Reading the Qur’an in English
Q. I find it difficult to read the Qur’an in Arabic and I am not sure of its pronunciation. I use two translations which I feel give the meaning properly and with clarity. My friends and relatives object to this and find it strange. I realize that any translation of a beautifully written text will lose much of its beauty, originality and perfection, but my difficulty of dealing with the Arabic text is not a small matter, and when I read it in Arabic, I do not feel I am able to lift up my spirit and soul as one would expect when reading God’s revelations. Please comment.
A. Our lady reader explains clearly the difficulty which many non-Arabic speaking Muslims find in reading the Qur’an in its original text. Obviously the right answer to this problem is better teaching of Arabic in schools and communities. But this is a long-term matter which is unlikely to start in the near future due to various factors. In the mean time, every individual should deal with this problem as best as he or she can. The important matter is that the Qur’an must be read in Arabic in prayer and as a separate act of worship. The point here is that these acts of worship rely on reading God’s own word, which is in Arabic. The translated text is the word of the translator, which may not be free of error, and certainly cannot reflect all the shades of meaning which the splendid literary style of the Arabic text reflects.
What is important here is to differentiate between two matters. The first is that of reciting the Qur’an in prayer and at other times with the aim of earning God’s reward. In this case, it must be read in its original Arabic text. One may learn the meaning of certain passages or Surahs which one reads frequently, thus keeping that meaning in mind when reading them. The other is to try to understand the Qur’an in order to act on its teachings in daily life. For this, one should certainly rely on translation and at least one reliable commentary.
Even Arabs need to refer to such commentaries, or tafseer. The translated text on its own is inadequate, excellent as the translation may be. The reader should resort to both methods for a better understanding of the Qur’an and for her worship. Let me add that when she studies the Qur’an in translation and commentary, in order to understand and implement it, she stands to earn reward from God for her effort. But reading the Qur’an in its original text is an act of worship which earns special reward.