Two very different translations of the same Qur’an passage

I was doing some research on an article on “Orphans and Widows in Christianity and Islam” and found something interesting.  I was looking at nine translations of the Qur’an.  What I found was Two very different translation of the same Qur’an passage.  I had started with two, but they were so strikingly different that I went to nine.  That first one still stuck out as being so very different.  Here’s what I found.


Two very different translation of the same Qur'an passage

feeding an orphan of kin, on a day of one’s own hunger
chronological order print
Sura #
verse text
33 90 12 (12) And what could make thee conceive what it is, that steep uphill road? (13) [It is] the freeing of one’s neck [from the burden of sin], (14) or the feeding, upon a day of [one’s own] hunger, (15) of an orphan near of kin, (16) or of a needy [stranger] lying in the dust – (17) and being, withal, of those who have attained to faith, and who enjoin upon one another patience in adversity, and enjoin upon one another compassion.

This one might need some explanation for the non-Muslim reader.  To many, the steep road is, as compared to a level or downhill road, is the hard way.  As such, it’s often seen as the path to avoid.  In Christianity, at least in this setting, it’s what we call the narrow path, as opposed to the wide path.  It’s the way that is “right” – doing the right thing.  In Islam, this passage also refers to doing the right thing, as opposed to doing evil.  In this case, feeding someone in need, even at a time when we don’t have enough to properly feed ourselves.  It’s satisfying someone else’s hunger, rather than our own.

It says “an orphan near of kin”, which is odd.  What about an orphan who isn’t a close relative?  That wording is especially odd, since even a needy stranger (poor person) in another translation is specified.  I can’t help but feel it’s an issue to do with translations into English.

Having said that, there’s something peculiar with the verses right after the ones above.  

The Message of the Qur’an by Muhammad Asad, has the following for verses 18-20:

(18) Such are they that have attained to righteousness; (19) whereas those who are bent on denying the truth of Our messages – they are such as have lost themselves in evil, (20) [with] fire closing in upon them.  1)Asad, Muhammad. The Message of the Qur’an (Kindle Locations 16405-16408). The Book Foundation. Kindle Edition.

However, English Translation of the Qur’an by Dr Muhammad Khan has this:

18. They are those on the Right Hand (the dwellers of Paradise),
19. But those who disbelieved in Our Ayaat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.), they are those on the Left Hand (the dwellers of Hell).
20. The Fire will be shut over them (i.e. they will be enveloped by the Fire without any opening or window or outlet.  2)Khan, Dr Muhammad Muhsin. English Translation of the Qur’an (Kindle Locations 7768-7770). Unknown. Kindle Edition.

The second translation has the authors comments embedded in parentheses.  But even aside from that, the two translations are markedly different.  The second one talks about people on the right going to paradise and those on the left going to Hell.  This is a distinctly Christian like interpretation.  

So, I looked up the translation of these verses in another book I have which contains three translations – by the following people: Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Marmaduke Pickthall and Mohammad Habib Shakir  3)Three Translations of The Koran (Al-Qur’an) side by side (Kindle Locations 1-2). Kindle Edition.  Each of those has the left hand / right hand translation – not the one from The Message of the Qur’an.

Why does this matter?

This begs the question of which one is right?  After much searching, I found The Quranic Arabic Corpus web site.  In addition to seven translations, it has a word by word breakdown of Arabic into English.  After a review of this site and a comparison of several verses among the various translations, I find it necessary to change my default translation from The Message of the Qur’an to whichever one from The Quranic Corpus has the most correct translation from the Arabic.

I have to say, I fond that disturbing.  I was going to use The Message of the Qur’an, primarily because it came from CAIR – the Council on American-Islamic Relations.  It’s unfortunate that they have not supplied a more true translation from Arabic to English.  In researching concepts and words from the Bible, I find that to be critical.  Not being able to count on a Qur’an translation to provide similar capability, to me, is unacceptable.

