A Study of the Fatwa by Rashid Rida on the Translation of the Qur’an

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By Mohamed A. M. Abou Sheishaa


The author is from the Department of Islamic Studies in English, Al-Azhar University, and he is Currently doing MA in Islamic Studies at Leiden University, the Netherlands



The translation of the Qur’an is a controversial issue which always raises such pressing and recurring questions as: Is the Qur’an translatable? Is it translatable in whole or in part? Is the translation a substitute for the original Arabic or a mere approximation and an attempt to translate the untranslatable? After their first appearance when a large number of non-Arabic speaking people had embraced Islam Muslims, these questions became again prominent when the issue of the translation of the Qur’an was raised in the 1920s and 1930s. The goal of this paper is not to trace the old discussion of these questions, for it is crystallized in the early twentieth century debate. However, the historical factors, which played a significant role in this debate, namely the translations made for nationalistic and sectarian purposes as well as those made by Orientalists and missionaries for polemical purposes, deserve attention, and the different opinions should be discussed in light of these factors.
One of the significant fatwas of this period is that by Rashid Rida. It will be translated and analyzed here within its historical context. Thus the present study will try to explain why this fatwa was issued, highlighting its historical context. The present study commences with a brief history of the translation of the Qur’an. The study then presents a biography of Sheikh Rashid Rida, annotated translation of the fatwa, and Religio-Socio-Political approach to the fatwa.

1. The Origin and Early History of Qur’an Translation

Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the absolute Word of Allah revealed in Arabic (12: 2, 20: 113, 26: 195, 39: 28, 41: 3, 43: 3) to His Prophet Muhammad by the archangel Gabriel (26: 192-194) as a boon and mercy to all mankind (21: 107). For Muslims, it represents God’s guidance, which they should follow to enlighten their lives, to find happiness and to lead a good life. The Qur’an moulds their thought and elevates their spirituality. It is not a treatise on theology, a code of laws, or a collection of moral sermons. It is a mixture of the three, along with a number of other things.
Muslims also believe that the message of Islam is a universal one, for the Prophet was sent to all mankind, a fact stressed by the Qur’an itself (e.g. 34: 28, 7: 158, 21: 107). Therefore, it is their duty to convey the message of Islam and the meanings of the Qur’an to all humanity. This is also expressed in the Qur’an (3: 104, 110) as well as in the Hadith of the Prophet. Thus, the claim that “it was not originally intended for non-Arabs” falls to the ground.
The Qur’an was revealed in Arabic, Muslims believe, because the Prophet was an Arab, and because the Arabic tongue is capable of great eloquence and clarity. The Qur’an declares, We sent not a messenger except (to teach) in the language of his (own) people, in order to make (things) clear to them .[4] In his commentary on this verse, Al-Zamakhsharî stated, “The Qur’an could have been revealed either in all of the numerous languages, or only in one language. If the revelation were to be communicated in all languages, it would lead to needless repetition, since translation could serve as a substitute for such repetition. Hence it was revealed to the Prophet in the language of his own people, to whom he was sent, in the preliminary stage of the call to Islam. Once these people came to understand comprehensively the meaning of this message, they undertook the task of transmitting it to the rest of mankind throughout the world. This is evident in all non-Arab countries, where Muslims get their instruction in the Qur’an through translations in their native tongues…”
Because of the universality of the message, the Prophet sent during his lifetime letters and messengers to the rulers of neighboring countries calling on them to embrace Islam. Each of these messengers mastered the language of the country to which he was delegated. This is apparent in several Hadiths where the Prophet exhorted his Companions to learn foreign languages. The letters sent by the Prophet to the rulers of neighboring countries included several verses of the Qur’an. These letters were interpreted and explained by either the delegates carrying the letters or by men from the entourages of the rulers to whom these letters were sent.[6]
We have no information of any direct translation of the Qur’an during the lifetime of the Prophet. However, in Islamic tradition there are certain references to translations of parts of the Qur’an. It is reported that Salman the Persian, a Companion of the Prophet, translated the Fatihah into Persian and that Ja‘far b. Abi Talib translated certain verses pertaining to the Prophet Jesus and Mary in the court of the Negus (the king of Abyssinia) during his sojourn in that land. Thus it seems that the issue of translating the Qur’an was a matter of serious consideration. Whatever the case may have been in those very early days, the problem became more pressing when Muslims came in close contact with non-Arabs, notably Persians, after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.[7] Here we find the example of Abu Hanifah, who permitted the recital of the Persian translation of the Qur’an in prayer. In addition to this, according to certain reports, an oral translation of the Qur’an was made by Musa b. Sayyar al-Aswari. These and other similar examples[8] indicate the possibility that portions of the Qur’an, or the whole of it, were translated at this early stage. The earliest extant translation of the Qur’an into Persian was made in 345 AH / 956 AC.[9] We must also take into account, however, Mingana’s statement that some fragments of the Qur’an are found in a Syriac book containing citations and refutations concerning the Qur’an written in the time of al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf at the end of the 1st/7th century.[10] Muhammad Hamidullah also mentioned a Berber translation, which was made approximately in the year 127 AH.[11] One translation into a certain Indian language (probably Sindhi, but referred to as ‘Hindi’) was done as early as 270/883 by a scholar from Iraq who was appointed by ‘Abdullah b. ‘Umar, the ruler of Sindh, to make the translation.[12] However, there is not much information about these translations and it seems that independent and extensive research on this subject has not yet been conducted.[13]
The Syriac citations and refutations mentioned above were probably the first translations made for polemical purposes, but the interest of non-Muslims in translating the Qur’an for this purpose arose prominently in the medieval ages. Such early translations as the Latin translation made by Robert of Ketton (published in 1543), the Italian of Andrea Arrivabene, (which was a paraphrase of the Latin and was first published in 1547), and the French version by Andre du Ryer (first published in 1647) formed the basis for subsequent translations of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. In the 18th century, however, translations made directly from Arabic originals appeared. The first were those of Sale (into English, first published in 1734), Savary (French, 1751) and Boysen (German, 1773).[14] In the 19th century several translations into other European languages appeared. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, orientalists such as Richard Bell, Henry Palmer, and A. J. Arberry undertook the task of translating the Qur’an as part of their scholarly pursuits,[15] at the same time as Christian missionaries became interested in translating the Qur’an not only into European languages, but also into Oriental languages and dialects. In the 20th century the process of translating the Qur’an took another dimension when sectarian movements within Islam, or even by renegade groups outside the fold of Islam, such as the Qadianis, used translations as a means to proclaim their ideological uniqueness. Translation was also encouraged for nationalistic purposes, as was the case in Turkey after the collapse of the caliphate. In order to combat the Orientalist missionary translations as well as those made by sectarian movements, Muslims felt the need to produce faithful translation of the Qur’an into European languages, most importantly English. Therefore, they provided their own rendering, the most notable of which are the English translations made by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall (London, 1930) and that of ‘Abdullah Yusuf ‘Ali (Lahore, 1934-37).

