ENCOUNTER 19 - Interpreting Islamic Discourse

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Event Name: ENCOUNTER 19 - Interpreting Islamic Discourse
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Transcription Date:Transcription Modified Date: 10/1/2020
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ou are muted muhammad can you please

okay and with your mic yes can you hear

me

thank you very much thank you dr hamoda

it is a privilege really as sami said

it's a privilege and honor

to take part in this lecture my name is

mohammed asi

i'm an interpreter staff interpreter at

the united nations

i've had a long career in interpreting

and translation before i became staff

interpreter

my question is about synonyms we all

know that

synonyms is uh

is not something that we can rely on

for uh the uh definition of a synonym

is a word or a phrase that means uh

exactly or

nearly the same as another word

or phrase it's not the same

i uh exist

and i think uh that is uh uh an

erroneous concept that was the base

uh the basis of so many false

interpretation of the quran

i will give examples for ex for example

the word

those are which are very which are

almost identical

but they are different

yeah we have a problem in particular

when

interpreting religious texts so i i

don't think they would use the same word

in english

it may seem that these two words are the

same

for those who have adopted no yes

what is your comment on that i believe

that it is the same thing in english or

french

well i think i may add something else

because

you comment within the same idea uh

a previous uh talk there was a question

raised about

the the difference between nasara and

messi

and how to translate them to english

yes thank you okay so first of all

um i i agree generally with

with that concept that synonyms there's

a reason

why words are different um it is freedom

and liberty are they the same words uh

you know freedom is from the german frey

and and and liberty is from the latin

liberty libertas

so some people make distinctions is work

and labor

different you know some people say labor

is the body and work is

like a manager works but the the factory

worker

is is actually a laborer you know doing

labor these are distinctions

that you get into flipkart a lot of

shepard

is has been lost um and and

as modern people we are far less

specific

in our language

than ancient peoples ancient peoples uh

used words very precisely one of the

things you'll note with children

is they really like to use words

precisely and they actually get upset

when you miss words

use words so for instance i mean i'll

just give an example of my five-year-old

i once told him put on your shoes and he

looked at me said those aren't shoes

they're boots you're right yeah all

right

and because a boot is not a shoe and a

shoe is not a sandal

and yet footwear is footwear so the

concept

is very similar and in that way

language we lose these distinctions

because

of the similarities of the concept so an

example

i mean you're right anzala is to come

down at one time

nesella is tanzeelan it's over a period

of time

those those are nuances of the language

so how do we translate that

you can translate it with a phrase or a

clause

or you could try to find if there is a

word in english and this takes

real work to do to do this well

people ask me oh why don't you translate

the quran and i'm just like

first of all you can't

translate the quran but you cannot

translate the quran and i and i really

and arberry is one of the few scholars

that made that distinction because his

his

quran says an interpretation

because translators ultimately are

interpreting in terms of synonyms

some synonyms are close enough that it's

not a problem it's not going to create

any confusion like freedom and liberty

some people argue that liberty is a

political concept and freedom is just

the general concept of freedom you can

make those distinctions but they tend to

work

um as as give me liberty or give me

death give me freedom or give me death i

mean those guys that works

both of those work liberty sounds a

little nicer maybe it's a higher

grander style so but i agree with you

you know there's in

in fajrads you know in the quran when

allah says in fajr

ethnic you know and then in vegas

is to come out flowing in vegeta is to

begin flowing and then diminish

and if you get into the commentaries

they say that

before their sinfulness there was an

empty job but after their sinfulness

there was an

indigest so these are these are very

subtle distinctions

in in arabic for instance om the word

in arabic is is not shout and it's not

uh you know kabila om

is specifically the patrilineal

uh aspect of of of somebody's lineage

so your home are your fathers and and

and the arabs are patrilineal in that

way there are

there are some matriarchal or

matrilineal societies but not many

so so so the arabs

and those are his home so in the hadith

the prophet saws

as hellfina and they said fulan

like he wasn't from the poem and the

prophet said

ibn an ukt minal om so he was indicating

that

there's still a wallah even though the

the word

home is not appropriate there's a wala

so he's saying men of little bayan

i know we can trust him and and so

in the quran in surat when allah

subhanahu wa ta'ala says

isa all the prophets said ya tommy but

when isa

speaks to bani israel he says

because they're not his phone because

he's not in the patrilineal

line and that's why in surat al hujarat

in 49 when allah says

he says

because the nisa are not the on so allah

distinguishes between

om and nisa those are difficult things

to translate

it's properly translated by our berry as

table

spread

like it is another thing it's a

table spread which is table it is food

with

a table with food on it no if it doesn't

have food it's called a huan

because it's anybody

also if you look at the which are very

interesting

like in in when allah says

so asa is biru

it it's from the so it means both

that i how do you translate that because

i think it's indicating that is always

bad and

[Music]

