The Koran in English: A Biography

By Quinn, Frederick | Anglican and Episcopal History, June 2018 | Go to article overview

The Koran in English: A Biography


Quinn, Frederick, Anglican and Episcopal History


The Koran in English: A Biography. Great Religious Books Series. By Bruce B. Lawrence. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017, Pp. 280, 14 halftones. $26.95.)

What is the best translation of the Koran? What should a devout church member today think of it? These are the sorts of questions Bruce B. Lawrence lays bare in his latest book, published in the "Lives of Great Religious Books Series" launched by Princeton University Press. The Koran contains 6,236 verses in 114 chapters originally disclosed in Arabic by the Archangel Gabriel to an illiterate orphan-merchant, Muhammad (570 CE-632). Lawrence calls it "the single most important and least understood book in the world at present" (169). Should readers speak of God or Allah? Both are correct, Lawrence continues, "neither displaces the other. Each retains its value and benefit. Those who read and recite the Koran, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, offer praise to God. . . . The Name, together with the Book, retain their primacy in Arabic without losing their value in English. . . . They cannot be translated but they must be translated. Al-hamdulillah, Praise be to God!" (170-71).

Lawrence gives lively, candid portraits of some of the early Koran translators such as Robert of Kettőn, Alexander Ross, and George Sale, whose popular translation was used by Thomas Jefferson, among others. The center for Koran translations into English in more recent times came from South Asia, not Arabia. Much of India had come under British rule, Christian missionaries could move about freely, and English replaced Persian as the official language, and Indians increasingly saw proficiency in English important for professional advancement. …

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