Tafsir and Translation

1 Oct

By Sohaib Saeed

I was interested to read a paper by Scott Lucas entitled “Is the Qur’an Wise? Is God the Outward? Two Exegetical Debates Lost in English Translations of the Qur’an“, in which the author illustrates the disconnect between the multiplicity of interpretations offered by the tafsir tradition, and what translators end up selecting for a particular verse. The latter may not reflect the predominant view(s) of the commentators, and may – as a collection – ignore and eliminate legitimate meanings.

I touched on this in my article on translator choice and Divergence in Qur’an Translations, saying:

…it is possible that translators tended to see things the same way, or indeed were influenced by each other. Indeed, there might be more diversity if they were to rely more pronouncedly on the books of iʿrāb and tafsīr, which present obscure interpretations alongside the more obvious

Interestingly, Lucas argues that “the Anglophone world would benefit far more from the partial or complete translation of Qur’anic commentaries than it would from yet another translation of the Qur’an itself” (p. 3).

Speaking as a translator of tafsir (presently completing Vol. 1 of Al-Razi’s), I agree in part. One has to consider what would be of most assistance to a modern reader, and perhaps guide him or her to the various possibilities and the reasoning behind them. If by “partial”, he means summarised, then I would tend to agree, as there are many (e.g. grammatical) discussions that would be lost in translation, or if not, then useless to English readers. This has already been done to the Tafsir of Ibn Kathir, although the abridgement process has not kept the author’s points clear and intact in all cases, and requires specialisation in tafsir, not Arabic language alone.

Helpful works along the lines of Lucas’ suggestion are those of Helmut Gatje and Mahmoud Ayoub. A more thematic approach has been taken by Hamza, Rizvi and Mayer. It would be wonderful to see a series of books adopting something like the thematic tafsir methodology which can present Qur’anic approaches and draw out subtleties by means of internal Qur’anic reflection.

Thinking again about the modern reader, alternative modes of presentation must be considered. I had pointed out that the Qur’anic Corpus project would be much richer if it could represent the diversity of grammatical analyses and exegetical interpretations. From a recent conversation with its founder, I understand that this is a hope for the future, and thus it could become a most effective tool for the layman and the specialist (including translators).

“The Qur’an: An Eternal Challenge”

22 Jan

Click on the image to view a playlist of 10 videos recorded in the Al-Azhar Mosque in June 2013. Sohaib Saeed, graduate of Al-Azhar University and editor of this website, has introduced the chapters and themes of a seminal book in Quranic studies by the late Sh. Muhammad Abdullah Draz. Feedback is welcome as always.

Brotherhood in the Qur’an | الأخوة في القرآن الكريم

12 Sep

الأخوة في القرآن الكريم : مفاهيم وموجبات
صهيب سعيد الأزهري

The above paper in Arabic is an extended study of the theme first explored in my English article, Brotherhood in Faith and Humanity. It was originally an assignment for my final-year class on Thematic Tafsir at Al-Azhar University.

Eating Tayyib

4 Apr

By Sohaib Saeed
Originally published by 1st Ethical

O mankind, eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful (ḥalāl) and wholesome (ṭayyib) and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy. (Qur’an 2:168)

And eat of what God has provided for you, lawful and wholesome. And fear God, in Whom you are believers. (Q 5:88)

Then eat of what God has provided for you, lawful and wholesome. And be grateful for the favour of God, if you do worship Him. (16:114)

After quoting these verses from the Qur’an, which – along with similar verses – call upon human beings and believers to eat what is lawful and wholesome, I am moved to share the following reflections: Continue reading

How the Qur’an Shapes the Brain

22 Oct

By Mohamed Ghilan

“If it weren’t for their political problems and constant fighting between each other, the Muslims would have been on the moon by the 1400s.”

Such was the statement made by a non-Muslim professor in a 400-level undergraduate class on the history of science. It seems that the rate of discovery and advancement in science achieved by the Muslims was quite impressive and has yet to be replicated. What was it that they were doing that allowed for their fast progress?

The teacher in me immediately thinks about their education system, and the neuroscientist in me wants to examine the factors involved in shaping the brains of such a civilization. Interestingly, many Muslim religious scholars will say something about how the Muslims were the leaders when the Qur’an was the centre of their education, and only when they abandoned the Qur’an that they lost their reign.  The amazing thing about this is that while Muslim religious scholars are typically talking about spiritual and moral realities, there is actually a material reality to what they’re saying, which takes place in the brain. Continue reading

Thematic Tafsir Methodology

3 Oct

By Sohaib Saeed

Thematic exegesis (al-tafsir al-mawū‘i) is an emerging field in Quranic studies, yet it has forerunners in the shapes of “tafsir by the Qur’an itself”, polysemy (wujūh wa naā’ir) and collections of “legal verses” (āyāt al-akām), metaphors (majāz al-Qur’ān), abrogation (al-nāsikh wal-mansūkh) and potentially difficult passages (gharīb al-Qur’ān). It has been described as the logical next step in presentation of the Qur’an’s teachings, and thus the need of our times.[1]

There are a number of recent works which may properly be considered to fall within the genre of thematic tafsir, yet there are many which use this term in their titles – or contain the formula: “X or Y in the Qur’an” – while failing to apply a clear method and/or misapplying this title. There is yet space on the Islamic bookshelf for a major encyclopaedia of Quranic themes, based on a unified methodology.[2]

Scholars of al-Azhar University, particularly in its department of Tafsir and Quranic Sciences (Faculty of Theology), have developed a framework within which such research may be performed and evaluated. Although the term “thematic commentary” has been used in reference to explanations of individual surahs based on their unifying themes[3], what we intend here is the study of a particular topic in the light of all relevant verses throughout the Book.

The purpose of this short article is to summarise this Azhari methodology in order to encourage its use and further development.[4] As appropriate, observations will be made concerning the adaptation of such methodology for researchers writing in English or other languages, such that they may fulfil the need for students of the Qur’an the world over.

Continue reading

Quranica on BBC Radio 4 (2006)

1 Aug

From the archives:

In advance of a Quranica recitation and lecture tour featuring various reciters as well as Dr Kristina Nelson (author of The Art of Reciting the Qur’an), Sohaib Saeed appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Sunday programme on 26th February 2006 to explain the phenomenon of Quranic recitation.

Listen here:

Also read: The Art of Qur’an Recitation


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.