The Koran by Rev. J.M. Rodwell (1861)

Title:  The Koran: translated from the Arabic, the suras arranged in chronological order; with notes and index Translator:  J.M. Rodwell Dated:  1861
Publisher:  C. Ackers in St. Johns-Street English/Arabic:  English only Cover:  Half-Calf with marbled paper boards

 Preface length:  29 pages

Pages (Qur'an only): 652 Number of Volumes
Footnotes: Profusely footnoted General Notes:  Because the suras are chronologically ordered, there is an index, i.e. sura one in this volume is sura 96

The 1861 Qur’an of John Rodwell is another landmark translation.  John Rodwell was the rector of St Ethelburga's church in London.  This is also the church of William Bedwell who was selected in 1604 as one of the original translators for the King James Bible and the church where Henry Hudson received his blessing in 1607 just prior to his voyage to Canada seeking the North West passage (St. Ethelburga’s).

The Qur’an is not known as a book that is easy to read and comprehend.  Many well known scholars, writers and authors have made critical comments regarding their difficulty with the Qur’an.  The well known Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle had very unflattering comments regarding the Qur’an as he labeled it ”…insupportable stupidity” (Warraq 9).  The distinguished Arabic scholar at the University of Edinburgh, Richard Bell, cautions readers of the Qur’an when he says “…it is by no means an easy book to understand” (Bell, Introduction 1).  It was due to these conditions that John Rodwell sought to improve the readability of the Qur’an for his Christian audience.

The Qur’an of John Rodwell is renowned for being the first English translation to chronologically arranging the chapters or surahs.  A chronological surah order makes the text easier to understand by providing the reader a linear historical flow that is not present in the traditional surah order.  Since the publication of this Qur’an, Rodwell has consistently received criticism from the Muslim world for publishing a Qur’an in a different surah order, which Muslims believe is divine.  This critical comment will be a continuing theme cited by many future Muslim translators and commentators of the Qur’an.  Many, but not all, of the English Qur’an translations by Muslims negatively cite Rodwell for his decision to rearrange the surah order.  Those translations with very brief prefaces such as The Koran by S.V. Mir Ahmed Ali and the Interpretation of the Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an by Syed Vickar Ahamed are not critical of Rodwell or any other translator.  The translators in these cases have limited the preface material to very brief introductions of two or three pages.  The translations with lengthy historical introductions are primarily the ones that either specifically cite or allude to the Rodwell translation.  One of the earliest English translations of the Qur’an created by a Muslim to defend the traditional surah order is The Holy Qur’an by Maulvi Muhammad Ali where he states the arrangement “…of the chapters themselves, was effected in the lifetime and under the direction of the Holy Prophet” (Ali Maulvi xxix).  This claim by Maulvi Muhammad Ali in effect claims the traditional surah order is divinely guided.  The chronological surah order created by Rodwell may have influenced Maulvi Muhammad Ali’s defense of the traditional surah order.  Maulvi Muhammad Ali demonstrates his familiarity with the Rodwell translation when he cites Rodwell on an unrelated topic just two pages later (Ali Maulvi xxxi).  Another Qur’an translator critical of Rodwell is T.B. Irving who accuses Westerners such as Rodwell… of endlessly attempting to split up and rearrange the Qur’an.  He states: “If we follow the traditional order, then we receive the prophet’s essential message…” (Irving xxiii).  The Holy Qur’an translated by the husband and wife team of Amatul Rahman Omar and Abdul Mannan Omar claim that “…Rodwell undertook his work in order to confuse Islam and make it look like a mass of disjointed fragments” (Omar 53).  The same sentiment is echoed by a recent author and commentator of the Qur’an when citing Rodwell he states that his “…obvious purpose was to give a confused view about the Qur’ân and to show that it consisted only of fragments of disjointed truth from Judaism and Christianity” (Ali Mohar 337).  Lastly, one of the most recent English translations available specifically cites disagreement with Rodwell and his surah arrangement.  The Qur’an by M.A.S Abdel Haleem recognizes the linguistic talent Rodwell possessed, but views his surah arrangement as an oddity that disregards the traditional Muslim surah order. (Haleem xxvii).

