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The Role Played by Qur’an Translations in Steering Public Opinion against Islam in NonMuslim Communities Counteracting Antipathy against Islam Insights Ironically Inspired by Two Non- Muslims and More .. IBRAHIM SALEH & DAHLIA SABRY The Qur'ān Translated with a Critical Rearrangement of the Surahs Richard Bell In the aftermath of the events of 9/11, there was a boom in the sales of Qur'an translations. • About 6 000 000 translations were sold in Germany • In Israel, bookstores ran out of their Qur'an translation stock. In this era, Qur'an translations have become far more crucial than any time before. Apart from their importance to non-Arabic speaking Muslims, they represent the primary source of information and the major recourse for the non-Muslims who are curious to pursue familiarity with Islam through first-hand knowledge. The role of such translations is gravely serious in formulating recipients' opinion about the Muslims’ religion. Thomas Cleary, one of the modern Qur’an translators, states: For non-Muslims, one special advantage in reading the Qur'an is that it provides an authentic point of reference from which to examine the biased stereotypes of Islam to which We s t e r n e r s a r e h a b i t u a l l y e x p o s e d . Pr i m a r y i n f o r m a t i o n i s essential to distinguish between opinion and fact in a reasonable manner. This exercise may also enable the thinking individual to understand the inherently defective nature of prejudice itself … (1993, p. VIII). However, to present "an authentic point of reference ", Qur’an translations have to be an authentic representation of what the original says. Has this been the case? Problem Statement Islamophobia has been on the rise in recent years even though it is deeply rooted in the past. There are a lot of misconceptions about Islam and Muslims propagated by the media. In trying to analyze the reasons for such phenomenon, it was found out that translating the meanings of the holy Qur'an offered an opportunity to distort and misinterpret its meanings. This played a crucial role in framing a negative and an inaccurate image of Islam. The problem can be ascribed mostly to translations by non-Muslims, however, also partially to translations by Muslims. Besides, the problem has also to do with western education and some other factors. Major Factors Contributing to the Negative Image of Islam Deliberate Defamation Tailor-made/Deviant Non-deliberate Insufficiency & Propagation Other Problems of Misconceptions Interpretations Linguistic Problems of translations Mistranslation/ Roots of Islamophobia Sectarian translations Twisted Translations poor translations/ in the early Orientalist Decontextualization by Muslims by the Non-Muslim translations literalism/ Qadyani Groups destabilization Latin Translations Shi’ite translations English and Translations affected other language by the rationalist trend translations DELIBERATE DEFAMATION & PROPAGATION OF MISCONCEPTIONS A. Roots of Islamophobia in the early Orientalist Translations •The first Qur'an translation was into Latin by Robert of Ketton in 1143. It was made at the request of the Abbot of the monastery of Cluny. (abounds in inaccuracies) • Another Latin translation by Ludovicus Marracci was published in 1698. It was supplemented with quotes from Qur'an commentaries "carefully juxtaposed and sufficiently garbled so as to portray Islam in the worst possible light" (Colin Turner,1997 p. xii). The title of the introductory volume of such translation was A Refutation of the Qur'an. Such translations formed the foundation for a number of subsequent translations into English, French, Italian, German, etc. • The first English translation was that of Alexander Ross published in 1649. In his introduction, Ross says "I thought good to bring it to their colours, that so viewing thine enemies in their full body, thou must the better prepare to encounter … his Alcoran" (p. A3). • Similarly, H. Reckendorf (1857) says in his Hebrew translation of the Qur'an, "I can now stop writing and ask God's pardon for the sin I committed when I profaned our sacred language and transferred to it the talk of lies and falsehood" (as cited in Abdul Aal, January 29, 2006, p. 78). • In 1734, George Sale’s translation came out based on Marracci’s earlier notorious work. • In 1861, J. M. Rodwell’s work provided a further example of a writer "gunning for Islam" (Turner, 1997, p. xii). Samples of Early Translations Maurice Bucaille (1981), an eminent French surgeon, stresses the existence of mainstream inaccurate ideas that brainwash non-Muslims stating: As most people in the West have been brought up on misconceptions concerning Islam and the Qur'an; for a large part of my life, I myself was one such person … As I grew up, I was always taught that 'Mahomet was the author of the Qur'an. Besides, at the International Seminar on Islam in Paris, held under the auspices of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Bucaille (1985) explains: When I started my in-depth research on the reality of Islam, for the first time, I started to study its scripture, the Qur'an and I was obliged to use translations done by various Islamologues or orientalists. Alas, … I remember having found in several translations of the same paragraph such differences that it was evident that these interpretations were due to translators and their commentaries, often added to the text. Later on, having acquired the knowledge of the Arabic language, enabling me to read the Qur'an in the original text, I … discerned the evident desire to camouflage or to willfully change the meaning, evidently in order to adapt the text to a personal point of view. (p. 10) Testifying to the deliberate mistranslation of the Qur'an by some orientalists to confirm the misconceptions about Islam taught to students at schools, Hussain Rofe, a British convert to Islam states: Reading Rodwell's translation of the Qur'an Al-Karim had specially fixed these negative preconceptions into my subconscious. Rodwell had purposely mistranslated some parts of the Qur'an Al-Karim and distorted its meanings, thus turning the holy book into a mass of unintelligible words altogether different from the original version. It was not till after having contacted the 'Islamic Society' in London and having read a true translation of the Qur'an Al-Karim that I knew the truth. (as cited in Why did they become Muslims? 