foreign

you know how would you translate rahim

here you know

it's womb is not correct because

it's actually the matrix which if you

look in the latin

meaning of matrix it's womb from the

other so

mute

yeah so those you know these are

subtleties i mean language is very

subtle

for for those of you who um

who are working with english i would

highly recommend

two books one of them is the scribner

bantam

english dictionary and i'll tell you why

if you go into this dictionary um they

will give you

all the the ficolora so for instance

feeling

adjective possessing or showing great

sensibility

easily affected sympathetic noun

any of the cutaneous senses commonly

called touch

by which contact pressure temperature

and pain are perceived

four act of perceiving or state of one

who perceives

by touch five sensation received

otherwise than through sight hearing

taste or smell

six emotion seven

power to experience sympathy tenderness

or the like

eight belief or conviction nine

animating spirit

as in a work of art which calls forth an

emotional response

10 feelings plural sensitiveness or

susceptibility

feelingly adverb synonyms now look at

the synonyms

sense sensation sensitiveness

sensibility success susceptibility

emotion sentiment passion

now discrimination so they go into

discrimination

feeling is a general term for the

experience of senses

and may include aspects of perception

other than those derived from sight

hearing smell or taste

the means of awareness through bodily

perceptions are called the senses

the power of these senses regarded

singly

as distinguished from the intellect our

will is called sense

sensation is the physical feeling

resulting from the operation of the

senses

we have sensations of chill creepiness

deafness dizziness and the light

sensibility popularly is the quick and

acute capacity

for feeling of any kind sensibility

so it when you look at jane austen's

sense and sensibility

she sensibility is marianne because it's

the quick and acute capacity for feeling

eleanor is the sense

right which which is is is is is uh is

the power

of perception

so anyway he goes on my point is

absolutely incredible

work into these really fun stations that

have been long

on modern people

so this book is a wonderful resource

unfortunately it's out of print but you

can still get used copies

on online it's called funk and wagnall's

standard handbook of synonyms

antonyms and prepositions so if you look

at

you know that it's a very nice it has

this book you know i love this book so

it'll have like um

a word like disease and then it'll give

you

all of the words that are similar

affection ailment complaint disorder

distemper illness and disposition

infirmity malady but then it goes into

the differences

so this is really fit aloha and and

and unfortunately these things are lost

but for those of us who love

language and want to keep these

distinctions alive and recognize the

incredible importance

of these distinctions and i really feel

like a translator that's committed

to their craft is in a lifelong process

of mastering

these distinctions thank you sheikh

thank you

mohamed asi for the questions now i give

the floor to

el bernalli where is please

i have comment regarding the words you

gave maker and

cade actually you are completely right

when you said that

they are similar but not synonyms you

said also that

the word cade can't stand by itself and

naked

while the world maker needs a

preposition

the word macro does not necessarily need

a preposition it can also stand by

itself

you know that's true that's true but

generally the quran uses it with

preposition

yes it has it has been said in the quran

the as you can see the word

but there it's intransitive

you see you know it it's intransitive

there

so as a transitive verb in order for it

to take an object it needs a

opposition so there's a big difference

thank you okay

i think the point is clear well thank

you neder

please

thank you very much it's such an honor

to take

part in this picture uh my intervention

is just

a small tactic let's say on your

statement that

quran cannot be true translated

so the dichotomy of trans translability

and translability

uh because in arabic words

not only words provide for ambiguity and

a multiplicity of meaning

or interpretations but also the same

word

or the same sentence can be problematic

like in the verse

so the haraka as well as

clear matter uh

and any change can

extremely flip the meaning

also in the verse

uh there are uh four

acts of speech in this very sentence

so uh if we translate it

maybe we can not only distort the

meaning

but maybe we cannot deliver the message

in the same

eloquent style right thank you

thank you very much yeah no good i i

talking about uh

