100 Camels Times X

"We can, in stages get rid of some of this bias [or subjectivity], by means of critical thinking and especially of listening to criticism.... Secondly it is a fact that people with the most divergent cultural backgrounds can enter into fruitful discussion, -- provided they are interested in getting nearer to the truth, and are ready to listen to each other... - Karl Popper

Thursday, May 25, 2006

No, I haven't given up

I will be back to my tour of the Qur'an shortly, hopefully by the end of this weekend. I have been working on a long post for my other blog, If It Is It Doesn't Matter . It has also been picked up for the 35th Edition of the Skeptic's Circle . It's a little different from what you've seen here, a discussion of the bad science behind the 'gay gene' idea -- I am bisexual, but I don't like arguments based by absurdity such as this. If you are curious, you'll find it here There's a discussion of the Skeptic's Circle as well, here.

See you soon with Surah 86.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A brief note on Ayaan Hirsi Ali

I have, on my other blog, "If it is it doesn't matter" discussed this more fully. But I have, there and on other blogs, expressed admiration for Ms. Hirsi Ali. The recent discoveries of her deliberate falsification of much of her history, and in particular the probability of her having falsified the supposed 'arranged marriage' she was fleeing from, along with the way she handled this on her website makes it necessary for me to withdraw any such praise. Her apparent flagrant disregard for the truth, or even of the need for truth, has not merely enabled her criticisms of Islam to be dismissed, but has made it possible for apologists to link other female critics of Islam to her and dismiss them as well.

At one point I called her a 'new hero' of mine. Sadly, I regret having said that and have to withdraw it.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The 'abrogation' problem

Verses 6 and 7 bring up the question of abrogation. But the key verse is #106 of Surah 2. Because this is so important, I'll give all five translations of both.

Surah 87, Verse 2:
(Shakir)We will make you recite so you shall not forget,
Except what Allah pleases, surely He knows the manifest, and what is hidden.

(Palmer)We will make thee recite, and thou shalt not forget save what God pleases. Verily, He knows the open and what is concealed;

(Pickthal)We shall make thee read (O Muhammad) so that thou shalt not forget Save that which Allah willeth. Lo! He knoweth the disclosed and that which still is hidden;

(Yussuf Ali)By degrees shall We teach thee to declare (the Message), so thou shalt not forget,Except as Allah wills: For He knoweth what is manifest and what is hidden.

(Asad) We shall teacj thee, and thou wilt not forget [aught of what thou art taught] save what God may will [thee to forget] -- for, verily, He [alone] knows all that is open to [mans] perception as well as all that is hidden [from it]

And Surah 2, Verse 106

(Shakir) Whatever communications We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, We bring one better than it or like it. Do you not know that Allah has power over all things?

(Palmer) Whatever verse we may annul or cause thee to forget, we will bring a better one than it, or one like it; dost thou not know that God is mighty over all? Dost thou not know that God's is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth?

(Pickthal)Nothing of our revelation (even a single verse) do we abrogate or cause be forgotten, but we bring (in place) one better or the like thereof. Knowest thou not that Allah is Able to do all things ?

(Yusuf Ali)None of Our revelations do We abrogate or cause to be forgotten, but We substitute something better or similar: Knowest thou not that Allah Hath power over all things?

(Asad) Any message which We annul or consign to oblivion We replace with a better or similar one.
Dost not thou know that God has the power to will anything?

Now the standard interpretation of this is that when there are conflicts between verses of the Qur'an, that the 'later' one has abrogated the earlier one. (The frequently quoted example is that of the conflict between 'there is no compulsion in religion' and 'kill the unbelievers wherever you find them.' Maybe a better example, because less controversial, are the various comments made about wine and alcohol, at one point praising them and at another forbidding them.)

Asad will have none of this. To quote one sentence from a copious note to the second verse: "In short, 'the doctrine of abrogation' has no basis whatsoever in historical fact, and must be rejected." (His interpretation turns on the idea that the word 'ayah' means both 'verse' and 'message.' Thus he sees this as a declaration that the earlier 'messages,' referring to the Jewish and Christian Testaments, have been 'abrogated by the Qur'an.

As for the verses in Surah 87, which Asad connects with the opening of Surah 96 -- here I am paraphrasing a long comment -- he sees them as referring to man's empirical and rational knowledge, i.e., science, and how certain ideas are, in fact, 'forgotten' as man learns more. He is almost describing the scientific method, and if he qualifies this by saying that this method is limited and does not "in itself suffice to give us an insight into ultimate truths,' this is little more than any person who is both a scientist and a believer would hold.

Asad's point is so ingenious and tempting that it is hard to resist singing 'I think he's got it, by George he's got it,' and passing on to see how he later will reconcile the contradictions.

Unfortunately, it isn't that easy, for two reasons. First, the classical doctrine of abrogation covers at least three circumstances,
the one mentioned above,
the case where there is a conflict between hadith and Surah,
and(most importantly here) where there are 'missing verses' in the Qur'an.

