How to Read a
Translation of the Qur’an
The first thing you do, when you pick up a translation of the Qur’an to read, is to realize that the Qur’an is Qur’an. It is God’s word. And there is nothing like it in this world. And now you hold a translation of it in your hands.
The second thing is to realize that what you have in your hand is only a translation. It is not the real thing, but only a human approximation to the real thing. And no matter how good it may be, it is still only a translation. It is a feeble and often flawed human attempt to render in human language words and content that are entirely divine, and which, therefore, are beyond all human power to translate, emulate or duplicate.
As a result, the translation you have in your hands is nothing like the original Qur’an in the Arabic language, but only an approximation of the original.
God, in his infinite wisdom, chose Arabic language to reveal the Qur’an in; and he chose Prophet Muhammad (May God bless him!) to reveal the Qur’an to. God also chose the words, the content and the style in which the Qur’an exists today; and he determined and ordained the order in which to arrange the various parts and passages of the Qur’an.
All this was 1400 years ago.
Ever since, the Qur’an has existed – all of these 14 centuries – in the form in which it was originally revealed and in the order in which it was arranged by God Almighty himself. Today, hundreds of millions of people of all colors, races, nationalities, backgrounds and ethnicities, in practically all parts of the world, read the Qur’an every day. They do so at least five times a day in the compulsory prayers or worship called Salaah.
It is nothing short of a miracle. And there is nothing like it in the world.
At the same time, millions upon millions of people around the globe memorize the Qur’an, cover to cover, and can recite it verbatim anytime, anywhere- all 6000-7000 passages of the Qur’an called Aayats.
Once again, this is nothing short of a miracle and there is nothing like it in the world.
As the revelations were brought to him by the angel, the Prophet (May God bless him!), a man unlettered and unschooled in any form or fashion, except through what God himself chose to teach him directly, read out the parts and passages of the Qur’an to others – just as they were given to him from God. These parts of the Qur’an were then memorized by those around him. And everyone recited them at least five times a day, every day, in their obligatory daily prayers.
It is nothing short of a miracle and the world has seen nothing like it.
The Prophet (May God bless him!) called those around him his companions – a most amazing display of human equality at the highest level that the Qur’an came to teach the world. The world, however, caught up in its social differences and status hierarchies and inequalities, refers to them to this day as his followers.
The companions of the prophet were some of the most wonderful men and women of all ages and backgrounds that the world has ever seen. The Prophet (May God bless him!) taught them the Qur’an; he explained its meaning to them; and he showed them in practice how the Qur’an worked in real life. Then he set about building a new society and a new nation based on the teachings of the Qur’an – a new nation under God whose creed was justice, compassion, equality, peace and truth.
The Qur’an addresses human life at all levels and in all facets and dimensions – individual as well as collective; personal as well as social; political as well as economic and cultural; mundane and physical as well as sublime and spiritual. From marriage and divorce to war and peace, and from trade and commerce to government and public service, the Qur’an does not leave out any area or aspect of human life without providing direct divine light to illumine it, and without having the Prophet illustrate it in practical form in his own life.
The Qur’an teaches people to walk softly on earth and speak sweetly to others. It asks believers to honor their word and fulfill their contracts. It invites everyone not only to fear God but also to love and obey him and to serve his creation.
At the hands of the Prophet (May God bless him!) and his companions, the Qur’an became a living, walking, talking, breathing, vibrant human reality, covering the entire gamut of human life. The result was that the Qur’an changed the world, and it did so in less than 23 years.
The Prophet (May God bless him!) and his companions changed the world from one of ignorance to one of knowledge; from one of injustice and cruelty to one of kindness, compassion, fairness, justice and equality; from one of superstition and blind obedience to authority to one of enlightenment, rationality, critical inquiry and science; from one of slavery and bondage of both mind and body – to one of liberty, dignity and freedom for all; and from one given to idolatry to one devoted to the worship of one true God.
Ever since, much of human history has been pretty much a story of the rest of the world trying to catch up with the teachings and principles of the Qur’an. It is a story of the systematic emulation and absorption, in society after society, in culture after culture, and in age after age, of the wonderful principles and teachings that God revealed in the Qur’an and the Prophet (May God bless him!) then converted, under direct divine guidance and supervision, into personal, social, family, political, government, economic, military, trade, educational, international and other models and methods of everyday life – from the most private and personal levels to the most public and collective levels.
Thus, from beginning to end the Qur’an is a miracle. As is everyone of its individual passages called Aayats – all 6000-7000 of them. An Aayat means a sign that says that a book like the Qur’an could only come from God and no human mind could have invented it. An Aayat means a miracle, in the sense of its being an event whose likelihood is infinitesimal – something whose probability of occurrence is extremely small.
Many of the miracles of the Qur’an we can see with our own eyes. Having seen them, we need to ask where we stand in relation to them. Do we accept them and embrace the Qur’an as the word of God? Or do we – even as God shows us his signs and miracles in the Qur’an – turn our back on them and reject them?
That means, for example, with regard to each one of the claims below we need to ask if it is true or false. If these claims are false then the makers of these claims have a problem. For, obviously they are promoting falsehood. If, on the other hand, they are true, then those of us who read them have a problem. For, we are left with no alternative but to accept them and accept the Qur’an as the word of God.