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Problems in Translation of the Holy Quran

Translation is supposed to be wrong side of an embroidered cloth which shows the design but not the beauty. (1) The Holy Quran is the last episode of the divine messages revealed to His chosen men among the humanity time by time. The Holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad more than fourteen centuries ago in the Arabian country of Hijaz, in Arabic language which was characterized by then Arabic lexical, grammatical stylistic and cultural features. Believing in Quran as a universal divine message, the Muslims taking it as their religious obligation to convey and preach the message of the Quran to the peoples of different languages and cultures they confront with, have been translating it right from the time of the companions of the Holy Prophet. We can trace back the practice of the translation of the Holy Quran with Salman of Persia, a companion of the Holy Prophet. (2) Translation from one language to another is a multidimensional task. In all lexical and grammatical and syntactical features, each language exhibits a distinctive system. However, the process of translation attempts to find expressions in another language preserving the semantic and stylistic equivalence, matching the grammatical structures and cultural contexts. Since Arabic is the only semantic language which remained unchanged for more than fourteen centuries, it is, therefore, different from other languages in its spirit and life sense. In any case equivalence is impossible. And in case of the language of the Quran it becomes further impossible, for, Quran claims to be matchless. No human expression can anywhere come close to the Quranic stylistic expression. The Qruran claims: And if you doubt any part of what We have bestowed from on high, step by step, upon Our servant (Muhammad), then produce a surah pf similar merit, and call upon any other than God to bear witness for you-if what you say is true! And if you cannot do it- and most certainly you cannot do it- then be conscious of the fire whose fuel is human beings and stones which awaits all who deny the truth! (2: 23, 24) Say: if all mankind and all invisible beings would come together with a view to producing the like of this Quran, they could not produce its like even though they were to exert their strength in aiding one another!(17:88) Rhetoric of an expression in a language is impossible to render in any other language especially of the Quran. The words of Quran are lexically conditioned by connotation, collocation, grammatically by syntax and phonetically by assonance and alliteration etc. for example Ya ayyuhak muddassir. Kum Fa anzir. Wa Rabbaka fa kabbir. Wa Thiyabaka fa tahir. (74:1, 2, 3, 4) The assonance of the words at the end of every sentence can only by enjoyed by the knowledge, nature and taste of Arabic language. Its translation does not create that much of the effect anyhow.

Another problem a translator of the Quran faces is the stylistic features of the Holy Quran which affect the total form of the Holy Qurnic message from the level of phono-aesthetic aspects to the limits of discourse. Phono-aesthetic aspect is the most striking stylistic feature of the Holy Quran. A translator is supposed to maintain the stylistic level of the Quranic expression one of the subtle problems which the Quranic translator faces is the proper matching of stylistic level of language. (16). For example the phono- aesthetic beauty of the Surah ALREHMAN is impossible to render in translations. Muhammad Asad writes in the preface of his valuable exegesis of the Holy Quran, The Message of Quran: Unlike any other book, its (of Quran) meaning and its linguistic presentation form one unbreakable whole. The position of individual words in a sentence, the rhythm and sound of its phrases and their syntactic construction, the manner in which a metaphor flows almost imperceptibly into a pragmatic statement, the use of acoustic stress not merely in the service of rhetoric but as a means of alluding to unspoken but clearly implied ideas: all this makes the Quran in the last resort, unique and untranslatable, a fact that has been pointed out by many earlier translators and by all Arab scholars.(3) M.Asad points out probably the most significant problem in the translation of the Quran: When we look at the long list of translations-beginning with the Latin works of the high Middle Ages and continuing up to the present in almost every European tongue-*we fine one common denominator between their authors, whether Muslims or non-Muslims: all of them were or are- people who acquired their knowledge of Arabic through academic study alone: that is, from books. None of them, however great his scholarship, has ever been familiar with the Arabic language as a person is familiar with his own, having absorbed the nuances of its idiom and its phraseology with as active, associative response within himself, and hearing it with as ear spontaneously attuned to the intent underlying the acoustic symbolism of its words and sentences. For, the words and sentences of a language- any language- are but symbols of meanings conventionally, and subconsciously, agreed upon by those who express their perception of reality by means of that particular tongue. Unless the translator is able to reproduce within himself the conceptual symbolism of the language in question-that is, unless he hears it sing in his ear in all its naturalness and immediacy- his translation will convey no more than the outer shell of the literary matter to which his work is devoted, and will miss, to higher or lesser degree, the inner meaning of the original: and the greater the depth of the original, the farther must such a translations deviate from its spirit.(4) Ellipticism (Ijaz) is the characteristic of Arabic idiom and of the Quran which can not be translated unless one is as familiar to Arabic idiom as to reproduce it within oneself instinctively, something of the same quality of the elliptical thought. M Asad writes Another point which the translator must take fully into account is the Ijaz of the Quran: that inimitable ellipticism which often deliberately omits intermediate thought-clauses in order to express the final stage of and idea as pithily and concisely as is possible within the limitations of a human

