we declare Your Perfection above and beyond all: we have no knowledge whatsoever except what You have taught us. No doubt it is You, and You alone that is all Knowledgeable and all Wise. (al-Baqarah, 32)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Amazing facts about the Quran - Lost in Translation

In every surah that begins with the disjointed letter, the very next thing that will be mentioned is the Quran itself along with a certain feature of the Quran.

الم . ذَٰلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لَا رَيْبَ ۛ فِيهِ ۛ هُدًى لِلْمُتَّقِينَ
Alif Laam Miim. That is the book, there is no doubt in it. Guidance for the muttaqeen (2: 1-2)

يس . وَالْقُرْآنِ الْحَكِيمِ
Yaa Siin. By the Quran, full of wisdom (36: 1-2)

In surah Yuusuf, we find

الر ۚ تِلْكَ آيَاتُ الْكِتَابِ الْمُبِينِ . إِنَّا أَنْزَلْنَاهُ قُرْآنًا عَرَبِيًّا لَعَلَّكُمْ تَعْقِلُونَ
Alif Laam Raa. These are the ayaat of the book that make things clear. For sure, we have sent it down, an Arabic Quran so that you may understand. (12: 1-2)

In these ayaat, it is clear that the Arabic Language is an inseparable feature of the Quran. While it is possible to recapture some of the messages of the Quran in another language, the beauty of the Arabic Quran would be lost in translation.

There are many things that showcases the beauty of the Quran in Arabic, but here I would like to show one specific example that even a person who doesn't know much Arabic like me can appreciate. Allah Azza wa Jall says in surah Al-Muddathir :

وَرَبَّكَ فَكَبِّرْ
Declare the greatness only of your Lord (74: 3)

In the Quran, the letter وَ has as many as 21 functions. One of them, such as the one used in the ayaat above is to separate one sentence from another. Think of it as the full stop and capital letter in English.

So, the sentence which really carries meaning in this ayaat is رَبَّكَ فَكَبِّرْ
This is truly amazing, but you might not immediately notice anything. Now, let's try to spell out the sentence letter by letter.

رب ب ك ف ك ب ب ر

Notice something? The whole sentence is spelled the same even if spelled backwards. In English, this is called a pallindrome. Try writing 'Declare the greatness only of your Lord' that reads the same backwards and forwards in any other language. It's not possible.

Another such example can be found in surah Yaasiin, ayat no 40 in which Allah Azza wa Jall tells us : "It is not for the sun to overtake the moon, nor does the night outstrip the day. They each float in an orbit"

The fact that this is mentioned some 1400 years ago when men hadn't a clue about the sciences of the universe is amazing enough, but this isn't the topic of this article. Instead, let's examine the last sentence in the ayat

وَكُلٌّ فِي فَلَكٍ يَسْبَحُونَ
They each float in an orbit (34: 40)

يَسْبَحُونَ means 'float' and this sentence explains the fact that the sun and the moon both float in their own set orbit. Let's separate the letters of the phrase that comes before 'float'.

ك ل ف ي ف ل ك

See how the letters 'orbit' around the letter ي - in a sentence that gives the imagery of objects floating in an orbit. How amazing is that!


These are but small examples of what is missing from a translation of the Quran. As was mentioned earlier in the ayaat from surah Yusuf, Allah Himself says that He sent down an Arabic Quran so that WE may understand. So to get the full breadth of understanding and appreciation of this book, we really owe it to ourselves to learn the language of the Quran.


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