Channel: Jamal Badawi
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AsSalamu Alaikum and welcome to Islam in focus. Today's program is the fifth in the series sources of Islam. And tonight we have a new topic. It's on the translations of the Quran. I'm your host a shot Manish and here with me as usual Dr. Jamal deli from St. Mary's University. So MLA conducted on
demand, maybe I'll start off by asking you what the term translation actually means, in reference to the Quran.
What some jurist or scholars like Manhattan for example, in chapter 24 of his book, about the
studies in the Quran, make a distinction between three meanings and talking not about the broader term of translation. But as you said, how it relates to the Quran.
First is the literal translation that is to try to translate from one language into the other.
In 40, literally, including the style, including the order in which the words appear in the sentence. And as you know, that this is impossible, perhaps in any language, because of a number of reasons.
Sometimes, for example, the order in which things may appear vary from one language to the other. In English, for example, when you want to describe a rose as red, you don't say, Rose Red, you say red rose in Arabic is the opposite, you say what is that 100, which if you translate very literally, it means Rose Red. So the meaning and the structure of language varies. Secondly, no matter how much the person try to translate, you cannot fully take everything and the context and the variety of meanings from one language and put it in so many words in another language. That's general, I suppose, for any translation.
But this difficulty is even magnified, and more. So, in the case of translation of the Arabic language, because the Arabic language has certain unique characteristics, you might say, and might touch on that later. which make it even more difficult to to translate.
And that is even more difficult in the case of the Quran.
Because the Quran actually is the the
summit or the highest, the top
example, standard, if you will, of eloquence, and the Arabic language. For that reason, we find that many jurist say that anyone who claim to make literal translation of the Quran is really mistaken. And that's forbidden, because after all, the word of Allah, which is the Quran, according to Muslim belief, is the word as it came to Prophet Mohammed or Angel, Gabrielle. So any translation of the word of Allah cannot be the word of Allah. It says translation, the meaning of the word. And that leads us to the second meaning of translation as it relates to the Quran. And that's what you might call non literal translation, translation that is, or attempts to convey the meaning. But even when
you say it only conveys the meaning, it depends what kind of meanings you're talking about. Again, you could talk about basic, conclusive type of meanings, or messages, which anyone can understand once you understand the meaning of the word. And that's possible you could do that. But sometimes they are also secondary or implicit meanings in one language, which are almost impossible to translate to another language, especially if you consider eloquence, and words that might be dropped or added for ilaqua. In order
to maintain the eloquence and the style of the languages you can't really translate fully.
Thirdly, particularly in the opinion of Menaka tongue,
that we can speak more about the Quran as interpretive translation, not even literal Ananda, but even more specifically, interpretive translation. Why? Because when the person dies or attempts to translate a verse or chapters in the court,
And it's when it's impossible to convey the full meaning it means that the person is applying some kind of understanding of his or her. And as such, what he's telling people really, this is not the translation of the meaning of the plan. This is more or less like my understanding of that verse of the Quran without claiming that this covers all possible meanings of that verse. But that all assumes even that the translator has reasonable or have reasonable command on the on both languages, the Arabic and the English, for example, in case of translation into English.
But this problem is even much greater.
In the case of people who try to translate the Quran, not from the original Arabic text, but from some other translation that was made before and this is the problem that happened is shortly.
speaking historically, then, how did translations actually develop?
A very nice review of the of that particular issue, In brief, is was presented in the book that we cited before by Dr. Hamad Khalifa, called the sublime Quran, he's done a very good job in the summary and perhaps you can draw from his work or borrow for this particular program.
And basically, it is indicated that in the very beginning, that is, in the days of the Prophet, Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, there was no need really, for translation of the Quran, or the meaning of the Quran for a number of reasons. First, in the immediate environment of the Prophet, the initial recipients of the message through whom it was supposed to spread to others.
They knew the Arabic language and the Arabic language at that time actually reached its ultimate maturity, and it was highly developed very mature. So they had full understanding of the message of the Quran. Secondly, you might ask, how about other nations or peoples who embrace Islam later when spread to other lands? Again, historically, we know that once Islam spread to other lands, the residents of these lands were very eager to learn Arabic And many of those whose mother tongue was not Arabic, become just as good and as conversant in Arabic as the herbs themselves, and find Arabic became the,
you know, the language to understand the Quran.
