When M.A.S. Abdel Haleem was a youngster in Egypt all the boys in his
school were required to memorize the entire Quran and were tested annually
to make sure they maintained this knowledge.
The veteran University of London professor of Islamic studies says he obeys
a promise to his father to read the Quran daily and the childhood training
means he doesn’t need a printed text. “I can do this anytime, even when I
am walking or riding the Underground.”
Haleem has put his lifelong immersion in the Quran and the Arabic language
to good use the past seven years, working on a new Quran translation in
English that appeared last month: “The Quran” (Oxford University Press).
It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Quran, which defines the
belief and conduct of a billion-plus Muslims, including a growing number of
immigrants in English-speaking nations.
Unlike Christians with their Bibles, Muslims believe the Quran is Scripture
only in Arabic because it existed in that form in heaven before it was
revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Only the Arabic is literally God’s word
and is always used in Quran quotations during rituals and sermons.
In times past there were debates about whether it was even proper to
translate the Scriptures. Early English versions came from non-Muslims (the
subtitle of the very first, in 1649, called the Quran “the Turkish
vanities”). No Muslim produced an English Quran till the 20th century. But
nowadays even strict Muslims promote English editions to aid “dawah,”
Arabic for “call,” meaning missionary work.
Haleem says translations are essential so that Muslims in the West,
including his own children and grandchildren, can remain knowledgeable.
Georgetown University’s Yvonne Haddad says most immigrants’ children
“cannot read the Quran in Arabic. They may recite it, but they don’t