ENCOUNTER 19: Interpreting Islamic Discourse

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Event Name: ENCOUNTER 19: Interpreting Islamic Discourse
Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 10/27/2021
Transcript Version: 1

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at's not the appropriate translation

in that context he was talking about

schools of thought not a sectarianism

and so but that person didn't have a the

type of education that was necessary so

language is very difficult and when you

get into nuance

is your name hadir like

with a soft hat hadir

dr hadir it's hadir


yeah so if you look at hadir okay

hadir can mean the cooing of a pigeon

but i don't think that's what your

parents intended

hadir is a louder voice than the pigeons

here is the sound of the waves my my

parents are from alexandria that's why

they were fascinated with the sound of

the waves so

so so so but you can have

you can have hadira

uh i don't know about that yeah

well you can look in a dictionary you'll

find yeah i

i i i know that uh at least what they

meant is the

sound of the waves this is this is yes

so so those

so hadiya that was their intention so

when you have a language like arabic


is a very interesting language in that


it's extraordinarily precise

and so you can't have an alternate


and other times it's extraordinarily


and so for instance if you take a word


uh jaur jaur

is is uh is it's only mentioned once in

the quran

in the ishtap it's

but if you take the word jawar jawar

is a voom from somebody in a position of

power so so in

in in english it would be closer to

tyranny than oppression

and so you talk about jorah sultan so if

you look for instance

in in in

in the uh in the baha'i which i


he says


he didn't say wim valamuna

because he was being very precise about

the use of joe

he's talking about political oppression

and not just

which can happen a husband can have a

volume of the wife or vice versa

right so so you

so finding these in in

to be a really really good translator

uh and i'm not talking about translating


you know just oral translation when

you're doing spontaneous translation for


which can be quite taxing and difficult

and i've done it and i don't like to do

it because it's it's very exhausting

especially when when you're having to to


to keep up with the speaker if they're

speaking fast it becomes really


but sheikh i saw you uh interpreting for

shaykh many times

many times yes yeah yes but it's very

exhausting please

i would much rather translate his talk

and i do this very often if

if he has a talk i'll translate it

before because

he's very eloquent as a speaker and you

do a grave disservice to a speaker who's

extremely eloquent when you're not

translating in a type of language that

that somehow mirrors or at least


in some way the beauty of the language

that the person is speaking

and and so eloquence um you know

is much easier to do when you can sit

down and really think and you have a a

thesaurus and you have uh

a dictionary and and you can think about

it so

you know just in conclusion uh in

in in the concluding remarks before we

get into a conversation

i would say that you know arabic

what you need to know to be a good


from arabic not into arabic because it's

always easier to

interpret to translate into your native

tongue it's it's actually

very few people that learn a language as

a second language are good at

translating into that language

there are those that really do learn it

but it's

it's much easier to go into your native

tongue than

from your native tongue into the

language that you've learned

so if you take um you know if you take

the english language

the the the english language is

uh an amalgam of several different


it's private primarily dramatic germanic

it's arabic is a much purer language

um the the amount of loanwords in the

arabic language is

actually surprisingly small it's it's

probably increased

in the last 100 years more than in in

the last 2000 years

and traditionally jewish scholars had to

learn arabic

to get to the semitic roots of hebrew

because it was the arabs

and really the persians but i mean and


is the first it was the arabs

who really created the science of of

of lexicons i mean they the first

truly scientific dictionaries

come out of of the arabic language and

prior to that

you had some dictionaries in china you

had some dictionaries in india

but dictionary was a very primitive

subject before the muslims

and the the the the the the

the jews did not start writing

dictionaries until after they saw what

the muslims were doing

and they didn't analyze their language

until after they saw what the persians

had done with arabic like they didn't

know that language was built on root

stems on

it's it's it's it's pretty amazing what

they learned from the arab

so you to be a good translator from

arabic into english you really

have to learn a lot of different


um there's there's 12 subjects that you

need to learn to to uh

to be a to be a translator there's at

least four that you have to be

seriously engaged with uh and i would

say now

and i'll include sort of in that now and


as a language is very very important you

also have to be

to know you know the uh

etymology uh and derivations um because

it's very important

um to to understand a word

in a deep sense um you also have to know

um what they call diction

which is word choice uh so vocabulary is

extremely important

and there's passive and active

vocabulary so vocabulary

many of us are our active vocabularies

are very limited but

but as an educated person we should have

a very

large passive vocabulary so that we can

understand words

and and and and then you have to know


uh balara is extremely important

