on February 4, 2006
If someone wants to read a version of the Koran in English, s/he ought to read one that has some literary qualities, and reads like a book ought to, rather than some kind of reference text full of odd punctuation, awkward and unusual expressions, brackets etc. To be sure, no one can give us a translation into English that will capture every nuance or connotation of the original Arabic, and no amount of bracketed dictionary entries inserted next to words will really help. These kinds of things detract more from the reading than add to it. I am very dismayed by the awkwardness of many of the other translations available for us, including that of Yusuf Ali, whose popular work, while praised for it accuracy, leaves a lot to be desired in the realm of style, enjoyment and ease of understanding.
Arberry's work, however, is simple, direct, formal and hits a mid-point between poetry and prose; in other words, tries as much as possible to present the Koran for English speakers the way the Koran would have functioned for listeners of Arabic.
To enhance the clarity of the translation, Arberry distinguishes between the second person plural and second person singular by making use of the word 'thou' and its accompanying grammar for the singular. This distinction is critical for determining when God is speaking about others and when He is speaking to the Prophet directly. This is surely the only sensible way to render the distinction, in a translation that wishes itself to be readable. Arberry does not use any other archaic words, such as 'ye' or archaic grammar such as 'he hath', but uses fully modern English throughout.
It should be noted that people who are bilingual and have actually taken the time to read through Arberry's translation have found it to be very accurate.
The fact that Arberry has no religious axe to grind makes the translation more reliable than the many sectarian translations put out more for the sake of publicizing particular beliefs than for the sake of producing accurate, well-written texts.
The educational value of this book is far greater than that of the awkward translations, since it presents a style worthy of emulation rather than one unnatural or strange.
Reading a good translation such as this one can help us not only gain wisdom, but also articulate this wisdom for others. The Koran is a work of divine rhetoric, and the more we can apply its lessons into our own lives and language, the more useful it will be for us.
I encourage you to read this translation above all others, if English is your native tongue.
A.J. Arberry's translation of the Koran has taken pre-eminence among religious and world literature scholars. Although Abdullah Yusuf Ali's translation of the Koran has pride of place in many English-speaking Islamic households, Arberry's work above all others renders the Koranic language in suitably appropriate, easily-comprehended, English.
Unlike any other translation before or since, Arberry's work adheres closely to the original Arabic syntax, meaning that this translation can easily be used in tandem with a recitation in Arabic of the Koran. Arberry's language is striking and beautiful, comparable to more recent offerings from N.J. Dawood and Thomas Cleary. Note, for example, the striking immediacy and rhythmic flow of this passage:
"He is God;
the Creator, the Maker, the Shaper.
To Him belong the Names Most Beautiful.
All that is in the heavens and the earth magnifies Him;
He is the All-mighty, the All-wise."
(Surah 59 'Hashr' v. 24)
Arberry eschews the Elizabethan intricacies of Abdullah Y. Ali and the reader will not find themselves fighting a river of parenthetical entries, as are found in Muhammad Asad and the infamous "Wahhabi Koran" of Muhammad Muhsin Khan.
All that being said, there are problems with the presentation of the translation. The verses are not numbered individually, although the paragraphing on each page helps in determining where verse divisions are. Arberry opts to adjust the layout of the text in accordance with the action or commands in the words themselves. This is a unique approach, but does tend to make difficulties for the reader hunting down a particular verse. Also, especially in the longer chapters ('Baqara' and 'Imran'), the numbering of the verses is off by about four.
The introductions to the two sections of the volume are fine discourses from the translator on the actual act of translating this book, but don't offer the first-time reader any introduction to the Koran itself--what it is, the purpose it serves, etc. There are also no footnotes at all in the text.
Overall, Arberry's work is a magnificent achievement, but one that is more suitable to the scholar than the casual reader. He is especially useful as a second Koran (with Oxford's Abdel Haleem offering being the first) or as a reference in English for one studying either the original text itself or the recitation of the Koran. For sure, Arberry's work belongs on the bookshelf of all who are interested in digging deeper into Islam, the Koran, or the great works of world literature.
on May 11, 2004
Arberry's interpretation is both elegant in its expression and quite literal with respect to the original Arabic. The only other translation I would recommend is that of Pickthall, also excellent, but much less readable; in fact, most people I know who started Pickthall gave up on it because the language was so dry and tedious. Arberry's is a work of art by comparison.
on January 1, 2002
If you want to pick up a copy of the Qur'an to learn about Islam, this is not the book to get. It is the only interpretation (Muslims do not accept that the Qur'an can be translated) that tries to keep the poetic, grand, glittering, rhythmical and rhetorical flavor of the Qur'an, but the text is not terribly accessible and there are no footnotes to explain anything.