(I will get to this in a moment.)

The second problem is easier to discuss. Asad may be right that there is no reliable tradition that Mohammad ever declared a verse to have been abrogated. On the other hand, there is no doubt whatsoever that to quote Christopher Melchett:
"As far back as the sources will take us, Muslim jurisprudents discerned abrogation (naskh) in the Qur'ān; that is, some verses were said to have been revealed, then their memory, their inclusion in the recited text, or at least their operation was suppressed. " (This is from the chapter "QUR'ĀNIC ABROGATION ACROSS THE NINTH CENTURY: SHĀFI'Ī, ABU 'UBAYD, MUHĀSIBĪ,
AND IBN QUTAYBAH" in STUDIES IN ISLAMIC LEGAL THEORY edited by Bernard G. Weiss -- Brill Publishers, 2002)
Melchett's statement is backed up by many other writers in various publications, but his study here seems to be the most definitive.

All the references I have found show that these Islamic scholars and legalists of the early period had no doubt at all that the principle of abrogation was valid, though they differed in their interpretation of it.

Now nobody can seriously argue that a 'revelation' must be, at all times and places, unambiguous. Certainly any revelation, to a religious person, can be misinterpreted by another without any 'responsibility' being placed on God for that misinterpretation. No one would blame Christianity because some madmen have become serial killers or suicides because of the way they read the Bible. And I've always considered that the Westerners who blamed Islam for the warped response of Bin Laden -- or even less ambiguously, the beheaders of the Indonesian schoolgirls -- were in error. Man, in the religious view, has free will and the capability to commit evil and also to simply make mistakes.

There is a difference between cases like this, though, and the case of the entire scholarship of early Islam falling into error. (And this is amplified by the supposed Divine authorship -- rather than inspiration -- of the Qur'an -- and the supposed Divine promise to protect the message.) It is hard to imagine that Allah could write his 'clear message' in such a way that such an obvious error would be made, an error it would take hundreds of years to correct, on such an important topic.

But there is even a greater problem with the question of abrogation, and that is the question of missing verses. (I am not here speaking of the supposed "Satanic verses" which I will discuss in the appropriate place of Surah 53.)

Now no Christian would think of claiming that the New Testament contained all of Jesus' teachings. (A writer has stated that all the words of Jesus in the Bible could be delivered in about three hours.) No Orthodox Jew would claim that we have the entire words of Job, Elijah, Ezra, Isaiah, Jeremiah, or any of the prophets.

In each case we have their message, as condensed and understood by their followers, to take the most literalist view.

But the Qur'an is different. Mohammad, according to Muslims, was NOT speaking his own words in any of his recitations, merely serving to pass on what Gabriel was speaking to him. Thus all these recitations were equally the 'words of God.' The Qur'an, again according to Muslims -- and ignoring the problems with the collection and arrangement of it -- is complete, and the same book on Earth as it exists in heaven.

But there are numerous reports (and my apologies for not being able to cite them by hadith, but I have yet to discover a searchable collection of hadith, even from Bukhari and Muslim. If anyone knows of any, please point me towards them.) that there are sections that the companions remembered as being a part of the recitations which are missing in the Qur'an. One Surah in particular, was supposed to be as long as "The Cow" (Surah 2, the longest surah of all) but when collected was only seventy verses. And there are other stories, including one dealing with the punishment for adultery being stoning, that were, reportedly, in the Qur'an originally but not there in its final collection. (I can produce a number of examples and citations from various sources, and will, if requested. And this does not include the discussion on abrogation on the annaqed.com website -- admittedly hardly an unbiased source. On it, and quoting from classical Muslim sources -- but not ones I am in a position to check -- stories are told of Mohammad repeatedly arguing that verses he forgot were in fact verses that had been abrogated.)

Now there are several possible responses to this. Abrogation, with all its problems can be accepted. The hadiths referring to it can be dismissed as apocryphal -- and there is a substantial body of historical thought that holds that all or most hadiths were, instead of reports on Muhammad's actions, later constructions to explain obscurities in the Qur'an. Or the most common-sense and likely -- though heretical to a Muslim -- which would be to accept that the Qur'an is in fact the work of man rather than of God.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Surah 87: The Most High

Were it not for verses 6 and 7, this would be a relatively minor surah. The first five verses are simply a prayer of praise to Allah. There are certain differences in the translations, and Asad, not unsurprisingly, tends to see the descriptions of God in more philosophical terms than the others. Yet the variants aren't truly that different.

And skipping ahead to verse 9, there is a major conflict. All the others say, in Pickthal's wording 'Therefor remind (men), for of use is the reminder.' Asad (quoting Baghawi and Razi, which is meaningless to me) reads it as follows:

"Remind, then, [others of the truth] whether this reminding [would seem to] be of use [or not]..." (I have to ask, since this seems to say the reverse of the other translations, if Arabic is truly so ambiguous that the same phrase can mean the exact opposite, or why -- since he makes no comment except to mention the other translators -- Asad chose this version.)

