Qur’an Translations Questionnaire for non-Arabic speaking Muslims who have a good command of English

Dahlia Sabry

Posted Nov 10, 2006      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Dahlia Sabry is an Egyptian student doing her Ph.D. at Cairo University on issues related to Qur’an translations. One of the main issues that she is concerned about is that a lot of the available translations are not accurate. Though the Qur’an in Arabic is unmatched and irreplaceable, translations are indispensable for those who want to know about the basic rules of Islam – non-Arabic speaking Muslims or non-Muslims who seek to fathom the depths of Islam through first-hand knowledge.  In her thesis, she is supposed to give some recommendations as to how translations should be done in order to achieve, as much as human capacity can bear it, fidelity, i.e. adhering to the original, as well as “fluency”, readability. Besides analyzing some aspects in seven of the most recent Qur’an translations, she is doing a survey study to investigate the expectations, needs and problems of non-Arabic speaking Muslims as well as non-Muslims who may approach the Qur’an to know about Islam through two different forms of a questionnaire. 

She very much needs responses from non-Arabic speaking Muslims who have a good command of English.  Please fill out this questionnaire and return it to Dahlia at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) as soon as possible.

Questionnaire for non-Arabic speaking Muslims who have a good command of English

Kindly answer this questionnaire about Qur’an translations.

When the questionnaire asks about the meaning of something, it is meant to see how the respondents understand it regardless of the correction of this interpretation. The purpose is to see whether the way it is translated conveys the intended meaning, so please answer ALL the questions in the light of your OWN UNDERSTANDING without worrying about whether the answer is right or wrong.

If you are going to answer the softcopy, simply delete the answer you do not want.

        Age Range:  16 – 20             21- 40                     41-60             Above 60                            
        Nationality:          Educational Degree:        Profession:          Born Muslim/Convert            
        How did you know about my questionnaire?

    Part I

1. What do you expect a Qur’an translation would do?

a. It sticks to the exact words, idioms (fixed expressions with specific meanings) and figurative
    images of the original, even if difficult to comprehend, then provides footnotes for possible
        b. It conveys the intended meaning without necessarily sticking to the exact words, idioms and
          imagery of the original.
c. Other. Please specify:

2. Which of the following types of translation do you prefer?

a. One that transfers the meaning of the original text to the target language in the same style of the original Arabic using the same wording and keeping the idiomatic (fixed) expressions as well as the figurative images, which may be difficult to understand in the target language, then provides footnotes for possible explanations.
        b. One that transfers the meaning of the original text to the target language using target language
          style without necessarily adhering to the exact wording of the original—i.e. possibly providing
          equivalent idioms, giving the sense of the imagery used rather than the figurative images
          themselves, and using the word order of the target language—in order to avoid the
          incomprehensibility of literal translations.

    c. Other. Please specify:

3. If you chose “b” above, would you need the original imagery, idioms, or significant syntactic structures, which are meant for certain effects or rhetorical ones, to be given in footnotes?

a. Very important             b. Preferably                             c. No need for this

4. If a translator may depart in some parts from the literal rendering to make the translation understandable, which of the following items are you keen to have exactly literal as the original, even if strange in English:

a. word order                                            
b. imagery (figures of speech)
c. idiomatic expressions (fixed expressions with certain meanings)   
d. d. syntactic (grammatical) structures

    5. How do you grade fidelity – sticking closely to the original text – in Qur’an translation as
        compared to the translation of any other text?

        a. More important in Qur’an translation than in other texts.
        b. Less important in Qur’an translation than in other texts.
        c. It has the same importance in both.

    6. In the case of vague ayat that have more than one possible interpretation, would you rather
      have the same openness to multiple interpretations transferred in the translation or the most
      likely interpretation?

        a. openness to multiple interpretations               b. most likely interpretation
    7. Would you like to have an indication that there are other likely interpretations?

        a. yes                                               b. it does not matter for me
      8. Do you usually compare different versions of Qur’an translations while reading?

        a. yes                                               b. no
    9. If you found differences in the translations, how do you usually feel?

        a. Lose trust in the translations.
        b. Get confused.
        c. Understand that these differences are the result of differences in the translators’ understanding of
            the aya or their choice of one particular likely interpretation.
        d. Other. Please specify:

    10. If the translator made any additions/changes for the sake of clarifying the meaning, would
        you expect him/her to make an indication of such additions/changes?

        a. It is a must.                                  b. It does not matter for me.     

