In the 23-year period between the first revelation that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) received in the solitude of the Grotto of Hira’1 and his final moments on earth, there emerged a generation shaped by the Qur’an. It went on to set the pace for the inhabitants of the world who had been mangled by superstitious beliefs and cowed by the promulgations of emperors, kings, popes, and philosophers. Guided by this final Testament, subsequent generations of muslims set out to shape the destiny of humanity for nearly 1,000 years. For this Qur’anic generation no challenge was too great and no price too steep. This was demonstrated very early on when in the very first military encounter at the Battle of Badr,2 a handful of committed muslims inflicted a crushing defeat on a force of 1,000 heavily-armed Qurayshī fighters led by the powerful Makkan chiefs.
Guided by the noble Messenger (SAW), this generation had fully internalized the message of the Qur’an. Not seeking the material possessions or comforts of this dunyā (life on earth), but the pleasure of Allah (SWT) in the ākhira (life hereafter), they brought the entire Arabian Peninsula under the sway of Islam in those 23 years. The sword, quite apart from the attempts of secular orientalism to impose a Western expansionist view of history on Islam, was the least of their instruments of advancement, dominion, and progress. Their mission and struggle were directed at saving errant humanity from its deviant beliefs and practices that were leading to its destruction. Ending gross injustice was the most important dimension of their mission. Islam imbued the early generations of muslims with the spirit of self-sacrifice to Allah so that social justice on earth would be a reflection of absolute justice in the realm of forever. They cultivated a respect for the dignity of human beings that was based not on race, color, or status but on taqwá (consciousness of Allah’s power presence in life). In a nutshell, this community under the leadership of its prophet exemplified an executable program that a humanity needing liberation and slaves desperate to overcome the shackles of bondage could employ at any time and any place. And so, whatever triumphs took place on the battlefield were just a natural extension of a mind no longer encumbered by fealty to a temporal sovereign and a heart no longer possessed by the fear of the punishment of oppressive powers. The Qur’an also inspired a new potency in the quest for knowledge and the evolution of scientific inquiry throughout the expansive landmass under the sway of Islam. It was the knowledge that Europeans acquired in Islamic institutions of learning that led to Europe’s Renaissance.3
Muslim decline began when they abandoned the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah (Qur’anically compatible instructions and actions) of the Prophet (SAW). After leading the world for many centuries, the muslims were finally eclipsed by the increasingly unmanageable effects of political corruption that had subverted their Islamic system of governance, thereby giving what came to be called “European civilization” the opportunity to overtake them. Decline and defeat, however, are not permanent conditions of life. Human history moves in cycles. The rise and fall of civilizations are based on many factors, but primarily on how the core values of people disseminate into an ambience of social justice that is simultaneously impartial to those with worldly privilege and merciful to the worldly disadvantaged. Wherever society’s core values have devolved into material pursuits and ambition, social justice has become subsumed into personal and special interest, leading to civil institutions that only serve the priorities and interlocking interests of the wealthy and the powerful, and ultimately to the crash of civilization itself — to wit Allah’s āyāt,
And when We want to destroy a civic society, then We put its wealthy elite on notice, after which they cause civic degeneracy; at that time [Our] decree matures and We obliterate it exhaustively. And how many eras [generations] have We put out of action subsequent to Nūḥ? For there is no one like your Sustainer who is thoroughly aware of His subjects’ iniquities and crimes (17:16–17).
Islam’s core values, derived from the Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah, have an inbuilt capacity to regenerate the power of Islam and bring it back to its divinely-ordained dominant position,
He it is who has sent forth His Apostle [Muhammad] with the [task of spreading] guidance and the dīn of truth, to the end that He may cause it to prevail over all [false] dīn — however hateful this may be to those who ascribe divinity to anyone/anything besides Allah (9:33).
