5 Reasons “Muslim Friendly” Bible Translations are Counterproductive

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“Muslim friendly” Bible translations, technically termed “Muslim Idiom Translations” (MITs), are well-meaning attempts to produce the Bible in a way that is easily accepted and understood by Muslims. These translations use Islamic terminology, graphic elements and fonts, and Qur’anic phrases to make the book look, feel, and read like an Islamic book. Some MITs use the same distinctive frame around the text and numbered rosettes between the verses that Qur’an editions do, and some even replace literal translations of “Father” and “Son” with alternative terms like “guardian” and “prince”.

Their proponents argue that these translations are necessary for reaching Muslims, but many people question whether MITs are helpful at all, and indigenous believers tend to be strongly opposed to these translations in their own languages. Here are 5 reasons I believe MITs are counterproductive:

1. MITs support Muslim claims that the Bible has been corrupted. Muslims have claimed for hundreds of years that Christians and Jews have changed the Bible, without any proof. While the biblical manuscripts remain unchanged, the presence of multiple translations that have significant differences contributes to this belief among Muslims. When Muslims read “son of God” in one translation, and “representative of God”, “prince of God”, and sometimes simply “messiah of God” in other translations, this is clear evidence to them of the corruption of the Bible.

2. MITs are deceptive. Even though they may not mean to be deceptive, MITs appear at first glance to be Muslim books. This is because they use cover artwork that is similar to Qur’anic art, introductions and headers that include Qur’anic phrases, distinctly Qur’anic names for prophets and other biblical characters, and Islamic theological phrases. While these traits might be intended to help Muslims accept and understand the Bible better, what they actually do is make Muslims think they are reading a Muslim book. But if they initially accept this book on the basis of it being Islamic, they do so under false premises. This is not consistent with 2 Corinthians 4:2 – “But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” Deception is not only wrong, but also counterproductive, because when it is discovered, it makes Muslims more resistant to the gospel.

3. MITs only deceive naïve Muslims. Only uneducated and unknowledgeable Muslims would be ultimately fooled into thinking that an MIT is actually a Muslim book. Educated and well-informed Muslims would be rightly enraged at such a deceptive tactic, and would surely raise awareness about it to their fellow Muslims.

4. Muslims already know that Christians believe Jesus is the Son of God. Since practically all Muslims already are taught to resist the Christian idea of Jesus as the Son of God, they naturally know that the Sonship is a Christian belief. So, producing a Bible that translates “son” as something else convinces Muslims that the Bible is on their side of the argument. Thankfully, not all MITs remove or replace “Father” and “Son” with alternate terms, but’s hard to conceive of why so many MIT translation teams thought this would be a good idea.

5. MITs are the equivalent of a Qur’an with a cross on it. Let’s put this into perspective – imagine if someone handed you a book with a cross on the front, called “The Good Book”, and when you opened it and began to read, you immediately feel comfortable reading it, because it includes familiar Bible verses in the introduction, and it’s written full of “Christian-ese”. But then, on reading about the “Prophet Moe” you suddenly realize that this book is actually a Qur’an, specially designed for Christian audiences! How would you feel, and what conclusions would you jump to? These are likely the same feelings and conclusions that Muslims have when reading MITs.

For 1400 years Christians have faithfully protected the scriptures – it’s unfortunate that our generation has allowed such dramatically different translations, by imitating the books of other religious traditions, and even worse, by compromising on such a central theological issue as the Father and Son.

If you or your church know and/or support Bible translation projects or staff, I encourage you to find out whether they are involved with MITs, or other Religious Idiom Translations (RITs). If you would like any assistance in finding out, feel free to email us at info@biblicalmissiology.org.

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About Author

Pierre Rashad Houssney, MENA Regional Director for Horizons International, is a Lebanese-American who grew up in the context of cross-cultural ministry among Muslims and international students. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado, and is fluent in English and Arabic. He has been in full-time ministry with Horizons International since 2006, and has been an active member of Horizons’ teaching staff and curriculum development team since 2002. He played a lead role in the development and teaching of the Engaging Islam and Cubs to Lions training curricula, and co-edited Engaging Islam (Georges Houssney, Treeline Publishing, Boulder, CO, 2010). Pierre has traveled to over 30 countries, and his field experience in the Middle East began when he spent summers doing outreach in Lebanon as a teenager and spent a gap year during university doing music ministry in Beirut. Pierre lives in Beirut, Lebanon, with his wife, Gigi, and their two children, where he leads a team of nationals and missionaries who run a center for evangelism and discipleship among Muslims. As a key part of Horizons' teaching staff, he trains Arab and Western Christians for effective ministry to Muslims, and is active in missiological advocacy among the global missions community. Pierre is a team player, and loves to see new leaders thrive and work together to glorify God. He is well-connected to Lebanese churches and those who minister to Muslims in the Middle East.

3 Comments

  1. Adam Simnowitz on

    Dick,

    Your reply to this article leads to some very important questions which I hope you will answer. Honest discussion of this topic cannot take place if our communication is only in generalities.

    1-What is its title of the “Muslim-friendly translation of the Bible” of which you wrote?
    2-What language is it in?
    3-Who published it?
    4-Who were the translators?
    5-Do the translators know the biblical languages?
    6-Can you provide for us a “back translation” into English?
    7-If fund-raising among professing evangelicals were involved for this “Muslim-friendly translation,” were the “Muslim-friendly” features made known to potential supporters?
    8-Can you provide support for your claim that “tens of thousands of Muslims reading the Bible and discovering how much God loves them through this book”?
    9-How are you defining “believers”?
    10-Assurance of salvation is a wonderful reality for those who are born of the Spirit (Rom. 8:14-16; Gal. 4:6-7) but something that cannot be divorced from sound doctrine (1 Tim. 4:16). Mormons often claim that they have “assurance of salvation” through what they call “a burning in the bosom.” Without knowing what these “believers” actually believe, how can we know that their profession of assurance of salvation is in keeping with what the Bible teaches?
    11-Is God, the Holy Spirit, really limited in the way you imply when you wrote, “This little community would have never touched a Bible had it not been for the ‘Muslim friendly translation.’”