The next verses are again the standard 'believers will be rewarded, unbelievers will suffer.' Only verse 14 adds anything new. In all the translations except Pickthal's it is the one who 'purifies himself' as well as 'remembers the Sustainer's name and prays to him' who attains happiness. (Pickthal renders it 'who groweth.') The concentration on 'purity' is something we shall see quite a bit of.

In the final verses Asad wriggles out of a problem, since all the other translations talk about the earlier BOOKS (or scrolls, or scriptures) of Abraham and Moses. There is no 'book of Abraham,' his story is told in the Torah, the 'books of Moses.' (There were apocryphal Jewsih and Rabbinic books, one of which, I believe, is called the "Book of Abraham' but they were not part of the Testament. Some writers explain the differences between the Qur'an and the Old Testament by assuming that it was works such as these that were known to Mohammed.) Asad gets out of this by translating the word 'suhuf' as 'revelations' and state this was an example of the continuity of the religious revelations to the various prophets.

But the key problem in this Surah is verses 6 and 7. These are the ones that introduce the topic of 'abrogation.' I was going to try and discuss this here, but realized it needs a post of its own -- and not the one where I burbled earlier.

And even while I am generally 'taking the Qur'an on its face, I made an exception and did some research before I talked. (Questia.com is a wonderful site, almost a whole college library available -- and you never have to worry that someone else has borrowed them. Expensive, yes, but worth it.)

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Two reswponses (so far) to the 'ibil' problem in Surah 88

I questioned Asad's translation of 'ibil' as 'cloud pregnant with water' when every other translator said 'camel' (which Asad said was a primary but not exclusive meaning) but said I'd ask some Arabic speaking friends for their translations. So far I've received two replies:

TomanBay wrote:
Literally speaking, 'ibil' is camels....metaphorically though it can be used as a metaphor for any thing which carries something...
So, actually both translations are correct. I don't want to venture into a territory in which I'm no expert, but some people believe that Quran is miraculous, because of such words; it is always 'fresh' this way ( i.e. people who are more familiar with desert life will identify with camels, while others, maybe in later ages, can identify with other metaphors, which all goes to prove the point of the verse, which is illustrating the powers of creation of God).
Another example (sorry I don't have the exact number now) is a verse which translates loosely to "God had made horses and camels available for you to ride, and others which you don't know about". Some people interpret this verse as a way of God of telling us that there are other things other than horses and camels which you'll ride, but if they were specified 1400 years ago (cars, trains, planes, etc...), people (limited in their knowledge then) would have considered Mohamed as a heretic. So in this way the Quran is both accessible to people back then, and now..
That's my non-expert opinion however!
Have a good day!

And Drima (yes, i WILL post that article from your blog, sorry it has taken so long) saw it this way:

Hello again Prup,

Generally the word ibil means camel as most of the translators stated. Here's the thing though, in Arabic one single word believe it or not can have so many meanings. Those meanings can be so totally different from one another. The reason the Quran is in Arabic according to many scholars is because Arabic is such a rich language and a single word can have so many meanings. I do believe the word ibil can also mean clouds pregnant with water.

If you read the verse and interpret it based on the 2 different meanings you will end up with 2 verses that have meanings which make sense...

The camel to the Arabs was and still is a treasured and glorified creature. I used to live in Qatar before coming to Malaysia. There in Qatar, my father who is a folklorist and anthropologist spent 10 years of his life researching the culture of the desert bedouins. If there is anything their survival in the desert absolutely depended on then it's the camel. Therefore ibil meaning camel in this case can have a significant meaning which makes sense.

You may ask how can their life absolutely depend on camels. What about water???!! That is exactly my next point. If ibil does also mean clouds pregnant with water (I will confirm that with my dad or some of his Arabic professor linguist friends) so yes if it does have this second meaning, then it would make perfect sense why this word was chosen for this verse. The verse will have a double meaning refering to the 2 most important things for a desert man's survival. Water & Camels.

I hope that helps

Take Care,
Regards, Drima aka SudaneseThinker


I find both comments very interesting -- though they still bring into question the idea that the Qur'an is a 'simple and clear message.' Both can see the use of the word as -- to use the phrase from Alice -- a portmanteau word, carrying different meanings, but neihter of them rejects the 'camel translation' as Asad does, on the grounds that the Qur'an cannot be tha specific to a time and place. Given my own questioning on parochialism, this is obviously a pleasant out, but again it seems to be a great stretch. I am still hoping for the other people I wrote to to respond.

Repost: Surahs 105-109

Okay, let's go back again -- then I'll jump back to the main thread with Surah 87.

