By Ahmed Askander
The Holy Qur’an — the sacred scripture of Islam was revealed in parts over 23 years to our beloved Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him). Since the revelation of Holy Qur’an, for many centuries Muslim scholars have been working in the field of ‘Qura’nic studies’, but it was during the 19th and early 20th centuries that they took to English translation of the Qur’an.
Scholars around the world unanimously agree that The Holy Quran can only be read and understood best in the Arabic language. No translation can take the place of the Qur’an in original Arabic. Scholars and translators face many difficulties while translating the Qur’an. It usually happens while rendering some of the difficult words, or the words which have a variety of meanings in the target language, culture, context, etc., which is almost impossible to transfer holistically or with perfect accuracy.
It is worth mentioning here that an analysis and the meaning of the English word ‘wife’ appearing in the Quranic translations compared to the corresponding Arabic words used to describe the word “wife” is a good example.
Glory Be To My Lord, The Glorious Qur’an is a book in which every word has wisdom. An example of it is:
In English and Urdu to whom we call “wife” and بیوی(Biwi), there are three words used to describe the word “wife” in the Qur’an. Let us analyse these three words:
(1)A’mrah (2)Zaoujahand (3) Sahiba.
A’mrah — Refers to a woman with whom one has a physical but not mental relation.
Zaojah — A wife who has both mental and physical relationship, also has both mental and physical understanding and relation.
Sahiba – A wife who had neither physical nor mental relationship.
Now, let us consider the verses of the Holy Quran and analyse these words:
(1) A’mra – The wives of Prophets Noah and Lot were not Muslim, so in the Quran Allah called out “Amr-Noah” and “Amr-Lot “, thus, the wife of Pharaoh became Muslim. Also called “A’mraFiraoun (Pharaoh’s)”. (See the last verses of Chapter 66 – AlTahrim).
What we understand is that there was a physical connection to it, so the wives were there but they were not in harmony mentally, because their religion was different, so Allah used the word “A’mra” here.
(2) Zaoujah – Wherever the spouse was physically and mentally in relation, Allah says:
يَـٰٓـَٔادَمُٱسۡكُنۡأَنتَوَزَوۡجُكَٱلۡجَنَّةَ (Chapter 2, verse 35 Al-Baqarah).
And the Prophet (Peace and blessings of Allah beupon him) said:
Almighty Allah wants us to show that Prophets had a good relationship with their wives.
One of the strange things about Zechariah was, when he did not have children, Allah saidA’mrati and when Zechariah was blessed with the child, Allah said “Wawahabnalahu Yahya waaslahnalahuZaoja. The wise can understand this point.
إِذۡقَالَتِٱمۡرَأَتُعِمۡرَٲنَ– (Chapter 3, Verse 35 – Al Imran).
وَوَهَبۡنَالَهُ ۥيَحۡيَىٰوَأَصۡلَحۡنَالَهُ ۥزَوۡجَهُ– (Chapter 21, Verse 90 – Al Anbiyah).
Likewise, Abu Lahab was criticised by Allah and He says “HammaLatalHatab” that Abu Lahab was not in a good relationship with his wives? And Allah used the word A’mra again here in Chapter Tabbatyada.
وَٱمۡرَأَتُهُ ۥحَمَّالَةَٱلۡحَطَبِ– (Chapter 111, Verse 4 – Al Lahab/Masadd.
(3) Sahiba–Allah used the word “Sahiba” where there was no physical or mental connection.
Allah cleansed himself of any human relations including wife. He used the word “Sahiba”, probably because there was no physical or mental connection.
بَدِيعُٱلسَّمَـٰوَٲتِوَٱلۡأَرۡضِۖأَنَّىٰيَكُونُلَهُ ۥوَلَدٌ۬وَلَمۡتَكُنلَّهُ ۥصَـٰحِبَةٌ۬ۖوَخَلَقَكُلَّشَىۡءٍ۬ۖوَهُوَبِكُلِّشَىۡءٍعَلِيمٌ۬
(Chapter 6, Verse 101 – Al Anaam).
Likewise, on the day of judgement there would not be any physical or mental affair or relation with wife. If the wife has nothing to do with any physical or mental affair, Allah said:
وۡمَيَفِرُّٱلۡمَرۡءُمِنۡأَخِيهِ (٣٤) وَأُمِّهِۦوَأَبِيهِ (٣٥) وَصَـٰحِبَتِهِۦوَبَنِيهِ (٣٦)
(Chapter 80, Verses 34-36).
On the day of judgement everyone will be occupied with their own worries and no one will talk of others except self.So, Allah used the word “Sahiba” in the Glorious Quran.
In English, Urdu or any other language: A’mraati, Zaoujati and Sahibati will translate as “wife” & “بیوی”. But may I be sacrificed to the word of my Lord, which has wisdom in His every word with a clear distinction.
