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‘Islam and Europe’

January 23, 2013

THIS is apropos of the report, ‘Europeans realise we all live on one planet’ (Jan 22), concerning a lecture by me at the University of Karachi on Jan 21. The report accurately reproduces some of my observations. However, there is one, perhaps inadvertent but important, discrepancy about what was actually stated. The report quotes me as having said, ”It was almost 1,000 years after Islam was introduced that it was translated into an European language”.

What I stated was that while the first translation of the Holy Quran into English took place in about 1650 or shortly thereafter, i.e., about 1,000 years after the coming of Islam (derived from a slightly earlier French translation by Du Ruyer published in 1647). The first translation into an European language took place in the 12th century, i.e., more than 500 years after the advent of Islam when a Latin translation was prepared for a monastery in Clugny in 1143.

It was only after the introduction of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century that first the Bible and much later limited numbers of the Holy Quran in European languages began to appear. Whichever the European language, the early mistranslations and distortions were repeated and reinforced.

Regrettably, even another later translation into Latin in 1689 by Maracci continued the predetermined bias against Islam by being titled: “Refutation of the Quran”!

Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s masterful English translation and commentary provides relevant details. Translations into European languages that seek to be accurate and free of bias are of comparatively recent origin in chronological terms.

There is much work to be done in Europe to improve mass public knowledge and perceptions about Islam to remove prejudices ingrained over several centuries by mistranslated, distorted versions. It is commendable that the European Union supports several efforts to promote interfaith dialogue so as to remove misconceptions. Meanwhile, even about some aspects of the improved recent and contemporary translations into English there is a need for reappraisal. The courageous, painstakingly researched version titled, ‘Quran: a reformist translation’ by Edip Yuksel and Layth Saleh al-Shaiban and Martha Schulte-Nafeh, published by Brainbow Press Hundred Fourteen Books, USA., deserves wide reading, in Europe, and across the world.