He it is who sent His Apostle with guidance and the theological ideology of truth and justice so that He may eventually have it prevail over all [man-made] systems of belief, however hateful that may be to those who [try to] eclipse Allah by adopting other deities and authorities (61:9)
The building blocks of this regenerative process are none other than a proper understanding of the noble Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah and Sraħ. As part of the muslims’ decline, unfortunately, Arabic, the language of the Qur’an, also lost its dominant position as the lingua franca of literacy, education, and competency. European languages, primarily Italian and Spanish in the beginning, followed by English due to the rapid colonial expansion of the British Empire, supplanted Arabic. Furthermore, as an unintended consequence of the colonial occupation of majority muslim territories, millions of muslims have since settled in Europe, North America, Australasia, etc. and English has become their formal language of communication. This has necessitated the production and translation of Islamic literature, especially the noble Qur’an, into English.
Most English-speaking muslims and non-muslims interested in Islam are familiar with English translations of the noble Qur’an. Among the better-known translations are those by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Marmaduke Pickthall, and Muhammad Asad.4 It could be asked, quite justifiably, as to why another translation of the Qur’an is needed when so many already exist?
Before addressing this question, it needs emphasizing that, despite the best efforts, the Arabic Qur’an cannot be translated accurately. The highly stylistic text of the Qur’an is imbued with layers of meanings. All “translations” of the Qur’an in whatever language are approximations of the meanings of the Arabic original. Some languages such as Persian, Urdu, and Turkish (the Ottoman script, not the Latin-based script imposed by Mustafa Kemal at the beginning of the 20th Gregorian century), are more amenable to reflecting the essence of the message of the Qur’an. However, technocratic languages such as English are ill-equipped to adequately render the Qur’anic message because they have matured within a political, philosophical, social, and techno-agnostic framework that has separated church from state, morality from legality, and human behavior from spoken platitudes. English, today is the language of choice to justify and rationalize injustice, superpower overreach, capitalist exploitation, debt slavery, censorship, and moral “flexibility.” And so, because English has been congenitally poisoned by the ravaging cancers of atheism (denial of Allah’s divinity) and secularism (denial of Allah’s authority), this linguistic medium presents a formidable challenge to any would-be translator as he tries to figure out how to convey the meanings of the divine Book.
Allah (SWT) chose the Arabic language to reveal His last and final message to humanity,
[Observe how] We have bestowed it [the Qur’an] from on high as a discourse in the Arabic tongue, so that you might encompass it with your reason (12:2);
…A scripture of specified āyāt [presented] as an Arabic Qur’an for people who understand (41:3);
Behold, We have rendered it an Arabic Qur’an so that you may discipline your thoughts (43:3).
It was His special favor to the Arabic-speaking people of the Arabian Peninsula, hitherto steeped in jāhilīyaħ (ignocracy). That the Qur’an was tailored to “fit” into the Arabic language is probably an erroneous statement. However, the more likely fact is that the organizational and lexical precision of the language coupled with its capacity to pack extensive meaning into the fewest possible words was shaped and cultivated over the centuries by a divine hand to carry the message of the Qur’an.
Attempts at translating the Qur’an are influenced by multiple factors: the translators’ grasp of Arabic and the target language, personal preferences, and their socio-political circumstances. Above all, the translator must have an accurate understanding of the message of the Qur’an. Without such an understanding, the translation would fall short of accurately conveying the divine message regardless of the translator’s sincerity or grasp of Arabic and the target language.
Let us now turn to the question of why another translation? Imam Muḥammad al-‘Āsī’s translation is meant to serve as a companion to his tafsīr (exegesis) compendium, The Ascendant Qur’an: Realigning Man to the Divine Power Culture. By its very nature, a translation does not go into too much detail or background information, that being the forte of tafsīr. This translation is, therefore, intended to serve as a gateway to Imam al-‘Āsī’s tafsīr. Since the first volume was published in 2008, 14 more volumes have been printed so far. While generally well-received, the tafsīr is not as widely read as we had hoped. While there are probably numerous reasons for this, it appears that the tafsīr serial may have overwhelmed all but some scholarly and truly dedicated muslims because of the amount of detail. This translation is meant to provide an average muslim who is nonetheless interested in knowing more about the Qur’an with the essential message of the noble Book and encourage him/her to seek a deeper understanding through the tafsīr.
