Looking back into history the intelligent observer will see that the spoken Arabic and Arabic in the Quran have both moved along parallel routes. The Arabic that is spoken today is the result of many changes that have shaped the language. The vernacular we hear today in the Middle East bears little resemblance, not least in structure and vocabulary, to the common Arabic of yesteryear. In the case of spoken Arabic it transmuted into a Concept Language,[1] but there is nothing wrong in this because this is how living languages naturally evolve and develop as they are enriched by other cultures.


However, such a process would be detrimental to a language that seeks to disseminate absolute principles of moral and ethical standards. This is why the Arabic of the Quran has remained static and encapsulated to retain its essential purity. This means that the rules and vocabulary too are extant in their original form. This durability has ensured that the message is received intact and without change.  This reliability maintains the Quran’s precision and incisiveness. The Quran imparts universal Permanent Values and Absolute Laws so to possess these qualities is crucial. Otherwise it would not be the precise and dependable message that it is.


Is it not strange that it appears easy to understand ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics but not the Quran? In fact the Arabic of the Quran, which is a very modern scripture by comparison, is much easier to decode than the pictograms of ancient Egypt. When decoding the hieroglyphics there is no supplementary text used to understand it. So why cannot this method be used to understand the Quran as well?


When we do use its own rules and text to understand it, the meaning of Quranic words become consistent resulting in an accurate and clear interpretation. However, using the spurious hadith to explain the Quran has impressed certain misleading meanings for many words and this has made the Quran apparently a difficult and confusing book that it can no longer be seen as the guidance for mankind it is meant to be.


In order to establish the true message of the Quran it is necessary to uncover and use its unchanging system which stands firm on the ‘root letters’. It is these that fortify its foundation and validate its veracity.


The root system of the Arabic language is an unfamiliar concept to most people. Even many scholars do not seem to grasp the essential facts of how Arabic words are constructed. This is one of the reasons why the Quran is often poorly translated.


All Arabic words are made from a few component letters, commonly called a ‘root’. A root usually consists of three letters (sometimes two or four), which define the meanings of all words formed from the root. By adding various vowels (i.e. changing pronunciation) as affixes, associated meanings can be derived. For example, the Arabic letters S’L’M form the root for the following words: salaam: (peace or harmony by conforming and submitting to a law or order), Islam: harmonise/conform, muslim: one who acts in harmony and conforms. In all these words, you will see the root (component letters) is the same, and in the same order, i.e. S’L’M.


Arabic words are therefore made by using word elements such as a prefix (insertion before the word), infix (insertion within the word) or suffix (insertion after the word) that are attached to a base, stem, or root. In a root language, words (and their derivatives) mean what they mean because they are built from other words these base words are called roots. Now, while many languages, like English for example, are concept based, there are some words that can be likened to the root system. For example if you learn what the word ‘obligation’ means, you should have no problem when you hear the word ‘obligate’ or ‘oblige’ – you use the root to understand the word built from the root.  Also loan words from other languages that are root based can show how this works. If you learn that the Greek root word ‘khronos’ (In English: chronic) means time, you should have no problem when you hear the word ‘chronicle’ or ‘synchronise’ – you use the root to understand the word built from the root. Here are some examples:


chronic: lasting a long time – especially of illness.

chronicle: a factual account of important events in the order in which they happened.

chronological: arranged in the order in which events happened – chronological order.

chronometer: a device for measuring time exactly.

chronometry: the science of the accurate measuring of time.

chronostratigraphy: the branch of geology concerned with establishing the age of strata of rocks

anachronism: an error in chronology; setting a person, fashion, object etc. in the wrong period (e.g. a clock striking in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar).

synchronise: to arrange for events to happen at the same time.


The important point to understand here is that the essential meaning does not change. One root can form many different words but the essence of the meaning stays the same. Classical Arabic as used in the Quran, as one of the most primitive Semitic languages, is primarily a root language. Words get their meaning from the roots they are built from rather than by associating a concept with the word, as you would in a concept language. This gives Quranic Arabic a crystal clear aspect to it; there is no ambiguity or confusion in a classical Arabic sentence. The language is one of clarity, directness, and certainty – qualities that are hard to achieve in other languages. This means that the same word (or derivatives formed from the same root) cannot have different meanings. This essence of the word and its meaning always remains secured to the same root.


