Islam Under Scrutiny by Ex-Muslims

The Deceptive Translations of the Quran

In the past I used to read the Quran fairly regularly, but I do not do it anymore. The Quran is not an interesting, or an easy book to read or understand. Muslims rely on repetition to help them to recite and to familiarize themselves with its unfamiliar words. Because the Arabic language happened to be an area of special interest to me, I rarely needed to read the Quran in English. However, referring to the English translations is unavoidable when debating with non Arab Muslims. I am afraid the degree of inaccuracies found in the various English translations is too conspicuous to go unnoticed. We are not talking about mistakes in translations. It is about the deliberate efforts made by the translators to change the meaning of the verses with the intention of presenting the Quran in an acceptable form to the western readers.
This article reviews only few verses where the translators’ careful selection of the words made enormous changes to the meaning of the verses. This has been a clear, deceitful attempt by the translators to present a good image of the Quran to the English readers. We look at two of the most respected translations; Yusuf Ali and Hilali/Khan, but that is no to say that other translations are better.

Example one from surat Al Nabaa (Q-78)

Q. 78: 33 Companions of equal age

Arabic: Kawa’eba atraba

In this Surat, the Quran describes the pleasures to be expected in paradise with its gardens, grapes, drinks and women. In the above verse, the Quran describes to the Muslims (men of course) the kind of women they might expect to enjoy. The Arabic word ‘Kawa’eba’ means young virgin women whose breasts are firm and well shaped, as opposed to the sagging breasts of older women. The word ‘atraba’ means ‘of equal age’. Therefore an appropriate translation would be: ‘Young women whose breasts are firm and well shaped and all of equal age’. The translator decided to skip completely the erotic description of the women’s breasts; instead used the word companions, which can hardly mean women at all!

Example two from surat Al Imran(Q.3)

Q 3:14: Fair in the eyes of men is the love of things they covet: Women and sons; Heaped-up hoards of gold and silver; horses branded and cattle and well-tilled land.

(Arabic: zuyyna li nnassi hubbu shahawati mina al nissaai walbanin ….)

The Arabic word ‘nas’ means a group of people, or this can refer to mankind in general. But in both cases it includes men and women. In the above verse, it is translated to mean ‘men’, which makes a huge difference to the meaning. The original verse is a big blunder, which reflects what was going on in the mind of Mohammed at the time of the ‘revealation’ of the verse. A more appropriate translation in plain English would be: ‘Mankind was made to love the desired things in life like women, children, money and cattle…’ In other words, Mohammed did not consider women to be part of mankind, but only a desired object for them, just like cattle! The original verse reflects an Arab man’s mind, and perhaps was acceptable to the seventh century Arabs, but today, it is a standing proof that the Quran is not the work of Allah but that of an Arab man.

The translator, in this case Yusuf Ali, must had noticed the blunder and tried to do his part to repair the damage, hence the above translation.

Example three from surat Al Naziaat.Q.79: 27-30

27. What! Are ye the more difficult to create or the heaven? Allah hath constructed it

28. On high hath He raised its canopy, and He hath given it order and perfection.

29. Its night doth He endow with darkness, and its splendour doth He bring out (with light).

30. And the earth, moreover, hath He extended (to a wide expanse)

Everything in the above four verses is a disgrace to science and logic. In plain language, the verses tell us that Allah created the sky (verse27) and perfected it (verse 28) and created nights and days (verse29) and then after all that He created the earth! The verses do not only declare that the sky was created and perfected before the creation of earth, but also they declare that the days and nights were created much before the earth. The translator tried his best to rescue the Quran from such an embarrassing mix-up by committing some translations errors:

In verse 27, the word ‘heaven’ was chosen as a translation to the Arabic word (samaa), which doesn’t mean heaven at all, but means the sky! This certainly makes a remarkable difference in the meaning.

In verse 30, the word ‘moreover’ was chosen as a translation to the Arabic words (baada zalika) which actually means ‘after that’. The error seems to be a desperate attempt by the translator to distract the reader from noticing the scientific inaccuracy. It is clear in the above verses, that Allah is describing the sequence of creations, and confirms that after He finished all the creations mentioned in verses 27-29 He created the flat earth.