A third reason is that in the initial period of Islamic history, and actually for hundreds of years thereafter,
Islam became perhaps the superpower in the world at that time, it became the language of science and civilization in the same way, for example, that today, people would have to learn some of the major languages like English and French or whatever German, as the languages of science, that was a person would have to learn them to, to understand this sciences.
The reverse was to at that time, it was the Arabic language that was the language of civilization and sciences. And in a previous series, we discussed in some detail, some of the great contribution of Muslims to civilization and for those who are interested, I'd like to refer them to the multi volume, excellent work by George sarton. srt are in from Harvard University called introduction to the history of sciences. Now Islam being as powerful as it was, at that time, of course, the or Muslims I should say,
language, the the Arabic language became the language that perhaps was a second language for many people, regardless of their linguistic background.
Now, as far as the West is concerned,
we find that the first translation of the Quran in some of the European languages took place in 11 143. So they talk about about the mid 20th century. However, amazingly enough, it took almost 400 years before that sensation was available in print. I'm not acting here as a historian trying to analyze possible reasons, but I think possibly the attitudes towards Islam and Muslims in medieval times, could have been possibly one of the contributing reasons, not necessarily the sole reason, but some of the reasons why some institutions were not very much particular about other people having access to the to the Quran, whatever the reason was, we find that
this initial translation which was edited
lesson that other translations began to emerge. For example, in 1647,
of the Quran into French was made. But as some scholars, including non Muslim scholars, like yourself, indicated, the distance relation was full of errors virtually in every page, including additions and deletions from the text of the Quran. However, strangely enough, this French translation of the 17th century was a basis for another English translation in 1688, the same century by Alexander russe, which, of course, you can tell would be as bad as the one
which was the basis for it. That's the French translation.
Then many other translations into English, use the Latin version that we mentioned before.
As its basis, especially the one that was made by Father malarkey, it's Mar a double ci,
which was made in 1698.
One example of a very famous translation of the meaning of the Quran, which was based on this Latin
translation was the one by George sail SLE, which was published in 1734.
But contrary to what some scholars used to think, George said, he did not really master the Arabic language, and maybe that's why he used the Latin as his base for translation. But in spite of the errors, numerous errors in says translation, it went through nearly 30 printings.
It was translated also into Dutch, German, French, Swedish, Bulgarian.
After that, several attempts were made to translate the Quran into English, but again, they use Georgia cell translation as its basis
or any other non Arabic version. So it has suffers from the same kind of problems again, second hand type of translation, simply multiplying or continuing with the same errors. Examples of this are livewells, translation 1861, polymer 1880, belt 1939.
And then finally, in about 1900 55
published a translation, which was based on the Arabic origin as different from the previous secondhand type of translations, that was acclaimed by many orientalist like watts and Williams, as a very good one, reasonably acceptable. That's from their standpoint. And finally, in the 20th century. To make the story short, there have been several translations attempted by either
Muslims who are who were born Muslims, or those who became Muslims from European origin, including people like Abdul Hakeem clan, Hamad Ali,
Abdullah Yusuf Ali, which is a very popular translation readily available in North America. And among those who embraced Islam,
include the Britishers Marmaduke pigtail
on Austrian Hamad acid, and by the way, a Canadian also some Evan, I don't know whether it has been published yet. But I knew from him that he completed his
his work. So this is just a sort of glimpse of how these translations developed throughout throughout history. Now, it will seem to me that
this problem of translating from one language to the other one is not a unique one, that it would probably exist when you're translating between any two languages. Would you agree? Well, I agree with that, in fact, and in some of the initial remarks that you said, there are some aspects of translations of course that
would be quite difficult regardless of the which language you're translating to are from. However, maybe we should elaborate a little bit on one remark that was made earlier.
When I said that, in the case of Arabic, the Arabic language, there are certain characteristics
for that language that makes it more difficult to translate in addition to the curious characteristic of the Quran also, as the standard for the Arabic language. Now, when the Arabic language as Dr.