Here is an example to illustrate how misunderstandings can occur when the structure of roots is poorly understood:


To gamble means to play games of chance to win money or another specified prize. Are games of chance forbidden in the Quran? The verses of the Quran normally considered to mention gambling are verse 2:219 and verse 5:90. However, the word ‘maysiru’ has been wrongly translated to mean gambling. If we, for argument’s sake, take the usual understanding that it means gambling then how would we translate the same word which also appears in verse 2:280?  The translation of the verse 2:280 then would wrongly become: “If the debtor is in difficulty, then wait for a gambling (maysiru).” The correct translation of this verse is, of course: “If the debtor is in difficulty, then wait for an easier time (maysiru).” In other words, if someone is unable to pay a debt, then allow additional time. To corroborate this we need to look at both verses 2:280 and 2:219 where the same word is used: “In (free time) there is gross harm and some benefits. But their potential to cause harm is greater than their benefit.” [Verse 2.219]. This means that too much time on a person’s hands can lead to mischief. An English idiom aptly says “The devil makes work for idle hands”. What this means is that when someone is not being productive, trouble is likely to follow. Conclusion: maysiru means spare/additional/extra time.


Another word, zakaa, is traditionally translated as ‘charity/poor due’ and sometimes, correctly as ‘pure’, as in verse 19:19. However, ‘sadaqat‘ which means sincere is also translated as charity as in verse 58:13 in which both words appear, therefore causing some confusion. Also the world hajj is wrongly translated as ‘pilgrimage’ and as ‘dispute’, but it is jadal that means to dispute or argue and both these words appear in verse 2:197. When words are wrongly translated it highlights the deficiency in understanding their true and proper meanings. Another example is the use of words bayta and buyat. Traditionally translated as ‘house’ and ‘family/people’ both these are wrong as can been seen in verse 33:33 in which they both appear.  The proper meanings are ‘system’ and ‘house’ as can be confirmed by the roots of the words – this is true for all words shown here as examples and for other words throughout the Quran.[2]


The Quran can and should be translated into other languages in order for people to receive the message (see Verses 26:198-201 and 41:44-45). However, it is essentially difficult, if not impossible, to translate anything into another language in the same style as the original and translating from Arabic is no different. An English translation or exposition must employ arbitrary and precise words for the many-faceted and jewel-like phrases of the Arabic, and the more literal it is, the greyer and more colourless it becomes. Even a simple sentence as: “We are the ones who control life and death, to Us is the final return.” [Verse 50:43]. It is impossible to present in English (or perhaps any other language) the force of the five-times repeated “We” in the short sentence of the original.[3]


The Arabic in the Quran is a clear and precise language [verse 26:195]. It is a highly developed instrument of communication that allows it to express important concepts with a high level of accuracy. For example, the verbs and adjectives can selectively and unmistakably refer to males, females, or two people, or more than two people. The efficiency of Arabic can be illustrated, for example ‘qaalataa‘ in verse 28:23 requires four words in English: “The two women said”.


What makes this rendition different?


This exposition is different because of its absolute consistency in the application of roots that form the words. It is essential that the root meanings are steadfastly applied, only then does the claim that the Quranic language is incisive and precise stand. In traditional translations rules are applied, but with great flexibility and many diverse meanings are given to one word giving rise to difficulties often resulting in misleading interpretations. The Quran then becomes ambiguous and confusing – entirely opposite to what it really is. If a word has multiple and ambiguous meanings then what makes the Quran an incisive and precise message?


It is important to understand the basic structure of Arabic as used in the Quran for those who wish to know the Quran with some accuracy and to appreciate why some of the fundamental aspects of Deen-Islam have been dealt with differently from the traditional understanding.


While translations try to mirror what is said in the original text, an exposition is an interpretation that conveys the message in a way that the recipient can easily understand, without necessarily trying to imitate the linguistic style or structure of the original. Where the use of language does not detract from the message, the original structure can be maintained, as it generally has been in this rendition. This may give the verses a more ‘Shakespearean’ tone but also gives them character and distinction and sets them apart from ordinary prose.


However, nothing can replace the original Quran in Arabic. This rendition is presented only as an endeavour to express the original meaning of the Quranic message in everyday English. This is by no means a definitive work, in the course of time other, better interpretations may appear and should be welcomed.