Here's the original:

Exploring the Qur'an II: Surahs 105-109

This is later than I planned -- this time I'm trying to really keep to a schedule of one post a night, because I had it about 4/5th done and then Blogger went down, and I tried to save it and lost everything I had done. Anyway, to continue onwards.

Surah 109 is a bit of a problem. It has been quoted as an example of Islamic tolerance. It may mean that, but it certainly does not say it directly. (Saying 'I have my religion and you have yours' is not quite the same as saying that "I accept this." Which is, of course the basis of tolerance.) A lot depends on the meaning of "Kafirun." If that is used to mean Christians and Jews, the words could as easily be a refutation of the idea that 'we all worship the same God.' Anyway, there is certainly nothing definitely positive or negative here.

On the other hand, I have to question Surah 108. "Pray, because we have given you 'abundance' "(Kauthar -- which apparently may also mean one of the rivers of Paradise), is combined with the ugliness of "Lo! it is thy insulter (and not thou) who is without posterity."
If this was just a general comment, it would be unpleasant enough, but, according to Palmer, at least, it refers to a specific person who insulted Mohammed when his son died. And again I ask if it is reasonable that, in a message meant for the centuries and millenia, such a petty and personal comment is imaginable.
But even if that is ignored, why the included sneer. There is this continual triumphal, pitiless gloating over the misfortunes of the opponent that is unique to Islam, and that we shall see again and again.

Surah 107, "Alms" (or "The Necessaries") seems to me to depend on the original. The last half is a familiar demand that if you pray, you should also do good works. Obviously one of the good passage. The first part, however, as it is translated, seems to imply that unbelievers are not charitable, or that someone needs the judgment, that is, the fear of hell, to be good. If that is what is meant, then the first is an obvious falsehood, unimaginable coming from a god who 'knows the minds and hearts of men.' And the second is equally false, an argument I have had many times.

But I think that the meaning MAY be the reverse, that by not giving alms, the person 'calls the judgment a lie.' If that is a better rendering, then the Sura is acceptable and even familiar to Christians and Jews, merely a variety of 'by their fruits shall ye know them,' and 'which of them was truly his neighbor.'

Sura 106 seems minor, but also incomprehensible to a non-Arabic speaker. (Again though it seems to parochial for a 'final message.') This is shown by the fact that the opening is "For the _____ of the Quareish" but all four translations give different meaning for the Arabic "Li-eelafi" . Thus Palmer uses "uniting," Pickthal uses 'taming," Shakir uses 'protection' and Yussuf Ali uses 'covenants.' I'm at a loss.

And finally we have Surah 105, 'the Elephant.' It is a short one, but is has a lot of problems. Again a parochial reference, and one so obscure that the person referred to has not even made Wikipedia. A reference to an event that happened the year that Mohammed was born. (It's a good thing that Palmer's translation includes footnotes.) In fact, the event included an attack on the Kabbah, so its inclusion can be defended as proving that Allah had protected it before Mohammed spoke, but again, why was there not an explanation of this in the text itself. Maybe the story was familiar to Mohammed's hearers, but again, this was, supposedly, not a book written for them, but for the instruction of all mankind throughout the ages.

Again we have the gloating triumphalism, though maybe justified here given the enormity of the action by the 'possessor of the elephants.' (And this tone would not be as offensive to me if it were just one of many tones, but the only 'human emotion' we see from Allah is this, and it occurs so frequently. Perhaps as we go through the book I will find other tones that I have missed before, but I still call it ugliness.)

And finally we have the myth of the birds, the picture of a flock of birds sent by Allah dropping clay on the invading armies. (Pickthal says merely a 'swarm of flying creatures, but that doesn't make the picture any better.)And since the author is Allah, we cannot treat this as merely a human making a story better by adding a picturesque detail, but the literal truth. How did the birds carry the 'stones of baked clay?' In their talons or their beaks? Where did they get them, or did Allah pass them out?

Literal truth? Well, it has to be, if Allah wrote this.

So this batch of Suras doesn't have as many problems as the last, but again, except for the criticism of hypocrisy, of demanding that a religious person should act his religion and not just pray -- hardly a profound idea, or one original to Islam -- we don't have anything to put on the positive side.

On the negative side, the absurdity of the birds with stones, the gloating triumphalism, and the parochialism.


ALI was good enough to comment, and give the following -- and it is quite interesting to compare what he has to say with the comments of Asad that will appear in my comment.

For 109 it is indeed interesting that is used as one for tolerance because it is actually more interested in marking distinction and relates to when he was debating with his tribe who were trying to arrange a deal with him so that they he would stop preaching against polytheism, rather attemptin to bribe him or convince him that they shared the same god. Mecca earned a lt of commerce from being a religious center housing all conceivable gods and his preaching was starting to have an adverse effect.

This Sura pretty much denies this and tells the prophet to equivocally deny this. That there is a distinction between polytheism and monotheism and when used pretty much says stop we are poles apart, and since we cannot agree, you and I are quite different, you do your thing and I will do mine. I suppose the question for tolerance is do you have to beleive to be correct to allow it to be?