2. Biography of Rashid Rida

Rashid Rida, whose full name was Muhammad Rashid b. ‘Ali Rida b. Muhammad Shams al-Din b. Muhammad Baha’ al-Din b. Munla ‘Ali Khalifa,[16] was one of the most prominent religious figures of the Muslim world during the first half of the 20th century. His fame was due to the popular reformist attitudes embodied in many of his works. He is considered as an important personification of pure Islamic intellect in the modern age. As evidenced in the large corpus of his writings, he never hesitated to set in motion the stagnant state of the Muslim world during his time, and to defend Islam when necessary.[17]
Rida was born on 27 Jumada II 1282 A.H. [23 September 1865] in al-Qalamun, a village three miles away from Tripoli-Syria on the Mediterranean coast[18], and died on Thursday 23 Jumada I 1353 A.H. [22 August 1935], on his way from Suez to Cairo.[19] He is said to be a descendant of a very pious family of outstanding Muslim intellectuals. His family was renowned as well-versed in Islamic knowledge; thus, most of his family were called al-Mashaykh [the sheikhs].[20]
Rida started his education at a Kuttab [Qur’anic School] in his village where he learned the Qur’an, Arabic writing, and elements of arithmetic.[21] He then joined the Rushdiyya National Primary School in Tripoli at which he studied Arabic grammar, math, the basics of geography, ‘aqida [Islamic Belief], Islamic rituals, and Turkish language. But he soon left this school after one year of study, since most of its subjects were conducted in Turkish, something he did not like; later on, he joined al-Madrasa al-Wataniyya al-Islamiyya [National Islamic School], founded by Sheikh Muhammad al-Jisr of Tripoli [1845-1909]. As Rida comments, this school was considered superior to the former one because most of its subjects were conducted in Arabic, except two, French and Turkish. In this school he inclined towards religious and Arabic subjects, logic, mathematics, and philosophy.[22] He was attracted by al-Afghani and ‘Abduh as soon as he came to know their ideas. He thought for a time of going to join al-Afghani in Constantinople, but this plan came to nothing, and the influence of al-Afghani upon him was soon overshadowed by that of ‘Abduh.[23] When Muhammad ‘Abduh visited Tripoli in 1894, Rida was among the great number of scholars who received him. He accompanied ‘Abduh during this visit from early morning until bedtime.[24] In Rajab 1315 A.H. [winter 1887-1888], Rida migrated to Cairo in order to avail himself of more direct contact with this modernist reform leader, and immediately became his close disciple. In Cairo, his first meeting with ‘Abduh took place the day after his arrival. In this meeting, Rida expounded to ‘Abduh his aim of publishing a journal dealing with Islamic reform, Al-Manar [“The Lighthouse”]. The first issue of this journal appeared on 22 Shawwal 1315 [mid March 1898].[25] Discussion concerning the development and reform of Al-Azhar, which was in a state of educational stagnancy at that time, was also high on their agenda. Rida himself states, “When I first came to Egypt, I was well-prepared for reform; I was extremely preoccupied with the remissness of Muslim scholars, and how they were greatly in need of reformation.”[26]
After ‘Abduh’s death in 1905, Rida established himself as a leading heir to this modernist movement by publishing a voluminous biography of the former. He also started to complete the commentary of the Qur’an which ‘Abduh had begun. His career in Cairo was almost entirely devoted to the publication of his journal Al-Manar, which continued to appear for a few years after his death. He wrote voluminously, discussing an enormous range of subjects of mostly religious significance in Al-Manar, and elaborated a systematic doctrine of Islamic law and politics.[28] Being focused on religious and social reformation of the Muslim community, Al-Manar represented the mouthpiece of the salafi heritage of both al-Afghani and ‘Abduh, extolling a return to the main sources of Islam, i.e. the Qur’an and the Sunna, with an emphasis on purer tawhid [the worship of one Allah]. This journal is a useful reference, and a mine of information of major events of the Muslim World as reflected from Cairo over a period of nearly forty years, not only for Muslim scholars but also for Orientalists. It also contains the account of Rida’s personal and scholarly evolution as well.[29]
Rida’s ideas were treated as an extension of ‘Abduh’s thought and in line with the framework which the latter designed for reforming and reinvigorating Islam and demonstrating its compatibility with modernity. This framework included the abandoning of taqlid (imitative reasoning), the resort to rational criteria for interpretation of Islamic doctrines, the reform of religious institutions and educational systems, and the adoption of modern skills and technological achievements.[30] The links between the two reformers are of course strong, but this does not imply a de-emphasizing of Rida’s own intellectual contributions. Rida led an active political and intellectual life, filled with dramatic events that led to the transformation of the Arab and Islamic world. Western influence and dominance were tangible everywhere; the advocates of wholesale adoption of Western models were ascendant, supported by the powers of the time, and assisted by the attraction of easy solutions. Furthermore, after the First World War, the Islamic world was fragmented into separate states under the control of western powers, and the Caliphate was abolished in 1924. Rida almost alone in Egypt, represented the Muslim thinker and activist endeavoring to reform and rescue his nation while at the same time preserving its identity and culture.[31]

3. Rida’s Published Works

This is a list of some of Rida’s published works:

1. Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Hakim known as Tafsir al-Manar [The commentary on the Qur’an which ‘Abduh began but did not complete beyond surat al-Nisa’ IV, verse 125. Rida continued up to surat Yusuf XII, verse 100][32]

2. Al-Tafsir al-Mukhtasar al-Mufid [This was intended as a summary of the former work, which was begun by Rida and published by Muhammad Ahmad Kan‘an and Zuhayr al-Shawish as Muhktasar Tafsir al-Manar, 3 vols, Beirut-Damascus, 1984][33]

3. Al-Manar Journal [The first volume was published in 1315A.H. [1898], the second section of the last volume (volume 35) was published and distributed after his death on 29th Rabi‘ II, 1354/1935][34]

4. Tarikh al-Ustaz al-Imam al-Shaykh Muhammad ‘Abduh [A biography of his teacher published in three volumes][35]

5. Nida’ lil Jins al-Latif or Huquq al-Mar’ah fi al-Islam [“A Call to the Fair Sex” or “Women’s Rights in Islam”]. This was translated into many languages.[36]

6. Al-Wahy al-Muhammadi [This provides rational and historical proofs indicating that the Qur’an is a Divine Revelation].[37]

7. Tarjamat al-Qur’an wa ma fiha min Mafasid wa Munafat al-Islam, Matba‘at al-Manar, cairo, 1344/1926.

8. Dhikra al-Mawlid al-Nabawi [This includes a summary of the Prophet’s biography and the foundations of Islam].[38]

9. Al-Wahda al-Islamiiyya [Islamic Unity]. The major part of this work was first published under the title Muhawarat al-Muslih wa al-Muqallid [“Debates between the Reformer and the Imitator”][39]

10. Yusr al-Islam wa Usul al-Tashri‘ al-‘?mm [“The Accommodating Spirit of Islam and the Sources of General Jurisprudence”] published in 1928.

11. Al-Khilafa wa al-Imama al-‘Uzma [“The Caliphate and the Greater Imamate”]

12. Al-Sunna wa al-Shari‘a [“The Prophetic Tradition and Islamic Law”]

13. Al-Muslimun wa al-Qibt [“Muslims and the Copts”]

14. Al-Wahhabiyyun wa al-Hijaz [“The Wahhabites and the Hijaz”]

15. Al-Manar wa al-Azhar [“Al-Manar and al-Azhar”]

4. The Annotated Translation of the Fatwa

Translation of the Qur’an[40]

Q: From Sheikh Ahsan Shah Effendi Ahmad (in Russia)
Your Excellency, Mr. Muhammad Rashid Rida,
We hope that you [will] pay attention to the following important issue:
[What follows is a translation of a statement] by the eminent Ahmad Midhat[41] Effendi of the Turkish Ottoman scholars, from his book Basha’ir Sidq Nubuwwat:

