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Paradise Lost as an Islamic Epic:

Muhammad ‘Anānī's translation
Nabil Matar
Published online: 18 Nov 2014.

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To cite this article: Nabil Matar (2015) Paradise Lost as an Islamic Epic: Muhammad ‘Anānī's
translation (2002/2010), English Studies, 96:1, 6-20, DOI: 10.1080/0013838X.2014.964556

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English Studies, 2015
Vol. 96, No. 1, 6–20,

Paradise Lost as an Islamic Epic:

Muhammad ‘Anā nı’̄ s translation
Nabil Matar
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The publication of the translation of Paradise Lost by Muhammad ‘Anānı̄ in one complete
volume in 2010, after nearly three decades of work, coincided with the destabilization of
Egypt. As a result, this Herculean work has gone unnoted. The purpose of this paper is
to introduce the translation to fellow Miltonists. The paper will be in two parts. The
first part will concentrate on the translation of the verse and on ‘Anānı̄’s attempt to
retain the Miltonic voice as well as the line and book divisions of the poem. In
preparing his translation, ‘Anānı̄ consulted a number of distinguished colleagues in
Egypt, and read the “classic” scholars on Milton (Leavis, T. S. Eliot, Empson, Tillyard,
Broadbent and others) and explained how he relied on their interpretations for specific
word translations. The challenge he faced was in regard to the classical allusions which
were part of Milton’s intellectual world but are not necessarily known to Arabic readers
today. How is “Pandemonium”, a word coined by Milton, to be translated? Fortunately,
Milton’s biblical heroes and villains are part of Qur’anic imagination—but ‘Anānı̄ still
faced challenges in turning them into epic/dramatic figures. The second part will turn to
the theology. ‘Anānı̄ sought to situate the poem within his readers’ religious and
linguistic tradition, and therefore had to strike a balance between Milton’s Christianity
and the Arab-Muslim response/reaction to that theology. In so doing, ‘Anānı̄ trans-
theologized Paradise Lost, producing the first Islamic epic in modern Arabic literature.
His masterful control of the translation showed how doctrinal differences could be elided
by subtle alternative renderings. But the challenge was formidable and ‘Anānı̄ had to
move cautiously, often explaining himself in the extended endnotes. The result is an epic
poem in Arabic by Muhammad ‘Anānı̄, for his translation is as much a work of his
own as The Tempest, or the Enchanted Island is Davenant and Dryden’s play and
not Shakespeare’s, and Davenant’s “improvements” on Macbeth produced a play that
Restoration theatregoers recognized as Davenant’s and not the bard’s.

Nabil Matar is affiliated with the Department of English, University of Minnesota, USA. Email:
This article was originally published with errors. This version has been corrected. Please see Corrigendum (http://

© 2014 Taylor & Francis

Paradise Lost as an Islamic Epic 7

Muhammad ‘Anānı̄, the doyen of Arab translators, published the translation of the

first two books of Paradise Lost (hereafter PL) in 1982, and books 3–6 in 1984;
books 1–2 were reprinted in 2001, in the same year that books 7–9 appeared, followed
in 2002 by books 10–12. The full translation appeared in 2002 and was republished in
an extended form in 2010 as part of the Egyptian project of translation; the general
introduction read: “culture in all its expressions is the only way to instill the values
of education, tolerance, democracy, civic peace and development.”2 This latter
volume included numerous changes in the translation of the poem, additional com-
ments in the endnotes, and translation of new material by Milton and excerpts from
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numerous critical writings.

As Eid Dahiyat has shown in his Once upon the Orient Wave, from the late nineteenth
century on, Milton’s PL had attracted the attention of Arab translators and critics,
many of whom admired its heroic image of a defiant Satan, the same that Byron
and Shelley had also admired.3 Milton thus has not been a dead white poet in the
Arab world, certainly not in Egypt.4 As ‘Anānı̄ observed on various occasions, his trans-
lations often sold out.
The study below is based on the 2010 edition of the translation. It argues that in al-
Firdaws al-mafqūd, Muhammad ‘Anānı̄ did not simply translate the epic: he also
adapted it theologically into an Islamic work. In this respect, his PL should be
approached as an original work, in the manner of the Restoration adaptations of
Shakespeare. His translation is as much a work of his own as The Tempest, or the
Enchanted Island is John Dryden and William Davenant’s play and not Shakespeare’s,
and William Davenant’s “improvements” on Macbeth (1664) produced a play that Res-
toration theatregoers recognized as Davenant’s and not the bard’s. Unlike those adap-
tations, however, ‘Anānı̄ remained faithful to Milton’s text, translating every line of the
epic; but he changed the theology of the epic. While other translations of the epic into
“Islamic languages” (Turkish and Farsi) did not alter the theology,5 ‘Anānı̄ explained in
his endnotes that he did so in order not to confuse the reader who is not familiar with
Christian doctrine, and for “al-ittisāq in the Arabic text”.6
‘Anānı̄ immersed himself in Milton criticism before launching on his project. To
help the Arabic reader, he added translations of sample celebratory poems and criti-
cisms of PL at the end of the volume: from Andrew Marvell’s poem on PL to

