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

It is reported that Imam Shafi? made Al-Muzani, who was both his student and relative, read his famous book Al-Umm, whic

It is reported that Imam Shafi? made Al-Muzani, who was both his student and relative, read his famous book Al-Umm, which he thought he had brought to perfection. He turned his book upside down from beginning to end saying, `Cross this out, write it like this`, but every time he said `Now it is finished`, he would find a new fault or error. Finally feeling exhausted, he said, `From now on I won?t call any book faultless except for the Book of ALLÂH (SWT)`.

 

We will most certainly find errors and flaws in any book produced by a human. There will be points in it we don?t agree with partly or completely. Even more so if it comes to a `translation-interpretation`. If one is to criticize a translation of and commentary on the Qur?an, one should criticize not the dimension relating to its interpretation, but rather its methodolical dimension. As a matter of fact, a critique of an interpretation is yet another interpretation.

 

There are several original aspects for which Asad?s translation of and commentary on the Qur?an stands out among similar works. To put it in the words of Akif Ersoy, the poet of the Qur?an, it is one of the successful examples of `an endeavour to make the Qur?an talk to the contemporary mind`. Like every original work, this work too has some aspects to be criticized, shortcomings and flaws to be indicated, by giving a few examples of which we?d like to bring to this series of articles to an end:

 

1. Incomplete translations: Despite all the meticuluosness on the part of its translators and publisher, some deficiencies are found in the Turkish version of Asad?s translation of and commentary on the Qur?an. Many a phrase suh as "Fa?in u'tu minha radu" in 9:58, "mimman hawlakum" in 9:101, "in attabi?u illa ma yuha ilayya" in 46:9 "min khilafin" in 26:49, "innahu kana ?azaba yawmin azîm" in 26:189 are missing in the translation. By way of example, the last phrase is found in the English text while it is missing in the Turkish translation. The same is the case with the word ALLÂH in 2:282 and 7:43.

 

2. Inappropriate meanings: The following construction put on the phrase "fa akhrajna bihi nabata kulli shay'in fa akhrajna minhu khadiran" in 6:99 could be given as an example: `and by this means have We brought forth all living growth, and out of this have We brought forth verdure." In the translation it is stressed that two separate things (growth and grass) are brought forth with the same water. Yet, the stages in the process of plant?s growing from a seed into fruit are enumerated in the text. The pronoun in `minhu` occurring in the second sentence refers not to water but to `shay?in`. The pronoun in the phrase `minhu` occurring later is also a reference to `khadiran` in this sentence, which means that the three stages of growth are being stated here. Thus, what is meant by the word `khadiran` in the second sentence is not something different from the `growth`, but the growth?s germination stage.

 

Again, Asad misinterprets the content of verse 6:113 by construing the pronouns, which actually refer to the `deception` found in the preceding verse, as a reference to ALLÂH (SWT) without presenting any explanation or convincing evidence. What is more, this interpretation is supported neither by the text?s inner structure nor by the usage of the word `iqtarafa`, nor by the entire Tafsir tradition.

 

The phrase "wa alihataka" occurring in 7:127 was translated as `from your lands`, which is absolutely irrelevant. Although there is no difference in recitation, the word `tuhsharun` occurring in verse 6:72 is construed as `nuhsharun`. There are similar mistakes in other places as well.

 

3. Unfitting constructions: Take the last sentence in 13:10, which was not seriously dwelt upon. Although the verse 11 was construed in a very appropriate manner, the link between this verse and the verse 10 could not be established.

 

Verse 3:11 is rendered as follows: "[To them shall - happen] the like of what happened to Pharaoh's people and those who lived before them". Asad construes this verse as pointing to the similarity of its addressees? fate to the fate of pharaoh?s people and those before them. However, what is primarily and most importantly pointed out here is their state, attitude, behaviour and way of living rather than the similarity of their fates. This sense is afforded by the word `da?b` occurring in the verse, which means `habit` or `custom`, and is further intensified by the immediately following sentence `they gave the lie to Our messages`.

 

Although the Verse 16:71 occurs in the context of Tauh