  2. DickGrady,There are four primary reasons that I believe that “Muslim Friendly” translations are a very bad idea.

    1. These translations tend to obscure Scriptural references that demonstrate the divinity of Christ and/or the Trinitarian nature of the Godhead, and they tend to leave an open door to believing that the God of Scripture and the god of the Qu’ran are identical. Here are some concerns:
    a. While our Greek texts use identical vocabulary when referring to the Lordship of the Son and of the Father, “Muslim Friendly” translations frequently use different vocabulary when referring to Father and Son which obscures the unity that is clear in the original text.
    b. “Muslim Friendly” translations frequently do not retain familial language like “Father” and “Son” when speaking about God, or add additional “explanations” that suggest that no familial relationship was intended. This leaves the reader with a false impression about the relationship of the Father and Son.
    c. Some translations use “Allah” as a PROPER NAME for God, equating him with the god described in Islam.
    These are only some of the theologically significant changes that are being adopted in “Muslim Friendly” translations, and these changes leave readers with a false understanding about who Jesus is. These “translations” don’t simply use different words, the communicate very different concepts about who God is.

    2. These translations frequently leave the impression that the Qu’ran is also an inspired text, sometimes including references to the Qu’ran and/or using a format which mirrors Islamic literature. And these translations are favored by ministries who leave open questions about the inspiration of the Qu’ran.

    3. Islam teaches that Scripture cannot be trusted because the text of Scripture has been corrupted and these new versions, which truly have corrupted the biblical text, legitimize this long held Islamic belief and lay a foundation for mistrusting all bible translations.

    4. As you know, leaders of movements that are using these translations have demonstrated that concerns about potential misunderstandings regarding the inspiration of the Quran, the divinity of Jesus, the Trinity, etc… are very real. It is not a question about whether it can happen, it is clear that it has happened.

    Notes:
    1. The translators of “Muslim Friendly” translations frequently appeal to the use of “allah” as a generic noun for “god” in Arabic as justification for using “Allah” as a PROPER NAME in translations targeted for many other linguistic contexts, but using “Allah” as a PROPER NAME is very different than using “allah” as a generic noun. In Arabic and a limited number of Arabic influenced linguistic contexts, “allah” is just a noun that describes a diving being. In most linguistic contexts it is the PROPER NAME of the god of Islam.

    2. One “Muslim Friendly” translation offers the following “explanation” for the Scripture’s use of Familial Language.

    “The phrase “Son of the Most High” is often used in the Injil (Gospel) to refer to Isa (Jesus). Unfortunately polls have shown that this idiom is often misunderstood. In order to understand the significance of this title you need to know what it meant to the ancient inhabitants of the Middle East. In many cultures of the ancient world, kings were called sons of the Most High, or sons of the gods. For example, this is how the Roman Emperor and the Egyptian Pharaoh were addressed. This is also observed among Eastern peoples, like the ancient Turks, Mongols, Huns, and Chinese. All this may serve as a key to understanding the title “Son of the Most High” in Scripture. The Israelites believed that their true king – Eternal (see Isa . 44:6 ) and earthly king in Jerusalem was chosen by the Eternal to represent Him on earth. In order to describe the relationship between the king and the Eternal, metaphors like “son of the Most High” (see Psalm . 2:7) or “firstborn” (see Psalm . 88:27 )– were used in relationship to the king, and “father ” in relation to God (see 2 Sam. 7:14). This indicated that the king’s power comes from God, and that the king bears responsibility before Him. The ceremony of the enthronement of a new king was compared with the birth of a son; We see it in (Psalm 2:6-7).”

  3. Why I love Muslim friendly translations. For most of my Father’s life the Bible was a foreign book. Then in 1971 Kenneth Taylor published the Living Bible. For the first time my father found a Bible which spoke a language he could understand. Almost 25 years later, I was preparing to give the eulogy at my Father’s funeral. I found dozens of quite time journals. Day after day, my father had read the Living Bible and through it, he had discovered a God who loved him enough to send Jesus to die on the cross for his sins. Day after day, as he had applied the truth of the Scriptures, his life was being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. I was with my father the day he died without fear, knowing that his future was secure because of what Jesus had done for him. Taylor made a lot of interpretive decisions in the Living Bible with which I personally disagree. But without a Bible which spoke a language he understood, my father might never have experienced such a transformation in his relationship with God.

    I lived for 18 years in a majority Muslim country. When the first Muslim friendly translation of the Bible was published, many of my Muslim friends began to have an identical experience. The Bible had always seemed like a foreign book. All of a sudden it was a book for them. A book which spoke their language, which used their idiom. The translation is not perfect. I might even disagree with some of the translation decisions which were made. But I also know that there are now tens of thousands of Muslims reading the Bible and discovering how much God loves them through this book. Recently I sat with a small group of believers who had come to faith through this ‘Muslim friendly Bible’. Their absolute assurance of salvation based solely upon Jesus and what he had done for them on the cross is at the heart of their testimony — a testimony which they are sharing freely with their Muslim friends and neighbors. This little community would have never touched a Bible had it not been for the ‘Muslim friendly translation.’

    I hope and pray that ‘Muslim friendly Bibles’ will be available to Muslims throughout the Muslim world.

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