This Qur’an is meant to lead people out of darkness and into light,
[He has sent] an Apostle who correlates for you Allah’s clear demonstrations [of power and authority] so that He might extricate those who are committed to Him and do what is right and righteous from obscurity into the light. And whoever [correctly] commits himself to Allah and does what is right and righteous, him will He admit into gardens with rivers flowing underneath — therein to dwell forever: indeed, Allah will have thoroughly granted him sustenance (65:11).
Islam — the divinely chosen dīn for man — is also meant to exercise dominance over all rival, man-made systems (9:33, 61:09). Hence, embedded in these āyāt is the concept of power, and how it is to be exercised with justice and without the desire to concentrate it. Unfortunately, the aspect of Allah’s power is missing from other translations or even tafsīrs, which limit the Qur’an’s message primarily to the religious, personal, historical, or spiritual domains.
Without fully comprehending the dimension of Allah’s power and authority, the Qur’anic message cannot be properly delivered or fully internalized. It is ironic that while the Makkan mushriks (those who align with deities and authorities that rival Allah’s power and authority) immediately grasped the power dimensions of revelation and the challenge it posed to their unjust socio-political and economic order, most muslims today have failed to do so. They seek refuge in a personal spirituality, which may be fulfilling in and of itself, but unfortunately, this has failed to check compromise and compliance with the very ṭāghūt (those who concentrate and abuse power) that Allah (SWT) commands us to reject,
There shall be no coercion in matters of faith [conviction]. Distinct has now become the rightly mature way from [the way of] erroneousness; hence, he who rejects the powers of inordinate and unbridled power structures and commits to Allah has indeed taken hold of a support most unfailing, which shall never give way, for Allah is all-hearing, all-knowing (2:256).
There cannot be two centers of power in our lives. We must either self-surrender completely to the power and authority of Allah, or we risk getting subsumed into the power of ṭāghūt. In the latter case, we cannot call ourselves muslim even if we practice all of the prescribed rituals. The Makkan mushriks did not persecute, torture, and murder the early muslims because they were fasting, praying, and keeping to themselves. Such practices were not a part of Islamic ritual discipline in those early days around the Prophet (SAW). Most muslims today seem to have missed this point. Allah’s power and authority are central to the message of the Qur’an.
Upon this dynamic rest some of the distinctive features of this translation. In addition to emphasizing Allah’s tawḥīd, which all Qur’anic translations do, Imam al-‘Āsī’s translation highlights Allah’s power and authority so as to integrate those who yield to Allah’s command and counsel into the power grid of Islam. The principle of social justice is front and center, just as it is in the Arabic Qur’an so that the reader develops a keenness and sense of responsibility to confront and overcome the widespread injustices in the world today. This statement is not made lightly or rhetorically. It has to do with the fundamental precepts of Islam as ordained in the noble Qur’an. How can we say that Allah (SWT) is our Sustainer and Lawgiver but ignore His laws so casually? Such lack of clarity missing in earlier translations has rendered muslims incapable of changing their lives, much less the rest of the world. Imam al-‘Āsī’s translation contributes toward overcoming this general weakness within the collection of translation literature.
The Ascendant Qur’an translation is also not tainted by any sectarian slant. Careful attention has been paid to avoid any such sectarian pitfalls so that muslims can get the message of the Qur’an in its original purity without having to navigate the inbuilt biases some translators cannot seem to overcome. This translation has been composed with neither fear nor favor of any worldly power or authority. We recognize only one power and authority: Allah (SWT). There is none like unto Him or equal to Him,
Say, “He is Allah the only [God]: Allah the Persistent [the Consistent]. He does not give birth, nor is He born; and there is nothing that is on par with Him” (112:1–4).
He is the Sovereign Supreme, the All-Powerful, the Almighty and the Truly Wise,
He is Allah besides whom there is no deity/authority, [the One] who knows all that is unknown [to humans] and all that is comprehended [by the human intellect]: He is the Mercy-Giver, the Very Merciful. He is Allah besides whom there is no deity/authority — the Supreme Sovereign, the Holy, the [Source of] Peace, the [Fountain of] Security, the Overwhelming, the Grand, the Enforcer, the Majestic! Singularly exalted is Allah far beyond what others erroneously ascribe [as rivals] to His divinity/authority. He is Allah, the Creator, the Initiator who gives every created thing its image; His are the most beautiful attributes. Everything in the heavens and the earth exalts Him. And He is the Dearly Loved and Grand, the Vastly Wise (59:22–24).
