Sohaib Saeed’s upcoming translation of the Qur’an and our personal biases and presuppositons.

“Then, it is on Us to explain it.” (The Holy Qur’an 75:19)

So I was really looking forward to Sohaib Saeed’s video series: “One Qur’an many translations.”

To the readers unfamilar with Sohaib Saeed he is an obscure figure for many in the West and a little known translator of Arabic text.

It is usually disheartening to see people like him get a handful of likes on Twitter or rare mentions on social media. It seems these days the focus is on the celebrity preacher types and those who delve into one controversy after the next.

I am going to assume that the following is his web site: http://quranica.com/about/team/

You may find out a bit about his bio and works here:

https://glasgow.academia.edu/SohaibSaeed

I am really hoping that is not just another translation to add to the pile of translations but does offer something unique insh’Allah.

It would be amazing if we had a translation of the Holy Qur’an that included: Variant readings if one was aware of them. Variants that would change the meaning.

Imagine an annotated Qur’an translation with foot notes explaining the variants when/where necessary.

Than again to do that justice one would have to have understanding of all the various ahruf and qir’aat.

Or different ways of reading that would impact juristic understanding such as what Joseph Islam elaborates upon here: http://quransmessage.com/articles/washing-wiping%20FM3.htm

It would also be a nice change of pace if the authors /translators were simply honest and told people that their ‘Sohaib Saeed‘ and others own bias and presuppotions support how they will translate a text of the Holy Qur’an in another language.

He had a class excercise where students did exactly that. Though we do not know which differences were emphasized and which were not.

Is one inclined to discount miracles such as Muhammad Asad’s translation often does?

How would one’s theological underpinnings as a Sunni Muslim inclined towards Ashari doctrine impact certain verses of the Qur’an?

How would one’s theological underpinnings as a Sunni Muslim inclined towards the Athari doctrine impact certain verses of the Qur’an?

What is one’s presuppositon towards the Qur’an? It is a divine text in which our reason and intellect submit to? Or does the Qur’an submit to our intellect and reason?

For example: I do not believe that the Qur’an contains verses that abrogate one another nor is it abrogated by anything outside of it. The reason I believe this is that I submit to the following verse because I believe a priori that the Qur’an is a revelation from Allah [swt]

“Do they not consider the Qur’an (with care)? Had it been from other Than Allah, they would surely have found therein Much discrepancy. “Holy Qur’an 4:82”

I than follow through empirical observation that this a priori believe is found to be true. There is no consistent basis on which to establish the principle of abrogation. There is no consensus on what abrogates what there is merely a consensus [For Sunni Muslims] that there is something like abrogation.

Where as someone brought up as a Sunni Muslim and someone who feels inclined to defend that tradition might not submit to the verse above. Rather informed by traditions and a scholastic legacy to uphold this person maybe forced to recognize and admit to contradictions in the Qura’n in order to uphold a such a tradition and scholastic legacy.

Even the translation of the verse above is problematic:

Do they not consider the Qur’an (with care)? Had it been from other Than Allah, they would surely have found therein Much discrepancy. “Holy Qur’an 4:82”

The English translation of virtually all the English translations of the Qur’an are wanting in this regard. Much discrepancy doesn’t mean no discrepancy. So does the Qur’an contain discrepancies or not? If so how many?

So this is where not only does one need to look at the Arabic text and have familiarity with the language one needs to understand what actually is the divine being communicating. It’s one thing to take an Arabic word and look at it’s various meanings, how it was used during it’s time, it’s possible usages in pre-Islamic poetry and another to understand why would Allah [swt] choose this particular word or words to begin with.

What is Allah [swt] communicating to me? He is using this verse to prove a powerful point concerning reflection upon the Qur’an. That is is from Allah. That a proof for this is that it does not contain discrepancy.

Another point of consideration is this. A sunni understanding of the Qur’an which actually contains the entire Qur’an has never been translated into English ….ever.

Why would I say this? I say this because the Ahl Sunnah believe that they do not have the entire Qur’an but only the Qur’an that Allah [swt] willed for them to have.

So another suggestion to include in any possible future translation would be a section containing passages of the Qur’an that are not included in the Qur’an. They could explain to the readers why these verses were not included in the final canon.

“Then, it is on Us to explain it.” (The Holy Qur’an 75:19)

Obviously one would want to try and rely upon the Qur’an to explain itself as much as possible.

“Those who listen to the Word, and follow the best (meaning) in it: those are the ones whom Allah has guided, and those are the ones endued with understanding.”  (Holy Qur’an 39:18)

“It is He who has sent down to you, [O Muhammad], the Book; in it are verses [that are] precise – they are the foundation of the Book – and others unspecific. As for those in whose hearts is deviation [from truth], they will follow that of it which is unspecific, seeking discord and seeking an interpretation [suitable to them]. And no one knows its [true] interpretation except Allah . But those firm in knowledge say, “We believe in it. All [of it] is from our Lord.” And no one will be reminded except those of understanding.” (Holy Qur’an 3:7)

I have yet to see a translation of the Qur’an that really takes this very highly important principle of the Qur’an into account. That is that Allah [swt] himself is telling you that the Qur’an has verses that are subject to various interpretations or understandings. Or why not again an annotated Qur’an with foot notes giving the translators preferred interpretation and than explaining that it could possibly mean this as well.