And when The Lord taught him the supplication, He used these words:
Allah used the word “Azwajina” because cooling of eyes is only possible when there is both physical and mental harmony present.
Similarly, I will analyse two words and verses of Quran to dismantle the on-goinganti-Hijab policy of the BJP Government that is at the centre of a raging controversy in Karnataka and many other states in India that clearly violates the fundamental rights of Indian Muslim women,andit is against the Constitution of India.
The Glorious Quran and Hadith orders and makes it mandatory for all Muslim women to wear “Hijab and describes the dress code for women. We will analyse the two verses from the Quran:
“…and not display their beauty except what is apparent, and they should place their Khumur over their bosoms…” (Chapter 24 Verse 31 – Al Noor).
According to well-knownand respected Islamic Scholars, there are two issues about this sentence. The word Khumurخُمُرٌis the plural of Khimar خِمَارٌ , the veil covering the head. The most popular dictionary in the Arab world, Al-Munjid, defines Al-Khimar as “something with which a woman conceals her head”. So, the word Khimar, by definition, means a piece of cloth that covers the head. By saying that, “place the khumur over the bosoms,” Almighty Allah ordered the women to let the two ends of their headgear extend onto their bosoms so that they conceal their ears, the neck, face, and the upper part of the bosom also.
(2) And the second verse:
Allah gives the following command to Prophet Muhammad:
(Chapter 33, Verse 59 – Al Ahzab).
“O Prophet! Say to your wives, your daughters, and the women of the believers that: they should let down upon themselves their Jalabib.” (33:59). Jalabibجَلاَبِيْبٌ is the plural of Jilbab جِلْبَابٌ , which means a loose outer garment. See any Arabic dictionary like Lisanu‘l’Arab or Al-Munjid. This means that the Islamic dress code for Muslim women does not only consists of a scarf that covers the head, the neck, face and the bosom; it also includes the overall dress that should be long and loose.
The examples we have analysed above bring out very clearly the multiple difficulties scholars and translators face while translating the Qur’an. It usually happens while rendering some of the difficult words, or the words which have a variety of meanings in the target language. Linguistic knowledge alone does not suffice to accurately decipher a text and interpret in another language. The meaning is also inherent in extra- linguistic elements, e.g., culture, context, etc. which is almost impossible to transfer holistically or with perfect accuracy. All such factors lead to loss of meaning in translationbecause of the richness of the texts, both form and meaning, their sensitivity, and their various possible interpretations. The Qur’an, being “the untranslatable” cannot be literally translated, the major reason being that Arabic words and sentences quite often have multiple literal meanings, and are, more often than not, used figuratively, metaphorically, and symbolically. In addition, several Arabic constructions are such that they contain subtle shades of meanings which hardly convey the equivalent expressions in another language. It is safe to say that ‘translating the Qur’an into any language cannot be without loss of some of its denotations, connotations, impressions, and indications’.
Some of the words cannot be translated at all! When I say this, Dr. Ahmed Mohiuddin Siddiqui, senior journalist and political analyst, (who holds a PhD degree in English Language and also conversant with Arabic for more than two decades), fully concurs with me and gives examples of two Arabic words from daily life, which cannot be translated accurately into English in few words:
Na’eeman (نعيماً): This term is used after someone gets a clean shave, a haircut or takes a shower. It is kind of blessing the person and saying: “Congratulations on looking cleaner or fresher.” There is certainly no way of saying it in English.
‘Ala Rasi (علىراسي): The term is literally translated into “On my head.” This is a saying commonly used when someone asks you a favourfor something or demands something from you. If a friend says “I need you to give me a lift later today as my car is in the garage,” the apt Arabic response would be ‘‘Ala Rasi.”. It is like saying: “Anything for you!” or I can do anything for you. The Arabic term cannot be translated accurately into English.
In conclusion, I would like to say that since Quran is a divine law, it cannot be contested in a human court. It has been agreed by some jurists in our country that Ram cannot be challenged. How can Raheem be challenged then? Raheem has given us a codified law called Qur’an and we MUST obey the orders from our Creator! Since clear cut instructions on Hijab are available in the Qur’an, Ijtihad is not possible! The truth is already revealed. Ijtihad is:the use of reason to arrive at a knowledge of truth in religious matters.
I am indebted to my dearest brother and friend Asim Omer Al Amoodi from Kingdom of Bahrain for helping me get the translated sermons of Shaikh Omar Abdul Kafi, Shaikh FadhelAksamari and Shaikh Ramadhan Abu Shanab that helped me to quote their scholarly views in this story.
Ahmed Shareef Askander is an Ex-Intelligence Officer, Digital Forensics Analyst and Researcher based in London, UK.