New Quran in English combines translation with interpretation

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New Quran in English combines translation with interpretation

By Sarah ELmeshad
Dr Ahmed Zaki Hammad

ALEXANDRIA: Upon entering Dr Ahmed Zaki Hammad’s home office, it’s difficult to miss the shelves covering the room’s walls, all filled with files that contain the finest details he used in his translation of the Quran, down to each letter in the holy book.

The recently published “The Gracious Quran, A modern phrased interpretation in English” is the result of years of work in which Hammad utilized his diverse background to produce this easy-to-read translation.

The two-volume, gold-covered book was designed in a way that would ensure easy reading with as minimal interruptions for the readers as possible, something that characterizes most translations of the Quran. It also includes the Arabic text. It has been revised and approved by Al Azhar Institute.

According to a lecture Hammad gave at the Bibliotecha Alexandrina last month, what sets this publication apart from the vast collection of Quran translations is in the translator’s background, which combines a strong understanding of Arabic language and Islamic studies with a solid grasp of the culture of the English speaking audience he is targeting.

Hammad is a graduate of Al Azhar University where he studied the Arabic Language and Islamic Studies. He then received his PhD in Islamic philosophy from the University of Chicago. He said that the 25 years he spent in the US up to 1999 where he worked as an Islamic scholar and the time he spent in Egypt before that, in addition to his background in Arabic language, provided the balance that made him a good candidate to come up with this translation.

This text is a translation as opposed to a transliteration, where Hammad managed to combine the translation of the Quran and the explanation easy-to-read paragraphs. In addition to the smoothly flowing text, readers can easily distinguish between the translation and the explanation.

The language is neither too formal nor too colloquial which, as Hammad says, “takes one much further from the ‘sense’ of the Quran’s presentation.”

He started his journey to translating the Quran by undertaking a “comprehensive survey of every English translation of the Quran from the 1700s on,” he wrote in the introduction to the publication. “After the in-depth review of existing translations, a four-fold ethic to guide the interpretation process was laid down as follows: fidelity to the meaning of the Quran as it is articulated in its revealed Arabic text, accuracy in its interpretation into English, clarity and literary quality in its English expression, and freedom from ideological bias, sectarian interpretation … in the representation of its meanings.”

The next step was a survey of the Quran vocabulary. The Quran features about 1,734 primary Arabic root words. Each one was separately catalogued with a set of Arabic and English language references.

Using a similar cataloguing process, a meticulous study of the Quran’s 114 surahs (chapters) was made where he took each surah, studied the different translations for it and studied the existing commentaries. Teachings of the Prophet, rules from Shariah pertaining to the contents of the surah, the context of its revelation and other references were also used and put on file.

The translation for this publication began 2000 and was completed in 18 months. For the following two years, it went under two complete revisions for meaning, language and style. Then it was sent for review to Islamic scholars and Arabic and English Language specialists, who “contributed comprehensive independent appraisals.”

Then, Hammad said in his introduction, “a limited number of review editions were sent to a cross-section of two types of readers, those whose mother-tongue is English for verse-by-verse comment … and Arabic speakers with English proficiency who had both memorized the entire Quran and received degrees in Islamic studies.”



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