“The Translation of the Qur’an is an important issue for Muslims. All the debates which have been held concerning the translation of this Glorious Book have not come to a conclusion. There are reasons for this: First, to translate it fully is impossible because of its inimitability in respect to its style. Second, it includes many words which have no equivalent in the target language, so the translator is forced to use a word which conveys the meaning but with some variation. Then if this translation is translated again into another language there will be some other variation, and so on. So it is feared that this will lead to the corruption and alteration of the Qur’an. Third, some signs and ahkam [rulings] can be extracted from the words of the Divine Books by the process of calculation, so the replacement [of these words] by translation prevents this process. An example of this is what Sa‘di Jalabi wrote in his commentary on Al-Baydawi’s [exegesis]. While interpreting surat Al-Fatihah, [he noted that] if the repeated letters in surat al-Fatihah, the first sura in the Qur’an, and those in surat An-Nas, the last sura, were taken out then the remaining letters will be twenty three. He said, ‘In this is an indication of the period of Muhammad’s Prophethood.’ So if the Qur’an is translated, then such virtues, which constitute some of its miraculous properties, will disappear from the translated version.” (Extracted from Basha’ir Sidq Nubuwwat)
As for our Turkish and Russian men of letters, they insist on translating it. They argue that the proposition that the translation of the Qur’an is not permissible has no meaning other than the necessity that it remain incomprehensible. So they hold the opinion that to translate it is obligatory. It is now being translated in the city of Kazan and the translation is being published serially. Also Zayn al-‘?bidin Haji al-Bakawi, one of the volunteer strugglers in the Caucasus, is insisting on translating it into the Turkish language. It is our hope, your Excellency, that you will give consideration to this issue.
This was written by the humble Imam Ahsan Shah Ahmad al-Samari[42], the religious writer.
A: It is [a symptom] of Muslims’ negligence in preaching their religion that they do not explain the meanings of the Qur’an to peoples of all languages in their own languages, even by translating some parts of it to them for the sake of inviting those who are not Muslims to Islam and guiding those who embrace it in accordance with their needs if need be. Furthermore, a [symptom] of the wavering faith of Muslims is that they are divided into different nations, each of these nations being individually bound by national lineage, language, or law, while deserting the Qur’an that was revealed by Allah, the Almighty to His last Messenger, inimitable in its style, composition, and guidance, and its recitation itself constitutes an act of worship, and [instead] are satisfied when individuals of each race translate it into their own language according to what the translator understands.
This wavering is one of the effects of Europe’s political and civil struggle against Muslims. It allured us to be disunited and divided into different races, each of which thinks that its life lies within it, but which is none other than the death of all. We will not elaborate on this issue here but will mention some of what comes to mind concerning the negative consequences of the desertion by Muslims of the Qur’an which was revealed “In the perspicuous Arabic tongue ”,[43] in favor of non-Arabic translations. Their need [to these translations] can be fulfilled by commentaries [on the Qur’an] in their [different] languages, being aware of the need for brevity, while preserving its original text that has reached us through continuous testimony and which is protected against corruption and alteration. These negative consequences are as follows:
A literal translation of the Qur’an which is identical to the original text is impossible, as will be clear from the following arguments. The translation of the meaning is nothing but the translator’s understanding of the Qur’an or an understanding for which he may perhaps have relied on the understanding of its commentators. This translation will then not be the Qur’an but the understanding of an individual who may be right or wrong in his understanding and so the aim of translation in the sense that we reject [namely, to make the translation as a substitute for the original] will not be realized.
The Qur’an is the foundation of the Islamic religion, and even [constitutes] the whole religion, for the Sunna is only religion in the sense that it explains it. The religion of those who depend on a translation of it is the understanding of the person who translated the Qur’an for them, not the same Qur’an revealed by Allah the Almighty to His Messenger, (peace and blessings be upon him). Also exercising ijtihad [personal reasoning] by means of qiyas [analogy] is dependent on the text, but the translation is not the text of the Lawgiver, and according to the majority of scholars ijma‘ [consensus] must have a mustanad [foundation] and the translation is not a foundation. Hence nothing of the principles of Islam will remain unimpaired to those who regard the translation of the Qur’an as the Qur’an itself.
The Qur’an prohibited taqlid [imitative reasoning] in religion and denounced the imitators. Deriving [the rulings of] religion from the translation of the Qur’an is an imitation of its translator, so it is a deviation from the guidance of the Qur’an and is not in accordance with it.
This [the translation of the Qur’an] necessarily means that those who depend merely on the translation are deprived of the quality that Allah identified in the believers in His saying, “Say thou: ‘This is my way; I do invite unto Allah,—with a certain knowledge I and whoever follows me. Glory to Allah! and never will I Join gods with Allah! ’”[44] [This is also explained] in other similar verses which make it a virtue of a Muslim to make use of his mind and understanding of what Allah has revealed.
And just as it necessitates their deprivation of these supreme qualities, it also necessitates that the application of ijtihad to and deduction from the words of the translator be not allowed, for no Muslim deems this permissible.
One who knows the language of the Qur’an and what is needed for its understanding such as the Prophetic Sunna and the history of the first generation among whom Islam appeared will be rewarded for putting into practice what he understands of the Qur’an even if he errs in his understanding, for he has exerted his effort in following the guidance of what Allah revealed as a guidance to him. This is well-known from the Prophet’s (peace and blessings be upon him) treatment of [two of] his Companions in respect to their understanding of how to perform tayammum; he excused those who differed in their understanding and performance of it.[45] Another example is his treatment of them concerning their understanding of the Prophet’s prohibition [on] performing the ‘asr prayer except in Qurayza.[46] There are still other proofs in support of this. I do not think that any Muslim can be in expectation of this favorable treatment where a translator’s understanding of the Qur’an is concerned.
The Qur’an is a source of guidance and Divine knowledge which is perpetual, the guidance of which is still continuous, and becomes manifest to the reader in accordance with his preparation and wisdom, so some of its wisdom and secrets may be apparent to a later [generation] which were not apparent to their predecessors. This confirms the general meaning of the hadith which reads, “…the informed one might comprehend it [what I have said] better than the present audience, [who will convey it to him].”[47] But translation of it invalidates this quality, for it [limits the reader] to the meaning which the translator used according to his understanding. For instance, the translator may understand Allah’s saying, “And we send the fecundating winds,”[48] as a metaphor in the sense that the contact between the wind and clouds which leads to the falling of rain is similar to the impregnation of a female by a male and the subsequent birth of a child. This is the understanding of some commentators.[49] So if he translates it in this way, suppose that he does not find in the target language a word equivalent to the Arabic word ‘lawaqih in both the literal and metaphorical senses which in its broadest usage it is capable of bearing? The readers will then be limited to this understanding and will not be able to understand the literal reference of this statement, namely that the wind is in reality lawaqih because it carries pollen from male trees to female ones. But even if (it could be argued that) this example does not prove the rule because the verse could be translated literally, there are also other examples and it is enough to quote this example as explanatory. The translation will confine us to a finite understanding and thus deprives us of the intended continuity [i.e. the ever appearing meanings].
Al-Ghazali mentioned in his book Iljam al-‘Awamm ‘an ‘Ilm al-Kalam that it is not permissible to translate the Divine Attributes of Allah.[50] He provided a very clear proof for this. We have mentioned his words while interpreting [Allah’s saying], “He it is who has sent down to thee the book: in it are verses basic or fundamental [of established meaning]; they are the foundation of the Book: others are allegorical .”[51] He explained that [committing] an error in this [i.e., the translation of the Divine Attributes] is a way to unbelief. [52]
While providing proof for what he had proposed, Al-Gazali mentioned that the precise equivalents of some Arabic words are not found in Persian,[53] just as they are not found in Turkish and other languages, so how can a translator deal with these words? If he explains them according to his understanding, he might lead the reader of his translation to hold beliefs that are not intended by the Qur’an.
He also mentioned that some Arabic words do have equivalent Persian words, ‘but the Persians are not accustomed to using them metaphorically as the Arabs do.’[54] So if the translator uses the Persian word, what will appear is the literal meaning of the Arabic word, when what was meant by Allah may have been the metaphorical meaning. This is applicable to other languages as [it is applicable to] Persian. This point is misleading particularly when the discourse concerns Allah the Almighty and His Attributes and Actions.
He also mentioned in this context that some of these words may be homonyms in Arabic but not in other languages.[55] [In this case] the translator may choose [to translate this with something] other than what was intended by Allah in these two meanings and the corruption in this is indisputable, as we explained earlier.
It is a settled rule among scholars that if there is dalil qat‘i [clear proof] against the literal understanding of one of the verses of the Qur’an, then it must be interpreted such that it does not contradict this proof. It is known to every reasonable person that there is difference between ta’wil [interpretation] of the [Arabic] words of the Qur’an and that of the non-Arabic words of its translation particularly in respect to mutashabihat [ambiguous verses] and homonyms.
The special effect that the composition and style of the Qur’an have on the soul of the listener cannot be conveyed by translation. The disappearance of this effect leads to the loss of a great benefit. And how many times did it attract people to Islam to the extent that one of the European philosophers (a Frenchman whose name I have forgotten) said that Muhammad used to recite the Qur’an in an impressive way and attracted the listener to believe in it, and the effect of this was more intense than the effect of what was transmitted [to us] about the miracles of the other Prophets. Once Dr. Faris Effendi Nimr attended the annual celebration of the school of Al-Ja m‘iyya al-Khayriyya al-Islamiyya [Islamic Charitable Society] in Cairo where a student started the celebration by reciting some verses of the Qur’an. He said this recitation has a profound effect on the soul. Then he mentioned this while writing about the celebration in his journal, Al-Muqattam. So if the recitation of the Qur’an has this effect even on unbelievers in it then how can we deprive Muslims of it by translating the Qur’an to them?
If the Qur’an is translated by a Turk, a Persian, an Indian, a Chinese, etc, then differences will arise between these translations, such as those that exist between the books of the Christians, namely the old and new testaments. We have seen [and read] what the author[56] of Izhar al-Haqq[57] has extrapolated about these differences and have praised Allah that he protected our Book against their likes, so after this, how can we then voluntarily opt for these [differences] among ourselves?
The Qur’an is the greatest miracle proving the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and is even the eternal miracle amongst the miracles of the Prophets. The reality of this everlasting miracle, immune from alteration, corruption and tashif [misplacement of diacritical marks] is apparent only in the text which we have taken from the one who received it from Allah, but this is not the case with the translation.
The above are the arguments which have occurred to us and which prohibit Muslims from translating it for the sake of having a non-Arabic Qur’an in place of the Arabic one. Even if some of these arguments can be embodied in the others, they are mentioned in this way [i.e. separately] for greater clarification. There are still other arguments which can be deduced by a person who contemplates and thinks [about it] at a time of clarity of mind and health of body, and even if we do not mention them here, some of them can be readily recalled, such as the usage of a homonym in its two different meanings, and [the usage of] a word both in its literal and metaphorical meanings[58] as are stated by some of the scholars of Usul [Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence] like the Shafi‘is.
As for the claim of those who view its translation as obligatory because if translation is forbidden, this necessarily means that the text [of the Qur’an] will remain incomprehensible; this is not true. This is because to understand it is easy,[59] but just as no one is allowed to force his own outlook on another; how can one person make his interpretation a creed for an entire nation. Also there are two levels of guidance for a non-Arab [Muslim] in the Qur’an: [1] a lower level for ordinary people who do not find the search for knowledge easy and so they memorize surat al-Fatihah and some short surahs to recite them in prayer; interpretation of these is translated for them. In addition, some verses [of the Qur’an] are read to them in religious lessons and interpretation of these is imparted to them in their own language as is the practice of many of non-Arab Muslims, even in China. [2] A higher level for those whose occupation is [religious] knowledge; they must master its [the Qur’an’s] language and understand it independently, seeking help from the discourse of its interpreters but not imitating any of them.
The non-Arabs who entered Islam at the hands of the generous Companions [of the Prophet] understood that Islam has its special language which had to be common amongst its followers so that they may understand its Book in which they believe, follow its guidance, and worship Allah by its recitation. In this way they may achieve amongst themselves the unity referred to in Allah’s saying, “Verily, this Ummah of yours is a single Ummah… ”,[60] and by holding fast [all together] by it, for it is Habl-ullah [Allah’s rope], they will not be divided, and will attain amongst themselves the fullness of brotherhood in Islam which is made obligatory for them by [Allah’s] saying: “The Believers are but a single Brotherhood.[61] That is why the Arabic language has spread throughout all the countries which the Companions conquered with extraordinary speed even though schools, books, and teachers were non-existent. This was the case in the East and the West during the Umayyad rule and at the beginning of the Abbasid period until Arabic became the language of millions of Europeans, Berbers, Copts, Romans [Byzantines], Persians, and others living in the kingdoms that extended from the Atlantic to India. What was this but a magnificent boon creating brotherhood amongst many peoples and the common endeavor of [building] a civilization that embellished the earth and was light and guidance for its people?
[The Caliph] Al-Ma’mun then committed a political lapse[62] in the East which incited racial fanaticism amongst the Persians who began to return to their language and revert to their racial identity. Then came the Turks, inciting racial fanaticism to the extent that led to the collapse of the caliphate and division of the Islamic lands. However, this state of discord did not lead people to make a non-Arabic Qur’an for non-Arabs and make the Revealed Arabic Qur’an peculiar to the Arabs, but religion and knowledge remained in Arabic in accordance with their imam, the [Arabic] Qur’an.
The obligation now facing the advocates of Islamic reform is to exert their efforts in restoring Muslim unity to the position it reached among the early generation of Muslims, which was the best of all Muslim generations. In doing so they can make use of modern educational methods in making the study of Arabic compulsory in all Muslim schools and reviving Islamic knowledge in an independent way, unrestricted by the opinions of the authors of past centuries which differed in nature with this age in their civil and political conditions. But now we see that some amongst us, who are fascinated by European policies, are helping it [Europe] to severe what are left of the Islamic ties of unity by encouraging racial fanaticism to the extent that some of them are trying to free their peoples from their need for the Revealed Qur’an. This is really a cause of sedition and great corruption in the Muslim lands; may Allah protect Muslims against its evil. Now this is my opinion regarding the translation of the Qur’an to Muslims, which is different from interpreting it to them in their own languages, in which case it [the Arabic Qura’n] remains their imam [i.e. the dominant reference], and also different from translating it for inviting non-Muslims to Islam, in which case it should be made clear that the translator has given the meaning according to his own understanding.

