TRANSLATION: TRIED & TRUE? Mohammad Khalifa The Quran in English: with cautionary points to consider. Those who have tried to translate the Quran from its Arabic original have found it impossible to express the same wealth of ideas with a limited number of words in the new language. Comparing any translation with the original Arabic is like comparing a thumbnail sketch with the natural view of a splendid landscape rich in color, light and shade, and sonorous in melody. Scanty knowledge of classical Arabic would deprive anyone from appreciating the different shades of meaning rendered by the occasionally slightly different declensions of Arabic words. "No man has ever played on that deep-toned instrument with such power, such boldness and such range of emotional effects." "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." Introduction The Sonorous Majesty Mistaken Translations o Nescience o One Shade of Meaning o Word Confusion o Imagination Introduction According to the Oxford Dictionary, "translation" means expressing the sense of a word, sentence, or book in another language. Those who have tried to translate the Quran from its Arabic original have found it impossible to express the same wealth of ideas with a limited number of words in the new language. Indeed, some writers, recognizing this extreme difficulty, have refrained from calling their works "translation." Pickthall for instance, called his rendering "The Meaning of the Glorious Quran," while Arberry entitled his, "The Quran Interpreted." Both have made their translations directly from the Arabic. Needless to say, in the case of a second or third hand translation such as from Arabic into Latin or French and thence into English, the result is bound to be still further away from the original. Despite the evident inaccuracy of the word, "translation" remains the most convenient one. The first translation of the Quran into a Western language was made into Latin. It was carried out by Robertus Rotenesis and Hermannus Dalmata in 1143, but was not published until 1543. In 1647 Andre du Ryer, French Consul in Egypt, translated it into French. This was later described by Sale as having mistakes on every page besides frequent transposition, omissions and addition. This French version was the basis of the first English version of the Quran and was described by Savary as "despicable;" Sale described it as a very bad one, no better than its French source. Many later English translations were based on a Latin version by Father Ludovic Maracci in 1698. Maracci was the confessor of Pope Innocent XI and was taught Arabic by a Turk. One of the most famous English translations was by George Sale in 1734, who included a detailed explanatory discourse. Sale depended largely on Maracci's Latin version (he could not fully master the Arabic language). His tutor was an Italian named Dadichi, the king's interpreter at the time. Although Voltaire asserted that Sale had spent "five and twenty years in Arabia where he had acquired a profound knowledge of the Arabic language and customs," this was ruled out in his biography by the historian R.A. Davenport as being "opposed by the stubborn evidence of dates and facts." Undeniably Sale's translation of the Quran contains many faults, each one indicating that he could not have fully grasped the Arabic language. But despite its many inaccuracies, Sale's version has gone through some thirty editions; it was retranslated into Dutch in 1742, German in 1764, French in 1750, Russian in 1792, Swedish in 1814, and into Bulgarian in 1902. Many other attempts to translate the Quran into English have been published by English writers who largely depended on Sale's or other non-Arabic versions. Rodwell's rendering appeared in 1861, Palmer's in 1880, Bell's in 1939 and Dawood's in 1956. Professor Arberry's translation of the original Arabic was published in 1955 and was described by Watt, Williams and others as of the "greater literary distinction." The one by Dawood was considered by Watt as very simple and "always having an intelligible meaning." A number of translations have also been made by born Muslims, among them Abdul- Hakim Khan in 1905, Mirza Abul-Fazl in 1911, Mohammad Ali in 1916 and Abdullah Yusuf Ali in 1938 . Another translation was published in 1930 by a Western scholar who accepted Islam: Marmaduke Pickthall. Back to Section Index The Sonorous Majesty To be realistic one should never expect any translation to convey in full the idea expressed in the Arabic original. "No translation, however faithful to the meaning, has ever been successful." (Williams). Anyone who has read the Quran in the original is forced to admit this statement is justified. Arabic, when expertly used, is a remarkably terse, rich and forceful language, and the Arabic of the Quran is by turns striking, soaring, vivid, terrible, tender and breathtaking. In Professor Gibb's words, "No