Errors in English Translations of the Quran


Do We Need Muhammad to Understand the Quran?

The so-called “Orthodox Islam,” by answering the above question affirmatively, has sanctified a collection of medieval hearsay reports and traditions attributed to Muhammad. Unfortunately, this was accomplished through the distortion of the meaning of several Quranic verses regarding the role of the prophet. The following verse is one of several crucial verses that have been used to promote hadith and sunna as the second source of Islam.

! Disputed passage: The traditional rendering implies the need for hearsay.

Yusuf Ali Pickthall Shakir Reformist
(We sent them) with Clear Signs and Books of dark prophecies; and We have sent down unto thee (also) the Message; that thou mayest explain clearly to men what is sent for them, and that they may give thought. (16:44) With clear proofs and writings; and We have revealed unto thee the Remembrance that thou mayst explain to mankind that which hath been revealed for them, and that haply they may reflect. (16:44) With clear arguments and scriptures; and We have revealed to you the Reminder that you may make clear to men what has been revealed to them, and that haply they may reflect. (16:44) With proof and the scriptures. We sent down to you the Reminder to proclaim to the people what was sent to them, and perhaps they would think. (16:44)


Traditionalists have opted for what we consider an inaccurate rendering of the Arabic root word “BYN.”

The word ‘lituBaYyeNa is a derivative of “BYN,” which is a multiple-meaning word. It means:

  • To reveal what is concealed; or
  • To explain what is vague.

Thus the first meaning is the antonym of “hide,” and the second is the antonym of “make vague.” We have translated this passage in accordance with the first meaning, and understand the passage as relating to God’s order to Muhammad to proclaim the revelation which is revealed to him personally. We believe that the Quran is clear, as its text itself insists.

Indeed, “proclaiming” is the whole mission of the messengers of God, as the Quran maintains (16:35). To be sure, prophets sometimes experience difficulty in proclaiming the revelation (33:37, 20:25). But if the Quran is a profound book written in Arabic so that people may understand (12:2), if it is to be explained by God (75:19), and if it is simple to understand (5:15; 26:195; 11:1; 54:17; 55:1-2), then it is hard to see why or how the prophet is to assume the additional mission of explaining the divine message.

We emphasize, once again, that 75:19 holds that God explains the Quran, and makes no mention of Muhammad or any other prophet, or indeed any human explanation whatsoever. Thus, the word lituBaYyeNa of 16:44, which we have translated as “proclaim,” is similar to the one in 3:187. Verse 3:187 tells us that the people who received the revelation should

“… proclaim the scripture to the people, and never hide it.” (3:187)

Do the Verses of the Quran Abrogate Each Other?

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