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What good is the Quran if it is so difficult to translate?

Reader comment on item: A Saudi Prince's Threat to the Obama Administration
in response to reader comment: A Very Concerned Reader: Best translation of the Qur'an? It is for sure not Yusuf Ali's translation

Submitted by Prashant (United States), Apr 7, 2021 at 09:47

Dear Dr Pipes, Debating whether a certain translation of Quran is good or not is a matter of frequent discussion on this forum and elsewhere. An argument is often made that Quranic Arabic is ambiguous and it is difficult to translate it into English. Lot of modern world literature and social, legal and scientific documentation is written, read and understood in English. So, it can be safely assumed that expressibility of English as a language is not at fault if Quran cannot be properly translated into English. It must be the fault of Arabic as a language that it cannot express the intended Quranic ideas well or the fault of the Quran itself that it did not use Arabic correctly to express the ideas that it wanted to express (there is a third possibility that I will discuss in the end).

Whether we blame the Quranic ambiguity on Arabic or we blame it on Quran, we can safely say that Quran should not and cannot be used as a guiding force for Arabic or non-Arabic speakers. It is al a reductio ad absurdum argument. Anything that cannot be understood by normal people cannot be used as a manual or guiding force. I do not know how Islamic scholars refute this simple argument. Mind you, the debate is not about the expressed ideas being too difficult to express or understand. The debate is about complex interpretability of simple ideas expressed in Quran

That brings me to the third possibility that it I alluded to above. This third possibility, unfortunately, is most damaging. It is possible that neither the Quranic ideas are too ambiguous nor Arabic is a complex language. What might actually be happening is that the Quranic ideas are not sound and consistent enough to stand to our logic and apologists use the ambiguity of Arabic as an excuse to defend and protect Quran. In simpler terms, if I cannot defend the truth of a statement, I can always blame the script in which the argument is written.

Don't know which of these three possibility holds true. Given that majority of humans do not understand Arabic and Quran is ambiguous even for Arabic speakers, Quran is probably not the best word of God available to us. Continuing with my policy of polite but firm questioning of Islam. Would love to hear from your Muslkm and non-Muslim readers on this.

Submitting....

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