The first ever translation of the Quran into a foreign language was published in 1734 by George Sale. George Sale (1697–1736) was a British Orientalist scholar and practising solicitor.
He died at barely 39 years old and not much is known about him. It is unclear how he learned Arabic in the early 1700’s. His family consisted of a wife and five children. Voltaire wrote his own essay “De l’Alcoran et de Mahomet” (“On the Quran and on Mohammed”). Voltaire shared Sale’s view that Mohammed was a “sublime charlatan” Voltaire bestowed high praise on Sale but mis-asserted him to have spent twenty-five years in Arabia. In reality, it is unknown how Sale learned Arabic.
When the British arrived in India, they immediately started using Sale’s Quran as they attacked the Muslims of India. Pfander was leading this push. Pfander seems to have used Sale’s translation of the Quran and alleged that there was a contradiction in the Quran on Jesus in terms of his death. This was used by Sir Syed and as he tried to correct the perceived errors in Sale’s translation of the Quran and Pfander’s subsequent error. MGA used the exact same script and nowadays, its the common modernist Muslim approach to Islam (see the case of Mufti Abu Layth).
George Sale also writes that it is wrong to think that the Prophet Muhammad invented the story that someone else was substituted for Jesus on the cross because several early Christian sects (whom he lists) already held this view. Muslims copied this story from Christian sects, says Sale. (See his footnote under the previous verse “the Jews planned, and Allah also planned; p. 42 of original edition).
_____________________________________________________________________________________________George Sale on 4:157
“and have said, Verily we have slain Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the apostle of GOD; yet they slew him not, neither crucified him, but he was represented by one in his likeness; and verily they who disagreed concerning him were in a doubt as to this matter, and had no sure knowledge thereof, but followed only an uncertain opinion. They did not really kill him; but GOD took him up unto himself: and GOD is mighty and wise. And there shall not be one of those who have received the scriptures, who shall not believe in him, before his death; and on the day of resurrection he shall be a witness against them.1 Because of the iniquity of those who Judaize, we have forbid-“
Some of this translation by George Sale has extra words which help the reader understand the verse. Obviously, Mr. Sale got the impression from this verse that muslim’s believed that Jesus wasn’t crucified, but instead, there was a person who was crucified in his place, pointing towards the substitution theory.
George Sale on 4:158
but GOD took him up unto himself: and GOD is mighty and wise.
George Sale on 4:159
And there shall not be one of those who have received the scriptures, who shall not believe in him, before his death;q and on the day of resurrection he shall be a witness against them.r
q This passage is expounded two ways. Some, referring the relative his, to the first antecedent, take the meaning to be, that no Jew or Christian shall die before he believes in Jesus:
for they say, that when one of either of those religions is ready to breathe his last, and sees the angel of death before him, he shall then believe in that prophet as he ought, though his faith will not then be of any avail. According to a tradition of Hejâj, when a Jew is expiring, the angels will strike him on the back and face, and say to him, O thou enemy of GOD, Jesus was sent as a prophet unto thee, and thou didst not believe on him; to which he will answer, I now believe him to be the servant of GOD; and to a dying Christian they will say, Jesus was sent as a prophet unto thee, and thou hast imagined him to be GOD, or the son of GOD; whereupon he will believe him to be the servant of GOD only, and his apostle. Others, taking the above-mentioned relative to refer to Jesus, suppose the intent of the passage to be, that all Jews and Christians in general shall have a right faith in that prophet before his death, that is, when he descends from heaven and returns into the world, where he is to kill Antichrist, and to establish the Mohammedan religion, and a most perfect tranquility and security on earth.1
r i.e., Against the Jews, for rejecting him; and against the Christians, for calling him GOD, and the son of GOD.2
George Sale on 3:55
“When GOD said, O Jesus, verily I will cause thee to die, and I will take thee up unto me, and I will deliver thee from the unbelievers; and I will place those who follow thee above the unbelievers, until the day of resurrection: then unto me shall ye return, and I will judge between you of that concerning which ye disagree.”
George Sale on 3:144
“””Mohammed is no more than an apostle; the other apostles have already deceased before him: if he die, therefore, or be slain, will ye turn back on your heels? u but he who turneth back on his heels will not hurt God at all; and GOD will surely reward the thankful.””
Sale’s other works
Sale was also a corrector of the Arabic version of the New Testament (1726) issued by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. He acquired a library with valuable rare manuscripts of Persian, Ottoman Turkish, and Arabic origins, which is now held in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
He assisted in the writing of the Universal History published in London from 1747 to 1768. When the plan of universal history was arranged, Sale was one of those who were selected to carry it into execution. Sale wrote the chapter, “The Introduction, containing the Cosmogony, or Creation of the World”. Critics of the time accused Sale of having a view which was hostile to tradition and the Scriptures. They attacked his account of cosmogony as having a view giving currency to heretical opinions.
- The Koran, First Edition, 1734. (ed. high resolution scans from the Posner Memorial Collection.)
