Sohaib Saeed (University of Freiburg): The Untranslated Qur’an: Overlooked Possibilities in Text and Tafsīr of the Chapter of Joseph

In his paper entitled ‘Is the Qur’an Wise? Is God the Outward? Two Exegetical Debates Lost in English Translations of the Qur’an’, Scott Lucas argues that “the Anglophone world would benefit far more from the partial or complete translation of Qur’anic commentaries than it would from yet another translation of the Qur’an itself” and that “a moratorium on translations of the entire Qur’an for the next decade or two should allow some time for the neglected tafsir literature to receive the attention it deserves.”
The reality is that Qur’an re-translations have proliferated in recent years, but it is difficult to discern what is new in most. While there are variations in style and some claims to superior accuracy, there has been no overall move towards complementarity and filling in the interpretive gaps left by preceding translations. Each translator selects whichever meaning is most apparent or appealing, and may or may not find a basis for this in Arabic exegetical works.
This paper demonstrates what is gained from a thorough study of exegetical literature as a guide to translator choice. One key feature of the genre is the recognition that the Quranic text ‘carries’ (iḥtimāl) multiple meanings and plausible interpretations. With reference to Arabic tafsīr works along with a wide range of translations of Sūrat Yūsuf (Q. 12) – including the author’s ongoing collaborative work on the Bayyinah Translation – the extent of untranslated lexical, grammatical and syntactical possibilities, long noted by exegetes, will be demonstrated.

About the speaker

Sohaib Saeed is a Qur’an scholar based in Glasgow. He was trained in Tafsīr at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and completed his PhD at SOAS, University of London. He is the award-winning translator of The Great Exegesis by Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, and, until recently, a postdoctoral researcher with The Global Qur’an project at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg. His monograph Explaining the Qur’an Through the Qur’an is forthcoming with Edinburgh University Press.