1427 / 2006

Investigating Some Semantic Problems in the
Translation of the Holy Quran.
Mazin Fawzi Ahmed(*)

Translation is generally defined as the process of replacing a
source language text (SLT) by an equivalent target language text (TLT).
It is an integrated process which involves the comprehension, analysis,
reformulation, and retextualization of texts by incorporating the
contextual, semantic, and sociocultural aspects of SL and TL texts. The
translator is not only concerned with rendering the meaning of the SL text
but also with preserving equivalence in tone and style, among other
things. In short, the translation should be so transparent that one may
think of it as being original rather than translation. With this in mind, can
the Quran be translated from Arabic into other languages? Translation
theorists are of the opinion that this is impossible because no one knows
its exact interpretation except Allah. To put it more briskly, the Quranic
text itself is so difficult that the exegesis plays a great role in rendering it.
This being the case, translation as a device cannot replace the
understanding of meaning especially if we take into account that Allah
Almighty has three main aims behind revealing His Book : to be guidance
(*) Department of Translation - College of Arts University of Mosul


1. on the other hand. Semantic Problems in the Quran Semantic problems encountered by the translators of the Quran are of two kinds. it is incontestable that 'translation' in the title above means "interpreting one's message in another language". This can be manifested in two aspects : a. Semantic extension of a word in one language vs its semantic intension in another. to be a miracle supporting what Mohammed ‫ صلَ هللا ػلْو ًسلم‬calls for. is peculiar to the translation of the Quran itself. As such. Semantic problems in translation: One may look at problematic texts such as the Divine Text in question to find hosts of examples indicative of semantic problems. among which are the following: 1. and for the Muslims to worship Allah by reciting His Holy Words ( 123 :ِ‫)الضسقبن‬. The first kind is common to all translations. Difference of semantic field for two words which seem to be synonymous. As an example for this is the word ‫ أة‬as used in the Quran which can stand for ‫( األة‬father) and ‫( الغذ‬forefather). The second kind. cannot be achieved through translation.Investigating Some Semantic Problems in the Translation Mazin Fawzi Ahmed for the humans and the jinn. however. The Quran says: 62 . This. Languages lexicalize things differently (though there are some linguistic universals) and they differ in the cultural and social orientations. among many other things.

)22 :4( In this Quranic verse the lexeme ‫ أة‬is equivalent to (father) in English. the word ‫ أعٌس‬can be rendered into (rewards) in the verse: 63 .)87-(23 )‫اِث َْشا ِىْ َم ىُ ٌَ َس اَّلمب ُ ُم ْال ُم ْ لِ ِمْ َ ِم ْ قَجْـل‬ b. (43) 1427 / 2006 )‫بؽ َ خًة ًَ َم ْزب ًة ًَ َسب َا َسجِْيًة‬ ِ َ َ‫( ًَال رَ ْن ِكؾٌُا َمب نَ َك َؼ ثَب ُإ ُ ْم ِم َ النِّن َ ب ِا اِ اَّلال َمب قَ ْذ َسلَ َ اِناَّلوُ َ با‬ . Using a word in more than one sense in a particular language.)21-40( )‫ا‬ ٍ ‫ِم ْ ًَا‬ and into (footsteps) in: .ADAB AL-RAFIDAYN vol. Such a word can be rendered into (effects) in the verse: ‫ذ اَّل‬ ‫ض ثَ ْؼ َذ َمٌْ رِيَب اِ اَّلا َرلِكَ لَ ُمؾْ ِِْ ْال َمٌْ رََ ًَىُ ٌَ َػلََ ُ لِّن‬ َ ْ‫هللاِ َ ْْ َ ُّؾْ ِِْ ْاألَس‬ ِ ‫بس َسؽْ َم‬ ِ َ‫( َب ْنظُشْ اِلََص‬ .)50-30 ( )‫َ ِْ ٍا قَ ِذّ ٌرش‬ into (traces) in: ‫هللاُ ثِ ُزنٌُثِ ِي ْم ًَ َمب َ باَ لَيُ ْم ِم َ اَّل‬ ‫ض َؤَخَ َزىُ ُم اَّل‬ ِ‫هللا‬ ِ ْ‫( َ بنٌُا ىُ ْم أَ َ اَّلذ ِم ْنيُ ْم قُ اَّلٌحًة ًَ صَبساًة ِِ ْاألَس‬ . The Quran says: ‫( ًَ َعب ِى ُذًا ِِ اَّل‬ ‫هللاِ َؽ اَّل‬ ‫ط ِملاَّل أخَثِْ ُك ْم‬ ٍ ‫ق ِعيَب ِد ِه ىُ ٌَ اعْ زَجَب ُ ْم ًَ َمب َع َؼ َل َػلَ ْْ ُك ْم ِِ الذِّنّ ِ ِم ْ َؽ َش‬ . The word ‫ صبس‬as used in the Quran is a good example.)6-18 ( )‫ش أَ َس ب ًة‬ ِ ّ‫بس ِى ْم اِ ْا لَ ْم ّ ُْئ ِمنٌُا ثِيَ َزا ْال َؾ ِذ‬ ِ َ‫( َلَ َؼلاَّلكَ ث‬ ِ َ‫بخ ٌرغنَ ْ َ كَ َػلََ ص‬ Also. Elsewhere in the Quran the same lexeme has the word (forefather) as its translation equivalent in English.

