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Problems in Translating Islamic

Text from Arabic into English

[Project as partial fulfillment of BA (English) Degree Program]

Project Participant
Asma Abd-Allah Halahla

Project Guide
Mr. Khaldoon Sughayer
Department of English
Al Quds Open University

1. Abstract
2. Preface to Project
3. Translation as a Communication Process
4. Relationship between Arabic & Islam (SL & ST)
5. Linguistic Variation between Arabic and English (SL & TL)
6. Islamic Arabic Text Translation in English (ST in TL)
7. Conclusions for Arabic-English Islamic Translation
8. References
1. Abstract

Project Title:
Problems in Translating Islamic Text from Arabic into English

This project aims to focus on problems faced by translators during their
translation of Islamic Religious texts and would be based on existing
religious texts in Arabic and how it has been translated into English as a
case study. This problem can be better understood focusing on the
associated meaning of a word and its accurate or nearest meaning
existing in target language. In this case English lacks the equivalents and
hence force translators to interpreting rather than translating and perhaps
risking or making compromise with the original spirit or beauty of the
original text or even the accuracy of this translation and this create a sort
of misunderstanding and raising post-translation issues over authenticity
of the translation work.

Project Requirements:
Present project requires linguistic knowledge of Islamic Religious texts in
proper context. It also requires a person to be familiar with present tools
used by translators.

Study should lead towards listing the problems, reasons and how to
overcome them possibly in the best manner.

Practical usefulness of the project:

A project website would be made with project output to benefit web
community on free web-hosting.
2. Preface to Project

The Project was originally aimed to be titled as “Problems while

Translating Religious Text” to cover problems of translators when they
translate any religious text but later it was decided to limit its study area
up to Islamic text only. Another significant change was made to focus on
Arabic & English rather than generalizing on all languages which is not
possible unless it is done by group of linguists having skills in major world
languages, major world religions, and major socio-cultural setups. The
reason behind narrowing project focus area was lack of required time,
resources, and opportunities.

However, current project is now aimed to study process of Islamic

translation from Arabic to English and its prerequisites.

It starts with giving overview of Translation as a Communication Process

and shows relationship between Arabic & Islam as this understanding
helps us how Islamic translation is challenging task or why it is not
encouraged when it comes to translation of Quran. Project then pays
attention towards how Linguistic Variations between Arabic & English
influence the process of translation. Later, the focus is on Variations
between Arabic Islamic Text and English Speaking Non-Islamic World
which influence the process of Islamic translation.

It concludes with certain tips for the Islamic translators in the end. The
present project is published online on for further
discussion for following groups. This website would publish student
projects as well as create student intellectual and academic forum, Insha

• Arabic English Translators

• General People with linguistic skills in both Arabic & English and
familiarity with Islamic and Non-Islamic culture
• Students & Scholars in relevant field or with interest in Islamic
Languages, Culture & Religion

This project website is created to spread Arabic but people are welcome to
create blogs and provide feedback to benefit from its open discussion.
Website would provide various translation tools and links to translation
related resources as soon as possible.

An effort has been made to give due credit/references to all sources which
helped in study of this project. However, any omission if occurs is
regretted. At last, I must thank the college to provide such a wonderful
opportunity to engage students in such creative projects. I also thank to
my all teachers for their cooperation.

Sukran, Jazakallahu Kahyran

Asma Abd-Allah Halahla, Palestine
3. Translation as a Communication Process

The Role of Communication in Global Cooperation

The steady development of human society requires their ‘Co-existence in

Peace and Harmony’. This, in turn, requires ‘Intellectual Cooperation’
among them and again it needs ‘Effective Communication’. Human beings,
throughout the history, have made an effort to take advantage of various
methods of communication with the intention of utilizing the knowledge of
other nations, sharing their knowledge and preserving it for the coming
generations. This desire or need to communicate across the border and
culture led to an Information Age or age of Digital Revolution where
everything is almost one click of mouse away.

As the most effective methods of communication, language has been

employed to satisfy the very need of communication. The dissimilarity of
languages and culture throughout the world however is an obstacle unless
we have uniformity in culture, religion, or language. Until and unless that
happens, communication between different nations with different
languages is feasible through translation.

Translation – An Effective Tool to Communicate across the culture

& border

Throughout history, translation has made inter-linguistic communication

between peoples possible. Theoretically, one can consider translation a
science; practically, it seems rational to consider it an art. However,
regardless of whether one considers translation as a science, art, or craft,
one should bear in mind that a good translation should fulfil the same
function in the TL as the original did in the SL.

General Meaning of Translation

Translation is the comprehension of the meaning of a text and the

subsequent production of an equivalent text in other language. It is
supposed that translation process should result into successful
communication of the same message in another language.

Key Words Explanation

1. The text that is translated is called ‘the source text’ or ST’.

2. The Language of the source text is called ‘the Source Language’
or SL
3. The resulting text at the end of translation task is sometimes called
‘the Target Text’ or TT
4. The language that it is translated into is called ‘the Target
Language’ or TL
There are countless definition of Translation and none of them can cover
all linguistic and socio-cultural aspects involved in a complex process of
communicating ‘Source Text’ (content such as piece of writing expressing
idea, thought, feeling etc.) from ‘Source Language’ (e.g. Arabic) and
produce ‘Target Text’ (closest natural equivalent textual material) in
‘Target Language’ (e.g. English).

This process should not cause any significant loss in terms of ‘form,
meaning, and beauty of source text’ and end up as passing same
understanding or producing same feeling in target text as found in case of
source text.

In brief, translation should pass same information and should create same
effect in target text as in case of source text.