5. The Religio-Socio-Political Approach to the Fatwa

In order to understand this fatwa, which was not the only one to appear at this period, we should study the historical context and conditions that have directly or indirectly created the need for the issuing of such fatwas. This can be achieved through a historical discussion of some historical factors, which played a crucial role in provoking the controversy. These factors can be summarized as follows:
The abolition of the Islamic caliphate and the installation of a Turkish committee to produce a Turkish translation of the Qur’an.

The rise of some sectarian movements within Islam or renegade groups outside the fold of Islam, such as the Qadianis, who were active in translation into European languages to proclaim their ideological uniqueness.
The appearance of translations made by non-Muslims, whether missionaries or Orientalists, and the danger felt by Muslims as a result of the usually erroneous and confounding nature of these translations.

5.1 The Abolition of the Caliphate

It is argued that the abolition of the Caliphate was an imperialist conspiracy. This view is advocated by scholars such as Rashid Rida, Anwar al-Jindi, Muhammad ‘Imarah, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, etc., who believed that England saw the Ottoman Caliphate as a symbol of Muslim unity that stood as a stumbling block in the face of its imperialist expansion.[63] Rashid Rida, for instance, cited Lord Cromer to the effect that the unity of Muslims was a challenge and a source of resistance to the forces of the Christian countries and that it had to be watched carefully.[64] After the abolition of the caliphate, Ataturk took also some other measures to fulfill his goal, i.e. the secularization of Turkey, such as the abolition of the institution of Shaykh al-Islam,[65] the Shari‘a courts, and the ministry of Seriat and Evkaf; the unification of public education under secular administration; and the promulgation of the Swiss civil code in 1926.[66]
At that time there were two dominant historical perspectives concerning the Ankara government. The first perspective is that it was openly hostile to and apprehensive of everything connected with religion and also its political leaders were regarded as free thinkers who would like to obliterate as soon as possible all traces of Islam only because they feared the violent reaction which would follow the open flaunting of the Muslim faith. According to the second perspective the Kemalists were regarded as cordial friends and well-wishers to Islam.[67] The first viewpoint was adopted by the majority of Muslims due to the measures taken by this government, which explicitly revealed their intentions.
There was no doubt that the Ankara government held the upper hand over the religious organizations and it had evinced its intention that Islam should conform to the Nationalist program.[68] Moreover, it regarded the Islamic world as backward, and Ataturk had frequently expressed his determination to cut his nation loose from a system and civilization which, in his view, arose in alien Arabia and which fits better in a desert than into an industrial background.[69] Within this Nationalist program Arabic, the language of the Qur’an, must have been something unwelcome. In 1908 a newspaper started to print a translation in daily installments, but this process was aborted. Since 1920 at least three translations have appeared, none of which won any striking degree of public approval. In 1932 parts of the Qur’an were first recited in Turkish in the mosque and the call to prayer for the first time sounded in Turkish.[70]
Muslim scholars regarded the Qur’an as the remaining tie of Islamic unity after the collapse of the Islamic caliphate. The translation of the Qur’an was made for the nationalistic motive of having a substitute for the Arabic Qur’an, and not to make the Turks understand the Qur’an as Rashid Rida expressed. For instance, Sheikh Rashid Rida commented on the attitude of the Union and Progress society towards the Arabic language by stating that the Turkish nationalists were keen to eliminate all traces of Arabic from the minds, hearts, and tongues of the Turkish people. Among their methods, he went on, were the translation of the Qur’an into Turkish to have a Turkish Qur’an, the use of a Latin alphabet, and the establishment of a committee to purify the Turkish language from any Arabic words.[71] This historical element explains why some of Muslim scholars were against the translation of the Qur’an which aimed at severing Muslim ties and creating a substitute for the Arabic Qur’an to achieve Nationalistic ambitions as is clear from the words of Sheikh Rashid Rida, Muhammad Shakir, and Shaykh al-Islam Mustafa Sabri. Rashid Rida was not against translating the Qur’an for propagating Islam, but was critical of having a substitute for the original.

5.2 The Qadiani Movement

Qadianism or Ahmadism is a movement founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in 1898.[72] Ghulam Ahamd was born in the small town of Qadian, Punjab, India, about 1255/1839. He first gained a reputation as a local preacher of Islam who entered into theological debates against Christian missionaries. But on 4 March 1889, however, he announced that he had received from God a revelation authorizing him to accept bay‘at; and a small group of formal disciples was forthcoming. Opposition from the Muslim community began two years later when he announced that he was the Promised Messiah and the Mahdi. From the date (1891) until his death (1908) there was a continuous increase both in his own claims and in the opposition to him.He claimed to receive revelations (both ilham and wahy are used), including foreknowledge; to perform miracles (including both raising the dead to life, and vice-versa: he boasted of bringing about, through prayer, the death of rivals); and to be the Mahdi; also the buruz (“re-appearance”) of Muhammad.[73]
From 1901 to 1908 was the period in which he claimed Prophethood in clear and express terms. He also claimed the abolition of jihad and that all those who did not believe in him were Kafirs.[74] The call for loyalty to the British power and abolishing the notion of Jihad may reflect the movement’s connections with British colonialism.[75] The core of Ahmadi belief is that their community embodies the only true form of Islam (the one true religion, sent by God), it having been launched in this revitalized and newly revealed form by Ahmad, who was sent by God for the purpose, and it is being further divinely guided through its present head. Other Muslims, by rejecting this heaven-sent re-formation, are pronounced kafir.[76]
It was natural that a group which denied the finality of Prophethood should be met by opposition from the Muslim community, and regarded as a danger to its solidarity. To this effect Muhammad Iqbal said, “Any religious society historically arising from the bosom of Islam, which claims a new Prophethood for its basis, and declares all Muslims who do not recognize the truth of its alleged revelation as Kafirs, must, therefore, be regarded by every Muslim as a serious danger to the solidarity of Islam.”[77] The movement was declared by Islamic institutions such as al-Azhar to be out of the fold of Islam. In 1974 the Pakistani constitution (article 260) declared the Qadianis to be non-Muslims.[78] The same position was adopted by the Muslim world League [Rabitat al-‘?lam al-Islami] (in 1974), and the African Islamic Congress (in 1976). The Fifth World Islamic Conference (al-Nadwa al-Islamiyya al-‘?lamiyya), held in Makka in 1976, listed Qadianism among “the destructive tendencies” rampant in the Muslim World.[79]
One of the most visible aspects of the movement is its interest and activities in proclaiming its principles among Muslims as well as non-Muslims, and the considerable number of works they wrote and published in different languages. Al-Mawdudi explains the objective behind their missionary work by referring to different statements by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad himself, in which he stated that he intended to make not only the Muslims of India, but all Muslims of the world sincerely obedient to the British Government by wiping out such wrong notions as jihad from their minds.[80] Al-Mawdudi also stated that they were known everywhere as the agents of the British, as they openly admitted.[81] The movement, however, did not succeed in gaining more than a small number of followers.[82]
In 1914 the followers of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad were divided into two groups. The overwhelming majority of his followers belongs to the first group known as Qadianis and were headed by Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud, the second successor of Ghulam Ahmad. The second group known as Lahori, and founded by Muhammad ‘Ali Lahori, is a minority among the followers of Mirza. The second group tried to soften their tone by claiming that they do not believe in Mirza as a prophet in the real sense of the term but as Mujaddid (a renovator). However, they still believe him to be true in all other claims, which leads Muslims to regard them also as outside the pale of Islam.[83]
In 1925 the Lahori Ahmadiyya tried to circulate Muhammad ‘Ali’s translation entitled “Holy Qur’an”[84] in Egypt. This translation was seized and the Mashyakhat al-Azhar led by Sheikh Abu al-Fadl al-Jizawi (the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar from 1917 until 1928)[85] published a fatwa prohibiting the circulation of this work in Egypt. This position was supported by both Sheikh Rashid Rida and Muhammad Shakir who labeled it as a ‘deviate’ translation of the Qur’an which contradicted the principles of Islamic belief and attempted to destroy Islam from within.[86] Rashid Rida also published a fatwa in Al-Manar answering Sheikh Muhammad Basyuni ‘Imran from Indonesia, who asked him about the use of Muhammad ‘Ali’s translation of the Qur’an. In his answer, Rashid Rida stressed that the Qadiani sect deviated from Islam by their claim that the revelation came down to their swindler Messiah and his successors. He also emphasized that Muhammad ‘Ali distorted some verses related to the Messiah (al-Masih) in order to argue, based on these verses, that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is the expected Messiah. Rashid Rida explained that this was the reason why the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar and the Mufti of Beirut banned the translation. He opined that Muslims should not rely on this translation, or on any other, if they wanted to understand the Qur’an and work accordingly, but the translations can be made use of in calling non-Muslims, who do not know Arabic, to Islam.[87]

