Arabic form.”


In essence, the issue is of truly and monumental extremist fundamentalism taken to a completely radical level.

Dogface: I think that’s putting a bit of a stretch on it. AFAIK, there are very few languages for which a passage in one may be directly translated into another. If you consider, as Muslims do, the nuances, meter, and other poetic & literary devices of Classical Arabic to be an essential part of the Qu’ran, then of course it is not possible to translate it. That’s not “extremist fundamentalism.”

It runs deeper than that. It is a belief that one can only understand God’s message in Arabic. Essentially, only Arabic is the language of God so far as Islam is concerned.

My copy calls itself “The Holy Qu’ran” on the cover, but inside goes on to say that it is not actually THE Qu’ran, but a translation and transliteration (the text appears in three columns).

er… Hyperbole much Dogface?

How come, I fear I just been whoosed?

Not to mention the grammatical errors. Yes, they do exist, as Islamic detractors like to point out. I’ve yet to see a satisfying explanation of how they jive with the supposed infallibility of God’s word. But anyway… just bringing this up as another translation issue.

The problems of translating ungrammatical text are discussed further in Dobrovol’skij’s “Parallel text corpora as an instrument for analysing translation strategies” (2003) in the proceedings of the 7th Conference on Computational Lexicography and Text Research. The author uses Dostoyevsky as an example, since his Russian is, by modern standards, terrible. It’s not clear if he was writing in the colloquial spoken Russian of his time, or was just a bad writer syntax-wise, but clearly you need to know which one in order to accurately translate his works. Do you preserve the syntax errors or render them into corresponding non-standard constructions of 19th-century spoken English or just ignore them entirely and translate into modern, syntactically-correct English? The problem is compounded by the fact that we really have no idea how colloquial Russian in the 19th century really was spoken, since tape recorders weren’t available in Dostoyevsky’s time.

If we can’t correctly translate ungrammatical Russian text from a hundred years ago, imagine the difficulty in translating ungrammatical Quranic Arabic text from over a thousand years ago.

Well, or at least that only Arabic is the language in which God gave the Qu’ran. It’s not much different than Orthodox Jews studying the Torah and Talmud in Hebrew and Aramaic, or Catholics (until recently) using a Latin liturgy. This is something you would know better than I would, but doesn’t the Russian Orthodox church use Church Slavonic in its liturgy?

Arabic is the language of God, according to Muslims. Example: the daily prayers are entirely in Arabic. I remember being taught that although God understands all languages, He has a preference for Arabic, and that in Heaven its inhabitants will speak Arabic.

For the record, Muslims believe the Qur’an is the word of God literally. Every letter, every vowel is sacred and divinely revealed. This creates interesting traditions. I remember reading about one rural restaurant that had a small swing with a Qur’an on it, decorated with cloths and flowers, and held in great honor. One would gently push the swing to reverence the Qur’an. Of course, this would be considered heretical and idolatrous by many jurists, but shows to what degree people regard the book.

Also, another thing about the sacredness of the Qur’an - one must treat and approach the Qur’an with reverence. One must be ritually pure before even touching the book, let alone reading it. One may not bring a Qur’an or recite any part of the Qur’an in dirty areas (like bathrooms). One’s feet should never point in the direction of the Qur’an. Of a pile of books, the Qur’an must be on the top. Also, there is a widespread custom/belief that reciting certain verses (or any verses, for that matter) can cure illnesses/diseases, protect from harm, bring to pass one’s wishes, ease one’s burdens, bring love, influence events and people around oneself, gain entry into Heaven, win control over spirits, avert the evil eye…and so on and so forth.

I think the argument that one cannot translate the Qur’an has more to do with the issue of translation than the Qur’an itself. It’s simply not possible to translate something from one language to another - there are nuances in words of one language that have no correspondence in other languages. All translations do are attempts to relay what another language is saying.

Now, if anyone’s read the Hebrew Bible in Hebrew and English, s/he would sense instantly that there’s a major difference between the text in the original language (including mistakes) and a translation thereof. I’ve had about 30 translations of the Hebrew Bible - none of them say the some thing. And I must say, reading the original Hebrew makes my soul soar with ecstasy - it’s soooooo powerful if one has even a slight understanding of Hebrew and Hebrew literature. (Of course, I am biased in this regard.)


We like much to write.

IIRC, the view is that the Noble Qu’ran was revealed in what has come to be called Classical Arabic. Essentially, the Qu’ran is what has defined Classical Arabic. One cannont apply the grammar of any of the Modern Arabic dialects to Classical Arabic, then.

Again, IIRC, there is no bar to discussing the Qu’ran in a language other than that in which it was penned. There is only a view that to call something a translation of it is incorrect as, by definition, only the Classical Arabic revelation is the revelation.