Friday, October 1, 2010

Bang On

Via the Angry Arab News Service - excellent piece on translating Islam. Highlights:
Massad then focused on the word Islam, and on Orientalists, who attributed various meanings to the word--often without definition or explanation--and switched between meanings within one text. For such scholars, the word Islam could mean the history of various or all Muslim states, a specific individual or scholar, a set of customs and norms, a community, the Quran and the hadith as well as commentaries on both.
This one particularly reminded me of the ambiguity of the terms 'Jew' and 'Jewish', and this next bit is basically what I've been saying/quoting all along:
Massad then discussed the “untranslateable"--the idea that some words are so rooted in a given culture that they cannot be translated. Massad said sometimes the cultural attachment is oversimplified; words like Allah, jihad and hijab, which are generally left in the Arabic, are not tied exclusively to Islamic cultures. Jihad is a common name among Christian Arabs, and is understood to mean “struggle,” according to the professor, who added that Allah means “God” to Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians. The fact that the Prophet Mohamed’s father was named Abdallah, Massad continued, proves the word Allah was part of the Arabic language before Islam.
Especially this:
Here, Massad said, the question becomes about how we think about translation. “Is it about about respect for difference, or about emphasizing difference?”
The key problem here, as I've always, always said, is assuming the words we borrow don't come from a living, working language. Though we only really use Arabic to describe Arabic things, don't forget, Arabs also use it to buy bus tickets and point out untied shoelaces.

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