The Majestic Quran
Published 11 August 2018
by Prof Akbar Ahmed
As a schoolboy in the hills of Abbottabad, I read Marmaduke Pickthall’s translation of the Quran, and its stirring introduction has stayed with me to this day. Pickthall wrote: “The Qur’an cannot be translated…The book is here rendered almost literally and every effort has been made to choose befitting language. But the result is not the Glorious Qur’an, that inimitable symphony, the very sounds of which move men to tears and ecstasy. It is only an attempt to present the meaning of the Qur’an—and peradventure something of the charm in English. It can never take the place of the Qur’an in Arabic, nor is it meant to do so.” The Meaning of the Glorious Koran was published in 1930 after authorisation from Al-Azhar University.
English translations of Quran: a potted history The translation of the Quran is a complex and difficult exercise. For Muslims, it is the direct word of God, so in a translation, the nuances or the lyrical nature of the text can be distorted. Consequently, translations of the Quran have been dogged by questions of accuracy made worse by the translators’ bias or sectarian tendency. The first most influential English translation was by George Sale in 1734 relying on an earlier Latin translation. Sale was openly critical of Islam and accused the Holy Prophet of feigning divine revelation for political gain. Sale’s version earned high praise from Voltaire who was perhaps influenced in his negative views of the religion. This translation was the standard for more than 200 years. Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s 1934 translation, The Holy Quran: Text, Translation, and Commentary, marked a new era of Quran translation. An Indian Muslim who was a student of the English classics and former member of the elite Indian Civil Service, he tried to simultaneously preserve the accuracy of the Arabic while conveying the lyrical nature of the text in English…In the past decades, there have been other attempts: The Qur’an in 2004 by Muhammad Abdel-Haleem, a professor at London University.
This year saw the publication of The Majestic Quran, Dr Musharraf Hussain’s translation. A prominent British Pakistani Muslim, Dr Hussain studied Islam in a traditional seminary in Pakistan and graduated from Al-Azhar University in Cairo. Dr Hussain was inspired to translate the Quran to share his love of its “breath-taking beauty” In attempting to avoid the “Old-fashioned’ English” of Pickthall and Yusuf Ali he has “attempted to avoid such ‘old’ terminology as much as possible, while still retaining the original meaning of the Majestic Quran”. As if to underscore the point, his sub-title is A Plain English Translation.
Dr Hussain memorised the Quran as a teenager and has been teaching Islamic studies and translations in Islamic schools for over fifty years. He attributes his understanding of the Quran to an accumulation of knowledge from honourable sages and a treasury of classical Islamic wisdom. He is the author of several books and a leader in interfaith dialogue in the UK. In 2009 he was awarded the OBE for community relations. Plain translation approved by prominent scholars, to guard his flanks against the criticism that Muslims are bound to make when other Muslims conduct such exercises, Dr Hussain has gathered a variety of glowing commendations of his effort. There is even a letter from the Senior Advisor to the Grand Mufti of Egypt, testifying to the authenticity of the translation.
I met Dr Hussain when I was visiting the University of Nottingham as part of a lecture and film screening tour in 2016. He and a delegation of the Muslim community warmly welcomed me and my team at the train station. The day following my lecture at the University of Nottingham, he invited me to speak at a press conference at the Karimia Institute, which Dr Hussain heads, for the launch of his new Trust Building Project. The Trust trains representatives from the Muslim community to build relationships with non-Muslims and dispel myths about Islam. He leads his initiatives, such as this one, by example.
An excellent translation for serious students of Quran When I asked him how he felt when he finally had a copy of the translation in his hands, he expressed his sense of being overwhelmed with eschatological emotions: “I was humbled and went straight to the mosque and sat in the mehrab, prayer niche, and opened it randomly. It opened to a verse which states: Those who believed and did righteous deeds will enter the gardens beneath which rivers flow living here forever by their Lord’s permission and their greetings will be “Peace”’ (Surah Ibrahim: 23). I regard that as a good omen.” When I asked him what he hoped the translation of the Quran will accomplish, he replied, “I wish Muslims become serious readers of the Quran and go beyond just parrot-fashioned reading. Our age is the age of materialism and consumerism… the Quran constantly challenges, rejects and argues against that worldview… our society is in dire need of an antidote.”
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