QUR’AN TRANSLATION LIMITATIONS
THE NECESSITY for the use of Multiple Translations for Understanding The Message of ALLAH’S QUR’AN
“The Qur’ān is God’s miraculous, matchless message that has been sent to all humanity via His last Messenger. With the Qur’an, God has shown humanity, one last time, a short-cut to His good pleasure. He has communicated to us about His Essence, Attributes, and Names. He has expressed in the most explicit way, leaving no room for any misunderstanding, His will to be known and recognized in the correct way, to be believed in and worshipped. Almighty God has put emphasis on the duties and responsibilities of believers, while enthusing hearts and agitating souls with His promise for punishment and reward. He has presented the Qur’ān as a sign for perfection and completion and as an orbit to rotate around for His good pleasure, while condescending to offer this gift to us as a compliment greater than any that has been or will ever be granted to anyone else” .
“The correct opinion, and the one held by the majority of scholars in regard to the Qur’an’s inimitability, is that it is due to the Qur’an’s syntax and its veracity. This is because the Almighty’s knowledge encompasses everything and His knowledge encompasses all forms of discourse. Thus in arranging the Qur’an’s wording, the Almighty knew exactly which word was best suited to follow the one before it, and which word best yielded the intended meaning. The Book Of Allah is such that if a word were removed from it and the entire Arabic lexicon were searched for a better word, it would never be found” .
“It [The Qur’an] was received and recorded in the Arabic language. Muslims believe that the Qur'an is inseparable from the language in which it was revealed, and for this reason, all Muslims worldwide recite it in Arabic, even though today the vast majority of Muslims are neither Arabs nor native speakers of Arabic” .
“Translation of the meaning of the Qur’an is not the same as the original Arabic Qur’an. You can use the book [Translation] to get at the meanings and the message of the Qur’an, but it is the original Arabic Text where the message truly resides” .
The Qur’an itself is a miracle and cannot be imitated by man. “translator’s duty is to distil some of the shades of meaning in the text; the end product is not Qur’an but just a translation (just as a shadow is merely a shadow), and so long as nothing is misquoted or taken out of context” .
Muslim Scholars and Muslim laity are unanimous in their view that THE TRANSLATION OF THE QUR’AN IS NOT THE QUR’AN and is not a replacement for the Original Arabic Qur’an. Muslim scholars believe that any translation of the Qur’an is an approximate interpretation, intended only as a tool for acquiring a superficial understanding of the original Arabic text . The translations of the Qur’an; e.g. into English, French, German or indeed any other language known to mankind, in principle, are regarded as mere interpretations, paraphrases, tools and aids for reaching to the Message of the Qur’an.
Translations of the Qur’an cannot be, and they indeed are not, used in place of the original Arabic of the Qur’an for recitation as part of enjoined, supererogatory or devotional Muslim Prayers or other enjoined rituals and functions.
The words of different languages do not encompass and express all the shades of meanings of the original Arabic words, though they may express specific ideas or concepts. Hence narrowing down the meaning of the Qur’an to specific ideas and concepts in a language other than Arabic, would mean missing out other important dimensions of ALLAH’S entire Message. While studying the translations of the Qur’an, one must always be cognizant of the limitations of that which is Admittedly, UNTRANSLATABLE .
[Qur’an - 11:7] “wa- huwa ‘alladhe khalaqa as- samaawaat wa- al- ‘ard. fe sittah AYYAAM..”
The word AYYAAM in Arabic means; days or ‘long periods’ or ‘eons’ or ‘epoch’. The four translations being given here differ in their interpretations:
[11:7 – Asad] “And it is He who has created the heavens and the earth in SIX EONS”
[11:7 - Pickthall] “And He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in SIX DAYS”
[11:7 – Shakir] “And He it is Who created the heavens and the earth in SIX PERIODS”
[11:7 – Ahmed - Samira] “It is He who created the heavens and the earth In SIX SPANS,”
The translation of AYYAAM as ‘EONS’ appears to meet God’s Created Parameters (commonly understood as Scientific facts e.g. heat, energy, light, darkness etc.,) which were part of the Creation of the Universe and as such Asad’s rendering would be more to the point.
[96:1 – Abdel Haleem] “Read! In the name of your Lord who created:”
[96:1 – Muhammad Ghali] “Read: In the Name of your Lord Who created,”
[96:1 – Maulana Ali] “Read in the name of thy Lord who creates”
[96:1 – Laleh Bakhtiar] “Recite in the Name of thy Lord Who created.”