Sura 108 has a lot cultural significance and was in a message of affirmate to the beleivers and a response to the claim made that the prophet had no sons, and so there would be no one to carry forth his legacy so his preaching will vanish with him. The sura could be seen as a prophecy if you choose which actually implied that the opposite is what would occur.

107 Umm are you missing the style here? The sura is addressing hyprocrites or people who just pay lip-service to the religion. The line that talks about people who pray but are heedless to prayer gives it away. It is talking about who claim to be muslims who act in a way otherwise associated with kindness and mercy.

106 The concept is that god has blessed the Quraysh and calls them to worship the true lord of the Kaaba, the one who is really responsible for their blessings.

105 The Elephant: This actually refers to an incident that occurred in the lifetime of many of the Quraysh who were alive during the prophets time. They accepted whatever it may be, some theories put forth have called it measles or call them birds or translate them as something else. It is merely calling a known miracle to mind and it serves its purpose in delivering the message it is attempting by the example it has picked at least for me. It is not important to the theme.

And I do no see gloating I see it continously calling them to facts, I see two styles one of invoking imagery by calling attention to certain things as examples and I see short question and short answer calling for the hearers to think and guiding their thoughts thereby to a certain conclusion. A preaching tone if any.

5:51 PM

[Ironically, both Ali and I typoed a Surah number in our original posts. They have both been corrected here.]

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Surahs 110-114 Repost with comments

Let's try it this way, at least to the point where I received the Asad. I'll repost my original post, include the comments received, and then add my own rethoughts in a further comment. (The originals will be posted as written, except for catching an occasional typo.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Exploring the Qur'an I:Suras 110-114

One thing about these short posts is that I get a chance to bring up some points in isolation. Thus, in Sura 114, "The Men" we get a mention of djinn, and in Sura 113, "The Daybreak" we hear of witchcraft. Now I'll have a lot to say about djinns as this goes on, but I don't believe there is any such thing. I certainly have no doubt that witchcraft does not exist, nor do I think many of you believe it does. (I specifically doubt that you believe there are people who can make a piece of knotted string and blow on it to bring evil on people as they mention their names -- the specific type of witchcraft mentioned according to Shakir and Palmer.)

And yet the verse is explicit, Allah is telling his messenger to say that he seeks God's protection against witchcraft, as against the darkness of night -- perhaps an eclipse -- and the envy of enviers. How can you accept this is direct from God and deny witchcraft, or vice versa?

Sura 112, "The Unity" just reaffirms the idea of monotheism. Except for the implied criticism of Christianity in 'he begets not' there is nothing much to say. On the other hand, Sura 111, "The Flame," requires comment.

Abu Lahab, Mohammed's Uncle, was, apparently, a loud-mouthed, hot-tempered jerk, from the description in the Wikipedia. (Anyone who has a better reference, for example from the hadiths, I'd appreciate it.) And he was certainly not a friend of his nephew's religion -- even though his sons married -- and divorced -- two of Mohammed's daighters. It is barely conceivable that a God would use him as an example, to make the point that even the nephew of his Messenger, with all his wealth, could not escape His wrath.

Except He didn't. In a book designed for the ages, for generations to come, there is no mention of who Abu Lahab is, or why he will perish and be condemned to the fire, or why his wife will wear a halter of palm fiber. (For that matter, I don't know, and saw no reference, what his WIFE did to deserve her punishment. All we are told is that she shall carry the wood for the fire. Which is confusing in itself, if eternal punishment is what is meant, and, again according to the Wikipedia, it must have been, because he died in a completely different way.) Certainly Mohammed knew who he was. He wouldn't have needed to explain, and probably his companions knew the story as well. But, we are told, it was not Mohammed who wrote this.

Why is there no explanation? There was no need to 'rush' the Qur'an. God had all the time in the world. And certainly the book has shown no fear of repetition to this point. One line, like "Say, O Mohammed, that your own Uncle, Abu Lahab ..." and "for neither his nearness nor his power nor his wealth could save him who ..."

(I'll ask the Muslims who read this and haven't already left in horror if they knew who Abu Lahab was.)

And then there is the description of the punishment. Perhaps it is the translation, but there is almost the sound of gloating in the description. (Again, understandable from the mouth of the jerk's nephew, but not from the mouth of God.)

Sura 110, "The Help" needs no commentary that I am capable of giving. Here I do request the help of an Arabic speaker. The (transliterated) Arabic, according to Yussuf Ali is "2. Waraayta alnnasa yadkhuloona fee deeni Allahi afwajan"

Ali translates the key word of people entering the religion as 'crowds.' The other translations use more military terms, Palmer and Pickthal using 'troops' and Shakir using 'companies.' Is there a military implication to the Arabic, or just a coincidence?

