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Quran, not Arabic, is at fault (message 3 of 3)

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in response to reader comment: Quran, not Arabic, is a fault (message 2 of 3)

Submitted by Prashant (United States), Dec 24, 2022 at 22:15

Dear Readers, In this series of three messages, I am challenging the notion that massive ambiguity of meaning in Quran is due to the nature or deficiency of the Arabic language.

In my first two messages, I took two biblical passages. One passage was in English. I translated it to Arabic using Google Translate. Then I translated the translated Arabic back to English. I found that the meaning was not lost even though I had used a mechanical translator. The experiment indicated that the intermediate Arabic was able to hold the meaning well.

In the second experiment, I used a passage from a standard Arabic translation of the Bible. This translation must have been done by some human unknown to me. I translated this Arabic passage to English using Google translate. I compared the translated English passage with a known human English translation of Bible. Once again, I found that two English versions were about the same in meaning.

In my third experiment, I moved away from the Bible. Instead, I used an English translation of Chapter 6, Verse 3 of the Hindu Bhagvata Gita. This verse says that in a person's spiritual journey, good deeds prepare a person's mind for Yoga. And, after the person is well versed in Yoga, s/he needs meditation and thought. Here, Yoga can be considered to be the state of advance spiritual development.

I translated verse 6-3 from English to Arabic and back. This experiment was identical to the first experiment with the difference that a Hindu text was used instead of a biblical text.

I found that Arabic, once again, passed the test with glowing colors. Here are the three texts:

Original English of verse 6-3: To the soul who is aspiring for perfection in Yog, work without attachment is said to be the means; to the sage who is already elevated in Yog, tranquility in meditation is said to be the means.

6-3 translated to Arabic using Google translate: بالنسبة للروح التي تطمح إلى الكمال في Yog ، يقال إن العمل بدون ارتباط هو الوسيلة. بالنسبة للحكيم الذي تم رفعه بالفعل في Yog ، يقال إن الهدوء في التأمل هو الوسيلة.

Twice translated version of 6-3 in English:

For the soul that aspires to perfection in Yog, it is said that working without attachment is the means. For the sage already raised in Yog, calm in meditation is said to be the means.

Except for the fact that the word Yog was not translated at all, no meaning was lost in the whole exercise. Arabic did a fantastic job in its treatment of the complex Hindu/Buddhist concept 'attachment'.

All my translations were done using a mechanical translator. Arabic should perform even better in the hands of a human translator.

Then, why is the Quran that we read is so ambiguous to grasp? Why could not so many sympathetic human translators make Quran easy to understand?

My hypothesis is that Quran is ambiguous because quran is indeed ambiguous. There is no other reason and Arabic is not at fault.

And, Quran is ambiguous because it was compiled during the chaos of multiple complex wars. It was a rag-tag recompilation of someone's memorization of the Old Testament.

The, bizarre decision of ordering the Quranic chapters by length and not by context or chronology of narration, makes it even more difficult to comprehend and explain. Think about arranging a high school physics book by the length of the chapters and expecting the students to make sense of it!

Most readers will read the Quran from the front to back or back to front. Someone will do a lot of favor to Muslims if they can publish a version of Quran ordered by the chronology of narration and make it the default version. This step alone will remove some of the ambiguity.

Blaming Arabic for Quran's ambiguity seems to be counterproductive.


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