uh and and uh at zatuna's students have

to take

balah in both english and arabic and

then finally i would say you you should

you should really read a lot of poetry

and the reason for that

is the best way to penetrate a language

is to study its poetry

because um poetry is

is uh is is it's it's

language charged to the maximum

um great poets are are

they they're working with language


everybody else is working with language

arithmetically but poets

are are are working with language


so um if you can if you can master

uh translating poems everything else

becomes very easy

and that's why it's good to as an

exercise to do

things like the lapad or um

some of the great and ebby or some of

the great poets

and and in diction i would add also

which is also the same for english

because every if you if you go into a


you have one two three four five six

seven so you have

you have uh all these different meanings


hadir is a good example so if you look

in the dictionary you're gonna have all

these types

you're going to have all these different

uh and so what is it in the context of

what you're trying to translate

and and when you get like is a good


in arabic is a very hard word to

translate because it's

used for so many different um

different meanings especially when you

get into these classical writers

they're using words very specifically

and and and to try to get to what

and that's why the sherwood i mean

muslims created

an entire tradition of glossaries

because it was so important to have

commentaries on things

um the the prophet sam's language is

extremely subtle

uh extremely subtle and and and and his

word choice

is is is very purposeful

why he would choose one word over

another word

um you know and then getting into


the glue words and the glue words are

going to be the most difficult words

that you learn but they're extremely


because glue words and and i'm talking


about myania roof you know the

the glue words are the most difficult

words for artificial intelligence

so they have real problems with uh

prepositions because if you look like a

preposition like fee

has ten different meanings in arabic if

you look in morning

by ibn hisham fee has 10 different


min has 12 different meanings is it


is it is it min

you know these are all different

meanings so so

when the prophet saw i said i'm said you


differed on it some said he meant

beginning in chihuahua but you could do

it any time of year that's imamatic's


imam he said no it's only in chihuahua

because there he said it was

it was a partitive man it wasn't a min

right that's a partitive so these are

these are very difficult words to uh

to uh to penetrate uh in any language

but in particular in the arabic language

so i'll end with that

and and open it up thank you very much

for this insightful presentation

which will of course frame the

discussion and i know that it has

provoked so many things so many


uh with the participants but i would

like to start from one statement

you made you said rightly

that arabic is much more

pure as a language than other languages

like english so this purity makes

it more a language of

the one nation but

quran the quran says

so my question is how would you


that verse especially with regard to the


between the locality

of the language for one nation

versus the universality of the message

the message

of islam do you

take this verse as an implicit

invitation or endorsement or even

encouragement or obligation

of the exercise of translation into

other languages

and how would you interpret

in this particular context

means in arabic and it is meant to be

for the universe so how the message is

going to be trans

as you mentioned earlier later or


sure uh well first of all

um you know arabic is

is is a well-known family of languages

uh from from from the arabian peninsula


you you had different you you know

there's as you know there's three

arabs there's

there's the there's the out of the uh

and then there's the arab so the

language of quran is in the language of


arab you know these are these are the uh

the latter arabs that learned arabic

from the jarahima

the north when they moved into arabia

ismail being

the father of these people um they

learned arabic so

that that

language has different dialects

and and and and so for instance

in arabic which is uh mentioned in the


uh most of the arabs did not know that

word that was a qurayshi word

uh it meant suff it had to be dyed wool

so in the in the must-have he said

as as a translation for the other arabs

to understand it but it loses the nuance

of being died

by by translating it into suf which was

common to the other arabs

and so the nuances of of the quran

uh can only be understood with a deep


of the er so for instance cade in arabic

you know if you look at kade in the

kedah kunal theme

you know your cade is vast you know

uh k is different from mecca

mecca and kade are similar but they're


synonyms and and cade is a stronger word

than mecca

with the the arabic word mecca needs a

preposition makarabihi

whereas caddo you go you can go straight

to and as you know

a language weakens the meaning weakens

when when you have to when you have uh

it becomes

uh more intransitive when what to make

it transitive with a preposition

diminishes the strength of the verb in

the same way that

um you know the ziyadat

so whenever you add letters to something

it it it like if you go to

it strengthens the meaning of that so

these type things are very important to

understand about the arabic language

and when allah says that he made the he


jaana itself there's a huge debate

in in the early history of between the


and between the the uh the the the

era and the maturity about

to the others meant something very