5.3 The Orientalist-Missionary Approach

Here we will mention only some examples of this approach to better understand how it represented a threat to Muslims and the effect it had on the Western reader. Apart from the Qadianis, Christian missionaries have been the most active non-Muslim translators of the Qur’ân.[88]
In the medieval ages precise understanding of Islam and its primary source, the Qur’an, became necessary so as to enable Christian clerics or missionaries to defend their religion against Islam. The first to make steps towards realization of this need was Peter the Venerable, the Abbot of Cluny. He employed Robert of Ketton, an Englishman, and Herman of Dalmata, to render important works on Islam into Latin. Among these works was the Qur’an, which was translated by Robert of Ketton and completed in 1143.[89] In 1543, it was published by Theodor Bibliander, a theologian of Zürich.Robert is said to have been “always liable to heighten or exaggerate a harmless text to give it a nasty or licentious sting, or to prefer an improbable but unpleasant interpretation of the meaning to a likely but normal and decent one.”[91]According to George Sale, this Latin translation “deserves not the name of a translation; the uncountable liberties therein taken, and the numberless faults, both of omission and commissions, leaving scarce any resemblance of the original.”[92] However, the translation of Robert formed the basis for several medieval versions.[93]
In his introduction to Sale’s translation (New York, 1940, p. 7), Sir Edward Denson Ross emphasized the misconceptions and distorted image of Islam conveyed by Christian fanatics, “For many centuries the acquaintance which the majority of Europeans possessed of Mohammedanism was based almost entirely on distorted reports of fanatical Christians which led to dissemination of a multitude of gross calumnies. What was good in Mohammedanism was entirely ignored, and what was not good, in the eyes of Europe, was exaggerated or misinterpreted.”[94] This background highlights the role played by many of these translations in portraying a particular image of Islam to the Western reader. Following are some significant aspects of these translations:

1. The majority of the first translations are presented under such titles as “The Alcoran of Mahomet”, “Qur’an of the Turks” or “Book of the Turks’ Prophet”.[95]
2. The introductions of these translations reveal the anti-Islamic approach and the polemical reasons for which the Qur’an was translated. A clear example of this is the Latin translation of Ludovici Marraccci, who was an Italian cleric.[96] It was preceded by an introductory volume called ‘Refutation of the Qur’an’.
A very crude specimen of the Orientalist-missionary approach to the Qur’an is found in Alexander Ross’s translation, which was the first rendering of the Qur’an in English. In translating the Qur’an, the intention of Ross, a chaplain of King Charles I, was expressed in his introduction to the Christian reader: “I thought good to bring it to their colours, that so viewing thine enemies in their full body, thou must the better prepare to encounter…his Alcoran.”[98] He also took the pains “only to translate it out of French, not doubting, though it has been a poyson, that has infected a very great, but most unfound part of the universe, it may prove an Antidote, to confirm in thee the health of Christianity.”[99] He adopted the same anti-Islamic approach in the two appendices to his work entitled as “A Needful Caveat or Admonition, for them who desire to know what use may be made of, or if there be danger in reading the Alcoran” (pp. 406-20) and “The Life and Death of Mahomet: the Prophet of the Turks and author of the Alcoran” (pp. 395-405), which are full of fables and myths about the Prophet Muhammad.

George Sale, a lawyer, brought out his The Koran, commonly called The Alcoran of Mohammed (London, 1734), which has been the most popular English translation. Pearson mentions that Sale’s version was popular in the English-speaking world for nearly two centuries; his famed preliminary discourse, based, according to Nallino, on Marracci and Edward Pococke senior, was translated into several European languages and published either along with the translation into that language, or separately. It was even translated into Arabic, but by Protestant missionaries into Egypt.[100]
According to Sale, “the refutations of Mohammedism” by “the writers of the Romish Communion” have rather “given them [Muslims] great advantages in the dispute” and thus “contributed to the increase of…aversion [of the Muslims] to the Christian religion”. He wanted to “attack the Korân with success” and to achieve “the glory of its overthrow”. Sale’s introduction betrays his deep hostility towards Islam and his missionary intent in that he suggests the rules to be observed for “the conversion of the Mohammedans”. [101]
3. Their frequent transpositions, omissions, unaccountable liberties and unpardonable faults caused these translations to be far from being mere translations. For instance, George Sale was so dissatisfied with the existing translations that he described them as “ignorant or unfair translations.”[102] He described Andrew du Ryer’s French translation as “far from being a just translation; there being mistakes in every page, besides frequent transpositions, omissions, and additions: faults unpardonable in a work of this nature.”[103] He also condemned Ross’s English version, describing it as “a very bad one”, to which Ross “added a number of fresh mistakes…not to mention the meanness of his language, which would make a better book ridiculous”. J.M. Rodwell, a missionary, was also dissatisfied with Sale’s work. He was very critical of Sale’s translation, saying that it followed Marracci[104] too closely, and of his “paraphrastic comments into the body of the text”. He therefore produced his translation entitled The Koran: translated from the Arabic the suras arranged in a chronological order with notes and index (London, 1861). Concerning this translation Alfred Guillaume commented, “…it is often seriously inaccurate”.[106]
4. The abandonment of the traditional arrangement of the Suras of the Qur’an and the adoption of an unusual Sura order. However, Muslims believe that the arrangement of the Suras of the Qur’an was made by the Prophet according to a Divine scheme. It was Rodwell who has invented the so-called chronological Sura order of the Qur’an. Other translators then adopted the same approach in their translations and each of them tried to rearrange the Suras of the Qur’an on his own as did Richard Bell made in his work entitled, The Qur’an translated, with a critical re-arrangement of the Surahs (Edinburgh 1937-39). In his translation, Bell even tried to rearrange the verses of the Qur’an. On this work, Alfred Guillaume, comments, “Fine and careful scholar as he was, I confess that his surgery is so devastating that I cannot use his translation. By cutting out verses and transposing them for purely subjective reasons and by going on to amputate half the verses and even phrases he provokes a mental resistance to textual analysis that is in part sound scholarly. At the best readers will say ‘this is how Bell thinks the Qur’an originally ran’; at the worst ‘the man has lost all sense of proportion’.”[107] Another example is the translation of N.J. Dawood entitled, The Koran (London, 1956). He also adopted a new Sura order of his own. In his introduction to his translation Dawood stated, “in this edition the traditional arrangement has been abandoned. The present sequence, while not following a strictly chronological order, begins with the more Biblical and poetic revelations and ends with the much longer, and often more topical, chapters.”[108]

