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

When compared to some Turkish translations of the Qur?an, Asd?s translation, which is a product of 17 years? work, is se

When compared to some Turkish translations of the Qur?an, Asd?s translation, which is a product of 17 years? work, is seen to have been authored by a person who considers translation as a `science`. This work should count as a beautiful answer to the question, `How can a translation of the Qur?an be made given the possibilities and weaknesses of the science of translation?`


It mustn?t be forgotten that the available Turkish version of Asad?s translation is a translation of the translation. This can be seen as its major weakness. Although this does not exactly agree with the description of `something that has only a faint connection with something else`, it is still to count as `an interpretation of an interpretation` because, in the final analysis, translation does contain `interpretation` no matter how difficult the possibilities for this may be. From this point of view, if Asad?s translation has deserved being called `successful`, it is due for its original rather than for its Turkish version. One should remember that famous Italian adage: `traduttore , traditore` literally meaning `translator is a traitor`.


Let us first enumerate the merits of Asad?s translation of and commentary on the Qur?an:


1. Along with fidelity to the text, he shows maximum meticulousness in maintaining balance between the characteristics of the Qur?an being an ?address? that is both pithy and verbal:


Besides, there were two options remaining: Either to doom translation to a shuttering and incomprehensible style in the name of fidelity to the text as it is the case with the claim of a `translation without parentheses`, or to `produce an arbitrary and haphazard text` ostensibly supposed to be an approximate translation and call it `the meaning of the Qur?an`.


However, the Divine Revelation was conveyed verbally to its first addressee. The language in which it was delivered was colloquial. If this attribute of the Divine Revelation is disregarded, especially when translated into another language, a series of problems ranging from style to meaning will arise. Asad demonstrates his awareness of this fact as a translator. In most cases he succeeds in overcoming the problems in question through his explanations interpolated parenthetically or given in separate notes. In doing so he does not sacrifice fidelity to the text. It is beautifully expressed in his giving the literal meanings of particular words and phrases where necessary.


2. He has proved that a translation of the Qur?an without notes is deficient: In his notes, which make his translation valuable and original, Asad has (a) pointed out that a part?s real meaning can be reached within the whole it belongs to by showing the inner integrity of the Qur?an; (b) quoted, though partly, alternative readings and meanings (c) showed linguistic justifications for his preferences; (d) has made his subjective choices with reference to the Islamic scholarly tradition except for very few cases, without trying to exploit the tradition?s authority for his own ends.


3. He has endeavoured to base his most divergent and original interpretations on the triplet word-meaning-purpose and has generally succeeded in doing so: By way of example, the construction `because of [your] perverseness` put by him on `min khilafin` occurring in 7:124 runs counter to the traditional approach whereas it is a sense that is supported by word and language. Again, the way he construes 8:65 is so original as to affect the meaning?s skeleton. Even in such cases when no reference is made, the given construction remains within the limits and possiblites of the language.


4. He has exhibited exquisite workmanship for prepositions and conjunctions hidden among the connotions of the text to an extent not showed by most other translators: The seemingly ordinary prepositions and conjunctions, whose contribution to understanding and function many translators have failed to sufficiently elaborate on, have been meticulously placed by Asad in the whole they belong to through notes showing reasons for a particular interpretation. It is really difficult to understand why those, who say that the conjunction `wa` has among others the sense of `eight`, find unacceptable Asad?s construing so aptly this conjunction as `that is to say`.


5. Words, combinations and expressions having undergone a `slip of the meaning` have been returned to their idiomatic sense by showing linguistic backgrounds and traditional references. Asad has applied the `deconstruction` method for the Qur?anic terms that have deviated from their original meanings, which has proved effective from place to place. We have previously dwelt upon Asad?s original elaborations on the words and combinations having turned into terms.


6. He has taken meaning as basis in the order of Qur?anic verses. He has neither adopted such an erroneous method as dealing with each Qur?anic verse as a separate paragraph nor followed the mixed (complex) translation style that would make it impossible to distinguish between the beginning and end of Qur?anic verses.