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nal Journal for Translation & Interpreting Research trans-int.org Islamic religious terms in English...
The International Journal for Translation & Interpreting Research
transliteration in Ezzeddin Ibrahim and Denys Johnson-Davies’ translation of AnNawawī’s Forty Ḥadīths
Abstract: This article examines the problem of translation versus transliteration of Islamic Religious Terms (IRTs) into English.
The main objective of the article is to semantically investigate translation versus transliteration of IRTs in English as lexical items that include names of Allah,
names of prophets and their companions,
and terms related to the pillars and rituals of Islam so as to determine situations where either of the two techniques should be applied.
the article discusses the use of translation versus transliteration in Ezzeddin Ibrahim and Denys Johnson-Davies’ translation of AnNawawī’s Forty Ḥadīths (2002) as an example of an Islamic religious discourse in English where the conflict between the two techniques is apparent.
I conclude the article by pointing out that translation of IRTs into English is only appropriate when words of the source language (SL) and words of the target language (TL) are cross-culturally equivalent,
having the same referents and connotations in both languages,
while transliteration is recommended for all other IRT situations in which SL and TL words are partially-equivalent or non-equivalent.
academic researchers in the field of translation studies have posed questions on certain issues related to the translation of sacred and religious texts,
and with what safeguards or controls should religious texts be translated
? Is a translated religious text still sacred,
or is it a mere ‘copy’ of the sacred text
? The result is that two approaches toward the translation of religious texts can be distinguished: untranslatability and translatability.
As Ali Yunis Aldahesh (2014) notes: Scholars are of two different standpoints as to translatability/untranslatability of texts from a given source language into any target language.
among others) insist that translation is ultimately impossible,
Newmark) believe that everything is translatable and can be translated either directly or indirectly into a target language.
Translation & Interpreting Vol 8 No 1 (2016)
seems to be more reasonable than the former one,
untranslatability “due to the expansion in the concept of translation,
and the many strategies that a translator can resort to when confronted with a linguistic and/or cultural gap between two languages” (2014,
or the source text (ST) in translation terms,
it would be impossible to translate religious texts.
A quite distinctive opinion related to untranslatability is provided by the German language philosopher Walter Benjamin,
who argues that a “sacred text is untranslatable (…) precisely because the meaning and the letter cannot be dissociated” (Derrida,
makes it clear that it is necessary for all humans to understand religious texts,
and this need is served by translating the form and content of the ST as faithfully as possible into the target language.
The translatability approach involves a number of strategies which revolve around two main approaches to equivalence.
The first approach seeks to achieve “formal equivalence” which “focuses attention on the message itself,
and concept to concept” (Nida,
the translator aims to translate the text into the level of linguistic aptitude common to the receptor’s language.
A judicious balancing of translation approaches and choice of strategies is not merely an academic question: as stated by Khaleel Mohammed (2005,
“[s]ince fewer than 20 percent of Muslims speak Arabic,
this means that most Muslims study the text only in translation.” The continuous growth of Muslim communities in English-speaking countries has been accompanied by increased demand for authoritative English versions of religious texts such as the Qur’ān and Ḥadīth.
the rendering of Islamic religious terms (IRTs) into English also acquires special significance.
names of the prophets (Muḥammad,
etc.) and their companions (Abū Bakr,
names of sacred places (Makkah,
and terms related to the pillars of Islam (shahādah,
fiqh and sacred texts (Qur’ān and Ḥadīths).
moral and religious laws) in Islam.
the main religious text of Islam,
and Ḥadīths are the sayings and statements of Prophet Muḥammad that are regarded as important tools for understanding the Qur’ān.
With regard to Islamic religious texts,
and the Qur’ān and Ḥadīths in particular,
translators ought to take into consideration certain textual qualities and constraints.
In Muslim belief and tradition,
the sacred or central religious texts are protected by Allah from any tampering or interpolation by any human,
Ibrāhīm and Johnson-Davies followed the transliteration system of the Encyclopaedia of Islam (2nd edition,
Allah has promised to protect the Holy Book,
which Al-Hilali and Khan (1999) translate as,
It is We Who have sent down the Dhikr (i.e.