very problematic uh as all of you know

in reading arabic

you you start a sentence and and you

think it's active but then you get to

something you realize the verb was

passive um that happens a lot in arabic

um and so and then you have uh

you know you have things like um you

know

both of them are in arabic

and and they are nuanced in in that

meaning um

for instance

they're both actually part of the quran

so which one do you use and which one do

you translate or do you translate both

uh if you look at for instance uh that

the prophet saws

says that he wasn't uh he he his heart

in

the beginning so in wash

his heart tim with a kasra in

helps his heart with a father

khatam means a seal it's a ism in

arabic means the last if you look at the

the padilla in pakistan that whole

movement

is based on not knowing the quran

because they

argued that the prophet was khatam and

not the last

because didn't know the

despite the fact that he was a scholar

you know he memorized the quran

and then also like yeah is only with

knowledge you can't say al-qaeda

the only ones that truly have this

hashia

are the ulama because you can't have

kasha without the ill

thank you hola

please yes thank you uh

doctors both doctors for this fruitful

denoting the idea of the the uh

the idea of jose regarding the sign the

signifier and the signified

being the sign the actual object and the

signifier the letters or the sounds

and that comes into my mind or the

reader's mind

and the signified which is the in the

image that came

into the mind so you ended up saying

that the sign is

is the meaning and the signifier is the

language

and uh the signified it's which is which

is going to be the interpreting

am i right this the signified

is is the the the actual concept in your

mind

not the sign yes yes you're right yes

yes the sign is the vehicle by which

you're

conveying it yes

right so we are on the field of the

signifier which is the language

yeah so and then you uh

you started to to um to

to tell us the process while we are

translating not

interpreting translating uh um a kind of

a verse

uh from the quran following it into

according to the lexical level uh and

then we are going to

further more to the morphological level

syntactic 11 at the semantical level

and so on so uh and also i would like to

uh

uh jani i would like to to also add the

idea of

uh karate

i'm translating an a or a verse it's

gonna be half

an alpha or uh any other one or

uh i have to stick to the people uh

could i add that they are uh uh

following

not just hafsa and awesome and i also

would like to ask

about the um how did you manage

to interpret uh not to translate in your

own uh

uh conference uh confronting uh that

before how did you handle that

translating verses of quran interpreting

it i'm sorry not translating it

because you know interpretation uh it

doesn't have

much time to to to make it in

calculation and tracing the actual

meaning of the lexical

uh items and morphological items and so

on

right and also i would like to add

something regarding the words of anzella

and nozzle i have surgery uh

while we were together and i found that

anzala means

uh according to that um am i resorting

to

relative clauses uh to to to

to differentiate between these slight

differences between these

synonyms or let us say different

meanings and words

uh am i doing kind of long sentences

yes am i going to resort to that there

was a lot

in there um thank you thank you

yeah i mean i would say just on a few

things because uh

the the um personally translating the

quran is very

problematic for me uh i you know may

allah forgive

us it's it's his book and and when when

you're

when you're in a lecture or and you're

translating for somebody who's quoting

eyes of quran

you know i think just to convey the

meaning

is the best that you can do um and

and uh you know like i said uh

you know may allah forgive us uh for any

mistakes that we make

on that uh in terms of you know

uh the the are very important

um and and and there are

you know that for instance uh uh allah

says

in the 22nd surah in hajj

allah

so one puts it in the active and the

other puts it in the passive

um and both meanings are sound

you know permission is granted to those

who are fighting in other words minute

muslim means

those who have been aggressed upon that

they they're they have a license to

defend themselves so

though those you know i mean i i i think

people who translate the quran have to

be aware of the

and that's a place for footnotes um

uh but in terms of in tunis you

recite

[Music]

was in his dialect so it's in the it's

in the quraishi dialect

and and imam malik preferred it over all

the other he preferred nephi

so did um he actually malik considered

sunnah and ahmed muhammad was

[Music]

