3 Major Mistakes in 12 English Translations of the Qur’an
The author of this research finding is the eminent lawyer-turned writer-journalist (late) Sayyid Ameenul Hasan Rizvi.
Even though the (late) writer brought the attention of the translators and publishers of various English translations of the Qur’an way back in 1996, the problem persists even after 20 years of its publication!!
The author’s findings and discussion is centred around the three verses of the Qur’an common to twelve translations in English by George Sale; E H Palmer; T J Arberry; Mohammed Asad; N J Dawood and Mahmud Zayid; Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall; Abdullah Yusuf Ali; Ahmad Ali; Dr Muhammad Taqiuddin Al-Hilali and Dr Muhammad Muhsin Khan; Syed Anwar Ali; Maulawi Sher Ali; and T B Irving.
It is worth mentioning here that the (late) author applauds the English translation of the Qur’an published originally by Abul Qasim Publishing House, Saudi Arabia which is now popular worldwide by the name “Saheeh International’s Translation” which I strongly recommend to my students and readers.
The translations of the words in question are “fabalaghna ajalahunna” (2:231 and 65:2), “riba” (2:275-76 and 278; 3:130; 4:161; and 30:39) and “Zina” (17:32 and 24: 2-3).
The author says, “Translation of these verses goes quite against as well as distorts three clear and well known laws laid down in the Qur’an and regarding which there has been no difference of opinion worth the name ever since these had been revealed over fourteen hundred years ago.”
While I present the scanned pages of the booklet Three Major Errors in 12 English Translations of the Quran I am reproducing a review on this finding:
SOMETHING more than originality is always lost in translations. Translating the Holy Quran has its own challenges because it is a divine scripture, hence capable of meaning differently in different ages. In this monograph, former Editor of the Radiance Viewsweekly has highlighted the discrepancies that are noticed in 12 English translations of the Quran in verses which could have enormous bearing in legal matters. The translation under reference are by George Sale, Marmaduke Pickthall, Arberry, Muhammad Asad, Dawood, Palmer, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Ahmad Ali, Taqiuddin Hilali-Muhsin Khan, Anwar Ali, Sher Ali and T. B. Irving.
First among the errors occurs with regards to verse no. 231 in Surah Baqra. Of the 12, ten translations have erred in translating the wording Fabalaghana Ajalahunna. They put them as “When you have divorced women and they have reached their term, then retain them in kindness or release them in kindness””. Only translations that accurately convey the meaning are by Muhammad Asad and Sher Ali. These say : “they are about to reach the end of the waiting term”. Rizvi argues that the error distorts the legal implication given the wide application of English translations in several countries.
The second error pertains to translation of term Riba as ‘usury’ instead of ‘interest’ in several verses such as 275-278 in Surah Baqrah and some other places. ‘Usury’ refers to excessive and exorbitant rate of interest while Quranic injunctions and the traditional economic practices in Muslim lands make all interest-based transactions a taboo. Rizvi attributes this to deliberate preference for usury by authors of Western origin under Western influence. Categorical assertion of ‘interest’ being haraam (illegitimate) would have invited charges of Islam being impractical. Rizvi points out that Islam rejects interest in all forms, be it moderate or excessive or exploitative. He finds no reason for clothing Western perceptions by maintaining a distinction line between the two.
Similarly, a majority of English translators have lost sight of difference between adultery and fornication while translating the verses on zina. They are not interchangeable. The Quran prescribes 100 lashes for fornicator/fornicatress and death for adulterer/adulteress. A fornicator is one who is unmarried and commits illicit sex while adulterer/adulteress is married and commits the sin. The use of one term for the other has led to confusion and is fraught with risk of erroneous penal prescriptions in the event of such translations becoming the reference point.
By bringing to light the three errors, Rizvi has essentially highlighted differing social ethos that guide the vocabulary in Arabic and English and if allowed to remain unchallenged may cause a lot of judicial mis-pronouncements in future. The booklet is useful for all those who study the Quran with all the care it deserves.” Taken from IslamicVoice
In the past 20 years, after the publication of this booklet, many English translations of the Qur’an have been published, and are available in the market.
To read 7 different parallel translations click this
You can also go to this website and change the name of the English translator to find for who has erred and where. Check the English translations of the words “fabalaghna ajalahunna” in verses 2:231 and 65:2, “riba” in verses 2:275-76 and 278; 3:130; 4:161; and 30:39 and “Zina” in verses 17:32 and 24: 2-3. Please bear in mind that you cannot understand the difference or find any mistake unless and until you read the booklet thoroughly.
May Allah forgive our sins and guide us on the Right Path.
Sal-lal-laahu-ala Muhammad, Sal-lal-laahu alaihi wa sallam.
Related Reading: Translation Survey
NOTE: Saheeh International’s English translation of the Qur’an is the best of all the available translations of the Qur’an today. (Read comments below. You can share your thoughts as well)
May Peace, Mercy and Blessings of Allah be upon Prophet Muhammad sal-lal-laahu-alaihi-wa-sallam, his family and companions.