We will guard it (from corruption)” (Al-Ḥijr,
and to punish those who dare to change His َﺎب ﺑِﺄ َ ْﯾ ِﺪﯾ ِﮭ ْﻢ ﺛُ ﱠﻢ ﯾَﻘُﻮﻟُﻮنَ ھَ َﺬا ِﻣ ْﻦ ِﻋ ْﻨ ِﺪ ﱠ words,(79 ﷲ﴾ )اﻟﺒﻘﺮة َ “ ﴿ﻓَ َﻮ ْﯾ ٌﻞ ﻟِﻠﱠ ِﺬﯾﻦَ ﯾَ ْﻜﺘُﺒُﻮنَ ْاﻟ ِﻜﺘThen woe to those who write the Book with their own hands and then say,
‘This is from Allah’” (Al-Hilali & Khan,
A similar warning is made by Prophet Muḥammad to those who might dare change the meaning of his statements or narrate a ḥadīth knowing it to be false.
ﻲ َ ) َﻣ ْﻦ َﻛ َﺬ ب َﻋﻠَ ﱠ ْ ْ ْ ﱠ َ َ َ (ﺎر ﻨ اﻟ ﻣ ه ﺪ ﻌ ﻘ ﻣ ﱠأ ﻮ ﺒ ﺘ ﯿ ﻠ ﻓ ًا ﺪ ﻤ ﻌ ﺘ ﻣ ,
which Muhsin Khan (1996) translates as “Do not tell a lie َﻦ َ ِ ُ َ َ َ َ ُ َﱢ ِ against me for whoever tells a lie against me (intentionally) then he will surely enter the Hell-fire” [1:106-O.B.] (Summarized Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhāri,
uses a heightened form of Arabic that is unlike any other Arabic text in its manner and use of language ﴿إِﻧﱠﺎ أَﻧﺰ َْﻟﻨَﺎهُ ﻗُﺮْ آﻧًﺎ َﻋ َﺮﺑِﯿًّﺎ (2 “ ﻟﱠ َﻌﻠﱠ ُﻜ ْﻢ ﺗَ ْﻌﻘِﻠُﻮن﴾ )ﯾﻮﺳﻒVerily,
who maintains that because the Qur’ān stresses its Arabic nature,
intended only as a tool for the study and understanding of the original Arabic text.
p.19) states that “The Qur’ān exists in its original language,
in its original wording as revealed to Prophet Muḥammad (peace be upon him)”.
this notion of the Arabic nature of the Qur’ān is confirmed throughout the Qur’ān.
in order that he might make (the Message) clear for them” (Al-Hilali & Khan,
this view holds that proper understanding of Qur’ān and Ḥadīths is not possible without suitable knowledge of the Arabic language.
the main objective of this article is to semantically investigate translation versus transliteration of these Islamic terms in English so as to determine situations where translation or transliteration becomes the appropriate strategy.
To achieve its purpose,
this article examines the use of translation versus transliteration in An-Nawawī’s Forty Ḥadīths (2002),
translated by Ezzeddin Ibrahim and Denys Johnson-Davies.
translation is the process of interpretation of the meaning of a source text written in a source language and subsequent production of an equivalent target text written in a target language.
comprising the interpretation of a source text and the production of a target text with the intent of establishing a relation of equivalence between the two texts” (Delisle,
The concept of “equivalence” introduced in the above definition is explained by the cited authors as a “relation of identity established by a translator between two translation units whose discourse function is identical or almost Translation & Interpreting Vol 8 No 1 (2016)
identical in their respective languages” (1999,
“It is generally recognized that the relationship of a source and a target text is one of cognitive,
pragmatic and linguistic equivalences”.
there are certain translation situations in which there is no “equivalence at word level” between SL and TL,
Baker refers mainly to the lexical meaning of the word,
which may be thought of as “the specific value it has in a particular linguistic system and the ‘personality’ it acquires through usage within that system”.