you know and it's it's uh it's it became

popular

because um the abbasids adopted it you

know the

and was of awesome

so it became very popular but is a

beautiful

it's it's more difficult it's the one i

use um

it's more difficult to learn the medus

are are longer also because the

the uh you know the you have the six

harder cuts

um so if you're reciting it it's

it it takes longer to recite it than it

does uh

house you know so i i would just say

that um

iran is just something you you with fear

and trouble

nation you should have a humility with

the quran

and one of the things that the people of

hadith

say is that you always when you quote a

hadith and i forget to do this but you

really

should do it uh you end it by saying oh

come

on you

is factual it's as solid as any ayah in

the quran

so you know and i heard one of them

was a great scholar from mauritania felt

that

that anybody who has land in

transmitting these might fall in uh

because uh you're the prophet never

had lan so it's like and

kind of in arabic is very interesting

because

when the muhammad it doesn't necessarily

mean that he was intentionally a liar

what it meant is that he just

transmitted everything he heard

without ascertaining because of the

hadith that it's enough to call a man a

liar who transmits everything he hears

so if you're not if there's no tether

and

and to help on what's being said then

you can end up being a liar

yes thank you sheikh for these very

insightful explanations

on language and synonyms and so on

but i'm going to ask a question about uh

the context

not the verbal and the strict context of

words synonymy

exactly the broader context

and the importance of contextualization

and this is one tool in the hands of

translators they cannot transmit a

message

or convey something without

contextualizing it

in the first place and here

i'm not speaking about the sacred text

or the hadith but even

any classical text like

the text or the book by imam al-ghazali

and

i think in one of your books i think it

is the

vision of islam something like that you

said that it is very dangerous

to read a book by imam al-ghazali and

not understand that

imam al-ghazali was working in sixth

sixth century eastern islam

you are fortunate to know

sheikh binbaya to know you know him and

and you can

engage in a discussion with him to infer

the right

meaning from his uh what he has

said and the interpretation but

you cannot engage in a dialogue with uh

imam al-ghazali

because he lived in a different era

so and you cannot invoke the elements of

context

properly what to do in this case to be

faithful

to the philosophy of

a great writer like

okay well first of all i'd say you're

you're talking about context in two

different ways

and so in in the first sense everything

is embedded uh you know words are

embedded

in a context like for instance the

context of this discussion

is about me

speaking with a group of translators

about my own experiences in translating

and maybe helping

these students uh navigate something

that at my age now i've been navigating

for a long time and i can pass

so that's the context of this discussion

and and

and and that's why the subjects that

we're talking about

are contextualized in the context of

this

subject but now you're also talking

about historical context

so so language is embedded in the

context with which

it it emerges so for instance

uh in surat which comes after al-anfal

and some of the unum collapsed the two

together so there's no basmata

but others said no the basmallah is

absent because of the context

of the surah that it wasn't appropriate

because in belarus they say

that

it should correspond to the the context

that's literally what it means

and so so it's not appropriate in the

context

of the opening of toba to have bismillah

because it's talking about basically

warfare so

uh that that's an example of

context embedded uh language in context

historical context is a completely other

problem

and that is and and where we have to

differentiate

and and as philosophically as an

essentialist

i would argue that ghazali

is a man for all times in many things

and in some things he's a man for his

time

so women that read sometimes find

ouches in ghazali's writings because

sometimes he's he's really seems like

he's a man of his time

and in the way he talks about women

um but does that mean we throw him out

because he has some statements that in

today's

sensibilities would be considered sexist

you know i would argue that so sorry can

you give us an example on

on ghazali's view to to women

well if you read babanyika if you read

for instance

you know that uh you know things like um

you know making the remark that uh

you know a baron a sejada

in the corner of your house is better

than sleeping with a barren wife

i mean that's a pretty

it you know that's a that's a harsh

statement um

even though it's attributed to uh to uh

one of the sahaba i won't mention the

name but the point

the point of that statement is is that

abandon you know is is

that a lot of the olia saw

sexuality as as uh as procreation that

like the catholics that you went with

the nia of

procreation even audrey for instance

saw it as a very highly spiritual thing

and so

he would say with the right intention

sleeping with your spouse is actually an

act of ibadah

so you know i'm just using that as an

you asked for an example so

