Mistranslated Qur'anic Verses

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In Al-Hijr Qur'an 15:9 Allah declared that the Qur'an is his revelation and he promised to preserve it and protect it from corruption. In An-Nahl Qur'an 16:103, Al-Dokhan Qur'an 44:58 and Al-Qamar Qur'an 54:22, 32, 40, it is emphasized that the Qur'an was revealed in straight forward, easy to understand, and pure Arabic. It would seem, this promise of preservation does not extend to the English translations, as most prominent and officially recognized interpreters like Yusuf Ali, Muhammad Asad, and "progressive" translaters like Dr. Rashad Khalifa, have not honored the integrity of translation and were involved in deception in interpreting the Qur'an. The reasons were not due to the difficulty of the verses themselves or the so-called "complexity" of the Arabic language, but due to the embarrassment to tell the truth to English readers, especially those who already believe in the validity of Islam.

Look at the following verse from 'An-Nisa’.

Yusuf Ali: 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 husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As 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); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).

This verse states that men are in charge of women with what they spend on them, and have the right to direct them in life. One might wonder if women would be considered superior to men if they were to be the bread-winners. Also in the same verse, women are told to obey men and if they don’t, then men have the authority to admonish them and if they persist in disobedience (or if the husband simply fears disobedience), then men have the right to beat them. Yusuf Ali, a prominent translator of the Qur'an, added the word “lightly” in brackets, after “beating them” in a futile attempt to reduce the offense. Yusuf Ali failed to understand that being beaten by someone, lightly or otherwise, is always humiliating. So no matter how much a Muslim may sugar-coat it, the fact remains that a woman living under Sharia will always be under the threat of physical violence if she disobeys her husband, right or wrong.

There is little surprise in learning that many accepted translations are faulty, because in certain verses the core of Islamic teachings would have been jeopardized had the truth been unveiled. The misinterpretation does not involve few verses, but it covers a huge number of them which if translated properly would have compromised the image of Islam to a great extent. Although Pickthal's translation is far from perfect, he succeeded to some extent in preserving the integrity of the original text at the expense of unveiling the shortcomings of Islam.

A very good example would be in the field of embryology. In Surat Al-Muminun, phases of the formation of the fetus are described.

Pickthal: Then fashioned We the drop a clot, then fashioned We the clot a little lump, then fashioned We the little lump bones, then clothed the bones with flesh, and then produced it as another creation. So blessed be Allah, the Best of creators!

This verse is a prime example of how professional Muslim translators, in this case; Yusuf Ali, (who has been authorized by the Saudi Islamic authority and Al-Azhar University), are forced to deceive western readers by altering the meaning of a verse to avoid exposing faults in the Qur'an. Yusuf Ali, in his translation, replaced the word "then" with "and". He also replaced “the best of creators” (plural) with “the best to create” (singular). The difference in the meaning is crucial because the word “then” means another phase, while the word “and” means bones and flesh are simultaneous or one phase, which conforms to modern science, but contradicts the original Arabic text. You do not need to be an expert in Arabic linguistics to translate correctly the plural form of “creators” meaning many creators, which actually contradicts the basic and most important Islamic concept of all, tawḥīd (توحيد), the doctrine of Oneness of Allah, the creator. The alternative is to admit Islam has its roots in Arabian paganism. Similar misinterpretations are given by Dr. Rashad Khalifa and Muhammad Saad. On the other hand, the above translation by Pickthal is correct, conforming to the original Arabic text.

Deceptive translations are not confined to (albeit, officially recognized) individuals, but also by Al-Azhar itself and the Egyptian Ministry of Awqaf and the supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, as can be seen by anyone who visits the Al-Azhar web site. The above surah is shown as below:

ثـم خلقنـا النطفـه علقـه فخلقـنا العـلقـه مضـغـه فخلقـنا المضغـه عظـامـا فـكسـونـا العظـم لحـمـا ثم انشأنـه خـلقـااخـرفتبارك اللـه أحـسن الخـالقين

The translation of which on the Al-Azhar website reads as follows:

Then We created the nutfah (sperm-drop) into a clinging organism. Then We created the clinging organism into a bolus-like chewed-up mass of coherent body of matter. Then We created the bolus-like chewed-up mass into bones, and We dressed the bones flesh. Out of this We brought it forth as a different creation. So, blessed be Allâh, The Fairest of creators.

