Carleton Won't Say, But

What translation of the Koran are you reading?

The following is not meant as a criticism as to how the Saudi Kingdom uses its riches to fund Islamic studies at major universities around the world. What Translation of the Koran Are You Reading? is an invitation to universities and colleges, who, like Ottawa's Carleton University have a Center for the Study of Islam, or something similar, to consider Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice.

Carleton is quick to declare, at this writing, in its webpage welcoming visitors to the Centre that “Carleton is explicitly non-sectarian. This means that Carleton welcomes all traditions and embraces a multitude of different scholarly approaches (italics mine).”

What about a scholarly approach which one award winning writer/reporter described as “very engaging and playful on serious subjects"? I would not call my writing on the Koran playful – well, perhaps in some places – but thoroughly engaging, absolutely!

Taking Carleton at its word, I wrote the Director of the Carleton Centre for the Study of Islam, with copy to Carleton President, Ms. Roseann O’Reilly Runte.

April 24, 2013

Dr. Farhang Rajaee

Director, Carleton Centre for the Study of Islam Carleton University

300 Paterson Hall,

1125 Colonel By Drive

Ottawa, Ontario

Dear Dr. Rajaee,

Please accept a complimentary copy of Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice, the Koran arranged by topic and explained in a way we can all understand.

Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice would make a great addition to the curriculum of any university offering a program in Islamic Studies, but especially a Canadian university, being the only exhaustive review of the Koran done by a Canadian layperson; a review which includes instructive hadiths and commentary by the legendary Abul A’la Moududi.

Sincerely Yours

Bernard Payeur

Cc: Dr. Roseann O’Reilly Runte

Are universities such as Carleton with a program of Islamic studies who claim to welcome a multitude of different scholarly approaches on how Islam is presented to a lay audience just pretending where the Koran is concerned?

Carleton does not indicate if it gets extraordinary funding, if any, for its Centre for the Study of Islam. In preparing this posting, I was surprised to learn that Islamic studies programs at such prestigious universities as Harvard, the University of Edinburgh, Georgetown and Cambridge are funded by the Saudis.

Saudi funding, whether it be for mosques or madrassas – but perhaps not for centres of Islamic studies like Carleton's (who knows?) – usually comes with one large string attached: the recipients of the Kingdom’s largesse will preach the virulent Wahhabi creed.

Preaching Wahhabism usually entails using the Saudi approved translations of the Koran by Abdullah Yusuf Ali and/or Muhammad Muhsin Khan. Following is an assessment of Ali's and Khan's translations of the Koran by Khaleel Mohammed a professor in the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University

The Holy Qur'an: Translation and Commentary by Abdullah Yusuf 'Ali.

Among those Qur'an translations which found Saudi favor and, therefore, wide distribution, was the Abdullah Yusuf 'Ali (1872-1952) rendition that, from its first appearance in 1934 until very recently, was the most popular English version among Muslims … While his rendering of the text is not bad, there are serious problems in his copious footnotes; in many cases, he reproduces the exegetical material from medieval texts without making any effort at contextualization. Writing at a time both of growing Arab animosity toward Zionism and in a milieu that condoned anti-Semitism, Yusuf 'Ali constructed his oeuvre as a polemic against Jews.

Several Muslim scholars have built upon the Yusuf 'Ali translation. In 1989, Saudi Arabia's Ar-Rajhi banking company financed the U.S.-based Amana Corporation's project to revise the translation to reflect an interpretation more in conjunction with the line of Islamic thought followed in Saudi Arabia. Ar-Rahji offered the resulting version for free to mosques, schools, and libraries throughout the world. The footnoted commentary about Jews remained so egregious that, in April 2002, the Los Angeles school district banned its use at local schools. While the Yusuf 'Ali translation still remains in publication, it has lost influence because of its dated language and the appearance of more recent works whose publication and distribution the Saudi government has also sought to subsidize.

The Noble Qur'an in the English Language by Muhammad Taqi al-Din al-Hilali and Muhammad Muhsin Khan.

Now the most widely disseminated Qur'an in most Islamic bookstores and Sunni mosques throughout the English-speaking world, this new translation is meant to replace the Yusuf 'Ali edition and comes with a seal of approval from both the University of Medina and the Saudi Dar al-Ifta. Whereas most other translators have tried to render the Qur'an applicable to a modern readership, this Saudi-financed venture tries to impose the commentaries of Tabari (d. 923 C.E.), Qurtubi (d. 1273 C.E.), and Ibn Kathir (d. 1372 C.E.), medievalists who knew nothing of modern concepts of pluralism. The numerous interpolations make this translation particularly problematic, especially for American Muslims who, in the aftermath of 9-11, are struggling to show that Islam is a religion of tolerance.

From the beginning, the Hilali and Muhsin Khan translation reads more like a supremacist Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian polemic than a rendition of the Islamic scripture …

Although this Saudi-sponsored effort, undertaken before 9-11, is a serious liability for American Muslims in particular, it still remains present in Sunni mosques, probably because of its free distribution by the Saudi government.

The free Saudi translation is the preferred choice at Ottawa's other university, Ottawa U.

Pain, Pleasure and Prejudice is based on native Arabic speaker Majid Fakhry’s balanced, accessible, easy to comprehend translation. Khaleel Mohammed dismisses Fakhry’s English Translation of the Meanings as having no future because of lack of Saudi backing. That, in itself, should be an endorsement.

Bernard Payeur