different that the vehicle

in which


and when allah uses it it also can mean

that it's

it's it's uh you know that it's it's


it's going to happen

and then then you get into what is like

because is not intellect in the modern

sense of the word

you know the you know if you look at the

root meaning of

it comes from to to bind a a camel

you know

and so so and if you look at all the

words in arabic

like uh nuha comes from to to pro

to to prevent something you know hijab

is also hajjara to stop something so

words that in arabic deal with intellect

very often deal with with something

that restrains you and so

we reveal we put this into a quranic

arabic that perhaps

you might understand it and thus

enter into the hadood of allah to

restrain yourselves

from from harm why because you know

that perhaps you might protect


and so the atoll is for two things it's


zhang masala it's to accrue benefit

and to ward off harm that's the essence

of why god's given us an intellect

and so the quran is is is

is is a book that can be understood

at many many levels and arabic is the

vehicle that allah chose to reveal this


because it is a deeply nuanced

language that enables extraordinary


of meaning to emerge uh

that you won't find in in in other

languages i mean i think the languages

of revelation

tend to share some some commonalities

hebrew is a very profound

language also some of the ancient

languages like sanskrit

and probably chinese um you know

heidegger thought greek had that

capacity but

i i don't i don't think that's true

greek is a

it's it's a secondary language it comes

out of uh

of of the ancient indic language

so thank you very much

we are going to take now the questions


the participants i can see

do you like we take them in rounds or

in questions one by one i would rather

do one by one if you don't mind

okay please yeah sami please

uh thank you very much

i am uh sami yeah from brussels

uh i feel very uh privileged to uh to

have this opportunity to talk to you

since i've been following you

since uh yes i've read your books

lots of which i think was one of your

old books called the

the purification of the heart

very interesting book very much

uh i i i have two questions

uh the first question

going as a an interpreter of

because i had the privilege to interpret

in berlin in 2017 when he came to uh

to berlin you weren't there with him i

was very disappointed by the way

because i i i wish to meet you on that


i found it very difficult to interpret

him because

when he was giving his speech from the

restroom it was okay because he was

reading so his arabic was classical

he takes the floor to answer a question

when he improvises we know that he comes

from uh

mauritania he doesn't speak very loudly


sometimes it's very difficult for for

interpreter to um to um

to hear what he says so i'd like to hear

your experience about

that specific topic how did you deal

with uh

his dialect yeah and how did you deal

with uh

with the uh the articulation of speech


sheikh binvaya um

i just want to preside that i'm uh

arabic and french mother tongues and i

have english

as a passive language so i interpret

from arabic into french

and from french into arabic um

as a you know as my classic uh


of other

which is as well

your first um or the first things he

said about the process of translation


you described as

the the past signified from this um that

in order to be a translator we have at

least master

four out of 12 uh disciplines which are


uh i think seriously engaged you know

that you think that serious engagement


yeah i very definitely agree with you um

do you um because these four disciplines

um it seems to me that they they relate

only to the vehicle uh don't you think

that for a translator

or for an interpreter because we have to

do that spontaneously as we as you said

we say simultaneously

don't you think that we we have also

to have quite a lot of knowledge in

order to be able to

transfer uh or to extract the signified

from the significance yeah thank you so

okay so the first

question is you know i

spent years with him so i've gotten used


him i still every once i'll have a hard

time catching the word

this is what's not yeah so yeah so

he he tends to

sometimes so i didn't

catch it what um

feeling that you he's very good at he

gets sometimes

he'll get a little frustrated with me

but because he's thinking

at such a high he's at warp speed you

know his intellect

and so if if you kind of stumble

on it's going to disrupt his uh chain of


so for him he prefers

that i let him speak and then stop

which i prefer doing it line by line

just to keep up with him because he's

hit the thing about chapel dolphin bay

he doesn't

waste words and he uses words it

i've never met anybody that that has the

level of arabic that he has and i've met

some really great masters of arabic but


actually know quite a bit about what he

actually knows in arabic

and so he's a difficult person to


very good um and and he's also

like i used to hear him uh and

and i would think he made a mistake in

morphology you know like his

self because he would he would pronounce

it a way that i

had learned it another way you know like

i'd learned yeah

and so so when i'd go back and look at

the dictionaries

i found he was always right you know it

was just he was using a different

uh pattern

so i stopped looking him up didn't

realize he's he's not making mistakes

there i mean if you look at his

when he speaks arabic it's it's

quite extraordinary because even great

scholars make mistakes

and have lechen you know the more chains

have a proper

body you know that it's just arabic it's

a really hard language it's turned that


so that that's what i would say about

that it just and then