1995) Unfortunately, as Sir Edward Denson Ross (1940) asserts in his introduction to George Sales' translation: [for] many centuries the acquaintance which the majority of Europeans possessed of Mohammedanism was based almost entirely on distorted reports of fanatics which led to dissemination of a multitude of gross calumnies. What was good in Mohammedanism was entirely ignored, and what was not good, in the eyes of Europe, was exaggerated or misinterpreted. (as cited in Sales, 1940, p. 7) B. Decontextualization A major trend that helped in spreading the misconception that Islam is a religion of terrorism is that the western media decontextualize ayat of Qur'an translations dealing with war and use them to criticize Islam. Along the same lines, in their book The Dark Side of Islam, Abdul Saleeb and R. C. Sproul (2003) decontextualize some ayat to prove that Islam is a religion that instigates violence. One of the examples they mention is ayat 190-193 of sura 2. This is how they cite them: Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, … and slay them wherever you catch them, ... and fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah" (p. 87) However, the full ayat read: "Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you, but do not attack them first. God does not love the aggressors, and slay them wherever you catch them [those who fight against you]; drive them out of the places from which they drove you, for persecution is worse than killing. But do not fight them at the Sacred Mosque until they first attack you there, but if they attack you [there], then kill them. Such is the retribution of the disbelievers. But if they desist, then [know that] God is Forgiving, Compassionate, and fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah. But if they desist, then let there be no hostility except against the transgressors." TAILOR-MADE/DEVIANT INTERPRETATIONS It is sad too that many Qur’an translations by Muslims reflect ideas that drift away from the mainstream Muslim beliefs. A. Sectarian Translations Some translations, even though good in many respects, are influenced by scientific rationalism like those of Ahmad and Dina Zidan (1979), Muhammad Asad (1980), and Ahmad Ali (1984). They intend to interpret any references to miracles in the Qur'an on rational or figurative basis as they reject the idea of miracles. For example, Asad (1980), whose translation is praised by many, believes that Jesus Christ's miraculous talk in his cradle is "a metaphorical allusion to the prophetic wisdom which was to inspire Jesus from a very early age" (p. 73). Unfortunately, these views reflect obvious refutation of basic mainstream beliefs of the majority of Muslims who fully acknowledge these miracles. Shi'ite translations differ in some respects from the mainstream understanding of certain ayat (verses) to reflect their own doctrinal biases rather than give an accurate presentation of the Muslims’ Scripture. B. Translations to Suite one’s personal needs Qadiyani and Ahmadiyya Translations To serve their own needs, they marred their translations with modifications to certain ayat (verses), thus disseminating ideas that contradict with basic Muslim beliefs. NON-DELIBERATE LINGUISTIC PROBLEMS A. Mistranslations or Inadequate Translations The mistranslation of certain words or the poor translation of certain ayat lead to misunderstandings. One issue is related to the translation of the Arabic words " ," إسالمIslam, and " ,"مسلمونMuslimun in Qur'anic ayat. For many non- Muslims who do not understand the original meaning of these words, describing the disciples or Prophets who came long before Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as “Muslims” is an anachronism. Examples of these ayat are: "Or where you present when death came to Jacob? When he said to his sons: 'what will you worship when I am gone?' They answered: 'We shall worship your God and the God of your fathers: Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac, the One God, and to Him we are Muslims' " [2: 133) "When Jesus found Unbelief on their part He said: "Who will be my helpers to God?" The disciples said, 'we are God's helpers: We believe in God, and do thou bear witness that we are Muslims' " [3: 52] An example of a poor translation giving a wrong meaning is the first translation below. The second translation is a better one: “And in retaliation there is life for you, O men endowed with intellect, that possibly you would be pious“ (2: 179). “Fair retribution saves life for you, people of understanding, so that you may guard off [against what is wrong/further murders]”. INSUFFICIENCY OF MANY OF THE AVAILABLE TRANSLATIONS Non-inclusion of the occasions of revelation of the ayat Many Qur'an translations do not include any footnotes explaining allusions and ambiguous pronominal references or giving the cultural background and brief explanation of the occasions of revelation - at least of the ayat that may be controversial or misunderstood. One problematic example is aya 216 of sura 2 which reads: "Fighting is prescribed upon you, and