If you want to just get a flavor for what the Qur'an reads like, this is good, and the preface is enlightening. ...For sheer poetry, Arberry's text gets five stars, but I gave it four because of the total lack of explanation.
on May 23, 2012
Arberry's translation has long been regarded as the standard for Quran translations. It is rendered in eloquent English that employs techniques of early modern English, but avoids being excessively ornate. The language is at times striking, succinct, and beautiful, much like the original Arabic. Note for example 92:1-11:
By the night enshrouding and the day in splendour
and That which created the male and the female,
surely your striving is to diverse ends.
As for him who gives and is godfearing
and confirms the reward most fair,
We shall surely ease him to the Easing.
But as for him who is a miser, and self-sufficient,
and cries lies to the reward most fair,
We shall surely ease him to the Hardship;
his wealth shall not avail him when he perishes.
Also consider 57:1-3
All that is in the heavens and the earth magnifies God; He is the
All-mighty, the All-wise. To Him belongs the Kingdom of the heavens
and the earth; He gives life, and He makes to die, and He is powerful
He is the First and the Last, the Outward and the Inward; He has
knowledge of everything. It is He that created the heavens and the
earth in six days then seated Himself upon the Throne.
In addition to eloquent passages that capture the vaunted immediacy of the original Arabic, Arberry is for the most part consistent when rendering central theological concepts and repeated Quranic phrases. In rendering recurring phrases, he allows for slight variations that reflect the varying contexts while maintaining the same basic rendition. For example the phrase a fa l' tatadhakkar'n is rendered "will you not remember" in most instances, with three minor variations, "will you not then remember" (23:85), "what, and will you not remember" (37:155), and "what, will you not remember" (45:23). Nonetheless, Arberry sometimes seems to have been at odds with himself as to how a particular phrase would best be rendered. For example, la'allahum tatadhakkar'n (or yatadhakkar'n) is usually rendered, "haply you/they will remember" (2:221; 6:152; 7:57; 14:25; 24:27; 39:27; 51:49); "so that haply you will remember" (16:90); "that haply you will remember" (24:1); "that haply so they might remember" (28:43); "that haply they may remember" (28:46; 44:58); "haply they may remember" (28:51). "The haply you/they may remember" would have sufficed in all instances and better captured the meaning than the more oft employed, "Haply you/they will remember."
Arberry does occasionally mistranslate verses. For example 8:59 is rendered, "And thou art not to suppose that they who disbelieve have outstripped Me" whereas the correct translation would be: "And let not those who disbelieve suppose they have outstripped." Like Sale, Palmer and Rodwell before him, Arberry gets the subject of the verb "suppose" wrong and thus completely changes the meaning of the verse. Arberry also adds "Me" as a direct object. This may be merited, but should at least appear in brackets to clarify that it is not in fact part of the original Arabic text. Some interpreters even maintain that the implied direct object of "outstripped" is other human beings.
3:43 is translated, "Mary; be obedient to thy Lord, prostrating and bowing before Him." This translation replaces the last phrase of the verse, "and bow down with those who bow down" with "bowing before Him" and inserts "Him" where it is not in the Arabic. This elision is surprising given that in verse 2:43 Arberry correctly renders the phrase "bow with those that bow."
In verse 4:72 Arberry renders the phrase "God has blessed me, in that I did not accompany them" (Asad) or "was not present with them" (Daryabadi, Pickthall, Sale, Shakir) as "God has blessed me, in that I was not a martyr with them," an egregious mistranslation and misinterpretation that appears to have been taken from Palmer's translation.
In 4:157, a very controversial verse, the phrase "wa lakin shubbiha lahum", literally, "but it was made to appear so unto them," is not rendered in accord with the literal Arabic, but rather in accord with the most widespread interpretation of the verse, "only a likeness of that was shown to them." Given that the interpretation itself, as noted by Fakhr al-Din Razi and other commentators, is not without its faults, a translation closer to the Arabic, such as those provided by Yusuf Ali, Pickthall, or Asad, would seem more felicitous. In 10:88, the phrase "so that they may go astray from Thy way" is translated "let them go astray from Thy way" which changes the subject of the sentence and gives a very different meaning.
