Interesting article on the sensitivity to context of Qur’anic words

I always found some word choices in the Qur’an somewhat puzzling, or rather, difficult to understand, when I read Qur’anic translations.

Abdel Haleem, in his recent article, “The Role of Context in Interpreting and Translating the Qur’an,” explores how context gives generic Qur’anic words, such as al-Rahman, meanings that slightly diverge from the generic usage. As an example, Abdel Haleem quotes popular translations of Q21:42:

Who shall keep you safe from the All-Merciful by night or day? (Khalidi)

Who will guard you night and day from the Merciful? (Jones)

Who shall guard you by night and in the daytime from the All-merciful?

He appropriately notes that it is rather strange that God is referred to as “All-Merciful” while threatening punishment. Instead, he writes that “In my own
translation of this verse I have instead opted for Who could protect you night and
day from the Lord of Mercy? on the basis that it is the lordly and powerful aspect of
God that is operative in this context. This translation retains the idea of God’s mercy,
but also conveys the sense of lordship that has power and authority.

The article can be accessed for free through the following URL:


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