ye dislike it. But is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth and ye know not" (p. 87) It is very important to understand the occasion of revelation of this ayah and its background, which is never given in translations, and to indicate the first ayat giving permission to fight are those below. These ayat clearly specified the reasons for fighting. "Permission to fight is given to those who have been fought against because they have been done injustice, and God is well able to help them .. those who have been unjustly driven from their homes only for saying, 'our Lord is God'. If God did not drive back some people by means of others, monasteries, churches, synagogues and mosques, where God's name is mentioned much, would be surely be demolished …" [22: 39-40]. It should be noted that the Qur’an was not revealed to the Prophet at one shot but rather piecemeal over the 23 years of his Prophetic mission. FURTHER REASONS OF THE NEGATIVE IMAGE OF ISLAM •The Partial Coverage of the Media The following ayah is among those often cited in the media: Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, … nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, from among the People of the Book [Jews and Christians]" However, the following ones are often ignored: "God does not forbid you to be benevolent and equitable to those who have neither made war on your religion or driven you from your homes. God loves the equitable. God only forbids you to make friends with those who have fought against you on account of your religion and driven you from your homes, or abetted others to do so. Those who make friends with them are unjust." [60:8-9] "The believers, the Jews, the Christians, and the Sabians – any who believes in God and the Last Day and does good – will have their reward with their Lord. There is nothing for them to fear nor will they grieve" [2: 62]. • Wrong Information by Schools and Family Members in the Non-Muslim Communities: Mumin Abd-Ur Razaq Selliah, a Sri Lankan convert to Islam, explains: Formerly, I was an arch enemy of Islam. For, all the members of my family and all my friends were telling me that Islam was an absurd and concocted religion that would lead man to Hell, and they were even preventing me from talking with Muslims. As soon as I saw a Muslim I would turn and walk away, and I would curse them behind their back (as cited in Why did they become Muslims?, 1995). •Muslims’ Negativity Muslims are so passive towards what is going on. They do not seriously attempt to counteract the campaigns discrediting Islam through explaining its true principles. Husain Rofe testifies to this: One thing I would regret to say at this point is that Muslims are doing very little to advertise this lovely religion of theirs to the world. If they try to spread the true essence of Islam over the entire world with due attention and knowledge, I am sure that they will achieve very positive results. In the near East, people are still reserved towards foreigners. Instead of coming into contact with them and illuminating them, they prefer to keep as far away as possible from them. This is an exceedingly wrong attitude. I am the most concrete example. For I was somehow hindered from being interested in the Islamic religion. Fortunately, one day I met a very respectable and highly cultured Muslim. He was very friendly with me. He listened to me with attention. He presented me an English version of the Qur'an al-Karim translated by a Muslim. He gave beautiful and logical answers to all my questions. (as cited in Why did they become Muslims?, 1995) RECOMMENDATIONS FOR COUNTERACTING ANTIPATHY AGAINST ISLAM • A reliable translation of the Qur'an, encompassing comprehensive information, should be prepared as a team work with both language specialists and specialists in religion, who have a good command of the target foreign language, to be involved. • Muslims should attempt to make people acquainted with their religion and to clear the misconceptions related to issues like the status of women in Islam, polygamy, Jihad …etc. This can be done on two different levels: * More explanatory programs in the media should be devoted to addressing such issues in a rational scientific documented way. *On another level, lay Muslims can engage in such tasks making use of the Internet technology and chat talks, that are used only for nonsensical activities, through the notion of "popular diplomacy ". The following are comments of some students who were involved in the Connect Project at the American University in Cairo. Such program involves students from so many Arab and American Universities in videoconferencing where they discuss several crucial issues to bridge the communication gap and clear misconceptions "I learned that the American media is the main reason why there are many stereotypes and false ideas on Islam and the Arab World." (Female, Qatari, University of Qatar). “I was happy to see how my American partners in this program could express themselves freely and were brave to tell us about the stereotypes they have. I enjoyed answering all their questions about Islam and the Arab world" (Female, Qatari, University of Qatar). An American student said, "The actual real-time discussions were amazing in that we were actually able to speak and ask anything to people we knew so little about. I think it was the best way to learn about the Middle East and Islam that a student could experience" (female, Virginia Commonwealth University). • The media should give more weight to explaining sides of Islam that that are ignored by Non- Muslims. Indeed, some of these issues captured western scholars and converts to Islam. Among these issues are: 1.Islam’s Rationality It is based on rational thinking. It does not ask Muslims to act against reason nor to accept things they do not understand but to work their minds and seek knowledge. Thomas Cleary argues that Islam "does not demand unreasoned belief. Rather it invites intelligent faith, growing from observation, reflection, and contemplation" (p. vii). Many of those who converted to Islam state in the book entitled Why did they become Muslims? that this is one of the major issues that attracted them to this religion. 