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Islamic Society ( 21 Jun 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Quran Translations Reached Non-Muslims and Muslims outside Arab World Very Late

By S. Arshad, New Age Islam

21 June 2021

Lack of Translations of Quran and Comprehensive Exegetic Literature about Islam Caused Setback to Islam

Main Points:

1. Quran’s translations were available to the outside world very late.

2. Europeans started translating Quran before Muslims to refute its message.

3. Translation of Quran was done in Persian only in the 10th century.

4. Translation of Quran was done in Urdu in 1780s.

5. Book of fatwas Fatawa Alamgiri was compiled in India before the translation of Quran.


The holy Quran was revealed to the prophet of Islam in the 7th century. But its translations in non-Arab languages were available only after the 11th century. The first translation of the Quran in any non-Arab language was in Turkish in the 11th century. The first translation of the Quran in any European languages was in Latin done in 1143 by Robert Ketenensis. He did the translation of the Quran only with the purpose of refuting it and not for promoting it. So he did wrong and misleading translations of words and verses. Later translations of the Quran in other European languages were inspired by the translation done by Ketenensis. Indeed earlier in the 9th century, translation of the Quran was done in Greek language.

Though the famous Sahabi Hadhrat Salman Farsi r.a. had translated Surah Fatiha in Persian in the 7th century and Islam had reached Persia during the rule of Banu Umaiyah, translation of the Quran was first done in the 10th century.

A correct literal translation in Latin was done by Louis Maracci in 1698 but that was done only for the purpose of refutation of the Quran.

The first French translation of the Quran by a Muslim was done in 1959. This shows how late Muslims realised the importance of translation of the Quran in other languages.

In India though the Muslims reached very early and the first mosque ---Cheramam mosque --- was built in India during the life of prophet of Islam, Islam became dominant force in India in the 11th century with the establishment of Ghori dynasty in India in 1173. Bakhtiyar Khilji conquered Bihar and Bengal in 1199-1200 and also established madrasa system in Bengal but the Quran and hadith were made available in Indian languages only during the rule of Mughal ruler Mohammad Shah Rangila from 1738-39. Islamic scholar Shah Waliullah first translated the Quran in Persian language --the official language and the language of the elite in India in 1739. Interestingly Fatawa Alamgiri compiled during the rule of Aurangzeb was available in India before the translation of the Quran in India. This is perhaps the reason Indian Muslims attach more importance to fatwas than to the teachings of Quran and Hadith.

Shah Waliullah faced fatwas of Kufr by contemporary ulema for translating the Quran in Persian. He was also attacked by some Muslims outside a mosque but he survived. Shah Waliullah had learnt Quran and Hadith from Islamic scholars of Quran and Hadith in Makkah and Madina. Therefore he popularised Quran and hadith among Indian Muslims. Prior to that Indian Muslims were not also fully aware of hadiths and many proverbs and popular sayings would be passed on as hadith. Shah Waliullah and his son Shah Abdul Aziz promoted true hadiths among Indian Muslims. Shah Waliullah's son Shah Abdul Qadir translated the Quran in Urdu in 1826, that is, during the East India Company's rule. But since translating and reading the Quran in Persian or Urdu, or in any Indian language for that matter was considered a sin by general Indian ulema, Muslims remained unaware of the true contents of the Quran for long though the Muslims were in government since the 12th century in India. Leave aside propagating the teachings of the Quran among non-Muslims, even common Muslims were not aware of the teachings of Quran and hadith. Muslims knew or understood Islam from selective literature published in Urdu and Persian by prominent Islamic scholars or through oral lectures delivered by Maulvis in madrasas.

The translations of the Quran in Indian languages like Bengali, Hindi, Gujarati, and Tamil etc. were available only in the late 19th century. Ironically, the first Bengali translation of the Quran was done not by a Muslim but a Brahmo Samaj missionary Girish Chandra Sen in 1886. Though two Muslims had attempted Bengali translation of the Quran before him but their translations had remained incomplete.

The first English translation in India was done by Dr Abul Fazl of India in 1910. He also studied the Quran in its chronological order for research purposes.

All these accounts of translations of the Quran clearly show that though the Muslims conquered a large part of the world during the initial 2-3 centuries, they did not know the importance of translation in the spread of Islamic knowledge. Secondly the accuracy or sanctity of the message of the Quran was so deeply embedded in the Muslim psyche that they considered translating the Quran in other languages a sin. This mindset became a big obstacle in the spread of Quranic message in non-Muslim societies. The Europeans knew the importance of translation and so they translated the Quran before Muslims did to refute its contents before it reached their community. A correct translation of the Quran was done in Latin in as late as 1698 and that also by a Latin translator only from Catholic point of view. Muslims did not translate the Quran into Latin or other European languages to clear the doubts and confusion created about Quran and Islam by these erroneous translations done by Christian missionaries.

Ignorance of the true teachings of the Quran and Hadiths were at the root of many unIslamic customs and rites among the Muslims of India. It was only in the 20th century that a comprehensive study of Quran was available in the most languages of the world.

It is clear from these accounts that Muslim rulers did not contribute much to the spread of Islam but individual efforts were instrumental in the spread of religious knowledge in India. Therefore, the hypothesis that Islam has spread under the shadow of sword proves wrong. Islam spread in India due to the peaceful efforts of Sufis. The learning and teaching of the Quran is still discouraged in India. Memorising the Quran without understanding its meaning is encouraged by religious institutions. Ignorance of Quranic teachings has led to sectarian beliefs among Muslim masses. In most Muslim households, the Quran is read without understanding its meaning only for Sawab and not for receiving guidance. The Muslim community has become largely detached from the Quran practically. The verses of Quran are recited only during sickness or death or in Chehlum and Chaliswan or during Ramadan for Sawab or for worldly benefits. Compilation of some selected Surahs called Pakistani Panjsurah or Solah surah are available. Surahs for repayment of debts, for recovery from illness, for victory over enemies, for warding off magic or evil spirits, for victory in court cases, for marriage etc. are compiled in these collections and Muslims recite only those Surahs for worldly benefits. The Quran is seldom read or studied for acquiring the knowledge of Deen though God has clearly said that He has made Quran easy to understand for those who seek knowledge

Wa Laqad Yassarnal Qur'ana Lizzikr Fahal Mim Muddakar (Al Qamar: 17)

In short, lack of translations of the Quran in world languages and unavailability of comprehensive introductory or exegetic literature on Islam for more than one thousand years from the advent of Islam caused a huge setback in the spread of true information about Islam among non-Muslims. Even today there is no systematic or organised effort for the dissemination of Islamic knowledge in the world. The vacuum is therefore exploited by sectarian and extremist individuals and organisations to spread their violent and sectarian ideology among Muslims.


Sohail Arshad is a columnist with


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