In the Quran euphemism can be obviously seen in the following verses where the Arabic word ‫' عمبع‬sexual intercourse' is replaced by more euphemistic expressions: ْ َ‫(قَبل‬ ُ ‫ذ أَناَّلَ َّ ُك‬ . some translators render a word into another word without taking into account the degree of euphemism between them.)223-2( ) َ ِْ‫ة ِّن ِش ْال ُم ْئ ِمن‬ َ ًَ 64 .)20-(19 )‫ٌا لِِ ُ ي ٌرال ًَلَ ْم َّ ْم َ ْ نِِ ثَ َ ٌرش ًَلَ ْم أَ ُ ثَ ِ ّْب ًة‬ ‫( ًَالاَّل ِزّ َ ُّظَب ِىشًُاَ ِم ْ نِ َ بئِ ِي ْم صُ اَّلم َّؼٌُ ُدًاَ لِ َمب قَبلٌُا َزَؾْ ِشّ ُش َسقَجَ ٍخ ِم ْ قَج ِْل أَ ْا َّزَ َمبساَّلب َرلِ ُك ْم‬ ‫رٌُ َػظٌُاَ ثِ ِو ًَ اَّل‬ . Put differently. Being unaware.Investigating Some Semantic Problems in the Translation Mazin Fawzi Ahmed ‫ٌُسىُ ْم ًَ اَّل‬ )57-3( ) َ ْ‫هللاُ ال ّ ُِؾتُّب الظاَّلبلِ ِم‬ َ ‫د َْ ٌَُ ِّنْ ِي ْمأُع‬ ِ ‫) ًَأَ اَّلمب الاَّل ِزّ َ َمنٌُا ًَ َػ ِملٌُا الصاَّلبلِ َؾب‬ and into (dowers) in the following verse : ْ ‫اظ ْْزُ ْم ثِ ِو ِم‬ َ ‫َبػ‬ َ ‫َش‬ َ ‫ػلَ ْْ ُك ْم ِْ َمب ر‬ َ ‫ّعخًة ًَال عُ ن‬ َ ‫ش‬ َ ‫( َآرٌُىُ اَّل أُع‬ ِ َ ‫ٌُسىُ اَّل‬ ْ ‫ثَؼْ ِذ‬ ‫ا اَّل‬ ‫ّع ِخ اِ اَّل‬ .)24-4( )‫ؽ ِكْمب ًة‬ َ َ‫هللاَ َ با‬ َ ‫ػلِْمب ًة‬ َ ‫ش‬ ِ َ ‫ال‬ 2. the word 'pregnant' is replaced by some euphemistic words such as 'expectant mother' and 'mother to be'. By way of example. some taboo words are to be expressed by using euphemistic words.)3-58 ( )‫هللاُ ثِ َمب رَ ْؼ َملٌُاَ خَ جِْ ٌرش‬ ‫ظَ أًَْ َػلََ َس َ ٍش أًَْ َعب َا أَ َؽ ٌرذ ِم ْن ُك ْم ِم َ ْال َبئِ ِػ أًَْ ال َم ْ زُ ُم النِّن َ ب َا َلَ ْم ر َِغ ُذًا‬ َ ْ‫( ًَاِ ْا ُ ْنزُ ْم َمش‬ .)6-(5 ) ‫ص ِؼْذاًة غَِّْنجب ًة‬ َ ‫َمب ًةا َزََْ اَّلم ُمٌا‬ ‫س لَ ُك ْم َؤْرٌُا َؽشْ صَ ُك ْم أَناَّلَ ِ ْئزُ ْم ًَقَ ِّنذ ُمٌا ِألَ ْن ُ ِ ُك ْم ًَاراَّل ٌُا اَّل‬ ‫(نِ َ ب ُإ ُ ْم َؽشْ ٌر‬ ُ‫هللاَ ًَا ْػلَ ُمٌا أَناَّل ُك ْم ُميقٌُه‬ . Taboo and euphemistic words: Some words are better not to be expressed plainly but compensated for by less plain words.

