Professor Arthur John Arberry (1905-1969)

Celebrated British orientalist and prolific writer. He was Chair of Persian at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Later on he became a professor at the Cambridge University

“There is a repertory of familiar themes running through the whole Koran; each Sura elaborates or adumbrates one or more — often many — of these. Using the language of music, each Sura is a rhapsody composed of whole or fragmentary leitmotivs; the analogy is reinforced by the subtly varied rhythmical flow of the discourse. If this diagnosis of the literary structure of the Koran may be accepted as true — and it accords with what we know of the poetical instinct, indeed the whole aesthetic impulse, of the Arabs — it follows that those notorious incongruities and irrelevancies, even those ‘wearisome repetitions’, which have proved such stumbling-blocks in the way of our Western appreciation will vanish in the light of a clearer understanding of the nature of the Muslim scriptures. A new vista opens up; following this hitherto unsuspected and unexplored path, the eager interpreter hurries forward upon an exciting journey of discovery, and is impatient to report his findings to a largely indifferent and incredulous public.

During the long months, the dark and light months, of labouring at this interpretation, eclectic where the ancient commentators differ in their understanding of a word or a phrase, unannotated because notes in plenty are to be found in other versions, and the radiant beauty of the original is not clouded by such vexing interpolations — all through this welcome task I have been reliving those Ramadan nights of long ago, when I would sit on the veranda of my Gezira house and listen entranced to the old, white-bearded Sheykh who chanted the Koran for the pious delectation of my neighbour. He had the misfortune, my neighbour, to be a prominent politician, and so in the fullness of his destiny, but not the fullness of his years, he fell to an assassin’s bullet; I like to think that the merit of those holy recitations may have eased the way for him into a world free of the tumult and turbulence that attended his earthly career. It was then that I, the infidel, learnt to understand and react to the thrilling rhythms of the Koran, only to be apprehended when listened to at such a time and in such a place. In humble thankfulness I dedicate this all too imperfect essay in imitation to the memory of those magical Egyptian nights.”

“This task (the translation of the Koran) was undertaken, not lightly, and carried to its conclusion at a time of great personal distress, through which it comforted and sustained the writer in a manner for which he will always be grateful. He therefore acknowledges his gratitude to whatever power or Power inspired the man and Prophet who first recited these scriptures. I pray that this interpretation, poor echo though it is of the glorious original, may instruct, please, and in some degree inspire those who read it.”

 


The Koran Interpreted, Arthur John Arberry, vol. 1, pg 28; Allen and Unwin 1963
The Koran Interpreted, Arthur John Arberry, pg. xii; Oxford University Press, 1998