Qur’an translation of the week #26: Al-Montakhab

To mark the arrival of a certain president-elect (!), this week’s post concerns another “muntakhab” – a project to standardise Qur’an translation according to the scholarship of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University. “Al-Muntakhab fi tafsir al-Qur’an” is better translated as ‘The Select Interpretation of the Qur’an’. This thread draws numerous points from Stefan Wild’s paper on “Muslim Translators and Translations of the Qur’an”:

The Montakhab project involved the creation of an Arabic commentary that served as a guide to translators and was retained in the publications. This strategy was presumably intended to support accurate translation as well as standardising an approach and exegetical discourse across languages. After the English translation (1993), more were published in French, German, Russian, Spanish, Indonesian and Swahili.

The English translation was done by Abdel Khalek Himmat (a medical doctor), revised by Muhammad Mahdy Allam, then approved by Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy. As Wild illustrates [see first comment below] there were serious problems with the approach taken. Al-Azhar later appointed a committee to produce an all-new edition of Al-Montakhab in English, which was released in 2006. The revising scholars (Ghali, Sha’ban, al-Khatib & Mischler) were the same as those who had already produced a translation under Ghali’s name (see our earlier post about it).

Due to the exegetical character of the project, the translation is wordier than most. The surah intros were revised too, but retain the 1st edition’s awkwardness of English phrasing. Wild notes the divergence between the surah introductions in the English (1993) and German (1999, “Auswahl aus den Interpretationen des Heiligen Koran Arabisch-Deutsch”) publications, despite the aim of standardisation. Surah introductions are largely a modern growth in tafsir.

The Montakhab translation in English has been manifestly eclipsed by other translations including unofficial works of Azhari scholars (M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, A. Z. Hammad, M. Khattab). Perhaps there are some languages in which it fared better.

Sohaib Saeed

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