Translation of sacred and religious texts is one of these occasions in which non-equivalence at word level may occur.
means that “[t]he target language has no direct equivalent for a word which occurs in the source text”.
the translator must call upon more elaborate techniques or translation strategies,
which may be understood as the set of rules or principles used to reach the goals determined by the translating situation.
Hans Peter Krings (1986,
Some scholars such as John Napier note that both translation and transliteration share common underlying processes although the former represents free interpretation and the latter represents literal interpretation.
Napier (2002) defines translation as “the process by which concepts and meanings are translated from one language into another,
by incorporating cultural norms and values
assumed knowledge about these values,
and the search for linguistic and cultural equivalents”.
transliteration is defined as “literal interpretation” (p.
Napier’s definitions of both translation and transliteration make it clear that in translation – being a “free interpretation” – the translator closely follows the patterns of the target language whereas in transliteration – being a “literal interpretation” – the translator closely follows the patterns of the source language.
transliteration has certain disadvantages that have led some translators and researchers in translation studies to advocate translation rather than transliteration of religious terms.
transliterated IRTs may suggest a pronunciation in English which is different from the pronunciation of the Arabic original.
The pronunciation of the transliterated words ‘Abd Allāh ( )ﻋﺒﺪ ﷲand Isrā’ ( )إﺳﺮاءin English is different from their pronunciation in Arabic in which they are pronounced with initial ‘ayn ( )ع/ʕ/ in ‘Abd Allāh and final hamzah ( )ء/ʔ/ in Isrā’.
This problem stems from the absence of phonetic equivalences in English: Ideally,
one would hope for a one-to-one mapping of the graphemes,
though this is not possible in Arabic-English transliteration due to the absence of consonantal equivalences in one of the two languages.
The problem is compounded by the fact that short vowels are not represented by letters in Arabic but by vocalization diacritics,
which are rarely used except in the Qur’ān.
(Kharusi & Salman,
the absence of phonetic equivalences in one of the two languages can be addressed by the use of special symbols,
and combinations of letters to change the sound value of the letter to which they are added,
and thus compensate for the absence of phonetic equivalences between SL and TL combinations of letters (e.g.
using the combination gh /ɣ/ to stand for the Arabic letter ghayn ()غ,
or using ṣ /sˤ/ to represent the Arabic letter ṣād ()ص.
Another problem in the transliteration of IRTs is that the transliterated form may give a sense of the exotic and of cultural difference.
A New Translation,
Khaleel Mohammed (2005) recommends translation rather transliteration: The translator renders the Arabic Allah as God,
since the question of why many Muslims refuse to use the word God as a functional translation has created the misconception for many that Muslims worship a different deity than the Judeo-Christian creator.
it originates from as well as displays a high estimation of the transliterated Islamic concepts at the expense of their counterparts in other religions..
ElShiekh and Saleh (2011) assume that the use of transliteration rather than translation of IRTs may reflect an anti-others attitude,
whereas translated IRTs are probably more favourable in discourses that advocate dialogue with the religious other: “[i]t turns out to be the better option for Muslims writing in English about Islamic religious concepts to resort to translation rather than transliteration.” (p.
this argument focuses only on the perception of non-Muslim readers of Islamic religious texts in English,
which might be negative for reasons other than the insistence on transliterating IRTs and ignores other advantages that the transliteration of IRTs may yield.
One such advantage is that transliteration is more appropriate with IRTs that have no direct equivalents in the TL.
transliteration strategy allows backtranslation,
translators and researchers can easily reconvert the transliterated IRT from English into Arabic.
reconverting transliterated words such as Allāh,
and ḥajj back into Arabic as ﷲ,
اﻟﺼﻼةand اﻟﺤﺞis much easier than reconverting translated words such as god,
which might be rendered as إﻟﮫ,
دﻋﺎءand رﺣﻠﺔ إﻟﻰ ﻣﻜﺎن ﻣﻘﺪسrespectively.
and pilgrimage) actually convey the true religious connotations of the Arabic words.
as prayer can indicate several different ways of relating to Allāh
personal prayer or supplication is called du‘ā’ (literally supplication) in Islamic usage.
