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Discovering More about the Koran

The Islamic tradition describes the Koran as a vast ocean of knowledge that never ceases in its wisdom, no matter how much you study it. You may want to continue investigating the Koran, looking for new perspectives, challenges, and insights.

Comparing "translations"

You can find several "translations" of the Koran at any major bookstore.

Don't rely on a single translation of the Koran, but rather get two or three that you can compare and contrast.

Of course, the Arabic never changes, but the translation of it into English is based as much on interpretation as it is on "translation" — because no one word can fully reflect the depth of many concepts found in the Arabic language.

Translators often vary in how they choose to translate or interpret these Koranic concepts. Comparing and contrasting two or three "translations" helps you gain a broader depth of the Koran's meaning.

Here are some "translations" that reflect the Koran's Arabic and original meaning:

  • The Holy Qur'an: English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary, by Abdullah Yusuf Ali; published by King Fahd Holy Qur'an Printing Press. This famous translation was endorsed for a long time by the Saudi royal family.
    Ali, a British convert to Islam, does a good job of reflecting the Koran's eloquence, and his footnotes are for the most part brilliant.
    The translator uses old-style English, which makes it a bit difficult to read for the modern reader. But, if you can read old-English literature, such as Shakespeare, then you may feel comfortable reading Ali's translation as well.
    Finally, Ali's work has a fairly good index that can aid you in your research on the Koran.
  • The Meaning of the Glorious Koran, an explanatory translation by Mohammed Marmoduke Pickthall; published by Maktaba Jawahar al Uloom. This translation is usually sold in pocket-size editions, which makes it a good travel companion.
    Pickthall, a British convert to Islam, mixes simplicity of language with eloquence. His work has almost no footnotes, and the index is not very comprehensive.
    However, his lack of commentary and excellent translation prove a great combination if you want to read and understand the Koran for yourself before venturing into the interpretation of the interpreters.
  • The Majestic Quran, by Abdal Hakim Murad, Mostafa al-Badawi, and Uthman Hutchinson; published by the Nawawi Foundation: This book offers a unique combination of simple, easy-to-understand English with great elegance to reflect the rhythm of the Koran. It contains over 800 footnotes that draw from the classical tradition of Koranic interpretation.

Before you begin reading a translation (or interpretation) of the Koran, you should check into the qualifications of the translator. Most good translations are done by those who have an expert command of the Arabic and English language. Also, translators who are thoroughly familiar with Western culture are usually more reliable.

Most early translations of the Koran into English (and other European languages) were done by Christian missionaries, who introduced several alien — and often derogatory — concepts into the Koran. As such, you may want to avoid these translations if you want to discover the authentic message and teachings of the Koran.

Listening to the Koran

The message of the Koran can be understood by its reading, but the best way to experience the powerful soul of the Koran is by listening to its beautiful recitation.

Non-Arab speaking Muslims are as awed by the Koran voice as are Arab-speaking Muslims who can understand the meaning as it is being recited. Many non-Muslims, such as authors Michael Sells and Karen Armstrong, also speak fondly of the almost therapeutic affect of Koranic recitation on its listeners. As such, your experience of the Koran cannot be complete without listening to its magnificent voice.

Check out these recitations on the Web:

  • Islam Web. You'll find over 130 reciters to choose from on this site. The names are listed in English, so it's easier to choose a reciter.
  • Islam Way. This site features the most famous reciters known in the Muslim world.tabmark

Studying Arabic

Arabic is the language of the Koran. With the enormous depth that this beautiful language carries, you can't fully grasp the teachings of the Koran without understanding the Arabic language.

Here's some advice if you want to study the Koran's language:

  • If you live near a university, most schools offer introductory Arabic courses. These classes provide a good way to familiarize yourself with the alphabets and basic grammar.
  • Pick up a copy of The Dictionary of the Holy Qur'an, by Abdul Mannan Omar, published by Noor Foundation International, Inc. Omar accurately translates and fully explains the meaning of Arabic words found in the Koran. Also, the appendix gives a nice introduction to the Arabic language and its grammatical structure.

Taking Classes

Islamic Studies courses, which many universities and colleges now offer, can help you discover more about the Koran and Islam in general.

Understand, though, that academic study of religion is different than studying Muslim life. If you are more interested in knowing how Islam is lived and in discovering traditional understandings of Islam, your time may be better spent talking to Muslims or reading books about the Koran and Islam.

Also, if you live in or near a major city, you can usually find a center of knowledge where Muslims and non-Muslims gather to study the Koran and Islam. For example, if you live in the Bay Area in California, you can look into attending classes at the Zaytuna Institute, which offers courses on Koranic sciences and Islam in general.

Talking to Muslims

Conversing with Muslims about the Koran provides a great way to find out more about how traditional Muslims understand and interpret the Book.

Most, but not all, Muslims are quite comfortable in discussing their faith with non-Muslims. However, you should remember that not every Muslim has a good level of knowledge about the Koran. You may have to talk to a few before you can gain insight into the Scripture from a Muslim's perspective.

If you don't know Muslims personally, you can find your local mosque through Islamic Finder. Contact the people at your local mosque, who are often quite open to putting you in touch with a Muslim or a few Muslims.

If you live on or near a college campus, you can contact Muslims through their respective campus organization, usually known as the Muslim Students Association.

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