When the Qur’an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad, it arrived in the language of his place and time—Arabic. To this day, for virtually all Muslims whether Arab or not, the Qur’an only truly exists in Arabic. You can read an English translation, there are many to choose from, but the Qur’an is said to defy translation.
In this episode, Bruce B. Lawrence of Duke University joins us to talk about his latest book, The Koran in English: A Biography. It’s part of Princeton University Press’s Lives of Great Religious Books series. We’re also joined in this episode by Dr. David D. Peck from BYU-Idaho. Dr. Peck was a Maxwell Institute visiting scholar this summer.
Bruce and David tell us all about the history of the English translation of one of the world’s most renowned scriptures, the Koran. Is it possible to render God’s words in human language? For Muslims, is it possible to do that in any other language than Arabic?
Special Episodes: “Lives of Great Religious Books”
This ongoing series of MIPodcast episodes features interviews with authors of volumes in Princeton University Press’s “Lives of Great Religious Books” series. Leading experts examine the origins of books like the Book of Mormon, the Bhagavad Gita, Augustine’s Confessions, and C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. They trace shifts in the reception, influence, and interpretation of these landmark texts.
About the Guests
Bruce B. Lawrence is the Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus Humanities Professor Emeritus of Religion at Duke University. His many books include Who Is Allah?; and Shattering the Myth: Islam Beyond Violence. He is the author of The Koran in English: A Biography, part of Princeton University Press’s Lives of Great Religious Books series.
David D. Peck is a professor of history at Brigham Young University-Idaho. He specializes in the history of the Middle East and Islamic Civilization. His current research focuses on comparative theology, particularly shared concepts of pre-mortal existence and ontological progression found in Mormonism and Sufism. Dr. Peck was a visiting scholar at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship during the summer of 2017.
At the conclusion of the episode, Dr. Lawrence and Dr. Peck suggest a few translations of the Koran in English for listeners who are interested.
More poetic and devotional:
More attention to translating the Arabic precisely:
- M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, The Qur’an (Oxford World’s Classics)
- Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, Quran: A Simple English Translation
- Seyyed Hossein Nasr, et al, The Study Qur’an: A New Translation and Commentary
A graphic novel-style approach:
- Sandow Birk, American Qur’an
Learn more about The Study Qur’an in MIPodcast #33.
Subscribe to the Maxwell Institute Podcast through iTunes or use the RSS feed mi.byu.edu/feed/podcast. Please help our podcast grow by rating and reviewing it in iTunes. Send questions or comments about this and other episodes to firstname.lastname@example.org. The banner image above is from the Hammer Museum’s 2015 exhibit on Birk’s American Qur’an.