Translating zakāh as alms will not confirm the distinction between zakāh as an obligatory act of worship and ṣadaqah as a voluntary act of giving alms.
translating ḥajj as pilgrimage does not necessarily refer to journeying to Mecca during the month of Dhū AlḤijjah to perform religious duties.
if we accept the word pilgrimage,
regardless of its wide range of connotations,
then what is the word that will be used to stand for to the same journey to Mecca,
performed Translation & Interpreting Vol 8 No 1 (2016)
which can be undertaken at any time of the year (i.e.
? Even if the translator uses both words God and god in English to mark the distinction between Allāh ( )ﷲand ilāh ()إﻟﮫ,
this will not be possible in a language such as German where all nouns are capitalized,
and in this case the German word Gott will be used to refer to both Allāh ( )ﷲand ilāh ()إﻟﮫ.
Another advantage of transliteration is that the transliterated form looks more like an English word since it is written using the alphabetical system of English.
many translators may choose to transliterate words and thus create new words in English,
instead of using existing English words with partially equivalent meanings.
Research questions and method Throughout this article I will attempt to semantically investigate translation versus transliteration of IRTs in English in Ezzeddin Ibrahim and Denys JohnsonDavies’ translation of An-Nawawī’s Forty Ḥadīths.
The main focus will be on key lexical items that include names of Allah,
names of prophets and their companions,
and terms related to the pillars and rituals of Islam so as to determine situations where either of the two techniques should be applied.
Some of the major questions that the article attempts to answer are: How well do Ibrahim and Johnson-Davies manage to translate IRTs into English in their translation of An-Nawawī’s Forty Ḥadīths
? In what ways are IRTs unique lexical items
? When should the translator use translation or transliteration in translating IRTs into English
? Are there any translation situations in which transliteration of IRTs is a must
? In order to find answers to the aforementioned questions,
I will make use of key concepts and ideas from the field of semantics to analyse examples of IRTs in Ibrahim and Johnson-Davies’ translation of An-Nawawī’s Forty Ḥadīths.
changes in the signification of words and theories of denotation,
semantics proves itself an essential approach to explore problems of understanding and word selection in the process of translating IRTs into English.
In the discussion of examples of IRTs in Ibrahim and Johnson-Davies’ translation of An-Nawawī’s Forty Ḥadīths,
a three-level analysis is attempted.
the denotational and connotational meanings of selected IRTs are illustrated.
“The meaning of a word has two aspects: denotation and connotation.
and literal meaning of a word.
the meanings of the selected IRTs are sought in relation to their contexts in the Qur’ān and Prophet Muḥammad’s Ḥadīth.
attempts are made to provide alternative or appropriate English translations of some IRTs which might convey complexity and ambiguity.
Results & discussion An-Nawawī’s Forty Ḥadīths is a small but popular book in which Al-Nawawī gathered forty-two of the sayings of Prophet Muḥammad,
which together form an explanation of the most important aspects of Islam.
What is significant about the selected translation of An-Nawawī’s Forty Ḥadīths by Ezzeddin Ibrahim and Denys Johnson-Davies is that it is made by two persons whose cultural and academic backgrounds complement each other.
