Eighth Matter: Is the translation of the Quran and sentences of dhikr possible?
[This forms the footnote to the third example in the Third Point about the Fifth of the obstacles to making independent judgements of the Divine Law (ijtihad), in the Twenty-Seventh Word.]
A n I m p o r t a n t Q u e s t i o n : Some of those scholars who have researched into the realities have said that each of the words of the Qur’an and of supplications and other glorifications of Allah illuminate man’s spiritual faculties in numerous ways, providing spiritual sustenance. So if the meanings are not known, the words alone do not express them fully and are insufficient. The words are a garment; would it not be more useful if they were changed, and every people clothed the meanings in words of their own language?
T h e A n s w e r : The words of the Qur’an and of the glorifications of the Prophet are not lifeless garments; they are like the living skin of the body; indeed with the passage of time, they have become the skin. Garments are changed, but it would be harmful to the body if the skin were to be changed. Blessed words like those of the five daily prayers and the call to prayer have become the mark and sign of their usual meanings. And marks and signs cannot be changed. I have often observed and studied in myself a state which I experience. The state is a reality, and it is this:
On the Day of ‘Arafa, the eve of the Festival of Sacrifices, I used to recite Sura al-Ikhlas hundreds of times. I would observe that some of the non-physical senses in me would receive the sustenance several times, then would cease to do so, and stop. Others like the faculty of reflective thought would turn towards the meaning for a time, receive their share, then they too would stop. And some like the heart would receive their share in respect of certain concepts which were the means to a spiritual pleasure, then they too would fall silent. And so on. Gradually, with repetition only some of the subtle faculties would remain and become wearied only long after the others; they would continue, leaving no need for further meaning and study. Heedlessness was not detrimental to these, as it was to the faculty of thought. Enough for them were the usual meaning contained in the marks and signs, with the summary of the meaning which the words and the words full of meaning comprised. If the meaning had been thought of at that point, it would have caused harmful boredom. Anyway, those subtle faculties which continue are not in need of study and comprehension, they rather show need for recollection, regard, and encouragement. And the words which are like skin are sufficient for them and perform the duty of meaning. Especially with recalling through those Arabic words that they are the Word of Allah and Divine speech, they are means of constant effulgence.
Thus, this state which I myself experienced shows that it is extremely harmful to express in another language truths like the call to prayer and the tesbihat following the obligatory prayers, and Suras of the Qur’an like Fatiha and Ikhlas, which are repeated all the time. For when the constant spring of the Divine words and words of the Prophet are lost, the constant share of those constant subtle faculties is also lost. Also harmful are the loss of the minimum of ten merits for each word, and the heedlessness and the darkness caused to the spirit by the human terms of the translations due to the constant sense of the Divine presence not persisting for everyone throughout the prayers.
Indeed, like Imam-i A‘zam said that There is no god but Allah is the mark and sign of the affirmation of Divine Unity, we say the following: the great majority of the words of Divine glorification and praise, and especially of those of the call to prayer and obligatory prayers, have become like marks and signs. Like signs, they are considered more with their usual Shari‘i meaning, more than with their literal meaning. So according to the Shari‘a, it is not possible to change them. An uneducated man even may learn concise meanings of them, which all believers should know; that is, a summary of their meaning. How can those people who pass their whole lives with Islam yet fill their heads with endless trivia be excused for not learning in one or two weeks a summary of the meanings of these blessed words which are the key to eternal life? How can they be Muslims? How can they be called “reasonable people”? It is not reasonable to destroy the protective cases of those springs of light for the sake of the laziness of loafers like them!
Furthermore, from whatever nation he may be, one who says: “Subhanallah! Glory be to Allah!” understands that he is declaring Almighty Allah free of all defect. Is this not enough? If he is turned towards the meaning in his own language, he studies it once from the point of view of the intellect. Whereas if he repeats it a hundred times a day in its true form, apart from his intellect’s share of studying, the summary of the words, which is from the words and spreads to and combines with the words, is the means to many lights and much effulgence. Especially the sacredness he receives from the words being Divine speech, and the effulgence and lights proceeding from the sacredness, they are most important.
I n S h o r t : Nothing at all can be established in place of the sacred Divine words which are the protective cases of the essentials of religion, and nothing can take their place, and nothing can perform their duties. Even if they can express them temporarily, they cannot do so permanently and in sacred and elevated fashion.
However, as for the words that are the protective cases of the theoretical matters of religion, there is no necessity for them to be changed. For such a need is repulsed by preaching, teaching, advice, and other instruction.
T o C o n c l u d e : The comprehensiveness of the Arabic language, the language of grammar, and the miraculousness of the Qur’an’s words are such that they are untranslatable. I can even say it is impossible to translate them. If anyone doubts this, let him refer to the Twenty-Fifth Word. What they call translations are abbreviated and deficient approximations. How can such approximations be compared with the living, true meanings of the Qur’an’s verses, which have many aspects of ramification?