A significant effect of the Orientalist-missionary approach in translation was a number of misconceptions about Islam in the West. In a lecture he gave in Indonesia, Dr. Maurice Bucaille[109] highlighted the misconceptions propagated by most Orientalists in their translations of the Qur’an. This lecture was translated into Arabic and published in Majallat Al-Azhar. Dr. Bucaille stated that the majority of Orientalists’ translations of the Qur’an were not objective, but were in fact subjective renderings which served their objectives and agreed with their own perspective of Islam. He stated that the reasons behind the corruption of the translation could be attributed more to their objectives than to their weak knowledge of Arabic. The comparison between these translations and the original Arabic, Bucaille stressed, revealed the deliberate alterations that they made to hide the truth and to subject the text to their personal viewpoints and objectives, which they explained in their introductions. As an example of these misconceptions, Bucaille stated that the literary excellence of the Qur’an proved that it could not be the creation of an unlettered man. However, the westerners’ translation, for example, of the word ummi [unlettered] in sura (7: 157-58) attempted to conceal this fact, which would have contradicted the widespread conception in the West that the Prophet was the author of the Qur’an. Régis Blachére translated it as Prophéte des Gentils (Prophet of the pagans),[110] while Denise Masson translated it as Prophéte des Infidéles (Prophet of the infidels).[111] Bucaille also mentioned that in her introduction, Masson stated, “the Qur’anic revelation totally oriented on eschatological perspectives does not insist on the moral values of human actions.”[112] It is evident, he comments, that the Qur’anic text, even translated by this author (D. Masson), denies this assertion categorically.[113]
To be honest, we should not make the judgment that all the translations made by Orientalists were made for polemical purposes, or that all of them intended to produce a distorted version of the Qur’an. Some of these translations reflect the development of the West’s understanding of Islam and its approach to the Qur’an. We find some examples of translations, though very few, which were made for scientific purposes, and although not immune from faults, they do not include deliberate faults. The best example of this approach is A. J. Arberry’s translation entitled, The Koran Interpreted, which stands out above the other English renderings by non-Muslims in terms of both its approach and quality.[114]
The translation of the Qur’an, however, was not the monopoly of Orientalists, many of whose works were imbued with the missionary zeal described above, but also drew interest from missionaries in the real sense of the word. In his discussion of the translations of the Qur’an, S. M. Zwemer gave examples of how translations could assist the missionary work. While describing the Bengali translation of the Qur’an by William Goldsack, Zwemer explained the reason behind this missionary translation stating, “The Koran printed in this fashion with Christian comment and the explanation of difficult passages, can well be made a schoolmaster to lead Moslems to Christ.”[115] Zwemer even encouraged this kind of translations saying, “One may hope that this method will find imitation in other mission fields and other languages.” (For a facsimile of one page of this translation see the Appendix)[116]
In addition to the translation made by the Rev. Rodwell, an example of the translations made by missionaries into European languages in the 20th century is the Bulgarian translation made by Tomoff and Skuleff at the request of Ernst Max Hoppe, a missionary, in 1930. (Binark, ?smet, et al, op.cit., p. 42; cf. Natanial Nazifoff, “The Bulgarian Koran”, in The Muslim World, vol. 23, 1933, pp. 187-90). Pearson describes this translation saying, “Made for missionary purposes it carries a preface by E. M. Hoppe and a translation by Simeon Popov of Max Henning’s introduction to his German version.” (Pearson, J.D., “Bibliography of translations of the Qur’an”, op.cit., p. 505).

In his “Introduction to the History of Translating the Meanings of the Holy Qur’an”, Ekmeleddin ?hsano?lu the editor of World Bibliography of the Translations of the Meanings of the Holy Qur’an, stated that the interest of missionaries in translating the Qur’an was not confined to translations into European languages; they were even involved in translating the Qur’an into the native languages of some Islamic peoples and tribes.[117] To give examples of this approach we may mention the following translations:
1. The translation of Godfrey Dale, a missionary, into the Zanzibar dialect of Swahili entitled, Tafsiri y kiarabu kwa lugha ya kisawahili, which was published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (London, 1923). The translation was made in response to requests from the African Christian teachers employed by the Universities’ Mission, and had the full support of the ecclesiastical authorities. It was intended to be a contribution to Christian apologetic literature against Islam.[118]
2. The Yoruba translation of the Holy Qur’an by the Rev. Michael Samuel Cole of the Christian Missionary Society. He was in Nigeria from 1906 to 1936.[119] Cole undertook the task of translation at the suggestion of a few members of Holy Trinity Church, Ebute Ero, when he was a lay agent of the Lagos Native Pastoral there. The believed that “…it will help the cause of Christianity, and dispel the darkness of the ignorance that…prevails among Mohammedans in Yorubaland and they will be in a position to compare the Bible with the Koran and see which satisfies best the needs of humanity.” The Rev. Cole embarked upon the work of translation “towards the close of 1902,” disclaiming any in-depth knowledge of Arabic literature and related fields of study, and completed the task in July 1906. The work, published in Lagos but printed by Samuel E. Ritchards, Nottingham, England has 452 numbered, 19 preliminary, and 2 unnumbered pages. The translation is in colloquial Yoruba in Roman script. The suras and ayas are numbered, and index is added. Since the chosen aim of the translator was to combat what he conceived as the ‘error’ of faith in Islam, he went on to make a number of erroneous and prejudiced assertions. He wrongly asserted, for example, that Holy Prophet Muhammad does not realize the guilt of sin and the existence of an external moral law. Consequently, the translation found very little favor with those for whom it was meant and, according to the missionaries, the Yoruba translation moved “very slowly” among the Muslims.[120]
3. The above-mentioned Bengali translation by the Rev. William Goldsack, a missionary of the Australian Baptist Society, which was published by Christian Literature Society of India Bengal Branch, Baptist Mission Press, Calcutta, 1908-20 (Binark, ?smet, et al, op.cit., pp. 12-13; cf. S. M. Zwemer, “Translations of the Koran”, in The Moslem World, vol. 5, 1915, p. 258).
4. Another Bengali translation was made by a native Christian named Philip Biswas. In 1892 he published Koran, a selection of important passages, divided over ten passages. It was printed by the Hercules Press, Calcuta, and was published by the Christian Vernacular Education Society, 1892. The main aim of the work was the establishment of Christianity as the true religion, and it therefore goes without saying that this translation never gained any popularity among Muslims.[121]
5. The Hindi translation made by the Rev. Ahmad Shah Masihi, a Christian priest and missionary at Hamirpur, in 1915 (Zwemer, op.cit., p. 256, cf. ‘Ali Qali Qarra’i, op.cit., p. 16, Binark, ?smet, et al, op.cit., p. 256).
Thus one should expect that such translations, which were made for polemical reasons and for the refutation of the Qur’an itself, whether by missionaries or orientalists, were unjust renderings of the Qur’an which provided a distorted image of the Qur’an and the religion of Islam. It is logical to expect that such translations were at the very least unwelcome in the Muslim world and that Muslims were suspicious of them. We will see also that some scholars called for the production of a precise translation of the Qur’an to remove the misconceptions in the existing translations.
Finally, I agree with A. R. Kidawi that the peculiar circumstances of history, which brought the Qur’an into contact with the English language as well as other European languages, have left their imprint on the non-Muslim as well as the Muslim bid to translate it. The results and achievements of their efforts leave a lot to be desired.[122]


If we want to classify Rashid Rida’s fatwa we can place it in a middle position among the main attitudes towards the translation in the early twentieth century, for his criticism was not of the idea of translation in general but of the possibility that Muslim nations would have a substitute to the original text, which in his opinion was a means of disunity among Muslim nations. He stressed that he was not against translation as a means to propagate Islam and to provide a true image about it.
From the aforementioned discussions we can reach the conclusion that Muslim scholars did not stand aloof from their society, but were aware of its problems and tried their best to solve these problems and fight against the various threats endangering the solidarity and development of their societies. By dealing with the problem of the translation of the Qur’an, which serves here as an example, we can touch this aspect of the Muslim society very closely. The historical elements which surrounded the issue at particular moments of history emphasize this conclusion, for they reveal how Muslim scholars responded to the needs of society at these times.



[1]Ahmad, Said Faris, The Collection of the Qur’an: A Reconsideration of the Twentieth Century Orientalists’ Views, Unpublished MA thesis submitted to Leiden University, 1999, p. 1.

[2]Pearson, J. D., “Translation of the Kur’an”, in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1995, p.429.

[3]Binark, ?smet, Hlit Eren, & ed. Ekmeleddin ?hsano?lu, World Bibliography of the Translations of the Meanings of the Holy Qur’an, (Istanbul, OIC Research Centre, 1986), p. XVIII.

[4]The Qur’an, Ibrahim [14: 4]

[5]Binark, ?smet, et al, op.cit.; cf. Al-Zamakhshari, Al-Kashshaf, vol. 2, Matba‘at Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi wa-Awladuh, Cairo, n.d., pp. 366-67.

[6]Binark, ?smet, et al, op.cit., pp. XXI-XXII.

[7]Tibawi, A. L., “Is the Qur’an Translatable?” in The Muslim World, vol. LII, 1962, p. 4.

[8]For further information see: Binark, ?smet, et al, op.cit., pp. XXII-XXIII; cf. ‘Ali Qali Qarra’i, “A Glance at the History of the Translation of the Qur’an” in a booklet published by The Centre for Translation of the Holy Qur’an, 1420/1999, p. 14.


[10]I have not been able to access Mingana’s work, which is entitled An Ancient Syriac Translation of the Kur’an Exhibiting New Verses and Variants, ed. A. Mingana, Manchester, 1925. Reprinted with corrections and additions from… The Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol. 9, 1 (1925), pp. 183-235. (Binark, ?smet, et al, op.cit., p. 436), and have relied upon the introduction of Muhammad Hamidullah in his translation entitled, Le Coran, Le Club Français du Livre 1995, pp., XXXV- XXXVI.

[11]Hamidullah, Muhammad, Le Coran, op.cit., pp., XXXV- XXXVI.

[12]Ibidem; cf. ‘Ali Qali Qarra’i, op.cit., p. 15.

[13]Binark, ?smet, et al, op.cit., p. XXIX.

[14]Pearson, J. D., “Translation of the Kur’an”, op.cit., pp. 431-32.

[15]Khan, Mofakhar Hussain, “English Translations of the Holy Qur’an: A Bio-Bibliographic Study”, in Islamic Quarterly, vol. 30, 1986, p. 104.

[16]Zirikli, Khayr al-Din al-, Al-A‘lam, Dar al-‘Ilm lil-Malayin, Beirut, n.d., vol. 6, p. 126; cf. W. Ende, “Rashid Rida”, in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, new edition, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1995, p. 448.