she is also working from a lot of

different knowledges and if you don't


like he uses logic you want men

out early here

what one of the things i wanted to say

is that that there's essentially two


of in terms of ulum that you're going to

be translating

one of the ulum has very transparent

words in the other language

so for instance mantip by and large is


entirely translatable into english

if you study munta in both languages so

for instance

there's a somebody who translated a book

on logic from arabic here

and and and and he translated

as five utterances

and that's because he didn't know that

the actual

in english it's the five predicables

like there's a specific

term for that for that that resides in

both languages

so that's very important for a

translator to know the science he's

translating into

because if you if you don't know biology

you shouldn't be translating

a lecture by a biologist

and you have to so from that point of

view i'm assuming

uh you know cicero said that an orator

should have a vast

uh what they call in rhetoric copia you

know this

copiousness that enables them to


i people if they watch me translate for

sheikh abdullah bin bay and i think you

can learn a lot

from from the translations just i'm

talking to the students not you

but you know that you can learn a lot by


to those um because i know

like the minister of opav told me that

he learned quite a bit of english

from listening to them but and and

they're not perfect far

but because i'm familiar and i've

studied most of the subjects that he's

speaking about i do have a sense of

where they go

it's not always the best choice because

a lot

of these scientists like hadith exactly

that is a specifically muslim science

and so to find like or

or or you know

or these are specific technical terms

that are in some ways best left in the

original with

an explanation in a footnote so

those are the two things i think if i

can just ask

an extra question and indeed when you

talk just one extra question if you

allow me of course

and there is another another side of the


it is when you have to translate a uh

an islamic book or an islamic document

from a foreign language into arabic i

i've been tasked to translate a book

from french into

uh into arabic called the invention of


um and the problem was

and it it it spoke about about

hadith so i had to find again

the right uh

hadith that correspond to the french

solution that

french writer has chosen for fabu's


so it was quite acrobatic my my my

my last question if if i may do you

believe as a native

english speaker translating from arabic

classic words

works that a non-native has the

instruments to translate classic

works into a foreign language

i think most uh do not like

in order to translate classical texts

you have to have studied within the


because you'll miss way too much and we

can see it in the orientalist words

many of the orientalists were really

brilliant scholars and they

and they knew arabic to a very high

degree but because they did not study

in the tradition they make egregious


egregious mistakes totally agree and

and also they i've noticed a lot of

mistakes with prepositions

um because they're very nuanced

prepositions that's what i say to my

students all the time

i mean i'll give you an example i'll

give you a really good example

i was reading a really good

uh of uh of uh the

seal of uh even jose and that book

has suffered from bad additions it's a

beautiful tafsir it's one of my favorite


and and so i was reading the

introduction to the tipsier

and there was a uh it was about even

jose when he was martyred

he was with uh the el wazir

du li senen and and he he quotes these

lines of poetry and then and and he he


he he uses the term amanda kofa

uh in his thing like that you know that


to be martyred at ayman al-khufah

like you're giving them a man like you

should use a better word

and then he says he


and then the

so he did not see that i

i i couldn't make hide nor hair of what

he was saying because hokama is one of

the names of hell

you know so is it you know

hell is with the people or what i didn't

know what he was saying

it was actually a joomla

it was

they were in a a so that

man who's who's a professor of islamic

uh sciences in mecca completely misread

that he thought it was even jose that

was saying

what i hooked up with next but that was

a joomla

of you know what we'd call a

non-restrictive clause

you know inside embedded in there it

should have had like hyphens

right on on or m dash on on each side

so even people that are really trained

have a hard time

with um and hence we have this massive

tradition you know they say man

you know like so so going in


that you have not studied

uh seriously because huge mistakes and

and we can see

the books i you know i see mistakes all

the time so we all even in

iran we're in the problem i'll give you


example the first the first place that i

go to

in any translation of quran is um

uh in chapter uh

42 sure verse

11 because it says

you know the first half of the verse is

about uh

as but the second half it says

what is it

i always go to look how and almost

invariably they translate that wow as a


and it's not a conjunction it's wow it


and so that indicates they don't know


well enough to be transl

so you're giving allah a method right

so so when you say and yet

and yet you know or or yet

it there has to be some indication that

there's a break

from these two statements

fight that


he was a master uh and a beautiful


was a persian unless we forget he's a

beautiful stylist

some of the greatest scholars of islam

who wrote in arabic

were not native arab speakers uh avasena


is not the greatest of

writers uh his style is is not a high


