Translation — and a fortiori translation of sacred texts which are all-important for a man — should, above all, convey ‘the meaning, the whole meaning and nothing but the meaning’ of the original text. This means that in general, the translation should be as literal as possible. It should try to keep the word order as close to that of Arabic as possible and, more important perhaps, try to consistently use the same translation for the same word in different places in order to convey something of the system of inner architecture and allusions of the Arabic text. However, when the literal meaning in the translated language does not convey the exact sense of the original, it should depart from the literal words and give as precise a translation of the meaning as possible. Indeed, this is perhaps the most common mistake of translation, as most people do not realize that the meaning of words, when used in an idiom, is often slightly different from their literal meaning, and conversely that an idiom may be used to translate something whose literal meaning does not suggest it. Obviously, however, literal translations should also beware of not quite making sense in the language into which the text is translated, and of being grammatically incorrect. On the other hand, even worse are translations which, in the attempt to use ‘good English’ (or whatever the translated language is) or ‘poetic language’ take the license with the literal text or its meaning. Thus translation must, as it were, steer a ‘middle course’ between meaning and language — between, in a sense, ‘science’ and ‘art’— but leaning always on the side of meaning when the two diverge.
WHAT REQUIRES IN TRANSLATORS?
This requires three major qualities in a translator.
- He or she knows the language of the original text perfectly.
- He or she knows the language into which the text is being translated excellently.
- He or she fully understands at least the literal meaning of the text they are translating.
With the Holy Qur’an, which is the Word of God who is Omniscient, fully understanding the sacred text — and consequently understanding all its meanings — is humanly impossible. The translation is thus with the Holy Qur’an itself always only a question of interpretation of the Qur’an’s immediate, ‘surface’ meaning with little if any of its linguistic beauty, mystery, holiness, miraculous nature, depth, symbolic resonances, and layers of meaning. Nevertheless, this interpretation is a vital endeavor since the majority of Muslims in the world do not know Arabic. Moreover, Tafsīr itself — having human authors who are not omniscient and who therefore mean a finite amount of things with their words — is much easier to translate (when it is not actually quoting the Holy Qur’an) than the sacred text itself and therefore can be accurate if not rendered into another language.
Following that the allegorical verses can licitly be interpreted by individual readers based on their own opinions and understanding, but only upon the following specific, strict conditions.
- That the interpreter is completely familiar with all interpretations of the Holy Qur’an attributed to the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) and his Companions, and that the individual’s interpretation shouldn’t contradict.
- That the individual interpretations not be used to contradict any legislative verse (and presumably a fortiori anything that contradicts doctrine).
- That the interpreter has mastered the Arabic language and does not contradict the literal meaning of any verse itself with his or her individual interpretation.
One who, without being prudent at outward exegesis, hastens to elicit deep meanings by a mere understanding of the Arabic language makes many mistakes and is included in the group of those who explain the Qur’an by personal opinion. Then transmission [from an authority] and hearing [from him] are necessary for outward exegesis first, so that the exegete may, by them, be safe in places where mistakes are likely to be made. After this, understanding will be wide and the eliciting of deep meanings will be possible. Every sense which is supported by any verse in God’s Speech—whether it is the Qur’an, the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel, or the Scripture—in the view of anyone who knows
that language is intended by God in the case of that interpreter. For His knowledge encompasses all senses….We say concerning the senses of a verse that all are intended by God. No one forces anything upon God. On the contrary, it is an affair verified by God….Hence when someone understands a sense from the verse, that sense is intended by God in this verse in the case of the person who finds it. This situation is not found outside God’s Speech. Even though the words might support a sense, it may be that it was not intended by the speaker; for we know that he is incapable of encompassing all the senses of the words….
TRUE VOCABULARY FOR SOCIAL GOOD
Hence, everyone who comments (tafsīr) on the Qur’an and does not go outside of what the words support is a true commentator. However, “He who comments according to his opinion becomes an unbeliever”—so it has been recorded in the hadith of Tirmidhī. But the commentary will not be “according to his own opinion” until the speakers of that language do not recognize that sense of that word. In other words, some authoritative and orthodox commentators take the Divine Promise in the Qur’an to explain the Qur’an to be an ongoing process (within of course certain parameters, such as the Prophet’s own commentary where it exists, the limits of the Arabic language, and the legislative verses. And God knows best.
Equally, this also perhaps explains why the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) said Every verse [in the Qur’an] has an outer aspect and inner aspect and each [of these two aspects] has a limit and a place of ascent.
There are, moreover, many interpretations of verses of the Qur’an going back to the Prophet himself (p.b.u.h.) that indicate not only symbolical resonances in the sacred verses of the Holy Qur’an but also distinct levels of both micro-macro cosmic mirror-play and anagogical meanings in these verses (as perhaps may be indicated in the ḥadīth quoted above). For instance, the valleys are a simile for people’s hearts, the scum which passeth away is a simile for doubt, and that which is of use to mankind and remaineth in the earth is a simile for certainty. This clearly establishes a parallel between the earth or the world and human beings (and the worlds within them) and between the sky and heaven. It also establishes (via the symbol of water) a parallel between the life of the body and that of the heart and the soul. It thus implies micro-macro cosmic mirror-play and anagogical levels of meaning in the Qur’an in general.
In summary, then, it can be said that despite the great erudition and wide range of Commentary strategies employed, there are even more strategies that the Tafsīr has in general deliberately not employed. Living as they did, more or less after the end of the Classical Tradition of Commentary, its two authors had the advantage of having easy access to the great works of Classical Tafsīrs and to their methods, but they deliberately summarized, streamlined, or simplified these in order to stay focused on their one overriding aim: to make the literal meaning of the Holy Qur’an completely intelligible in the simplest possible way!
Many mystics who wrote Commentaries on the Qur’an or on parts of it — and even a few ‘inspired philosophers’ — claimed that their Commentaries, or parts of them, were not based on ‘individual opinion’ at all, but rather on ‘spiritual intuition’ or even ‘mystical inspiration’. Thus, they argued that there was nothing individualistic or subjective about what they wrote because it did not come through ordinary, rational thought. In other words, they claimed the censure against rational or subjective speculation did not apply to them, since they wrote only what they ‘received’ passively from the uncreated Intellect, ultimately through Divine inspiration.
Sparrows by morning, live in peaceful nests! Design shouldn’t dominate things, shouldn’t dominate people. It should help people. Don’t spend your time solving your favorite problems, solve problems that need to be solved, generically. A home is a place where you live, and society is a place where your story begins. Honesty shares honesty, as it is honesty’s nature. Stay always in Ablution and get back to the trust you have been, with.