Since the Qur’an’s message is applicable for all times, it has to be presented in a manner such that a reader would be able to make the connection between what was revealed more than 1,400 years ago and the situation today. When the Qur’an highlights tyrannical rulers in early history, these are not just interesting allegorical narratives but pertinent lessons from history about how human behavior transcends time and place. This translation articulates the common demeanor of these tyrannical rulers thereby empowering its readers to identify the modern-day nimrods and pharaohs and to confront them accordingly.
Finally, one of the more distinctive features of this translation is that it will be published in three versions: an advanced English-Arabic version intended for muslims whose primary language of communication is English as well as those non-muslims who want to get a more nuanced understanding of the meanings of the Qur’an, a simplified English version for those who might find the word usage in the original English version to be challenging, and lastly, an English-only version for generally non-muslims who are unfamiliar with common Islamic terminology that muslims have grown up with and grown used to. Though a translation “progression” of this nature has never been attempted before, our internal review of the translated manuscript suggested that we take this approach. The publication of The Ascendant Qur’an translation will also mark the first time ICIT has embarked on producing an e-book in two of the most widely distributed formats (ePub, Kindle). While ICIT has uploaded downloadable pdf files of the various tafsīr volumes onto the ICIT digital library (icit-digital.org), it has never attempted to make e-book editions available to its members. Our expectation is that in the Digital/Information Age, e-book distribution will far exceed that of printed hard copies. With appropriate and timely hyperlinks to the tafsør volumes, we are hoping that the e-book experience will be more enriching and satisfying to the modern reader, as the expanded explanations in the tafsør would now be within fingertip reach.
This work would not have been possible without the dedicated and profound contribution of a number of sincere brothers and sisters, all of whom were interested in providing support for this project long before we formally initiated work on it. As none of them has been compensated for their time and effort (in this worldly life), we are enormously indebted to their involvement and invocations for the success of this humble undertaking. Firstly, we would like to thank Br. Imran Khan for painstakingly going through the translation, word by word and line by line. His suggested edits, corrections, and general overall comments have markedly improved the product that potential readers will interact with. Secondly, we would like to express our gratitude to Br. Khalil Abdul-Rahman for helping us set up a shūrá on the ShuraForAll web forum so that we could make decisions about pertinent aspects of the translation with full transparency and involvement of all concerned parties.
Thirdly, after the first draft of the manuscript was ready, a team of reviewers and proofreaders agreed to go over it and suggest any changes. The contributions made by each and every one of them were valuable, cogent, and timely. These brothers and sisters include (alphabetically by last name) Marjan Asi, Massoumeh Asi, Abdulbasier Aziz, Muslim Mahmood, Osman Moosa, Mohammad Nagdee, Somayyah Nahidian, Hadi Roghani, Munir Simon, and Maryam Zhian. Of this group, we would like to direct special accolades to the reviews done by (1) Sr. Marjan Asi, for her insightful commentary and words of encouragement; (2) Sr. Massoumeh Asi, without whose input we would not have considered the simplified English translation; (3) Br. Abdulbasier Aziz, who kept us on target with grammar and syntax; and (4) Br. Munir Simon, whose monumental effort despite significant health deficits was most endearing and inspiring, and without whose comments we would not have considered a translation directed primarily at the non-muslim English speaker. As with the tafsør volumes, this translation has also been edited by Br. Afeef Khan.
It is our hope and prayer that this translation will serve the purpose for which it is compiled: to develop a deeper understanding of the Qur’an to prepare the new Qur’anic generation. Only such a generation will be able to simultaneously lead humanity out of the abyss of darkness and steer the world of God-consciousness and God-commitment to its central position of influence as ordained by Allah (SWT) in the noble Qur’an.
Zafar Bangash Director,
Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought Toronto,
Jumādå al-Ākhirá 29, 1442ah (2-11-2021ce)