See the article on ‘Anānı̄ in Al-Akhbar, 7 September 2010: Sāmiya ‘Eid, “Al-Duktor Muḥammad ‘Anānı̄, ‘amı̄d
almutarjimı̄n ya‘tarif.”
‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws al-mafqūd, 11.
See Gardner.
In Once, Dahiyat gave a detailed survey of the translators and the critics, focusing on some of the problems that
they faced in reading the Miltonic texts: chapter 4: “Milton in Arabic,” and the extensive bibliography of Milton
translations to Arabic. See also Muhammad ‘Abdul-Hai.
A Turkish translation of PL appeared in 2012 (following an earlier one in 2007) but it did not include bk. 12:
Enver Günsel, Kayib Cennet (Istanbul: Pegasus, 2012). I am grateful to Professor Hasan Baktir, Erciyes University,
for commenting to me on this text. Professor Behzod Ghaderi Sohi (also Erciyes University) kindly informed me
about the Farsi translation by Mahdavi-Damghani.
‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 805, lines 60–2.
8 N. Matar
T. S. Eliot’s essays. He consulted early authors such as Samuel Johnson and Joseph
Addison, but relied heavily in his endnotes on studies by most of the big “old”
names such as E. M. W. Tillyard, B. Rajan, Margery Nicholson, John Shawcross and
others. ‘Anānı̄ copiously annotated the poem, sometimes presenting differences in
scholars’ interpretations followed by his own position, at other times mentioning criti-
cal trends (“in the nineties”) or simply the views of commentators/shurrāh.̣ 7 He also
queried some of his academic colleagues in Cairo, most prominent among whom
were Luwı̄s ‘Awaḍ and Majdi Wihbi, and used Arabic translations of Chaucer
(Majdi Wihbi’s), Dante (Ḥ asan ‘Uthmān’s), Shakespeare (his own) and others.
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Given Milton’s heavy reliance on European epic writers, from Homer to Virgil and
from Tasso to Spenser, ‘Anānı̄ explained the sources of phrases or images that
Milton borrowed from these writers, and translated select passages: the endnotes
include some of the rare translations into Arabic of passages from George Herbert8
and that other impossible-to-translate work, Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene.9
‘Anānı̄ also referred to Milton’s contemporaries, such as Abraham Cowley, Sir
Thomas Browne and Robert Burton, and earlier dramatists such as Shakespeare and
Marlowe, showing how much Milton reflected and responded to early modern
English thought. In the introduction to the volume, ‘Anānı̄ presented a summary of
the life and times of Milton, and in the appendix he included a translation of Areopa-
gitica, concluding with a detailed glossary of names that appear in the poem, along with
a bibliography. Aware how much PL is steeped in biblical echoes and borrowings,
‘Anānı̄ reproduced from the Arabic Life Application Bible (ALAB) selections from
the books of Genesis, Exodus, Psalms, Isaiah, Ezekiel, the Gospel of Mark, the Acts
of the Apostles, the First Letter to the Corinthians and the Book of Revelation.10 In
the endnotes he also quoted from the nineteenth-century Arabic Protestant translation
of the Bible (Van Dyck’s).11 He referred to the Revised King James version and to the

On one occasion, ‘Anānı̄ expresses his frustration at the constant disagreement among critics, who indulged in
what he viewed as an “academic game,” al-Firdaws, 786, lines 360–1.
See ‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 810, for a beautiful translation of the penultimate stanza of “Sunday.”
See ibid., 675, 724, 726, 730.
The text is available online and was completed in 1988: “This Biblica translation of the Arabic Bible is for the
Modern Standard dialect of the Arabic, Standard language, which is primarily used in the Middle East. An esti-
mated 144 million people speak this language as their mother tongue. Biblica’s translation uses a formal language
style and applies a meaning-based translation philosophy. It was translated consulting the biblical languages and
was completed in 1988” ( As the text excludes the Apocrypha, it is logical to conclude that the
translators are Protestant. The number of Arabic speakers today is far higher than indicated. It is not clear what the
basis for “144 million” is.
‘Anānı̄ does not mention which Arabic translation of the Bible he used. In his comment on 7.423–30 (752), he
showed that the Arabic (“the copy I have”, 752) did not always approximate to the English (see also his comment
on Genesis 3:6 where the Arabic misses a sentence that appears in the English [792, lines 735–43]). On some
occasions, ‘Anānı̄ explained his need to retranslate specific verses in his endnotes (796, line 1058): thus his trans-
lation of Milton’s and Luke’s “fruit of the [thy?] womb” as thamarat raḥimiki rather than the unseemly translation
in the Arabic (all translations), thamarat bat ̣niki/fruit of thy belly (841, line 1053, and Luke 1:42). The standard
Arabic Protestant translation of the Bible was published in 1865 in New York and is in need of serious revision, as
shown by Mohammad Asfour’s close study of the translation of the Book of Genesis. See Dirāsāt fı̄-l-tarjama wa
Paradise Lost as an Islamic Epic 9

Latin Vulgate, although the latter was a text that Milton would not have used—except
to deride it.12
The Herculean labour was to translate Milton’s 10,565 lines. ‘Anānı̄ translated the
arguments but not the passage that the printer added about “The Verse” in 1668,13
and he adhered, to a large extent, to the line content, so that every Arabic line corre-
sponded to its English counterpart. Whether this line-by-line translation is more effec-
tive than a paragraph/prose translation is a question that perhaps needed some
discussion. How to translate the verse of an epic has bedevilled translators of
Homer, Virgil, Dante and others.14 It is very likely that ‘Anānı̄’s parallel line translation
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of PL might have been a matter of visual preference: to convey an epic poem, not an
epic story. Still, Milton’s poem was in blank verse, “almost the first poem of any kind to
be written in that medium”.15 But Arabic has no blank verse, and by using the parallel
line translation, ‘Anānı̄ was prevented, as he admitted, from conveying effectively some
of the rhetorical devices,16 or the Miltonic use of an “additional second adjective, as an
interjection or afterthought to an already qualified substantive”.17 Should ‘Anānı̄ have
tried to imitate the Italianate nature of Milton’s usages or would such structures have
confused the reader? Unfortunately, ‘Anānı̄ does not discuss his views on the theories
of translating Milton, although he has written extensively about translation else-
where.18 Perhaps because translating Milton was in a category all of its own, ‘Anānı̄
explained his translation choices in the endnotes on an individual basis and showed,
for instance, why he was unable to convey the metaphoric meaning of a Miltonic
term19 or why he felt the need to alter specific words.20
Be that as it may, ‘Anānı̄’s chief challenge was theological. Milton was a Christian
poet writing a Christian/Protestant epic.21 Although it is not a theological poem, as