    11. Taking into consideration that the meaning of a Qur’anic aya is sometimes completed in the
        following ayat, which translation do you prefer?

a. One that sticks to the original division of ayat with the aya’s number attached to each single aya.
b. One that can freely cross the boundaries between ayas or combine them in paragraphs facilitate

    12. Whose Qur’an translations do you depend on?

    13. Do you think the existing Qur’an translations are satisfactory?

          a. yes                                               b. no
      14. What are the features you particularly like or feel uncomfortable with in the translations
          you read?

      15. If there is something that you do not understand, do you refer to any of the authorized

          a. always               b. sometimes.              c. rarely                     d. never
      16. Which exegesis do you use?

    Part II

        1. Six translators rendered aya 32 in sura Sad and aya 42 in sura The Pen as follows:

          A. … he kept saying, ‘My love of fine things is part of my remembering my Lord’ until
            [the horses] disappeared from sight.
          B. Then he said, “Surely I have loved the love of (earthly) charitable (things) better than
            the remembrance of my Lord” until (the sun) disappeared behind the curtain.
          C. He said, “I have preferred the good things [of the world] to the remembrance of my
            Lord”, till they were taken out of sight behind the curtain.
          D. He said: “I enjoyed the good of materialism more than I enjoyed remembering my
            Lord, until it became totally dark!”
          E. He said: ‘My love for good things has distracted me from the remembrance of my
            Lord; for now the sun has vanished behind the veil of darkness.
          F.: He said, “I love the love of the excellent out of remembrance of my Lord”. Then
              when they were concealed … (38:32) 

          A.: “The day each leg is bared …”
          B:  “On the day when the shank will be bared … ” 
          C.: “On the day when matters become dire …”
          D.: “On the day the dread event unfolds …”
          E.: “On the day of excessive hardship …”
          F.: “The Day will come when they will be exposed” (68:42)

        A. Do you consider these translations significantly different?

              First aya:      a. yes                   b. no
              Second aya:    a. yes                                             b. no                                          

          B. Do you consider these differences within the acceptable range of differences between
              translators’ styles or as different possible interpretations?

              First aya:      a. yes   b. no           If no, (Confusing /Contradictory)
              Second aya:    a. yes               b. no           If no, (Confusing /Contradictory)
        C. What do you do when you encounter such differences?

        2. The following aya (17:29) signifies a figurative meaning. How do you interpret it?
          “Do not keep your hand chained to your neck but do not extend it either to its full
            extent so that you sit there blamed and destitute.”

        3.  Are there any structural or meaning problems with any of the following ayat (verses)?

            A. “And if a Qur’an were to be used to move mountains, or to slice the Earth, or the
                dead were spoken to with it. No, to God is all matters” (13:31).

    a. yes b. no             If yes, please specify it.
            B. “We take on God’s own dye. And who has a better dye than God’s?” (2:138)

    a. yes b. no               If yes, please specify it.
          C. “Is he who is devoutly (praying) at various times of the night, prostrating and upright, being
              wary of the Hereafter, and hoping for the mercy of his Lord?
              Say, “Are the ones who know equal to the ones who do not know?” Surely only the ones
              endowed with intellects would remind themselves.”  (39: 9)

              a. yes b. no             If yes, please specify it            

    4. Given that the paraphrase of aya “Do not keep your hand chained to your neck but do not
        extend it either to its full extent so that you sit there blamed and destitute”, mentioned above,
        is: “Be neither miserly nor spendthrift for then you should either earn reproach or be reduced
        to neediness”, what would you prefer in such cases of figurative or culture-specific

                a. Literal translation within the text and paraphrase in footnotes.
                b. Paraphrase in the text and the literal translation in footnotes.
                c. Literal translation followed by explanation in brackets within the text itself.                 
                  (e.g. “Do not tie your hand to your neck [by being miserly] nor stretch it without any
                restraint [by being extravagant] for then you will remain reproached and denuded.”)
5. If you read this aya for the first time from a literal translation, would you understand it?

              a. yes b. no

        6. Would any additional comments for clarification within the text divert your attention?

              a. yes b. no
        7. Please underline any parts in the sentences below that sound odd as English or that you do
            not understand.

