This book examines how early juridical and theological debates on translatability and the nature of revelation and language informed the development of Persian translations and commentaries of the Qur’an. While it is generally believed that Muslims were averse to translating the Qur’an, the historical record proves to be much more nuanced. Through a study of a range of sources, spanning from the second/eighth to seventh/thirteenth centuries, this book re-evaluates the role of translation in spheres of ritual praxis, religious conversion and Qur’anic hermeneutics.

The Vernacular Qur’an explores the history behind the juridical resistance to translating the Qur’an, the theological debates concerning the nature of divine speech and the rise of Persian exegetical translations. These early translations retained the original Arabic text of the Qur’an through the interlinear and marginal presentation of the vernacular, thereby preserving the sacred script while expanding the text, making it accessible to a wider audience.

Travis Zadeh gives a thorough overview of the development of Persian exegetical writing, from rhyming translations to major commentaries. He begins with the emergence of New Persian literature in the fourth/tenth century and traces its development over the ensuing centuries as the use of Persian came to rival Arabic in courts and in institutions of religious education.

Through a series of detailed case studies, this book explores the relationship between Qur’anic hermeneutics and vernacular cultures, the religious elite, institutions of education and dynastic authority. It presents for the first time to an English readership a broad array of archival material, drawn from the Middle East, Central Asia and South Asia, covering several centuries of Islamic history.