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In the Qur'an, while talking about the disbelievers, God says "لا تحسبن الذين كفروا معجزين في الأرض". I have, however, seen two very different translations for this ayah:

  • Never think that the disbelievers are causing failure [to Allah] upon the earth...
    (Sahih International)
  • Consider not that the disbelievers can escape in the land...
    (M.M.Khan)

Of the major translations I checked, the first interpretation seems to additionally be held by Ali and Ghali, whereas the second interpretation is held by Pickthall and Shakir (as well as by Tafsir Ibn Kathir); this fairly even split suggests that both are valid translations rather than either of them being a rogue interpretation.

How strong, exactly, is each interpretation, and where does this difference stem from? Are either of these translations more "correct" (for lack of a better term)?

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First let me say that "معجزین" in that verse is plural of the doer form of the verb A-ja-za (عجز), implying causing failure, frustrating. Escaping is not an exact translation of the word, although it might be considered an interpretational translation. However, if you also note two verses before that verse you will read:

وَعَدَ اللَّـهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ لَيَسْتَخْلِفَنَّهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ كَمَا اسْتَخْلَفَ الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ وَلَيُمَكِّنَنَّ لَهُمْ دِينَهُمُ الَّذِي ارْتَضَىٰ لَهُمْ وَلَيُبَدِّلَنَّهُم مِّن بَعْدِ خَوْفِهِمْ أَمْنًا ۚ يَعْبُدُونَنِي لَا يُشْرِكُونَ بِي شَيْئًا ۚ وَمَن كَفَرَ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فَأُولَـٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ / وَأَقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتُوا الزَّكَاةَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ / لَا تَحْسَبَنَّ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مُعْجِزِينَ فِي الْأَرْضِ ۚ وَمَأْوَاهُمُ النَّارُ ۖ وَلَبِئْسَ الْمَصِيرُ

Allah has promised, to those among you who believe and work righteous deeds, that He will, of a surety, grant them in the land, inheritance (of power), as He granted it to those before them; that He will establish in authority their religion - the one which He has chosen for them; and that He will change (their state), after the fear in which they (lived), to one of security and peace: 'They will worship Me (alone) and not associate aught with Me. 'If any do reject Faith after this, they are rebellious and wicked. / So establish regular Prayer and give regular Charity; and obey the Messenger; that ye may receive mercy. / Never think thou that the Unbelievers are going to frustrate (Allah's Plan) on earth: their abode is the Fire,- and it is indeed an evil refuge! [24:55-57]

the verse [24:55] is addressing the rise of Imam Mahdi --peace be upon him, the time that Islam will be established on the Earth (لَيُمَكِّنَنَّ لَهُمْ دِينَهُمُ الَّذِي ارْتَضَىٰ لَهُمْ) in peace (لَيُبَدِّلَنَّهُم مِّن بَعْدِ خَوْفِهِمْ أَمْنًا). Now come to the verse [24:57] and you see Allah says never consider the Unbelievers are going to (that is, can) frustrate Allah's plan on the Earth! This was one possible interpretation which also seems very much to be accurate. But, after that, you may also be able to interpret the verse [24:55] as "wherever that an Unbeliever escapes to he will not be out from the authority of Allah, the punishment of Allah will catch him (after the rise of Imam Mahdi peace be upon him for example) and after his death he will yet has his refuge an evil refuge in the fire". So you see, the two translations are not necessarily very different, although I for oneself prefer the first one that is more precise!

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