The Quran

Online Translation and Commentary

English Quran translations

This is not an exhaustive survey of all English translations; we have only mentioned some important or popular ones from the past and present.

Although we have included more than thirty-five English language translations of the Quran online, none of them is entirely satisfactory and some are extremely unreliable. Those of Yusuf Ali, Marmaduke Pickthall and Shakir are the most popular among non-Arabic speaking Muslims and non-Muslims. Yusuf Alis and Marmaduke Pickthalls translations are reasonably accurate but not very consistent (the former is more accurate of the two, but both are generally reliable). The (dis)advantage of Yusuf Ali and Pickthall over more modern translations is that they clearly distinguish between the second person singular ‘thou’ and the second person plural ‘ye’ or ‘you’. Nevertheless, if you prefer modern English, the translation by Shakir and Irving are serviceable (and Arberry and Dawood among the non-Muslim translations).

Three modern and recommended English translations from the 21th century are the ones by Ali Quli Qara’i, Abdel Haleem* and Ahmad Zaki Hammad*.

Non-Muslim translations

Niseem Joseph Dawood

In the following year, a Jew of Iraqi origin and a translator by profession Niseem Joseph Dawood, produces his translation, The Koran in 1956 (5th revised ed., Harmondsworth: Penguin Books 1990, further revised 1995). Compared with many available translations at the time, he somehow succeeded his stated aim to make the language modern and readable. However, he ignored much of Arberry’s insight and attempted the quranic text in a much relaxed contemporary idiom and future rearranging its chapters by the fairly meaningless pattern of size (shortest to longest; in the 1980s he or the publishers reverted back to the standard textual order in a revised edition). Dawood’s translation was seen to take too many liberties with the text of the Qur’an and to contain many inaccuracies. Even though Dawood’s work have been among the most widely available translation of the Qur’an (mostly due to the publisher), his work contains many inaccuracies and mistranslation as pointed out by reviewers.

Keywords: Widely available in print; serviceable translation.

See also: Wikipedia (en)

Rashad Khalifa

The Egyptian engineer Rashad Khalifa published The Quran: The Final Scripture (Authorized English Version) Arizona, 1978. Fascinated by what he came to see as the prime divine “unknown” underlying all religious mystery, Khalifa began to explicate all things in accordance with the number 19. In his attempts to defend his “miracle of 19”, Khalifa claimed that the two verses 9:128-129 were apocryphal. Although it is to some degree promoted by his supporters, this translation has never gained much scholarly attention.

Keywords: Read with caution; studiously avoided; biased translation.

See also: Wikipedia (en)

Aharon Ben Shemesh *

The second Jewish translator of the Qur’an was undertaken by Aharon Ben Shemesh*, The Noble Quran, Massada Press 1971. The translation is scattered with polemical reinterpretations that seek to locate the Quran in Old Testament origins. The translation has never gained much support outside of polemical circles.

Thomas Cleary *

Of the few other non-Muslim translations that have appeared in the last two decades, the one by Thomas Cleary*, The Qur’an, Starlatch Press 2004, should be mentioned. The style is somewhat uneven, shifting abruptly between exceedingly ordinary language and glaring poetic flights – sometimes even mixed within a given verse. Furthermore there exists some bizarre in the italic styles used by Cleary to differentiate between the Speech of the Divine and peculiar English word choices for Arabic (e.g. “Those who disbelieve” (alladhīna kafarū) as “The Atheistic”).

See also: Wikipedia (en)

* * * * *

In a growing list of recent efforts by non-Muslims, it is difficult to realize, beyond the commercial (or polemical) possibilities, the contributors hope to make in the field of quranic translation. Nevertheless, some great effort was made in the past to translate the Quran into English.

Muslim translations

Mohammad Abdul Hakim Khan *

The earliest known edition of a complete translation of the Qur’an by a Muslim is the 1905 work of Mohammad Abdul Hakim Khan*, The Holy Qur’an, Patiala 1905. This was more a rebuttal of the anti-Islamic currents in the translations of the day, rather than sound quranic scholarship.

Dehlawi Mirza Hairat *

Seven years later, two new efforts appeared. The first one was by Dehlawi Mirza Hairat*, The Koran: Prepared by various Oriental Learned scholars, Delhi 1912. This was published in two editions, its intention to offer “a complete and exhaustive reply to the manifold criticism of the Koran by various Christian authors, such as Sale, Rodwell, Palmer and W. Muir”, but never really materializes in the text.

