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Select Translation What is This? Selections include: The Koran Interpreted, a translation by A.J. Arberry, first published 1955; The Qur'an, translated by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, published 2004; or side-by-side comparison view
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The Qurʾan What is This? A current English-language version of the Qur'an, published in 2004
Translation by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem

2. The Cow (1 – 20)

This is a Medinan sura and the longest in the Qurʾan, containing material revealed over several years, and named after the story of the cow which the Israelites were ordered to slaughter (verses 67ff.). The sura opens with a response to the plea for guidance in Sura i, ‘The Opening’, dividing mankind into three groups in their response to this guidance—the believers, the disbelievers, and the hypocrites—and closes confirming the tenets of faith given in the opening verses (3–5). The addressee shifts as the sura progresses: at various times the text addresses mankind in general (verses 21ff.), where they are urged to serve God who has been so gracious to them (they are reminded that God created Adam and favoured him over the angels), the Children of Israel (verses 40ff.), who are reminded of God's special favours to them and urged to believe in scriptures that do indeed confirm their own, and the believers (verses 136ff.), who are given instruction in many areas—prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, defence, marital law, and financial matters.

In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy

1Alif Lam Mima These are the names of the three Arabic letters a, l, and m. Twenty-nine suras of the Qurʾan begin with separate alphabetical letters like these, from one individual letter up to five. Various interpretations have been offered. It is sufficient to mention two here: (1) these letters indicated to the Arabs who first heard the Qurʾan that the Qurʾan consists of letters and words of their own language, although it was superior to any speech of their own, being of divine origin; (2) they are an exclamatory device intended to arrest the listeners’ attention, similar to the custom of starting poems with an emphatic ‘No!’ or ‘Indeed!’ Exegetes normally added, after expounding their theories, ‘God knows best.’

2This is the Scripture in which there is no doubt,b The Arabic construction la rayba fihi carries more than one meaning, including ‘there is nothing dubious about/in it’ and ‘it is not to be doubted’ as regards its origin or contents. containing guidance for those who are mindfulc The root w-q-y in this morphological form has the meaning of being mindful or being wary of something. The opposite of being mindful of God is to ignore Him or have no reference to Him in your thought, feeling, or action. This is a fundamental concept about God and the believers’ relation to Him. Many translators render the term as ‘those who fear God’, but this is an over-expression of the term and does not correctly convey the meaning of the concept, which is a very common one in the Qurʾan. of God, 3who believe in the unseen,d What is beyond their perception, literally ‘absent’—this applies to the nature of God, the Hereafter, historical information not witnessed, etc. keep up the prayer,a This means regular and proper performance of the formal prayer (salah), as taught by the Prophet Muhammad. and giveb Yunfiquna in the Arabic of the Qurʾan literally means ‘spend’, on others, in good causes, in the way of God. out of what We have provided for them; 4those who believe in the revelation sent down to you [Muhammad], and in what was sent before you, those who have firm faith in the Hereafter. 5Such people are following their Lord's guidance and it is they who will prosper. 6As for those who disbelieve, it makes no difference whether you warn them or not: they will not believe. 7God has sealed their hearts and their ears, and their eyes are covered. They will have great torment.c The basic meaning of ‘adhab is ‘to restrain (from doing wrong)’, extended to mean anything difficult or painful, punishment, famine (see 23: 78). See Majaz al-Qurʾan, by ‘Izz al-Din Ibn ‘Abdul-Salam (London: Al-Furqan Foundation, 1999), 194, and E. W. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon (Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1968).

8Some people say, ‘We believe in God and the Last Day,’ when really they do not believe. 9They seek to deceive God and the believers but they only deceive themselves, though they do not realize it. 10There is a disease in their hearts, to which God has added more: agonizing torment awaits them for their persistent lying. 11When it is said to them, ‘Do not cause corruption in the land,’ they say, ‘We are only putting things right,’ 12but really they are causing corruption, though they do not realize it. 13When it is said to them, ‘Believe, as the others believe,’ they say, ‘Should we believe as the fools do?’ but they are the fools, though they do not know it. 14When they meet the believers, they say, ‘We believe,’ but when they are alone with their evil ones, they say, ‘We’re really with you; we were only mocking.’ 15God is mocking them, and allowing them more slack to wander blindly in their insolence. 16They have bought error in exchange for guidance, so their trade reaps no profit, and they are not rightly guided. 17They are like people who [labour to] kindle a fire: when it lights up everything around them, God takes away all their light, leaving them in utter darkness, unable to see—18deaf, dumb, and blind: they will never return. 19Or [like people who, under] a cloudburst from the sky, with its darkness, thunder, and lightning, put their fingers into their ears to keep out the thunderclaps for fear of death—God surrounds the disbelievers. 20The lightning almost snatches away their sight: whenever it flashes on them they walk on and when darkness falls around them they stand still. If God so willed, He could take away their hearing and sight: God has power over everything.

Notes:

a These are the names of the three Arabic letters a, l, and m. Twenty-nine suras of the Qurʾan begin with separate alphabetical letters like these, from one individual letter up to five. Various interpretations have been offered. It is sufficient to mention two here: (1) these letters indicated to the Arabs who first heard the Qurʾan that the Qurʾan consists of letters and words of their own language, although it was superior to any speech of their own, being of divine origin; (2) they are an exclamatory device intended to arrest the listeners’ attention, similar to the custom of starting poems with an emphatic ‘No!’ or ‘Indeed!’ Exegetes normally added, after expounding their theories, ‘God knows best.’

b The Arabic construction la rayba fihi carries more than one meaning, including ‘there is nothing dubious about/in it’ and ‘it is not to be doubted’ as regards its origin or contents.

c The root w-q-y in this morphological form has the meaning of being mindful or being wary of something. The opposite of being mindful of God is to ignore Him or have no reference to Him in your thought, feeling, or action. This is a fundamental concept about God and the believers’ relation to Him. Many translators render the term as ‘those who fear God’, but this is an over-expression of the term and does not correctly convey the meaning of the concept, which is a very common one in the Qurʾan.

d What is beyond their perception, literally ‘absent’—this applies to the nature of God, the Hereafter, historical information not witnessed, etc.

a This means regular and proper performance of the formal prayer (salah), as taught by the Prophet Muhammad.

b Yunfiquna in the Arabic of the Qurʾan literally means ‘spend’, on others, in good causes, in the way of God.

c The basic meaning of ‘adhab is ‘to restrain (from doing wrong)’, extended to mean anything difficult or painful, punishment, famine (see 23: 78). See Majaz al-Qurʾan, by ‘Izz al-Din Ibn ‘Abdul-Salam (London: Al-Furqan Foundation, 1999), 194, and E. W. Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon (Beirut: Librairie du Liban, 1968).

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