naqdiha, 377–421. The Catholic edition of the Arabic Bible (1988) is a work of formidable scholarship and
See ‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 751, lines 387–98. I am assuming that “al-naṣs ̣ al-sha‘bı̄ al-lātı̄nı̄ li-l-kitāb al-muqaddas” is
the Vulgate. The Latin Bible that Milton used was the Protestant translation prepared by Theodore Beza, Francis-
cus Junius and Immanuel Tremillius in the second half of the sixteenth century. In the 2002 edition, ‘Anānı̄ men-
tioned the Egyptian 1966 ‘Antar Press edition of the Bible—which is the Van Dyck translation.
See his note on the translation of the word “argument” in Murshid al-mutarjim, 172.
Chapman translated Homer into rhyming iambic tetrameters, but Chateaubriand translated PL into prose (and
‘Anānı̄ translated two pages from his comments on Milton); Dorothy Sayers maintained the terza rima in trans-
lating Dante’s Divine Comedy (aba bcb, cdc, etc.); the Turkish translation of the Divine Comedy (Ilahi Komedya) by
Seyhan Satar (Istanbul, 2006) is in prose, with passages of dialogue presented as they would be in a novel. I am
grateful to Dr Hasan Baktir for sharing with me his comments on the translation.
Rajan, 109.
See ‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 755, specifically his reference to versus rapportati, lines 502–3.
This became “one of the marks of Milton’s diction” (in imitation of Dante and Petrarch): Prince, 64. Thus “So
thick a cloud / He comes, and settl’d in his face I see / Sad resolution and secure” (PL 6.539–41) is translated by
‘Anānı̄ as “Innı̄ arāhu yaqtarib mithla saḥābatin kathı̄fa/wa fı̄ wajhihi qasamāt/al-‘azm al-jādd wa ṣalābat al-thiqa”:
I see him approaching like a thick cloud / and in his face the marks / of serious determination and strong
See ‘Anānı̄, Al-Tarjama al-adabiyya.
Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 628.
Ibid., 631, 667, 683.
10 N. Matar
H. J. C. Grierson famously observed, PL is built on firm theological scaffolding.22
‘Anānı̄ was therefore translating into the Arabic of the majority of Muslim readers
a theology with which neither he nor they were familiar. This kind of labour had chal-
lenged Arab-Muslim translators since the Abbasid period when they came across
classical/pagan terms and concepts that contradicted their faith. What they did was
to shift “the source text’s content according to the expectations of its new context
for the purpose of … ensuring compatibility with the target culture”, as Hayrettin
Yücesoy writes.23 Thus, an early Arabic translator of Aristotle’s Rhetoric “crossed out
Zeus from the translation and inserted God (Allah) for Apollo”.24 This challenge/
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labour has continued into modern times: Shakespeare has been at the forefront of
English writers who have been translated into Arabic, both his plays and his
sonnets. But he, too, poses difficulties in his religious and sexual allusions.
Translators have had to excise explicit references, or rephrase them in an inoffensive
manner.25 In the case of Milton, the dense Christian content posed a serious
challenge, and when Zakı̄ Najı̄b Maḥmū d translated the first 155 lines of book 1 of
PL in 1937, he “changed or omitted references in the original that contradict[ed]
Islamic beliefs”.26
For ‘Anānı̄, the challenge was both in diction and in theology—on an epic scale.

Because Arabic is an inflected language, ‘Anānı̄ was able to accommodate many of
Milton’s constructions in which the poet deviated from the fixed order of English
syntax. But what could he do with names and nouns that are completely unfamiliar
to the Arabic reader—simply because they do not belong to the Arabic/Islamic cul-
tural, religious or intellectual legacy? For a word in translation to have meaning, be
it a scientific or a mythological term, it has to convey whatever associations, allusions
and references it has in the original. And that is extremely difficult, if not impossible,
because such words cannot convey in Arabic what C. S. Lewis found in them, the
“splendid, remote, terrible, voluptuous, or celebrated things”.27 As Muhammad
Asfour writes:

Arabic belongs to the Semitic family of languages, which do not depend on

prefixes and suffixes in their morphology as much as they depend on infixes (modi-
fications that follow fixed paradigmatic forms within the root, according to which
meanings change). Besides, Arabic does not allow derivation of a verb form from

Notwithstanding what C. S. Lewis stated in A Preface to Paradise Lost: “Except for a few isolated passages it [PL] is
not even specifically Protestant or Puritan,” 92.
See the preface of Grierson, The Poems of John Milton.
Yücesoy, 533.
Walbridge, 389.
See Amin-Zaki, 223–43. I am grateful to David Moberly for this reference.
Dahiyat, 127.
Lewis, 41.
Paradise Lost as an Islamic Epic 11
a foreign word unless the stem derived from it is quadriliteral. European
languages, on the other hand, belong to a different family of languages in which
the root (or stem) is fixed and whose meanings are modified according to the pre-
fixes and/or the suffixes attached to it.29

