The Challenges of Translating the Quran

July 13, 2017 Heba Nady

The Quran (القرآن الكريم) is the central religious text of Islam. Muslims believe Allah gradually revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad through the angel Gabriel over approximately 23 years, beginning in 609 CE. For the nearly two billion Muslims across the world, the Quran is considered the most important religious reference.

Due to the sacred nature of the Quran, all translation attempts are considered interpretations of the meanings, rather than an actual translation of the holy text.

To understand the importance of Quran translations, it is worth mentioning that only 20% of Muslims are Arabic speakers. The majority of Muslims across the world depend on a translation to understand the Quran. The Quran is now translated into most African, Asian and European languages.

The Quran is written in a highly symbolic and classical form of the Arabic language, so translating it requires a profound understanding of its meanings and an ability to reflect those meanings into the target language.

The challenges of translating the Quran include:

  • Arabic words can have a variety of different meanings depending on context and the didactical symbols can change the meaning of a word significantly.

  • The Quran should only be recited in Arabic during prayers, so the translation should be accompanied by a transliteration.

  • The Quran is written in Classical Arabic, which is different from the Modern Standard Arabic that is used today. The structure and some words have changed over time. Therefore, it is not just the work of a single translator and it cannot be done by any native Arabic speaker. It requires a full committee of Islamic scholars who have great mastery of the Classical Arabic language, Islamic studies and the target language.

  • The Quran has to be interpreted in light of the historical circumstances of the early Muslim society when the Quran was revealed.

  • The Quran and Hadith are deeply related, so scholars attempting to translate the Quran should be fully aware of the Hadith and Sirah, which are the sayings and narrations of Prophet Muhammad’s life reported after his death. There are some verses that can be understood completely because of the Hadith.

In history, the first attempt to translate the Quran was in the 7th century by Salman Al Farsi, who translated the first verse into Persian. Then in the 10th and 12th centuries, Persian Islamic scholars completed the Quran translations into Persian. The translation efforts continued from then and by 2010, there were translations in 112 languages. Unfortunately, not all of these translations are accredited, as some of them were done by non-Muslims and non-native Arabic speakers. But there are distinguished efforts done by Muslim organizations in many countries, which ensure that it is translated, revised and edited by a committee of highly selective Muslim scholars.

Further Resources on Arabic Localization, Arabic Globalization and Arabic SEO

Globalization Partners International (GPI) has extensive experience localizing marketing materials, technical documents, and large, scalable websites into the Arabic language. Due to increased demand for projects in Arabic and other BiDi languages, like Farsi, we have posted a number of useful guides to best practices in this area. Feel free to review our blogs that are particularly relevant:

Please feel free to contact GPI at info@globalizationpartners.com with any questions about our language and technology services.  Also let us know if you have any interesting blog topics you would like us to cover in our future blogs.  You may request a complimentary Translation Quote for your projects as well.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quran_translations

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_translations_of_the_Quran

https://www.thoughtco.com/quran-translation-difficulties-of-quran-translation-2004603

About the Author

Heba Nady

Hebatullah (Heba) Mahmoud Nady is a native Arabic speaker who lives in Cairo, Egypt. She has 11 years of experience in client relations and project management, working in different industries, such as publishing, oil and gas and translation and localization. Heba holds a B.A. degree in English Language and Literature from Ain Shams University, and has a great passion for language and culture. She has been actively managing many localization and translation projects for major clients since 2008 and is well versed in a wide range of localization tools and practices. Heba enjoys working with teams from different cultures and bringing people together to achieve a common goal. For her, translation is a mission that contributes to enriching Arabic and other cultures and languages. In her free time, Heba likes to read about literature and management and go sightseeing.

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