etc. that is. Arabic does not have exact equivalents for the following English words : attitude. it cannot be put (White. Metaphor: A metaphor is the application of a word to a usage to which. Difference of Lexicalization: As mentioned earlier.. democracy.. fascism. Some languages lexicalize certain things which other languages do not. For instance. (43) 1427 / 2006 ْ َّ َ‫ْط ًَال رَ ْ َشثٌُىُ اَّل َؽزاَّل‬ ُ ْ‫طيُشْ اَ َب ِ َرا رَطَياَّلشْ اَ َؤْرٌُىُ اَّل ِم ْ َؽ‬ ‫ْش‬ ِ ‫( َب ْػز َِضلٌُا النِّن َ ب َا ِِ ْال َم ِؾ‬ ‫أَ َم َش ُ ُم اَّل‬ . This would lead to the existence of ''lexical gap". the presence of words in one language for which other languages do not have equivalents. 4. in original import.)197-2( 3. Such a meaning is regarded as metaphorical 65 ..)187 ( )-‫ذ‬2‫بع‬ ِ َ ‫ِ شًُىُ اَّل ًَأَ ْنزُ ْم ػَب ِ ٌُاَ ِِ ْال َم‬ َ َ ‫ِْ ِي اَّل ْال َؾ اَّلظ َي َس‬ )‫َاا ِِ ْال َؾ ّظ‬ َ ٌُ ُ ‫ش ًَال‬ َ ‫ا ًَال ِعذ‬ ‫( صُ اَّلم أَرِ ُّبمٌا الصِّن َْب َال اِلََ اللاَّلْ ِْل ًَال رُجَب‬ ‫( ْال َؾظُّب أَ ْ يُ ٌرش َم ْؼلٌُ َم ٌر‬ ‫ض‬ َ ‫بد َ َم ْ َ َش‬ . More often than not it is used to include any use of a word or a sentence to convey something other than its literal meaning. languages differ in lexicalizing things around us. 1996: 9). boyfriend .. the following Arabic words have no exact equivalents in English: ،‫ ًالخي خ‬،‫ ًالؼ شح‬،‫ ًاأل ؾل‬،‫ ًاأل يت‬،‫ ًاألسمش‬،‫ ًالخبا‬/‫ ًالؼم‬،‫ال جػ‬ ،‫ ًالٌاقؼخ‬،‫ ًالؼ بس‬،‫ ًالمئًدح‬،‫ ًالمبػٌا‬،‫ ًال بسػخ‬،‫ ًالظيبس‬،‫ ًالض بح‬،‫ًاإلمبمخ‬ ‫الخ‬. aspect. ideology..‫ ًالؾطمخ‬،‫ًالؾبقخ‬ On the other hand. senate.ADAB AL-RAFIDAYN vol.)222-2( ) ُ‫هللا‬ . dictatorship.

