Utne Blogs > Mind and Body

A More Inclusive (and Controversial) Quran

by Kari Volkmann-Carlsen 

Tags: Spirituality, Quran, Alternative Quran Translations, Islam, Muslim, Laleh Bakhtiar,

Quran Opened A new, English-language translation of the Quran by Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar is causing controversy in some Muslim communities. The Sublime Qur’an (Kazi Publications, 2007) is the first English-language translation of the Islam's holy text by an American woman. Muneer Fareed, the Canadian secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), said he would consider banning it.

Though attempts to ban the book have been thwarted, the controversy continues. One passage is getting the majority of the heat: chapter 4 (Surah), verse (Ayah or Sign) 34. Sikeena Karmali, who interviewed Bakhtiar for Ascent, tries to clarify the issue:

Dr. Bakhtiar reverts the translation of the Arabic word dharhaba, translated for centuries by Muslim clerics as “to beat,” back to its original meaning of “to go away.” This is nothing short of revolutionary for empowering Muslim women in traditional societies, where a system of patriarchy cites the absolute authority of the Qur’an as the legitimizing factor for domestic abuse. 

Bakhtiar says she wanted the translation to be as inclusive as possible. In the interview with Ascent she says, “Arabic is so rich that there are many different words you can use for [the translation of] a word. I always chose the word that would be most inclusive of people of all faiths.” Her translation is based on an understanding of the language as poetic, rather than didactic. In her reading, each passage is open to many interpretations, which “creates a diversity of belief that necessitates tolerance and openness.” Rather than putting her own interpretive spin on it, Bakhtiar tried consistently to translate each word throughout the text, leaving much of the interpretation to the reader.

Image by el7bara, licensed under Creative Commons.