The other thing that one needs to weigh in considering to translate the Qur’an into English is the supremacy of the Arabic language itself. Doesn’t it say something when many of the academic works on Islam are being published in English for English consumption?

I just get tickled when I see in social media the so called “elitist” throwing labels about self studied people, those who rely upon ‘shaykh google’ , and yes I have see this from Sufis hurled at Salafis and Salafis hurled at others.

I get tickled because all of them are translating works in English and you have to wonder in what way that in and of itself chips away at the cherished notion that we have to understand Arabic in order to understand our deen. I understand they need to make money.

I just hope none of them do it for the sake of academic clout and are doing it solely for the pleasure of Allah [swt] and that they sorely see the need for it.

The other and this is a major issue for me the other big problem I have when I looking at these people who have translated the Qur’an into English is the absolute ignorance the naked ignorance that they have concerning Judaism and or Christianity. It’s shocking.

I mean here you are translating a text into another language. You speak the language you are versed in the language and all that jazz. That’s obviously very necessary; however, as I mentioned above it’s about asking..

What is my Creator convening to me here. Why these words over other words. What do I personally know about the subject matter outside of the Qur’an itself.

For example: https://primaquran.wordpress.com/2018/05/03/our-major-mistake-with-holy-quran-4157/

Even if you look at the classical Arabic sources it seems that often these people did exactly what some of the translators of the Qur’an themselves have done.

They will look at another translation and say, “oh how did he or she translate this.” The moment you do that is an acknowledgement that you are stuck. You are seriously grappling with how to convey this word or expression and so forth. That is a huge blessing because it is telling you to go further, to dig deeper.

This Qur’an has humbled human beings small and great. If it was revealed upon a mountain it would turn to dust. It is not a simple matter of o.k this has been translated next section. o.k next section.

You must be prepared to discover the message of the Qur’an again.

You also need to understand your target audience. You have to wonder about people who have translated the Qur’an into English and have used the term ‘Sabians‘ and translated it as such and your average westerner, even those well learned look at that word in English and say hmmm.

The other thing I would take on board as a translator -especially in these days and times is that you need to be especially careful how you handle the revelation of Allah [swt] and how you are translating it.

This is especially important because your translation can be used as a tool by the enemies of Islam against Islam itself. Do you want that on your consciousness? Do you want to be answerable to Allah [swt] for that?

Any way looking forward to Sohaib Saeed‘s translation into English. If anyone is aware of any other translations and or translations in progress please do let me know.

This is an interesting discussion by the way.

Have a beautiful week ahead.

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One response to “Sohaib Saeed’s upcoming translation of the Qur’an and our personal biases and presuppositons.

  1. Abdullah

    Salaam Alaykum my brother in Islam,

    May Allah (Subhannahu wa Ta’alaa) bless you and your family.

    Very interesting article brother! I just wanted to share my thoughts and pray that Allah guides us and forgives us for our short comings.

    I believe that we are truly blessed for having so many different translations but also believe that many of them are theologically biased and distort some of the meanings of the Verses. It’s hard to find a truly reliable (or should I say honest and unbiased) translation but my favorite translations are the ‘Sahih International’ and ‘Mukhsin Khan’. Don’t get me wrong, I know these translations are heavily influenced by the Salafi school of thought, so I don’t agree with everything they say for obvious reasons.

    Another thing to ponder over is the fact that not everyone speaks Arabic brother. I understand that the Qur’an is in Arabic but surely Allah wouldn’t expect everyone on this planet to master the Arabic language in order to be guided or saved from the hell fire! The fact is, only about 10% of the Muslim population speaks Arabic! So, the only thing we can do is rely on translations and try to understand the basic Arabic words or root word definitions. I find it so lame that brothers often tell me “Oh, you don’t know Arabic!” and I say to them: “Do you know the Greek language in order to debate with Christians? Or have you mastered the Hebrew language to have discussions with Jews”? Of couse, No comment!

    For example, I have discovered by reading the Qur’an (over time) that it’s not that difficult to understand simply key words. Words like ‘WA’ which typically means ‘And’ and ‘AW’ which typically means ‘Or’. ‘LA’ typically means ‘NO’ and ‘LAYSA’ means ‘NOT’. ‘YAD’ means hand and ‘YADAY’ means two hands. Get my drift? Of course there’s the issue of taking verses Literally and Metaphorically but as you know scholars have differed over this for so many centuries. Although we don’t all speak Arabic but through Allah’s perfect Wisdom, we can get the ‘Gist’ of the message that’s revealed to us Insha’Allah.

    And there are fluent Arabic speaking people who themselves admit they have no idea what the Qur’an is saying! Can you believe this?? It just goes to show that only Allah can guide your heart to understand its meanings.