Differences between SL & TL

1. Lexical Variation: e.g. Word/phrase/idiom/proverb unavailability

in Target Language compared to source language
2. Semantics Variation: e.g. Variation of meanings of single word in
SL compared to unavailability of even single word to represent SL
concept or idea in TL
3. Syntax Variation: e.g. Variation in structure of sentence in SL and
TL such as Arabic has (VSO) and English (SVO)
4. Form Variation: Literary device and implemented sentence
patterns by author in SL such as verse resulting in TL as prose
5. Socio-cultural Variation: variation between speakers of SL
compared to speakers of TL
4. Relationship between Arabic & Islam (SL & ST)

Status of Arabic in Present World

1. The Arab World, 22 countries with some 300 million people, is but a
small part of the Muslim World, approximately 800 million.
2. [Arabic script remains the second most widely used alphabet in the
world following the Latin script. In addition to Arabic, over ten
languages still retain the Arabic script - the most important being
Kurdish, Persian, Pashto, and Sindhi in Pakistan Urdu.
3. Arabic is one of the six languages used in the United Nations and it
is a working language in the Organization of African Unity.
Moreover, it is the second official language in Israel and it has
recently been reinstated as a second tongue in some Muslim
countries such as Iran, Pakistan and the southern part of the

Importance of Arabic in Islam

Arabic and Islam can't be separated and knowledge of Arabic makes it

easy to understand Islam. Let’s see who says what about why knowledge
of Arabic is important in order to know Islam and later we would see why
translation should be done with great care in detail.

Quran Verses about Arabic:

1. "Verily we have sent it down as an Arabic Qur’ân in order that you

may understand” [Quran - 12: 2]

2. 'And thus have We sent it (the Qur'an) down to be a judgment of

authority in ARABIC' (13:37)

3. 'And thus We have sent it down as a Qur'an in ARABIC and have

explained therein warnings, in order that they may fear Allah, or
that it may cause them to have a lesson from it'

4. 'An ARABIC Qur'an without any crookedness...'(39:28)

5. 'A Book whereof the Verses are explained in detail a Qur'an in

ARABIC for people who know' ((41:3)

6. 'And thus We have revealed to you a Qur'an in ARABIC....' (42:7)

7. 'We verily, have made it a Qur'an in ARABIC that you may be able
to understand' (43:3)

8. And thus We have inspired unto you (O Muhammad) an Arabic

Qur’ân that you may warn the mother of the towns (Makkah) and
all around it” [Soorah ash-Shura: 7]

9. "And truly this (the Qur’ân) is a revelation from the Lord of the
'Alamin (mankind, jinns and all that exists), which the trustworthy
Ruh (Jibreel) has brought down upon your heart (O Muhammad)
that you may be (one) of the warners, in the plain Arabic
language”[Soorah ash-Shura: 192-195]

Narration about Arabic:

10. It is reported that ‘Umar ibn Yazeed wrote to Abu Moosa al-Ash’ari
(may Allaah be pleased with him) and said: ‘Learn the Sunnah and
learn Arabic; learn the Qur’aan in Arabic for it is Arabic.’

11. According to another hadeeth narrated from ‘Umar (may Allaah be

pleased with him), he said: ‘Learn Arabic for it is part of your
religion, and learn how the estate of the deceased should be
divided (faraa’id) for these are part of your religion.’

12. The Prophet(peace be upon his) as also said: ".....the Qur'an is

Arabic and the tongue of the People of Paradise is Arabic"

13. Umar radi Allahu anhu was once circumambulating the Ka’bah when
he heard two men speaking in a language other than Arabic behind
him. He turned to them and said, "Find some way to learn Arabic.”
[‘Abd Al-Razzâq Al-San’ânî, Al-Musannaf Vol.5 p496]

14. Very early on in the history of Islam we find such examples

of encouraging the mastery of Arabic. There are many such
examples as mentioned below.

15. A man went to Ziyad ibn Abeehi and complained to him that his
father had died and his brother had taken all the inheritance
unlawfully, but made a grammatical mistake in his complaint. Ziyad
replied, "The loss you have caused your soul is greater than what
you have lost in your wealth.”

16. This trend continued throughout the ages, and with the expansions
of the Umayyad dynasty in the 7th Century C.E., solecisms became
widespread such that they even afflicted the caliphs and leaders
such as ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan and al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf al-Thaqafi.
Language became a measure of status such that a man’s social
standing would drop were he found to commit solecisms, to the
extent that ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan was once told that his hair had
become gray very early, to which he replied, "It is due to my fear
of ascending the pulpit and commiting a solecism during my
sermon!" He used to view solecisms in speech to be worse than
ripping apart an expensive and precious garment.

17. Men were often rewarded greatly for merely being able to speak
fluently without mistakes, even if they were undeserving of the
reward. For example, the Caliph ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-’Azeez used to
say, "A man may come to me asking me for something he
deserves, but if he commits a grammatical error while asking I
deny him it, for it makes me feel as though I am nibbling at a peice
of sour pomegranate due to my anger at hearing his mistake.
Similarly, a man may come to me asking for something he does not
deserve, but if he says it with correct speech I grant him it, due to
my delighting at the speech I hear from him."

18. Ibn Taymiyyaah (rahimahu Allaah) commented, "Before one can

interpret and understand the Qur'an and the Hadith, he must know
the denotations and connotations intended by the words of Allaah
and His Messenger (sallaa Allaahu 'alayhi wa sallam). How can their
words be understood? Knowledge of the Arabic language in which
we were addressed will help us to understand what Allaah and His
Messenger (sallaa Allaahu 'alayhi wa sallam) intended through their
words, as will understanding the semantics behind the words and
phrases. Truly, most of the misguidance of the Innovators occurred
due to this reason – they began to misinterpret the words of Allaah
and His Messenger (sallaa Allaahu 'alayhi wa sallam) claiming that
they meant one thing, when really they meant another."

19. Know that Sheikh Abdalqadir al-Murabit says in his at-Tarbiyat

alIslamiyyat al-Asliyya:

"....for someone approaching Islamic education there would be a

primary requirement which we would not even list it -it would be
the 'given', is frankly, and there is no escaping it, a clear grasp
of the Arabic language. And I would say for the ajami who does not
speak Arabic, it is necessary for him to take it on and get it by the
most traditional means possible in order to arrive at an Arabic
which is in itself more related to fusaha, more connect you to the
Qur'an and Islamic 'ilm."