I had planned on doing 10 short Surahs tonight, but I'm not feeling that great and this has gotten long, like most of my posts. I'll sum it up, and if I am still awake later maybe do the next batch.

Is there any guidance for mankind in these Surahs? I have to say no, except for instructions to pray for forgiveness -- but for what is not said. Is there any ethical or moral principle yet. Again, not that i can see.

Ugliness is there, to my ears, in the tone of "The Flame," but perhaps I am too sensitive.

But the key to this batch is the mention of witchcraft and djinn. Again, the statement is unequivical, not poetic -- though I'd hardly expect a God to be demonstrating his poetical skills in this important a message -- and we'll come back to that. If God has written that his Messenger is to tell his hearers to take refuge in Him against witchcraft, can this be explained as anything but a statement that witchcraft exists.

Does it?
hey jim...
there seems to be an inherent problem with your interpretation of the "translated" quran u r reading.
Anybody who tried to study comparitive litreature (let alone religion) will attest that the best you can get out of a translation is a vague idea of what the author intended to say. Yet you seem to be particulary concerned about elements of style, beauty, and language in your translation...it takes so much out of the meaning...
For example u r contemplating what does Afwaj mean..and u made a diversion into whether it has military implications....for an average arabic speaker like myself Afwaj means one thing: large groups of people...simply...not platoons, or companies, or crowds, or mobs...
so, my advice if u will continue with this project, is to really try to neutralize the language of translation as much as possible...and try to focus on the meaning....and even then you'll have a problem with words which carries multiple meanings in arabic (intended), but the translator chooses to include only one meaning...but these are not frequent..so u needn't worry about that

7:33 AM

I responded:
THAT is precisely why I asked. The four translations I have used different words. Three of them used terms with a slightly militaristic tone, the other did not. I was simply curious if the original did. Since you've straightened that out, then I have no comment on the Surah except to say it is a simple prayer and a nice one.

Thanx, TB.

actually the term afwaj in arabic is mostly used with tourists....
seeing how some tourists behave (esp japaness)...I'd say that it probably has a militaristic meaning!! :)

(j/k by the way...just in case!)

10:10 AM

DRIMA joined in

I agree with tomanbay regarding the translation... Jim, bro you have to understand that Arabic is known to be the richest language humanity has ever known. Many linguists support this fact. I congratulate you with what u are doin for it is truly wonderful. Finaly someone has time to look through the Quran before simply making sweeping statements about it.. Regarding the jinn and witchcraft, let me tell you even many Muslims sometimes doubt the witchcraft part. Even I used to ... I know it sounds absurd but bro nobody has solid proof they saw God. The pope can't say he saw God but yet many people believe he exists. That is what faith is all about ie. believing in something that you don't realy know but still have faith it exits.
I can confidently say I'm well-versed in terms of knowledge in the religion. Even though I am guess what, I still have doubts about a few issues but I never give up. I try to seek answers and understand, a process many Muslims don't do because they think creative and critical thinking in Islam will lead to un-Islamic things, which is completely untrue if done with the intention of truly understanding Allah's SWT message. What I'm trying to say is that believing in something doesn't happen overnight and it takes time. The problem with many Muslims today is that, they are simply fed information, told to accept it without questioning it and strictly to follow it.

So my friend things time to sink in. There are some Qurans containing translations and also the reasons for the revelation of each verse. It will help you understand the verses if you know which reason they were revealed for

My response
Sorry it took a while to realize you had posted here and respond. I'll write more tomorrow, but I want to discuss the question of faith. It is not as benign as you seem to propose it is. To pick the most horrible example, the Statement that Hitler made that he 'represented the spirit of the Germanic people' was a statement that was accepted on faith and his commands were followed blindly until the doom set it. A less malevolent and specificly religious example might be Mormonism. The belief in teh existence of the bronze tablets translated by an angel is accepted on faith, yet to anyone whose eyes are not so blinded, the Book of Mormon appears to be what it is, an obvious attempt by a nineteenth century man to create a work of scripture using what he thought of as 'Biblical language.' (About one verse in every five begins 'And it came to pass...' for example.)

In the absence of solid evidence, faith may serve well, but it cannot act against the evidence. That is the basis OF critical thinking. Let me recommend to you the best article I've ever read on the subject, "A Field Guide To Critical Thinking."
You might enjoy it and find it interesting and useful.

And, as I've pointed out elsewhere -- and I am accepting, for this investigation, the Qur'an at 'face value' and not discussing the historical research done on it -- this idea of the 'purpose' of a specific verse does not make sense in the context of a 'great and final message to all of mankind.' Perhaps if it had 63,000 verses instead of 6,300, I could see the occasional specific reference to the 'then and there.' But it has less than one tenth of that, and I am seeing far too much being explained away as 'written for an occasion' and little if anything that is written 'for the ages.'

3:56 AM

FAISAL included the following:
To comment on your post about the previous Surahs and individual verses within these Surahs.