[17]Abdel-Khalik, Umar Ryad, Islam and Mission: A Research Paper on a Fatwa by Rashid Rida on Missionary Activities, Unpublished paper submitted to the Seminar “Islam and the West: Their Mutual Relation as Reflected in Fatwa Literature, Leiden, 2000, p. 3.

[18]Ibidem; cf. Ende, op.cit., p. 446; Daghir, Yusuf As‘ad, Masadir al-Dirasa al-Adabiyya, Beirut, 1956, vol. 2, p. 397.

[19]Abdel-Khaliq, op.cit., p.3; cf. Arslan, Shakib, Al-Sayyid Muhammad Rashid Rida aw Ikha’ Arba‘ina Sanah, 1st ed., Matba‘at Ibn Zaydun, Damascus, 1937, p. 277, n. 1.

[20]Abdel-Khaliq, op.cit., p.3; cf. Arslan, op.cit., pp. 23-24.

[21]Ibidem; cf. Hasib al-Samirra’i, Rashid Rida al-Mufassir, Dar al-Risala lil-Tiba‘a, Baghdad, 1397/1977, p. 283.

[22]Arsalan, op.cit., pp. 35-36.

[23]Hourani, Albert, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age: 1789-1939, Oxford University Press, “London, New York and Toronto”, 1962, p. 226.

[24]Durnayqa, Muhammad Ahmad, Al-Sayyid Muhammad Rashid Rida Islahatuh al-Ijtima‘iyya wal-Diniyya, Beirut, 1406/1986, p. 27.

[25]Ende, op.cit., p. 446; cf. Abdel-Khalik, op.cit., pp. 3-4.

[26]Arsalan, op.cit., p. 130; cf. Abdel-Khalik, op.cit., pp. 4.

[27]Kerr, M., “Rashid Rida and Islamic Legal Reform: an Ideological Analysis”, in The Muslim World, vol. L, 1960, p.101.

[28]Kerr, M., Islamic Reform, University of California Press, 1966, p. 153.

[29]Shabana, Ayman, Rashid Rida’s Fatwa on Apostasy, Unpublished paper submitted to the Seminar “Islam and the West: Their Mutual Relation as Reflected in Fatwa Literature, Leiden, 1999, p. 3.

[30]Shahin, Emad Eldin, “Muhammad Rashid Rida’s Perspectives on the West as reflected in Al-Manar”, in The Muslim World, vol. 79, 1989, p. 113.


[32]Arslan, op.cit., p. 8; cf. Abdel-Khalik, op.cit., p. 5; Daghir, op.cit., p. 398.

[33]Ibidem; cf. Ende, op.cit., p.448.

[34]Arslan, op.cit., p. 9; cf. Abdel-Khalik, op.cit., p. 5.



[37]Ibidem; cf. Daghir, op.cit., p. 398.


[39]Arslan, op.cit., p. 10.

[40]This fatwa was originally published in Al-Manar, [1326/1908], vol. 11, section 4, pp. 268-274 and then in Al-Munajjid and Khuri, Fatawa al-Imam Muhammad Rashid Rida, Dar al-Kitab al-Jadid, Beirut, 1970, vol. 2, pp. 642-650. This is a full translation of the Arabic text.In it I have tried to be as precise as possible. The words between brackets are not found in the original text, but have been inserted in order to help the reader understand the meaning while those between parentheses are put so in the original and for the phrase (peace and blessings be upon him). The translations of the meanings of the Qur’anic verses are not literal and are quoted from ‘Abdullah Yusuf ‘Ali, The Holy Qur’an: English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary, King Fahd Holy Qur’an Printing Complex, al-Madina al-Munawwara, Saudi Arabia, 1410 AH.

[41]He is Ahmad Midhat (1260/1844 –1331/1912), a well-known Ottoman Turkish writer during the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. He was a journalist as well as a literary writer; he contributed articles to various papers, and also ran a printing press where he himself printed and published his numerous books. During the reign of ‘Abd al-Hamid he held various state offices, and from 1295/1878 onwards edited the Ter? jaman-i-Haqiqat, a periodical of some importance in the intellectual history of that time. In the summer of 1888 he went as official Ottoman representative to the International Congress of Orientalists in Stockholm, and spent some 3½ months in Europe. For a few years he held teaching posts at the University, the Woman Teachers’ Training College, and the School for Preachers. Besides playing an important role in the development of Turkish journalism in the 19th century, Ahmed Midhat also wrote an enormous number of books, estimated at about 150. These fall into two main groups, fiction and popularized knowledge. Apart from fiction he wrote or adapted a considerable number of popular and semi-popular works on history, philosophy, religion, ethics, science, and other subjects.The most important of his historical works are Uss-i Inqilab (2 vols., 1294-5/1877-8), already cited, and Zubdet ül-Haqa’iq (1295/1878), an attempt to explain the Turkish defeat in the war of 1877-8. For further information see: B. Lewis, “Ahmad Midhat”, in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition, E. J. Brill, Leiden, 1995, pp. 289-90.

[42]Translator’s note: This person is possibly a scholar from Smarkand (Uzbek SSR) or Samara (the former name of Kuibyshev), but I am as yet unable to state his identity with certainty.

[43] The Qur’an, Al-Shu‘ara’ [26: 195]

[44] The Qur’an, Yusuf [12: 108]

[45]See Ibn Hajar al-‘Askalani, Al-Diraya fi Takhrij Ahadith al-Hidaya, ed. Al-Sayyid ‘Abdullah Hashim al-Yamani al-Madani, Dar al-Ma‘rifa, Beirut, n.d., vol. 1, p. 70; cf. Abu Dawud, Sunan Abi Dawud, 1st ed., vol. 1, ed. Muhammad ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Khalidi, Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya, Beirut, 1416/1996, p 135, hadith n. 338.

[46]This refers to the following incident: It has been narrated on the authority of ‘Abdullah who said: On the day he returned from the Battle of Ahzab, the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) made for us an announcement that nobody would perform his Zuhr prayer but in the quarters of Banu Qurayza. (Some) people, being afraid that the time for prayer would expire, performed their prayers before reaching the street of Banu Qurayza. The others said: We will not perform our prayer except where the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) has ordered us to perform it even if the time expires. (When he learned of the difference in the view of the two groups of the people, the Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) did not blame anyone from the two groups. (Muslim, Sahih Muslim, trans. by Abdul-Hamid Siddiqi, vol. III, Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, Kashmiri Bazar, Lahore-Pakistan, 1972, pp. 967-68.)

[47]This is a part of a sermon of the Prophet on the 10th day of Dhul Hijjah at the end of which he said: “…So it is incumbent upon those who are present to convey it (this information) to those who are absent because the informed one might comprehend it (what I have said) better than the present audience, who will convey it to him. Beware! Do not renegade (as) disbelievers after me by striking the necks (cutting the throats) of one another.” It is reported by Al-Bukhari on the authority of Abu Bakra. (See Muhammad b. Isma‘il al- Bukhari, Sahih al-Bukhari, trans, Dr. Muhammad Muhsin Khan, vol. II, Dar al-Fikr, 1391AH, p. 462.)

[48]The Qur’an, al-Hijr [15: 22]

[49]See for example: Abu Ja‘far Muhammad b. Jarir al- Tabari, Jami‘ al-Bayan ‘an Ta’wil ‘?y al-Qur’an, 2nd ed., Part 12, Maktabat wa Matba‘at Mustafa al-Babi al-Halabi, Egypt, 1373/1954, pp. 19-22; Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, Mafatih al-Ghayb, vol. 4, p. 94, n.d., Al-Tusi, Tafsir al-Bayan, ed. Ahmad Habib Qasir al-‘?mili, vol. 6, Maktabat al-Amin, Al-Najaf al-Ashraf, n.d. p. 328; and Baydawi, Nasir al-Din Abu Sa‘id ‘Abdullah b. ‘Umar, al-, Anwar al-Tanzil wa Asrar al-Ta’wil, vol. 1, n.d., p. 500.

[50]Ghazali, Abu Hamid al-, Iljam al-‘Awam ‘an ‘Ilm al-Kalam, ed. Muhammad al-Mu‘tasim bi-llah al-Baghdadi, 1st ed., Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, Beirut, 1406/1985, pp. 64-65.

[51]The Qur’an, ’al ‘Imran [3: 7]

[52]This is mentioned in Al-Manar, [1906], vol. 9, p. 728 and also in Muhammad Rashid Rida, Tafsir al-Manar, 4th ed., Maktabat al-Qahira, 1379/1960, vol. 3, pp. 214-224.

[53]Ghazali, op.cit, p. 65.



[56]He is Rahmatullah ibn Khalil al-Rahman al-Hindi.

[57]For further information see: Rahmatullah ibn Khalil al-Rahman al-Hindi, Izhar al-Haqq, Cairo, 1316/1898.

[58]These two examples were mentioned earlier (numbers seven and eleven). It seems the author had forgotten this fact and repeated them here.

[59]Perhaps Rida says this because he viewed that translating the commentaries on the Qur’an can fulfill the need for translation.