In addition to these mistakes, Arberry makes occasional word choices that fail to convey the full scope of a particular Quranic term as well as other possibilities might. For example khuluq ''''m (68:4) is rendered "mighty morality." Given the importance of this term for the Islamic understanding of the Prophet, something along the lines of "tremendous nature" (Yusuf Ali), "grand nature" (Palmer), or "noble nature" would seem to better capture the concept.
Arberry's translation reveals some of the obstacles that confronted early translators of the Quran. In several instances, he does seem to err by following the interpretations and mistakes of previous translations, especially those of Palmer, Rodwell, and Sale. In others, he does not seem to have fully settled upon a single way to approach repeated Quranic phrases. In others, he employs words or phrases that fail to capture the implications of the Arabic as well as others might. Nonetheless, Arberry displays an incredible ability to capture many of the nuances of Quranic Arabic in English that few other translators have. Thus, despite a few errors and inconsistencies, Aberry's translation is arguably the best English translation of the Quran for those who seek a version that combines textual accuracy with the spirit and thrust of the original Arabic text. Nonetheless, given that there are no chapter introductions or explanatory notes and that the verse numbers are not clearly marked, this is not a text that aids in close study of the Quran.
P.S. 32:23 has an egregious typo that should have been caught and fixed after all these years. It reads, "We gave Moses the Book; so he not in doubt concerning the encounter with him." Most likely what is meant by "he not in doubt" is "be not in doubt," as most other translators have it.
on April 20, 2001
This translation is quite literal when it is compared to the original Arabic codex of the Quran, the definition of words, syntax and rhetoric do not stray much from the original tongue and it's a fair translation by a non-Muslim.
on December 14, 2011
"The Koran Interpreted" is the best translation of the foundational text of Islam on the market. AJ Arberry, in his introduction, talks about translating Islam's sacred text as he lived in Egypt and listened to the melodic call from the muezzin. He brings this poetic sense into his translation, though the Koran frequently condemns poets. Arberry accents the repetitive, chant-like nature of the texts. He understands that for most Muslims, their text is only holy when it's in the original Arabic... not unlike some Catholics who believe the Mass can only be celebrated in Latin, or some Protestants who insist on using only the Holy Bible: King James Version.
"The Koran Interpreted" shows the surreal aspects of Islam's most important text. The boy Jesus brings clay doves to life.. a story that is also in The Gospel of James In the Biblical Christmas story, the expectant Mary and her husband Joseph seek a place of rest in Bethlehem. In the Koran, the expectant Mary is on her own, save for an angel who her consoles her when she leans against a fig tree as she gives birth. Mary is the only female whose name is given to a Koranic sura. For Christians, it's a shock to see Marian devotion in a Muslim text. There is the mysterious Night Journey, whose nature is never fully explained. While the Bible has only a few references to the issue of homosexuality within its density- the Koran refers to it more, using the story of Lot. This condemnation of homosexuals is shown in A Jihad for Love At one point, Christians and Jews are praised as People of the Book. At another, they are condemned. There's also the fact that the Medina and Mecca periods differed for Mohammad.
"The Koran Interpreted" is essential reading for those who want to better understand the controversy and importance of Islam.
on November 12, 2014
Salam-Shalome-Peace be upon you!
This is one of my favorite translations of the Holy Koran (Also spelled Quran).
The Holy Quran, without the commentary, is roughly three-fourths the size of the New Testament. IT does not read like the Bible. It talks about a story, deals with the theme and moral, and then moves on to another point. It is very emphatic (I.E., it emphasizes particular themes over and over again, but with a different aspect to each passage.
Arberry’s stands out among others for its nigh-litteral rendition of the text, unimpeded by footnotes or parenthesized/bracketed explications, allowing the text to speak for itself.
Because it lacks a (subjective) commentary, this is the text most widely used as an academic baseline.
It is my humble opinion that the following three translations of the Quran are needed for a nuanced understanding of the text:
(reference to classical sources with an emphasis on faith understood through reason)
The Message of the Qur'an: The full account of the revealed Arabic text accompanied by parallel transliteration (English and Arabic Edition)
by Muhammad Asad
(illustration of symbolism and intertextual connectedness)
The Meanings of the Holy Qur'an (English and Arabic Edition)
by Abdullah Yusuf Ali
(literal rendition with no [impeding/interpretive] footnotes)
The Koran Interpreted: A Translation
by A. J. Arberry
Four passages are provided below, which, for the interested reader, can be compared with other translations.
I THE OPENING
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
1 Praise belongs to God, the Lord of all Being,
the All-merciful, the All-compassionate,
the Master of the Day of Doom.