If I said is used expert expertly and really, meticulously, and I caught him on page 66 it is remarkably terse, rich and forceful language, other description given, striking, vivid tenders, and breathtaking.
Now, this is not necessarily just an opinion of an enthusiast, the believer. In fact, as indicated in one of the earlier programs, that even the enemies of the Prophet at his time, we used to fight him and try to discredit him and discredit the Quran and everything else, they themselves at night used to,
you know, slip quietly, to try to get closer to the prophet to hear him while he's reciting the Quran at night, which meant that they were so impressed with the power and strength not only of the meaning, but the style even of the Quran that they could not resist and listening. So,
even some of the scholars who are who are non Arab or not, I should say,
and non Muslims at the same time, like the orientalist get gi wb essays and they caught him. No man has ever played on that deep toned instrument with such power, such boldness and such range of emotional effects, and then continues later to say to anyone who has not heard the sonorous majesty of an Arab reciting the Quran, it is impossible to convey what the book lacks in English, French, or German.
GBP here, actually came very close in this statements to admitting that the origin of the Quran cannot be human that it has a divine origin, even though it didn't really say, because according to his own words, he says that there is no parallel really in history to the Quran, that no person ever had the impact, or any speech that had the impact and the power of the Quran.
Which means that if there is no parallel whatsoever, why do we have to say that this is a unique case, especially if we know that Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him was undeterred. He was not known to be a writer or poem. He didn't need to know how to either write, and even his own words, other than the Quran that's outside, what he's utters by way of dictation, to him by the angel of Revelation is quite different in style from the Quran. So that leaves us with the question here. Where did this come from?
It is not really strange, despite all of these problems with translation that some of the, you might say half decent translations of the Quran, where there is an honest attempt to convey as much as possible of its meaning, if not part of the style of the Quran was strong enough and powerful enough to motivate people even who didn't understand Arabic, and who are not Muslims to embrace Islam.
In on this station, in a previous interview that we had, about a year ago, we had an interview with Yusuf Islam, who was previously known as Cat Stevens, a super popular musician from Britain, who became Muslim. And he indicated that one of the most powerful things in his life that really changed his life all around, even though he didn't know anything about Islam, was reading the Quran, not from the original, but even through some of those English translations.
Cat Stevens case is not the only one there have been numerous cases like that, despite all of these problems of, of translation. Now, you've mentioned about the problems of translating. And maybe I'll ask you to give some examples of these to explain to us exactly what these problems are.
Well, and the Arabic language, we find this rich vocabulary, perhaps richer than many other languages. And many times the very same words in Arabic may have different shades have meanings. Right. And if someone attempts to translate he simply tried to select one English word let's say let's concentrate on translation to English he tried to find an English term for example, that covers that meaning and that does not really convey the fullness of the meaning of the Quran. Let me give some specific examples. The Arabic language there are two words is Fatah and a star
both of these
Money are translated into English as
being able to.
Whereas in fact one of them
talks about being able to do an easy task. The other one refers to being able to do a more difficult task, you see the subtleties of the meaning. But again, in English, you simply say is able to, okay.
There are a number of terms, for example, that are more or less like divine attributes of Allah, like harlot hallak, big Barrett, all of these terms normally are translated something like creator or originators. Whereas again, without taking so much time has already given some illustration, each one of them has a particular
shadow of meaning a particular emphasis that does not exactly or is not exactly equal, or equivalent to the other attempts, when you describe again, a law or talk about some of these attributes as medic, medic mulink.
When this are normally translated as something like the owner of the universe, or kingwear, as, again, there are variations in the meaning of each of these. And the same thing goes on and on in a variety of other expressions, which I hope that illustrates that you can't really find one single term in English, for example, that conveys all these shades of meaning, whereas the auditioning can give easily, this kind of variations of meaning, and other problems that there are some words in Arabic, that even though the meaning could be understood by the English translator, let's say, there is no one single word that conveys the meaning in English and you have to have a sentence. An
example of this is when the Quran speaks about the origin of the human talking particularly about embryology, and that the human is created from not that's one single word in Arabic. But when you try to translate into English, the closest thing as Dr. Morris bouquet said, was a small quantity of liquid, referring to the initial process of fertilization of the of the oven. But again, there is no one single word to say, you have to use a sentence to convey the meaning.
