With the enormous amount of translations of the meanings of the Qur’an available in the market today, it becomes very difficult for the average reader to decide which one to use and which one best suits his/her purpose.
While I admittedly have not read through or analyzed all of the translations out there, I have had the blessed opportunity to read some of the more common and available translations as well as reviews of each.
In choosing the best translation, it is important to keep a number of key factors in mind:
1. The translator or group of translators involved in the translation should be well-versed in both Arabic and English. The more proficient the translator is in both, the better the representation of Allah’s Divine Word will be.
2. The translator should be well-versed in the science of exegesis. He should be capable of identifying differing linguistic interpretations, all possible meanings, and the explanations that have been offered by the early Muslims. All this should be available to the translator in the Arabic language. Translators that rely on English commentaries and secondary sources for their translation and notes will always be horribly hampered.
3. The Qur’an was revealed in clear and manifest Arabic. Its language is lucid, flowing, and moving. It is impossible to be able to convey the true meanings of the Qur’an in any translation. However, the better the English resembles the Qur’an’s beauty of flow, simplicity of language, depth of meaning, and usage of rhetorical tools, the better the translation. Therefore, the translator should be capable of understanding the rules of grammar and rhetoric (balaghah) of both languages.
4. The translator should be a scholar of the Islamic sciences. Many specialized translators who are limited in their scope of knowledge to the study of languages tend to drift away from substantive translation.
In my opinion, the most superior translation that has been published to date is the translation of Shaykh Ahmad Zaki Hammad, entitled The Gracious Qur’an. I know, you are probably wondering why I didn’t pick my own dear ustadh’s recently published translation. Well, pick up The Gracious Qur’an and read through some of the passages. It will speak for itself.
The wording is precise, the flow is great, the language is not archaic, filler words are added using corner brackets so as not to interrupt the flow, etc… The book is not easy to find in many places, but it is definitely worth the cost. In my humble opinion, unless something more solid comes along (which I highly doubt, given that over two decades of toil were put into this translation by one of the top scholars of the Qur’an and language of our time), this translation will become a standard not only in academic circles but also amongst the common Muslim. (Now if only they could come out with a cheaper edition that everyone could easily buy… The price for the one-volume parallel translation edition is around $60).
Below is a description of the two-volume edition of the book from the publisher:
Description from the publisher:
This contemporary, authoritative translation interprets the Qur’ans meaning for the English reader with unprecedented access to the foundational source of Islam, its civilization, and its peoples. It is highly reliable and powerfully expressed. Where the Arabic of the Qur’an swells with important implication, that intent is conveyed in this rendering with unobtrusive brackets. Its graceful layout and design augment the profound simplicity of the Qur’an’s message. Every effort has been expended to make The Gracious Qur’an august, clear, accessible, and consistent.
This masterful limited edition 2 volume set has been painstakingly produced and researched, to the highest academic and professional standards. The translator, Dr. Ahmad Zaki Hammad, undertook more than 20 years of intense review and work to produce this monumental translation. Its production quality is of the highest, with golden edged paper, highest quality paper, multi-color printing, with an impeccable finish and touch .
It comes in a 2 volume set, the two volumes containing detailed essays and notes, English translation, original Arabic text, comprehensive introductions, general notes, substantive indexes, and a forward by Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi.
This contemporary, authoritative translation interprets the Quran’s meaning for the English reader with unprecedented access to the Book that is the foundational source of Islam, its civilization and its peoples, who now comprise nearly one-fourth of humanity across the breadth of all the Earth’s continents and who form a crucial, contiguous community at the middle of the world.
Twenty years in the making, The Gracious Quran: A Modern-Phrased Interpretation of Its Meanings in English is both highly reliable and powerfully expressed. Where the Arabic of the Quran swells with important implication, that intent is conveyed in this rendering with a light hand in unobtrusive brackets, every effort having been expended to make its reading august, clear, accessible, and consistent while at the same time free of poetic pretension, philosophical complication, and lifeless literalisms. Its graceful layout and design augment the profound simplicity of the Quran’s message and give some semblance of resonance to its almost hypnotic power of literary expression.
The interpretation of The Gracious Quran is thoroughly guided by wide and deep experience with the civilizations of both luminous Islam and the enlightened west, while not unmindful of the light that infuses the world’s brilliant traditions. Fully four decades of scholarly expertise in Quranic studies and related disciplines are in its service, and the latest advances in the art of translation conspicuously benefit it.
Volume One comprises the complete text of the translation, along with concise introductory materials, annotated names and themes of the surahs, and substantive indexes. Volume Two presents the Arabic Text of the Quran in a new layout, along with an elaborate study that introduces the message-content of the Quran in the context of its form and style, a review of the history of Quran’s translation, and a description of the approach and features of this translation. A significant, but nonetheless concise notation section is devoted to answering several hundred questions that may present themselves to readers who are unfamiliar with the Quran’s historical context and revealed purpose.
The Gracious Quran opens a cosmic vista on the sacred in the English language. Through it, men and women of all faiths can gaze at the authentic world of the Quran and glimpse the Divine intent for humanity in this brief life and into the infinite Hereafter. At the very least, it promises to enrich the understanding of the inquiring minds and expand the awareness of the contemplative about the worldview and vision of the fast-growing faith-community of the way of Islam, religion of peace and willing submission to the true and only God.
The above text is a quotation from inside the dustcover of the 2 volume set.
About the translator —
Dr. Ahmad Zaki Hammad is an internationally known authority on Quran and Islamic Studies. He teaches Islamic Civilization and the Primary Disciplines of Quran Commentary, the Prophetic Traditions, and the Principles of Islamic Law at the foremost center of Islamic and Arabic learning in the Muslim world, AL-Azhar University (Faculty of Languages and Translations, Department of English). He is also a member of the Faculty of Shari’ah, Department of Juristic Studies.
He received his early Islamic and Arabic training at Al-Azhar University, Cairo, and was awarded the graduate degree of Alamiyyah from the Faculty of Theology. He holds a Ph.D, in Islamic Studies from the University of Chicago and is the author of a study of translation of Abu Hamid al-Ghazalis’s Al-Mustasfa min Ilm al-Usul, The Quintessence of the Science of the Principles of Islamic Law; and also Islamic Law: Understanding Juristic Differences, a Primer on the Science of al-Khulaf al Fiqhi in Light of the Shari ah Sources.
He lived for many years in the United States, where he founded and served in numerous national and community Islamic institutions for American Muslims.
(Taken from the inside dust jacket of the Deluxe edition.)