- George Sale (Translator) and Claude Etienne Savary (illustrator), “The Koran: Commonly Called the Alcoran of Mohammed“. J.W. Moore, 1856. 670 pages
- George Sale, et al., “Sacred Books of the East: With Critical and Biographical Sketches“. Colonial Press, 1900. 457 pages
- Sale, George, Bower, Archibald and Psalmanazar, George; An Universal History, from the Earliest Account of Time. Millar, 1747.
- George Sale, “Selections from the Koran of Mohammed“. Priv. print. by N.H. Dole, 1904. 211 pages.
- George Sale, et al., “Arabic Reading Lessons: Consisting of Easy Extracts from the Best Authors“. Wm. H. Allen, 1864. 103 pages.
Born in Canterbury, Kent, he was educated at the King’s School, Canterbury, and in 1720 became a student of the Inner Temple. It is known that he trained as a solicitor in his early years but took time off from his legal pursuits, returning at need to his profession. Sale was an early member of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
The Koran: Commonly Called the Alkoran of Mohammed
In 1734, Sale published a translation of the Quran, Alcoran of Mohammed, dedicated to John Carteret, 2nd Earl Granville. Relying heavily on O.M.D. Louis Maracci‘s Latin translation, Sale provided numerous notes and a Preliminary discourse. Sales had access to the Dutch Church, Austin Friars 14th century manuscript of al-Baydāwī‘s Lights of Revelation and the Secrets of Interpretation and this seems the source for his Arabic Quran rather than his own personal Quran, catalogued MS Sale 76 in the Bodleian Library.
Sales footnotes provide the literal translation where it differs from the idiom of the body text; he gives alternate variant readings; and supplementary historical and contextual information. Sir Edward Denison Ross added the Introduction to the 1922 reprint of Sale’s translation.
Though he did not place Islam at an equal level with Christianity, Sale seemed to view Mohammad as a conqueror who sought to destroy idolatry and a lawgiver who managed to change and supplant many practices in Arabia:
The remembrance of the calamities brought on so many nations by the conquests of the Arabians may possibly raise some indignation against him who formed them to empire, but this being equally applicable to all conquerors, could not, of itself, occasion all the detestation with which the name Mohammed is loaded. He has given a new system of religion, which has had still greater success than the arms of his followers, and to establish this religion made use of an imposture, and on this account it is supposed that he must of necessity have been a most abandoned villain, and his memory is become infamous. But as Mohammed gave his Arabs the best religion he could, as well as the best laws, preferable, at least, to those of the ancient pagan lawgivers, I confess I cannot see why he deserves not equal respect, though not with Moses or Jesus Christ, whose laws came really from heaven, yet with Minos or Numa, notwithstanding the distinction of a learned writer, who seems to think it a greater crime to make use of an imposture to set up a new religion, founded on the acknowledgment of one true God, and to destroy idolatry, than to use the same means to gain reception to rules and regulations for the more orderly practice of heathenism already established.
Sale prefixed a Preliminary Discourse to his translation covering topics including Arabs “before hijra“; the State of the Eastern Churches, and Judaism, at time of Mohammed; the Peculiarities of the Quran; positive and negative Doctrines and Instructions of the Quran; and political Islam in the 1730s.
Sale posits the decline of the Persian Empire on rivalry between the sects of Manes and Mazdak. Mass immigration into Arabia to escape persecution in the Grecian empire. In his eighth essay on False Prophecy, Sale notes Muslim Sects both Canonical (Maleci, Hanefites, Hanbali and Al-Shafi‘i) and “heretical”, including here Shi’sm.
Sale became seriously ill with fever for eight days before his death. George Sale died at Surrey Street, The Strand, London, on 13 November 1736. Sale was buried at St. Clement Danes. His family consisted of a wife and five children.
A second edition of his Quran is published. Thomas Jefferson had this edition and donated it to the Library of Congress in 1815.
Thomas Jefferson donated his 1764 edition of George Sale’s Quran to the Library of Congress.
In January 2007, Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, was sworn in using a 1764 edition of Sale’s translation of the Quran, sold to the Library of Congress in 1815 by Thomas Jefferson.
In January 2019 newly elected Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar were sworn in using the same edition of Sales’s translation of Qu’ran.
Links and Related Essay’s
- Pomeau. Voltaire en son temps.
- A SKETCH OF THE LIFE OF GEORGE SALE [from AlKoran 1891 version]
- The Koran, commonly called the Alcoran of Mohammed: translated into English immediately from the original Arabic; with explanatory notes, taken from the most approved commentators, to which is prefixed a preliminary discourse
- Arnoud Vrolijk Sale, George ODNB, 28 May 2015
- Alexander Bevilacqua: The Qur’an Translations of Marracci and Sale, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes
- The Koran. Translated by George Sale, with explanatory notes and Sale’s preliminary discourse. With an Introduction by Sir Edward Denison Ross, C.I.E., Ph.D., etc. 8½ × 6, xvi 608 pp., 8 plates. London: F. Warne & Co., Ltd. (1922). Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, 54(2), 282-283. doi:10.1017/S0035869X00150397
- “Thomas Jefferson’s Copy of the Koran To Be Used in Congressional Swearing-in Ceremony”. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.
- “Congresswoman Tlaib Inspires Palestinian-Americans With A Dress And A Hashtag”. NPR.org. Retrieved 4 January 2019.
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