How to Reflect on the Qur’an – Lens 1 The Language Lens
Channel: Nouman Ali Khan
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We are live Bismillah salatu salam ala Rasulillah Allah Allah, he was happy to arrange somebody from you to
come to our viewers from around the world in sha Allah. And it's an awkward time for at least us in America. So after fajr it's time to knock out on a Saturday, but I wanted to complete this discussion series. Hopefully people will get to it when they'll get to it. Inshallah, but let's pick up from our discussion yesterday, we introduced the concept of the involvement of the heart in contemplating the Quran, the heart filter, and today we're going to talk about the first lens that we can utilize to help us contemplate the Quran. And that is the lens of wording. And I'll just say a couple of quick comments about that. And I'll give it over to you guys.
The Quran we believe to be the literal word of Allah. What that means then is it's not just the subject or the contents, the message of the Quran that is vital, but the way in which Allah delivered it, like the word choice, he made the phrasing he decided to use the expressions he decided to use down to the preposition he used or the way he framed something. Because communication, you learned something in media studies, they say the medium is the message. Right? So there's two things the message and the medium. How, what are you saying? And how are you saying it? And it's by this, this title wording, what we're really talking about is how did Allah communicate
something? And what can we get gained from paying attention to those small details, because nothing is insignificant, when it comes to paying attention to the Quran, and certainly the way Allah chose to express it is at the top of that. So that's those are just some introductory comments. And I know that I think it will raise some questions about well, I don't know Arabic, and what am I supposed to do with this? Right? So we're gonna discuss that a little bit also today, but also made me think of some examples of why this became so significant in our own journeys and Quran reflection, and how vital it's been in our relationship with the Quran throughout the years. But go ahead. Yeah, so I
mean, coming back to what we mean by these lenses, there are five aspects and approaches to how we look at the Quranic text, right. But sometimes we have to look at the text. And sometimes we have to look at the context. And sometimes we have to look into ourselves. So these lenses are actually going to point in a few different directions. Right. So this one is very much about looking at the text as text and that seeing what is said, sometimes what is not said,
how something is said, and then trying to get to the why it is said. And all of these, as you can see are questions. So you're going to find all through these lenses, what we're doing is supplying what are some key questions, guide questions that kind of fit most of what we're going to try to discover about the Quran. So I'll summarize for you the key questions under this lens. Right. So question number one is, what is the purpose of this idea that I'm looking at just now? And what is the purpose of each part of it being stated? Right? So that's the question that we always have to have, in our mind, as we are reading through any of this has to do with wording, right. Number two,
why was it said in this particular way, with these particular words? Now, we're starting to feel the need for Arabic now to an extent, right, right. And thirdly, what can I appreciate through word order grammar, especially where this added emphasis, or this any feature here in the text, which might go against the norm, which is expected? Alright, so now we started to see how you're going to really once you're getting into some of the meat of these questions. So for the fasting people, we are going to see that there is a need for some Arabic vocabulary, of Arabic grammar, and even belaga Arabic rhetoric, where you start to learn about, okay, what's the expected word order. So when I see
that in the Quran, something goes against what I expected, or what I learned in class is the norm. There is a reason for that. And we can be sure that there is a wisdom behind that. And to get the answers to those kinds of things, we can certainly look in books of difficile. But you know, books of Tafseer, however enormous and voluminous, they are, are still finite, are still limited. Whereas, you know, the insights that can be derived from the Quran, are unlimited. So our starting point, of course, is to see maybe the scholars actually addressed this and I'll look around and try to find an answer.
