The Qur’an: A New Translation By Tarif Khalidi

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Source: The Guardian

Reviewed by Ziauddin Sardar

Tarif Khalidi’s new English edition of Islam’s sacred book offers valuable perspectives, says Ziauddin Sardar

We look for two things in any new translation of the Qur’an. How close does it get to communicating the meaning of the original, that inimitable oral text, the very sounds of which move men and women to tears and ecstasy? And does it offer something more: a new perspective, perhaps; or an innovative rendering?

Tarif Khalidi, a professor of Islamic studies at the American University of Beirut, scores high on both these criteria. He manages to capture the allusiveness of the text, as well as something of its tone and texture. While being faithful to the original, he succeeds in conveying linguistic shifts, from narrative to mnemonic, sermons to parables. And there is an innovative component: it is the first translation that tries to capture both the rhythms and the structure of the Qur’an.

The best way to demonstrate its newness, and how close it is to the original text, is to compare it with an old translation. The translation I have in mind is Khalidi’s predecessor in the Penguin Classics: The Koran, translated with notes by NJ Dawood. First published in 1956, Dawood’s translation has been republished in numerous editions. It has been a great source of discomfort for Muslims, who see in it deliberate distortions that give the Qur’an violent and sexist overtones. It is the one most non-Muslims cite when they tell me with great conviction what the Qur’an says.

The change can be detected with the name of the sacred text itself: we move from “Koran”, the older anglicised form, to the new “Qur’an”, which is now accepted as the correct Arabic transliteration and pronunciation of the word. This is not just a trivial matter of linguistics; it signals a shift from the old Orientalist way of presenting the Qur’an in English to a new inclusive way that takes Muslims’ appreciation of their sacred text into account.

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