um but but he's i mean he he he's one of

the most brilliant human beings and his

his works are very important still

so you know i would i but the cinequa

non for me

is that they have to have studied to a

high level

the subject that they want to translate


into another language and they should

know the other language well enough to

do that because

you know mediocrity the world is filled

with mediocrity but

but to do something really of weight or

worth is not that easy

thank you yes thank you very much

thank you sami for the questions

muhammad zarud please

like um great talk about

um many issues that um we translate


with um who was

just um completed his uh questions

uh i have only one comment uh

i hear that um sheikh hamza mentioned

before that um

most translators are supposed to


um into their meta tank and

as far as i know and from a translation

theory perspective uh i would like to

comment on this

issue by saying that um this

issue is um still controversial and


america i agree i don't have any problem

with that

yeah i'm i've been translating i'm i'm

i'm talking from my own experience and

from what i've seen so it's more

anecdotal than scientific

well yes um i totally agree and um

the the the perspective of those who are

saying that um

translators are supposed to translate

from their mother tank into the um

foreign language is that the most

important step

in translation process is to fully


and understand the source text

and their argument is um

it's much easier to understand and

comprehend a text

that's written in your own language and


once you understood and comprehended the


you can um transfer it into the foreign


sorry yeah i myself for example i have


recently two published uh uh


uh one of them is um available on amazon

it's um entitled um i die

every day 10 lapia short stories or 10

libyan tales

it was translated with a friend of mine

from britain

and we translated this from arabic into


and the first draft of the translation

was mine uh

my colleague was only um like revising

the translation

and doing some um like um

proof reading uh

if this is okay so the the argument is

still debatable i wanted

more comments from your site um

i'm glad you brought this up so let me

unpack that a little bit

one i would argue that in in spontaneous


uh when you're doing like uh un type


it's a disaster for somebody

who has a heavy accent to be translating

into a native

tongue another tongue that's not their

native tongue

so for instance uh one of the reasons

sheikh abdullah likes me to translate

into english

is because it's my native tongue and and

and people can understand it we know

social science indicates that 25

of people have a difficult time with


accents so you're losing one quarter

of of the people in a room when you have

a strong

uh foreign accent and and and this is

palpable like people

people experience this it can also

distract a person

from actually listening to what's being


having said that i would say in terms of

classical arabic

it's purely a matter of how well they've

studied and how well

they know the language they're they're

translating into or from

in terms of nobody could

really translate that except a native

egyptian speaker

and i would argue if your books from if

your stories from libya

are are involve dialectical libyan

you know i mean as as i might know what

schminchowick means or something like


and or say bahi you know if somebody

asked me from libya

but that that's the extent of my libyan

dialect you know

so i'm not going to attempt to translate

a a a a book of libyan stories

if they're in the libyan dialect if if


i can translate al-kharubi and i've done


who was a great libyan scholar or al bob

who was a great libyan scholar

i'd feel very comfortable translating

their works

so i think you know i made i made a

blanket statement but that statement

uh has to be unpacked you know and and i


i would argue that that it just depends


what you're translating and what the

qualifications of the translator

are thank you just to

uh i'm tunisian and libya is next door

and i had to service an assignment

uh so many years ago in libya

uh in a company uh that is working in

public constructions

and i know from the hotel restaurants

that a spoon is called kashyyyk

in libyan dialect and then it was called

by the manager of that company branch


to interpret a conversation between him

and a local libyan engineer

and then the engineer said

we then used the kashyyyk

to do something in the jetty

and really that was a turning point in


career in translation because i assume

that i know the libyan dialect quite

well because we were receiving

the transmission of tv

especially during summer time before


and then luckily i was translating

consecutively means sentence by sentence

like you

prefer and i had the chance to ask the

engineer what do you mean by kashyyyk

and it turned out to be the bulldozer

uh which is another uh meaning of

kashyyyk so with that i give this

a spoon it's like a spoon exactly yeah

that's lifting

the dirt true uh

so this is the culture that we need to

know also to translate but another

question to you

sheikh don't you think that you

um your privilege of you translating

for sheikh bin bayer is that you know

him quite well you travel with him

and so you know your offer

uh not only because you are a native

speaker of

english that the message

is clearly laid down

in english but also you understand you

understand quite well because this is

the first phase

in translation you have to understand

the message what is being said the


the discourse i mean yeah i studied i've

studied with him for years i've read

books with him

you know i i've had many conversations

with him

i i understand hassaniyah relatively

well s