    You said:
    [“Then, it is on Us to explain it.” (The Holy Qur’an 75:19)
    Obviously one would want to try and rely upon the Qur’an to explain itself as much as possible.]

    I absolutely agree brother and I will give you some perfect examples InshaAllah. Muslims often tell me that only Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) can explain the Qur’an to us and they quote the following Verses:

    [We sent them] with clear proofs and written ordinances. And We revealed to you the message that you may make clear (litubayyina) to the people what was sent down to them and that they might give thought. {16:44}

    And We have not revealed to you the Book, [O Muhammad], except for you to make clear (litubayyina) to them that wherein they have differed and as guidance and mercy for a people who believe. {16:64}

    Please pay attention to the Arabic word “LITUBAYYINA’ which comes from the root words ‘Ba Ya Noon’ and has the following meanings: Apparent, manifest, plain, clear, known, distinguished from another, An evidence, an indication, demonstration, proof, argument that is clear, manifest (intellectual or perceptive/perceived by sense), testimony of a witness.

    This is according to Han’s, Lanes, and Lisan “Al-arab dictionaries! So, does this word really mean to explain??? Let’s take a look at another verse:

    And We did not send any messenger except [speaking] in the language of his people to state clearly for them (illabilisani qawmihi liyubayyina lahum), and Allah sends astray [thereby] whom He wills and guides whom He wills. And He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise. {14:4}

    Notice the word ‘LIYUBAYYINA’ which comes from the same root word but in plural form! So, Allah has sent ALL the Messengers (pbut) to make PLAIN/CLEAR/MANIFEST/KNOWN to their people! This obviously wasn’t something completely unique to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) but something All the Messengers did. Now consider the following Verses:

    And thus do We detail the verses (nufassilul-ayati), and [thus] the way of the criminals will become evident. {6:55}. See also 7:32, 7:174, 9:11, 10:24, 30:28.

    And thus do We diversify the verses (nusarriful-ayati) so the disbelievers will say, “You have studied,” and so We may make the Qur’an clear (walinubayyinahu) for a people who know. {6:105}. See also 6:46, 6:65, 7:58.

    A Book whose verses have been detailed (fussilat ayatuhu), an Arabic Qur’an for a people who know, {41:3}. See also 41:44.

    This completely BLEW ME AWAY brother! Allah (Azza Wa ‘Jal) not only makes His Verses PLAIN/CLEAR/MANIFEST/KNOWN, but He also explains the Verses in DETAIL! Notice the words ‘Nufassilul-Ayati’, ‘Nusarriful-Ayati’, and ‘Fussilat Ayatuhu’ which means Allah HIMSELF is the one who Explains/Diversifies His Verses/Ayat in detail! Nowhere in the Quran, I mean Nowhere does it ever say that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) explains the Verses in detail. He was commanded to ONLY ‘litubayyina’ the Verses. It’s amazing how Muslims bend and twist the actual meanings of the Verses in order to shoe horn an entire literally of hadeeth and Tafsirs to support their agendas!

    You said:
    [“What is my Creator convening to me here. Why these words over other words. What do I personally know about the subject matter outside of the Qur’an itself.”]

    That’s exactly what I asked myself brother! What is Allah trying to say to me? I found that whenever I went to Hadeeths and Tafsirs, I was confused as hell! I only found answers in The Qur’an itself and I’m discovering more and more as I pay attention to it. Everything outside the Qur’an was a distraction and diversion from the actual meanings! This is exactly what Rabbinic Judaism does. They tell you: “Oh, you cannot understand the Torah unless you go to the Talmud”. They say that the Talmud explains, interprets, and details the Torah. So, I guess people like the Kararite Jews (Ones who strictly hold onto the Torah and disregard the Talmud) should be labelled as “Torah’iyoon” and people who hold fast to the Injeel as “Injeel’iyoon”. And by the way, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was commanded to ONLY follow that which was revealed to him (The Qur’an) so should we label him as a Quranist “Quran’iyoon”??

    Wake up people! Wake up and turn back to the Book of Allah! Wake up and stop imagining that some so-called Mehdi is going to come along and save the Muslims! And some One-eyed hairy monster named Dajjal is coming to cause havoc on the earth. We Muslims have brought all these catastrophes upon ourselves by abandoning the Qur’an! This Book has become nothing except something that’s memorized and recited in our Salaat. And you know this is true brother I mean just look around you.

    The Quran tells us over and over again that it’s a Book of Guidance, Wisdom, Criterion, etc. So, should we be going out and looking for the Guidance outside of it? Is there another Book out there called The Wisdom that I should be reading? Are there volumes of Books named Sahih Criterion which we must adhere to? What more can I say bro? If people disregard the Book of Allah, what more can be said?

    Anyways, that’s just me venting again so I apologize if I’ve gone overboard brother. I just get so emotional about all this and pray that Allah guides us all to the ONLY path that’s acceptable to Him which is Siraatim Mustaqeem!

    Peace 😊

    Abdullah

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