5 Thee only we serve; to Thee alone we pray for succour.
Guide us in the straight path, the path of those
whom Thou hast blessed, not of those against
whom Thou art wrathful, nor of those who are astray.
A.J. Arberry-The Koran Interpreted
Your God is One God; there is no god but He, the All-merciful, the All-compassionate.
Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of night and day and the ship that runs in the sea with profit to men, and the water
God sends down from heaven therewith reviving the earth after it is dead and His scattering abroad in it all manner of crawling thing, and the turning
about of the winds and the clouds compelled between heaven and earth -- surely there are signs for a people having understanding.
A.J. Arberry-The Koran Interpreted
24:35 God is the Light of the heavens and the earth; the likeness of His Light is as a niche wherein is a lamp (the lamp in a glass, the glass as it were
a glittering star) kindled from a Blessed Tree, an olive that is neither of the East nor of the West whose oil wellnigh would shine, even if no fire touched
it; Light upon Light; (God guides to His Light whom He will.)
(And God strikes similitudes for men, and God has knowledge of everything.)
A.J. Arberry-The Koran Interpreted
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
42:1 Ha Mim
Ain Sin Qaf
So reveals to thee, and to those before thee, God, the All-mighty, the All-wise. To Him belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth;
and He is the All-high, the All-glorious.
The heavens wellnigh are rent above them, when the angels proclaim the praise of their Lord, and ask forgiveness for those on earth. Surely God -- He is
the All-forgiving, the All-compassionate.
And those who have taken to them protectors apart from Him -- God is Warden over them; thou art not a guardian over them.
42:5 And so We have revealed to thee an Arabic Koran, that thou mayest warn the Mother of Cities and those who dwell about it, and that thou mayest warn
of the Day of Gathering, wherein is no doubt -- a party in Paradise, and a party in the Blaze.
If God had willed, He would have made them one nation; but He admits whomsoever He will into His mercy, and the evildoers shall have neither protector nor
Or have they taken to them protectors apart from Him? But God -- He is the Protector; He quickens the dead, and He is powerful over everything.
And whatever you are at variance on, the judgment thereof belongs to God. That then is God, my Lord; in Him I have put my trust, and to Him I turn, penitent.
The Originator of the heavens and the earth; He has appointed for you, of yourselves, pairs, and pairs also of the cattle, therein multiplying you. Like
Him there is naught; He is the All-hearing, the All-seeing.
42:10 To Him belong the keys of the heavens and the earth. He outspreads and straitens His provision to whom He will; surely He has knowledge of everything.
He has laid down for you as religion that He charged Noah with, and that We have revealed to thee, and that We charged Abraham with, Moses and Jesus: 'Perform
the religion, and scatter not regarding it. Very hateful is that for the idolaters, that thou callest them to. God chooses unto Himself whomsoever He will,
and He guides to Himself whosoever turns, penitent.
They scattered not, save after knowledge had come to them, being insolent one to another; and but for a Word that preceded from thy Lord until a stated
term, it had been decided between them. But those to whom the Book has been given as an inheritance after them, behold, they are in doubt of it disquieting.
Therefore call thou, and go straight as thou hast been commanded; do not follow their caprices. And say: 'I believe in whatever Book God has sent down;
I have been commanded to be just between you. God is our Lord and your Lord. We have our deeds, and you have your deeds; there is no argument between us
and you; God shall bring us together, and unto Him is the homecoming.'
A.J. Arberry-The Koran Interpreted
on December 28, 2011
I own many versions of the Quran and I can safely say that A. J. Arberry's translation is the most poetic Quran in English. Arberry is full of passion for the non-Arabic speaker and his 'interpretation' is a plea for the truth of Islam. As well as being beautiful in English, the feel of Arberry's Koran is impressive too. To use one example, the penguin is printed on grey paper with a small print, the text feels squashed inside a heavy book. The penguin feels like a cold textbook, rather than the fingerprints of God. Most books these days have this cheap flavour to them. Arberry's is printed on luxurious yellow paper to make the pages warm and the word of God in a beautiful font; also, Arberry's Koran Interpreted is now considered and old translation, it is very affordable. This book is an absolute gem and a bargain!
on February 10, 2016
This doesn't have lengthy footnotes, introductions and the like. It doesn't necessarily aim to be the most literal translation. I've looked at several English translations however and I keep looking back to this one, because of the beauty of the English style which perhaps to some degree matches the universally praised style of the Arabic. If you really want to study the Qur'an in English, like trying to study the Christian Bible in English, you're going to need several translations because no one translation will have everything you want. This is a great one to start with.