man has ever played on that deep-toned instrument with such power, such boldness and such range of emotional effects." Bodley declared: "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." Certain translations were so well done that they could move readers sincerely searching for the truth and illumination even to the extent of accepting the faith of Islam. Comparing any translation with the original Arabic is like comparing a thumbnail sketch with the natural view of a splendid landscape rich in color, light and shade, and sonorous in melody. The Arabic vocabulary as used in the Quran conveys a wealth of ideas with various subtle shades and colors impossible to express in full with a finite number of words in any other language. To Illustrate this point let us look at the two Arabic words ista'a and istata'a. Both words were translated interchangeably as "could" or "was able to" by Sale, Muhammad Ali, Pickthall, Rodwell and others, all of whom overlooked the delicate difference in meaning between the two words. Ista'a is only used for relatively easy actions such as climbing a hill; istata'a is used for a more difficult task such as boring a tunnel through the hill. Another example is related to the attributes of Allah (SWT); he is Khaliq (the Creator who creates things from nothing) Khaliq (who creates everything), Fatir (the original Creator of things - without a previous example to imitate), Al-Badi (who creates and perfects things without previous examples), Al-Bari (who creates and gives substance). All these names are translated interchangeably as the "Creator," the "Maker," the "Originator," or the "Producer." The Arabic words malik are slightly different from one another in writing and meaning. Malik is "king," [or again] the "maker and owner" and malik is the "supreme sovereign." Sale and Rodwell interpreted them all as "king," "owner" by Pickthall and as "lord" by Ali. Again, the word qadir means capable; qadir and moqtadir are two different superlative forms with the same root. Moqtadir was constructed by Sale as "most potent," by Rodwell as "potent" and by Pickthall as "mighty." The closest rendering could be "most capable of great things." Ali rendered the word as "powerful" while he rendered qadir as "possessor of power." The latter word was interpreted by Sale as "almighty," and by Pickthall as "able;" whereas the closest expression would be "infinitely capable." More often than not, a single word can hardly be adequately translated by less than a long phrase. The word muftah was rendered by Bucaille as "a small quantity of liquid" who regretted not having "the terms which are strictly appropriate." Rendering the adjective makin as a "firmly established lodging" he described it as "hardly translatable." The subtle difference between mata and ayyana could hardly be discerned in any translation the author ever read. Although both mean the interrogative "when" the word ayyana implies a denial that the event in question will ever take place. Back to Section Index Mistaken Translations By this it is meant that the original sense of the word or verse was not properly expressed. This could have resulted for several reasons: nescience of the Arabic word's exact meaning knowing only one shade of the meaning confusion between different Arabic words limited knowledge of Arabic eked out with figments of imagination mistaking Arabic for Hebrew or Syriac some confusion with Hebrew traditions. Allah: Allah is the proper name in Arabic for The One and Only God, The Creator and Sustainer of the universe. It is used by the Arab Christians and Jews for the God (Eloh-im in Hebrew; 'Allaha' in Aramaic, the mother tongue of Jesus). The word Allah does not have a plural or gender. Allah does not have any associate or partner, and He does not beget nor was He begotten. SWT is an abbreviation of Arabic words that mean 'Glory Be To Him.' s or pbuh: Peace Be Upon Him. This expression is used for all Prophets of Allah. ra: Radiallahu Anhu (May Allah be pleased with him). "The Holy Qur'an," Text, Translation and Commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, 1934. (Latest Publisher: Amana Publications, Beltsville, MD, USA; Title: "The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an," 1992). Includes subject index. "The Meaning of the Glorious Koran," An Explanatory Translation by Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, a Mentor Book Publication. (Also available as: "The Meaning of the Glorious Koran," by Marmaduke Pickthall, Dorset Press, N.Y.; Published by several publishers since 1930). "The Bible, The Qur'an and Science (Le Bible, le Coran et la Science)," The Holy Scriptures Examined in the Light of Modern Knowledge, by Maurice Bucaille, English version published by North American Trust Publication, 1978.
Pages to are hidden for
"Translations of the Holy Quran: Tried and True?"Please download to view full document