The Deen-Islam is grossly misunderstood partly as a result of poor translations. A metamorphosis has taken place: a unique and dynamic social system, the Deen-Islam, has been changed into a perverse religion masquerading as Islam. The very fact that there are so many versions practised by diverse sects is evidence enough that there is something seriously wrong.


Traditional readers may not recognise some of the concepts elucidated here, just as Muhammad, to whom the original message was given, would not recognise any of the perversions practiced today.


None of these concepts are new, of course. While the Deen-Islam, the social order, has always maintained the same enduring Permanent Values, when we look around, the ‘Islam’ we see today has unrecognisably changed into a religion: hollow,  ritualised  and utterly meaningless – in fact, the same as any other religion. This rendition has pruned all the superfluous elements and the embellishments of tradition, culture and political bias and reverted to the original text of the Quran to reconstruct the tenets of Deen-Islam to its former pristine status.


The words in this rendition have been checked to correspond to their roots so that the meaning remains consistent throughout the reading. Some of the words have been left in the original Arabic, as the corresponding English meanings are either completely deficient or totally distorted – however, an explanation is provided in such cases. The English language has liberally absorbed many foreign, including Arabic, words and the introduction of some new words can only add to its richness.


Arabic words have been translated according to the context to give an accurate understanding of the verse. For example, the word ‘hadith’ has been translated as narration, remark, discourse or message, depending on the best fit to explain the verse. The reason why synonyms are used for this and some other words is to convey the many facets of the Arabic words. This helps express the different shades of the meanings while remaining true to the root. This technique is necessary due to the deficiency in English that no single word projects the depth and breadth of some Arabic words found in the Quran. The context identifies and confirms that the meaning is correctly transposed in accordance with the root.


It will be very useful to read the ‘Quranic Concepts’ section for a better understanding of the Quranic perspective and how it differs from traditional beliefs. Also the reader will be able to appreciate why the footnotes give cross references to words which at first appear unrelated. For example, the words ‘hajj’ and ‘jadal’ are shown together. Why is this? Hajj means to challenge or confront, and jadal means to argue, but in traditional translations ‘hajj’ is shown to mean pilgrimage and argue, however, it is only jadal that means argue. This murky water needs to be made clear so that when reading the Quranic, it is consistent.


As previously mentioned, the Arabic language derives its vocabulary from root words. Conjugations of the root word can produce new derivatives and generally these derivatives are constructed in accordance with established vocalic moulds or patterns to which certain prefixes or suffixes are added. The Arabic verbs have two ‘voices’ – active and passive.


It is common to see in the Quran a prefix like ‘ma’ or ‘mu‘ placed before a word to form a new word in the same class. The two parts are joined together, written as one word. A suffix can also be placed after a word so that a new word is formed. The suffix decides which word class the new word belongs to.


These appear only in the perfect and imperfect and they are constructed according to established moulds or patterns. The imperfect is formed by the addition of prefixes and suffixes that indicate the form of the verb as well as by the gender and number of the participants of the action. Being specific is a strength of the Arabic language and it does not leave room for ambiguity.


The Arabic in the Quran is very precise but there are those who wrongly claim that the Arabic in the Quran is inferior as a definitive language. It would be prudent to remember that, at the time of writing, Arabic was among the most developed languages of the time. Even now the Arabic in the Quran is exceptional in its consistency, only the understanding has deteriorated with time. From another perspective, God used the most current and up to date language of that era to explain a simple and perfectly defined message. After all, it is doubtful that anyone on earth speaks God’s language, thus he wisely chose to use the lingua franca of the time. Subsequently, however, the original meanings were contorted and as a consequence the original message became beyond recognition, changing the perception of the Quran from a book of guidance to a book of religion.


Since Arabs were the first recipients of the Quran, descriptions of heaven, hell and some other situations are illustrated by using symbolic language so that they could easily be understood even by a largely illiterate population. While these figurative descriptions may help to illustrate certain places or event, they are still allegories and should not be taken literally.


The verses in the Quran are structured in a way to inform and enlighten the reader at many levels. As stated at the beginning of verse 3:7, the commands, permanent values and general guidance are straightforward and can be followed easily, other information is given as allegorical examples.


