C2: The Word Enters the World

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C2: The Word Enters the World

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Aug 18, 2009, 1:23pm

The Qur'an: A User's Guide Chapter 2

Essa--have you had a chance to begin reading this book yet? I am curious how the contents strike you, since you seem to have read a fair amount about the Qur'an already , and I believe you mentioned you have read the Qur'an in full.

I found a variety of interesting references in chapter 2. Esack says the early Arabians already believed in a single God that they called allah-but that they "paid homage to numerous deities" (34). Also, the ka'bah already existed, but it "housed a large number of idols" (34).

He quotes the section in the Qur'an that has become to be known as the "satanic verses," and discusses how this section in interpreted by various groups. Made me think of Rushdie's novel, but I have no idea if there is any connection.

Esack also quotes the section in the Qur'an that explains how the Jews and Christians corrupted their own scripture through deliberately changing words and ideas and through using sections out of "context" (49). This was of interest to me ,since I have read this stated elsewhere, but I was not certain where this idea came from. What follows is --"the only valid scripture is the Qur'an and the only path to salvation is through Islam" (49). The assumption here is that words have not been changed from revelation to page (although I wonder about translations) and no words or sections from the Qu'ran have been used out of context (but I wonder how this can be certain).

At any rate--Esack's chapter emphasizes a tension between the Qur'an as history --the way scholars and some progressive Muslims might view it, and the Qur'an as the "extension of the divine"( 31).

I am reading this book very much as an outsider, and so wonder how "insider" readers would respond to Esack's style and approach.

Lastly, what would be an example if early Arabic poetry that would be available in English translation? Arabic poetry during the time of Muhammad--examples-does anyone know?

Edited: Aug 18, 2009, 4:14pm

an example of early Arabic poetry that would be available in English translation

Here you will find selections from a poem by the Jahili poet Imru' al-Qais, with text and recitation and rolling translation. The Beeb has collected other parts of more translations of that same poem with some discussion here.

For something more complete and for others, check the references on that page or the Wikipedia's Mu'allaqat entry. But take note of how old some of them are (though that does have the advantage that you can find them in Google Books or the Internet Archive) and that others, like Early Arabic Poetry, are aimed at students of Arabic language and literature, so the translations are literal.

Aug 18, 2009, 9:22pm

The article "The Muallaqa of Imru al Qays and Its Translations Into English" was very interesting for me to read and helpful; in that, I was able to see the various translations of the poem section--and see the variations. It gives one a sense of how hard it is to translate Arabic into English. I am more aware of this in regards to the northern Alaskan peoples--Eskimo and Innuit. One word in their language can suggest an enormous layering of meaning, or on the other hand there may be 20 plus words for ice. I expect Arabic is similar in complexity and nuance.

The first translation of the Muallaqa written by the eighteenth century writer Sir William Jones is quite remarkable to me. I see I am able to get a copy of the most recent translation by the Irish poet Desmond O' Grady. Getting a feel for how important poetry and recitation was pre-Islam helps me understand a bit better the historical and cultural context of the Qur'an.

Thanks for the links; I really enjoyed exploring them. Opened up a vista for me. rosinbow