But yes, we hinted towards the fact that Arabic language is going to be needed. And I was concerned also about the idea of putting this lens at the beginning. You know, a few people actually said to me, maybe this lens shouldn't be mentioned at the beginning because it will scare people reading. It's a barrier to entry. Yeah, sure. And
And we don't want it to be that. But the reason that it comes in the beginning is just because it is important to understand that the Quran is a message of communication, it comes in the form of words. So we want to appreciate it on that level. Yeah. On that note, I think this is a significant piece of
its food for thought that a lot of Muslims haven't consciously thought about. And I think we should bring it to a conscious level. And that is that our relationship with the Quran is different from different religious traditions and their relationship with their sacred texts.
translations can, you know, you often hear Muslims say, well, the Quran is available in any translation, any language, so I don't see why you have to put so much emphasis on learning the Arabic language. And I think we have to take a step back from instead of just highlighting the virtues of Arabic, and the fatwa, and all of that, and the benefits and all of that, but I think if you just take a step back, and just at a much more fundamental philosophical level, what we believe about the Quran is that the divine, Allah chose to communicate with human beings directly. And direct communication means no filters, there's no, there's no barrier between the slave and the
master, hear the subject and Allah, and he chose to deliver that message in this particular medium. Now everybody can understand in common, it's common sense to understand that when you translate, if you translate poetry, you translate a work of art, you translate great bodies of literature, they're not going to have the same artistic psychological effect. Not to mention, sometimes literally, some things are lost, the meanings are lost. But certainly language is not just about meanings. Language is also about impact. And so much of that is lost when you simply just translate, right, even as we work on our translation projects for whom we have to compromise all the time on what we're going to
let go, what we're just not able to get across in these few words. In fact, pixel puts it very nicely, you know, so my magic pixel, Mohammed, Mohammed, you because I did one of the best translations that has been done one of the early ones. And in his introduction, he says, you know, this, what I've done,
is not that inimitable, Symfony, the very sounds of which move men to tears and ecstasy. Right. So he's saying that, you know, I basically, I'll do what I can, but I just, I'm completely at a loss as to how to convey all of this Quran contains. Yeah, and so like, I know, people are like, Why do we have to come to Arabic, all languages are from Allah and all of that, yes, but part of what created a revolution in religion, revolution, and religion means there is everybody has equal access to the most sacred, right, because there is no pyramid, there's no hierarchy, we're only some have access to the Divine Word, and everybody else has to go to them to be able to access the divine Word. And
there's, you know, some some kind of a
religious kind of order, even though we have scholarship, and we have the merits of knowledge, but that doesn't mean that the knowledge itself is only accessible to scholars, it's actually accessible to everybody. And that's part of the Quranic revolution, actually, and to diminish the role of the importance of Arabic in that is to actually take away from that fundamental power, that, that the Quran gave to people, and the, you know, one of the most fascinating things in my study of certain luckily, I recently, I didn't know this for the longest time, that in Zeile, like to will commonly transmitted sent down, actually also classically contain the meanings of eta, of making something
accessible and available, like part of the secondary meanings of unknown Quran or unzila. Or Netherland, even is to Allah made the Quran accessible. Right? And it's accessibility, it's direct accessibility actually has to do with the original language. And I would argue conference, we might say, we can read
it is that in the sense of like, he brought it within reach, you know, he brought a clue. Yeah.
And when you think about that, when you think about what, for example, how Allah describes
what was happening with the sacred texts of the Jewish and the Christian communities, right, and how there were barriers to entry, and you had to go to the people of knowledge and ask them, right?
But Allah actually made this direct. So what I'm saying is, it's counterintuitive. You would think, by translating the Quran, we've made it more accessible. We by translating the Quran, we've made it a degree of accessible, but it's pure accessibility. It's absolutely accessibility is when there's not even a language barrier between the reader and the Quran. And that's actually Islamic history. Islamic history is not about Arab supremacy, but it's certainly about the supremacy
See under the domination of the Arabic language, nobody minds learning English once it becomes a global language of business and communication and education, and nobody says, Hey, no, no, no, we have to learn this in our own light, we have to study our own language. But we understand that the world, there's a universality to it. And so the Quran was given a divine culture, you know, beyond the culture, universality by Allah. And that's why this this, this, this lens shouldn't be thought of as some secondary thing or, but actually encouraging everybody to you can you can take steps in Arabic, you can do it.
