Highlight: Dr. Tarif Khalidi on translating the Qur’an

Highlight: Dr. Tarif Khalidi on translating the Qur’an

This week, we turn to the third of the three papers published on December 16th, 2013: Dr. Tarif Khalidi’s “Reflections of a Qur’an Translator.”

Dr. Tarif Khalidi

Khalidi (American University of Beirut) provides a personal reflection on the challenges and nuances of translating Scripture, and the Qur’an in particular. He speaks of the distinct burdens that come with translating the Qur’an:

[W]e do not, it seems to me, make enough allowance for the Qurʾan’s often deliberate mystification: the self-referential epithet “mutashabah” enshrines the mystification…. This is a text which, while claiming manifest clarity, is at least partially meant to make the flesh creep—somewhat like the “shudder” in T.S. Eliot (cf. Kermode 2010). Or else we might call it the “mysterium tremens”: that which causes you to tremble and to be awed by the divine unfathomable. The mystery is thus quite deliberate and meant to be just that: a mystery which causes a “shudder.” And that “shudder” is so culture- and language-specific that it often defies translation.

The second burden is “what one might call a Sisyphean activity…. No matter how well you fancy you have captured a meaning, there is always a sense of regret as you surrender the manuscript to the publisher. It is as if, having said goodbye to someone you love, you will always regret that your goodbye was not more eloquently expressed.”

Khalidi speaks of other obstacles, comments on his various “companions” in the translating process (other translators such as Tabari and Suyuti, plus commentaries and dictionaries), and touches briefly on his own translation. Read the paper in full here.

© International Qur’anic Studies Association, 2013. All rights reserved.