Mirza Abu al-Fadl *

The second one was by Mirza Abu al-Fadl*, Qur’an Arabic Text and English Translation Arranged Chronologically with an Abstract, Allahabad 1912. This translation was dedicated to Sultan Jahan Begum (the princess ruler of Bhopal, India); billed itself as a refutation of the Bible “with a view to bringing out the superiority of the Qur’an”. This translation is a prevailing missionary material.

See also: Wikipedia (en)

* * * * *

Although well intended, none of these three early Muslim translations was by a reputed scholar, and so both the quality of the translation and the level of scholarship were not particularly high. As a result, today these works only remain of historical interest. Later more substantial translations by Muslims followed:

Muhammad Marmaduke William Pickthall

The first serious response to the Orientalist venture into Quran translations was undertaken by Muhammad Marmaduke William Pickthall, The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, New York: Dorset Press 1930. Back then, the translations was viewed with delight among the Muslim community and skeptic among orientalist circles. Later on, it became an important and popular early translation both in public and academic circles, this mainly due to Pickthall being faithful to the Quran in its representation and objectively more readable and accurate than many of the previous English translations. Critics will have it that there are some flaws, mainly as a result from the limits of his Arabic, though he used his English gifts to offset this. In a contemporary view, the use of archaic and now obsolete terms makes it harder to understand for an uninitiated reader, as of the text is composed with a certain difficulty expression, dryness of style, lack of exactness in meaning in different places. The verse numbering system he imports from India, which differs from the standard Egyptian version, created some impediment to easy textual comparison. Later editions changed the numbering system to the now standard Egyptian version.

Keywords: Widely used; popular and serviceable translation, archaic in contemporary English.

See also: Wikipedia (en)

Abdullah Yusuf Ali

Perhaps the most important and popular English translation to this day is the one undertaken by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Translation and Commentary, Lahore, Pakistan, 1934. The preparation for the translation began when Yusuf Ali traveled Europe and settled in London, where he began a review of existing translations. He later on resettled in Lahore in Pakistan and took up the project of interpreting the Quran into English, with the aid of students at the Islamic College that he was appointed to head. The translation has undergone many revisions and editions, most of them posthumously. The original work has undergone selective revisions by two Muslim organizations; once in America by Amana Publications in 1989, and at nearly same time in Saudi Arabia by The Presidency of Islamic Researches (IFTA), Call and Guidance and the King Fahd Holy Quran Printing Complex in 1990. Yusuf Ali also made use of a slightly different verse numbering in the first editions; this has later on been changed to match the now standard Egyptian version.

Keywords: Widely used; popular and serviceable translation, archaic in contemporary English.

See also: Wikipedia (en)

S. V. Mir Ahmad Ali

The translation by S. V. Mir Ahmad Ali, The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary, according to the version of the Holy Ahlul Bait includes ‘special notes from Hujjatul Islam Ayatullah Mirza Mahdi Pooya Yazdi on the philosophical aspects of the verses’, Karachi: 1964 (later reprinted as The Holy Qur’an; Text, Translation and Commentary, New York: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an Inc. 1988), is aimed at a Shia audience. It contains several discussions about their doctrine and sometimes read into the text.

Keywords: Reading into the text, ultra-traditionalist interpretations of references; inadequate grasp of English; studiously avoided.

See also: Wikipedia (en) | Wikipedia (en)

Mohamedali Habib Shakir

Mohamedali Habib Shakir’s translation, The Qur’an, was first published in 1970 (later reprinted New York: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an Inc 1982). Sometimes it is branded as a reworking or blatant plagiarism of Muhammad Ali’s Ahmadiyya translation of 1917, but Shakir probably set out to correct the distortions that the later had allowed to creep into his otherwise solid translation. Some critics have argued for that this is a sectarian translation in favour of the Shia creed, mainly due to its reprint and index as added by the later publishing house. Beside of arguments about the publisher and index, the allegation related to the context as of this being a sectarian translations, doesn’t seems to be correct.

Keyword: Widely used; popular and serviceable translation.

See also: Wikipedia (en)

Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali & Muhammad Muhsin Khan

The Hilali-Khan translation, or more exactly, Muhammad Taqi al-Din al-Hilali and Muhammad Muhsin Kahn translation, The Noble Quran, is globally distributed from Saudi Arabia. Khan served as the actual translator and al-Hilali as the religious authority and the actual text is based on the exegeses of Ibn al-Kathir and al-Tabari. The primary text is claimed to be derived from Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translation, though the literary style and language seems more roughly hewn. The publisher and distributor King Fahd Holy Qur’an Printing Complex, has given away free copies to Pilgrimages (Hajj) and through other gratis distribution channels, making it a widely circulated translation. Overall, the translation is to some degree lucid (for Muslims and non-Muslims alike that have an intermediate understanding of different Arabic transliterated words without prior explanations of their meanings), but the text suffers from polemic statements that is inserted in the text in parenthesis and the annotated notes. This make the translation a ultra-traditional interpretation of the Quran, where parenthetical interpolations is wedged into the Quran verses, in order to ensure that the reader understand these in accordance with the partisan, religio-social vision that is improperly implies prevailed in Muslim societies during the classical period. Beside of the ultra-traditionalist interpretations of the text and references, the translation with all the annotated text and commentaries, make it distract from the timeless message of the Quran. The King Fahd Holy Qur’an Printing Complex has since then translated the Hilali-Khan translation in multiple languages.