[60]The Qur’an, Al-Anbiya’ [21: 92]

[61]The Qur’an, Al-Hujurat [49: 10]

[62]Rashid Rida is possibly using the word ‘lapse’ to refer to the freedom granted by al-Ma’mun to Persians to express pride in their descent. The Persian influence, as Von Kremer says, increased at the court of the Abbasid caliphs and reached its zenith under al-Hadi, Harun al-Rashid and al-Ma’mun. The Persians were allowed and even encouraged by the caliphs to boast of their Persian decent, for we have it that al-Ma’mun openly avowed his partiality towards the Persians at the expense of the Arabs(S. Khuda Bukhsh, The Su‘ubiyyah Movement in Islam: its Origin, its Growth, and its Results, 1908, p. 20). Gibb stressed the social significance of the shu‘ubiyya. He stated that the anti-Arab polemic of the secretaries (kuttab) reached its climax in the first half of the third century (which was the period of al-Ma’mun). According to Gibb, Goldziher, in his study, was aware of the connection between the shu‘ubiyya movement and the Abbasids, but he overemphasized the support which the shu‘ubiyya received from Abbasid caliphs and Persian viziers. (H.A.R. Gibb, Studies on the Civilization of Islam, Routledge & Kegan Paul Limited, London, 1962, pp. 66-67).

[63]Dawoody, Ahmad Mohsen al-, The Intellectual Repercussions of the Abolition of the Caliphate in Egypt, unpublished MA thesis submitted to Leiden University, 1999, p. 25.


[65]The last holder of the office resigned in 1922 and the office came formally to an end following the abolition of the Caliphate on 3 March 1924. For further information see: R.C. Repp, “Shaykh al-Islam” in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, new edition, Brill, Leiden, 1995, vol. IX, p. 402.

[66]Dawoody, op.cit., p. 26.

[67]Allen, Henry E., “The Outlook for Islam in Turkey” in The Moslem World, vol. 24, 1934, p. 116.

[68]Ibidem, 118.

[69]Ibidem, 120.

[70]MacCallum, F. Lyman, “Turkey Discovers the Koran” in The Moslem World, vol. 23, 1933, pp. 24-28.

[71]Rida, Muhammad Rashid, Tarjamat al-Qur’an wa-ma fiha min al-Mafasid wa-Munafat al-Islam, 1st ed., Matba‘at al-Manar, Cairo, 1344/1926, pp. 5-6.

[72]Friedmann, Yohanan, Prophecy Continuous: Aspects of Ahmadi Religious Thought and Its Medieval Background, University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles & London, 1989, p. 5.

[73]Smith, W.C., “Ahmadiyya” in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Brill, Leiden, 1995, vol. I. p. 301.

[74]For further information: Mahmood A. Ghazi, Qadiani Problem and Position of the Lahori Group, Islamic Book Foundation, Islamabad, 1991, pp. 25-32.

[75]For further information see: Bashir Ahmad, Ahamadiyya Movement: British Jewish Connections, Islamabad, 1994.

[76]Smith, W.C., “Ahmadiyya” op.cit, p. 301.

[77]Iqbal, Muhammad, Islam and Ahmadism, Lahore-Pakistan, 1976, p. 59.

[78]Ibidem, pp. 67-68.

[79]Friedmann, op.cit., p. 44.

[80]Maudoodi, Syed Abul Ala, The Qadiani Problem, 2nd ed., Karachi, 1956, pp. 24-27.

[81]Ibidem, p. 29.

[82]Zaheer, Ehsan Elahi, Qadiyaniat: An Analytical Survey, Lahore-Pakistan, 1976, p. 14; cf. Friedmann, op.cit., p. 1.

[83]Ghazi, Mahmood A, Qadiani Problem and Position of the Lahori Group, op.cit., pp. 67-103.

[84]For commentary on this translation see: ‘Abdullah ‘Abbas al-Nadawi, Tarjamat Ma‘ani al-Qur’an al-Karim wa-Tatawwur Fahmihi ‘inda al-Gharb, Rabitat al-‘?lam al-Islami, Makkah al-Mukarramah, Saudi Arabia, 1417 AH, pp. 83-85.

[85]Wiegers, Gerard, “Language and Identity: Pluralism and the Use of Non-Arabic Languages in the Muslim West” in Jan Platvoet & Karel van der Toorn, Pluralism and Identity: Studies in Ritual Behaviour, E.J. Brill, Leiden, New York & K?ln, 1995, p. 317.

[86]Nur Ichwan, M., Response of the Reformist Muslims to Muhammad Ali’s Translation and Commentary of the Qur’an in Egypt and Indonesia: A study of Muhammad Rashid Rida’s Fatwa, Unpublished paper submitted to the Seminar “Islam and the West: Their Mutual Relation as Reflected in Fatwa Literature, Leiden, 1998, pp. 12-13.

[87]Munajjid, Salah al-Din al- and Khuri Yusuf, Fatawa al-Imam Muhammad Rashid Rida, Dar al-Kitab al-Jadid, Beirut, Lebanon, 1970, vol. 5, pp. 2058-59.

[88]Kidawi, A. R., “Translating the Untranslatable: A Survey of English Translations of the Quran” in The Muslim World Book Review, Vol. 7, No. 4, 1987, pp. 66-71.

[89]Khan, Mofakhar Hussain, op.cit., p. 82.

[90]Badawi, ‘Abd al-Rahman, Mawsu‘at al-Mustashriqin, Dar al-‘Ilm lil-Malayin, Beirut, 1984, p. 307.

[91]Daniel, N., Islam and the West, the making of an image, Edinburgh 1960, see Index, s.v. Ketton.

[92]Sale, George, The Koran: commonly called The Alcoran of Mohammed, Translated from the Original Arabic with explanatory notes, taken from the most approved commentators, to which is prefixed a preliminary discourse, London, 1836, vol. 1, p. vii.

[93]Pearson, J. D., “Translation of the Kur’an”, op.cit., p.431.

[94]Nadawi, ‘Abdullah ‘Abbas al-, Tarjamat Ma‘ani al-Qur’an al-Karim wa-Tatawwur Fahmihi ‘inda al-Gharb, Rabitat al-‘?lam al-Islami, Makkah al-Mukarramah, Saudi Arabia, 1417 AH, p. 47.

[95]Binark, ?smet, et al, op.cit., p. xxxiv.

[96]Watt, W. Montgomery, Bell’s Introduction to the Qur’an, T.& A. Constable ltd., Edinburgh, 1970, p. 174.

[97]Khan, op.cit., p. 82.

[98]Ross, Alexander, The Alcoran of Mahomet translated out of Arabique into French, by the Sieur Du Ryer, Lord of Malezair, and Resident of the King of France, at Alexandria.And newly Englished, for the satisfaction of all the desire to look into the Turkish vanities, London, 1649, p. A3.

[99]Ross, op.cit., p. A4.

[100]Pearson, J.D., “Bibliography of translations of the Qur’an into European languages” in The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature: Arabic literature to the end of the Umayyad period, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1983, p. 504-5.

[101]Sale, op.cit., p. iv.


[103]Ibidem, p. viii.

[104]There are different spellings of the name of the translator as: Ludovicum Marraccium, Ludovicus Marraccius, Lugi Marracci. (Binark, ?smet, et al, op.cit., p. 286)

[105]Rodwell, J.M. The Koran: translated from the Arabic the suras arranged in a chronological order with notes and index, Williams & Norgate, Edinburgh, n.d., p. xxv.

[106]Guillaume, Alfred, “The Koran Interpreted [Review]” in The Muslim World, vol. 48, 1957, p. 248.


[108]Dawood, N.J., The Koran, 4th rev. ed., Allen Lane, London, 1978, p. 11.

[109]Maurice Bucaille is an eminent French surgeon, scientist, scholar and author of The Bible, the Qur’an and Science, which contains the result of his research into the Judeo-Christian Revelation, and the Qur’an.

[110]Blachére, Régis, Le Coran Traduction Nouvelle, Librairie Orientale et Americaine, Paris, 1950, vol. III, pp. 643-44.

[111]Masson, Denise, Le Coran, Gallimard, Belgique, 1967, p. 203.

[112]Ibidem, p. LXIX.

[113]For further information see: Maurice Bucaille, “Al-Afkar al-Khati’ah al-lati yanshuruha al-Mustashriqun khilal tarjamatihim lil-Qur’an al-Karim”, trans. Muhammad Husam al-Din, in Majallat al-Azhar, 1406/1986, pp. 1368-69.

[114]Kidawi, A. R., op.cit., p. 71.

[115]Zwemer, S. M., “Translations of the Koran”, in The Moslem World, vol. 5, 1915, p. 258; cf. Appendix 2.


[117]Binark, ?smet, et al, op.cit., p. xxxv.

[118]Ibidem, p. 429; cf. Pearson, J. D., “Translation of the Kur’an”, op.cit., p. 431; cf. Godfrey Dale, “A Swahili Translation of the Koran” in The Moslem World, vol. 14, 1924, pp. 5-9.

[119]Ma’ayergi, Hassan, “Translations of the Meanings of the Holy Qur’an into Minority Languages: The Case of Africa” in Journal Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, vol. 14, 1994. p. 172.

[120]Khan, Mofakhkhar Hussain, “Translations of the Holy Qur’an in the African Languages,” in The Muslim World, vol. LXXVII, 1987, p. 252.

[121]Binark, ?smet, et al, op.cit., p. 25; cf. Mofakhkhar Hussain Khan, “A History of Bengali Translations of the Holy Qur’an”, in The Muslim World, vol. LXXII, 1982, p. 133.

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