excuse me for the the explicit nature of

the example but

um you know and other things i mean you

just find things that

that are just i think uh

you know they're they're just a little

difficult but overall

he's he's universal far more than he is

particular to his time and place and in

that way

i think his words can be communicated

over time and this is why

you can take a work like uh like the the

20th chapter

of the on the prophet's fallation that

work is

is for all time and we can translate it

and

and we know what those words mean or or

we can

we can take kitab and

and that's speaking to us today or

kasura

or steven mode the 40th book i mean

i think that historical context is

important to understand

but we also have to recognize much of

what our islamic tradition

uh is grappling with our universals that

are true for every time and place

and so in some ways you know there if

you look at him even tamiya

even tamiya was living at a time when

the muslim world was under

siege so he has a siege mentality

his his mentality is very different from

somebody who

is living at a time when the muslims

were uh

in the full height of their power um

if you look for instance a lot of the

things about christians and jews in our

books

were said at a time when the christians

and jews

were completely uh in a state of

subjugation to to the muslims and so

they didn't feel any need to uh hide

their feelings

about this that or the other we're

living in a time which is

is the absolute opposite and so it's

important

that you know that we follow closer to

the earlier

tradition of just the prophet sam was

very conciliatory

um he did not offend people he did not

want to offend people but when people

are in power they tend to forget those

things

and so there's a lot of things in our

tradition that are very

ugly and um and they need to be

contextualized in their historical truth

i'll give you one example

if you look at the hadith in sahih

bukhari that

a the prophet stood for the jew uh

who was being taken to his field and

they said that it's a yahood

he said nafsa isn't it a soul

in the country and you can see this

a great scholar in the commentary some

of the ulama said

he was standing because of the foulness

of the stench

like how do you get that interpretation

out of that

you get it because of the

particularities of the time

you know they really had a low opinion

of other religions and of other peoples

that i don't think is the spirit of

islam allah says

let us

we have made every ummah think what that

what they're doing is good

like allah says he did that so

just like don't curse the idols of other

like hindu we're not supposed to curse

their idols

because we want to reach people and

share and

if you don't show respect for other

people why should they show respect for

you

yeah thank you sheikh uh i'm aware of

time now it is

almost five uh to uh

nine hour time and five to one pm your

time

i'm not uh sure if we can

add some a few minutes ten minutes

perhaps because i can see

so many requests on the floor so

uh would you accommodate ten or more

you very much uh

professor mohammed masoor you have the

floor please

i think you are muted professor muhammad

uh yes can you hear me now we can yes

can you hear me now

we can hear you quite well yes okay fine

okay

thanks for this uh opportunity dr salvi

and good evening to our speaker

and to the attendees i'd like also to

thank the speaker for highlighting the

the fact that poetry is a language

charged to the maximum

and also thanks for insisting on nuances

as related to prepositions i know

someone who wrote a

full phd dissertation on the meaning of

woe

uh why would uh

in in the language and

about synonymy also this is a this is an

important issue

maybe in in in the

you have synonymy but i don't think you

have synonymy

in three verse in free verse a poet

would

not sacrifice the meaning

for just a word that rhymes

and i have you know read this poetry and

i have discussed it

and i don't see in free verse

uh you know that pursuit of the

musical word or the word that rhymes at

the cost of

of the precise meaning

so maybe poetry is the place to start

to really know more about nuances of

meaning

as you said somebody called this in a

previous presentation as

full now to my query

i once started a project in which i was

uh

trying to you know show

the favor that

uh speakers of the language owe

to translated works that is

there are verses of the quran

i i you know i went to a quranic school

and i

really got trained uh fully trained i

believe

in in a quranic school but still there

are passages in the text

which i can grasp better in translation

that is in the english language not only

because those people

mastered the language but also because

they read

different exigencies of the of the text

and and and and kind of add different

kind of ethics

now my query is

in relation to

instances in the text where we have

sahib

and other instances where we have imra

and then instances where we find nissa

as a generic term any any any thoughts

on this

professor so yeah i

i think um the the great just on the

poetry

i think that the truly great masters of

poetry

would never arabic is so vast in its

vocabulary

that they would never have to

lose the meaning in search of uh of a

rhyming

word or so i mean there's that what

they're working with the the the corpus

the body

of of uh of language that they're