So, what could ‘Anānı̄ do with a word like “Pandemonium”—a word that Milton
coined and, in English, has an ominous onomatopoeic resonance? Milton used it in the
“First Argument” and elsewhere in the poem, after which it entered the English language.
Should ‘Anānı̄ have coined an Arabic word to convey Milton’s image of the Greek words
“pan” and “daemonium”—a place of all demons? He chose to transliterate it,30 explaining
it in the endnotes as qaṣr al-shayāt ̣ı̄n/palace of the devils.31 In so doing, he succeeded in
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suggesting a place but not the state of mind and soul of the fallen angels, or the confusion
that Milton associated with it in book 10.32 At the same time, ‘Anānı̄ translated Tartarus as
al-dark al-asfal/the lowest rung because, as he explained, the intent of Milton’s use of the
classical place name was “rhetorical”,33 but later he translated it as jaḥı ̄m/hell,34 using a
Qur’ānic term for a specifically classical one; he translated “Hydra” as sa‘ālı̄ 35 and
“Stygian” as buḥayrat al-lahab al-jahannamiyya/the lake of infernal flames,36 but then
transliterated “Gorgon”37 as al-Gargūnāt and “Cerberus” as Kirı̄brus.38 When it came to
the classical names of the winds, he used the modern Arabic equivalents, to make it
easier for the “Arab reader”, as he explained.39 Although Milton used the biblical name
“Behemoth”,40 and although the Van Dyck Arabic Bible and the ALAB had transliterated
behemoth, ‘Anānı̄ translated the term as fı̄l/elephant, arguing that the annotation on “Behe-
moth” in the Bible mentions the possibility of either elephant or river horse, and since the
latter is mentioned in line 474, then elephant is a valid choice. For ‘Anānı̄, the use of a name
familiar to readers sometimes appeared better than a transliteration of a Hebrew term—
which is quite reasonable. In replacing sometimes the pagan terms with biblical/Qur’ānic
ones, he ignored Milton’s deliberate emphasis on the “pagan” sinfulness of the denizens of
hell. The sinfulness of hell reflected the Qur’ānic imagery, familiar to his readers.

To illustrate: “Democracy” gives us ‫ ﺩﻳﻣﻗﺭﺍﻃﻳﺓ‬but “democratize” yields ‫ﺩﻣﻘﺮﻃ‬, which is unacceptable because it has
five different letters (in this case consonants) in the stem. ‫ ﺩﻗﺭﻃ‬and ‫ ﻣﻘﺮﻁ‬are objectionable because they change the
word drastically. But the word “nationalize” has given us ‫ َﻡ‬+ ‫ َﻡ‬+ ‫ ْﻡ‬+‫ ﺃ َّﻣ َﻢ = ﺃ‬for “nationalize”; oxidize = ‫ ; ﺃَ ْﻛ َﺴ َﺪ‬globalize
= ‫ َﻋ ْﻮَﻟﻤ‬, and so on. All the latter coinages are quadriliteral: Asfour, “Translating Critical Terms”. See also Asfour,
Dirāsāt, 25–6.
Asfour, “Translating Critical Terms.”
As did Günsel in the Turkish translation, Milton, Kayib Cennet, 7.
‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 812, lines 252–323.
Ibid.; see other comments on “Pandemonium,” 622, l.717.
Ibid., 640, line 857.
Ibid., 720, lines 54–5.
Ibid., bk. 2, line 628.
Ibid., bk. 1, line 239.
Ibid., bk. 2, line 628. See also p. 636, line 628.
Ibid., bk. 2, line 655. See also p. 638, line 655.
Ibid., 832, lines 695–706.
Milton, Paradise Lost, bk. 7, line 471.
12 N. Matar
Other biblical Hebrew names, however, were translated into Arabic in the endnotes
but transliterated in the course of the poem: thus Abdiel, ‘abd/servant or slave of El, a
name that Milton coined, is, in Arabic, ‘Abdallāh/the ‘abd of Allah; and similarly for
other names.41 ‘Anānı̄ could have used ‘Abdallāh instead of ‘Abdı̄l, but it would
have completely unfocused the reader since ‘Abdallāh is a common proper noun in
Arabic (and the name of the Prophet Muhammad’s father). Fortunately, many of
the biblical names that Milton used had Qur’ānic equivalents: thus ‘Anānı̄’s use of
the Arabic/Qur’ānic name of Iblı̄s. The Qur’ān uses the noun al-shayt ̣ān far more
than Iblı̄s (70 for the former, 11 for the latter), but Iblı̄s is treated as a proper noun
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and is directly associated with the account about the fall of the devil and the creation
of Adam.42 Iblı̄s disobeyed God,43 was expelled from paradise,44 punished45 and given
power to lead astray.46 All these descriptions accord with the Miltonic representation:
most intriguing is the similarity between the defiance of Milton’s Satan and that of the
Qur’ānic Iblı̄s. The latter is the first figure to defy God at the creation, refusing to obey
Him and bow before Adam/mankind, as God had commanded him. At the same time,
as Milton’s Satan expresses despair after his expulsion, so does Iblı̄s after his punish-
ment.47 In using Iblı̄s, therefore, ‘Anānı̄ was able to fit the Miltonic Satan squarely
into the Qur’ānic Iblı̄s.
On occasion, Milton used words in a specific manner that ‘Anānı̄ did not choose to
reproduce. For instance, Milton used the term “sultan” in the epic with clear negative
connotations, associating Satan with the Ottoman sultan48—an association that ‘Anānı̄
does not highlight (translating Milton’s “sultan” as ra’ı̄suhum/their chief).49 A seven-
teenth-century English reader would not have missed Milton’s anti-Ottoman impli-
cation. In Arabic, however, the term sult ̣ān has no negative or exclusively Ottoman
association: it simply means dominion or potentate, which is how ‘Anānı̄ used it in
translating book 1, lines 79, 112, 124, or in describing Satan in 5.660: ‘azı̄m al-
sult ̣ān/vast dominion.50 On the other hand, ‘Anānı̄ recognized in the endnotes the
sharqi/eastern allusiveness of the word “divan” (10.457), but again, without its negative
connotation.51 That he translated “savage” (9.1085) and “wild” (10.1117) as badāwa is
confusing, given the word’s specific Arabic association with nomads as defined by Ibn
Khaldū n—but it was a word that, again, had a Qur’ānic origination.

‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 705, 707, 726, 735.
Günsel, however, uses “Şeytan” throughout his translation.
Qur’ān, 2:34, 15:31, 38:75–6, and elsewhere.
Ibid., 15:43, 38:77.
Ibid., 26:94–5.
Ibid., 15:39–40, 34:20–1.
Ibid., 6:44, 23:37. See the entry by Andrew Rippin, “Devil” in McAuliffe, ed., Encyclopedia of the Qur’ān.
Milton, Paradise Lost, bk. 1, line 348.
He retains “sult ̣ān”, however, in the translation of the “Turkestan-born” sultan of Bizance 9.395.
‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 5.660. ‘Anānı̄ may have used the term “sultan” in a neutral manner because it is so used in the
Arabic (Van Dyck) translation of the Bible, where it means “power”.
Ibid., 821, line 457.
Paradise Lost as an Islamic Epic 13

‘Anānı̄ changed his translation of Christian doctrines to accommodate Muslim sensi-
bilities. Thus, where Milton spoke of God and His Son in 2.722, ‘Anānı̄ replaced “Son”
with Ması̄h/̣ Christ, but explained in the endnote that Milton had used the word
“Son”.52 In 7.193, ‘Anānı̄ translated Milton’s “Son” into ḥarf/letter, with an expla-
nation in the endnotes that the “ḥarf” is the “Word” of 7.208 and the “Spirit” of
7.209.53 The use of ḥarf as a reference to Christ is, however, rather odd in modern
Arabic, given that it means “letter”—although it was sometimes used in medieval
Arabic to mean “Word”.54 Still, ḥarf is not used for “Word” in any of the Arabic trans-
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lations of the Bible. Similarly, in Milton’s reference to the angels as “Sons of God”,
‘Anānı̄ used malā’ika/angels, explaining in the endnote that he had changed abnā’
Allah/sons of God for angels.55 He also used malā’ika to translate the biblical tempta-
tion to Eve, “You shall be like gods” (7.709; Genesis 3:5), clearly avoiding the Arabic
word for “gods”—āliha—perhaps because it is a Qur’ānic word that might suggest the
deification of the human.56 But he did not refrain from using arbāb (the plural form of
rabb/lord/master without necessarily implying deity, as in English) to translate the
term “gods” elsewhere (9.804, 866, 937). Another problematic word was “servant”
(10.214–15): Milton described how God assumed the role of “servant” to the fallen
Adam, as when He “washed his servants’ feet”. The reference here is clearly to God,
who punished Adam, but then turned to serve Adam, as Christ washed the feet of
his disciples.57 ‘Anānı̄ picked on the word “servant” that he found in Philippians
2:5–7 (in Van Dyck’s translation) and treated it like the Arabic word, ‘Abdallāh ay
al-insān/servant of God; that is, man. Such an interpretation of Milton’s lines
avoided the problematic identification of God with Christ, the divine with the
human, transforming thereby the image of servants into mere humans who worship
God: al-‘ibād hum al-nās. ‘Anānı̄ wanted to avoid the identification, since, as he
explained, “the idea is difficult for those who are not familiar with Christian doc-
trine”—a warning that he had used a few pages earlier, too.
But this theological manoeuvring could not but create problems in translation. In
another part of the poem—and, again, being eager to avoid reference to Jesus as
“son”—‘Anānı̄ used al-kalima/the word, instead of Jesus, which is perfectly correct
since it is used in all the Arabic translations of the Bible (especially the opening of
the Gospel of John). Thus the “vicegerent son” (10.56) becomes kalimatı̄ al-ḥākima/

Ibid., 639, line 722. Although in De Doctrina Christiana Milton denied coeternity or equality among the three
Persons of the Trinity, such a denial is not explicit in PL, although Milton deliberately refrained from using the
name of “Christ” in the epic.
‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 748, line 193.
I owe this observation to Professor Kadi.
‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 709, lines 446–50. See also bk. 11, line 84, for the same translation.
In bk. 11, line 615, ‘Anānı̄ translates “goddesses” as malā’ika. ‘Anānı̄ uses the word “angel”, sometimes spelled
malak (as in the Qur’ānic spelling) and sometimes malāk as in modern Arabic.
See Luke 22:24.
14 N. Matar
my ruling word. However, kalima in Arabic is feminine, but because ‘Anānı̄ knows that
it refers to Christ, he has to use it in the masculine: thus the rest of that line addresses
the kalima as a masculine, exactly in the manner of the Van Dyck translation, where
kalima is masculine. But when ‘Anānı̄ has to add a verb to it, the verb is feminine:
wa raddat al-kalima bi-nabarāt ‘dhba qā’ilatan/the word answered in a gentle tone,
saying (10.67).58 Elsewhere, and whenever Milton used “Father”, ‘Anānı̄ replaced it
with “Allāh”—which is accurate but incomplete. And when, in the endnotes, he
quoted the words of Jesus in John 8:56 (“Before Abraham was, I am”), ‘Anānı̄ trans-
lated the statement as: qabla an yūjad Ibrāhı̄m kāna Allāh mundhū -al-azal/Before
Abraham was, God was from eternity.59 Fortunately for ‘Anānı̄, Milton was an anti-
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Trinitarian and so his theology was by far less problematic than the Nicene theology
of orthodox Christian authors. In this context, ‘Anānı̄ frequently quoted from
B. Rajan who had drawn comparisons between De Doctrina Christiana and PL:
‘Anānı̄’s introduction and notes include frequent translations from the treatise in
which Milton presented an Arian/Subordinationist view of Christ.60 But Milton was
not always consistent in his depiction of Christ and so when he wrote about Christ
as “the Son of God most High” (12.381–2), ‘Anānı̄ translated the phrase as walad yan-
tasibu/ilā al-rabb al‘alā/a child who is affiliated to God almighty (dangerously close,
however, to the Qur’ānic verse that emphasizes that God does not beget nor is He
begotten, lam yalid wa lam yū lad).61 Although ‘Anānı̄ stated that he explained Chris-
tian doctrines with an accuracy that approached ḥarfiyya/literalism,62 by choosing
specific terms in Arabic, he also reformulated doctrines: tabrı̄r, for instance, cannot
be equated with ṣalāh,̣ since tabrı̄r as redemption (effected only through the Christ
sacrifice) is very different from reforming virtue, which suggests personal endeavour.
‘Anānı̄ equated the two in order to show how tabrı̄r in its ṣalaḥ meaning is supported in
the Qur’ān—although he then stated that he did not use tabrı̄r because of its dalalāt
mu‘āsị ra/contemporary connotations.63 He did not mention what those connotations
In facing the theological/biblical challenges, ‘Anānı̄ was careful to pick his battles.
While the Christian tradition is rich with hexameral literature, the Qur’ān, unlike
Genesis, pays little attention to the creation of the world as a narrative. Milton, of
course, widely relied on that tradition in his epic, especially in his presentation of
Adam and Eve.64 He described the latter as a woman “opportune to all attempts”
and Adam as the male with the “higher intellectual”.65 These descriptions find no