Having said that, since CAIR is a large and important organization in the U.S., I will continue to include their interpretation along with one that is more literally correct.

The reason all of this is important is because it goes along with a series of historical events that are not often reported.  The origins of Islam go back to a time when Muhammad was not happy that his people, the Arabs, had hundreds of pagan gods.  He wanted something for them like the Jews and Christians, who believe in one all powerful God.  At first he reached out to Jews.  But they refused to join him.  Next, he reached out to Christians.  Because of theological differences, they also refused to join him.  Then, as history shows, the wars started and Muhammad became the great warrior that initially spread Islam by conquest.

It’s this early attempt to get Jews and Christians to join him that are of interest and importance.  That only increases as we see the differences between The Qur’an and the Jewish and Christian scriptures.  Even more curious is the odd fashion in which the Qur’an exposed these alleged corruptions – or more curiously, doesn’t even explain them.  They often just appear randomly and with no explanation of lead-in.

We just saw the two completely different translations of Sura 90:12.  Here’s what Jesus had to say about the right and the left.

The Sheep and the Goats

Mt 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Mt 25:34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Mt 25:37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

Mt 25:40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Mt 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

Mt 25:44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

Mt 25:45 “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Mt 25:46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

The words from Jesus are much more involved.  They have much more detail and explanation.  And they are very personal.  Jesus even puts Himself into the equation of what’s happening, and why. Compare and contrast that to the passage in the Qur’an.

The two are similar.  And yet very different.  

The Qur’an takes away the importance of Jesus as the Son of God.  It takes away the personal nature of God talking to His creation (us) through Jesus.  And it takes away the important factor that what we for to each other – or what we do not do for each other – we are also doing / not doing the same for God.  It’s like the caring factor of God for us – and in return us for God – it’s just gone.


This is just an excerpt from what will be the entire article on orphans and widows in Islam and Christianity.  I’ll include a link in here when it’s done, if you’d like to come back to see it.  Or – you could sign up to receive emails when new articles are published using any of the options at the top / right side of the page.

References   [ + ]

1. Asad, Muhammad. The Message of the Qur’an (Kindle Locations 16405-16408). The Book Foundation. Kindle Edition.
2. Khan, Dr Muhammad Muhsin. English Translation of the Qur’an (Kindle Locations 7768-7770). Unknown. Kindle Edition.
3. Three Translations of The Koran (Al-Qur’an) side by side (Kindle Locations 1-2). Kindle Edition.

2 thoughts on “Two very different translations of the same Qur’an passage”

  1. I am told that Muslims believe that the Qur’an was written by God in heaven and then given to Muhammad, is it true.

    1. Hi – That’s a really good question. The answer is somewhat murky, given all the circumstances surrounding the revelations.

      Today, yes, Muslims believe the Qur’an to be a revelation given to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel, and that they came from Allah.

      However, when Muhammad received the first revelation, he believed it was given to him by a Jinn – an evil spirit. It was Khadijah, Muhammad’s first wife, that convinced him it was from Gabriel / Allah.

      BTW – I do make an effort to refer to Allah for the Qur’an and God for the Bible. Allah is the name Muslims use. But it also helps to keep straight which thought come from the Qur’an and which from the Bible. There are so many instances where both have very similar text, and have the same people involved – but the message is very different. That’s just my preference.

      Over on my other site, I have something on the very first Sura (although it’s number 68 in the Qur’an). It includes information that I’ve read from many reliable sources, but I reference one in particular, about the first encounter between Muhammad and the messenger who gave him revelations we now read as the Qur’an. Also, what happened between Muhammad and Khadijah.

      It also goes into some of the differences between Muhammad’s visitation in the Qur’an and the types of encounters between angels of God and people. They are markedly different.

      If you’d like to go deeper into it, since Sura 68 is so long, I did an entire series on it. You can find a brief description of each part here.

      Thanks for asking!
      Have a blessed day & stay safe!
      chris

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