July 18, 2016 at 4:05 pm #2884
There are some who believe that one cannot learn properly from a non-Arabic Qur’an.
A sweeping majority of Muslims live outside of the Arab-speaking world. Muslim communities flourish in the predominantly Muslim countries of South Asia and Southeast Asia, as far east as China and Russia, and towards Turkey and Africa.
Not to mention converts to Islam of all nationalities spanning the globe, while second and third generation diaspora of Muslims calling Europe and South and North America their home. That makes for a considerable number of Muslims who don’t claim Arabic as their first or second language – and I count myself among them.
I was once sitting in a mosque, away from home one Ramadan, while waiting for tarawih to begin. Taking a moment to catch up on reading the Qur’an, I was tapped on the shoulder by a sister sitting next to me who whispered, “You know, if you don’t read the Qur’an in Arabic, it doesn’t count.”
I know that that was easy for her to say, since Arabic was her mother tongue. But I did think about what she told me. I could understand her reasoning, but I disagreed with her over whether or not it “counted”. After all, I, and many others, had come to Islam through reading translations of the text. Surely, our conversions were not invalid because we based them on an English or any other rendering of the original? I would likewise think any sincere Muslim reading the Qur’an was getting rewards for their worship and reflection.
The Language of the Qur’an_Aquila StyleImage: Stockvault
But how pressing is it for us to read it in the original script?
The Arabic of the Qur’an is, according to those who know, unparalleled. The “miracle” of the Qur’an is in its verses, and their claim to divine legitimacy was tested by challenging the poetry-loving Arab community to produce something like it (2:23, 10:38).
All this is incentive enough to read the Qur’an in Arabic. In an ideal world, everyone would learn the language. I doubt there is a non-Arabic speaking Muslim who doesn’t agree that they would love to read and comprehend the Qur’an in its original form.
But this is no easy feat and not always practical, considering the number of hours needed to master a language to the level of reading and understanding – especially in its classical form. The language of the Qur’an is difficult even for Arabic speakers, I’ve been told.
I have tried taking Arabic lessons. While I didn’t get very far, I didn’t have the luxury of time or resources to put in the effort, although someday I hope to come back to it.
The Qur’an was translated into the local languages of Muslim communities from as early as the 8th century. It was at first translated as a necessity for the growing and expanding Muslim territory. Then, with growing rifts between the Christian world and the Muslims, it was translated by a few who were hoping to expose what they felt were the ‘evils of Mohammedanism’, ‘Mohammedanism’ being the popular Orientalist name for Islam.
However, the 20th and especially the 21st centuries brought a new diversity to the available translations. There have been translations by converts to Islam from all walks of life, and academic-based translations by both Muslim and non-Muslim scholars. There have been translations which rearrange the chapters in order of chronology, reformist translations, translations into both artistic lyrical English and easy-to-understand English, translations by women offering gender-neutral perspectives, and even by a husband-wife team – to name a few.
The Language of the Qur’an_Aquila StyleImage: PhotoXpress
Yet, dealing with these translations can also be tricky. To take a renowned and highly criticised example, one Saudi-endorsed translation uses parentheses to inject the translator’s commentary into the text. It then reads as if the commentary was part of the Word of God. This version is probably the most widely available English version in North America at the moment and distributed freely in mosques. I was even given a copy when registering my shahadah in Canada.
There are many things that make some translations problematic. There are translations that carry their respective sectarian frameworks into their texts, even if the effect is subtle. Some translations may have been completed by writers with a thorough background in Arabic, while others may not be, and thus rely heavily on the use of dictionaries or previous translations rather than the original text, leaving a greater room for misjudging the essence of the Qur’an.
Arthur John Arberry, a non-Muslim scholar of Islam whose translation is praised by Muslim and non-Muslim scholars alike, notes in the preface to his translations that the Qur’an cannot be translated – only interpreted.
Reading translations can still be, and has been for me, a fulfilling endeavour, given that one remembers that the translation (or interpretation) is ultimately not the infallible Word of God, but rather, a pointer towards it.
English translations and their commentaries have given me the chance to compare verses and to inherit a widening understanding of the overall themes of the Qur’an, even if I am missing out on the indescribable intricacy of the words used in the original Arabic. The variety of translations also signifies that there is no single monolithic claim to the religion because there is room for reason, reflection and differences of opinions – one of the beautiful aspects of Islam.
No matter what translation we use, the Arabic language is still special for Muslims as it is a unifying force for all of us across the world. No matter where we live or what languages we speak, we all pray in the same tongue. Perhaps if we all spoke classical Arabic too, that bond between us would be stronger.
But for now, I can feel myself grow when I focus on reading with the intention to comprehend through translations, more so than when focusing purely on memorising and reciting in Arabic.
July 21, 2016 at 1:30 pm #2886
What was the purpose of posting this article here? Clearly those who have come to this website have come to learn Arabic and not to be deterred to its relevance, or not, based on a personal opinion of the author of the above article.
It is clear that the article was not ‘PASTED’ here in any context or remit of the website. So I ask again WHAT was the purpose of posting or rather as I said earlier ‘pasting’ this article here?
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