Keywords: Widely available, reading into the text, ultra-traditionalist interpretations of references, studiously avoided.

See also: Wikipedia (en) | Publisher

Muhammad Asad

Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Quran, Gibraltar: Dar al-Andalus 1980, is a serious effort at Quran interpretation in English. He was born in Austria (now Galicia, Poland) in Leopold Weiss, as a son of a lawyer and grandson of an orthodox rabbi. He majored from the university in philosophy. At the age of 26, he accepted Islam and went on to get involved in the political scene of Islam. His translation however contains some unorthodox views about miracles and seeks to explain these by allegorical interpretations. As an example, Asad sometimes makes descriptions of the creation and the created order accord with modern scientific theory and occasionally the references to women, prescribed punishment and other ethical issues according with modern European values. This translation with the annotated text should be read with caution and recourse to serious study of the Quran commentators themselves for studiously use.

Keywords: Read with caution.

See also: Wikipedia (en) | WorldCat

Ahmed Ali

Ahmad Ali, Al-Qur’an: A Contemporary Translation, Karachi, 1984 is an explanatory translation to make the text flow and easy to read. In the process, there are several liberties taken with the text, especially liberal interpolations, adding words that are not in the original text. A later revised definitive edition, third printing with corrections (Princeton University Press 1990) have removed some of the inaccurate and inconsistent the original text was characterized by. It should still be read with caution, e.g. because of the general elimination of miracles, and somewhat unorthodox references to the jinn; his descriptions of the creation and the created order accord with modern scientific theory and the occasionally references to women, prescribed punishment and other ethical issues accord with modern European values.

Keywords: Widely available, read with caution, studiously avoided.

See also: Wikipedia (en) | WorldCat

Muhammad M. Khatib *

Muhammad M. Khatib’s*, The Bounteous Qur’an: A Translation of Meaning and Commentary, London 1986 (later reprinted London: Macmillan 1990), attempts a faithful rendition while reaching for literary elegance – but falters in its English in many places. Furthermore it tends to fatigue one with a sense of beauteous words/phrases bereft of expressive content. The notes about certain expressions and events are useful.

Keywords: Inadequate grasp of English.

“Saheeh International”

In 1997 the publishers at Saheeh International (Sahih International) made a revised printing of the Hilali-Khan translation. The primary translator (three translators all in all) is an American women by the name Aminah Assami (also known as ‘Umm Muhammad’), was a convert that had accepted Islam. As a Muslim she lived and learned Islam and Arabic in Syria and then later in Saudi Arabia. The revised text in the Saheeh International translation by Umm Muhammad removed many of the blatant dogmatic interjections and adequately redressed the stilted language, pulling its interpretation back to a literal level. Nevertheless, the translations firmly entrenched underlying worldview was not changed. The work, therefore, remains the conceptual captive of the Hilali-Khan translation, with an excessively narrow and somewhat skewed vision of how the Quran should be read and understood.

Keywords: Widely available, reading into the text, read with caution.

See also: Publisher

Ali Quli Qara’i

Ali Quli Qara’i’s translation, The Qur’ān: With a Phrase-by-Phrase English Translation, ICAS Press: London 2003 (Third Revised Edition 2009) makes extensive use of classical commentaries from both Sunni and Shia sources for broader-based understanding. Expertly translated and prepared with a Phrase-by-Phrase (rather than Verse-by-Verse) translation. Qara’i followes the Arabic text while being guided by the English, that renders a static text that serves excellent for reference work.

Keywords: Widely accepted.

Muhammad A. S. Abdel Haleem *

Hafiz, professor of Islamic Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and editor of the Journal of Qur'anic Studies, Muhammad A. S. Abdel Haleem*, published The Qur’an, A New Translation, Oxford 2004. It is written in modern English and an excellent and easy to read translation. It is a dynamic translation, where Abdel Haleem tries to convey the ‘bigger picture’ in a given phrase/chapter and make it sometimes inconsistent for reference to specific verse.

Keywords: Widely accepted.

See also: Wikipedia (en)