To the English-speaking 'faqih' who insist upon 'judging' by way of the

Qur'an only....that the reality is that you actually rely on the 'translators'
of the Qur'an in your own 'judgments'! Every time the non-Arabic
reader/'faqih' of the Qur'an makes the claim that "Allah has said" the
more accurate description is that the "translator has interpreted that Allah
the Most High means by this statement" !!! This is an accurate description
of the process of what you read in the translations. Of course, we are on a
medium where English language must be used....and English translations
of the Qur'an are very important! We can and should give inspiration,
advice and exhortations to do good, and things like this....however, the
anti-scholar wants more than this.....he wants to issue fatwa and
condemn the ulema, and convince people that his 'INTERPRETATION' of
the Qur'an by way of the English medium is the actual word of Allah as a
commandment and judgment! Therefore it is not surprising that the anti-
hadith and anti-scholar who makes these fiqh judgments can not and does
not discern this difference between the actual Qur'anic text and the
translation which he relies upon!!! The anti-scholar ignorance is deep, he
does not even realize that the translators of the Qur'an that he relies so
heavily upon....they themselves rely on the 'mufassirs' or the ulema
(scholars) who have written commentaries on the Qur'an!!! As they
attack reliance on the ulema, they can not name one Muslim translator
who does not refer to the very same ulema to aid the translation of the
Book of Allah! Scholars like Ibn Katheer, Qurtabi, Fakhr ud-din al-Razi,
Shawkani, Baydawi,Tabari, and others. There is not one translator of the
Qur'an that does not utilize Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim and the

Why is this? What is often not apparent to the non-Arabic reader is that
many ayats in the Qur'an can contain more than one meaning. Ta'wil is a
process in Arabic language where a shift in the meaning of word can occur
with the availabliity of a proof that indicates that the word has another
meaning which is plausible in the text. In many instances the translator
chooses a meaning according to his understanding and reflections! A proof
of this is obvious by simply picking up a Qur’an and examines some of the
different renderings of the same Arabic text!

Learning and studying Arabic frees one from being constrained to what
the translator has chosen for the non-Arabic reader. The serious
student of Islam cannot be constrained by translations of others!
He/she must learn Arabic to expand his/her knowledge! If a student
striving to struggle and learn the deen has to learn Arabic....what does
this say for the 'faqih' who will expose, pontificate, and elucidate the
meanings of the Qur'an for us.....without knowing the language of the

I say again.....beware of the anti-scholar/hadith!!! You can rest assure

they have no knowledge of Arabic language! Learn the language of the
Qur'an and defend your deen against the corruption of the corrupters
who desire to influence the hearts of people with their own vain

(Khalil Muhsin in Necessity of Arabic)

Use of Non-Arabic Languages in Islam

Islam has incidents from history which shows prophet encouraged

learning of other languages to ease to routine communication problems
with non-Arabic world but never find examples where he could have
encouraged translating Quran in English. There is difference between
communicating overall message of Quran in another language and
translating Quran in in another language which is almost impossible and
not even encouraged.
Historical Example of Zayd ibn Thabit – (Companion of the
Prophet) & His Language Learning

The Prophet, peace be on him, listened to Zayd ibn Thabit (Companions of

the prophet in his tender age) reciting some surahs he had memorized.
His recitation was clear and beautiful and his stops and pauses indicated
clearly that he understood well what he recited. The Prophet was pleased.
The Prophet then set him a task which required intelligence, skill and

"Zayd, learn the writing of the Jews for me," instructed the Prophet. "At
your command, Messenger of Allah," replied Zayd who set about learning
Hebrew with enthusiasm. He became quite proficient in the language and
wrote it for the Prophet when he wanted to communicate with the Jews.
Zayd also read and translated from Hebrew when the Jews wrote to the
Prophet. The Prophet instructed him to learn Syriac also and this he did.
Zayd thus came to perform the important function of an interpreter for
the Prophet in his dealings with non-Arabic speaking peoples.

Zayd's enthusiasm and skill were obvious. When the Prophet felt confident
of his faithfulness in the discharge of duties and the care, precision and
understanding with which he carried out tasks, he entrusted Zayd with the
weighty responsibility of recording the Divine revelation.

When any part of the Quran was revealed to the Prophet, he often sent for
Zayd and instructed him to bring the writing materials, "the parchment,
the ink-pot and the scapula", and write the revelation.

Zayd was not the only one who acted as a scribe for the Prophet. One
source has listed forty-eight persons who used to write for him. Zayd was
very prominent among them. He did not only write but during the
Prophet's time he collected portions of the Quran that were written down
by others and arranged these under the supervision of the Prophet. He is
reported to have said: "We used to compile the Quran from small
manuscripts in the presence of the Prophet." In this way, Zayd
experienced the Quran directly from the Prophet himself. It could be said
that he grew up with the verses of the Quran, understanding well the
circumstances surrounding each revelation. He thus became well-versed
in the secrets of the Shariah and at an early age gained the well-deserved
reputation as a leading scholar among the companions of the Prophet.

After the death of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace,
the task fell on this fortunate young man who specialized in the Quran to
authenticate the first and most important reference for the ummah of
Muhammad. This became an urgent task after the wars of apostasy and
the Battle of Yamamah in particular in which a large number of those who
had committed the Quran to memory perished.
Umar convinced the Khalifah Abu Bakr that unless the Quran was
collected in one manuscript, a large part of it was in danger of being lost.
Abu Bakr summoned Zayd ibn Thabit and said to him: "You are an
intelligent young man and we do not suspect you (of telling lies or of
forgetfulness) and you used to write the Divine revelation for Allah's
Messenger. Therefore look for (all parts of) the Quran and collect it in one

Zayd was immediately aware of the weighty responsibility. He later said:

"By Allah, if he (Abu Bakr) had ordered me to shift one of the mountains
from its place, it would not have been harder for me than what he had
ordered me concerning the collection of the Quran."

Zayd finally accepted the task and, according to him, "started locating the
Quranic material and collecting it from parchments, scapula, leafstalks of
date palms and from the memories of men (who knew it by heart)".

It was a painstaking task and Zayd was careful that not a single error,
however slight or unintentional, should creep into the work. When Zayd
had completed his task, he left the prepared suhuf or sheets with Abu
Bakr. Before he died, Abu Bakr left the suhuf with Umar who in turn left it
with his daughter Hafsah. Hafsah, Umm Salamah and Aishah were wives
of the Prophet, may Allah be pleased with them, who memorized the

During the time of Uthman, by which time Islam had spread far and wide,
differences in reading the Quran became obvious. A group of companions
of the Prophet, headed by Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman, who was then
stationed in Iraq, came to Uthman and urged him to "save the Muslim
ummah before they differ about the Quran".

