Translations & Interpretations of the Koran

I’m looking for a good book for interpreting the Koran. I’ve never had the opportunity to really study it and would like to.

Can anyone recommend such a book or series of books for this?

Along that line, is any translation of the Koran considered the best or a front runner in the field? I’ve heard numerous times that it’s best in the original Arabic, but I don’t have time to learn Arabic, I’m too busy studying German and Gaelic. :slight_smile:

As you know, translations are always a mine field. I mean, even the name “Koran,” is more closely properly spelled something like “Qu’ran.” Anyway. . .

Having said, that, I would suggest a library. I am not in a particularly large town, and our library has a translation. Since I am not conversant in Arabic, though, I have no idea who has the best translation.

In matters such as this (and my previous thread on the Rubaiyat)–in my opinion–I would prefer as literal a translation as possible with annotations describing things that don’t translate well, such as idioms, puns, rhymes, etc. Alas, translators usually take great liberties. . .

Good luck, though.

IIRC from my Eastern Religions class, the Koran isn’t really the Koran unless its in the original because the Islamic faith considers the word of Allah to actually “be” Allah - there is no differentiation between the word on the paper and the divinity. A very interesting concept.

I don’t know where you’re located, but a call to your local mosque would probably be in order. If they are anything like the Muslims here they’ll be more than happy to talk to you about their faith and give you insights.

I have three different translations at home. The one I’ve used the most is the one by Dawood, published by Penguin.

If you want to find out what people think of the different translations, go to, type in “Koran”, and read the reader’s comments. I did this several months ago, and was surprised at the virulent reactions to some translations. On the other hand, I shouldn’t have been – people always get worked up about religious matters. I admit that there were a couple of versions that I’m now very curious about, and would like to pick up.

Thanks for all the help, everyone! I was hoping someone has some experience with various translations of the Qu’ran and could recommend it and a good book of interpretations to go with it.

FYI, I live in Austin, TX and there’s a good size Moslem community here. Looks like I’ll be making a call to the local mosque or my favorite bookstore’s religious section.

Thanks again!

The Qur’an that my bookstore carries is the translation by Ahmed Ali. I have thumbed through it, and it looks better than the one I own, which is the Penguin translation. I might have this impression because the Ali version has the original Arabic on the left page, which is very pretty, even if I can’t read it. :slight_smile:

FYI, the reason the Qur’an is so difficult to read isn’t just because Arabic doesn’t translate into English very well (which is true, but not all-important; for proof, read Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy!), but that it’s not in chronological order. It is arranged in order of the shortest sura to the longest. So it doesn’t really have the same “storytelling over a long period of time” effect that the Bible does.

If you really want to learn about the practice of Islam, I would recommend looking for a collection of hadithin as well. I’m sure your local mosque will be happy to help.

The translation that is the most popular with English-speaking Muslims is the one by A. Yusuf Ali. He put in loads of helpful, informative explanatory footnotes. Tinged with mystical Sufi and Isma`ili perspectives. (Beware: some years ago the fundamentalists got ahold of it and censored all the nice mystical stuff. If the copy you find is published by Amana in Maryland, that’s the censored version. However, Amana’s 1995 printing has a good subject index added.)

Pickthall’s translation was the first by a native English-speaking Muslim. Its language is heavily King James-style, and is not used today as much as it once was.

Muhammad Asad (Leopold Weiss)'s translation is the most intellectual. It also has lots of explanatory footnotes. Some people like this one the best.

Thomas B. Irving is a Canadian Muslim and his translation was designed to be in modern American English for today’s youngsters. Its style is plain & straightforward, but lacks elegance. Irving’s background is in Spanish literature, and in his introductions to the surahs he draws interesting parallels with various kinds of literature.

My personal favorite is the one by Ahmed Ali, mentioned above by our Kyla. His daughter helped him in the preparation of it. So it’s the only one that has a woman’s input. I really* like his interpretation of verse 4:34…

(Nitpicks: I agree with Mjollnir that the spelling Qur’ân is preferable.
The Qur’ân is considered the “uncreated” Word of God, but not identical with God Himself.
The Arabic plural of hadîth is ahâdîth, but in English it’s fine to just write “hadiths.”)

Almost forgot to mention A. J. Arberry’s translation. The Koran Interpreted. Arberry was an English don who translated Rumi and other Sufi poetry. His Qur’ân translation is notable for being in beautiful English (apart from the question of accuracy) – it just sounds nice to read aloud because he had an ear for literary style.

Among the Arab-speaking of my fellow Muslims, 'Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s interpretation seems to be the most preferred that is widely available in various sizes/prices.

*the Islamic faith considers the word of Allah to actually “be” Allah - there is no differentiation between the word on the paper and the divinity. *

I’ve never encountered one with this opinion, and I am sure it is not part of the orthodoxy.

The term “local mosgue” really amuses me here because it shows exactly how much change has taken place in American society over the last three or four decades. Thirty five years ago, the average American would have had to go to a great deal of trouble to find a mosque at all. Today, mosques can be found in any major urban area, and anyone trying to find one need look no farther than his nearest telephone directory.

Anyone in the United States can upon request get an English/Arabic copy of the Quran for free from the Saudi Arabian embassy. The translation is by Dr. Muhammed Taqi-ud-Din Al-Hilai and Dr. Muhammed Muhsin Khan. I have no idea what scholars think of this particular translation. I don’t have a URL handy, but a good search engine should be able to find the right address for you pretty quickly.

This isn’t a cheap paperback, by the way. It’s a high quality hard cover book, and I’m sure a book of similar printing quality would cost you at least twenty or thirty dollars in a book store. I really like mine! :slight_smile:

And by the way, I am not a Muslim!

The Hilali/Khan translation is the worst one of all! The only reason Saudis distribute it is that it conformed to their official Wahhabi theology (which is not followed by the majority of Muslims outside Saudi Arabia). Reminds me of how the Soviets used to make available the works of Lenin for next to nothing. In the same way the Saudis push Wahhabism. Hilali & Khan’s use of English is so clunky that it’s unreadable. The Saudis also did a bowdlerized version of A. Yusuf Ali’s translation – they just butchered it.