If one was to study Haleem, Ghali and Ali Translations on their own, it would imply that the Prophet (pbuh) was Literate and was asked by Angel Jibril to read out a written Message. Whereas ALLAH, The Exalted, has informed mankind [7:158] that the Prophet (pbuh) was Unlettered (Illiterate). This is further confirmed by the History. Immediately after Prophet’s death (pbuh), the Companions did not carry out any searches for any heavenly sheets which Angel Gabriel might have given to the Prophet (pbuh) for reading nor did they search for any iPad which Angel Gabriel might have left behind for all to read. Instead, the Companions relied upon the memorised Qur’an (oral transmission) and they collected all materials, palm leaves, sheets of leather, shoulder blades of large animals and whatever else had been used for writing the revelations as they were revealed to The Prophet (pbuh) and dictated by the Prophet (pbuh), during his Prophethood. The result was the Compiled Qur’an which is now widely known as Uthmanic Recension.
Thus it is clear that the rendering of [96:1] by Laleh Bakhtiar is consistent with the Message of the Qur’an and the History of Islam.
[2:54 – Laleh Bakhtiar] “And mention when Moses said to his folk: O my folk! Truly, you did wrong to yourselves by your taking the calf to yourselves to worship, so repent to One Who is your Fashioner and kill yourselves. That would be better for you with One Who is your Fashioner. Then He will turn to you in forgiveness. Truly, He, He is The Accepter of Repentance, The Compassionate.”
[2:54 – Daryabadi] “And recall what time Musa said unto his people: my people! verily ye have wronged your souls by your taking the calf, wherefore repent unto your Maker, and slay yourselves: that were best for you with your Maker. Then He relented toward you; verily He! He is the Relentant, the Merciful”
[2:54 – Bewley] “And when Musa said to his people, ´My people, You wronged yourselves by adopting the Calf so turn towards your Maker and kill yourselves. That is the best thing for you in your Maker´s sight.´ And He turned towards you. He is the Ever-Returning, the Most Merciful.”
[2:54 – Wahiduddin] “When Moses said to his people, O my people, you have indeed wronged yourselves by worshipping the calf; turn in repentance to your Creator and slay [the culprits] among you. That course is best for you in the sight of your Maker. He relented towards you. He is the Forgiving One, the Merciful.”
Had ALLAH, The Exalted Commanded the Followers of Prophet Moses (pbuh) to “kill themselves”, we, the mankind, today would have no Followers of Torah. Indeed, the rendering by Wahiduddin, clears any misconceptions and we can safely understand that the command was for Bani Israel to punish the guilty among themselves, who had taken the calf as their “god”. Wahiduddin view also finds support from The Bible:
“Then he said to them, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.”
[39:23 – Shabbir Ahmed] “Allah has now revealed the best HADITH, a Book fully consistent within itself. It marks out both ways (to success and failure) repeating its Messages in diverse forms. Herewith shiver the skins of those who have some idea of the Glory of their Lord, and then, their skins and their hearts soften at Allah's Reminder. This is the Guidance of Allah, and with it He guides him who seeks guidance. Whereas he who follows a path that Allah has declared to be wrong, goes astray and he cannot find a guide.”
[39:23 – Yusuf Ali] “Allah has revealed (from time to time) the most beautiful Message in the form of a Book, consistent with itself, (yet) repeating (its teaching in various aspects): the skins of those who fear their Lord tremble thereat; then their skins and their hearts do soften to the celebration of Allah's praises. Such is the guidance of Allah: He guides therewith whom He pleases, but such as Allah leaves to stray, can have none to guide.
[39:23 – Abdel Haleem] “God has sent down the most beautiful of all teachings: a Scripture that is consistent and draws comparisons; that causes the skins of those in awe of their Lord to shiver. Then their skins and their hearts soften at the mention of God: such is God’s guidance. He guides with it whoever He will; no one can guide those God leaves to stray.”
[39:23 – Bilal Muhammad] “God has revealed the most beautiful message, a book consistent with itself, repeating. The skin of those who fear their Lord, shivers from it. Then their skin and their hearts soften to the celebration of God’s praises. Such is the guidance of God. He guides with it whom He pleases, but those who God leaves to stray, can have none to guide.”
Rendering by Yusuf Ali, Abdel Haleem and Bilal Muhammad is consistent in highlighting the Beauty and Reverence of ALLAH’S Words. Whereas the rendering “best HADITH” clearly indicates the Translator’s Deviant views.
[2:177 – Wahiduddin] “Virtue does not consist in whether you face towards the East or the West; virtue means believing in God, the Last Day, the angels, the Book and the prophets; the virtuous are those who, despite their love for it, give away their wealth to their relatives and to orphans and the very poor, and to travellers and those who ask [for charity], and to set slaves free, and who attend to their prayers and pay the alms, and who keep their pledges when they make them, and show patience in hardship and adversity, and in times of distress. Such are the true believers; and such are the God-fearing.”
