Quran could only be understood correctly in arabic

Of all the efforts to artificially insulate Islam from intellectual critique, this is probably the most transparent. Often the critique of islam get accused of misinterpreting certain verse of Quran. They say Quran can only be understood in arabic. There is no accurate translation of Quran hence one can't criticise islam without knowing classical arabic. Unfortunately, for those Muslims craving reassurance from the more embarrassing passages of the Quran and Sunnah, this cheap tactic of arbitrarily dismissing anything they disagree with still comes at a heavy price, since Islam cannot be protected in this way without sacrificing its claim to being a universal religion.

In the first place, it is fundamentally impossible for anyone to learn a language that cannot be translated into the only one they do know, which means the apologists who insist that “one must learn Arabic” in order to understand the Quran are committing a logical fallacy. Either the Arabic of the Qur’an is translatable (in which case there is no need to learn Arabic) or it is not (in which case it can never be learned by the non-native speaker).

Enter the skeptic. While every language has its nuances, how is that Arabic is the only one with words and phrases that are literally untranslatable? More importantly, why in the world would Allah choose to communicate his one true religion for all men in the only language that cannot be understood by all men – including all Muslims, since most do not speak Arabic?

Even more suspicious is that, this "amazing linguistic discovery" was only recently made – and that it corresponds quite remarkably with the contemporary rejection of Islamic practices that were considered acceptable up until the religion’s recent collision with Western liberalism. In fact, there is an astonishing correlation between the argument that hidden and alternate meanings exist to unflattering Quranic passages (justifying slavery, the inferior status of women, sexual gluttony, holy warfare, wife-beating, and religious discrimination) and the level of embarrassment that modern scholars have about the presence of such verses in the Quran!

No follower of other religions makes this claim about his holy book. It is rare to find a Qur’an that does not include voluminous and highly subjective footnoted commentary deemed necessary to explain away the straightforward interpretation of politically-incorrect passages.

An additional problem for the apologists is that they want to have it both ways. On the one hand they declare that (for some strange reason) the “perfect book” can’t be accurately translated and that Allah’s perfect religion thus cannot be understood by most of humanity without a battery of intercessors and interpreters. Then they turn around and blame the reality of Islamic terrorism on this same “necessary” chain of intermediaries by claiming that the Osama bin Ladens of the world have simply gotten bad clerical advice, causing them to “misunderstand” the true meaning of the Religion of Peace (in the most catastrophic and tragic way imaginable).

Of course, another irony here is that, as a Saudi, the Quran-toting Osama bin Laden is a native Arabic speaker – as are most of the leaders and foot soldiers in his al-Qaeda brotherhood of devout Muslims. In fact, many critics of Islam are Arabic speakers as well.
At this point there is only one avenue of escape open to the beleaguered apologist, which is the weak claim that the Qur’an can only be understood in Classical Arabic, an obscure Quraish dialect which has not been commonly used in over a thousand years and is only known by a few hundred people alive today (generally Wahabbi scholars, who are – ironically enough – accused of taking the Qur’an ‘too literally’).

Although it is hardly plausible that the differences between classical and modern Arabic are such that peace and tolerance can be confused with terrorism, even if this were true, it merely begs the question all the more. Why would such a “perfect book” be virtually impossible for the rest of us to learn – and susceptible to such horrible “misinterpretation” on an on-going basis?

Really, it isn’t hard to see through this childish game, particularly since the rules are applied only to detractors and not to advocates. Apologists never claim that Arabic is a barrier to understanding Islam when it comes to lauding the religion, no matter how less knowledgeable those offering praise are than the critics. Obviously, the real reason for this illogical myth is that, for the first time, the information age is making the full history and texts of the Islamic religion available to a broader audience, and it is highly embarrassing to both Muslim scholars and their faithful flock. Pretending that different meanings exist in Arabic is a desperate way of finding solace and saving face.

slightly modified, taken from here
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One Response to this post

    Anonymous said...

    Ha, nice article. It does highlight some of the realities faced by Muslim and non-Muslims. However, understanding the text is important rather than whining about one or two verses and then disagreeing about it. While being a native Arabic speaker doesn't quite make you able to understand the Qur'an correctly, based on the fact that you have to apply knowledge to it, making some verses straight-forward and others a little more difficult to understand. And no, things like wife beating is not permitted, people get offended by reading ayats that may provoke violence in it just to refute things. It's okay, that happens.

    Have you never heard of something sounding the best in a particular language, like a song? A single word can have many meanings depending on the context, that is true for about any language. And yes, since Quran talks about past, present and future with different person narratives, commentary is important to prevent any person (Muslim and non-Muslim) getting confused.

    Lastly, Qur'an is simple to understand, albeit not so simple as to lose it's eloquency, uniqueness and rhythm. It's not impossible to learn, your the type of person that fails to accept the books words.

    My skeptic friend, failure occurs in the hearts and minds of people, don't blame others but yourself. The world isn't based on utopian ideologies, rather you have the opinion as you have done with this article, to explore a set of beliefs.

    I am obviously speaking as a Muslim, however i don't know Arabic and i am trying to learn it because it gives you a better understanding of the text. All the Qur'anic translations are more of a commentary since there are no word substitutes for some of them in another language. I read both Urdu and English translations but they just don't sound as great. When you recite the Quran, it's done with poetic sounds and elongations of words which you probably won't find anywhere else.

    Ah well, i love the recitation and understanding of the Quran, speaking as a practicing Muslim now, it feels so much better to practice what you read, makes much more sense.

    Peace right back at you!


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