Item of the Day: Koran translated by George Sale (1734)

Full Title: The Koran, Commonly called The Alcoran of Mohammed, Translated into English immediately from the Original Arabic; with Explanatory Notes, Taken from the most appoved Commentators. To which is prefixed A Preliminary Discourse. By George Sale, Gent. London: Printed by C. Ackers in St. John’s-Street, for J. Wilcox at Virgil’s Head overagainst the New Church in the Strand, MDCCXXXIV.

TO THE

READER.

I imagine it almost needless either to make an apology for publishing the following Translation, or to go about to prove it a work of use as well as curiosity. They must have a mean opinion of the Christian Religion, or be but ill grounded therein, who can apprehend any danger from so manifest a forgery: and if the religious and civil Institutions of foreign nations are worth our knowldege, those of Mohammed, the lawgiver of the Arabians, and founder of an empire which in less than a century spread itself over a greater part of the world than the Romans were ever masters of, must needs be so; whether we consider their extensive obtaining, or our frequent intercourse with those who are governed thereby. I shall not here enquire into the reasons why the law of Mohammed has met with so unexampled a reception in the world, (for they are greatly deceived who imagine it to have been propagated by the sword alone,) or by what means it came to be embraced by nations which never felt the force of the Mohammedan arms, and even by those which stripped the Arabians of their conquests, and put an end to the sovereignty and very being of their Khalifs: yet it seems as if there was something more than what is vulgarly imagined, in a religion which has made so surprising a progress. But whatever use an impartial version of the Koran may be of in other respects, it is absolutley necessary to undeceive those who, from the ignorant or unfair translations which have appeared, have entertained too favourable an opinion of the original, and also to enable us effectually to expose the imposture; none of those who have hitherto undertaken that province, not excepting Dr. Prideaux himself, having succeeded to the satisfaction of the judicious, for want of being compleat masters of the controversy. The writers of the Romish communion, in particular, are so far from having done any service in their refutations of Mohammedism, that by endeavouring to defend their idolatry and other superstitions, they have contributed to the encrease of that aversion which the Mohammedans in general have to the Christian Religion, and given them great advantages in the dispute. The Protestants alone are able to attack the Koran with success; and for them, I trust, Providence has reserved the glory of its overthrow. In the mean time, if I might presume to lay down rules to be observed by those who attempt the conversion of the Mohammedans, they should be the same which the learned and worthy bishop Kidder has prescribed for the conversion of the Jews, and which may, mutatis mutandis, be equally applied to the former, notwithstanding the despicable opinion that writer, for want of being better acquainted with them, entertained of those people, judging them scarce fit to be argued with. The first of these rules is, To avoid compulsion; which though it be not in our power to employ at present, I hope will not be made use of when it is. The second is, To avoid teaching doctrines against common sense; the Mohammedans not being such fools (whatever we may think of them) as to be gained over this case. The worshipping of images, and the doctrine of transubstantiation are great stumbling blocks to the Mohammedans, and the church which teacheth them is very unfit to bring those people over. The third is, To avoid weak arguments: for the Mohammedans are not to be converted with these, or hard words. We must use them with humanity, and dispute against them with arguments that are proper and cogent. It is certain that many Christians, who have written against them, have been very defective this way: many have used arguments that have no force, and advanced propositons that are void of truth. This method is so far from convincing that it rather serves to harden them. The Mohammedans will be apt to conclude we have little to say, when we urge them with arguemts that are trifling or untrue. We do but lose ground when we do this; and instead of gaining them, we expose ourselves and our cause also. We must not give them ill words neither; but must avoid all reproachful language, all that is sarcastical and biting: this never did good rom pulpit or press. The softest words will make the deepest impression; and if we think it a fault in them to give ill language, we cannot be excused when we imitate them. The fourth rule is, Not to quit any article of the Christian faith to gain the Mohammedans.  It is a fond conceit of the Socinians, that we shall upon their principles be most like to prevail upon the Mohammedans: it is not true in matter of fact. We must not give up any article to gain them: but then the church of Rome ought to part with many practices and some doctrines. We are not to design to gain the Mohammedans over to a system of dogma, but to the ancient and primitive faith. I believe no body will deny but that the rules here laid down are just: the latter part of the third, which alone my design has given me occasion to practice, I think so reasonable, that I have not, in speaking of Mohammed or his Koran, allowed myself use those oppobrious appellations, and unmannerly espressions, which seem to be the strongest argumemts of several who have written against them. On the contrary, I have thought myself obliged to treat both with common decency, and even to approve such particulars as seemed to me to deserve approbation: for how criminal soever Mohammed may have been in imposing a false religion on mankind, the praises due to his real virtues ought not to be denied; nor can I do othewise than applaud the condour of the pious and learned Spanhemius, who, tho’ he owned him to have been a wicked impostor, yet acknowledged him to have been richly furnished with natural endowments, beautiful in his person, of subtle wit, agreeable behavior, shewing liberality to the poor, courtesy to every one, fortitude against his enemies, and above all a high reverence for the name of God; severe against the perjured, adulterers, murtherers, slandereres, prodigals, covetous, false witnesses, &c. a great preacher of patience, charity, mercy, beneficence, gratitude, honouring of parents and superiors, and frequent celebvrator of the divine praises. . . .

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Filed under 1730's, Islam, Koran, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Religion

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