Yeah, really good insight. I mean, it just reminds me of the fact that you know, our spirit as we are undertaking the translation of the Quran, you know, we're near the beginning of the project, but it's, it's growing. And the feeling that what we are doing is obviously not obviously not replacing the Quranic text, Arabic text, but even not replacing all the other translations, you know, these are all attempts to get to some of what is in that word, in those words in those Arabic words, which were revealed. So it's going to remain the center of that attention that people will come after us and translate the Quran again, they will catch the ends that we miss, they will shine light and
other dimensions that we weren't able to capture. Yeah, so just just thinking about the grid theme. Yeah, I was just gonna say local. Okay, one of the things that strikes me about the
the definition of timber given by email will be Bowie needs to see it.
He's referring to the verse in Surah Asad, verse 29, which Allah subhanaw taala says, Kitab when ends and now they can, Mubarak can be at that battle at or the italic or old. And
this is a blessed book, which we've revealed to you, oh, Prophet, so that they may contemplate verses.
Now the majority of those who have defined to the bore, and often we find that it's an reflective exercise, another roofie advantage more, to read the plan, and to think about the consequences of its message in your life, etc. But interesting, the marble by Bowie, he says, he says Cadabra here means you have to suffer Hoonah who were my fee? He mean, Milan, Milan, he was the word had to Elia to Ireland mousy. So he actually gives two definitions, he says the first is that they may turn its pages literally, the book so that it makes it
and secondly, so that it becomes a deterrent for them after they benefit from the sermon of the Quran, so that, you know, they're deterred from sinning. Now focusing on the first one, the first point, which is to study the Quran, as a text, I think often people think that that number is purely a contemplative exercise or if I can understand the gist of the word or the meaning. I'm therefore at Liberty just to think about this purely from an existential or from an experiential perspective, etc, etc. So it's, it's interesting that you bring this conversation right in the beginning to show how fundamental the wording and the language of the Quran is, in this process as we do the work. So
I found that quite an important aspect of your, of the five lens journey. Yeah, I think so have you and I should also bring to the attention of our audience sort of our thought process and our, our own kind of evolving insights as we engaged in our own translation project. Like for example, one of the things I it really got me thinking was okay, the Quran has many idioms, right? So there are figures of speech, and expression, some proverbs even that were popular in the ancient Arabian culture that the Quran has made use of like, for example, what's been captured by Professor extensor, mudra and verbal idioms, for example, among many others that we've, we've we've read. And
obviously, the English language that we're communicating has its own set of idioms, but the idioms you find in Scotland are very different than the idioms I find in Texas, which are significantly different from the idioms you might find in New York City.
So even within English, there are cultural variations, and idioms and expressions change. And on top of all of that Gen Z idioms are foreign language to me. Right. And they're changing constantly. Right? So I had to learn the hard way that no cap has nothing to nothing to do with a cap
up today, no cap
didn't even occur to
yeah, this this existed in masajid. Before
but yeah, I mean, the sign will say must wear cap, no cap. Yeah. This is this is the basket for people that have no cap. So we Yeah, I was thinking about that. I have for example, that yesterday, you you translate it very nicely as we were talking
About the one source Mohammed Salam affiliated Brunel Quran, Allah Kulu been UK Fallujah. In the last part, it's very tricky to translate because, you know, when you look at it closely, you realize Allah Kulu bin is, you know, unspecified. It doesn't run indefinitely. It's not to the hearts. If you're going to look at a lot of translations, you find that hearts and I'm not going to say just all those translations are wrong, wrong wrong. It's just more just one time, not three times it didn't work, or at least they didn't capture the naturalness or the you know, indefinitely indefiniteness. Yeah. And therefore the implication of that, right. But then also you can have
different views about what is the implication, right. So there's one recent translation that says something like, or are there, unspeakably dark? You know, dark, dank, unspeakably lost hearts. Right. So, they read the the neck era as being a way of
blaming those hearts. Right, because sometimes unkind. Okay, as you see in Bulava, you know, sometimes the 10 key is what tactile that is to speak negatively about something terrible hearts. So that's a possibility. But the way that you translated it is more how I see it as well, which is that there are different sorts of hearts. Right? There are hearts out there of different kinds that have their own locks or Qfile. Ha, which is another twist. Interesting.
