Three Major Errors
Sayyid Ameenul Hasan Rizvi
Markazi Maktaba Islami ,
Rs. 20, pages 29
SOMETHING more than originality is always lost in translations. Translating the Holy Quran has its own challenges because it is a divine scripture, hence capable of meaning differently in different ages. In this monograph, former Editor of the Radiance Viewsweekly has highlighted the discrepancies that are noticed in 12 English translations of the Quran in verses which could have enormous bearing in legal matters. The translation under reference are by George Sale, Marmaduke Pickthall, Arberry, Muhammad Asad, Dawood, Palmer, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Ahmad Ali, Taqiuddin Hilali-Muhsin Khan, Anwar Ali, Sher Ali and T. B. Irving.
First among the errors occurs with regards to verse no. 231 in Surah Baqra. Of the 12, ten translations have erred in translating the wording Fabalaghana Ajalahunna. They put them as “When you have divorced women and they have reached their term, then retain them in kindness or release them in kindness””. Only translations that accurately convey the meaning are by Muhammad Asad and Sher Ali. These say : “they are about to reach the end of the waiting term”. Rizvi argues that the error distorts the legal implication given the wide application of English translations in several countries.
The second error pertains to translation of term Riba as ‘usury’ instead of ‘interest’ in several verses such as 275-278 in Surah Baqrah and some other places. ‘Usury’ refers to excessive and exorbitant rate of interest while Quranic injunctions and the traditional economic practices in Muslim lands make all interest-based transactions a taboo. Rizvi attributes this to deliberate preference for usury by authors of Western origin under Western influence. Categorical assertion of ‘interest’ being haraam (illegitimate) would have invited charges of Islam being impractical. Rizvi points out that Islam rejects interest in all forms, be it moderate or excessive or exploitative. He finds no reason for clothing Western perceptions by maintaining a distinction line between the two.
Similarly, a majority of English translators have lost sight of difference between adultery and fornication while translating the verses on zina. They are not interchangeable. The Quran prescribes 100 lashes for fornicator/fornicatress and death for adulterer/adulteress. A fornicator is one who is unmarried and commits illicit sex while adulterer/adulteress is married and commits the sin. The use of one term for the other has led to confusion and is fraught with risk of erroneous penal prescriptions in the event of such translations becoming the reference point.
By bringing to light the three errors, Rizvi has essentially highlighted differing social ethos that guide the vocabulary in Arabic and English and if allowed to remain unchallenged may cause a lot of judicial mis-pronouncements in future. The booklet is useful for all those who study the Quran with all the care it deserves.
Maqbool Ahmed Siraj