The Qur'an (1880)

Title:  The Qur'an Translator:  George Sale Dated:  1880
Publisher:  Clarendon Press English/Arabic:  English only Cover:  Goat skin

 Preface length:  80 pages

Pages (Qur'an only): Vol. I: 264  Vol II: 345 Number of Volumes:  2
Footnotes: Moderate quantity General Notes:  Volume II contains and index and 2 tables.

The last Qur’an representing this period and the fourth English translation is that of Edward Henry Palmer.  This Qur’an is unique because it was not published as a single volume.  It was only available as a part of the mammoth fifty volume set titled the Sacred Books of the East.  Edward Palmer was asked by German philologist Max Müller, the editor of Sacred Books of the East, to produce a new translation of the Qur’an.

Edward Palmer (1840-1882) who became professor of Arabic at Cambridge and “…had a rare gift of language, and understood the art of reproducing Arabian effects in English as no other Englishman does…” (Lane-Poole 118).  As a young man pursuing his early education, he was singled out for his supreme language ability in Arabic, Persian and Urdu (Arberry, British 22).  Palmer was proficient in many other Middle Eastern languages.  Professor Arberry notes that Edward Palmer “…collected languages as other boys collect postage-stamps” (Arberry, British 22).  In addition to his linguistic ability, Palmer is set apart from the previous translators due to his extensive and extended Near East travels.  He died while on an expedition in Egypt “…when engaged on a delicate mission, he was set upon by marauding Bedouins and murdered in the Egyptian desert” (Arberry 22).

The Edward Palmer translation contains an eighty page introduction.  The introduction does not provide any insight indicating his intent, methods or purpose.  The introduction serves almost exclusively as an historical introduction to Arabs and Islam.  The only exception is the last page where he critiques most of the previous English translations.  The intent of Palmer in providing a lengthily historical background may be that he believed a true understanding of the Qur’an cannot be realized until and unless the reader becomes acquainted with the history of the Arabian Peninsula.  This is supported by the first sentence of the introduction:  “Before entering upon an intelligent study of the Qur’an it is necessary to make oneself acquainted with the circumstances of the people in whose midst it was revealed” (Palmer ix).

The last page of the introduction contains comments regarding previous translations.  George Sales is described as “…that eminent scholar…” and the success of his translation is praised by Palmer (lxxix).  Palmer then criticizes the Sale translation for its language style and incorporation of a large amount of exegetical material and states that the Sale translation “…can scarcely be regarded as a fair representation of the Qur’an” (Müller lxxix).  Palmer lauds Rodwell’s translation as one that approaches the Arabic, but criticizes his choice of arranging the surahs in chronological order.  He sympathizes with Rodwell’s choice and expresses an understanding how this may help the Western student, but believes this destroys the Qur’an.  For this reason, Palmer used the traditional Muslim surah arrangement.  It is worth noting that Palmer as the fourth English translator of the Qur’an comments on the previous two translations, but does not mention the translation of Alexander Ross.  Perhaps he did not regard this as a translation worthy of a critique since it was not a direct translation from the Arabic.



Lane-Poole, Stanley.  Studies in a Mosque.  London:  1883.

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

---. , trans.  The Koran Interpreted.  Vol 1.  London: George Allen & Unwin LTD, 1955

Palmer, Edward.  Introduction.  Sacred Books of the East.  By Müller, Max., Ed.  50 vols.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1879-1910.


Verse Rendering for Comparison:
2:106: Whatever verse we may annual or cause thee to forget, we will bring a better one than it, or one like it; dost thou not know that God is mighty over all?
[This is verse 100]

3:54: But they (the Jews) were crafty, and God was crafty, for God is the best of the crafty ones!
[This is between numbered verses 45 and 50]

4:34: Men stand superior to women in that God hath preferred some of them over others, an in that they expend of their wealth: and the virtuous women, devoted, careful (in their husbands') absence, as God has cared for them. But those whose perverseness ye fear, admonish them and remove them into bed chambers and beat them; but if they submit to you, then do not seek a way against them; verily, God is high and great.
[This is between numbered verses 35 and 40]

5:51: O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and Christians for your patrons; they are patrons of each other; but whoso amongst you who takes them for patrons, verily, he is of them ; verily God guides not an unjust people.
[This is between numbered verses 55 and 60]

5:101:  O ye who believe! ask not about things which if they be shown to you will pain you; but if ye ask about them when the (whole) Qur'an is revealed, they shall be shown to you. God pardons that, for God is forgiving and clement.
[This is between numbered verses 100 and 105]

9:29:  Fight those who believe not in God and in the last day, and who forbid not what God and His Apostle have forbidden, and who do not practice the religion of truth from amongst those to whom the Book has been brought, until they pay the tribute by their hands and be as little ones.
[This is between numbered verses 25 and 30]

10:94:  And if thou art in doubt of that which we have sent down unto thee, ask those who read the Book before thee;
[This is between numbered verses 90 and 95]