Uthman obtained the manuscript of the Quran from Hafsah and again
summoned the leading authority, Zayd ibn Thabit, and some other
competent companions to make accurate copies of it. Zayd was put in
charge of the operation. He completed the task with the same
meticulousness with which he compiled the original suhuf during the time
of Abu Bakr.

Zayd and his assistants wrote many copies. One of these Uthman sent to
every Muslim province with the order that all other Quranic materials
whether written in fragmentary manuscripts or whole copies be burnt.
This was important in order to eliminate any variations or differences from
the standard text of the Quran. Uthman kept a copy for himself and
returned the original manuscript to Hafsah.

Zayd ibn Thabit thus became one of the foremost authorities on the
Quran. Umar ibn al-Khattab once addressed the Muslims and said: "O
people, whoever wants to ask about the Quran, let him go to Zayd ibn
And so it was that seekers of knowledge from among the companions of
the Prophet and the generation who succeeded them, known as the
"Tabiun", came from far and wide to benefit from his knowledge. When
Zayd died, Abu Hurayrah said: "Today, the scholar of this ummah has

When a Muslim holds the Quran and reads it or hears it being recited,
surah after surah, ayah after ayah, he should know that he owes a
tremendous debt of gratitude and recognition to a truly great companion
of the Prophet, Zayd ibn Thabit, for helping to preserve for all time to
come the Book of Eternal Wisdom. Truly did Allah, the Blessed and
Exalted, say: "Surely We have revealed the Book of Remembrance and
We shall certainly preserve it." (The Quran, Surah al-Hijr, 15:9)

Note: Above incidents shows that nowhere we find prophet giving any
task to Zayd or anyone else to translate Quran in Hebrew or any other
foreign languages as Zayd or other companions like him could have done
that if prophet had commanded. This shows that prophet knew about
inability of other languages to communicate the message of Quran the
way Arabic does. However, instruction to learn foreign language was to
support general communication with Non-Arabic foreigners and to
communicate about message of Islam.

In another earlier example, Umar radi Allahu anhu was once

circumambulating the Ka’bah and when he heard two men speaking in a
language other than Arabic behind him. He turned to them and said, "Find
some way to learn Arabic.” This shows that even non-arabic muslims
were expected to learn Arabic.
5. Linguistic Variation between Arabic and English (SL & TL)

Arabic-English Variation

Both Arabic and English languages belong to different settings and

different language families. Arabic is classified as a member of the Semitic
family of languages, English as a member of the Indo-European language
family. Arabic is defined here as the official language spoken in more than
15 countries in the Middle East. English is an Indo-European language and
the official language of Britain, the United States, and most of the
commonwealth countries. Syntactically, Arabic and English exhibit
different word orders. Arabic is, for the most part, a synthetic language.
For instance, nouns are inflected for case and verbs are inflected for
mood. Each of the two languages has its own ways of versification and
phonologically Arabic and English have different phonemic inventories. In
addition, if one wants to assess the real hindrances of translation, one
cannot ignore the geographical distance between Arabic and English
settings, which resulted in a distance between Arabic culture and English

Characteristics of Arabic Language and how it differs from English

Topic Source Text (Arabic) & Variations

Target Text (English)
[1] Economy of Words is
Morphology ‫الوسواس الخناس‬ remarkable in Arabic
(word l-waswāsi l-khanāsi compared to English which
formation the whisperer, the one who has to use more words
related) withdraws here to convey same
[2] Syntax Sayaj'alu I-laahu bad a English follow Subject-
(sentence usrin yusraa Verb-Object Order in
order ‫سيجعل ال بعد عسر يسرا‬ sentence compared to
related) After difficulty, God will Verb Subject Object in
soon grant relief Arabic.

[3] Lexicon 'As-samad The name of Allah As-

Related ‫صمد‬
ّ ‫ال‬ samad represents the total
(Word Eternal or almighty perfection of might, power,
Related) wisdom, knowledge, and
honor in Arabic. This
collective representation of
various attributes is lost in
English translation as
‘eternal’ with just only one
particular attribute
referred or signified.
A period during which a No equivalents in English.
Muslim woman usually Concepts is absent in
stays at home and does western non-Islamic
not use make-up or culture.
perfume to beautify
herself. 130 days for the
woman whose husband
passed away and about 90
days for the divorcee
[4] . Tayammum
Semantics ‫تيّمم‬ Some َQur'anic items are
(meaning To strike your hands on the loaded with specific
related) earth and pass the palm of emotive overtones, which
each hand on the back of in turn create lexical voids
the other and then blow off in translation. This lexical
the dust from them and compression of Qur'anic
pass-rub-them on your expressions can only be
face. It is a kind of ablution tackled through
that is adopted when componential analysis: the
someone is spiritually translator's nightmare can
unclean and there is no be alleviated by the
water. semantic decomposition of
the words. The Qur'anic
lexical and morphological
core senses are
The lexical item ‫ ابيض‬abyaD
‫ابيض‬ (white) is denotatively
abyaD (white) used as in ‫قميص ابيض‬
qamiisun abyaD (white
‫ثورة بيضاء‬ shirt) while connotatively
white revolution or emotively as in ‫ثورة بيضاء‬
thauratun bayDa (white
revolution), which
connotes (peaceful,
bloodless revolution).
The former is, generally
speaking, equivalent to the
referential, or dictionary
meaning, whereas the
latter is equivalent to an
expressive or emotive
meaning. It is to be noted
that native speakers of a
language have a keen
appreciation of the
emotive meanings of
words. The analysis of the
emotive meaning is by no
means as easy as that of a
referential meaning.
Hisaan ‫حصان‬ِ Although these words can
, faras ‫فرس‬ be used interchangeably in
, jawaad ‫جواد‬ most contexts (since they
all refer to the word
Horse horse), they are not
interchangeable in all
contexts. The plural form
of any of these forms is
khayl (horses), though (1)
and (2) can have their
distinct plurals as
hisaan/ahsina and faras as
furus/afraas, respectively.
The above synonymous
words have more than one
semantic component in
common. All of them have
the component horse and
male and female
components. Only (1) has
the component male
alone, while (2) and (4)
share the component male
or female. We can also
find that (1) and (2) have
no distinctive qualities as
horses, other than the
components mentioned.
However, (3) is
characterized by agile
movement and fastness
and (4) by a special white
patch on the forehead,
which naturally contrasts
with the overall dark color
of the horse. the translator
cant render these words
in translation with their
shared meanings into
other language, without
any loss or gain of
In fact, it is happy news
َ ‫ يثلج الصدر‬khabarun yuthlij
ٌ‫خَبر‬ whereas the ecological
aS-Sadir equivalent in English
news that freezes the chest expressions that have
positive connotations are
usually associated with
warmth rather than cold
such as: 'He was given a
warm welcome' and 'He is
a warm-hearted, i.e. kind,
The word sayf is a neutral
word, denoting the English
Sayf ‫سيف‬ word sword. Although the
, muhannad ‫مهند‬ words muhannad and
, husaam ‫حسام‬
ُ husaam share all the
characteristics with the
sword word sword, they connote
additional characteristics.
For example, the word
muhannad refers to a
sword in its sheath or
scabbard, case, indicating
that the sword has not
been used yet. The word
husaam refers to a sword
that is pointed or sharp. It
also suggests meanings of
straightforwardness or
uprightness. The neutral
Arabic word sayf does not
allude to such
‫فليقل خيرًا أو ليسكت‬ This saying does not
falyaqol khayran aw recommend absolute,
liyasmot everlasting silence. Their
main message is to prefer
To say good things, or else silence to talking, listening
keep silent to speaking, to be extra
careful when saying
something, and to remain
quiet in critical situations
and moments in the
company of certain people.
The English translations of
this expression lean
heavily on the
transference of their literal
meaning as closely and
faithfully as possible.
‫كلم كبير‬ There is some ambiguity in
kalaam kbeer 'big' which is mostly
Big talk positive in many
Serious/responsible talk collocations. Here it seems
to be positive as an
adjective describing
'speech', yet it is not so in
its connotations
The difficulty lies in the
fact that, in English, it
‫بومة‬ stands for or carries
bomah positive connotations
(wisdom and grace), but in
owl Arabic it is a symbol of
pessimism and has other
negative associations.
The translator in such a
case has either to
incorporate additional
material in his TL version
in order to make such
implicit connotations
explicit in the TL, or resort
to explanatory footnotes to
make up for the missing
connotations in his TL

