A more ‘sanitized’ Qur’an?

It almost seems like every time I go to a new event involving Islam, a new English translation of the Qur’an has been produced.

Only a few years back the favored English translation was that of Abdullah Yusuf Ali, published first in 1937 and revised numerous times over the years. For many years Yusuf Ali’s translation held the high ground among others. It was the one which could be found distributed on college campuses by the Muslim Student Association (MSA), found at dawah (proselytizing) tables, and given away for free at mosques for the asking. One can still find his translation sold in bulk quantities for dawah on Islamic supply websites.

But a few years back, Yusuf Ali found disfavor with modern Muslims, perhaps because many of us Westerners, having studied Islam from the original sources, began questioning seriously many of the internal discrepancies in his translation. But for whatever the reason, Yusuf Ali has taken a back seat to other translators.

Last year I visited a local college campus and once again (as I do whenever I can) I picked up a free copy of the Qur’an from the MSA. Yusuf Ali had been replaced by a translation distributed by the Institute of Islamic Knowledge in Houston and translated by Muhammad Farooq-i-Azam Malik.

Yesterday, I attended another event sponsored by the MSA at a local university, and once again, they were distributing yet another English translation of the Qur’an, this one translated by Professor (Dr.) Syed Vickar Ahamed and published by the Book of Signs Foundation. And once again, I snagged a copy, for no other reason than to keep one less copy from getting into the hands of someone who may be influenced toward Islam by its message.

I noticed immediately upon returning home that I had obtained an earlier copy of the same Qur’an, same author, and same publisher a couple years back in Dearborn.

I’m always curious what sort of liberties a translator takes with the language when a new English translation arrives and I have a handful of select verses I use as my standard test. One such verse is Sura 4:34, where Muslim men are told they can beat their wife as the last step in a progressive discipline process. I immediately checked this verse in the new version I picked up yesterday, and found the following (full verse quoted here for context):

Believing men are the protecters and maintainers of women, because Allah has blessed the one more than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore righteous women are devoutly obedient, an guard in their absence what Allah would have them guard. As for those women on whose part you fear disloyalty, caution and warn them at first, then refuse to share their beds and then percuss them. If they return to obedience, do not seek ways to hurt them. Truly, Allah is Most High, Most Great. (emphasis mine)

Percuss them? This is a new, novel way to say ‘beat them’ or ‘scourge them.’

In the same Qur’an, translated by the same scholar and published by the same publisher from two years earlier, Sura 4:34 says:

Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husbands) [sic] absence what Allah what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part you fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, caution (and warn) them (against the specific faults, at first), refuse to share their beds (next), beat the (lightly, at the very last); But if they return to obedience, seek not against them means (of angering them): Truly, Allah is Most High, Most Great. [parens in the original]

Note that the phrases in parentheses are not in the literal Arabic, and are insertions by the translator himself.

One can immediately see a number of significant changes between the two texts, again from the same translator and publisher. But the most significant, the word ‘beat’ in the earlier version (the word lightly is not in the Arabic) has been changed most recently to ‘percuss.’

Creative liberty with the text? A subtle attempt to whitewash the Qur’an?

Modern dictionaires define the word percuss as “gently tap (a part of the body) with a finger or an instrument as part of a diagnosis : the bladder was percussed.” This distorts the meaning of the original word in Arabic, which means to beat, scourge, whip.

Now why would Professor Ahamed want to change the text? Who gave him the authority to do so?

After all, if the Qur’an is true guidance for mankind, as Muslims claim, should we not seek to understand the literal meaning of its words? And the literal meaning is quite clear: beat your disobedient wife into submission.


Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • email
  • LinkedIn
  • PDF
  • MySpace
  • RSS
  • Tumblr


4 responses to “A more ‘sanitized’ Qur’an?”

Leave your response
  1. Najm says:

    In God Name, I write:

    You wrote: “should we not seek to understand the literal meaning of its words?”

    Rather, we should seek the meaning intended by the One whose words they are…. the Arabic word, interestingly translated as percuss, is the same word used when Muslims strike the ground with their hands to perform “Dry ablution.” Nobody is “beating” the ground, actually it is a light smack, so, according to the definition you provided, it seems like an improved, more precise, translation, not a white-washing. May Allah guide you to a true ubderstanding of Islam.

  2. Martinezjosei says:


    The TRUE Quoran would not be Political Correct!

    Why does the Muslins in tge Middke East that KNOW Arabic beat their wives into submission? Are they practicing “percussion” with a wooden stick or are they being taught Incorrectly by there Imams?

  3. Fred says:

    Just today I ran across this strange translation of “percuss” as well. While of course this is wrong, it is just as wrong to translate this verse with the word “scourge”, as you seem to suggest would be proper. Which goes to show that people on both sides of the issue are quite willing to forego accuracy if it furthers their self-righteous cause.

  4. admin says:

    “Men are in charge of women, because Allah hath made the one of them to excel the other, and because they spend of their property (for the support of women). So good women are the obedient, guarding in secret that which Allah hath guarded. As for those from whom ye fear rebellion, admonish them and banish them to beds apart, and scourge them. Then if they obey you, seek not a way against them. Lo! Allah is ever High, Exalted, Great.” English translation of the Quran by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall. Perhaps you would like to inform the publishers of his translation that he got it wrong.