The Holy Quran: Text Translation and Commentary (2-2) [Archives:2005/902/Culture]

December 12 2005

Abu Al-kalima Al-Tayyibah
Author: Abdullah Yusuf Ali

Language: Arabic & English

Publisher: Amana Corporation, Brentwood Maryland

Year Published: First Edition – 1934;

Edition Under Review: 1989.

Number of Pages: 1754 pages

That the Qur'an came down in the Arabic language is indeed part of the insurance that the Holy Book of Islam shall remain uncorrupted for all time to come. For one thing the Arabic language is possessive of a great structural arrangement that makes it difficult to introduce any modifications in the language without making sure that such modifications fall into the overall structural framework that Arabic words and phrases must fall into.

The Arabic language is a language in which the subject verb and object can all be made into one word, such as anulzimokomooha; i.e. Do we compel you to do it. Yes that one word entails all those separate word and make a complete sentence. While this assures the longevity of the Arabic tongue and the permanency of the Holy Qur'an as it was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed and quickly put together by his early followers, it nevertheless makes it quite an enormous task for the translator to convey the meaning of the Qur'anic text with the same vivacity and strength as it relates in the Arabic text.

Undoubtedly many translations have been made of the Qur'an into English, some by Moslems and some by non-Moslems, but none have ever even come close to possessing the same power as the original Arabic text.

One of the most famous such translations is the translation under review here and it is undoubtedly one of the best translations. For one thing it attempts to detail all the aspects concerning a certain Chapter or verse, so that the reader becomes familiar with the revelation as it came down, the reasons behind it and the story or meaning the text conveys.

It also highlights the relationship the Qur'an has with the other Divine Revelations that preceded it namely, the Torah and the Old and New Testaments, where such relationship should be noted. In other words, the Qur'an is the climax of all Divine Revelations, which came to confirm the previous ones and corrects the areas where deviations have been entered by men.

In essence, the Qur'an as the translator rightly suggests in several areas of his translation, brings all the past missions of the Prophets from Adam to Mohammed into one universal message: Belief in the unity of God and his mastery of all fate and events in the universe, from the Creation of the Universe to the End of Time, which is something only He has determined its timing and its circumstance.

The Translation is simply put in front of the original Arabic text so as to keep the translation in accordance with the way the Qur'an is read by the Arabic readers. In addition the author includes several bits of information in front of each Surah or part of the Qur'an that gives the reader some insight into the preconditions that led to the revelation of the Surah and the circumstances in the Prophet Mohammed's life that surround the revelations.

It also tries to do away with some of the misconceptions or misunderstandings that some orientalists have conveyed as to the real meanings portrayed in the text. Furthermore, on some aspects of scientific knowledge, the author also reveals how the Qur'an still manages to remain coherent with modern scientific discoveries and is not subject to superstition or illogical explanations of some of the forces of nature.

The author also includes several Commentaries inlaid between various texts, in which the author divulges of his own feelings and spiritual bliss as he tries to make the text a living euphoric expression of delight in sensing the Power of the Lord, in his mastery of the Universe, or in the little events that we go through in our lives, which may seem so trivial but nevertheless remind us that the Lord Al-Mighty is with us in every way.

In essence, I feel these Commentaries could have been the subject of another publication by the author as they tend to deviate from a continuous flow in the reading of the Qur'an and they are on the whole subjective.

But they do reveal the sincerity and genuine intents of the author to try to convey the meaning of the Qur'an, as it would be understood or taken by the devout Moslem reader.

On another note the use of the similar pronouns as used in the English translations of the Old and New Testament (thou, thee, etc.) I believe is unnecessary, as the translation is a modern one relatively speaking and most people in modern times tend to shy away from such usage of pronouns.

Of course there would have to be a device or mechanism introduced to show how the singular you and plural you are used in the Qur'an, as they are different in Arabic, but not in English. Perhaps a subscript like p can be attached to the plural youp and other methods can be made to make some of the Arabic language peculiarities can be shown.

But without a doubt the work of Abdullah Yusuf Ali, with its thousands of footnotes remains a classic translation of the Holy Qur'an that is worthy of use by laymen and scholars who wish to get into a full understanding of Islam and its main reference source for legislation and comprehension of the meaning of faith as devout Moslems are expected to grasp.

Correction: In the last Literary Corner, reference was made to a three letter word Iqra. Actually it is a four letter word in Arabic as well. But its root stems from the word qara, which in Arabic is three letters.