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An English translation of the Quran that is as close as possible to the Arabic sacred text
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 Post subject: The purpose of this discussion board
PostPosted: 05 May 2009, 15:22 
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There are many good English translations of the Quran, so why another one? The impetus behind the translation we have this forum to discuss is to adhere to the Arabic sacred text as closely as possible while conveying its meaning to the English speaking in a readable, grammatically correct manner. We want to avoid, as much as possible, interpreting the Quran first then translating it. We want to translate the words and phrases as they linguistically are and as they meant at the time.

This effort we found is necessary after conversing with non-Muslims who quoted translations that are particularly strange! They arrived at weird conclusions based on those translations when the Arabic text so clearly cannot be thus translated.

We studied many of the English translations of the Quran, most notably Al-Muntada Al-Islami but also older translations, and we based the original translation we start with here on what we considered to be the closest to our objective in this project. May God amply reward all those who contributed different translations for their assiduous effort and for their generosity in sharing those translations and making them available for free on the Internet.

This project builds on the original translation we start with by inviting discussions from all interested people on how to make it even closer to the Arabic sacred text's verbiage, style and structure whenever possible without sacrificing meaning or English grammar. We hope you will contribute to the discussion with insights into Arabic, English and the Quran.

Needless to say, a perfect translation is impossible due to linguistic, grammatical, syntax and cultural differences between Arabic and English. But this effort is still called for and will hopefully be useful in conveying the Quran to the non-Arabic-speaking as straightforwardly as it reaches the Arabs.

May God accept this effort from all who contributed to it and turn it into a "knowledge that benefits."


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 Post subject: Re: The purpose of this discussion board
PostPosted: 30 Jun 2009, 21:42 
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Thank you for inviting me to join this group.

May I suggest that there are at some fundamental problems with your proposed approach: The first two arise from the fact that many Qur'anic expressions have multiple accepted readings قراءات and many have multiple accepted meanings.

An example of the first arises, for example, in the Fatiha: do you translate "مالك يوم الدين" as most postings have done, using "owner" and the like, or do you translate the legitimate ورش recitation "ملك يوم الدين" which would read most naturally for Christian English readers accustomed to the concept of "the Lord's kingdom" (in heaven or otherwise).

An example of the second arises, for example, in 2:54, "فتوبوا إلى بارئكم فاقتلوا آنفسكم ذلكم خير لكم عند بارئكم فتاب عليكم". Do you really want to give the apparent meaning of "kill yourselves" in the sense of committing suicide? Or, do you want to adopt a Sufi classification of the lower soul (نفس)، especially in its most earthly commanding self (النفس الآمارة) thus making the order one of self purification?

Third, and without getting into the difference between تآويل vs. تفسير in the Shi`i and Sunni traditions, the Qur'an itself suggests that it has محكم and متشابه. If you want to provide a full translation, then you have to translate the latter, which forces you to impute meaning in a highly contentious scholarly framework.

I submit to you that the purpose presents us, to use a mathematical concept, with an ill-posed problem. I will try to say more in the Fatiha thread.


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 Post subject: Re: The purpose of this discussion board
PostPosted: 30 Jun 2009, 22:26 
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Poetic wrote:
Thank you for inviting me to join this group.

Welcome to the board. I look forward to your valuable contributions and to a lively discussion of all the translation issues.

Quote:
I submit to you that the purpose presents us, to use a mathematical concept, with an ill-posed problem.

Very nice way of putting it. As in mathematically ill-posed problems, we need constraints or rules. They may not be ideal or even unambiguous rules, certainly not unique, but we should try our best. For example, I tried to come up with one such rule in the order of words topic.

Quote:
An example of the first arises, for example, in the Fatiha: do you translate "مالك يوم الدين" as most postings have done, using "owner" and the like, or do you translate the legitimate ورش recitation "ملك يوم الدين" which would read most naturally for Christian English readers accustomed to the concept of "the Lord's kingdom"

Perhaps in a case like this we can either stick to the prevailing reading (which is what even Arabic speakers contend with), or try to find a word that serves both meanings (in this case Sovereign comes to mind). I think we all concede that perfection is not an option that is available to us here, and we are just trying to find the best available option. Trying to find that option and weighing its merits against the alternatives has been the most rewarding part for me. It puts me in touch with the Quran at a deep level on a continuing basis.

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 Post subject: Re: The purpose of this discussion board
PostPosted: 30 Jun 2009, 23:36 
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Poetic wrote:
Thank you for inviting me to join this group.

Welcome to the board :agreed: . It's a pleasure to have you join us.

Quote:
May I suggest that there are at some fundamental problems with your proposed approach: The first two arise from the fact that many Qur'anic expressions have multiple accepted readings قراءات and many have multiple accepted meanings.

That is certainly true and it highlights what I mentioned earlier that a perfect translation is impossible. What we're trying to do here is to brainstorm ideas on how to achieve the impossible! :-) Seriously, we want to translate the Arabic as closely as is possible. However, when it's impossible, we simply have to accept alternatives that are not literal.

Per your observation about pronunciation alternatives قراءات, I'd say that if the two alternatives have different meanings then I'd go with the most popular reading. In the example you quoted about 1:4, I'd go with the Hafs reading, perhaps with a footnote mentioning the Warsh reading and its translation.

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An example of the second arises, for example, in 2:54, "فتوبوا إلى بارئكم فاقتلوا آنفسكم ذلكم خير لكم عند بارئكم فتاب عليكم". Do you really want to give the apparent meaning of "kill yourselves" in the sense of committing suicide? Or, do you want to adopt a Sufi classification of the lower soul (نفس)، especially in its most earthly commanding self (النفس الآمارة) thus making the order one of self purification?

This is an excellent example of what I mean by close translation. I do not want to investigate the many interpretations of a word. In the example you quoted above, I'd translate it literally, with a footnote explaining it further when an explanation is warranted.

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the Qur'an itself suggests that it has محكم and متشابه. If you want to provide a full translation, then you have to translate the latter, which forces you to impute meaning in a highly contentious scholarly framework.

3:7 is a fascinating verse!

My reading of it is that God cautions us not to try to find some mystical meaning in the verses which can carry several meanings! Thus, a straightforward translation seems to be encouraged by this verse ;) That's not to say that deep or multiple insights into a verse are invalid; they just are unnecessary.

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I submit to you that the purpose presents us, to use a mathematical concept, with an ill-posed problem. I will try to say more in the Fatiha thread.

That's the challenge before us! It's not an easy task and I certainly can use all the help I can get to do it right.

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 Post subject: Re: The purpose of this discussion board
PostPosted: 01 Jul 2009, 04:22 
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In his comment on A. J. Arberry's translation of the Quran, M. A. S. Abdel Haleem wrote,

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Arberry shows great respect towards the language of the Qur'an, particularly its musical effects. His careful observation of Arabic sentence structure and phraseology makes his translation very close to the Arabic original in grammatical terms ... [however] this feature, along with the lack of any notes or comments, can make the text seem difficult to understand and confusingly unidiomatic.

That's exactly the main obstacle in this project: staying close and faithful to the Arabic text while still conveying its meaning in legible, modern English. I believe it can be done.

I do agree with Abdel Haleem's view that footnotes and such will be necessary for a reader-friendly translation.

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