Example four from surat Al Nur (24)

Q 24:2  the woman and the man guilty of illegal sexual intercourse, flog each of them with a hundred stripes. Let not pity withhold you in their case, in a punishment prescribed by Allâh, if you believe in Allâh and the Last Day. And let a party of the believers witness their punishment.

The translators, in this case Hilali and Khan, choose the word punishment as a translation for the Arabic word ‘Azabahuma’ which is a gross error! The exact meaning of the word azabahuma is: ‘the torture of both of them’, but the translators want to distract the reader’s attention from the fact that Allah, who is supposed to be the merciful, actually sanctions torture!

Well, the bad news is that Allah does not only sanction torture, but He is also concerned that the human feeling of the people who implement His orders might influence and soften their cruelty. This is why He warns them not to succumb to their feelings (Let not pity withhold you in their case), and reminds them of a day they all know very well, which is the last day, also known as the judgement day, although the ‘torture day’ would be a more appropriate name.

To complete this sadistic picture, Allah orders the other believers in the Islamic community to witness the merciless orgy by saying: ‘And let a party of the believers witness their punishment’. According to this order, it is a duty of the Islamic society (fardh kefaya) to watch the torture, which is why they announce it in mosques after Friday prayers so that people go and watch!

Although translating the Quran is different from its interpretation (Tafseer), the translators often impose their own ‘wishful interpretation’ of many verses, which is not in line with the traditionally accepted interpretations. This is especially common whenever the Quran says something absurd, which alarms the translator to interfere immediately to stop the reader from thinking of the obvious meaning. In other words, they say to the reader: ‘please do not misunderstand Allah! He meant to say something else!

The following two examples are demonstrations of such a bizarre practice:

Example five from surat Al Hajj (22)

Q 22:65 … Allah has made subject to you all that is on the earth, and the ships that sail through the sea by His Command? He withholds the sky (rain) from falling on the earth except by His leave…

The translator has deliberately inserted the word ‘rain’ to suggest that this is what is meant by the word sky. I never knew that ‘sky’ can have such a strange meaning, neither did the Muslim scholars who explained the verse during the past fourteen hundred years. Again, the translator tries his best to repair the scientific damage made by the verse, by distracting the mind from thinking of a falling sky!

Example six from surat Al Nissa (Q.4)

Q.4: 34 to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly)

Q.4: 34 ….As to those women on whose part you see ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (next), refuse to share their beds, (and last) beat them (lightly, if it is useful),

In the above verse, Allah speaks (to men of course) on how to deal with those women, whom they suspect may become disloyal, and asks men to caution those women and refuse to share their beds and beat them. The translators have added their own wishful thinking to the verse by inserting the word lightly immediately after ‘beat them’, as if they want to say to the reader: please do not misunderstand Allah!

The Quran did not say lightly at all, but the translator inserted it to instantly influence the perception of the verse by the English readers. Allah could have easily said ‘lightly’ if He meant to, but He didn’t. Also, Allah did not put any the conditions like the one suggested by Hilali/Khan when they added ‘if it is useful’.

The Quran behind the veil

The Quran is written in old Arabic style that is unfamiliar to most Arabs. It is sitting comfortably behind that veil of vagueness and ambiguity away from critical eyes. In a way, this is very much similar to a black veiled Muslim woman who goes to a beauty contest. Only those with non-existent IQ may vote for her as a ‘beauty-queen’ on the basis: ‘who knows? We do not know what is behind the veil!’ People with common sense will not even consider her for the contest.

Muslim scholars have promoted the Quran with its black veil, and convinced the unintelligent followers that it is the most beautiful book, Nevertheless, they cannot see the obvious because of the veil! They claim to their followers that the Quran says anything that suits their agenda, although they may not see it because of that veil! One would expect that translating the Quran to other languages would remove the ambiguity veil that shields its Arabic version, and present it in a clear and simple language to the non-Arab readers. Unfortunately, such conjecture is far from true because the translators’ choice of words and language style has maintained elusiveness and vagueness of the Quran.

Mumin Salih is a Middle Eastern Ex-Muslim.

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