language In order to render its meaning into a language which does not ___________________________________________________________ _*same is true for non-European translations function in a similarly elliptical manner, the thought-links which are missing that is deliberately omitted- in the original must be supplied by the translator in the form of frequent interpolations between brackets; for, unless this is done, the Arabic phrase concerned loses all its life in the translation and often becomes a meaningless jumble. (5) In addition to the English Translation of M.Asad, we find example of such interpolations to render the meaning of elliptical thought present in between the sentences of the Quran in Urdu in the Quranic translations of Bayan-ul-Quran by Molana Ashraf Ali Thanivi and the translation of Quran by Mulana Mawdudi. Therefore, Quraic translator has to get engaged in exegesis to render complete message of the Quanic text. The translator must beware that the certain terms and words used in the Quran were Institutionalized later, so he must translate them in accordance with the classical meaning in the time when the Holy Quran was revealed. For example SLAT, (prayer, also blessing) ZAKAT (to give alms, also to purify, to grow) FIKH (understanding) KUFR (deny, refuse, tiller of the earth) MUSLIM (one who surrenders, submissive to God or someone else). Another point which Shah Wali Ullah stresses upon is that Quran should not be seen purely from historical point of view (Shan-e-Nuzul). Historical perspective do help to determine to context and meaning of certain verses of Quran but these historical circumstances or events do not specified the general impact of the meanings. They are illustrations of the human conditions not the ends in themselves. (Fauz-ul- Kabeer) Styles which are dense and intellectualized may also require explanation from the translator. For Example, God is the Light of the heaven and the earth. The parable of His light is, as it were, that of a niche containing a lamp; the lamp is (enclosed) in glass, the glass (shining) like a radiant star: (a lamp) lit from a blessed tree- an olive-tree that is neither of the east nor of the west- the oil whereof (is so bright that it) would well-nigh give light (of itself) even though fire had not touched it: light upon light! (24:35)

Relationship of message/language and the Culture:

Another important problem is the relationship of the language and the culture which characterizes that particular language. The emphasis upon the relationship of message and culture makes us recognize that a decoder of the message ( the reader of the Holy Quran) decodes the message in accordance with his social and cultural background and is ,therefore, somewhat diverse in the use and understanding of the message. It makes communication somewhat difficult and removes the possibility of absolute equivalence and opens the way for different understandings o the same message. (6) For example, the lexicon of Arabic ,SABR, patience, has entered into Urdu as it is but with a different connotation, a negative or passive meaning: to tolerate wrongs done to someone or put up with something painful, and adverse penting up anger and annoyance

leaving all to God or Fate. Whereas Quranic connotation of SABR: endurance, steadfastness in the battle field and in worship of God, seems incomprehensible to him who tries to understand it keeping in mind the connotation of his own culture of this word, SABR. The Quran says: O Prophet! Inspire the believers to conquer all fear of death when fighting, (so that,) if there be twenty of you who are patient in adversity, they might overcome two hundred; and (that,) if there be one hundred of you, they might overcome one thousand of those who are bent on denying the truth, because they are people who cannot grasp it.(8:65) The Quran stresses upon reason as a valid way to faith as well as its insistence on the inseparability of the spiritual and the physical spheres of human life; a peculiarity which is absent in almost every existing religions. This absence of any division of reality into physical and spiritual compartments makes it difficult for the people brought up in the orbit of other religions, with their accent on the supernatural element allegedly inherent in every true religious experience, to appreciate the predominantly rational approach to the Quran to all religious Questions. (7) Although, It is not possible to reconstruct a message with total content explicit and implicit semantic relationship which are found in the original message, nevertheless, the essential element of the source language can be communicated in the target language. (8). The translator first analyses the message of the Quran into the simplest and structurally clearest forms, transfers it and then restructures it to the level in the target language which is communicable for he the intended audience. (9)

