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"Lost in Translation"

Reader comment on item: "Islam" Does Not Mean "Peace"

Submitted by Angela Class (United States), May 29, 2007 at 21:29

"salām and islām, peace and submission. These are two distinct words with unrelated meetings".

This is a very subjective statement. Perhaps in modern Western thought, they have little relationship, although many Christian mystics might very well disagree.

As far as any question of "accuracy", the translation of words from one language to another is an art, and not much of a science. It's more like poetry than like arithmetic. It is a cliche in Linguistics that often the meanings of words and phrases are "lost in translation" because of their total dependence on the cumulative culture to provide the meaning.

The meaning of words is often obscured by many layers of history and culture, and defies this kind of direct understanding. It would likely be argued by Islamic mystics that the relationship is a metaphorical play on words, frequent in many languages, and often distingushable only to those deeply immersed in, and familiar with the culture from which they arise,

The reference is to Islam as the "Submission" (to God) that brings "Peace", or is Peace itself.

It is not as if this definition is used, or this comparison is made only to Westerners, or other outsiders to the Islamic tradition, or hasn't been made for a thousand years, long before the present conflict and controversies began. The enormous body of literature, written across centuries, and based on this translation, provides ample support for "peace" as a legitimate, and possibly, an ultimate translation of "Islam".

In light of that, the rejection of this translation can only be considered obtuse and inflammatory. It is a definition that native speakers of Arabic would readily recognize. It's hard, and probably not very meaningful, to argue with the meaning of a word from outside the context of a language, a culture, and the history of a people.

But I suppose, this is not the first time such a position has ever been taken with regard to translation. This is examining words with only the most fundamental knowledge of the language and it's context. It lacks subtlety, and more importantly, it misses truth and meaning altogether.

Certainly this kind of oversimplified translation does not serve the cause of peace here , and probably only serves to throw more disinformation into the debate, and confusion into the conflict than it seeks or manages to address.

Submitting....

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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