• Book Title:
 Quran Translation Discourse Texture And Exegesis
  • Book Author:
Hussein Abdul-Raof
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The translation of the meanings of the Qur’an is a major human contribution in cross-cultural interfertilization; it is a unique charity to humanity. The translation, however, should not be

looked at as a replacement of the original version of the Qur’an in Arabic for we cannot produce a Latin Qur’an no matter how accurate or professional the translator attempts to be. Qur’anic expressions and structures are Qur’an-bound and cannot be reproduced in an equivalent manner to the original in terms of structure, mystical effect on the reader, and intentionality of source text.

Inaccuracies and skewing of sensitive Qur’anic information will always be the by-product of any Qur’an translation. The ‘translation’ of the Qur’an remains in limbo for the word of God cannot be reproduced by the word of man.

However, there is no study available today that accounts for the problem of untranslatability of the Qur’an from a linguistic and applied translation studies perspective. The problem of Qur’an untranslatability has always been dealt with from theological and historical points of view.

An answer needs to be given to the reader as to what makes the Qur’an an untranslatable  text; we need to  explain the linguistic and rhetorical limitations that shackle the Qur’an translator. The aim of this book is to provide an answer to this intriguing question.

To meet the urgent need of a curious reader, our analysis has been generously exemplifıed; Qur’an limits of translatability have been thoroughly discussed with numerous examples; these include: style, stylistic mechanism of stress, word order, cultural voids, problems of literal translation, syntactic and semantic ambiguity problems, emotive Qur’anic expressions, disagreement among Qur’an translators, different exegetical analyses, morphological patterns, semantico-syntactic interrelation, semantic functions of conjunctives, semantico-stylistic effects, prosodic and acoustic features, and most importantly the shackles imposed by the thorny problem of linguistic and rhetorical Qur’an-specifıc texture.


Qur’an translation is presented in this book as a testing ground for the practicality of translation theoıy, on the one hand, and for man’s capacity to undertake the challenge of interpreting to other nations of different tongues the meanings of the word of God.

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The major thesis of this book is that the beauty of Qur’an-specifıc language and style surpasses man’s faculty to reproduce the Qur’an in a translated form. A crude approximation of the language, meanings and style of the Qur’an is possible to enable non-speakers of Arabic to understand the message of the Qur’an.

 Qur’an translators, Muslims and non-Muslims, have admitted the unique linguistic nature of Qur’anic discourse and the severe limits of its translatability; none of them has claimed that his translation is the standard or the equivalent of the Qur’an.

The Qur’an translator does not only need a sound linguistic competence in both Arabic and English but also an advanced knowledge in Arabic syntax and rhetoric in order to appreciate the complex linguistic and rhetorical pattems of Qur’anic structures.

Most importantly, he/she needs to compare and refer to major Qur’an exegeses in order to derive and provide the accurate underlying meaning of a given Qur’anic expression, a simple partide or even a preposition.

The present book highlights the pressing need of Qur’an translation; it is, therefore, intended to be a guide for Qur’an translators in that it presents the major problems which they encounter. it also provides some solutions to Qur’an translation problems because the gap between  translation theoıy and practice remains unbridged and what applies as a solution to one language cannot apply to another.

 Secondly, there is, I believe, no possible theoretical or practical solution to Qur’an  translational problems for Qur’anic expressions as well as linguistic/rhetorical features remain Qur’an-specifıc; to force them into a target language is to deform and sacrifıce the linguistic architecture of the source text; the flow of sound is sacrifıced to meaning while in the Qur’an sound and meaning are closely interrelated.

I do agree, however,  that a pragmatic translation of the surface meanings of the Qur’an and the provision of linguistic and rhetorical pattems suitable for the target language are possible strategies for communicative purposes; what is important is that the target language reader should be kept informed that what he/she is reading is simply a crude approximation of the Qur’an.

The target reader needs to be aware of the fact that the translation of the Qur’an he/she is reading is merely an aid which enables him/her to read and understand the Qur’an but not a substitution.

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The postulate of Qur’an untranslatability is explained and substantiated by Qur’anic examples at linguistic, rhetorical, micro and macro-levels; subtle linguistic and complex rhetorical problems remain translation resistant. These underlying subtlties cannot be captured by any translation strategy be it verbum pro verbo or pragmatic.

The goal of this book is to outline, exemplify and substantiate a number of postulates; among them is the concept of non-equivalence which is an expected by-product of any act of translation especially between two remote languages such as Arabic and English. In order to narrow the communicative gap between languages, marginal notes are suggested for Qur’an translation to illuminate the fog of language and demist any ambiguity.

The discussion of various translations of certain linguistic, rhetorical, or cultural problems is not meant to be an exercise of translation quality assessment; rather, it is intended to uncover the numerous limits of Qur’an translatability and show how it is impossible to match Qur’anic linguistic architecture, style, emotiveness, mystical impact, ete.

The book first examines the translatability of the Qur’an by outlining the various views of translation theorists on the concept of equivalence and whether such a notion exists among languages; the discussion in chapter one moves on to the Septuagint which is the translation of the Bible from Hebrew into Greek, its history and the approaches adopted in Bible translation in various countries.

Qur’an translation is then presented with a historical account followed by a stimulating discussion of the problems which encounter the Qur’an translator; our discussion moves on to the most controvertial case, namely the translatability of the Qur’an.

Over the last three decades or more, I have managed to read the whole Qur’an well over fıfty times; my reading has shifted recently to reading the Qur’an for linguistic and rhetorical analysis; I usually take notes of Qur’anic structures which depict special linguistic and stylistic features; I draw on my experience as a translator and teacher of translation and I look at these Qur’anic examples from linguistic and translational perspectives.

The analysis of Qur’anic data which I have collected over the last two years has to be tested against a number of prominent Qur’an translations. I have fınally reached an independent conclusion based on translation theory and linguistic analysis that Qur’anic discourse is inimitable and cannot be reproduced into a target language.

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This postulate is verifıed in 1.5.3 by a thorough discussion which is supported by generous Qur’anic examples. Chapter one concludes with a brief discussion of the Qur’an, the Sura, i.e., Qur’anic Chapter, the Aya, i.e., Qur’anic structure, and a final interesting section on ‘repetition’ of some Qur’anic expressions.

Chapter two introduces the prototypical linguistic, phonetic, prosodic, and rhetorical features of Qur’anic discourse. in chapter three, the focus is on Qur’anic texture and the unique cohesion system and its textural constituents employed in Qur’anic discourse.

Rhetorical and linguistic textural elements are listed, exemplifıed and discussed. The Qur’anic cohesion system is also tested against the limits of translatability. in chapter four, the main thesis is the need to illuminate the fog of language with marginal notes which are of great communicative and informative value to the target language reader.

 Fourteen cases have been presented in this discussion which all manifest the need for footnotes to make the target text more accessible and informative; three more cases which also need marginal helps are also recommended for Qur’an translators. The chapter concludes with a discussion of exegesis and exegetes.

This book is an attempt to provide a better understanding of Qur’anic discourse in the light of both Arab and Westem linguistic and translation theories. I hope this attempt will be useful and will achieve its intended purpose.

The Mirage Concept of Equivalence

here has been no unanimous agreement among translation theorists as to what the concept  of equivalence in translation means. This notion has always been used in a fuzzy sense;

there has been even a cali to abandon the term but “no other useful term has been offered in its place” (Neubert and Shreve 1992:143). For Catford (1965:20), it is the replacement of textual material in one language (source language) by equivalent textual material in another language (target language). Snell-Hornby (1995:19) rightly claims that Catford’s concept of equivalence is more

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