English Translations of the Qur'an

The Christian Era (1649-1904)

Description:  This 231 year period produced 4 English Translations.

 The period from 1649 to 1905 is the first of three definable periods describing English translators of the Qur’an.  This period of English Qur’an translation contains the fewest translations and covers the greatest amount of time.  These four translations spanning over 250 years represent the foundation of English Qur’an translation.  During this time span the four English translations available were:  The Alcoran of Mahomet a translation from the French by Alexander Ross (1649); The Koran Commonly called The Alcoran of Mohammed by George Sale (1734); The Koran by Reverend John Rodwell (1861) and The Qur’an by Edward Henry Palmer (1880) a translation contained in the fifty volume set Sacred Books of the East edited by Max Müller.  The analysis of this section will be based solely on the introductory and prefatory material in each Qur’an.

Unique to this period is that each of these translations is the work of a practicing Christian (Mohammed 60).  For over 200 years Christians exclusively translated the English Qur’an.  The translations of Alexander Ross and George Sale were specifically designed for Christians and to be used as an educational aid to expose the beliefs of Islam from a Christian perspective.  The translations of John Rodwell and Edward Palmer represent the first non-apologetic translations and instead are more focused on increasing Islamic research and accuracy in translation for the Christian reader.

 Establishing the translator and the date of the first English Qur’an remains confusing.  The only comprehensive listing of every Qur’an translation states that the first complete English translation was done by Alexander Ross in 1648 (Binark 110).  In 1993 The Library of Congress published a listing of Qur’ans in their possession and cites as the first English Qur’an the 1649 translation of Alexander Ross (Tadros 20).  These two sources agree on the translator, but disagree on the date by a single year.  There are other sources that disagree with both the translator and the date.  The 1992 book by Robert Morey cites the 1734 translation of George Sale as the first English translation (209).  The 1943 book by British scholar A.J. Arberry cites William Bedwell (d. 1632) as the first translator of the Qur’an (British Orientalists 16).  It is unclear if the William Bedwell translation was every created and it is not listed in either bibliography of the Qur’an.  Then there are sources that do not specify exact publication dates; however, their cited publication dates disagree with all previously cited sources.  The author James Barton cites Alexander Ross as producing the first English translation “…in the latter part of the 17th century” (121-122).  These combined sources which span a range of seventy-three years are all from the twentieth century when many would believe identifying such an important book would be an effortless and trouble free task.  The preponderance of examined sources and actual physical evidence to date indicate that the first complete English translation of the Qur’an is the 1649 translation by Alexander Ross.

Publication Year Translator Title
1649 Alexander Ross The Alcoran of Mahmet
1734 George Sale The Koran
1861 John Rodwell The Koran
1880 Edward Henry Palmer The Qur'an

Works Cited:

Mohammed, Khaleel.  “Assessing English Translations of the Qur’an.”  Middle East Quarterly  12.2  (2005):  59-71.

Binark, Ismet and Halit Eren.  World Bibliography Translations of the Meanings of the Holy Qur’an Printed Translations 1515-1980.  Istanbul:  Research Center for Islamic History, Art and Culture,  1986.

Tadros, Fawzi Mikhail. ,  comp.  The Holy Koran in the Library of Congress–A Bibliography.  Washington, D.C.:  The Library of Congress, 1993.

Morey, Robert.  Islamic Invasion.  Eugene:  Harvest House Publishers, 1992.

Arberry, A.J.  British Orientalists.  London:  William Collins, 1943.

Barton, James.  The Christian Approach to Islam.  Boston:  The Pilgrim Press, 1918