Which is hard to capture in translation. So you say something like? Or is are their hearts,
or their various hearts that have their own locks upon them. Right. So here, you know, even our short says the tenkeyless for 10. We're, that's along the lines of what you did what you said, right? There are various types of hearts. Right? So this leads us to different kinds of implications for to the board, right? So for me the first, the way that I mentioned that other translation, it almost says, always talking about those people's hearts, it's talking about the hypocrites, it's talking about the rejecters in disturbed hearts are you know, so then the relevance to me is, you know, I have to work a bit harder to get okay, what's the relevance of that to me? Like I still get
there. But in the translation that that you offered, that's clear already that, okay, there may be hearts that are locked up by arrogance and disbelief and rejection. But there may be other hearts are locked up by other things that can affect us even as believers even as people who are sincerely seeking Allah, but we need to overcome some barriers and unlock ourselves from the Quran. Right? So in navigating translations, sometimes we do need to look at a few of them to get a sense of what is the features? What are the features in the wording. And obviously, in our project, we're trying to open that up some more, we're trying to explain that more in the footnotes, you know why we made
certain choices, what it is that we see, and what it is also, that we, we might not have been able to capture in the translation, but we want people to know about in the Arabic wording, the reason I brought up, and thank you for for that nuance that it's one of those things that were even the most subtle wording and grammatical structure can impact so much right? The reason I brought up the idioms and expressions thing is that, of course, idioms and expressions and phrasings are culturally relevant, like they're culturally contextualized and they are also historically contextualized. So the phrases that people were using in English 100 years ago, many of them have died out and they
just don't exist. Some of them have survived, but many of them don't exist and so many, many of them morph into different meanings as time goes on. Part of the process of understanding the Quran wording is to actually go back to the crystallized ancient Arabic usage that no longer exists in many cases. So you even for an Arabic speaker, and someone fluent in Arabic has another common misconception I've heard as well, you know, we speak first, which is the language of the Quran. No, no, wait, hold on a second. It's, the words are the same, but the culture and the environment and the expressions have changed for centuries. And even the first second century Arabs, even the Sahaba
were noticing the idiom is changing. Right there. They're interesting accounts of even Sahaba they use something like a little the Allahu Anhu that this is not how we used to speak. Right? So the language was experiencing a change. And so the going back to the original phrasing and understanding how classical Arabic or pre, even pre Islamic Arabic jalahalli Arabic, how did they look at these expressions, these verbs these idioms, and that study, which can be can be can be daunting, but that is so important, because then now that you understand its original cultural context, now maybe you can choose something in your contemporary culture that is the closest to it. And then in 10 years
from now, we might have to revisit the translation
because that expression in English has died out, and we got to go to another expression, but that the historical Quranic one, the Arabic one that remains the constant, but the translation keeps adapting and morphing, right. And that's another reason the Arabic is so important, because if we just relied on translation, they would become outdated, quite literally in a few years nowadays. Right? So that's another thing that I've been thinking about how how to communicate to somebody why the Quran being an Arabic is so important, you know, just even for practical reason, beyond the spiritual reasons, that even for practical reasons, its message will actually start getting diluted
Yeah, yeah. And sometimes people attribute that to a kind of miraculous nature of the Arabic language, which is, which is a lengthy discussion, but it's a lot to do with the efforts then that were invested into preserving Arabic, right, and preserving the, you know, the earliest context and the idiom of the Quran. So, maybe there's something particular about Arabic that made it possible to do that work.
