Errors in English Translations of the Quran


Is it Obvious OR
is it Darkening, Scorching, Shriveling, and Burning?

Many verses in chapter 74 have been commonly misunderstood and mistranslated. We have written a lengthy article titled, Which One Do You See: Hell or Miracle?, exposing the problems in traditional commentaries and translations. Here we will only pick a sample from the lengthy list.

Verse 74:29 is very interesting and crucial in understanding the rest of the chapter. Though it consists of only two words, this verse is translated in several different ways. Here are some examples from English translations:

! Disputed passage: Many keywords in Chapter 74 have been mistranslated to describe the punishment of Hell, while in reality they describe an intellectual punishment.

Yusuf Ali:              “darkening and changing the color of man”
Pickthall:               “It shrivelleth the man”
Irving:                    “as it shrivels human (flesh).”
Shakir:                   “It scorches the mortal”.
M. Ali:                     “It scorches the mortal”
Dawood:                “it burns the skins of men.”
M. Asad:                 “making (all truth) visible to mortal man.”
R. Khalifa:             “obvious to all the people.”
Reformist:             “obvious to humankind.”


The derivatives of the word LWH are used in the Quran to mean a surface used for recording information, board, and flat wood; and nowhere is it used to mean scorch or burn. Before the fulfillment of the prophecy, translators and commentators of the Quran had difficulty in understanding the simple meaning of this word and thus, resorted to external sources and often odd meanings, such as scorch, or burn. In fact, the drive to justify a particular meaning for some “difficult” Quranic words is one of the many reasons for fabricating hadith.

Those who do not know Arabic might think that the words are difficult to understand and translate. In fact, the meaning of these two words, LaWwaHa and BaSHaR is very clear in the Quranic context. The word LaWwaHa, which comes from the root LWH, is the sister of the word LaWH (85:22) and its plural aLWaH. The plural form aLWaH is used in verses 7:145, 150, 154 for the “tablets” given to Moses, and in verse 54:13 for broad planks used by Noah to build his ark. The medieval commentators, not knowing the mathematical implication of the verses, mostly chose an unusual meaning for the word: scorching, burning, shriveling, etc. Ironically, most of them did acknowledge the obvious meaning of the word as “open board, tablet” (See Baydawi, Fakhruddin Al-Razi, etc.). Few preferred the “obvious” to the obscure. For instance, Muhammad Asad, who had no idea of the mathematical code, preferred the most obvious meaning. Rashad Khalifa who fulfilled the prophecy and discovered the implication of the entire chapter reflected the same obvious meaning. That “obvious” meaning, was obscured by the smoke of “scorching fire” burning in the imaginations of generations before him.

In 7:145; 7:150; 7:154, the word aLWaH, the plural of LaWHa is used to depict the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were inscribed. In 54:13 it is used to describe the structure of the Noah’s ship made of wood panes. In 85:22 the same word is used for the mathematically protected record of the original version of the Quran. As for the LaWaHa of 74:29, it is the amplified noun-adjective derived from the root of the verb LWH, meaning open tablets, succeeding screens, obvious, manifesto, or clearly and perpetually visible. Ironically, the Quran uses different words to describe burning or scorching. For instance, for burning, the derivatives of HaRaQa (2:266; 3:181; 7:5; 20:97; 21:68; 22:9; 22:22; 29:24; 75:10), or for scorching the derivatives of SaLaYa ( 4:10; 4:30; 4:56; 4:115; 14:29; 17:18; 19:70; 27:7; 28:29; 29:31; 36:64; 38:56; 38:59; 38:163; 52:16; 56:94; 58:8; 69:31; 74: 26; 82:15; 83:16; 84:12; 87:12; 88:12; 92:15), or NaDaJa are used (4:56).

Again, we should note that the understanding of pre-1974 commentators was not without basis. Though their understanding did not rely on the Quranic usage of the words, and created some problems (such as explaining the verse 74:31), they had some justifiable excuses to understand the way they understood. The word LaWaHa also meant burn and BaSHaRa was another word for skin in Arabic language. As I mentioned above, the multiple meanings of these verses allowed the impatient pre-1974 generations to have an understanding, though a temporary and not primarily intended one. In fact, it was better for them to have patience and not rush to speculate on these verses without knowledge (20:114; 75:16-19). It was the computer generation that was destined to understand their real meaning (10:37-46).

A Portion of the Message or a Fistful of Dirt?

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