See also ‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, bk. 10, line 340.
Ibid., 887, bk. 12, line 277.
But Milton did not come out explicitly about his anti-Trinitarian theology in the poem as he did in his De Doc-
trina Christiana, which was discovered only in the nineteenth century.
Qur’ān, 112:3–4.
See ‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 887, lines 285–306.
Ibid., 846–7. He also repeated this point on p. 887.
See Corcoran.
Milton, Paradise Lost, bk. 9, line 483.
Paradise Lost as an Islamic Epic 15

correspondence in the Qur’ān, where Eve is not mentioned by name, and both she and
Adam are equally culpable—with no reference to Eve as the cause of disobedience.
‘Anānı̄ did not try to accommodate the Qur’ānic view, perhaps because Milton’s depic-
tion of Eve was not absent from later Islamic exegesis and chronicle.66 But he could not
accommodate Milton in his description of himself as the inspired seer justifying the
“ways of God to men”. The claim that a mere mortal could understand God’s myster-
ious ways, or that God needed to be justified in the first place (the Arabic word would
have been either tabrı̄r or taswı̄gh), was heretical or non-Islamic. And so ‘Anānı̄ trans-
lated the phrase as “showing the ways of God in mankind”—that is, in human history:
“mā yaf‘alahu Allāhu bi-l-insān”. Such a translation avoided the theologically proble-
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matic side of the phrase, but it also denied Milton his prophetic role. Also, by translat-
ing “saints” to malā’ika/angels ‘Anānı̄ relied for this translation on the Revised Version
of the King James Bible, as he stated.67 Milton, however, did not use the Revised
Version, and, by insisting that “saints” be translated as “angels”, ‘Anānı̄ avoided an
Islamic theological quandary. But he also ignored the powerful connotation of the
word: “saints” had been used during the Civil Wars and the Interregnum to describe
the defenders of the “Good Old Cause”, a combination of republicanism, strict bibli-
cism and millenarianism. That Milton might still have been thinking of a possible
“revolution of the saints” is an intriguing question: Christopher Hill’s study Milton
and the English Revolution would have been very helpful in this context (but strangely
is not included in the bibliography). In translating the word “saint” in reference to
Moses (12.200), ‘Anānı̄ used the beautiful word kalı̄m/interlocutor, the Qur’ānic
epithet for Moses, based on Q 4:164.
One important term that ‘Anānı̄ avoided was an Arabic translation of “grace”. There
is no theology of grace in the Qur’ān/Islam as there was in post-Reformation Protes-
tantism, which reacted against the legalism and ceremony of the Jewish covenant.
While the Arabic root ni‘ma (noun) an‘ama (verb) is used in the Qur’ān from the
very first Sū ra, it does not have the soteriological implication of “grace” and simply
means bounty. ‘Anānı̄ used ghufrān and ‘afw, repentance and forgiveness, in translating
grace, or, simply, he did not translate the word “grace” at all: “goodness, grace, and
mercy”, “bi-l-raḥma wa-l-ghufrān”/in mercy and forgiveness.68 Milton was aware of
the intense discussion of grace (resistible, irresistible, prevenient, sufficient, peculiar,
etc.) and used the term to complicate and implicate Satan. While ‘afw and ghufrān
emphasize divine mercy, grace, while still emphasizing divine action, is predicated
on the person’s choice to accept or not accept grace.69 But then, one strand of Protes-
tant theology argued for a grace that was irresistible—a conundrum for Milton. For, on
the one hand, Milton accepted God’s choice of the elect because of the “peculiar” grace

