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The Quran I Hate, and The One I Love

Nietzsche said that translation is a form of conquest. This line comes up in a section of The Gay Science where Nietzsche says that “the degree of the historical sense of any age may be inferred from the manner in … Read More

By / October 5, 2007

Nietzsche said that translation is a form of conquest. This line comes up in a section of The Gay Science where Nietzsche says that “the degree of the historical sense of any age may be inferred from the manner in which this age makes translations.” He felt we could learn a lot from both the unwitting and purposeful omissions, and insertions, made by the translators of books. The Muslim world is 1.2 billion people. Only about 10 – 20% of those speak all the various dialects of Arabic. Only a small percentage of those know fus-ha, the standard-modern style of Arabic in which the Quran is written (Arabs who speak local dialects don't understand fus-ha). This means that the great majority of Muslims get access to the Quran via translations. Nowhere is Nietzsche’s point about translations more important than inside of Islam. Yet, over the 20th century, how the Quran was translated was an issue completely overlooked and uncared about by most Muslims. No surprise then, that in that period those who succeeded in the “conquest” of Islam were those who appropriated the power of translation for themselves. In an article that I wrote for a Muslim magazine which I entitled The Quran I Hate, I pointed my finger at these conquerors.

No longer in this newly rewritten Quran is a believer left to reflect upon his [being in] relation to the unknown, his entry into the mysteries of existence, but [he is] to hate the Jew [and] hate the Christian. How could the Lord of all the Worlds accept such rancor toward His creation? Don't ask God; ask the government of Saudi Arabia which peddles this "noble" anti-Quran; ask the "Islamic" University of Medina; ask Shaykh Bin Baz, Saudi Grand Mufti [of the Kingdom] until 1999 who certified these insertions; and the King Fahd Center For Printing of the Holy Quran.

The Quran scholar Michael Sells did a masterful study called War as Worship/Worship as War, which brought much of this hate-mongering-via-translation to light. (By the way, this is the same Sells whose books right-wingers tried to block at UNC). Take just one example Sells pulled from the Al-Hilali/Khan translation. The example is from the last verse of the first chapter of the Quran, called The Opening. Pay attention to the parentheticals. Guide us to the Straight Way. The Way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not (the way) of those who earned Your Anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who went astray (such as the Christians). Now, the Arabic word for Jews is “Yahud.” I’m reading verse 1:7 of the Quran in the original Arabic as I write. I have been able to read Arabic as long as I have been able to speak. I can’t for the life of me find the word “Yahud” in that verse. It is not there. Yet it exists in the parentheticals of the most widely distributed Quran out there. Here is how Leopold Weiss, an Austrian Jew, later Muhammad Asad, a convert to Islam, and ironically enough a best friend of the founder of modern Saudi Arabia, rendered the same verse:

Guide us the straight way – the way of those upon whom Thou hast bestowed Thy blessings,* not of those who have been condemned [by Thee], nor of those who go astray!

No mention of Jews or Christians. In fact, Jews and Christians don’t even get a mention in his paragraph long commentary on the verse.

Sigh? You want to sigh?

No, don’t sigh yet. Not until you realize that you can still get the Al-Hilali/Khan translation of the Quran from Saudi embassies and consulates around the world. Embassies and consulates that we protect.

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