when the translator comes

across the hindrance of
not finding a
corresponding TL
equivalent for the SL item,
the translator usually
resorts to a non-
corresponding equivalent
item, which may have an
equivalent function in the
TL culture
[5] Socio- ‫صاحب صنعتين كذاب‬ It could be literally
linguistics rendered as: "a man of
SaaHib Sin?atein kaththaab two professions is a liar".
a man of two professions is This rendering offers
a liar insufficient sense to the
English reader. However, it
has an equivalent in the
English (functional
equivalence), which is: "a
Jack of all trades is a
master of none."
When translating
Proverbial expressions
from Arabic into English,
much attention should be
paid to proverbial
expressions not only
because of their wisdom
but also because they also
well reflect the down-to-
earth philosophy, humor,
and character of Arabs.
The rendering of ‫ التيمم‬at-
‫إذا حضر الماء بطل التيمم‬ tayyammum as "the use of
earth" is considered odd
'itha HaDara al-maa baTala and less emotive in the
at-tayyammum English version. ‫ التيمم‬is a
If water is present for religious term which
ablution, the use of earth is means washing with clean
discontinued sand for ablution because
of the unavailability of
water in some places. This
lexical item has emotive
associations that connote
the dry conditions of
Arabia, where Islam was
originated, a man who
cannot walk far to get
water, a man suffering in a
long journey and who has
no full control over his
supplies. The above
emotive example reflects
how such linguistic
expressions would arouse
the feelings of the Arabs
and, when translated, they
would not have the same
influence on the TL
receivers due to the
differences in culture and
degree of emotiveness.
This can justify this
proverb being more
emotive to Arabs than its
English translation on
English-speaking people
‫سامحك ال‬ It is difficult to translate
God forgive you! some expressions which is
called clishes these
‫المسامح كريم‬ expressions are closely
Be tolerant! related to with culture and
the most difficult to
‫عظم ال اجرك‬ translate.when translating
My condolences,I am sorry clishes we have to
for your loss. concentrate on their
meanings and try to find
‫رمضان كريم‬ the most appropriate
Sorry,I cant offer you functional equivalent
anything(because of irrespective of the wording
Ramadan). of this equivalent.

‫إن شاء ال‬

I hope so Some Arabic proverbs
have no equivalent
‫النسور ل تصيد الذباب‬ proverbs in the TL,and
Eagles catch no flies. have ,therefore,to be
either translated literally
‫إن مع اليسر عسرا‬ or paraphrased.
Joy and sorrow are sisters.
6. Islamic Arabic Text Translation in English (ST in TL)