[2:177 – Haleem] “Goodness does not consist in turning your face towards East or West. The truly good are those who believe in God and the Last Day, in the angels, the Scripture, and the prophets; who give away some of their wealth, however much they cherish it, to their relatives, to orphans, the needy, travellers and beggars, and to liberate those in bondage; those who keep up the prayer and pay the prescribed alms; who keep pledges whenever they make them; who are steadfast in misfortune, adversity, and times of danger. These are the ones who are true, and it is they who are aware of God.”
[2:177 – Daryabadi] “Virtue is not in this that ye turn your faces toward the east and west, but virtue is of him who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Book and the prophets: and giveth of his substance, for love of Him unto kindred and orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for redeeming necks, and establisheth prayer and giveth the poor-rate and is of the performers of their covenant when they have covenanted; and is of the patient in adversity and affliction and in time or violence these are they who are proven true, and these they are God-fearing.”
[2:177 – Qadri] “Righteousness is not merely that you turn your faces to the East or the West. But true righteousness is that a person believes in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book (revealed by Allah) and the Messengers. Driven by love for Allah, he spends (his) wealth on the kindred, orphans, the needy, the wayfarers, and those who ask and in (liberating slaves´) necks; and establishes Prayer and pays Zakat (the Alms-due). And when they make a promise, they fulfil it and are steadfast in hardship (poverty) and suffering (ailment) and at the time of fierce fighting (Jihad). It is these who are truthful and it is these who are righteous.”
ALLAH’S Message of Noble Verse [2:177], defines an essential attribute of the Believers; Believers' Love for ALLAH. And out of their Love for ALLAH and their continuous desire/efforts for striving for ALLAH’S Pleasure, they (Believers) spend their wealth. Noble Verse [2:177], establishes the Virtue of Sadaqa, The Voluntary Benevolence (Charity). Thus the renderings by Qadri and Daryabadi are consistent with the complete Message of Noble Verse [2:177], which like [9:60] also defines the categories of people (eligible recipients), to whom the Believers may give their Voluntary Charity, for The Love of ALLAH, Alone.
One can safely say, if any translation indicates some sort of inconsistency within ALLAH’S Revelation (ALLAH’S QUR’AN), such is entirely due to the translation limitations and translator’s personal views and likes and dislikes and MOST CERTAINLY NOT within the DIVINE MESSAGE .
“The Qur’an is one of the world’s classics which cannot be translated without grave loss” .
The claimed Translations of The Holy Qur’an, are indeed the translations of the meanings of The Qur’an [in short TMQ], as understood and rendered by individuals, to the best of their understandings, ability and possible sectarian or intellectual bias .
[see M. Ayoub, 'Translating the Meaning of the Qur’an: Traditional Opinions and Modern Debates', in Afkar Inquiry, Vol. 3, No. 5 (Ramadan 1406/May 1986), pp.34 9).]
“Hence the need for reference to multiple translations, for no single translation can adequately convey the meaning of the original – ALLAH’S QUR’AN” .
And the humble ones say, Translation helps in approaching The Message of The Qur’an but it [The Translation] is not a substitute for the Original, ALLAH’S QUR’AN, revealed and recorded in, Classical ARABIC.
[ 1] – [Excerpted from: http://www.theholybook.org/]
 - [(Ibn Atiyah) – Preface, Variant Readings of The Qur’an - Ahmad Ali Al-Imam - 2006]
 - [Excerpted from:http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/201104/thomas.jefferson.s.qur.an.htm]
 - [Yahiya Emerick – Preface to The Holy Qur’an – Guidance for Life, 2000]
 – [M. M. Al-Azami – Preface, The History of Qur’anic Text – 2003]
 - [Excerpted from - Mahmoud Ayoub, The Awesome News (Hiawatha, Iowa: Cedar Graphics, 1997), p. xi.].
 – [ALLAH’S QUR’AN – Untranslatable - http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=116824498381564&topic=147]
 – [Excerpted from: asadullahali.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/the-message-of-the-Qur’an.pdf]
 – [A. Guillaume – the Life of Muhammad – 1955]
 – [Excerpted from - [see M. Ayoub, 'Translating the Meaning of the Qur’an: Traditional Opinions and Modern Debates', in Afkar Inquiry, Vol. 3, No. 5 (Ramadan 1406/May 1986), pp.34 9).]
 – [Dr Laurence B. Brown – Scriptural Sources and Translations, God’ed – 2007]