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

Meaning sometimes meets with an `accident` on its way from its source towards its target. Sometimes the meaning `becomes

Meaning sometimes meets with an `accident` on its way from its source towards its target. Sometimes the meaning `becomes wide` like a snowball growing bigger and bigger as it rolls. But, sometimes it `becomes narrow` like a snowball exposed to the sun. No matter which of the two accidents happens to the meaning on its way towards its target, this is a "slip of the meaning".

If we regard `word` being the container of the meaning as a means and not as the purpose of the meaning, which is the contents of that container, then our task is to establish the initial contents of that container in ist original form. In fact, this is one of the columns on which the science of Tafsir has risen.

As Heidegger said, "whoever opens his mouth to say something wants to be understood". The Divine revelation is a message that is (mubîn) "both clear in itself and clarifying 'things' outside itself". Every message carries a meaning. It is the primary duty of the person to whom a message is addressed to understand the message owner?s purport. Furthermore, the primary condition of understanding the one addressing can only be fulfilled by arriving at the original meaning of the address.

The Divine Revelation "has been sent down" to the level of human perception through the medium of a human language. Arabic is that language for the Divine Revelation of the Qur?an. In placing the transcendental thruths into the Arabic language consisting of immanent words, the Divine Revelation has dealt with the words used by pre-Islamic Arabs in the following three ways:

1. Completely emptied and refilled: Examples of the first words turned into terms by the Divine Revelation are "kafir", "munafıq", "hanif", "Islam" and "taqwa".

2. Partly emptied and filled in: Here belong such words as "khashyah", "khawf", "qalb", "ruku", "sujud" and, of course, "salah", which, as pointed out by Ibn Faris, is a term with several meanings indeed.

3. Taken without any change: Hundreds of words not qualified as terms could be adduced as examples thereof.

Let us now consider Asad's approach to this subject.

Asad develops an original style by laying open some of the Qur?anic terms. For instance, "Islam: man?s self-surrender to ALLÂH", "Muslim: a person who has surrendered himself to ALLÂH", "taqwa: consciousness of one?s responsiblity" (It would be wrong to attribute this meaning to Asad. This meaning was used by T. İzutsu before him. Moreover, it is quite probable that Asad and Fazlur Rahman used this meaning simultaneously but independently from each other), "kafirun: those who deny the truth", "Kitab: the Divine Writ", "Ahlul-Kitab: followers of earlier revelation", "Nafs: human being", "Al-Ghaib: that which is beyond the reach of human perception", "jihad: striving hard", "zakah: purifying dues", etc...

One of the reasons for which it was done so is that the translation was prepared for the audience unfamiliar with Islam. Naturally, the English translation addresses the English-speaking world. But, is it the only reason? Doesn?t the traditionally Muslim world need such a method? Doesn?t the traditionally Muslim world need such a method even more than the English?

Shall we compare the representations evoked by such words as "Islam" and "Muslim" in the minds of the first addressees of the Qur?an with those of a today?s person above a certain level of competence, let alone someone ignorant? Nowadays, "Islam" occurs to a Muslim as `a name of one of the religions". But, in the Qur?an it occurs as a "state/posture/manner/attitude/way of life" and this is how it was understood by the Prophet (SAWS) and his companions. Likewise, `Muslim`, which is today identified as a `name of affiliation to Islam as one of the religions`, is used in the Qur?an as the name of affiliation to the invariable sublime values of humanity in all times and places. That?s why the Prophet Ibrâhîm (AS), the Prophet Mûsa (AS), and the sorcerers believing in him are all "Muslims" according to the Qur?an.

In the present-day Muslim?s mind the concept of `jihad` has been reduced to the sense of word `qital` as used in Qur?an. Such concepts as "shahid / shahadah" have undergone a `slip of the meaning`. The Qur?anic word "nafs" has undergone a semantic metamorphosis. Taqwa... When those acquainted with the Islamic jargon say that someone has `taqwa`, they mean that the person concerned is an `ascetic` abstaining from wealth. Can such a person be said to know the Qur?anic sense of "taqwa"?

That?s not all: Hasn?t there been cases when the phrase "ALLÂH and His angels bless the Prophet" (33:56) was translated as "they say the salavat" and when the phrase "li yetefakkahû" was translated as "that they study Fiqh " (9:122)? Which "Fiqh"? The `science of Fiqh` whose fundamentals (`usûl`) were written not earlier than 150-200 years later? Is there any other solution besides Asad?s method to remedy this problem?

There are even more eccentric examples of how the meanings of Qur?anic terms have been partially or entirely slipped and how ordinary words have been made into concepts, though these examples are restricted to the views of certain groups. For instance, hasn?t the point been reached when the adjectival phrase "Al-Maqam Al-Mahmoud", which denotes "a praised position", has become increasingly regarded as a specialized term "Station of Mahmoud"? Hasn?t the word "ladun", which is an ordinary adjective, been used in such senses as "science of ladun", which are not warranted by the Qur?an