Lost in Translation

To truly understand and appreciate the Qur’an, we need to learn Arabic. So say some modern scholars of Islam.

The late Dr. Israr Ahmed says the following in the interview around 5:21:

Actually for understanding Qur’an, one has to learn Arabic. Not to be a very learned person in Arabic language. But that much Arabic, which will enable him to read  Qur’an with his own eyes without the help of any translator or interpreter.

Prof. Tim Winter, who is also known as Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad, says a similar thing.

In the video shared above, around 1:00:42, a member of the audience asked a question to Prof. Winter as to which translation of the Qur’an in English would he recommend. To this, Prof. Winter says the following around 1:04:25 

As far as translations go, depends on what you’re looking for. There isn’t one that I find particularly felicitous in English. There is a sense in which the musical grandeur of the text loses much of itself in translation. When I read the Qur’an in translation, it’s like a different book to the original. Even if, say, the story of Moses and the Israelites is there, factually it’s the same. Sometimes it can be very exactly the same. But there’s something about the original ethos, the fragrance that is lost in translation, unfortunately. Almost like writing down, say, a song. Miss the music. Just write down the words. Communication is still there but something fundamental to the power of the production is being lost.

I find it particularly hard to understand as to why Allah chose an alien language, for a vast majority of human beings, to reveal the Qur’an and then burden us with the responsibility of learning the alien language to truly understand and appreciate the Qur’an. Not everyone has the intellectual capacity, natural flare or simply the resources to learn a foreign language such as Arabic. It does not make much sense for Allah to be the Most Beneficent and Most Merciful yet be so demanding from us to learn a new language, when truly not all of us have the mental capability and resources to do so. If anything, Allah has made it difficult for us non-Arabs to access His true message.

Why does Allah choose to remain hidden and offer us only indirect clues about His existence in a language that I do not understand? I don’t know Arabic. But I also don’t know Sanskrit, Hebrew, Pali or Classical Chinese for that matter. If we accept this apparent ‘argument from Arabic’, we have to be honest and elevate other languages, which contain revealed scriptures, to the same pedestal as Arabic. Using this strand of argument, a theologian can only make an objective assessment about religious claims after mastering a host of ancient and modern languages. Surely, such an undertaking would be too arduous and I am not sure if any theologian would tread this path. 

Summing up, I’d say that according to my understanding, the message of a Divine Being, if such a Being exists, needs to be axiomatic. It also, in my opinion, needs to be extremely simple such that any and every individual with whatever intellectual capacity should be able to understand it. It should not be complicated and should not be concealed behind a language that is not spoken by majority of the world’s population.

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