Ziauddin Sardar likes a new translation of the Koran by Tarif Khalidi.

The best way to demonstrate its newness, and how close it is to the original text, is to compare it with an old translation. The translation I have in mind is Khalidi’s predecessor in the Penguin Classics: The Koran, translated with notes by NJ Dawood…It has been a great source of discomfort for Muslims, who see in it deliberate distortions that give the Qur’an violent and sexist overtones. It is the one most non-Muslims cite when they tell me with great conviction what the Qur’an says.

Hmm. That’s interesting – because one has to wonder what Muslims Sardar has in mind. Most Muslims, certainly including most Muslims in the UK, after all, don’t know Arabic – so when these Muslims that Sardar mentions ‘see’ in Dawood’s translation ‘deliberate distortions that give the Qur’an violent and sexist overtones’ – how do they know about the distortions? Unless Sardar means only Muslims who do know Arabic – but in a UK context (which this is, being the Guardian) that would be a pretty small and rarified bunch, so you would think he would specify that was what he meant. But perhaps he didn’t mean only Muslims who know Arabic – but then what did he mean? How do Muslims in general know what is or isn’t a distortion of a translation of the Koran when they can’t read the Koran in Arabic themselves? It’s interesting that Sardar chose the word ‘see’ there. That’s consistent with just seeing violent and sexist overtones and then concluding that they are the fault of the translation. It’s not a tremendously straightforward way to say things though. And then there are those wicked non-Muslims who cite Dawood’s translation. Well granted that is very naughty of them, but then what about the Muslims Sardar knows? Don’t any of them cite translations when discussing what the Koran says? Does he not know any Muslims who don’t know Arabic? In short, is he trying to bamboozle the reader? I kind of think he is.

Dawood translates Az-Zumar (chapter 39) as “The Hordes”, suggesting bands of barbarian mobs; Khalidi renders it as “The Groups”…The old Penguin translation uses rather obscurantist images throughout to give the impression that the Qur’an is full of demons and witches. For example, in 31:1, Dawood has God swearing “by those who cast out demons”. Khalidi translates the same verse as: “Behold the revelations of the Wise Book.”

Okay. But which is more accurate? Sardar doesn’t say. Maybe Khalidi’s is; but Sardar doesn’t say.

So this translation is a quantum leap ahead of the old Penguin version.

Not quantum; wrong word; ten points off. But more to the point: is it? There’s only one place where Sardar actually says Khalidi translates something correctly; all the rest of it has to do with whether he translates it flatteringly. That’s a different issue. It’s not clear that a more flattering translation is a leap ahead. It may be a more accurate translation, but one can’t tell whether it is or not from Sardar’s review. That’s either careless or…not.

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