July 7, 2007

Translation by interpolation

Filed under: Uncategorized — hipbone @ 12:52 pm


I am pretty sure that Rumi didn’t and wouldn’t say that he wasn’t involved with “zen” – indeed, the entire poem “On Breath” is of questionable attribution, and his implicit dismissal of Islam to be distrusted, as Ibrahim Gamard points out in Jalal-al-Din Rumi and Self-Discovery.

Similarly, the Qur’an verse from Al-Anfal does not speak of “tanks” (as in the interpolation in parenthesis in this translation, provided by the King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qur’an), but simply of “horses tethered”, “steeds of war”.


But why should we be concerned?

Michael Sells, the John Henry Barrows Professor of Islamic History and Literature at the University of Chicago Divinity School, in his paper War as Worship, Worship as War, comments on another verse in which Hilali has interpolated commentary in parenthesis into his interpretation / translation of the Qur’an – this time from Al-Fatiha, the first chapter of all, which is recited by every faithful Muslim in each of his five times daily prayers:

One recent English version, however, does bring Jews and Christians directly into the Fatiha, and it is that unusual version which Timimi recommends to those wishing to learn about Islam: The Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur’an in the English Language by M. Khan and T. Hilali. Khan and Hilali render the last two verses of the Fatiha as follows: “Guide us to the Straight Way. The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not (the way) of those who earned Your Anger (such as the Jews),
nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians).

It is the interpolation of these mentions of Jews and Christians into the Fatiha, and the impact such an interpretive translation is likely to have on the minds of readers with little or know knowledge of the Arabic text, which should concern us here.

Sells’ essay is worth reading in full, footnotes and all.


And if spirituality is our field of interest, and Rumi our teacher, we might wish to pay closer attention to his actual words.

Recommended readings in that regard: Annemarie Schimmel, The Triumphal Sun; William Chittick, The Sufi Path of Love; Franklin Lewis, Rumi Past and Present, East and West; Fatemeh Keshavarz, Reading Mystical Lyric; Jalal al-Din Rumi, Mystical Poems of Rumi translated by AJ Arberry, 1 and 2.


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