Another example can be found in Al-Kahf.

Till, when he reached the setting-place of the sun, he found it setting in a muddy spring, and found a people thereabout. We said: O Dhu'l-Qarneyn! Either punish or show them kindness.

According to this verse, Dhul-Qarnayn (Alexander the Great) went to the farthest place on earth “until he reached the setting of the sun, he found out that the sun sinks in a hole of muddy water, and found people there..” Many Muslim apologists have tried to explain away the absurdity of this verse by claiming it is simply a visual interpretation of what Dhul-Qarnayn saw, the sun apparently looked like it was sinking into the “horizon”. But such explanations are frustrated by the two Jalals in Tafsir Al-Jalaleen (p. 251) when he writes that the setting of the sun is in a well which contains a murky mud. We find the same interpretation and text in Tabari’s commentaries (p. 339) as well as in "Concise Interpretation of the Tabari" (p. 19 of part 2) in which he remarks that the well in which the sun sets "contains lime and murky mud". There is no “apparent” or “looks like” in these explanations. It perfectly reflects Muhammad's seventh century beliefs in regards to the universes' cosmology. Furthermore, since the earth is in fact round, not flat as the Qur'an suggests, Dhul-Qarnayn could never have reached the farthest point, since he would simply be going around in circles. Again, the Al-Azhar site uses a deceptive translation, where it talks about the Atlantic Ocean, trying to convince the reader that as the sun sinks in the horizon it looks like it is sinking in a muddy hole. Really? Then why does the Qur'an fail to mention this? Other apologists tried to exonerate the Qur'an from this mistake by saying that it was Dhul-Qarnayn's “opinion” and not the Qur'an's. Again, really? Then why would Allah endorse Dhul-Qarnayn's views in Qur'an 18:84 and give him special powers, if he was so naïve as to claim that the huge sun, which is approximately 1.3 million times larger than the earth, sinks in a hole of murky water on earth?

In At-Tariq, the Qur'an says that sperms originate from an area between the breastbone and the backbone.

5. Now let man but think from what he is created!

6. He is created from a drop emitted-

7. Proceeding from between the backbone and the ribs:

Very strange, but leave it to the translators to change the meaning as the Al-Azhar site translates it to claim that sperms emerge from between the pelvis and breast bone. Such deception in translation did not solve the problem, because Allah could have said that sperms originate from the testicles, but obviously he (i.e. Muhammad) did not know this. In Qur'an 2:10 it says that unbelievers are sick in their hearts and Allah increases their sickness, but the translation exonerates Allah from such evil by blaming it on the creature.

Another instance of deception in translation can be found in Az-Zumar.

He created you (all) from a single person: then created, of like nature, his mate; and he sent down for you eight head of cattle in pairs: He makes you, in the wombs of your mothers, in stages, one after another, in three veils of darkness. such is Allah, your Lord and Cherisher: to Him belongs (all) dominion. There is no god but He: then how are ye turned away (from your true Centre)?

Since babies grow in the womb, and not in the stomach, this verse seems to conform to modern science. However, the word "butun" which is translated in this verse as "womb", actually means "stomach". So once again, we have a very basic linguistic error, which prominent translators who are proficient in the understanding of the Arabic language, somehow fail to translate correctly.

By far the most widespread mistranslation of a single word throughout the Qur'an, has to be the Arabic word "Qatal", which means to "kill", "massacre", or "slaughter". Yusuf Ali correctly translates it in An-Nisa’ Qur'an 4:157 as "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah";- but they killed him not", but then mistranslates the same word as "fight" in At-Tawbah Qur'an 9:29, "Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day." So the actual message that is being conveyed to the Arabic-speaking Muslims who read this verse is "Kill those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day". He does the very same thing in Al-Anfal Qur'an 8:39 and several other verses.

There are tens of verses whose translations have been tampered with. Many Muslims will advise you to read an authoritative tafsir (commentary on the Qur'an) to fully understand the meaning and context of their holy book. Although its usually suggested as a bluff to deflect criticism, this is very good advise for someone who truly wishes to understand the Qur'an.

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