The Koran by George Sale (1734)

Title:  The Loran Commonnly called the Alcoran of Mohammed Translator:  George Sale Dated:  1734
Publisher:  C. Ackers in St. Johns Street English/Arabic:  English only Cover:  Calf Leather

 Preface length:  4 pages dedication
7 pages "To the Reader"
187 pages "Preliminary Discourse

Pages (Qur'an only): 508 Number of Volumes:  1
Footnotes: Liberal use of footnotes General Notes:  Contains foldout maps, index and table index

The 1734 English Qur’an of George Sale has proven to be a lasting hallmark of translation.  Seventeenth-century England was creating professors of Arabic who were attempting, but failing to translate a complete Qur’an.  It was the lawyer George Sale who produced the first direct translation from Arabic into English (Arberry, British Orientalists 16).  This work is more than a mere translation of the Qur’an.  It also contains a 187 page Preliminary Discourse.  The Discourse begins with a detailed history of the Arabs before Islam and concludes in the Islamic year 278 A.H.  The Discourse remains one of the lasting aspects of this translation.  It was so highly regarded that it was translated into Arabic by missionaries in Egypt (Sheishaa).  The Discourse contains large folded and inserted hand drawn inserts such as maps of the Arabian Peninsula, the Ka’ba in Mecca and genealogical trees of the Arab tribes.  This is not a Qur’an for the casual reader; it is clearly directed at the aspiring student of Islam.

 No other English translation can match this work in the number of editions that have been printed following the first 1734 edition.  In the World Bibliography of Translation of the Meanings of the Holy Qur’an Printed Translations 1515-1980 there are thirty-two individual English translations which generated a total of 296 printings.  Since the inception of the George Sale Qur’an in 1734, there have been one-hundred printings of this translation, which is 34% of all English translation printings up to 1980.  British Arabic scholar and Qur’an translator A.J. Arberry claims that George Sale has “…made the most celebrated translation of the Koran…” (British Orientalists 16).

 The purpose and intent of the George Sale translation is clearly explained in the eight page address to the reader.  In much the same manner as the Alexander Ross translation, Sale has explicit reasons which he uses to justify this new translation.  So that his readers understand the impact of Islam, he uses a parallelism that all moderately educated Englishmen would understand.  He states that the current Islamic Empire is larger than the Roman Empire was at its apex.  This statement assuredly brought perspective and possibly a little concern to the common English reader who may have never been off the English Island.  Then in a forthright and candid manner addressing his Christian readers, he explains how the Qur’an is a forgery and Muhammad is guilty of imposing a false religion on unsuspecting men and women.  The remainder of the address is used to provide the reader a complete explanation of the scope and depth of the worldwide Islamic impact and expansion (Sale iii-v).

George Sale also criticizes many previous translations of the Qur’an by characterizing them as “…ignorant or unfair translations” and specifically cites the Italian and French translations (Sale iii).  Sale clearly believed his translation was superior to most European translations.  He reserves his most critical comments for the French translation of Andrew du Ryer by stating it “…is far from being a just translation; there being mistakes in every page…” (Sale vi).  However, he praises the 1543 Latin translation as the only one “…which tolerably represents the sense of the original…” (Sale v).  Because Sale criticized the French translation, his next logical critique will fall upon the English translation of Alexander Ross who used the French translation as his basis.  Regarding the first English Qur’an he states:

"The English version is no other than a translation of Du Ryer’s, and that a very bad one; for Alexander Ross, who did it, being utterly unacquainted with the Arabic, and no great master of the French, has added a number of fresh mistakes of his own to those of Du Ryer…" (Sale vi).

Lastly, he explains to his readers that his style of translation may produce a work that is difficult to read.  He cautions the reader that they “…must not expect to read a version of so extraordinary a book with the same ease and pleasure as a modern composition” (Sale vii).  Sale is balanced in his view of the Qur’an.  He is capable of displaying his adamant disagreement with the religion, but at the same time respects the Qur’an as exceptional literature.  The translation method adopted and declared by Sale is “…a little too literally [sic] to be elegant English…” (Sale vii).  Even though this translation method is plainly declared, it remains as one of the primary criticisms consistently levied against his translation by Muslim and non-Muslim translators.


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

Sheishaa, Mohamed Ali Mohamed Abou.  “A Study of the Fatwa by Rashid Rida on the Translation of the Qur’an”  Journal of the Society for Qur’anic Studies.  1.1.  October 2001.  26 August 2006  <>.

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.

Sale, George. , trans.  The Koran Commonly called The Alcoran of Mohammed.  London:  1734.


Verse Rendering for Comparison:
2:106: Whatever verse we shall abrogate, or cause thee to forget, we will bring a better than it, or one like unto it.

3:54:  And the Jews devised a stratagem against him, but God devised a stratagem against them; and God is the best deviser of stratagems.

4:34: Men shall have pre-eminence above women, because of those advantages wherein God hath caused the one of them to excel the other, and for that which they expend of their substance in maintaining their wives.  The honest women are obedient, careful in the absence of their husbands, for that God preservth then, by committing them to care and protection of men.  But those, whose perverseness ye shall be apprehensive of, rebuke; and remove then into separate apartments, and chastise themi.  Bur if they shall be obedient unto you, seek not an occasion of quarrel against then; for God is high and Great.

5:51: O true believers, take not the Jews, or Christians for your friends; they are friends the one to the other; but who so among you taketh then for his friends, he is surely one of them; verily God directeth not the unjust people.

5:101:  O true believers, inquire not concerning things, which, if they be declared unto you, may give you pain; but if ye ask concerning then when the Koran is sent down, they will be declared unto you: God pardoneth you as to these matters; for God is ready to forgive and gractious.

9:29:  Fight against them who believe not in God, nor in the last day, and forbid not that which God and his apostle have forbidden, and profess not the true religion, of those unto whom the scriptures have been delivered, until they pay tribute by right of the subjection, and they be reduced low.

10:94:  If thou are in a doubt concerning any part of that which we have sent down unto thee, ask them who have read the book of the law before thee.

i:  [And Chasiste them] By this passage the Mohammedans are in plain terms allowed to beat their wives, in case of stubborn disobedience but not in a violent or dangerous manner.