            a.. “… Our Lord, bring us mercy from very close to You, and dispose for us rectitude
                in our Command.” (18:10)
b. “And we have made before them a barrier and behind them a barrier, then we
      enveloped them, so they do not behold the (Truth)” (36:9)
c. And have they not seen that We created for them, of what Our Hands did, cattle so
    that they are their possessors” (36: 71)
            d. So we willingly (intended) that their Lord would give them (both) in exchange a
        more charitable (person) in cleansing than he and nearer in tenderness (18: 81)
      e.  And We have made the night and the day (time) as two signs; We have erased the sign
        of the night and We have made the sign of the day-time a beholder (i.e. when man can
      f. And as We took compact with you and raised above you the Tur: “Take powerfully what
        We have brought you and give ear to (Our word).” They said, “We have heard, and we
        disobey.” And they were made to drink the Calf in their hearts (2: 93)
          8. In the following pairs, the second translator is meticulous to provide the translation of
            the sentence with the peculiar syntactic structure of the Qur’an in Arabic, which has no
            equivalent in English, while the first conveys the meaning regardless of the style of the
            original. Which do you prefer to have?

            a. “We pour down abundant water and cause the earth to split open”
    b. “We poured water in abundant pouring, and cracked the earth into multiple cracks”. (80:25-26)
    a. “and they incurred [upon themselves] God’s most inexorable wrath and for the disbelievers
        there is a humiliating torment”.
    b. “… and they incurred [upon themselves] wrath upon wrath and for the disbelievers there is a
        humiliating torment. (2:290)

  9. Ayat (7:154) and (18:77) in Qur’anic Arabic are based on personifications (attributing
    human qualities to inanimate objects). Translations “A” below maintain the feature while  
  “B” overlook it. Which translation do you prefer?

A. “When Moses’ anger fell into silence, he picked up the Tablets on which were inscribed guidance and mercy for those who stood in awe of their Lord”. (7:154)
B. “When Moses’ anger abated, he picked up the Tablets on which were inscribed guidance and mercy for those who stood in awe of their Lord”.

  A. “Then, when they both came to a town … they saw a wall there that wants to fall down and
      he repaired it” (18:77) 
    B. “Then, when they both came to a town … they saw a wall there on the point of falling
      down and he repaired it.

        10. A. Please choose whether the bold parts of the following literal translations are acceptable
            to you or not. (Acceptable = you’d rather have them even though strange than lose
            the literal structure)

a. “Not at all! When the earth is pounded (into powder), pounding, pounding …” (89:21)         
b. “… then he said, “what is it with me that I do not see the hoopoe (bird)? ... Indeed I will definitely torment him with a strict torment or indeed I will definitely slay him, or indeed he should definitely come up to me with an evident, all-binding excuse. (27:20-21)                                                                  (acceptable/unacceptable)                                                                               
        11. If you found the literal structures mentioned in all the above examples, do they hinder or
            slow down your understanding?

    a. yes         b. no                                
    If yes,          a. hinder           b. slow down               c. Other. Please specify

        12. Can you accept such structures or do you seek another more “fluent” translation?

a. accept b. seek another           c. Other. Please specify

        13. Please write your interpretation of the following italicized figurative images/idioms or
            write D K (Don’t know)

  a. “Then We struck upon their ears for a (great) number of years in the cave … And
      we braced their hearts as they rose up and said, ‘our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and
      the earth. We will never invoke any god apart from Him’.” (18: 11)
      1.                                                    2.

        b.” … [Prophet] do not grieve for them [the disbelievers] and lower your wing to the

          c. “And his produce was (all) encompassed; so (in the morning) he was wringing his hands
            for what he had expended upon it, and it [his garden] was drooped upon its trellises …” 
              1.                                                  2.                                   
            d. “And when you see them [the hypocrites], their bodies please you, and when they speak,
                you listen to what they say, yet they are like propped up [beams of] timber” (63: 4).                       

        14. In the following aya, the first translation sticks to the word order of the original, which
            is meant for emphasis, do you think maintaining the original word order makes a  
            difference here?
              “Not equal are the companions of the Fire and the companions of the Garden”  (59:20)
    “The companions of the Fire and the companions of the Garden are not equal”

    a. It maintains the emphasis of the original               b. I see no difference

        15. Do you think adding footnotes in translations, explaining the reason of revelation of
            some ayat, is necessary?

            a. very important                               b. no need for this

        16. According to your understanding of the following aya, what does it mean?
            “And in retaliation there is life for you, O men endowed with intellect that possibly you would
              be pious” (2: 179).

        Any issues that you are concerned about regarding Qur’an translations that were
        not tackled here:

May Allah reward your good deeds