 John Rodwell’s surah arrangement is not entirely his creation.  He heavily relied on the work of German scholar Theodor Nöldeke who received honors “…in 1859 by the Paris Academy of Inscriptions” for his work on Islam (Rodwell ix).  John Rodwell acknowledges Nöldeke’s arrangement as sound and without criticism in the later surahs, but does alter Nöldeke’s surah arrangement in his translation for the earlier surahs (Rodwell ix).  Rodwell explained that he adjusted the surah order of Nöldeke only to move a few surahs forward by placing them behind surahs of similar content (Rodwell ix).  Rodwell’s translation added significantly to the corpus of English Qur’an translations by chronologically arranging the surahs and gave to the English speaking world a previously unavailable reading of the Qur’an.  By arranging the surahs in chronological order, Rodwell reasoned that the reader would be more likely to understand this book and be able to observe the changes and differences occurring between earlier Meccan revelations and later Medinan revelations.

His Qur’an does not contain detailed historical material like Sale; instead he includes a very brief twelve page historical analysis of Islam.  Following the historical analysis he is critical of select passages of the Qur’an and hadith and cites a few inconsistencies.  For example, he considers how the hadith claim Muhammad performed miracles while the Qur’an denies Muhammad performed any miracles (Rodwell xiv).  His discourse also explains how the Qur’an was influenced by Jewish and Christian sources, but does not cite a source supporting this claim (Rodwell xv).  Rodwell was likely influenced by a recent and popular 1846 work of scholarship titled The Bible, The Koran, The Talmud; or Biblical Legends of the Mussulmans by German scholar Dr. G. Weil.  The book by Weil cites the Jewish and Christian religious background of several close relatives and associates of Muhammad (Weil xi).  This establishes that Muhammad had close and intimate contact with many who were familiar with Christianity and Judaism.  Then Weil juxtaposes Qur’anic stories with Jewish Talmudic and Christian scriptures to display the true source for much of the Qur’an.  This book has stood the test of time and research and remains a standard reference work today.

 In the preface to this Qur’an John Rodwell is not as evangelistic as Alexander Ross and George Sale.  This Qur’an can aptly be characterized as the first scholarly attempt to produce a Qur’an for the English speaking world without encouraging Christian evangelism.  He is critical of Islam and Islamic literature such as the hadith, but his comments are strictly related to these sources and not the character of Muhammad.  His last comments are directed against the translation of George Sale.  He criticizes the Sale translation for following his source text too closely and using “…Latinized instead of Saxon words” (Rodwell xxv).  He does praise the Preliminary Discourse of George Sale as a “…storehouse of valuable information…” and equally praises a number of contemporary Western Islamic scholars (Rodwell xxv).



“St. Ethelburga’s.”  20 August 2006  <>.

Warraq, Ibn. , ed.  The Origins of the Koran.  New York:  Prometheus Books,  1998

Bell, Richard.  Introduction to the Quran.  Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1953.

     ---, trans.  The Qur’an.  Vol. 1. Edinburgh:  T & T Clark, 1937.

Ali, Muhammad Maulvi. , trans.  The Holy Quran.  Lahore:  Ahmadiyya Anjuman-I-Ishaat-I-Islam, 1920.

Irving, T.B. , trans.  The Qur’an.  Battleboro:  Amana Books, 1985.

Omar, Amatul Rahman and Abdul Mannan Omar. , trans.  The Holy Qur’an.  Hayward:  Tehama University Press, 1991

Ali, Muhammad Mohar.  The Qur’ân and the Orientalists.  Ipswich:  Jam’iyat’ihyaa’minhaa Al-Sunnah, 2004.

Haleem, M.A.S. Addel. , trans.  The Qur’an.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press, 2004.

Rodwell, J.M. , trans.  The Koran.  London: 1861.

Nöldeke, Theodor.  Sketches from Eastern History.  London, 1892

Weil, G.  The Bible, The Koran, and The Talmud.  New York:  1846.