2. Acknowledgment of all the previous Books and Messengers. 3. The conformity between science and religion in Islam Thomas Cleary (1993) states that Islam finds a solution to the dilemma of the "Post-Christian West". He explains that the Qur'an: offers a way to explore an attitude that fully embraces the quest for knowledge and understanding that is the essence of science, while at the same time, and indeed for the same reasons, fully embraces the awe humility, reverence, and conscience'. (p.viii) Besides, in his book The Bible, Qur’an and Science: The Holy Scriptures Examined in the Light of Modern Knowledge, Maurice Bucaille acknowledges the total conformity between the facts mentioned in the Qur'an and modern science. Examples of the Scientific Facts in the Qur’an Are: :”ألم نجعل األرض مهادا، والجبال أوتادا“(النبأ )7-6 "Did not We make the earth an expanse and the mountains as pegs?" (78: 6-7) Mountains have deep roots under the surface of the ground. (Earth, Press and Siever, p. 413.) The mountains, like pegs, have deep roots embedded in the ground. (Anatomy of the Earth, Cailleux, p. 220.) Another illustration shows how the mountains are peg-like in shape, due to their deep roots. (Earth Science, Tarbuck and Lutgens, p. 158.) “He has loosed the two seas meeting together without overflowing a barrier between them” (55: 19-20) Modern Science has discovered that in the places where two different seas meet, there is a barrier between them. This barrier divides the two seas so that each sea has its own temperature, salinity, and density.1 For example, Mediterranean sea water is warmer, more saline, and less dense, compared to Atlantic ocean water. When Mediterranean sea water enters the Atlantic over the Gibraltar sill, it moves several hundred kilometers into the Atlantic at a depth of about 1000 meters with its own warm, saline, and less dense characteristics. The Mediterranean water stabilizes at this depth2 Although there are large waves, strong currents, and tides in these seas, they do not mix or transgress this barrier. (1) Principles of Oceanography, Davis, pp. 92-93. (2) Principles of Oceanography, Davis, p. 93. http://www.islam-guide.com/ In support of Bucaille's and Cleary's argument, Captain Jacques Cousteau, a French famous undersea explorer, explains that what made him believe that the Qur'an is the true word of God, was the discovery that the water of the Red Sea and Indian Ocean do not mix. Following is what he says: In 1962 German scientists said that the waters of the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean did not mix with each other in the Strait of Bab-ul-Mandab where the Aden Bay and the Red Sea join. So we began to examine this. First we analyzed the water in the Mediterranean to find out its natural salinity and density, and the life it contained. We repeated the same procedure in the Atlantic Ocean. We found that, even at places where the two seas were closest to each other, each mass of water preserved its properties. In other words, at the point where the two seas met, a curtain of water prevented the waters belonging to the two seas from mixing. When I told Professor Maurice Bucaille about this phenomenon, he said that it was no surprise and that it was written clearly in Islam's Holy Book, the Qur'an al-Karim. When I knew this, I believed in the fact that the Qur'an al-Karim was the 'Word of Allah'. . • Dr. T. V. N. Persaud, a Professor of Anatomy, Professor of Pediatrics and Child Health, and Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, Chairman of the Department of Anatomy states: “The way it was explained to me is that Muhammad was a very ordinary man. He could not read, didn’t know [how] to write. In fact, he was an illiterate. And we’re talking about twelve [actually about14 00] years ago. You have someone illiterate making profound pronouncements and statements and that are amazingly accurate about scientific nature. And I personally can’t see how this could be a mere chance. There are too many accuracies and, like Dr. Moore, I have no difficulty in my mind that this is a divine inspiration or revelation which led him to these statements.” Other scientists testify to the same issue. Please click the link below: http://www.islamguide.com/truth.htm This page is added by Mike Ghouse, to the previous pages prepared by Ibrahim Saleh & Dahlia Sabry from Egypt. How do I know that the Qur’aan translation I am reading is the right one or the wrong one? The test is simple – whether you are a theist or an atheist, it is the word of God, or wisdom for a world of equilibrium. Neither Injustice nor imbalance is included in God’s Plan. God simply will not be un-just. If a verse offends the reader, then the issue is not the Verse, but it is the understanding the verse in its right context. Even if an expert translates it for you, it still should mean justice. Finding the truth is one’s own responsibility. Mistakes are made intentionally and innocently. That is life, we come and Go, the creator is always around. It is not the word of God, nor the religion that is the problem, it is our intent and our interpretation. Let’s hope all of us genuinely seek the truth and work for a better world. Please visit : www.WorldMuslimCongress.com and check out APOLOGY.
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