Three Features of Translation

Translation involves three different sets of features: (a) Grammatical Analysis (b) Semantic Analysis (c) Connotative Meaning Grammatical Analysis: Allah, the Most Merciful, taught the Quran and created man. these two expressions of Arabic and English are entirely different in their grammatical structure. In Arabic it is a combination of three sentences while in English the message has been compressed into one compound sentence. (10) In any obscure structure the translators task is to find deep structure (context) of the statement. In an attempt to find out the deep structure he may discover logical subject, verb and object and this should be determined first. (11) Semantic Analysis: A translator faces more problems in selection of different words which have related or competing meanings. The reason is that the shades of meaning of a single word are actually further apart in semantic space as SABIL and SIRATEnglish words path, way, road, avenue for the Quranic expression SIRAT may be described as competing with each other for communicative space. The semantic relationship between these equivalents may broadly be categorized under the following heads:

(a) Juxtaposed Relationship (b)Included Relationship (c) Overlapping (d) Polar Opposition Juxtaposed Relationship: Terms as YAMSHI, YAJRI, YARKAZ, YAHRUL, these Arabic words which mean walk in English share most of their componential relations with one another with an exception of one single feature which makes them different. Included Semantic Relationship It can be explained by the related meanings of the Qurnic words TAAM, AKL, FUTUR, GHIDA and ASHA. All the components of TAAM or AKL are also seen in FUTUR, GHIDA, or ASHA but FUTUR has an additional component which makes it different from the restwhich gives sense of breakfast in FUTUR makes it distinct from other expressions like ASHA or GHIDA. Overlapping Meanings: Overlapping meanings present the most complex form for the translator. The common components of such words are used in the same semantic space, but their differences cannot be defined in terms of additional components. For example, the Arabic word AL KURSI, for chair and its Quranic usage in AYAT-AL-KURSI for the exalted position of Allah may not be related as semantically equal. In any case the difference is definable in terms of degree of semantic expressionThe meanings of AL KURSI as chair may be considered as the central meaning and the Quranic meaning as the satellite meaning, When a word has one main or central and one figurative meaning, the central nature of its collocate, however unusual will give a clue to the intended sense. (12) M. Asad writes: If we were to take every Quranic passage, statement or expression in its outward, literal sense and disregard the possibility of its being an allegory, a metaphor or a parable, we would be offending the spirit of the divine writ. (.13) We find in Quran much symbolic expression referring to the evidence of Gods activity. Owing to the limitations of the human language which in their turn, arise from the inborn limitations of human mind- this activity can only be circumscribed and never really described. (14) Polar opposition: Meaning which are polar opposites consist of such pairs as AL-JABBAR and ALREHMAN. These pairs of words have components which are polar apart from each otherThe present description of the highly diverse and multidimensional semantic relationship of words is by no means fully satisfactory but it provides an excitant for a more energetic exploration of semantic domains of the Quranic expression In translating a lexical item which represents an area of religion-cultural specialization like Hujj, Salat etc. a translator may not find equivalents in his target language, and therefore, construct all sorts of descriptive equivalents so as to make intelligible something which is quite foreign to the target language.(15) Problem of Translating Taboo: Taboos are not translated into their equivalent of the target language as the colloquial expressions are considered as vulgar.

The words used in the Quran can only be translated into the expressions which are considered as decent in the target language and render the sense as well, for Example, FURUJUHUM, which is translated in Urdu as SHARAM GAH, and in English as Chastity. Contextual Meaning: Sometimes literal meanings of the Quranic terminology confuses the reader and leads him in serious misunderstanding, e.g., the word KUFR is used in the Quran in different meanings from its lexical meaning e.g. to refuse and deny truth, tiller of the earth, can be understood through the context. Problem of AL- MUQATTAAT: About one quarter of the Quranic surahs are preceded by letter-symbols called muqttaat (disjoined letters) or occasionally, fawatih (openings) because they appear at the beginning of the relevant surahs. Fourteen Arabic letters Majority of the scholars is of the opinion that AL-MUQATTAAT can not to be translated since their meanings were not told by the Holy Prophet. Various interpretations have been given by the scholars but they are all conjectures. Abu Bakr said: In every divine writ there is (an element of) mystery of the Quran is (indicated) in the opening of (some) the surahs (16)