according to him.259) lists twenty six types of single metaphor in the Quran. it becomes an idiom or a proverb and in both cases it cannot be translated literally. For instance. A non-meaningful metaphor represents an expansion in a language. In his book ‫ الجشىبا ِ ػلٌال ال ش ا‬az-Zarkashi ِ ‫( الضس‬p. as is the case with specific words that denote anatomy of humans and animals. Meaningful metaphor is the real metaphorical expression that needs to be given creative features. Languages use different metaphors to express various ideas. the Quranic verse )9:26( ‫ ًقشُ ػْنب‬is not to be rendered into "cool your eye" for the intended meaning of the verse is "comfort yourself and be glad". Such a type of metaphor. something that disappears if its equivalent meaning is given. 1986: 12-13). 66 . Once the metaphorical expression passes into common use. Hence metaphor is considered to be one of the semantic problems encountered by the translator since once he/she renders the metaphorical expression verbatim.Investigating Some Semantic Problems in the Translation Mazin Fawzi Ahmed according to the modern tendency of the usage of the term and to an early traditional definition (Cooper. he/she would go too far beyond the intended meaning. Al-Jurjani ِ‫( الغشعبن‬1960: 33) divides metaphors into ‫م ْذح‬ (meaningful) and ‫ْش م ْذ‬ (non-meaningful). Arabic bristles with metaphors and so is the Holy Quran. can be translated by assigning equivalent meaning to it in other languages.

Lexical problems in the Quran : 1. Among the translators who opt for the word 'God' are A.e. The Beautiful Names of Allah: No unanimous agreement has been reached by the translators as regards the translation of the Beautiful Names of Allah. Pickthal. 2. English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary).ADAB AL-RAFIDAYN vol. Rodwell. the name ‫' ال يال‬as-Salaam' has been rendered into the following: 67 . M. whether to use tranliteration or render it into ‘God’. Asad.Y. (43) 1427 / 2006 II. and King Fahd Holy Quran printing complex (The Holy Qur-an. For instance. All. M. Palmer. Stephen Straight (1979) remarks that "the most important factor contributing to the success of the translator is the translator's knowledge. Muslims and non-Muslims. and Bell. whereas those who use the word ‫ هللا‬are Hilali and Khan. Arberry. 1981: 41). Flaws or gaps in knowledge of the cultural context of the author of the original will keep the translator from understanding it" (quoted in Rose. a case which demonstrates the insurmountable difficulty of assimilating their meanings.. as to the appropriate translation of the word ‫هللا‬ i. Sale. The word ‫( هللا‬Allah) There is a sort of disagreement among the translators.

However. 3. Exegetists and translators have made every effort to interpret them but to no avail. For instance. Here we suggest to add a comment in brackets such as (These letters are one of the miracles of the Quran and none but Allah knows their meanings).Investigating Some Semantic Problems in the Translation Mazin Fawzi Ahmed The Translator Asad Sale Palmer The Rendering The one with whom all salvation rests The Giver of Peace The Peace Giver Rodwell Bell Pickthall A. Mim) or (A.Y. L. Ali Hilali and Khan The Peaceful The Perfect Peace The source of peace (and perfection) One free from all defects. most translators have used transliteration to convey them into the other language (TL). The letters which begin some verses: These letters (totalling fourteen) begin twenty nine verses. M. Lam.). and so are 'charity' or 'charity 68 . Quranic terms : Such terms as ‫ الصيح‬،‫ الض بح‬،‫ الؾظ‬have been mentioned in the Quran and so they have to be explained for the TL receiver in order to be acquainted with their true denotations and connotations. the letters ‫ ألم‬are rendered into (Alif. 4. All they have suggested is a matter of opinion and guessing. . For example. the English word 'prayer' does not convey adequately what the Quranic word ‫' الصيح‬as-salaat' signifies.

(43) 1427 / 2006 obligatory' and ‫' ص بح‬zakat'. Such limitations hinge on a number of the linguistic system. this does not mean that they are impossible to translate. 1965: 99). 69 . The limitations imposed on translatability are usually due to the absence in the TL of a situational feature functionally relevant for the SL (Catford. rather they have no adequate equivalents in the other languages.ADAB AL-RAFIDAYN vol. a translator may explain them in the TL and introduce a glossary for them at the beginning of the translation. As for the Quranic terms. Conclusion: Through examining some semantic problems in the Holy Quran it is obvious that the limitations on the translatability of the Quran are incurred by the fact that some Quranic expressions and words do not have counterparts in the target culture. English is a case in point. When the Quranic word is so pregnant with meanings that translation fails to do it justice. However. a translator may use more than one word in the TL for it.