Other information and footnotes


In this New Millennium Exposition, the word ‘he’ is used for both ‘he’ and ‘she’. This is only to maintain the flow of reading and does not necessarily imply only the male gender. Also when in this exposition God is referred to as ‘He’, this does not imply that God is male. God is neither male nor female, God is above gender. In the same way, in Arabic ‘the door’ is masculine and ‘the window’ is feminine, even though we know that neither of these things have gender. In English, however, when God is referred to as ‘He’ it can create the subconscious impression that God is male, and when God is referred to as the ‘Father’, it reinforces the image of God as particularly male. Similarly when God speaks the word ‘We’ is used and  this does not represent multiplicity implying that God is one of many acting together, but shows the majesty of God as the sustainer of all things.


The footnotes give a brief description of the word used or the concept introduced and the last section explains the Quranic concepts in more detail. Furthermore, these are also cross-referenced to show that a continuity of meaning is expressed throughout the rendition. These references validate the root and its usage, demonstrating consistency, and also show that the meaning does not change, as it incorrectly does in traditional translations to support innovated rituals or ideas.


When reading the Quran it should be noted that verses relating to any one particular subject may not be found together. So it is important to read all the relevant verses together in order to understand the context and substance of the message, decree or set of values given. In his translation, The Message of the Quran, Muhammad Asad has made some excellent points. He said: “The Quran must be viewed not as a compilation of individual injunctions and exhortations but as one integral whole: that is, as an exposition of an ethical doctrine in which every verse and sentence has an intimate bearing on other verses and sentences, all of them clarifying and amplifying one another. Consequently, its real meaning can be grasped only if we correlate every one of its statements with what has been stated elsewhere in its passages, and explain its concepts by means of frequent cross-referencing, always subordinating the particular to the general and the incidental to the intrinsic. Whenever this rule is faithfully followed, we realise that the Quran is its own best commentary.”


Attaching inconsistent meanings is typical of all traditional translations this is why they are replete with anomalies. For example, the two translations by Rashad Khalifa state that it is the first English rendering by a Muslim whose mother tongue is Arabic. However, this only provides evidence that knowing Arabic as a mother tongue is no guarantee that you understand the Quran. To illustrate this point both Khalifa’s translations of verse 4:3 are worth looking at. The first lines of this verse are quoted here:


Khalifa First edition: If you deem it in the best interest of the orphans (to give them a home), you may marry their mother if you like; you may marry two of them, or three, or four.


Khalifa Second edition: If you deem it best for the orphans, you may marry their mothers – you may marry two, three, or four.


Now it does not take a native Arabic speaker, or even a scholar to see the glaring error in the interpretation of this verse. The question that should now be asked is: how on earth do you marry the mother of an orphan, let alone two, or three or four of them?


It has to be said, that although Kahlifa is severely discredited by his second edition, along with his claims to God’s messenger, his first edition generally remains one of the better translations of the last century.


Abdullah Yousaf Ali’s translation is widely used, but most readers do not know that Yousaf Ali used an Urdu version and translated it into English with no reference to the original Arabic. Like his predecessors he simply followed the traditions confirming prevalent beliefs. His translation of Verse 4:3, though not quoted here, does not give any clearer a picture than does Khalifa’s. Ali’s translation, as with most traditional translations, of the word solaa-waa-tun is astonishing. In verse 22:40 he has translated it as synagogues while in verse 2:157 he has translated it as blessings. Some, just as bizarrely, translate it as churches or oratories. However Ali’s translation is no worse than any of his contemporaries.


When translators overlook such simple matters that are easy to check, what of the other discrepancies that are not so easy to verify? This exposition is set apart by its consistent application of rules making for a accurate and clearer understanding resulting in an authoritative and accessible text in a way that others are not. [4]



[1] Concept Language: see chapter Lost in  Translation for description.

[2] Words generally mistranslated: with correct meanings in brackets: sadaqat (truth/ sincerity), zakaa (pure) and solaa (commitments) – all three appear in verse 58:13. hajj (challenge/ confront) and jadal (argue), both appear in verse 2:197. bayta (system) and buyat (home), both appear in verse 33:33. See also verse and footnote 71:28. afu (pardon) and ghafur (protect), both appear in verse 58:2. nabi (envoy) and rasul (messenger) both appear in verses 7:157; 22:53. solaa (commitments) dua (supplication), both appear in verse 14.40. See also footnotes to above verses.

[3] Professor H.A.R. Gibb, Modern Trends in Islam, page 4.

[4] The sincere who seek the truth never fail to understand it: The Most Merciful who teaches the Quran. Verses 55:1-2. Once revealed by God He explains the Quran 75:16-19.