Characteristics of Arabic Language in Islamic Text & resulting loss

while translation

No Arabic Islamic Text and Observation

. English Translation
1. La ilaha illallah Introductory “There” of English
‫ل إله إل ال‬ removes the effect of Source Text
There is no god except Allah. that begins with “La emphatic
negation. It is stylistic loss.
2 La ilaha ill Allah Lack of introductory There here
‫ل إله إل ال‬ shows sentence beginning quite
None worthy except Allah. odd and make it look like un-
English and unnatural. The word
worthy has less frequency as it is
not common word compared to
common word ilah as for Muslims.
Word worthy also does not
indicate all attributes of Allah as
word ilah contain. It is more of
stylistic loss for English and
Semantic Loss for
3 ‫بسم ال الرحمن الرحيم‬ Beneficent and merciful don’t give
the exact meaning of Al-Rahmaan
In the name of Allaah, the and al-Raheem. Al-Rahmaan
Most Beneficent, the Most refers to the vastness of Allaah's
Merciful mercy, and al-Raheem refers to its
effect on His creation. So al-
Rahmaan is the Owner of vast
Mercy, and al-Raheem is the
Owner of Mercy that encompasses
His creation.
4 ‫سيجعل ال بعد عسرا يسرا‬ Here translation changed sentence
Sayaj'alu I-laahu bad a usrin order as in source text it start with
yusraa verb but when translated verb
After difficulty, God will soon came at the end and English
grant relief sentence never start with the
5 Nazzala'alayka-l-kittaba bil- The word 'nazzala' ( ‫ )نّزل‬creates a
Haqqi muSaddiqan limma semantic challenge as it signifies
bayna yadayhi wa'anzala t- the piecemeal revelation of the
tawraata wal-injiiil Quran that lasted 23 years. This
verb form denotes repetitiveness
‫نّزل عليك الكتاب بالحق مصّدقا لما بين يديه وأنزل‬ in the action. By contrast, the verb
‫الثوراه والتجيل‬ form 'anzala'(‫ ) انزل‬means 'to reveal
It is He who sent down to you in one go and at once. Thus, a
(step by step) in truth, the distinction is made between the
Book, confirming what went two kinds of revelation; the
before it, and He sent down piecemeal revelation of the Qur'an
the Law (of Moses) and the and the singular revelation of the
Gospel (of Jesus) Torah and the Gospel. To
appreciate the nuances of Qur'anic
discourse on the lexical level,
consider the following aaya in
which the semantic subtleties are
vividly expressed through two
lexical items which may look
similar to the reader but whose
componential features are
drastically distinct
6 huwal-ladhi ja'la sh-shamsa Although the words 'Diyaa'an' (‫ضياًء‬
Diyaa'an wal-qamara nurran ) and 'Nuuran' (‫ ) نورًا‬seem to be
synonymous, the two signify
‫هو الذي جعل الشمس ضياًء والقمر نورًا‬ distinct semantic properties in this
It is He who made the sun to Qura'nic statement. Diyya'an is
be shining glory and the moon not captured by the translation
to be a light 'shining glory' because its
meaning--the generation of heat--
is not echoed; hence the
requirement for an informative
periphrastic translation. The word
'Nuran' however, is appropriately
rendered as "light," perhaps by
coincidence, signifying, no
generation of heat but light only.
The word 'Diyya'an' also suggests
that the sun radiates with its own
light, but "Nuran" suggests that
the moonlight is a reflection of the
7 Qual'ud'uul-ladhiina za'amtum That interpretation falls short of
min duuni l-laahi the semantic complexity of the
‫قل أدعو الذين زعمتم من دون ال‬ word 'dunni'. The word Duuni
Say: Appeal to those whom signifies dignity, might and
you claim to instead of God monotheism, meaning there is
nothing' above' God or equal to
him. There should be explanatory
notes to convey these aspects of
8 .Mawquudah Some َQur'anic items are pregnant
‫موقوذة‬ with specific emotive overtones,
any animal that receives a which in turn create lexical voids
violent blow, is left to die, and in translation. This lexical
then eaten without being compression of Qur'anic
slaughtered according to expressions can only be tackled
Islamic law through componential analysis:
the translator's nightmare can be
alleviated by the semantic
decomposition of the words. The
Qur'anic lexical and morphological
core senses are impenetrable.
9 ‫الوسواس‬ Part of the difficulty in translating
‫يوسوس‬ the Qur'an is the presence of huge
‫وسوس‬ number of difficult and archaic
Al-waswas (‫ ) الوسواس‬and words with a wide range of
yuwaswis(‫) يوسوس‬, derived from contextual meanings
the root verb waswasa ) ‫) وسوس‬
and translated respectively as
'the whisper' and 'whispereth'
in Pickhall's and most other
English versions of the Qur'an
'from the evil of the sneaking
whisperer who whispereth in
the hearts of mankind
1.of the devil-to talk evil words
to someone
2.of the self (‫ ) نفس‬to talk evil
to oneself
3.of a man-to talk repetitively
in secret
a. Whispering sounds of
hunting dogs
b. The clank of jewelry or light
c. Every evil thought that
comes to the heart
10 wa man 'azhlamu mi-mman Alliteration is the occurrence of
mana'a masaajidal-lahaahi identical sounds sentence-initially
‫ومن أظلم مّمن منع مساجد ال‬ that add up melodic sounds and
Who is more unjust than he enhances cadence. This achieved
who forbids from any of his by the letter m in the following
houses of worship aaya, and is lost in the translation
11 wa la taj'al yadaka maglulatan rhetorical feature of metaphor
ilaa unigika wa la tabsutha which is almost hard to render in
kullal-basti fa tag'uda another language
maluuman mahsuura

ّ ‫ول تجعل يدك مغلولة إلى عنقك ول تبسطها ك‬

‫البسط فتقعد ملوما محسورا‬
And let not your hand be tied
to your neck (like a miser) nor
stretch it forth to its utmost
reach (like a spendthrift) so
that you become blame-
worthy and deprived (like a
12 Wa min' aayaatihi'annaka Consider the semantic complexity
taral-arDa khaashi'atan of the word 'khaashi'tan
fa'idhaa 'anzalnaa'alyhal-
maa'a 'ihtazzat wa rabat The use of the word "desolate' in
English as equivalent to khashi'tan
‫ومن آياته أّنك ترى الرض خاشعة فإذا أنزلنا عليها‬ in Arabic does not convey the
‫الماء اهتّزت وربت‬ sense of humility, piety, genuine
Among his signs, you see how love and fear of the Lord, implied
desolate the earth is; yet in the word. The earth and heaven
whenever we send water down are treated in the Qur'anic sense
upon it, it sti as living beings. They have
rs and sprouts feelings and weep for those who
are pious and do good on earth,
but not for disbelievers
13 ‫ُكفر‬ The translator may not be able to
Ingratitude to Allah and translate the wording of Kufr by
manifest disbelief in Him and only one equivalent word for
His religion example , unbelief، infidelity، or
irreligion . in this case we have to
interpret and give more than one
word to support the meaning of
the term.
14 ‫الساكت عن الحق شيطان أخرس‬ The translatability of this saying
(or Hadith) into English as a one-
as-saakitu'ani l-haqqi to-one equivalent is comparatively
shaytaanon akhras low for two main reasons: the
Lit.: "He who keeps his mouth religious base and bias of the
shut on the right is a dumb original might only be partially
Satan": "To refrain from received by TL readers; and the
saying the truth is satanic" image may not be understood or
This is a traditional saying by agreed upon completely by them
the Prophet Muhammad
(peace be upon him). A person
who keeps his mouth shut and
refuses to speak the truth is
likened to a dumb Satan (with
all its bad connotations), which
is an ugly image of man,
especially a Muslim

