The Influence of Bakhtiar’s Sufī Belief in Futuwwa on Her Qur’ān Translation

Esoteric meaning, Exoteric meaning, Futuwwa, Paratexts, Sufism


  • Najlaa Aldeeb
    PhD candidate and senior teaching assistant, Swansea University, UK
May 9, 2023


Qur’ān translations are forms of traditional or rational tafāsīr [exegeses]. Laleh Bakhtiar, an Iranian-American who converted from Christianity to Islam, applied a rational approach in her Qur’ān translation. Extensive research has surveyed Bakhtiar’s feminist perspectives (Kidwai, 2018) and her reliance on dictionaries (Hassen, 2012). However, the investigation of the influence of her Sufī views on her translation has not been previously addressed. This paper is an empirical account of the impact of Bakhtiar’s Sufī belief in futuwwa on her translation choices. To achieve this goal, Bakhtiar’s translations of the verses that include the term فَتًى fatā [a young man] and its derivatives are analytically compared to Sufī and Shiʿī translations to analyse Bakhtiar’s choices and highlight her adaptation of allegorical hermeneutics. The underpinning approach of this paper is a combination of Gerard Genette’s paratexts (1997) and Hussein Abdul-Raof’s criteria of the Sufī approach to Qur’ānic exegesis (2012). The main finding is that by adopting al-bāṭin [esoteric] meaning and rejecting aẓ-ẓahir [exoteric] meaning, Bakhtiar goes far away from orthodox Islamic traditions in her interpretation of the Qur’ān. Moreover, through applying the concept futuwwa to men and women, she deconstructs the patriarchal framework, in which the virtue of futuwwa exists, and expands the connotative meaning of this aspect, which results in sending radical messages completely different from those in the source text. Future researchers can broaden the scope of the analysis and examine a plethora of contemporary Qur’ān translations to explore the effect of the translators' beliefs on their interpretations of the Qur’ān.