Discussion about "My Ordeal with the Qur'an"
Reply #1772 - August 03, 2015, 07:12 PM
I want to keep those interested up to date with what's going on with this.
I'm afraid publishing is going to have to wait as I will be going through the whole thing and will be making changes to the style and even sometimes content.
I have decided to do this after discussing with Wahabist (please see our correspondence below).
This book will now not be just a straight translation but is (and has been) a collaborative work with many hands contributing (thanks Zaotar, Lua, Iraqi Atheist and all the many others who helped and chipped in.)
Hassan, I have leafed through the translation and I have to tell you that this is the first time I've ever heard of the book and its author. I went to google to get the Arabic version and only then things started to become clearer to me. I had thought this was your book, that you have authored a book on your journey with Islam. So, you can appreciate my bafflement when Abas entered the fray.
I managed to read 25 pages of the translation and here are my thoughts on one thing:
One: as far as its language is concerned, it is clear enough and grammatical. However, the intro reads like a sermon and in some places a pure rant. It takes the reader too much for granted and this - when translated to another language, thus a wider audience - has the effect of rendering it nonsensical and absurd. My Ordeal implies a personal account, a personal journey in which a story teller tells a story leaving the readers to draw their own conclusions. However, the preliminary speech makes it obvious that this is more than storytelling -- this is someone warning, sermonising and imploring the book's readers to think and change stuff about themselves. This overtly didactic approach ironically does what the book itself is decrying.
Mixing of genres and passing the impersonal as personal works really fine in Arabic and to the Arab reader on such topics. But it really does not in English and modern thinking readers. The author keeps saying "we are this", "progress and history is not with us" and things like this without taking the time to delineate and define these things or his frame of reference as is the respectable tradition of serious books authored in English.
The other thing which seems to lack rigour is that it uses too strong language where doubting or the subjunctive mode is most apt: "Our grandfathers devoted themselves to studying the Qur’ān. It was a study full of invention, concoction, and artefact. They ascribed to the Qur’ān eloquence, clarity, and miraculousness that it did not merit. They wrestled from it meanings, intentions, and purposes that never occurred to its author" -- how does he, Abas, know that they never occurred to its author? Careful language use would be something like "and purposes that are very hard and unlikely they have occurred to its author" keeping speculations about speculations reasonable.
So, if the book continues in this vein, something needs to be done by the translators.
It is not unknown of translators to change a lot in books in order to make them readable to the new audiences. This is not only about untranslatable stuff like idioms and culturally specific references, but also concerning what makes sense to different people in terms of appreciation -- if in doubt, try translating poems and poetic prose where things like rhythm, metre, alliteration matter as much in conveying any unified meaning as the actual verses' semantic preoccupations.
If the rest of the book is written in this way, then whatever ripple the author intended to create would (imagine if I said "will not" here; how arrogant would I sound?) not be felt outside Egypt and Sufi followers of Islam and the Arab.
Finally, to be fair to the author, he is using the same language which is normal to writers and readers of such books and on such topics. In fact, some of his references can easily be traced to the Qur'an and Hadith and a lot of what in literary criticism is known as "intertextuality" thus occurs. But this is appropriate to such linguistically sympathetic readers and religious practitioners who draw from a common culture and language. This done with this intensity, regrettably, does not work in English in general and would not work for people for whom Al-Azhar does not mean much.
This is a quick reply, so I'll be back (as Terminator's arnie would've said) either here or on emailing. P.S. lua, tell me if you wish to be dropped out of this correspondence.
Now I know why I wanted you to have a look. You are right and I think I knew it.
Publishing will have to wait.
I will go through it and if you are available I would appreciate if you could look at my changes and let me know if it works better in English.
Lua I would appreciate it if we keep you in the loop just fyi so you know what's going on.
I'm back on the farm now and will start going through this incorporating Lua's and Zaotar's suggestions and will also do my best to re-write it in accordance with your advice.
I would like to post what I am doing on the main "My Ordeal Discussion..." thread as I want ppl top know what I'm doing.
Would you mind if I quote some of your advice in my post?
I just want people to understand what and why I'm doing this.
Actually I wanted to make many radical changes, but when I did in one particular instance I felt there were one or two who felt I shouldn't so I stopped. Now I feel emboldened by your words and will make changes as I see fit.
Hassan, I give you the green light to publish all our correspondence on the topic. Feel free to also quote me mutatis mutandis on the following: I know very little about the circumstances surrounding you, Lua and Zaotar embarking on this project. Lack of knowledge about it makes me have reservations regarding translating another person's book without things like having a written permission from them and other procedural niceties of artistic engagement with another person's intellectual property. For this end, I think a liberal departure from strict faithfulness to the original text might be advisable and a slightly more ambitious originality -- where heavy reliance is on the text but it's not the text -- would thus emerge. After that, any permission sought from the author is more courtesy than a requirement. Make of it, as it were, like Tafsir Al-Jalalayn, a collaborative work where you do not have to adhere to standards set by its author, his style, his way of organising chapters and on the micro level, doing a little bit of Anglicism (i.e. language, references, similes etc) to make it more readable to its intended readers. Finally, if the work carried out by Lua et al is very extensive and you approval of most of it, then the book might already have become a committee translation. In any case, I have a lot of faith in you, Hassan, in this regard.