Muhammad Asad and his translation of the Qur?an (I)

Quite a long has passed since late Muhammad Asad?s translation of and commentary on the Qur?an was rendered into Turkish

Quite a long has passed since late Muhammad Asad?s translation of and commentary on the Qur?an was rendered into Turkish (in 1996). It became instantly popular, especially among the highly cultured Muslims. It was reprinted over and over again.


In its number of editions the work plunged down in to the world of valuable translations of the Qur?an, whereas in its content it proved very ambitious and different as well as a little shocking. The period during which Asad?s translation was being translated into Turkish coincided with the time when, for a variety of motives, the attention of the Muslims of Turkey was shifted from Mushaf towards Qur'an ? from word towards meaning.


Like everyone else, we, students of the Qur'an also benefited from, appreciated and recommended the fruits of that work without expending any effort. But, when recommending, we did not neglect to declare verbally the points we disapprove of and disagree on.


Sometimes our attitude was not understood by ordinary readers not having in-depth knowledge of the subject. They thought that appreciation cannot coexist with criticism, commendation cannot coexist with discernment. Some expected us to behave in a necessarily thoroughgoing manner: either to completely reject or to unquestioningly accept.


To choose? That is a laborious task. Those who are unable to have a sound mind that distinguishes the appropriate from the inappropriate chose not the analytical but the categorical approach in this matter as they do in all matters. Based on the negative evaluations of Asad?s translation they had heard here and there, they gave support to the campaign aimed to `discard` this highly commendable work.


Criticism is one thing, but discarding is another thing. Criticism is by definition careful and analytical evaluation, which is comparable to sieving. If you have sufficient knowledge and competence, a sound mind, two hands of which one is equity and another sobriety, and a sieve woven from strings of justice tempered by mercy, then you will sift the values that have been produced and that have reached us. There will some parts that pass through the sieve as well those that remain on it. If you have done this sieving in accord with these conditions, then you will pay tribute to that which remains atop and object to that which remains underneath.


It should not be forgotten that nobody is perfect and no human endeavour is free from shortcomings. Perfection is as good as impossible, especially when your object is a translation of and commentary on the Qur?an. This is so because producing such a work is above all a "translation" process. Those who are interested in the science of translation know that it is one of the most problematic areas. To begin with, there can be no absolute objectivity. Translation cannot be purified from subjectivity because it is altogether interpretation. Even more so particularly when the text, which is the subject of translation, is the world?s most elliptical (concise) text whose symbolic aspect is predominant.


It is not because publishing my positive-negative review of Asad?s translation of and commentary on the Qur?an has not crossed my mind that I have not done so up to the present time. But, whenever I set about doing it, something got in the way. The fear of doing an injustice to this erudite work is but one of the reasons. Another one is the risk of misunderstanding on the part of those who cannot have a selective mind. And the third reason is my firm conviction that it is more advisable for such a job to be done by a person who is aware of the structure of both English and Turkish to such an extent as to be able to draw a very detailed and precise comparison between the original and its Turkish translation.


But, most of all, it is Asad?s effort and mental performance that is beyond all appreciation. While once talking with Dücane Cündioğlu, the conversation came around to Asad?s translation of the Qur?an. When I stated my opinion, I saw that he too shared my ultimate concern about the strictures the work was open to. Certainly, if a work is to be criticized, the effort expended in producing the work should be regarded when the work is being criticized.


The following observation should be made here: one must not deal with a translation of the Qur?an depending on whether or not the work is suitable to us or to a certain line or some authority?s views. If a translation of the Qur?an is to be criticized, the following basic points should be taken into consideration in addition to the generally accepted principles:


1. Is there a method followed by the person producing a translation of and commentary on the Qur?an?


2. If yes, did that person comply with the method that he had established or adopted?


3. Is the produced translation of and commentary on the Qur?an consistent within itself?