Yeah, and you know, all those accounts of people going out into the Bedouin desert to find out how the Arabs that haven't been, you know,
corrupted by city language, that are still out in the body, how are they using a particular verb or a phrase or a preposition or whatever, and, and scholars documenting that just so they can capture the original essence of Arabic, because that's the Arabic in which the Quran was revealed. That's a remarkable historical contribution on the backs of which all of our work exists. You know, like, it's actually one of the I think one of the most monumental gifts of the people who came before us is that they, they allowed us an insight into language, the way it worked, then, you know,
we have the case of the codename traveling to people
who the Quran describes as like a cartoon if Corona cola. Yeah. Where, of course, there was the difficulty of understanding the language. And of course, we know that they had to construct a dam or a wall, but they managed to forge so how to manage the the communicate and get get the business done.
There's a fundamental question here as to whether but we know that everybody will not have the same access to the Arabic language. And we know that whilst we're invited to study the language of the Quran in order to appreciate nuances, the reality is about people will be able to a lot of people don't have time.
It I mean, it can sound daunting to a lot of people who may find it off putting or you know, they're just not academically inclined, or they don't have that linguistic sort of frame of mind. What do we how do we encourage our brothers and sisters here? And is it possible for them still, to benefit from these gems translated? You know, although he may be translated, for instance, and I know, Mr. Lutz, that you've done a lot of work that makes those new nuances intelligible to another community. So can you tell us a bit more about how those who may be called appreciate the wording in Arabic? Yeah, so I mean, my thoughts on that are I'm the first beneficiary of being a non Arab. And having
gained some insight from someone who knows the Quran better than I do, and then translating some of its nuances for me. And I was fortunate enough to for a lot of carve a path out for me that made Arabic education for myself, and Arabic learning for myself possible. But that may not be Allah's plan for everybody, you're right. Which is where
not only is our work, I feel I work is really important, not because it's our work, but the work of translating the Quran while being humble to what we're not able to get across. And being humble to the fact that Arabic is in fact, an ocean, and we're trying to capture some of its depth, and what we're trying to translate or explain in a lecture and things like that. So that the people that are receiving it, that don't have Arabic education, at least they're getting a taste of something, otherwise they wouldn't have had been had access to if they were just reading a, you know, flat two dimensional translation. With all due respect to that transition, there would have been so much
nuance that they wouldn't even know even exists. So I think the work of presenting this stuff in English has two benefits, one for those who will never be able to access the Arabic language or just won't have the time where with all opportunity, maybe even aptitude that can it's possible. I've met people that I've taught, I've taught 1000 hours to and at the end of it. I said Allah did not create this person to learn Arabic. Like I've never met a harder person that's want to study it, but just my Holika Lita Illuminati like this.
All right, so, that's okay, but at least they should be given something that they can gain
incite from and which is why the idea of helping each other do reflection and the kid will Quran Right? They'll remind by way of the Quran, even even the role of the prophets. I said, I mean, I don't think that all the Sahaba had the same depth of language. I think we tried to paint them with one stroke. But some of them were far more poetic. Some of them were far more, you know, sensitive to delicate, you know, the delicate nuances of the Arabic, others weren't, others may not have been. So there was a variety even among them, and I think that's the same, that's going to be forever. Those are my thoughts on the subject. Well, those others kindly shared the link in the description
to a set of posts that I wrote in the beginning of Ramadan on Quran reflector calm. And if you have a chance to look through those, you could see the first three concern what we discussed yesterday, kind of introductory things in the heart filter. And then days, four, or five and six are about this lens of wording. So I tried to touch on some of these questions, and one of the things I shared on day five is just some quick examples from the Fatiha.