15 ‫حديث شريف‬ Usually a saying is not described

as honourable, only people are.
hadeethon shareef But here we have a special kind of
Lit.: "Honourable saying (by saying by the Messenger of Allah,
the Prophet Muhammad)": "A Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Prophet's tradition/saying". So this metaphor is borrowed to
elevate and venerate any saying
by him. It has a quite affectionate,
positive effect on all Muslims. It is
one of a number of phrases used
to describe the Prophet, with
'shareef' 'honourable' being a
common denominator among
them: 'His honourable,
face/head/hand', etc., all of which
are special metaphors aimed at
glorifying the Prophet, his sayings,
possessions and deeds.
16 ‫ىىى ىىى ىىىىى ىىى‬ It is a strong warning of the dire
‫ىىىىىى ىى ىىىىى ىىى‬ consequences of sins such as
‫ىىىىى ىىىىىىى‬ backbiting, telling lies, abusing
wahal dkubbu n-naasa alaa someone, speaking in vain etc.
wujoohihem fi- n-naari illa and the word wicked tongue does
hasaaedu alsinatihem not indicate to such things.
This is a part of a tradition by
the Prophet Muhammad
(peace be upon him). It
roughly means: "The people of
Hellfire are thrown there
mostly because of their wicked
17 ‫لتيمما‬ This lexical item has emotive
at-tayyammum associations that connote the dry
"the use of earth" is conditions of Arabia, where Islam
considered odd and less was originated, a man who cannot
emotive in the English version. walk far to get water, a man
‫ التيمم‬is a religious term which suffering in a long journey and
means washing with clean who has no full control over his
sand for ablution because of supplies. The above emotive
the unavailability of water in example reflects how such
some places. linguistic expressions would arouse
the feelings of the Arabs and,
when translated, they would not
have the same influence on the TL
receivers due to the differences in
culture and degree of

18 َ saHuur
‫سحور‬ There are certain lexical items in
a meal eaten before the dawn Arabic having no equivalents in
for fasting English because the concepts they
refer to do not exist in the English-
‫ خلوة‬khalwah speaking culture. Such items are
unmarried man and woman normally culture-bound terms.
found in a place where there is The difficulty in translating these
nobody else words is due to lexical gaps
resulting from the cultural
‫? عقيقة‬aqiiqah differences between the two
a goat to slaughter and languages.
distribute its flesh to the poor
on the occasion for having new

‫صلة الستسقاء‬
salaat al-'istisqaa
the prayer asking God to make
it rain

‫صلة الستخارة‬
sallat al-'istikhaarah
the prayer asking God's
guidance to make a good
19 ‫لخبيثة الكلمة‬ English has no perfect equivalent
al-kalimatu l-khabeethah for such expressions.
Disagreeable/malicious talk
"Dirty/bad talk"
‫الخبيث لكلما‬
al-kalaamu l-khabeeth
It is used to mean bad, evil,
dirty, wicked, vicious,
obnoxious, devilish, indecent
and taboo language in general
7. Conclusions for Arabic-English Islamic Translators

Translators should be aware of and well acquainted with the cultural

dimensions of the environment from which the SL text is taken. The
relationship between culture and translation is strong and durable
whereas translation is an essential means through which people can get
access to the cultures of the other nations. Translation therefore deals
with the transfer by the translator of concepts which belong to one culture
and which are communicated by the linguistic system of that culture into
another culture using the latter's linguistic system.

Characteristics of Good Translation

[1] Avoid the tendency to translate word for word since word for word
translation misinterprets the original content and spoils the beauty of its

[2] The style and way of the exposition should be the same as in the

[3] Produce the same effect on the minds of our readers as nearly as
possible as was produced by the original on its readers.

[4] A good translation must possess the potential of being evaluated "like
a first-class native thing”. He maintains that translation must "consciously
attempt the spirit of the original at the expense of the letter.

[5] Translation should have quality that it is read with the same interest
and enjoyment which a reading of the original would have afforded.

[6] Translation should fulfil the same purpose in the new language as the
original did in the language in which it was written.

[7] Translation should be literal, rendering as closely as the associative

and syntactical capacities of another language allow, the exact contextual
meaning of the original.

[8] The resulting form of the message in the receptor language should
represent the closest natural equivalent of the source-language text.
[9] However, in some cases, the concept of literal translation seems to be
impossible and non-existent and so it is better considered as a good or
bad translation.

[10] A successful translation should attempts to preserve "the appropriate

stylistic resources of the target language."

[11] The issue of translatability is believed to be translator-dependent.

Using his skill and experience, the competent translator can translate the
untranslatable and creatively offer somewhat meaningful TL versions out
of the most obscure texts.

Translator’s Skills Requirement

[1] Background Knowledge of Source Text (Content) e.g. Technical,

Religious, Literary etc.

[2] Linguistic Skills in SL & TL

[3] Background Knowledge of Literary Forms: e.g. prose, verse, formal

language, informal language

Tips for Arabic English Translator of Islamic Text

1. One should not translate unless he or she has sound knowledge of

religion. For this, one has to refer to Quran, Hadith, Life of Prophet,
Stories of Companions, popular Tafseer of Quran, Books on Islamic
Sharia, and various dictionaries of Islamic terms. This
understanding help to understand context of source text before it is
translated into target text in English.
2. After understanding Source Text, a translator has to make sure that
one is able to understand Arabic with all its semantic aspects. Being
native Arabic speaker may not be enough as Arabic is rich language
and has many senses of each word that may require understanding
word in proper context.
3. A translator needs to have knowledge of Literary Form such as
prose or verse to understand beauty and style in any form of
expression. Knowledge of Form is required for both Source
Language & Target Language as literary beauty of form should be
captured and possibly should be expressed in the same way
utilizing artistic and careful usage of various word or phrases
without bringing variation in meaning.
4. In case of unavailability of word or concept in Target Language,
translator should use footnotes and write details on from various
authentic sources.

Socio-Cultural Aspects in Arabic English Translation

Culture is a collective experience which includes knowledge, belief,
morals, art, traditions, and any habits acquired by a group of people in a
society. Culture also includes the total system of habits and behavior of
which language is an essential subset.

