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The English Translations of the Qur’an: “A Critical Guide”

September 19, 2011

Abdur Raheem Kidwai lectured this summer on the English Translations of the Quran at St. Peter’s College, University of Oxford.  It seems he has a new book out entitled Translating the Untranslatable: A Critical Guide to 60 Translations of the Qur’ān.  The book is ostensibly an expansion of an article by the same title, available online here.

Given his previous work in orientalism, especially his collaborative effort on representations of women as minorities in Islam, A. R. Kidwai’s “critical guide” should prove to be valuable.  Does the book review “The First English Translation of the Quran (Koran) by an American Woman” by Laleh Bakhtiar?  I’ve looked at the publisher’s website and in online bookstores but can’t find Kidwai’s work yet.  Has anyone seen it?

14 Comments leave one →
  1. September 19, 2011 5:00 pm

    That article is quite dated: 1987. A number of significant English translations have appeared since then, including Haleem’s translation (published by Oxford).

    Further, he dismisses Ahmed Ali’s translation (published by Princeton) as “not rank[ing] as significant ventures in this field.” Given that Kidawi does not address the two major university press translations, I have significant doubts about the credibility of ranking.

  2. September 19, 2011 5:26 pm

    I might add that I found this article to be perceptive in identifying the Saudi and sectarian interests controlling Koranic translations.

  3. September 19, 2011 6:12 pm

    I appreciate the links to the additional translations. And the article really is perceptive; thanks! One wonders if Kidwai’s book would dare to have a chapter or even a section entitled, “Bucking the Saudi Orthodoxy.” The article’s conclusion is quite powerful with this assertion, worth repeating here:

    “Even for native Arabic speakers, the Qur’an is a difficult document. Its archaic language and verse structure are difficult hurdles to cross. Translation only accentuates the complexity. The fact that translators and theologians have, over time, lost much of the Judeo-Christian cultural references rife in the Qur’an is just one more impediment….

    The urge among many translators—especially now that many adhere to the religion itself—is to produce a functional and relatively accurate English rendition. Many of these believers fail to take an academic approach to the history and the Judeo-Christian references in Islam’s main document. Polished English prose should not substitute for poor scholarship. In addition, sectarian differences within Islam have undercut any Muslim consensus on a translated version. Increasingly, it looks like the quest for the perfect rendition will be endless.”

    I wonder what Eugene Nida would think about this translator’s functional motivation, to make

    “a functional and relatively accurate English rendition.”

  4. September 19, 2011 6:42 pm

    By the way, have you read Barbara Freyer Stowasser’s book? I think you might find it useful.

  5. September 19, 2011 6:53 pm

    I have not yet read it. It looks very good, thanks.

  6. September 22, 2011 4:16 pm

    I did track down some Indian online booksellers carrying Kidwai’s book:

    However, I would approach these with caution. It seems that the same ISBN is used for another Indian publication, Canadian Literature: An Overview.

    I’m still looking for a US-based retailer.

  7. September 22, 2011 4:48 pm

    Thanks for trying to track this down. The book summary offered at seems quite off, this despite the announcement at the bottom of the web page: “Please note: All products sold on Flipkart are brand new and 100% genuine” The other site,, notes, “Deliverable Countries: This product ships to India, Sri Lanka.” Maybe some day it will sell in the USA.

    Here’s another recent announcement about a translation into Urdu:

    LAHORE: Arabic scholar and researcher Muhammad Kazim has completed his long awaited translation of the Holy Quran into Urdu and sent it for publishing. The one-volume translation will be published by Sang-i-Meel Publications in two to three months, Kazim told The Express Tribune.

    Kazim said that his aim was to produce an authentic translation that was also contemporary and readable.

    “There is only one translation in Urdu that is close to the original text and that is the translation by Deputy Nazir Ahmad,” he said. “But the problem is that he uses Delhi idioms and too many brackets.

    That makes it hard to read. My translation aims to be simpler and more fluent.”

    Kazim has written and translated 19 books, including seven books by Maulana Maudoodi from Urdu into Arabic, at the author’s request.

    He writes for literary journals in the Middle East and Pakistan. He is also an engineer and worked at the Water and Power Development Authority for 38 years until retiring in 1987.

    The noted publisher does show a few titles by this translator-author:

  8. September 22, 2011 8:37 pm

    I don’t understand that the claim that translations into Urdu are rare. They are of course numerous — in fact so numerous that a number of English translations are made from Urdu.

  9. Russ permalink
    April 13, 2012 12:46 pm

    Hello all:

    If someone was to come up to you — or post something on a blog– stating that they have never read the Quran, and was looking for guidance on picking an english translation of the Quran to become somewhat familiar with it, which translation would you lead that person to?

    Thanking you all in advance. Oh…I happen to be that person.

    Russ 🙂

  10. April 15, 2012 8:15 am

    For my friends in the USA first reading it, I tend to recommend “The Holy Koran: Interpreted,” translated by S. V. Mir Ahmed Ali and published by the United Muslim Foundation, which is a rather inclusive group (uniting Sunni and Shia) in their efforts to educate people about Islam and the Qu’ran.

    If you are interested in Arabic, then I recommend The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary (English and Arabic Edition) translated by Maulana Muhammad Ali.

    For an egalitarian translation, there’s The Sublime Koran, that First English Translation of the Quran (Koran) by an American Woman by Laleh Bakhtiar.

  11. Russ permalink
    April 16, 2012 9:01 pm

    I was just looking at those translations at Amazon. I also saw The Qur’an with Annotated Interpretation in Modern English by Ali Unal, which looks to have come out in 2008, long after that article first appeared. Although I probably shouldn’t, I’ll most likely end up purchasing two so I can do some comparing. Any thoughts on the Unal translation? I definitely need something with annotations. Thanks again for your help! I appreciate it.

  12. April 17, 2012 10:05 am

    If you’re going to read Ali Ünal’s translation, then I would suggest having another alongside it since he’s interpreted it into what he calls “Modern English.” You can find the Ünal online with further helps at:

  13. Russ permalink
    April 17, 2012 11:06 am

    Will do, J.K. And thanks for your help. I’m going to get S.V. Mir’s translation as well. I live in the suburbs north of NYC and more of our neighbors are of the Muslim faith (I’m Catholic) and religious beliefs do tend to come up at different times, so i think it’s time I learned something new about someone else’s beliefs. I guess the Quran would be the place to start. Also picked up a book on Islam by Bernard Lewis.

  14. November 14, 2014 5:59 am

    To track down a copy from a library (perhaps through the interlibrary loan department) –

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