As about the witchcraft, it was known that there were people who believed in witchcraft in Mohammed's time (before and afterwards as well). Apparently, one form of "casting" or whatever you wish to call it was this blowing on knots.

I think the verse just works to allay the fears and belief that people had towards this form of mysticism at that point in time... and until now!

As an Egyptian, let me tell you there are many, many Egyptian peasants who still believe in spirits and all that (both Muslim and Christian). It's something that they've inherited from generation upon generation dating back to Pharonic Egypt.

The thing is, I am told there is anothe meaning to the phrase, but my level of arabic and knowledge of Qur'an vocabulary isn't THAT extensive. I'll get back to you if I figure that out.

The Surah "The Unity" does in fact say that god has neither been born nor has he, for lack of a better encompassing translation, been involved in the process of giving birth to anyone, in any way. This, obviously, comes into conflict with the idea of The Trinity that is center to the believe of many Christian sects.

According to the Islamic Lore, Abu Lahab was a main instrument in the fight against Muhammed when he sought to propogate Islam in Mecca. The story, if you ask most Muslims, is known to them even though it refers to something that obviously occurs in the time of the Messenger Muhammed.

I don't see any sign of gloating in the punishment, when read in arabic. It is said matter of factly. Personally, and not lots of Muslims would agree with me, I think the "punishment" is metaphorical. I am one who believes that the after-life is not as "physical" or tangible as most believe it will be.

Furthermore, when read in Arabic, the use of language is important here. The first verse says: Damn Abu Lahab's hands and (a reaffirming of the damnation for which I cannot think of an English word, because of differences in grammer). The third verse says that he will experience, or will burn in, a fire with flames. The word Flames here, in Arabic, is Lahab. It also continues the ending of the verses with the second letter in the arabic alphabet (ba') [the phonetic equivalent of the letter B].

As to Surah 110, it is as Tomanbay mentioned, large groups of people is what is meant by afwag, or afwaj. The -an suffix is basically arabic conjugation. (Afwag or afwaj is how one would pronounce it colloquially)

There is definitely no military connotations to the verse, or the whole surah that I can see. In fact, I think this is one of those Surahs that is eternal in meaning, or that can hold importance long after the Prophet's death.

First of all, the name of the Surah should have been The Victory. Unless, again, my non-scholarly knowledge of Arabic doesn't allow me to see the different meanings... though I am 99.99% sure of this one. Any other meaning would have to be either archaic or too scholar-specific.

Getting back, I would translate it as: 1. If the victory and conquering of god comes. (This is my attempt at a word for word translation - the word conquering [Al-fath]) in arabic is actually the same word that is commonly used to refer to countries where Islam has entered. Since that occured, usually, with a military invasion (until very recently), the words have become interchangeable. I can't think of a specific Arabic word which translates directly into military conquest (without any religious overtones) at this point in time, but I'm almost definite one exists.

To continue; 2. And you see the people entering in the religion of God, in large groups.

Again, the meaning im getting is not only in large groups BUT, because of the plural form of the word, that it happens again and again, not one time.

3. Then praise your God's kindness/forgiveness and ask for forgiveness [for your sins], for he (since I'm forced to use a predicate, in Arabic, he doesnt imply gender nor, in fact, tangibility... just a reference to existence) is forgiving.

And that's about it.

I wouldnt say that the stress of these Surahs (unless you mean that's what you wish to stress) are the Djinns or Witchcraft. To me, all the Surahs, except the one about Abu Lahab, talk about the glorification of God and forgiveness. The last three Surahs start with the word "Say". Believe me when I tell you that it's quite powerful when it starts that way in Arabic.

This is coming from someone who has opened the Qur'an no more than 10 times in the last 7 years and only to look for a verse that someone said existed.

1:46 AM

And recently ALI began his following of my commentary with:
I am afraid Jinns, Witchcraft, Heaven, Hell, Angels, The Devil, The Day of Judgement are some things that in Islam you have to take on faith. These are itemised in theology as things for which no logical proof can be given to humans in this world beyond that they were claimed by the Prophet who was known to all as Al-Amin or the truthful before his prophecy. Thats the crux of that.

As for Al-Nasr, The Surah has two specialities one it is commenting on the conquest of Mecca as when the cvictory comes. This resulted in Arabs all over Arabia deciding that his victory was proof positive of his claim of prophethood, i.e the reference to hordes of beleivers flocking to the religion, and in the second part it is calling on the faithful to be humble and remember god and seek forgiveness rather that exalt in jubilation.

The other tradition associated with this particular sura is that it also signified to the prophet that it was was nearing the end of his message and his impending death by asking him to remain humble and remember god.

Now to catch some rest and try and reply to all of you -- *whew* -- and add in insights from Asad.

