I'm planning on reading the Koran soon, and I'm looking for good candidates for a translation to choose.

The most important thing to me is that it's easy to read.  I'd rather not trudge through archaic language.

It would be a nice bonus, although not essential, if there were notes on context and domain knowledge that I lack (not apologetics).  I've never had much exposure to any Muslim culture, I'm not a historian, and this will be largely new material to me.  No doubt there will be references that the intended audience is assumed to understand that I will not.

It is NOT important to me that the translation has hair splitting accuracy.  Of course I don't want it to be SO profoundly biased and inaccurately translated that it totally misrepresents Islam, or to water things down so much that it's really noticeable, but if Koran translations are anything like Bible translations, I've found that ones that are biased to better support one or another doctrine or some group's agenda or viewpoint differ mainly in little pet details and read mostly the same.

So far, the Dawood and the M. A. S. Abdel Haleem translations seem like they could be promising.  "A Simple Koran" and "An Abridged Koran" seem like candidates as well.  I'm not sure about the abridged version: on one hand I would be grateful to be spared mind-numbing repetition, but I'm afraid of losing out on a feel for how consistent or inconsistent the Koran is or the opportunity to pick up changes in Mohammed's positions after he became more powerful and had greater influence.  There may also be other translations that I have not noticed that would be particularly readable.

Does anyone have suggestions for the most readable translations, and/or sources that provide good background information?

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What about the skeptic's annotated Koran?

http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/quran/index.htm

I've no idea on variations - I've not worked my way up to Islam in my readings yet.

I'm aware of at least two online sources for the quran.  The site quran.com has no less than six selectable transliterations.  There are check-boxes on the left of each page where you can select which version to display.  There is also the Skeptic's Annotated Quran, which only uses one, though which one, I am not certain.

As to how "readable" any of these are ... [shrug] ... I suppose you can scan a few suras with quran.com and decide for yourself, though dreck is dreck, regardless of readability.

The Koran can be interpreted different ways. What matters is how Muslims have traditionally interpreted it down through the ages - this is what "true" Islam is. For that you also need to read other sources like the Hadith, biographies of Muhammad, and the interpretations that were formalised in the different schools of Islamic jurisprudence.

Here are some folks that explain the whole traditional Islamic interpretations ...

Read Dr Andrew Bostom's Legacy of Jihad.

Or read anything by Robert Spencer.

Here's a good summary by Janet Levy:

No other religion on earth exists with a holy book dominated by hatred toward non-believers. The Islamic trilogy -- the Koran, the Sira (or biography of Mohammed), and the Hadith (the words and deeds of Mohammed) -- requires jihad, the killing of infidels, as the highest form of devotion to Allah. Islam is a theo-political-legal doctrine whose primary focus is not on the "goodness" of Muslims, but on others -- evildoers who do not share the Islamic belief system...

The Koran contains over four thousand verses of enmity toward non-believers. Over 63% of the Koran instructs Muslims to hate and avoid any association with non-Muslims. It teaches that non-Muslims should be held in contempt, killed, beheaded, humiliated, raped, enslaved, converted, or forced to pay the jizya or dhimmi tax. Eighty-five percent of the Sira -- the biography of Mohammed, the ideal man or moral icon for Muslims -- has to do with his battles against kuffars, or non-believers. This is a far cry from "Jesus died for your sins." Islamic teachings laud and require lying and deception, "taquiya," to advance the "ummah," or Islamic community. While Jews and Christians honor the Golden Rule, turn the other cheek and practice tolerance and inclusiveness, Muslims learn how to fight the Dar al-Harb, the infidel world of war, and practice the artistry of duplicity not only with impunity, but also with the highest praises from their god...

http://www.answeringmuslims.com

@redhands: If it were really to come into play for different versions, I would be interested in "mainstream" islam, which I think is pretty much limited to shiite and sunni.  I'm guessing "mainstream" muslims would consider followers of babism to be infidels.  It seems to me to have certain things in common with mormonism (which also had a persuasive founder who heaped a bunch of new nonsense upon old nonsense and is often considered by mainstream christians to not be "true" christianity).  If I were not already familiar with christianity I'd be interested in more of a central message or overview, rather than specific doctrine of say, pentecostals vs. baptists.  If I knew better, I'd probably look for a translation like the "Contemporary English Version" or the "Good News Translation."  I would not care what spin the jehovah witnesses imparted to their translation.  This is my goal for my selection of a koran translation.

@ChrisC: I will definitely be referencing the Skeptic's Annotated Koran as I read, but whatever translation it uses seems a little archaic to me.

@Loren: Thanks, I just did a quick spot check on quarn.com--it's nice to have as an option, plus I like how you can look at different versions in parallel if you ever do want to compare.

@Michael: Good stuff, I've read about such lunacy.  It's a frightening world populated by purveyors of the ultimate truth.  Thanks for the links. 

If you wanna learn about Islam, don't read the quran because it's not like the bible, and it will not make any sense to you. Read hadith or perhaps wikipedia.

The Koran Interpreted: A Translation

by A J Arberry

Arberry honors the idea that the Quran cannot be translated due to the particular Arabic style along with some other notions like that it was never written but always coexisted with Allah.  His verse is good and goes a long way toward showing some of the attraction of the original. 

However, a better start would be to situate Islam historically by reading any number of texts and articles on the early community.  Try for something short.  You do not need to get bogged down in interminable details on which character slept with whose cousin.

Remember, like Judaism, Islam started as a tribal religion that resembled henotheism more than monotheism.  The Hebrew bible has many references to other gods (hence Yahweh's jealousy) but Yahweh was always toughest etc.  Other people had their gods and the Hebrews had theirs.  Various Arabs in the Hijaz had different gods and as good merchants they tended to be tolerant of all as long as the worshipers had money.  Muhammad took things to the next level declaring Allah to be the one and only.  Still it had tribal features for a good while.  Then purely Arabic features. Within a hundred years accommodations with non Arabs was proceeding rapidly.  

From there it would be good if you knew a bit about the different mazhabs or schools of legal thought (aka fiqh).  Learning about say, Ahmad ibn Hanbal is informative for comparisons with a lot of fundamentalist Xian preachers.  Hanbal by the way was the eponym of the Hanbali School in Saudi Arabia.  There were others who were not nearly so destructive though ultimately like good Xians and other religious cults they rely on a dogma.  That dogma may or may not relate well to the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet. 

Ok sorry I digress.  Try Arberry his is usually considered to be the best. 

Good luck.

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