The Majestic Furqan: 5:48 and 3:4
It has been suggested by some Christian writers that verse 5:48 of The Majestic Qur’an (“TMQ”) promises the preservation of the Bible, in its entirety, from loss and corruption; Muslims must, therefore abandon any claims to the contrary. I refer to this suggestion herein as the “Preservation Idea”.
In particular, some Christian writers have accused M. Asad’s translation of 5:48, which does not support the Preservation Idea, of including interpolation. My four-point analysis of his translation concludes (i) that Asad’s translation does not include interpolation and is not deviant; and, separately, (ii) that the Preservation Idea does not hold up under 5:48. This has elicited a lengthy response by Mutee’a Al Fadi and Sam Shamoun of Answering Islam (authors referred to as “F&S” herein).
A preliminary note, following which my counter-response begins:
F&S assert that the Qur’an suffers from “poor grammar”, “faulty composition” and “contradictions”, with there being “no end to such problems” whilst,simultaneously, invoking its precision, methodology, intent and correctness in order to harness 5:48.
F&S cannot pursue both lines of reasoning. If the former, then their invocation of 5:48 must be substantiated, lest the selection be deemed cherry picking. If the latter, then they accept the perfection of the entire Qur’an. In order to establish their current claims about 5:48, F&S must proceed on the former, fallacious basis.
1 – Asad’s Style: Interpretations not interpolations
(i) F&S concede that translations of the Qur’an will, at best, be interpretations, or meanings, of the Qur’an, stating that the Arabic can be translated “faithfully, if not even in an exact match“.
In order to categorise Asad’s translation as ‘interpolation’, F&S must widen the meaning of ‘interpolation’, and narrow the scope of ‘interpretation’. As such, they initially reject that a translation is, at best, an interpretation or a meaning, and describe my relaying of this as “untrue” and “futile”. One need not be an Arab, an Arabist or a linguist to understand that a bare word-for-word translation is incapable of fully rendering all of the context, connotations and richness of the original text. This is non-contentious and one can observe this with other languages also, although this is especially clear with Qur’anic Arabic.
My bare word-for-word rendition was not an ironic contradiction, as F&S would allege, but demonstrates my point exactly: that such an approach strips the original of its context and meaning, and this is why translators must clarify, inter alia, who/what is being referred to, the secondary meaning of a word, or the meaning of an idiom (such as ‘bayna yadayhi’). This explains why there is a great number of subtly differing interpretations andexegeses of the Qur’an, instead of a single canonised rendition. This is interpretation (and not interpolation).
F&S ultimately confess that the Arabic can be translated “faithfully, if not even in an exact match“, and themselves provide 9 differing translations of 5:48, which they describe as all being “faithful to the meaning of the verse“. Unfortunately, F&S then revert to confusing ‘interpretation’ with ‘interpolation’, even describing my use of the word ‘interpretation’ as a criticism of Asad’s translation.
(ii) F&S make a number of misrepresentations of my analysis, for example, that I conclude Asad’s translation to be “very weak and can be considered a poor choice”.
I have described Asad’s translation as “thoughtful and deeply involved in the interpretation and meaning”. F&S, kindly indicate where I have described it as “weak” and “a poor choice”.
2 – The two functions: Musaddiq and Muhaymin
Musaddiq – “confirming the truth“
(i) F&S suggest that Asad has tactically translated 5:48 inconsistently with that of other verses, claiming that he should also have translated 3:39 and 66:12 as “confirming the truth of whatever remains of…”, simply because the phrase begins with the root for “confirming”.
F&S say that they reached this idea after a ‘quick survey’ of the Qur’an. Upon closer inspection, the Arabic in these ayat state “musaddiqan bikalimatin min Allah” and “saddaqat bikalimaati rabbihaa”. In other words, the object of the confirmation is the ‘kalimah/aat’ (word/s) of Allah and not ‘maa bayna yadayhi min…’. By way of reminder, we are dealing with ‘…maa bayna yadayhi min…’ and it is with this phrase that Asad has derived the meaning “…of whatever there still remains of…” Why would he interpret 3:39 and 66:12 with these words when they are not there?
3 – Muhaymin – “determining what is true therein”
(i) F&S state that “muhaymin” is virtually synonymous with words of the root “h-f-dh”.