You know, everyone here is obsessed with the Fatiha you know, as much as possible, I was trying to bring people back to the Fatiha, you know, because it's the thing that we most have to reflect on it is the key, you know, the opening to the entire Quran. But I gave some examples, which I tried to show how not all the questions are to do with Arabic, per se. So if you permit me, I'll maybe just run through the idea here. Yeah, so even if you're reading in translation, read all praises for Allah. You can see this is a statement. It's not it's a declaration, rather than a declaration like saying I praise Allah. So you can notice that as a person reading if you have a keen eye towards
wording right. So what is it about? All praise is for Allah or belongs to Allah, which is preferred? overdressing I praise Allah you praise Allah, we praise Allah? Or do you maybe you can think about what the answer might be? I don't want to spoon feed what the answers are, right? Because also it's not necessarily just one answer.
Rabbul aalameen You're going to be Lord of All the Worlds, you know why worlds why multiple worlds? What does that imply? What does that mean, we think about most compassionate, Most Merciful? Why are Allah's names mentioned these particular ones? And this particular order? What can I make of that? What can I understand of that? And the repetition of a random Rahim, you know, from the Bismillah. And then, as an ayah, by itself, Yama, Dean, you know, the names of the Day of Judgment? What are these different names that I can find in the Quran? What does each one of them imply to me? What do I get out of comparing them and looking at each one in its place? You will be worshiping you ask for
help. Oh, what's this week all about? You know, we didn't start with any we. But now it's about something that we are stating. And why is it we are not I? That what does that make me think about my place in a community and as a believer amongst believers, guide us, likewise, along the straight path? Now when I mean, the path of those who have blessed, you know, who are these? Who are these ones who are blessed, or versus those who have anger upon them? Why is it that again, in the translation, some of them will say things like,
those who you are angry with, but when you look at translations, which are maybe more careful, you see that it's not even mentioned? Who is the one who is angry, and marveled will be la him? Is those who have anger upon them, right, the objects of anger. So why is it when
the fact that I mentioned those whom you blessed it is attributed to Allah, but when the anger is mentioned, it is mentioned in this roundabout way? What do I get from that? Right? Do I need advanced Arabic techniques? You know, yes, you can find some ideas in the books of Allah, Allah and tafsir. But even without that, you know, your own thought process can get you through a fair amount of the way. So this is just to give you hope, right. When we talk about the lens of wording, yes, we're encouraging you sign up, you know, get onto the Arabic journey today. Absolutely. But for those who are not able to do so, for those who don't want to wait to, you know, get to the end of a
journey first. You know, you can start with what you have, you know, there's nothing stopping you from reflecting on the Quran.
Yeah, I really appreciate that. Okay, so our time is nearly up. But I think we did a pretty decent job covering just a spectrum, some of the spectrum of wording in the Quran.
You know, those of you that are interested in starting your journey, studying the Arabic language, I some of you might know, we've got the Dream Program. The first few intensive intensives of it are available on YouTube there for free and then you can continue the education on being a TV, if you can afford the $11 And if not, you can also continue that for free. But I have an announcement to make about
Coming intensive soon inshallah so we're going to be doing a live YouTube course on Arabic again, inshallah pretty soon and I'm working out the details and when those details already you guys will hear about it but I'm hoping that I can encourage enough of you hopefully 1000s and 1000s of you from around the world actually to just start your journey. Let's Let's see how far we can get inshallah and I pray that our sessions are of benefit and inshallah these these lenses now that we've knocked one down, inshallah for more to go so hopefully we'll see you guys again tomorrow. Thank you both for joining us.
Thank you and welcome to all of you so proud of myself. I didn't make plenty of you like not even once for him like I didn't even say anything. I was thinking about your like 1987 VHS camera. What I didn't say anything like
did you steal your webcam from like a security camera from the 711 Like where did you Where did you get this camera? Why is it so blurry? Why do you get your shirt from because it seems like you've copied me
I got mine in Buxton. Oh, so definitely didn't copy me haven't copied. Yeah, yeah. No, I didn't. Okay, well, mine's a different version of your shirt. Yeah, we still live. Yeah, we're live. Yeah. This is forever recorded. Now people know about your
habit of stealing 30 cameras from gas stations. Okay, bye. All right. Sorry.