Are Transliterations of the Qur’an Haram?
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Taking the Qur'an to Every Home and Heart that Needs It --
And which One Does Not?)
Are Transliterations of the Qur’an Haram? Both doing them and reading them?
It is time Muslims addressed this issue squarely and urgently. And here is my reasoning why I consider this issue to be important.
God sent the Qur’an to all of humanity to read – both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
That means the Qur’an is a book that God sent to the whole world and not just to this or that group of people in any particular time.
The word “Qur’an” means “To Read.”
Or “To Recite,” as some people would say.
That means everyone everywhere must read the Qur’an: in whatever language they can and however much of it they can.
In whatever place or time they can.
The Qur’an of course is in Arabic. That is the language in which God sent it into this world. And that is the language in which the Qur’an has stayed all these 1400-plus years.
So, the right and proper way to read the Qur’an is in its original Arabic text.
But for those of us who cannot read the Qur’an in Arabic, we must read a translation of the Qur’an in whatever language we can. Even as we strive to learn to read it in the original Arabic language in which God Almighty chose to send it down to earth.
But translation is not Transliteration. The difference is critical.
Translation means rendering the meaning or sense of a text – words – of some kind from one language in a different language. Such as, for example, translating an Arabic, Persian, German or French text of some kind – let us say a poem or a letter written by a political leader to someone – into another language, such as English or Swahili.
That is translation.
Transliteration, on the other hand, is the attempt to render the very words of one language (let us say Arabic or German for example) into another language (let us say Tamil or English), using the script and alphabets of the second language – the host language if you will.
Thus, Transliteration of the Qur’an would mean the attempt to write the words of the Qur’an using script from another language such as English or modern post-1920 Turkish or Tamil.
Such an undertaking, where Qur’an is concerned, is an impossibility to accomplish successfully. That means the words of the Qur’an cannot successfully and accurately be rendered into another language using the host script, such as Roman or Tamil or Cyrillic alphabet.
This in turn means that the new text of the Qur’an, created in a different language such as English or Tamil or Cyrillic, cannot possibly be considered Qur’an by any stretch of the imagination.
As a result, those who read the Qur’an in Transliteration are not reading the Qur’an, period. They are reading something else – something other than the Qur’an – no matter how well or faithfully the Transliteration job might have been accomplished.
Nor do intentions matter in this context. It does not really matter how pure or perfect or noble or innocent the intentions of those doing the Transliteration may have been.
For, in spite of their best intentions, there is no earthly way for them to render the heavenly text and language of the Qur’an accurately into earthly scripts from other languages such as Tamil, English or Cyrillic.
Their products will always be wrong, defective and erroneous, no matter what their credentials and qualifications, and no matter how pure and lofty their goals and intentions.
And the Noble Qur’an by its very nature is free from all defect, doubt and error: Laa Rayiba Feehi!
That is why Muslims must seriously consider the question if it should be Haram for Muslims to do a Transliteration of the Qur’an, for any purpose other than perhaps the most narrow and specific scholarly ones.
In the same way, should it also be Haram for Muslims to read a Transliteration of the Qur’an in any language other than Arabic.
For, both these activities – doing Transliteration as well as reading it – would fall under the broad definition of doing Tahreef or adulteration of the pure and perfect text of the Qur’an.
That is why Muslims have no choice but to learn to read the Qur’an in its original Arabic language, regardless of whether they are new coverts to Islam or old heritage-type born in Muslim homes.
Even though this may appear at first blush a daunting task, learning to read the Qur’an in its original Arabic text, God Almighty has made a most emphatic promise to them in the Qur’an – and repeated it four times in one Surah or chapter of the Qur’an, chapter 54, called Al-Qamar – that he will make their job easy for them.