As I mentioned

in my comment to Ali on my last post, I had not realized he had gone back to the beginning and commented on each of my interpretations. His comments are particularly valuable, and I would have been engaging in more colloquies with him, but I only get notified that someone has commented if the person is on blogger -- don't ask me why. So some of you might find it useful to go back to the archives and follow the discussion. I have wanted to readdress the original posts in the light of the Asad translation anyway. So if you can deal with the tedium of my 'pompous and stagnant style' and are new to this, please go back. (Would it be helpful to begin reposting the pieces, or linking to them? If I can only get my link button to work.)

Monday, May 08, 2006

Exploring the Qur'an X: Surah 88

Surah 88 may be more important for demonstrating the problems with Asad's translation than for its own words. Every other translation translates Verse 17 with a variant of Yussuf Ali's
"Do they not look at the Camels, how they are made?-"

Palmer footnotes it, reasonably, "So useful an animal as a camel being to an Arab a singular instance of divine wisdom."

Asad translates the same line as:(the bracketed phrase being, as he states, his own interpolation)
"Do, then, they [who deny resurrection] never gaze at the clouds pregnant with water [and observe] how they are created."

His argument is that the word 'ibil' can have both meanings, and that taking it to mean camel would limit its significance to the people of that time and place. He also adds the interpolated phrase with the interesting justification that "Implying that a denial of resurrection and life in the hereafter renders the concept of a conscious creator utterly meaningless; hence my interpolation ... in the first part of the verse."

I have asked a number of Arabic speaking friends to comment on this, either as e-mail or as a comment to the post. Until I see their response, I won't speak further on this.

But a further verse brings up a VERY important point, the question of 'compulsion in religion.' This is verse 21-22.

Shakir gives the verses as follows:
[88.21] Therefore do remind, for you are only a reminder.
[88.22] You are not a watcher over them;

Yussuf Ali gives it
Therefore do thou give admonition, for thou art one to admonish.
Thou art not one to manage (men's) affairs.

And Palmer
But remind: thou art only one to remind; thou art not in authority over them

Asad though, may give an implication nearer to Palmer's He translates the key phrase
"thou canst not compel them [to believe]' (again, the brackets are his interpolation)
but his notes give "lit., 'thou hast no power over them.'"

The trouble with this, in the latter renderings -- and leaving aside until later whether this was 'abrogated' by a later Medinan verse -- is that, when it was delivered, in fact Mohammed was still merely a preacher, not a leader of an army or a state. He DIDN'T have authority or power over men. He could NOT compel anyone to do anything.

Y.A. Says that he is told 'you are not one to manage (men's) affairs.' But the fact was that in a few years, that is exactly who he was, someone who DID have authority, did 'manage men's affairs.' Was he, purportedly being told not to have such authority, was he being told the reverse of what would happen, or was the phrase, as it is quoted by many Muslims today, meant as the equivalent of 'there is no compulsion in religion?'

Obviously we will have to come back to this again and again.

Worth thinking about

I'm actually going to get one or two more surahs covered tonight, but I was just checking in on Drima's blog, Sudanese thinker
and found the following quote from Don Cox that I had to pass on.

"'Religion is supposed to be perfect and free of contradictions, that is if you perceive those contradictions as contradictions and not a natural occurence. '_____Perhaps religion is _not_ supposed to be perfect and finished, but to be an ongoing project, an enormous puzzle to which we gradually find different solutions? The sacred books which naive people take to be answers are really questions, problems, starting points for understanding - not God's answers to your questions."

Exploring the Qur'an: IX

Okay, last night I was getting started, and Blogger went down. Let's keep slogging on.

Surah 89: "The Dawn" or "The Daybreak" is not one of the deeper of Surahs, nor is there much difference between the translations.

Asad has some interesting ideas about that obscure openiing, seeing the 'night' as a spiritual darkness, seeing the 'many and the one' -- as he has it (Palmer reads it as 'the single and the double' the others as 'the even and the odd') -- as a reference to God's uniqueness contrasted with the multiplicity of Creation. Interesting, but not really credible to me.

After a mention of God bringing down Ad, Thamud, (this time without the mention of the she-camel), and Pharaoh (with interesting but not significant differences on the description of Pharaoh), the surah mentions the all-too-human trait of believing good fortune is deserved, but getting angry at God when there is ill-fortune. And after still further mentions of protecting the orphans and providing for the poor, the surah ends with a (soon to be very common) description of the torments of hell and the rewards for the good.

Perhaps the only noteworthy thing about this Surah (which dates from the early -- Meccan -- period and not from Medina) is that it is almost alone in merely mentioning those who do good and evil and not believers and unbelievers. Again, the definition of 'doing good' is extremely narrow, but it is there.

And I must mention the point that the Qur'an frequently speaks of itself as a 'clear' undeniable message. Yet, as shown by the problems and differences among the translations, the references that are only explained by later commentators, and other obscurities, I do not believe it is possible to claim that it lives up to this claim. But we'll see more of this as we go on.