The American elections in recent years, the victories of a few newly elected Muslim Congress men/women and their wish to take oath on Jefferson’s Quran has made the news. There are a few online reports about this translation of the Quran available (for curious minds.)
Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd American President kept a copy of the Quran translated by George Sale in his personal library. Which was used by elected Muslim Congress men and women to take oath on for their new job as a lawmaker. This ‘Koran’ was ‘translated from the original source’ by a 17th century British Lawyer, George Sale.
The Original work of George Sale was published in 1734, which is in two volumes. The translation of the Quran by Sale, has his own commentary along with notes in with an extra 200 pages; not particularly on the Quran but rather upon the history of Islam. Perhaps, this could be argued that this may encourage the reader to understand the Qur’an’ historical context.
I personally keep an old, 18th century edition of the same Sale’s translation of the Holy Quran, which was published in the year 1764. The book which I have, has leather binding but is in poor condition, which needs restoration. However, there are very interesting maps, genealogy and diagrams inside the translation of the Qur’an. It makes it different from a traditional translation and mushaf of the Holy Quran. I would like to share here some photographs.
The first thing I would like to check is the year of publication. Which might be interesting for few readers. Which is written in roman numerals; MDCCLXIV, which means 1764. Let us calculate!
M- 1000 years
D- 500 years
C- 100 years CC-200 years
L- 50 years
X- 10 years
IV- 4 years
So total 1764, is the year of Publication of my possession.
The interesting maps, genealogy of Prophet and diagrams gives a better understanding of Quran and history of Islam. George Sale agrees that the book was originally published for Christian missionaries. In today’s context many sentences about Prophet and Islam are deemed offensive.
Two centuries ago this translation played a significant role for both; the Christian missionaries and non-practicing population of Europe and America. The translation gave an opportunity to English readers to read the most discussed book of that time. I am not sure if this translation had inspired anyone to follow the Prophet of Islam (pbuh).
However, this book definitely created an awareness and ignited a spark among European writers (Thomas Carlyle) and Theologians (Frederick Denison Maurice) to look into the biography of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) with a unbiased mind. I am sure to some extent this book had changed the understanding of Islam among it’s readers in Europe.
In the next century after, a Scottish Dramatist had read Sale’s translation and delivered his famous lectures. This dramatist would later publish in a book format with a title, ‘On Heroes, Heroes-worship and Heroic in History’. This Scotitish dramatist was Thomas Carlyle who chose Prophet Muhammad (Mahomet) as a Hero to deliver his second lecture on ‘The Hero as Prophet’. He cleared misconceptions surrounding the life of Prophet of Islam (pbuh) and helped to defend him as a ‘true prophet’. Carlyle even mentioned Sale’s name in the tenth paragraph of his famous lecture. According to present standards perhaps his lecture, would be offensive to Muslim listeners and readers.
The dynamism or impact of Sale’s translation of Holy Quran would not stop here. The Sale’s translation and Carlyle’s lecture has influenced many English men and women. One famous English writer, Marmaduke Pickthall; a classmate of Winston Churchill who later converted to Islam. He was the first Muslim to have the privilege to translate Holy Quran in to English (1930) as a Muslim. Abdullah Yusuf Ali would be the first ‘Muslim by Birth’, belonged to Surat (India) would translate Holy Quran (1934) in to English.
Books and ideas have always played a significant role throughout ages. Irrespective of motives and intentions they were written or translated, they would influence the society and course of history. What Sale’s Quran has done in 18th century was one of the greatest service to Islam for Europeans. The main intention of producing the book by George Sale was totally opposite though. Most of us have myopic, very concentric view of seeing events. In reality, it leaves marks not only at that particular point in time but later. Islamophobia was prevalent in the past as it is common today. Muslims react to a minor provocation very quickly, which leads into the spirals of further Islamophobia. People who react to the provocations are as shortsighted as the provocateur. In the end ‘Truth prevails’, in some cases it takes centuries.
(The photographs provided here are the images of the original Sale’s Koran from the collection of Author of this article)