Al-Qur’an: A Contemporary Translation
I HAVE MANY debts of gratitude to acknowledge, first of all to my late wife and children, Eram, Orooj, Deed and Shahana, for their love and understanding of the neglect of my obligations to them during the long years that I had been busy with this translation. I should like to acknowledge the invaluable help of my son Orooj who has worked with me from the beginning, typing out the various drafts, suggesting innumerable improvements and seeing the publication of this work through the various stages of production to its finished form; and to my daughter Shahana for designing the book.
I am indebted to my friend Saiyyad Hasan Muthanna Nadvi for his help and sparing the time to read this translation word for word with me. My thanks are due to my other friends and well-wishers, both here and abroad, for their appreciation of my enormous task.
I should like to mention my indebtedness to the following Arabic lexicons in particular:
Al-Mufridat fi Gharib al-Qur’an: Abul Qasim ar-Raghib (d. 503 H.)
Muqa’ is al-Lughat: Ibn Faris (d. 395 H.)
Lisan al-‘Arab: Abul Fadl Muhammad bin Muharram (d. 711 H.)
Muhit al-Muhit: Patras Bustani.
By Way of Preface
QUR’ANIC ARABIC IS distinguished by sublimity and excellencies of sound and eloquence, rhetoric and metaphor, assonance and alliteration, onomatopoeia and rhyme, eloquent speech and duration. Some of its stylistic beauties are untranslatable and can only be suggested. The form of metrical lines has, therefore, been adopted in this translation to convey through accent, sprung rhythm and tonal structure the sonority and rhythmic patterns of the Qur’anic language. Rhyme, in which Arabic is so rich, cannot be used in English without disastrous consequences. I have tried to bring out their solemnizing effect though assonance, alliteration and internal rhyme. Etymologically Arabic is a very complex language. Words derived from the same root branch off into different sets of meaning, and the particular shade and signification of homonymous and other words used in the Qur’an to signify entirely different things, can be fixed only with reference to the context and regard to instances of their similar use elsewhere in the Book, as well as the logic and wider world view of the Qur’an. For though the Qur’an employs poetic language the basis of expression has shifted from the metaphorical to a new dialectical and metonymic plane in which ‘this’ is put for ‘that’, expressing an inner reality where words are used in place of thoughts.
The remarkably rich poetic tradition of Pagan Arabs did not deal in abstractions and pure thought. Their poems had sung of love, camels, horses, war, hunting, the mountain and desert landscape, and the martial valour of the tribesmen. Words were used to invoke concrete, almost physical images. The Qur’an restructured the metaphorical mould through allegory, paralleling it as a rhythmical unit with the conceptual language of transcendence which acquired primary authority and universal persuasive power to conform to its conceptual standards. Hence such words as taqwa, sabr, salat, which were connected with physical processes of particular objects, acquired entirely new and conceptual meanings. For instance, in Pagan poetry muttaqi was a person who fought to preserve himself from harm, but now becomes a person who preserves himself rom evil and follows the straight path, fearing God and abiding by His commands. Sabr meant constant effort in obtaining a desired object, and implied constancy, firmness. Hence a mountain was called as-sabir, and the weight put in a boat to balance it as-saburat, while al-asbirat was used for camels and goats that returned home regularly in the evening. In the Qur’an it came to mean endurance, firmness, fortitude, as in 2:153, 2:250, 3:200, and acquired the conceptual meaning of perseverance, elaborated in the statement that God is with those who are patient and persevere, 2:153, 8:65. Similarly, salat as as-sala meant middle of the back, a horse that is second in a race, and as salia-wastala dependence, adherence, attachment. In the Qur’an salat acquired the conceptual meanings of devotion, adherence to God and His commands, fulfilling one’s duties and obligations as behoves an ‘abd, creature, servant, devotee of God, as integral part of ‘ubudiyat, servitude and devotion, made clear in 24:41 which underlines that every creature in the heavens and the earth knows its salat, duties and obligations. It also means worship as in 8:35, piety as in 11:87, and service of prayer, as in 2:238, 4:43; 101-103, 11:114, etc.
The Qur’an, thus, brings to the mind its real objects from words by invoking the images embedded in the subconscious. For though the words remain the same, they often acquire new conceptual meanings and new dimensions lying hidden in their roots, which are brought out by the Qur’an, and now form part of its linguistic and intellectual dynamism. At the same time they become removed from the Jahiliya which was more of an attitude of mind and culture than a state of ignorance, as well as the later world as unfolded by the changing patterns of history, thought and language, so that anyone interpreting the Qur’an on the basis of Arabic as used by Arabs today would only mislead the readers of the Book.
Nature and its phenomena that figure so prominently in the Qur’an, assume a deeper significance as signs of God. The truths presented by it have come to be recognized with advance of knowledge in our age as conforming to the laws of causation and effect which science itself is trying to understand. Some of these have been pointed out in notes appended to this translation. The Qur’an has never failed to unfold its meaning to those who seek knowledge, and has remained contemporary and a Book of the future.
My attempt has been to give renderings as faithfully as is possible within the limits of another language wholly divergent in syntax, structure and scriptural development; and every language has its nuances and metaphorical use of words. Since English has a stretchability of its own, I have made use of various shades of meaning English words also carry, to convey the connotations of Qur’anic Arabic. For those who wish to ascertain it for themselves, reference to standard dictionaries of Arabic particularly, and of English, will be found rewarding. The conscientious reader in search of the right understanding of the text will find many surprises on consulting them. For this is, strictly speaking, a translation and not an interpretation, theological or otherwise, therefore, closest to the original in meaning, endeavouring to find as effective equivalents of Arabic words as creative use of English allows.
The brackets have been used mainly to give elucidations, differentiated or implied and extended meanings of words, or to fill elliptical gaps. As names of prophets generally known to all English readers have been used, an index giving their Qur’anic equivalent has been added for easy identification. Since the diacritical marks needed for transliterating Arabic words are not provided in the composing system the superscript macrons alone have been marked by hand in the titles at the beginning of the Surahs.
I have revised the translation for this definitive edition and removed the misprints and shortcomings that had escaped notice earlier, added a few more notes, and it supersedes the earlier editions.
KARACHI: DECEMBER, 1993