Verse Rendering for Comparison:
2:106: Whatever verses we cancel, or cause thee to forget, we bring a better or its like. Knowest thou not that God hath power over all things?
[Note:  This verse appears as the 91st chapter and at verse 100]

3:54:  And the Jews plotted, and God plotted: But of those who plot is God the best.
[Note:  This verse appears as the 92nd chapter and situated between verses marked 40 and 50]

4:34: Men are superior to women on account of the qualities with which God hath gifted the one above the other, and on account of the outlay they make from their substance for them.  Virtuous women are obedient, careful, during the husband's absence, because God hath of them been careful.  But chide those for whose refractoriness ye have cause to fear; remove them into beds apart, and scourage them: but if they are obedient to you, then seek not occasion against them: verily, God is High, Great!
[Note:  This verse appears as the 100th chapter and situated between verses marked 30 and 40]

5:51: O Believers! take not the Jews or Christians as friends. They are but one another's friends. If any one of you taketh them for his friends, he surely is one of them! God will not guide the evil doers.
[Note:  This verse appears as the 114th chapter and situated between verses marked 50 and 60]

5:101:  O believers! ask us not of things which if they were told might only pain you; but if ye ask of such things when the entire Koran shall have been sent down, they will be declared to you: God will pardon you for this, for God is Forgiving, Gracious.
[Note:  This verse appears as the 114th chapter and situated between verses marked 100 and 110]

9:29:  Make war upon such of those to whom the Scriptures have been given as believe not in God, or in the last day, and who forbid not that which God and His Apostle have forbidden, and who profess not the profession of the truth, until they pay tribute out of hand, and they be humbled.
[Note:  This verse appears as the 113th chapter and situated between verses marked 20 and 30]

10:94:  And if thou art in doubt as to what we have sent down to thee, enquire at those who have read the Scriptures before thee.
[Note:  This verse appears as the 84th chapter and situated between verses marked 90 and 100]

Rodwell's Sura Index Table

Sura Number this Edition Sura Number Arabic Text Chapter Title
1 96 Thick Blood or Clots of Blood
2 74 The Enwrapped
3 73 The Enfolded
4 93 The Brightness
5 94 The Opening
6 113 The Daybreak
7 114 Men
8 1 Sura I.
9 109 Unbelievers
10 112 The Unity
11 111 Abu Lahab
12 108 The Abundance
13 104 The Backbiter
14 107 Religion
15 102 Desire
16 92 The Night
17 68 The Pen
18 90 The Soil
19 105 The Elephant
20 106 The Koreisch
21 97 Power
22 86 The Night-Comer
23 91 The Sun
24 80 He Frowned
25 87 The Most High
26 95 The Fig
27 103 The Afternoon
28 85 The Starry
29 101 The Blow
30 99 The Earthquake
31 82 The Cleaving
32 81 The Folded Up
33 84 The Splitting Asunder
34 100 The Chargers
35 79 Those Who Drag Forth
36 77 The Sent
37 78 The News
38 88 The Overshadowing
39 89 The Daybreak
40 75 The Resurrection
41 83 Those Who Stint
42 69 The Inevitable
43 51 The Scattering
44 52 The Mountain
45 56 The Inevitable
46 53 The Star
47 70 The Steps or Ascents
48 55 The Merciful
49 54 The Moon
50 37 The Ranks
51 71 Noah
52 76 Man
53 44 Smoke
54 50 Kaf
55 20 Ta. Ha.
56 26 The Poets
57 15 Hedjr
58 19 Mary
59 38 Sad
60 36 Ya. Sin
61 43 Ornaments of Gold
62 72 Djinn
63 67 The Kingdom
64 23 The Believers
65 21 The Prophets
66 25 Al Furkan
67 17 The Night Journey
68 27 The Ant
69 18 The Cave
70 32 Adoration
71 41 The Made Plain
72 45 The Kneeling
73 16 The Bee
74 30 The Greeks
75 11 Houd
76 14 Abraham, On Whom Be Peace
77 12 Joseph, Peace Be On Him
78 40 The Believer
79 28 The Story
80 39 The Troops
81 29 The Spider
82 31 Lokman
83 42 Counsel
84 10 Jonah, Peace Be On Him!
85 34 Saba
86 35 The Creator, or The Angels
87 7 Al Araf
88 46 Al Ahkaf
89 6 Cattle
90 13 Thunder
91 2 The Cow
92 98 Clear Evidence
93 64 Mutual Deceit
94 62 The Assembly
95 8 The Spoils
96 47 Muhammad
97 3 The Family of Imran
98 61 Battle Array
99 57 Iron
100 4 Women
101 65 Divorce
102 59 The Emigration
103 33 The Confederates
104 63 The Hypocrites
105 24 Light
106 58 She Who Pleaded
107 22 The Pilgrimage
108 48 The Victory
109 66 The Forbidding
110 60 She Who Is Tried
111 110 Help
112 49 The Apartments
113 9 Immunity
114 5 The Table