Sohaib Saeed (University of Freiburg): The Untranslated Qur’an: Neglected Diversity in the Exegetical Corpus

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 (choices are rarely explained or justified).

This paper describes the need for a new comparative framework for Qur’an translations which involves cataloguing them digitally according to their exegetical basis and linking those which agree in substance, even if differing in style. The purpose is to guide future translations, both of the Qur’an itself and of exegetical works. The process and digital platform described will also identify and fill the gaps in translation left by collective neglect of particular lexical, grammatical and syntactical possibilities noted by the exegetes, as well as the multiplicity of canonical readings (qira’at) which remain virtually untouched by translators.

About the speaker

Sohaib Saeed is a Qur’an scholar from Scotland. He was trained in Tafsir at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, and completed his PhD on ‘Intraquranic Hermeneutics’ at SOAS, University of London. He is the award-winning translator of The Great Exegesis by Fakhr al-Din al-Razi. From May 2020, Sohaib is a postdoctoral researcher with the Global Qur’an Project at the University of Freiburg, Germany.