Closing Ceremony – by Agha Mohammadreza Ardehali

Introduction

  • The translation of the Quran into another language has more than a thousand-year history; the first translation into Persian in 10th century and into Latin in 12th
  • The First translation of the Quran into English appeared in 1649 by Scottish writer and King Charles I’s chaplain, Alexander Ross (1590-1654). With his bad intention, Ross translated the Quran from French (not Arabic) in order to show English readers how much it was an untidy collection of superstition.
  • All four earliest translations of the Quran were made (from 1649 to 1880) by non-Muslim clergymen or orientalists in order to refute Islam. In fact, all those translations had been done as a Christian polemic against Islam.
  • In last 368 years, 105 translations of the Quran have appeared in English.
  • In twenty century, Muslims started to translate the Quran into English, and in fact the number of translations in English has increased in recent decades. 60 translations have been written in last 20 years (1997-2017).

 

Question: Is it possible to have a single “official” or perfect translation of the Quran?

  • Some people believe YES.
  • Some people like me believe NO. There has never been nor can there ever be a single “official” or perfect translation of the Quran, even one approved by Muslim authorities, such as the religious authorities (ʿulamāʾ) of al-Azhar University or Hawza ‘ilmiyya in Najaf or Qum.

Question: Do we need a new translation of the Quran after 105 translations? Why?

  • Some people believe NO. We don’t need a new translation of the Qur’an, rather we need to modify and revise those 105 translations to make them easier to understand and more updated.
  • Some people believe YES. We need a new translation of the Qur’an because:
  1. Every day our circle of knowledge expands. Therefore, we can understand the Quran in a new expanded context. There are some words/sentences/concepts which are not understood by translators in the past. So a new translation could help to clarify and understand them.
  2. People are different and each person looks at the Quran from his/her perspective.
  3. Some misconceptions or misunderstandings is seen in old translations. They should be corrected.
  4. Some of the translations are in old English and are hard to understand

Some of the translations from the past could be incorrect or inaccurate.

Everything is in flux. “I” as an individual or “we” as humans see the world different from what it was before.

Language

Culture

Misinterpretation

Most expert translators can be fallible

Those scholars who translated the Quran, could have made a mistake because of misinterpretations of some concepts/words in the past. Today, we have more studies, resources, and therefore more knowledge about many concepts that are present in the Quran.

There is a high chance that scholars in the past generation, who translated the Quran, have made errors/mistakes owing to the fact that there were not readily available resources that were accurate, as much as we have today. I believe that today, we can make a translation of the Quran that is more logical, accurate, and reliable.

[البقرة:168] و لا تتبعوا خطوات الشيطان إنه لكم عدو مبين (وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا۟ خُطُوَتِ ٱلشَّيْطَـنِ إِنَّهُۥ لَكُمْ عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ)

Nasr: and follow not the footsteps of Satan. Truly he is a manifest enemy unto you.

Khattab: and do not follow Satan’s footsteps. He is truly your sworn enemy.

Google translation: And do not follow the footsteps of the devil, for he is a clear enemy to you.

I believe that the core/essential message of the Glorious Qur’an remains accessible through translation and is the basis for guidance:

Evidence 1: the translation of al-Fatiha from Ross to contemporary times bears striking similarities.

Evidence 2: Recent converts to Islam were touched by the message of the Qur’an through translated word.

Evidence 3: God is a translator and he himself has translated non-Arabic statements into Arabic.

Evidence 4: (this is an evidence-based argument): the Qur’an highlights the importance of language (55:4) and it stresses the importance of human interaction (49:13) .The tool the Allah made available for this is language: translated or otherwise. According to modern linguistics all languages are capable of conveying all kinds of propositions, even though some do it with more ease than others.

However, there are contextual factors (time, place, audience, and purpose) that require a nuanced rendition of the message of the Qur’an. Here is where the science of translation is paramount.

Example 1: Q 2: 191

Fight against them wherever they confront you in combat and drive them out from where they drove you out. Though killing is bad. persecution is worse than killing Do not fight against them near the Masjid Haram unless they attack you there” (Maududi)

“And slay them wherever you come upon them, and expel them from where they expelled you; persecution is more grievous than slaying. But fight them not by the Holy Mosque until they should fight you there; then, if they fight you, slay them — such is the recompense of unbelievers – “(Arberry)

Example 2: Q 4:34

“Men are the caretakers of women, as men have been provisioned by God over women and tasked with supporting them financially. And righteous women are devoutly obedient and, when alone, protective of what God has entrusted them with. And if you sense ill-conduct from your women advise them ‘first’ , ‘if they persist,’ do not share their beds, ‘but if they still persist,; then discipline them ‘gently’. But if they change their ways, do not be unjust to them. Surely God is Most High, All-Great.” (Khattab, 2016)

“Men are the managers of the affairs of women for that God has preferred in bounty one of them over another, and for that they have expended of their property. Righteous women are therefore obedient, guarding the secret for God’s guarding. And those you fear may be rebellious admonish; banish them to their couches, and beat them. If they then obey you, look not for any way against them; God is All-high, All-great.” (Arberry)

Quran and Computerized text analysis

Quran is a specific and limited (in terms of length) text that many scholars have already translated it. Therefore, machine translation won’t add any value in terms of only translation. Statistical machine translation is used when you have a large bilingual corpus and you learn from it to translate a new text that has no translation. In the case of Quran, we already have many translations. However, i believe machine translation technics can help in the following matters:

  1. Even though Quran is translated to most of languages by scholars, but in many occasions people use existing machine translation systems like Google Translate out of convenience and accessibility. Even scholars sometime use it to get an idea. There are some works to evaluate effectiveness of these systems when it comes to Quran translation (paper below). It is important to find better solutions.
    http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/ijel/article/viewFile/58921/32259
  2. Most of existing translations are sentence-based translation but many times people require to understand the meaning of part of the sentence (e.g. collocations). Machine translation can help with that also providing synthetic analysis, grammar parsing and so on to help both beginners and professionals to learn the meaning of Quran and perhaps understand new concepts.
  3. Another application can be evaluation of a new human translation comparing to previous translations. There are many works in NLP for evaluation of machine translated translations comparing to reference translations. These methods can be used for this purpose.
  4. There are some work that NLP can be effective to translation classical arabic (paper below). That by itself creates opportunity to come with better translations or at least so new perspective.
    http://scholar.cu.edu.eg/sites/default/files/shaalan/files/rules_based_nlp.pdf
  5. Other than pure translation, NLP can be used for semantic analysis and text mining of the Quran. That can help scholars with better understanding of the concepts and meanings of Quran and consequently better translations.

http://textminingthequran.com/

http://www.semantic-web-journal.net/system/files/swj405.pdf