As mentioned earlier, F&S have selectively invoked the precision of the Qur’an. Earlier in their response, they expounded in length as to the Qur’an’s informed choice to use the preposition “min” (from/of) instead of “ba’d” (some/part), stating that “the Qur’an could have easily pointed that out by using the appropriate term to denote such”. However, in response to my highlighting that the Qur’an uses words of the root “h-f-dh” when describing the preservation of the Qur’anic text, F&S club these terms together as “virtually synonymous”. Why, for the avoidance of doubt, would the Qur’an not then simply use the same word, “h-f-dh”? Because they are not synonymous, and neither is the promise.
Notably, the word “muhaymin” is used only twice in the Qur’an – once to describe the Qur’an’s relationship to previous scriptures (the other occasion is in describing the attributes of Allah (swt) (59:23)). F&S seek to rely on this one occasion, wherein there is substantial discourse as to the different meanings of the word, to claim the Preservation Idea (see 3(ii) below for differences in discourse).
(ii) That some classical exegetes agree that “muhaymin” means to preserve
F&S’ insistence claims to be supported by exegesis, of which there is difference of opinion therein. Such difference is discussed and highlighted in Sam Shamoun’s own article, (with his own approved translations of exegeses), where he concludes, “it does become obvious from the preceding citations that this word is actually unclear as to its PRECISE meaning, and therefore all the commentators are merely SPECULATING as far as the EXACT meaning of the word is concerned.” For clarity, I would like to refer F&S to 3:3-4, as set out in 3(iii) below.
That they do indeed seek to rely on this exegesis is, again, contradictory to the approach they adopt when the exegesis does not support the Preservation Idea. For example: some of the exegetes which are cited in Sam Shamoun’s own article discuss the very same interpretation put forth by Asad, namely that the Qur’an corroborates what is true of previous scriptures and disavows what is false of them (for example, see Ibn Jarir). Note that az-Zamakhshari, Ibn Kathir, Ibn Juraij and al-Baghawi and al-Tabari all adopt the same position as Asad.
Despite Asad’s interpretation being considered a perfectly valid one, and propounded by many exegetes (including exegetes cited by F&S), F&S continue to label Asad’s interpretation as ‘interpolation’, creating the illusion of Asad’s deviance where there is none.
(iii) The Qur’an as al-Furqan – the ‘Criterion’
Let us read 5:48 in light of a more explicit verse: TMQ 3:3-4. The first part of this verse is almost identical in wording to 5:48, and then proceeds to specify: “He sent down to you the Book with truth, confirming what was ‘bayna yadayhi’… [the verse next specifies the ‘previous texts’] …And He sent the Torah and the Injeel before as guidance for the people [the verse next clarifies the role of the Qur’an] And He revealed the Furqan. Indeed, those who disbelieve in the verses of Allah will have a severe punishment…”
‘Furqan’ is derived of the root f-r-q, meaning to separate, divide, differentiate; make a distinction between things; the derivative ‘furqan’ means to be a criterion or a proof. This verse is saying that the Qur’an is the criterion. The Qur’an is designated as al-Furqan not once, but several times (see also 2:185, 25:1). If there is any difficulty in understanding the wonderful expression of the role of the Qur’an in relation to the previous scriptures in 5:48, then 3:3-4 will assist.
3 – Adh-Dhikr – the Reminder
F&S also present 15:9 TMQ and 41:42 TMQ as evidence that Allah (swt) promises to preserve the Bible under the umbrella of ‘scripture’. These verses refer to the revelation being guarded as ‘adh-Dhikr’ (‘the Reminder’).
With regards to 15:9, F&S provide a number of additional verses using ‘adh-Dhikr’ which, according to F&S, refers to ‘the scriptures in the possession of the Jews and Christians’ (i.e. show that ‘adh-Dhikr’ does not refer exclusively to the Qur’an). However, in order to then harness 41:42, F&S must claim that ‘adh-Dhikr’ refers exclusively to the Qur’an as they say with regards to 41:42, that the Qur’an ‘appeals to the former book to confirm its message’, i.e. that the subject of preservation in 41:41-42 is the Qur’an and it is safe from the ‘Torah, Psalms and Gospel’.
F&S must decide whether they think that adh-Dhikr refers to all of the scriptures collectively, or just the Qur’an and then choose which they think supports the Preservation Idea, as concurrently they serve to contradict the Preservation Idea.
We see that the Preservation Idea fails to manifest in more than just 5:48, and that Asad’s interpretation is shared by many exegetes, as set out above, including exegetes that F&S themselves rely on. As such, F&S’ objection to Asad’s translation appears to be a necessary formality. It is symbolic of their greater contention with the Qur’an itself, as it refuses to evidence a promise that they attribute to it.
Categories: Zara Faris