The Qur'an Translated. A Linguistic Theory of Translation. . Clark. The Koran Interpreted. Beirut: Dar al Arabia.C. 12-13. Oxford : Oxford University Press. (1968). M. Inc. Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur'an in the English Language.Investigating Some Semantic Problems in the Translation Mazin Fawzi Ahmed English References . Riyadh: Darussalam. Aristotelian Society Series. Revised and edited by the Presidency of 70 . . The Holy Qur-an. Yusuf.Ali.H. The Hague: MoutonCo.Pickthall. The Meaning of the Glorious Koran.J.Cooper. and M. R. (1964). Oxford : Oxford University Press. (1900). Text. Edinburgh: T. (1986). Khan (1996). A. Oxford. Vol. The Message of the Qur'an. "Metaphor". & T. (1965). J. Muhammad.M. (1964). A.Hilali. English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary. Translation and Commentary. .Asad.Bell. Basil Blackwell. (1960).Catford.Quran.Palmer. .Arberry. . with a Critical Rearrangement of the Surahs. The Holy Quran. . M. Oxford : The Clarendon Press. . . E. David E. (1956).5. New York: The New American Library of World Literature. . The Koran.

ADAB AL-RAFIDAYN vol. Purpose.].‫ال بىشح‬ ‫ داس الكزبة‬،‫ غ‬،‫ منبىل الؼش با ِ ػلٌال ال ش ا‬،)‫ (ثي ربسّخ‬،‫ مؾمذ ػجذالؼظْم‬،ِ‫ الضسقبن‬. of New York. Knowledge.،‫ثْشًد‬ 2 ،‫أثٌ ال عل اثشاىْم‬ 71 . (1876). - White. Albany: State Univ. - Straight. IFTA Call and Guidance. .ُ‫المصش‬ ‫ مؾمذ‬:‫ رؾ ْق‬،‫ الجشىبا ِ ػلٌال ال ش ا‬،)‫ (ثي ربسّخ‬،‫ ثذس الذّ مؾمذ ث ػجذهللا‬،ِ ‫ الضس‬‫ غ‬. Stephen (1981). Blackwell : Oxford. In Marilyn G. 41-51.Sale. 9 . n. The Koran: Translated from the Arabic.H.Rodwell. ‫ المصبدس الؼشثْخ‬‫ ال ش ا الكشّم‬‫ مؾمذ ػلِ صجْؼ‬،ِ‫ دالئل اإلػغبص ِ ػلم المؼبن‬،)1960 ( ،‫ ػجذال بىش‬،ِ‫ الغشعبن‬.d. . (1996). The Structure of Metaphor : The Way the Language Works. Rose (ed. London: William Tegg. London : Bernard Quaritch. Roger M. and Intuition : Three Dimensions in the Evaluation of Translation. J. Al-Madina Al-Munawarah: King Fahd Holy Qur-an Printing Complex.) - Translation Spectrum: Essays in Theory and Practice. The Koran. (43) 1427 / 2006 Islamic Researches. [1405 A. George (1694).

‫‪Mazin Fawzi Ahmed‬‬ ‫‪Investigating Some Semantic Problems in the Translation‬‬ ‫ملخص‬ ‫مازن فوزي امحد‬ ‫(*)‬ ‫ّؼبلظ ىزا الجؾش ػذداًة م م كيد الذاللخ ِ ال ش ا الزِ ر كل رؾذّب‬ ‫للمزشعمْ ‪ ،‬ذ رجْ أا رؾذّذاد رشعمخ ال ش ا ركم‬ ‫ِ ػذد م الزؼجْشاد‬ ‫المزشعم الْيب‪ً .‬‬ ‫َ‬ ‫)*( ق م الزشعمخ ‪ -‬لْخ آداة ‪ /‬عبمؼخ المٌصل‪.‬‬ ‫‪72‬‬ .‬رؼضٍ ىزه الزؾذّذاد‬ ‫ال ش نْخ الزِ ر ز ذ الَ نظبئشىب ِ ص ب خ الل خ‬ ‫َ‬ ‫الَ ػذد م الؼٌامل‪ ،‬ثمب مؼش خ المزشعـِم ثبل ْبا الض ب ِ‪ً ،‬النظبال الل ٌُ لل خ‬ ‫المزشعم الْيب‪.