Hard Questions

frank, open and honest discussions

On languages and scriptures

with 2 comments

Do you know your scriptures well enough? Are reading the words of your prophet/ Messiah as close as possible to the way he spoke them?

We all love to read our scriptures. They are a vital source of inspiration and spiritual nutrition to us all. I am trying in this post to highlight some of the differences between the Gospels and the Quran when it comes to the language in which we read our scriptures.

The original New Testament documents were written in Greek. Although Greek was used in the region at the time, it was not the language Jesus spoke to his disciples. The Sayings of Jesus that we have today are essentially a translation.

For many Christians, their knowledge of the Gospels come from “a translation of translations of the original” e.g. Aramaic to Greek to to English. I am not aware of any significant manuscript used in the translation of the New Testament that was written in Aramaic or Hebrew.

As my friend Andrew rightly noted, any translation can never be a match to the original. Some meanings are bound to be lost. The translator, in some cases, can only convey what he understood from the original and not the original itself.

The position of language in relation to the Quran is markedly different. The Quran was revealed in the 7th century A.D. in Arabic. To this day, it is still read and recited in the original language it was revealed in.

According to ‘The Cambridge History of the Arabic Language‘, The Quran more or less, froze the “literary Arabic Language” in the form spoken in the seventh century A.D.

The preservation of the language made the original text available to millions which, in turn, helped in keping the text static.

There is a very clear distinction in the Muslim mind between the Quran, and “translations of the meanings of the Quran”. The former applies only to the original Arabic Text.

From the time of the revelation of the Quran, Muslims have maintained a tradition of memorising the whole Arabic text by heart. There exists a dual learning procedure, where the student Must recite the whole text from memory to his teacher. When the teacher is satisfied that the student has pronounced every single word correctly, that student is “approved” to teach others. This listening and reciting mode goes hand in hand with learning how to read the written text.

Every Muslim would learn to recite from memory at least part of the Book and millions have committed the whole Arabic text to memory.

A substantial part of each of the five daily prayers of every Muslim involves reciting parts of the Quran in Arabic.

Many of those who recite the whole Book from memory can not speak Arabic in their daily life, yet the can recite the whole Quran perfectly in Arabic. The latest winner of the Dubai International Prize for reading and reciting the Quran was a boy from Myanmar.

(Thia article is part 2 of the series: Constituents of the Muslim Faith)

Written by Rasheed Gadir

December 11, 2007 at 10:40 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Rasheed,

    What use to one in memorizing scriptures in a foreign language without having any understanding of the language? The Roman Catholic Church did this with Latin for centuries. It spawned a laity that followed blindly the false doctrines of the church. Blind faith in clergy is a dangerous thing!




    December 13, 2007 at 1:12 am

  2. Andrew, They do understand the Quran and can learn the meanings of what they recite. They can not speak Arabic in their daily life, but learning the Quran is different. It is one book, and you can learn all the words and the meanings of them and recite them.

    Also, since the Quran is the words of God, reciting it is a virtue, and we expect a reward from God, in the day of judgement, for reciting His words.


    December 13, 2007 at 1:31 am

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