Errors in English Translations of the Quran


A Portion of the Message or a Fistful of Dirt?

Moses left his people with his brother Aaron and went to the mountain to receive commandments from God. While at the presence of God, Moses is lightly criticized for leaving his people behind:

“‘And what has caused you to rush ahead of your people O Moses?’ He said: ‘They are following in my footprints, and I came quickly to you my Lord so you would be pleased.’ He said: ‘We have tested your people after you left, and the Samarian misguided them.'” (20:83-85).

However, God knew that Moses’ people were not following his message. Taking advantage of Moses’ absence, the Samarian tried and succeeded to a degree to revert Jews to the religion of their Egyptian masters. Recognizing that many people respond better to concrete and tangible objects rather than an abstract idea of a transcendental God, the Samarian collected jewels and melted them in a pot to form a calf (7:148). He produced calf statues, which made sounds in the wind due to the craftily designed holes in their bodies, a symbol for intercession. Samarian was proud of his knowledge of human psychology, and he had the audacity to tell Moses the following:

! Disputed passage: Ignoring reason, the context of the verse, and the semantics of the Quran, traditional translations and commentaries create a bizarre story through mistranslation of the words AThaR, and NaBaZa. To accommodate the mistranslation, they also add several non-existing and non-implied words, such as, “Muhammad,” “Gabriel,” “Dust,” and “into calf.”

Yusuf Ali Pickthall Shakir Reformist
He replied: “I saw what they saw not: so I took a handful (of dust) from the footprint of the Messenger, and threw it (into the calf): thus did my soul suggest to me.” (20:96) He said: I perceived what they perceive not, so I seized a handful from the footsteps of the messenger, and then threw it in. Thus my soul commended to me. (20:96) He said: I saw (Jibreel) what they did not see, so I took a handful (of the dust) from the footsteps of the messenger, then I threw it in the casting; thus did my soul commend to me. (20:96) He said: “I perceived what they did not perceive, so I took a handful from the teaching of the messenger, and I cast it away. This is what my soul inspired me to do.” (20:96)


According to traditional translators and many who were unknowingly influenced by them, Samarian possessed extraordinary powers! According to the story that they all copy, the Samarian secretly followed Moses and somehow was able to see the Controller-messenger of God, Jibreel or Gabriel, riding a horse. He thought that the dirt stepped on by the feet of Jibreel’s horse must have had magical powers. So, the story goes, he collected some dirt and took it back to where his people were dwelling. He mixed the dirt with the melting jewelry and voila, the sound-making calf!

The word athar, which is mistranslated as “footprint” or “footsteps,” has the following meanings: trace, teaching, relics of knowledge, remains, mark, footprint, memorial, etc. The Quran uses the word athar to mean teaching or message (20:84; 37;70; 43:22-23). The meaning of the word should have been clear from several verses before, where in verse 20:84, it is used to mean “teaching.” God did not ask Moses why he came alone; He questioned Moses about leaving his people too early. Moses understood God’s question—though the majority of translators did not—and responded by saying that his people were following his teaching. God informs him about Samarian’s plan to mislead his people back to idolatry.

Should Skeptics Hang Themselves to the Ceiling?

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