There is a long tradition of vilifying Eve, to the point of najāsa in Islamic exegetical history, but there is little to
justify that tradition in the Qur’ān: see the extensive study in Bronson.
‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 868, line 678. See also bk. 11, line 705.
Ibid., bk. 11, line 218.
See his mention of free will and predestination: 634, line 560, and 650, lines 113–23.
16 N. Matar
He extended to them (3.183), which meant they could resist it; but then there was “suf-
ficient” grace which God extended to all, but which some chose to accept while others
rejected (as did Satan). In those lines (also 3.187 and elsewhere), ‘Anānı̄ translated
grace as raḥma/mercy, which avoided the highly contentious meaning of the word.
For instance, Milton used “prevenient grace” in anticipation of the repentance of
Adam and Eve (11.3): ‘Anānı̄ explained that the word “prevenient” appears in the
Latin verse of the Vulgate translation of the Bible, “Deus meus, misericordia, eius prae-
veniet me.”70 But Milton relied on a Protestant, not a Catholic, theological interpret-
ation of “grace”:71 it is not mercy but grace that is prevenient in Milton’s thought. As
for the whole concept of the “Elect” in Calvinist theology (which Milton does not reject
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in toto, as ‘Anānı̄ suggests)72—the choice of the Arabic iṣt ̣ifā’/selection is beautiful, but
does not include the predestinarian connotation. It was important for ‘Anānı̄ to remain
within Qur’ānic parameters.
Although Milton had some exposure to Arabic works in Latin translation, his knowl-
edge remained limited. ‘Anānı̄ was eager to show, however, that Milton’s intellectual
and imaginative range had parallels in Arabic thought even if not direct indebtedness:
thus the references to similarities with Ibn Khaldū n.73 When he discussed the differ-
ence between the Latin aeternus and perpetuus, he “preferred” the latter, sarmadiyya,
in light of its Qur’ānic usage;74 and when he discussed “myrrh”, he explained that it
is lādin in Arabic, adding that he used the Arabic word murr because it derived
from Egyptian perfumery terminology.75 In commenting on book 10, lines 586–7,
“in power before, / Once actual, now in body”, ‘Anānı̄ referred to Ikhwān al-Ṣafā’
rather than the Aristotelian background of posse and esse with which Milton would
have been familiar.76 Furthermore, and since many of the biblical stories are also
found in the Qur’ān, ‘Anānı̄ often directed his readers to the Qur’ānic references
after presenting the biblical original. But sometimes he only mentioned the Islamic
usage: the references to God as alpha and omega, according to ‘Anānı̄, appear
among the Beautiful Names of God in Islam, with no reference to the Book of Revel-
ation; as also the reference to God’s name as “mawjūd” which appears in Sū rat Ṭ ah ̄ ā.77
When he translated the transferred epithet of “secret cloud” in book 10, line 32 as
saḥābatihi al-khafiyya/my hidden cloud, he explained his choice of words by reference
to ẓulal min-al-ghamām in Q 2:210.78 Another association with the Qur’ān appears in

‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 843, bk. 1, line 3.
Again, in his endnote on bk.12, line 3 (p. 843), ‘Anānı̄ associated raḥma/mercy, not grace, with the word “pre-
venient”. In bk.11, line 612, ‘Anānı̄ translated “gifts” as ni‘ma min ni‘amihi/gift of His gifts. In this context, “gift/s”
is actually similar to the general Qur’ānic meaning of ni‘ma. See also ‘Anānı̄’s translation of bk.10, line 1033.
‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 650, 3.173–202.
Ibid., 701, 703.
Qur’ān, 28:71–2.
‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 700, 5.23.
Ibid., 826.
Ibid., 796, line 308.
Ibid., 803, lines 32–3.
Paradise Lost as an Islamic Epic 17

page 689 on 5.561 in respect to rituals in Jewish temples, both in 1 Chronicles and Q
‘Anānı̄’s attempts to approximate images and terms to readily recognizable Arabic
equivalents, and the overall appeal to Islamic references, demonstrate how close
many aspects of Milton’s theological and imaginative worlds are to the Arabic
culture of the Qur’ān. Thus the beautiful translation of book 8, lines 406–7 in
which ‘Anānı̄ used the Qur’ānic phrase “kufuwan aḥad”;79 or the commentary on
10.60–2 (my translation):

The word of God which will become human is al-Ması̄h,̣ peace be upon him. Chris-
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tian doctrine states that al-Ması̄h,̣ being human, is the Word of God. The Almighty
said: “[And mention] when the angels said, ‘O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good
tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of
Mary—distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought
near [to Allah]’.”80

But then, when Milton, with reference to Genesis, mentions how God approached
Adam and Eve after they had eaten of the fruit (10.101), ‘Anānı̄ felt the need to
explain: “Milton mentioned ‘God’ explicitly instead of His word who is meant as
Christ: the ruler here is God and so the change is in the construction not the
meaning.”81 Again, ‘Anānı̄ was careful not to offend theologically: when he translated
10.62, “And destined man himself to judge man fallen”, ‘Anānı̄ rendered the line as
follows: “For the Word of God that will become human judges now the fall of
man.” He then commented: “The Word of God that will become human is Christ,
peace be upon him, and Christian doctrine states that Christ, being human, is a
Word from God”—adding the Qur’ānic verse: “Allah gives you good tidings of a
word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary.”82 It is
more accurate to state, however, that in Christian doctrine, the Word is not from
God, but is God. In book 11, where Milton used Son and Father, ‘Anānı̄ used Ması̄h
and Allāh: theologically, he is correct, but his unwillingness to use the Christian
terms removed from the dialogue between the Father and the Son the filial affection
that Milton wanted to convey.
Having steeped himself in both Christian/Protestant and Islamic theologies, ‘Anānı̄
recognized the doctrinal differences and tried to change them in a very careful and unob-
trusive manner. He retained the whole structure of the poem, its narrative, its verse div-
isions and its dramatic nature. But al-Firdaws al-mafqūd is not the Protestant/Christian
epic that Milton wrote: it is the same story but not the same interpretation.