The vocabulary of a language expresses the culturally important areas of

a group of people in a particular setting whether religious, aesthetic,
social, and environmental, among others.

Arabic for instance, has a variety of names for dates, camels, swords,
horses, rain, winds, etc. English, on the other hand, has a variety of
linguistic signs associated with the sea as English-speaking people are
continuously exposed to it in their environment.

The fact that what is considered culturally acceptable to one group of

people can be regarded as totally strange and mysterious to another. For
instance, "In the Islamic Culture, it is lawful for a man to marry up to four
wives if he can treat them equally and fairly, whereas in the Christian
West, polygamy is prohibited. Polygamy, thus, is strange and
unacceptable to the people of the West because normally it never happens
in their society and it is by no means part of their culture. Much the same
way, having girlfriend (non-marital relationship) is sinful and punishable
task in Islamic culture but it is not a big thing (in case it has mutual
concern) in Non-Islamic Societies, particularly Christian West. And west
culture goes beyond this to validating gays/lesbians, something
unthinkable for Muslim culture.

As for translation, these differences among cultures represent an area of

difficulty, the degree of which depends on whether the languages involved
are close or remote culturally.

This implies that translation between languages of totally different or

seemingly opposite cultures is more difficult than carrying out translation
between languages that are culturally related or similar. This does not
imply, however, that translation between languages that are culturally
related or similar is a straightforward activity.

Untranslatability reflects the area where intercultural equivalence does not
exist. Intercultural non-equivalence which can cause untranslatability
arises when a situational feature is functionally relevant to the SL text,
but fully absent from the TL text in which the TL culture is rooted. The
more disagreement there is between the concepts of the source culture or
its linguistic system and those of the TL culture or its linguistic system,
the more these variables hinder intercultural translation. This may lead to
untranslatability such as in cases overwhelmed by tension between form
and meaning. This can make obtaining full equivalence difficult, or even
It is true that in some cases, the Arab translator may find certain lexical
items in Arabic having no equivalents in English because the concepts
they refer to do not exist in the English-speaking culture. Such items are
normally culture-bound terms. From Arabic-English intercultural
translation perspective, examples can elucidate the issue of translatable
versus untranslatable terms.


Emotiveness is the other cultural hindrance related to the speaker's

emotive intention embedded in the text. Comprehension often involves
much more than understanding what the words which make up the text
point to in reality. There are other implicit matters such as thoughts and
feelings to consider. Some types of text intend to express or arouse
emotional responses to a special topic. Other types of text aim only to
denote. That is to say, some text-producers use a neutral/objective
vocabulary, whereas others use emotive/subjective vocabulary.

An emotive meaning has a function of responses to words i.e. certain

words tend to produce emotive meaning to achieve their function of
bringing about certain emotive responses by language users. This function
is determined by the purpose for which the text is written or said. He
supports Stevenson who gives the following definition of emotiveness:

The emotive meaning of a word or phrase is a strong and persistent

tendency, built up in the course of linguistic history, to give direct
expression to certain of the speaker's feelings or emotions or attitudes;
and it is also a tendency to evoke corresponding feelings, emotions or
attitudes in those to whom the speaker's remarks are addressed.

Translators sometimes must give precedence to the emotive and affective

elements in the SL over the informative or content elements if the context
requires that. An Arab translator who renders emotive lexical items into
English should pay due attention to this suggestion as well as to the
context, particularly cultural one, which can also become very helpful in
analyzing the emotive meaning and render it properly in the TL. In Arabic
we have numerous examples of lexical items or expressions, which pose a
difficulty when translating into English and their translation, seem
incongruent despite the efforts made by translators and that, in most
cases, translators fail to convey their emotive connotative meanings,
managing only to convey the denotative meanings.

Proverbial expressions are no exception in the sense that they are

linguistic structures, which are deeply rooted in and emotively colored by
culture from which they are taken. When translating from Arabic into
English, much attention should be paid to proverbial expressions not only
because of their wisdom but also because they also well reflect the down-
to-earth philosophy, humor, and character of Arabs.

Culture-Specific Expressions
Another hindrance is manifested in culture-specific expressions. With
regard to translating from Arabic into English, the translator must
sometimes deal with texts containing proverbs, verses, historical incidents
long forgotten, legendary personages, names of places, animals, plants,
etc that are peculiar only to a specific culture. In addition, we must
consider the normal difficulties in interpreting cultural contexts of worlds
with completely different tastes and conventions such as the Arab world to
the English-speaking world. When translating, a translator must bear in
mind the fact that s/he should convey messages, not merely words.
Taking this into consideration, the translator should be familiar with and
sensitive to cultures, the one which the text is translated from and the
one the text is translated into.

As part of culture, translators should consider the ecological conditions

because Arabic belongs to an area of hot and dry climate, whereas English
belongs to an area of cold and wet climate.

To conclude this point, one can notice how controversial it is to translate

culture-specific expressions. For us, the degree of simplicity and
possibility of translating such expressions between languages of different
cultures depends in the first place on: who the translator is, his
background, and the way he decodes and re-encodes the source text. The
translator as the decisive factor will be dwelled on below.

Proposed use or development of Tools & Resources for

Islamic Translators

[1] World Famous Tafseer of Quran & Hadith

[2] Encyclopedia of Islam
[3] Encyclopedia of World Religions
[4] Arabic English Dictionary of Islamic Terms
[5] Arabic English Dictionary of Rare Words
[6] Arabic English Translator’s Dictionary Software with Following

i. Maximum Words Coverage

ii. Multiple Senses
iii. Grammatical Notes on Word Origin, Word Class, Word Usage Frequency,
iv. Linguistic Notes on Morphological, Syntactical, Semantic, and Stylistic
Aspects of each word.
v. Transliteration for Arabic Words
vi. Real Life Example from Arabic English Corpus
References .8

Wikipedia Online Encyclopedia .1 .2
Allegory in Arabic Expressions of Speech and Silence .3
A Stylistic-Translational Perspective) by Hasan Ghazala) .4
Cultural Hindrances in Arabic-English Translation by AS Bahameed .5
Translating Arabic Allegory by V Albín .6
The Translator's Dilemma— Implications and the role of the .7
translator, by Antar Solhy Abdellah – Website by Leeds University Quran .8
Research Group
General Islamic Websites & Forums .9