working with

is it's amazing i mean arabic has more

vocabulary than any other

language in the world so

and and as you know the great poets use

words that

we've never heard of we have to look

them up and one of the things i love

about the humility

of arab texts is that they will often um

explain the words at the bottom i wish i

wish english texts did that because

when you read really difficult writers

they often use words that you have to

look up

whereas the arabs put them down at the

bottom because they know

that this is a fast language and not

everybody has that vocabulary

in terms of of uh the only woman

mentioned in the quran is maryam

all of the other there's no other woman

mentioned by name in the quran

you know the imra you know

uh so luke's wife we don't know the

names we don't know imato aziz

which is uh some say it's you know

in in in the top seers uh the reason

that mufasa don't give

is that um they say that

for the arab it was bad adam to mention

a woman by name who was not your

sahiba or your own and because of

maryam's special

with allah she is law

and one of the very intriguing aspects

of in arabic

is that and

is an incredible subject

but isa is is

and if you look it ha it it doesn't drop

the alif

in the rasam so that it's actually

so isa is it's it's really a bit

a battle right it's not an a

it's like isa even um like

jesus the son of maryam as like a

it's like he's not just isa

he's the son of maryam and so

she has that special makaam that she's

the only one mentioned

in terms of the the other words i mean

nissa is

is is a is a generic uh plural you know

and arabic i mean there's a debate is

there in santa

in santa tune fatanitum you know they

they are

talk about that insane is more like

mensch in uh in german you know it's the

human being

um and and and arabs tend to

arabic when it when there's no ambiguity

it uses

the masculine form for the feminine so

for instance

a woman who's pregnant she's the only

one that can get pregnant she's

not called hamilton she's hammond and

which proves to you

that is arabic is not a sexist language

in that way

that it's it's it it's only using

uh you know the the the the the

masculine to

include both but when it when there's no

ambiguity it uses the masculine for the

feminine

even though it's a effect and sometimes

it uses the feminine for the masculine

you know like chimps or or uh

and on and on so so um i think

uh those nuances are are are

very often brought out in some of the

great commentators

uh of the quran um one if you're

interested in a really

interesting modern uh rhetorical i mean

kashaf is the is the great source for a

lot of this

but a samurai is who's an iraqi scholar

who wrote

a tapsir albayani um is a

really interesting four volumes but he

really gets into

the nuances of the of the different

words

uh in arabic yeah thank you chef we are

going to take a last

question and yeah

you are uh the luckiest to be the

last to ask question to so

um i i'm seeing the names are there is

this a multinational because

it seems like egyptian names yes yes

my name is in this context i'm

and it's not a question in fact i'm very

i'm very excited

and it's an honor really to to be able

to listen to you

uh virtually thank you hamuda thank you

sheikh

jazakallahu in fact

i'll give you a very brief background

i'm born in saudi arabia

i used to offer the quran uh

i'm graduate of al-azhar university and

i have it foreign

and regardless of that my first job

opportunity was

islamic it was the highest

highest institute and and i was like no

way

i'm scared i can't i cannot

it's not me guys i'm running away of

this civil

service and you know i need to we have

to have a civil serve

to be civil servants as a kind of

let's say security and i rejected that i

escaped it after

almost 15 years i was invited to

interpret

in a conference of adien

it was a terrifying experience

and i'm i was like no way this is one of

the most difficult fields i've ever

can deal with and that's why i decided

guys you are heroes

and i will never be able to do what you

do the more you talk like i said

that i'm ignorant guys i'm ignorant

alhamdulillah

that i'm just an interpreter

alhamdulillah

thank you so much

perhaps i will be ending this talk in

arabic

by way of summarizing in a couple of

minutes

what has been discussed in this very

insightful

and memorable uh discussion with the

prominent

scholar sheikh

you are really you've taken us

into a journey

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um

um

uh

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um

the thing i'm most proud of in terms of

translation

is uh the prayer of the oppressed

and this took me a really long time

because

i i took a poem that was in the regis

meter

and i put it in a

hexameter which is very similar

to the regis meter so

if you look at it they're both metered

so if you say yeah

o you whose mercy is a refuge for all

those

in dire need who flee to you

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whose pardon is so near you answer all

in need they know that you do here

we beg for your relief redeemer of the

week

you are enough for us both humble then

so meek

so uh that's that's what i'm most proud

of in my

translation work is

intercultural communications

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foreign

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you