Even the word that may have a concise and specific meaning. Sometimes there are errors in translation that changes the meaning altogether.
For example, in in Surah,
53, in verse four, the Quran speaks about the Quran as what you knew.
The proper translation actually, is a revelation which is revealed that is revelation from Allah. However, we find a translator like Robinson says, his suggestion suggested, instead of revelation revealed, again, this is not the proper meaning of the term. And actually, it biases the meaning altogether from Revelation coming from a lot of suggestions. And as you know, suggestion can come from within yourself or from some other human being, so that seems to get totally out of the meaning and the context of the verse in the Quran.
Sometimes also, a translation of one word may lead, even though it could be correct literally. But it could mean again something quite different from what the Quran speaks about, unless one is extremely careful and is translating within the context of the Quran. An example of this The Doctor halifa, for example, states is in Surah 52 in verse 43, tala la Coronado and Kabira.
The proper translation of this is Allah is highly exalted above those they associate with him that Allah doesn't have associated high above is highly exalted. However, we find one translator put it as how far is Allah above those
they associate with him. Well, that's not a very proper meaning doesn't say how far it means again, that they may be some recognition of hierarchy of gods, but God is far above. But the other proper translation really removes even any notion of comparison. And it's simply say that God is exalted beyond and above all this human description or associating others with him and his divine attributes. One of the strange translations
made by ln ln
verse number 93 in the second chapter of the Quran, which describes the Israelites when they disobeyed Allah and disobeyed Prophet Moses and they
says in the Arabic original will shape
the translation made by lane, which is an erroneous one. He said, they were made to drink down the calf, CLS cast into their hearts,
which is a very, very strange type of translation. Because the original word, the wording of the verse does not have anything to do with drinking, physically drinking the cows.
But actually Shinobu here means that their hearts that the hearts of their satellites were filled or soaked,
drunkenness is soaked with the love of the cat, because we all know the story and cyanide when they worship the golden calf. But apparently, as Dr. Halliwell observes, Elaine in his translation was apparently influenced by his background, biblical background where it states and in the book of Exodus and the Bible in chapter 32,
that Moses, when he came back, he was very angry. So he ordered that the calf would be burnt, and to make to make a powder, and to mix that powder with water and ask the Israelites to drink it. But this is not the story in the Quran whatsoever. And the words of the verse has nothing to do with this kind of erroneous translation. Now, these points are very well taken.
And for that matter, it brings about another question. Many of the translators and the actual people that have translated the Quran into English come predominantly from Judeo Christian backgrounds, how may this fact reflect in the accuracy of the translation of the Quran? I think, my humble understanding that it was a very influential part in the attitudes, because as indicated in some previous programs, they have been an erroneous assumption that we discussed amply that since the Quran was revealed after the Bible, then many people have wasted their lives trying to discover the so called parallels, to try to prove that the Quran is not strictly revelation, but simply copies
and we discuss this issue and play and the topic of authority of the Quran.
But just to give a few examples of this, you might say Judeo Christian background in the mind of some translators.
If you refer to chapter 16, and the Quran, particularly verse 15, which says wild coffee or the lava centimeter become, which means that God has thrown on earth mountains that are firmly rooted, lest it should move with you. Now, in the translation, which is just quoted by George, so he says, got thrown on the air, on the air, whereas the additional text actually does not say, on the air, it says in the air.
What's translation actually should be collected to read, the guide laid down foundations of the earth, that it should not be moved,
or shake with you. Now, in the translation that is suggested earlier, by sin, it seems to
more or less be based on the statement and the sons of David in Psalm four to chapter four, something that's number five,
the godly foundation on earth so that it should not move forever.
And he simply tries to apply that motion to interpret the verse in the Quran, which doesn't really carry that particular meaning.
What this perhaps require further clarification, so our time is really getting very close. I don't know whether we can catch up with
time. In tonight's program, as we mentioned, we have started a new topic on the translations of the Quran and hope to continue with inshallah next week for a lot of us