Ibrahim is a Professor of Arabic Translation & Interpreting Vol 8 No 1 (2016)
IRTs in An-Nawawī’s Forty Ḥadīths and their Arabic counterparts ST Word
ﷲ ﻣﺤﻤﺪ ﻋﻤﺮ اﻹﺳﻼم ﻧﺒﻲ رﺳﻮل اﻟﺰﻛﺎة اﻟﺼﻼة اﻟﺤﺞ اﻟﺒﯿﺖ اﻟﺤﺮام اﻻﯾﻤﺎن اﻟﯿﻮم اﻵﺧﺮ اﻻﺣﺴﺎن اﻟﺴﺎﻋﺔ ﺟﺒﺮﯾﻞ رﻣﻀﺎن اﻟﺠﻨﺔ اﻟﻨﺎر اﻟﺮزق ﻋﺎﺋﺸﺔ اﻟﻨﺼﯿﺤﺔ أﺑﻮ ھﺮﯾﺮة آﯾﺔ ﺳﻮرة اﻻﺣﺴﺎن اﻟﺴﯿﺌﺔ اﻟﺤﺴﻨﺔ اﻟﺤﻼل اﻟﺤﺮام
Allāh Muḥammad ‘Umar Islam Prophet Messenger zakāt prayer pilgrimage the House imān Last Day iḥsān the Hour Gabriel Ramadan Paradise Hell-fire means of livelihood ‘A’isha sincerity Abū Huraira verse chapter proficiency bad deed good deed lawful forbidden Al-ḥamdu lillāh [Praise be to Allah] Subḥāna’llāh [How far is Allah from every imperfection] charity patience Jinn Companions tasbīḥa takbīra taḥmīda tahlīla reward sin righteousness sunna Rashidite Caliphs innovation Jihād religious duties evil action piety grief supererogatory works
اﻟﺤﻤﺪ ہﻠﻟ ﺳﺒﺤﺎن ﷲ اﻟﺼﺪﻗﺔ اﻟﺼﺒﺮ اﻟﺠﻦ اﻟﺼﺤﺎﺑﺔ ﺗﺴﺒﯿﺤﺔ ﺗﻜﺒﯿﺮة ﺗﺤﻤﯿﺪة ﺗﮭﻠﯿﻠﺔ أﺟﺮ وزر اﻟﺒﺮ اﻟﺴﻨﺔ اﻟﺨﻠﻔﺎء اﻟﺮاﺷﺪﯾﻦ ﺑﺪﻋﺔ اﻟﺠﮭﺎد اﻟﻔﺮاﺋﺾ ﻣﻨﻜﺮ اﻟﺘﻘﻮى ﻛﺮﺑﺔ اﻟﻨﻮاﻓﻞ
Strategy Used Transliteration Transliteration Transliteration loan word Translation Translation Transliteration Translation Translation Translation Transliteration Translation Transliteration Translation Translation loan word Translation Translation Translation Transliteration Translation Transliteration Translation Translation Translation Translation Translation Translation Translation Transliteration & Translation
Translation Translation loan word Translation Transliteration Transliteration Transliteration Transliteration Translation Translation Translation Transliteration Translation Translation Transliteration Translation Translation Translation Translation Translation
and is active in Islamic scholarship,
and Johnson-Davies is an eminent Arabic-English literary translator.
Table 1 above contains examples of IRTs in Ibrahim and Johnson-Davies’ translation of An-Nawawī’s Forty Ḥadīths,
and the strategy used by the translators for each term.
some pertinent observations on these examples are given.
Observation 1 The translators chose to translate IRTs in English where they have identified TL words that can adequately function as cross-cultural equivalents for SL words,
or loan words from the SL with the same meaning in the TL.
In either case,
the translators consider that the SL and TL words have sufficiently similar referents and connotations in both cultures as to justify translating rather than transliterating the following IRTs: Table 2.
