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Customer Review

27 December 2009
A common problem with English interpretations of the Qur'an is their tendency to sanitise difficult and painful texts, Pickthall, Yusuf Ali and Zafrulla Khan are all especially prone to this tendency.

Muhammed Abdul Salem Abdel Haleem is to be complimented for a smooth, fluent and easy read, but some of his renditions are inconsistently aimed at softening rough edges and oiling harsh expressions. Three examples will suffice, Surah 5.51, 'do not take Jews and Christians as allies', it's a curiously formal translation of Awliya, the plural of wali, in older Arabic, an intimate. Would the popular Arabic singer Wali Wali, really best be translated 'My ally' 'My ally', if it weren't for the benefit of spin?. When it comes to uncomfortable exhortations, the translator veers toward obscure literalism, 'the disbelievers, strike them above their necks' (Surah 8.12), others 'strike off their heads'. When it comes to revealing evidence of a tritheistic misapprehension of Christian doctrine he reverts to an interpolated explanation rather than faithful translation, 'Do not speak of a Trinity' (Surah 4.171), the Arabic is plainer, 'Do not say three' (Le tequluuu theletha).*

There is an Arabic proverb 'AlKithb musaawwi ahsan min aSidq munaqqesh' (the smooth misrepresentation is better than the unvarnished truth) - it seems unfortunately apt here. As an exercise in public relations this translation is a triumph, as an accurate guide to what Islam's prophet taught and how he acted, there are superior sources.

*To his credit since the 2016 edition, Abdel Haleem has covertly corrected this mistranslation, replacing it with the word as 'three', thus exposing Mohammed's egregious misunderstanding in attributing tritheism to Christians. It is disappointing however this change has gone unannounced and tends to confirm the impression above. Since this is still technically the same edition, it's also surprising that OUP have let this highly significant retranslation slip in as merely a 'correction' as though it was merely a typo!
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