Communicative Translation:
In communicative translation the message is all important and the essential thing is to make the reader think feel and act. In this approach the aim is to make the translation more effective as well as more elegant (17)

Speech Act Theory

Now we see the problems of translations of the Quran in light of the Speech Act Theory by Austin in 1930. Austin postulates: 1. Locutionary Acts (Articulation of a statement) 2. Illocutionary Acts ( intentionality of the speaker) 3. Perlocutionary Acts ( The effect on the hearer) (18) Locutionary Quranic Text: Locutionary Quranic text is in which the stress is on the message itself and on the information it contains. These texts are generally neutral in nature and they generally concentrate on the object or on the description of a thing .the following lines from the Quran belong to this type, Say: He is the One God: God the eternal, the uncaused cause of All Being. He begets not, and neither is He begotten; and there is nothing that could be compared with Him (112:1, 2, 3, 4) Illocutionary Quranic Text: Illocutionary Quranic texts are the texts with a high degree of implication. These are the texts in which there are in reality, two texts, an overt text that overlays a covert text, the link between the two being established by implication. The Mutashabih verses have fabricating interpretation and, therefore, they mainly fall under illocutionary Qurnic text. His throne includes the heaven and the earth. Perlocutionary Quranic Text: Perlocutionary Quranic texts are designed mainly to influence the addressee. These texts have been presented in such a fashion that the addressee is directly affected.

Perlocutionary texts manipulate the addressee through a series of connotation that are particular to a given language. (19) O thou wrapped up in thy raiment! (73:1) The degree of transibility is very high in locutionary textillocutionary Quranic texts demand special attention, because these have two, covert as well as overt, meanings in perlocutionary Quranic text higher degree of connotation is involved... Unless a translator attempts to find perlocutionary equilatents in the target language for the connotation in the Quranic expression, the translation will tend to sound too alien although the semantic level may have been respected. (20) There are some translators who have carried out a word by word translation of the Quran. These literal translations lack the spontaneity or the linguistic charm of the Holy book itself (21) On the other scale there are some translations which are highly rhetoric and rich in their stylistic usage. These translations in spite of their acceptability to a particular educated class remain obscure to the masses. (22) Terms as thee, thy, thine, lo, nay, etc (in English translation) may be relevant for the Bible but they seem to be totally out of place in the Quranic translation because of their unintelligibility. One must keep it in mind the with the growing human knowledge the words of Quranic verses give new dimensions of their meanings so in this respect too, no translation of the Quran is the final translation.

1. Encyclopaedia of the Quranic Studies, Vol. 4, Maulana Muhammad Razi Afridi, Muhammad Ilyas Navaid, Anmol Publications PVT. LTD, New Delhi-110 002 (INDIA), ISBN 81-61-2771-6 (set), p.66. 2. Encyclopaedia of the Quranic Studies, Vol. 4, p. 48. 3. The Message of The Quran, Muhammad Asad, Dar Al-Andalus, 1997, p. v 4. The Message of The Quran, p. iii 5. The Message of The Quran p. vi) 6. Encyclopaedia of the Quranic Studies, Vol. 4, p.49 7. The Message of The Quran p. ii 8. Encyclopaedia of the Quranic Studies, Vol. 4, p. 49 9. Encyclopaedia of the Quranic Studies, Vol. 4, p. 50 10. Encyclopaedia of the Quranic Studies, Vol. 4, p.50 11. Encyclopaedia of the Quranic Studies, Vol. 4, p. 50 12. Encyclopaedia of the Quranic Studies Vol. 4, p.51, 52 13. The Message of The Quran p.990 14. The Message of The Quran, p.991 15. Encyclopaedia of the Quranic Studies, Vol. 4, p.53 16. The Message of The Quran, p.993 17. Encyclopaedia of the Quranic Studies, Vol. 4, p.55 18. Encyclopaedia of the Quranic Studies, Vol. 4, p.57 19. Encyclopaedia of the Quranic Studies Vol. 4, p.58 20. Encyclopaedia of the Quranic Studies Vol. 4, p.59 21. Encyclopaedia of the Quranic Studies Vol. 4, p.66 22. Encyclopaedia of the Quranic Studies Vol. 4, p.66

1. Encyclopeadia of the Quranic Studies. 2. The Holy Quran 3. The Message of The Quran