Translated IRTs in An-Nawawī’s Forty Ḥadīths ST Word اﻹﺳﻼم ﻧﺒﻲ رﺳﻮل اﻟﯿﻮم اﻵﺧﺮ اﻟﺴﺎﻋﺔ ﺟﺒﺮﯾﻞ رﻣﻀﺎن اﻟﺠﻨﺔ اﻟﺮزق اﻟﻨﺼﯿﺤﺔ آﯾﺔ ﺳﻮرة اﻻﺣﺴﺎن اﻟﺴﯿﺌﺔ اﻟﺤﺴﻨﺔ اﻟﺤﻼل اﻟﺤﺮام اﻟﺼﺪﻗﺔ اﻟﺼﺒﺮ اﻟﺠﻦ اﻟﺼﺤﺎﺑﺔ أﺟﺮ وزر اﻟﺒﺮ اﻟﺨﻠﻔﺎء اﻟﺮاﺷﺪﯾﻦ ﺑﺪﻋﺔ اﻟﻔﺮاﺋﺾ ﻣﻨﻜﺮ اﻟﺘﻘﻮى ﻛﺮﺑﺔ اﻟﻨﻮاﻓﻞ
TT Word Islam Prophet Messenger Last Day the Hour Gabriel Ramadān Paradise means of livelihood sincerity verse chapter proficiency bad deed good deed lawful forbidden charity patience Jinn Companions reward sin righteousness Rashidite Caliphs innovation religious duties evil action piety grief supererogatory works
TT Word Type loan word cross-cultural equivalent cross-cultural equivalent cross-cultural equivalent cross-cultural equivalent cross-cultural equivalent loan word cross-cultural equivalent partially-equivalent partially-equivalent non-equivalent non-equivalent partially-equivalent cross-cultural equivalent cross-cultural equivalent partially-equivalent partially-equivalent cross-cultural equivalent partially-equivalent loan word cross-cultural equivalent cross-cultural equivalent cross-cultural equivalent cross-cultural equivalent loan word non-equivalent cross-cultural equivalent partially-equivalent cross-cultural equivalent cross-cultural equivalent cross-cultural equivalent
the assumption that SL and TL words given in Table 2 have the same referents and connotations is not accurate.
sometimes carry additional cultural connotations in the TL culture that they do not have in the SL culture.
there are some words in Table 2 that are taken to be cross-culturally equivalent even though they are not.
the Translation & Interpreting Vol 8 No 1 (2016)
in contrast to the English term innovation which refers to worldly matters that are generally acceptable and encouraged as long as they do not violate sharī‘ah,
the Arabic word bid‘ah ( )ﺑﺪﻋﺔcarries a negative connotation in Islamic religious contexts as it entails anything not specifically performed or confirmed by the Prophet.
Umar Faruq Abd-Allah (2006) explains the connotations the word bid‘ah can have: Bid‘a could take on various shades of meaning.
“bid‘a must be avoided.” Nevertheless,
bid‘a was not always something bad.
especially when qualified by adjectives,
bid‘a could cover a wide range of meanings from what was praiseworthy to what was completely wrong.
although the Arabic word has shades of meaning that go beyond the pragmatic meaning of the TL word as material wealth or income to encompass all forms of Allah's blessings.
the word naṣīḥah ( )اﻟﻨﺼﯿﺤﺔis translated into sincerity although the SL word and the TL word are partially equivalent.
The words verse and chapter are used as equivalent to āyah ( )آﯾﺔand sūrah ( )ﺳﻮرةrespectively.
in this religious context to refer to the statements (āyāt) of the Qur’ān,
( ﯾﺲ ٌ ِآن ُﻣﺒ ٌ ْ“ ) َو َﻣﺎ َﻋﻠﱠ ْﻤﻨَﺎهُ اﻟ ﱢﺸ ْﻌ َﺮ َو َﻣﺎ ﯾَ ْﻨﺒَ ِﻐﻲ ﻟَﮫُ إِ ْن ھُ َﻮ إِﻻ ِذ ْﻛ ٌﺮ َوﻗُﺮAnd We have not taught him 69) (ﯿﻦ (Muhammad) poetry,
which describes part or a division of a narrative or a story,
should not be used as equivalent to sura,
which has already become an English word since the seventeenth century as given in Collins English Dictionary (2015).
If the word sura is already accepted in English,
then it is logical to use its partner term āyah instead of verse.
The words lawful and forbidden are used by the translators as equivalents to the Arabic words ḥalāl ( )ﺣﻼلand ḥarām ( )ﺣﺮامrespectively,
The attempt to translate ḥalāl ( )ﺣﻼلand ḥarām ( )ﺣﺮامusing partiallyequivalent TL words,
lawful and forbidden would inevitably result in a problem of generalization because the TL word will have a wider meaning than SL word.
In Islamic culture,
concepts of ḥalāl ( )ﺣﻼلand ḥarām ( )ﺣﺮامhave to do basically with what is permitted or not permitted by Allah.
the word lawful could refer to what is allowed by Allah or by human laws.
In this case,
a term designating any object or an action which is permissible according to Islamic law,