Ibid., 791, line 609.
Qur’ān, 3:45. See also ‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 805.
‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 805, line 101.
Qur’ān, 3:45. See ‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 805, 60–2.
18 N. Matar
Some Final Observations
In a work of such magnitude, there could not but be some minor slips: the Orontes
river is not the Lı̄t ̣ānı̄ river but al-‘Ᾱṣı ̄ (9.80), and Milton did not write to criticize
the court of James II, but of Charles II.83 Why is Jerusalem translated as Urushalı̄m
in one place and Bayt al-Maqdis in another (and never al-Quds)?84 Is Spenser’s
“Hymn of Heavenly Beauty” a “short poem” (unless intended in comparison with
an epic)?85 The use of the term “consubstantiation” in the context of the fourth-
century rise of Arianism is anachronistic;86 and Sebastian Franck did not write The For-
bidden Fruit in 1640 (his dates are 1499–1543).87 Why is Tyre “presently a city in Bilād
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al-Shām” and not in Lebanon?88 And Charles I was executed in 1649, not 1654.89
Although the doctrine of papal infallibility was officially stated in 1870, as ‘Anānı̄ cor-
rectly points out, it had been a cornerstone of the Counter-Reformation, which is why
Milton was so vehemently against it.90 The use of a very Egyptian word, awḥashtanı̄,
quaint as it is, is too colloquial for the magniloquence of Milton (“Thee I have
missed”),91 and is it accurate to translate Delilah the Philistine as the ibnat Filast ̣ı̄n/
daughter of Palestine?92
Milton’s syntax is known to be complex but, mercifully for ‘Anānı̄, Arabic, like
the Latinized English of PL, is comfortable with long sentences, and so he used
them. But sometimes he lengthened them and replaced Milton’s periods with
commas—which produced very long passages. In imitation of the early editions
of Milton’s poem, ‘Anānı̄ did not include the inverted commas that identify dialo-
gue: but for a modern reader unfamiliar with the original, such absence leads to
unnecessary difficulties. ‘Anānı̄ also relegated his comments to endnotes, so that,
as he explained, the reader would not be overwhelmed by the information that
he was furnishing.93 But turning hundreds of pages to the relevant endnote is cum-
bersome, given the absence of headers indicating the book numbers (both in the
body of the translation and in the endnotes). There are some typos, and in a
future edition it would a good idea to accompany the Latin quotations with
Arabic translations.94
At the end, I decided to dedicate a few days to reading ‘Anānı̄’s PL. The result was an
experience as overpowering as that of reading Milton’s. Of course, it had a different feel

‘Anānı̄, al-Firdaws, 613.
See ibid., 643, 2.1050 and 637, 2.628.
Ibid., 647, 3.23.
Ibid., 472, line 420.
Ibid., 813, lines 268–70.
Ibid., 851.
Ibid., 878.
Ibid. 897, lines 528–30.
Ibid., 9.857.
Ibid., 9.1061.
Ibid., 830, lines 668–80.
Two pages are missing from the translation of bk. 9, after p. 423.
Paradise Lost as an Islamic Epic 19

to it: it was less complicated since ‘Anānı̄ avoided Milton’s complex sentence struc-
tures, which is why his text reads “precisely, as a translation”, to use Susan Sontag’s
words.95 Sometimes, lines were truly Miltonic, and ‘Anānı̄ approached the epic
voice that has appeared in Arabic literary history in such great poets as al-Mutannabı̄
and al-Ma‘arrı̄; but most of the epic reads like straightforward prose—which, of
course, is what the Arabic is. There is a price to be paid for the absence of blank
verse: the translation of the last line of the epic, for instance, cannot show how the “fal-
tering verse rhythms underscore” the “almost childlike hesitancy” of Adam and
Eve96— although ‘Anānı̄’s rendering is still moving: sārā waḥidayni fı̄ arḍi ‘Adan/
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alone they walked in the land of Eden. Be that as it may, in some fascinating
manner, ‘Anānı̄ succeeded not only in translating PL and furnishing the reader with
an extensive apparatus of notes, commentaries and scholarly references, but also in
showing that the supreme epic of English Christianity could become an epic of
Arabic Islam. It is not only that ‘Anānı̄ made Milton speak out “loud and bold”, he
also made him speak as a Muslim—without infringing on the narrative, altering its
form or eviscerating it of its Miltonic Restoration ideals.97
By adapting Milton, ‘Anānı̄ has produced the first Islamic epic in modern Arabic lit-
erature. In this respect, and as with the Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare, it is
tempting to treat al-Firdaws al-Mafqū d as an adaptation that might have been con-
ceived in any of the “Tales of the Prophets”—those elaborations and additions in
which medieval Muslim authors turned to Jewish and Christian lore and used that
lore to furnish a historical/contextual interpretation of Qur’ānic prophets. These
“Tales” were not canonical in Islamic tradition and served as expressions of Islam’s
engagement with all the monotheistic prophets before Muhammad. In this light,
‘Anānı̄’s PL can be seen as an Arabic “Tale of the Prophets”, from Adam to ‘Isa/
Jesus, following the story lines of John Milton.
I can only hope that al-Firdaws al-Mafqū d will receive the attention it deserves in the
Arabic-speaking world, and that in any future reprint, the picture on the cover will not
be that of Susan Mubarak but of this Egyptian lover of Milton, born on 4 January 1939
in Rashı̄d/Rosetta, BA from Cairo University in English, and PhD from Reading Uni-
versity, England, 1975.

I am grateful to Professors Wadad Kadi, Mohammad Asfour and Mohammad Shaheen
for their helpful comments. I am also grateful to Professor Eid Dahiyat for furnishing
me with the copy of the 2002 edition of the translation. Professor Asfour is translating

Sontag, 14.
Greene, 208.
I do not mean this in the manner that Luwı̄s ‘Awaḍ put it in 1967, that “Milton was not a Christian, but rather a
pious Muslim”, quoted in Dahiyat, 99. See Dahiyat’s cogent criticisms of ‘Awaḍ and others, 99–102.
20 N. Matar
into Arabic a short version of this article to appear in the Amman-based, al-Majalla al-
thaqafiyya in the winter issue of 2014/2015.

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