Archive for January, 2010

31
Jan
10

 

INTERFAITH COMMISSION

There’s no need for an IFC – InterFaith Commission – that’s what the Deputy Prime Minister said today (NST pg 15 and The Star pg N4). The reason given is that there are no major religious issues that warrant a formalised commission. The DPM, however, reiterates the need for ongoing engagement and closed-door dialogues among religious leaders and groups.

The “Allah issue” which has evoked sporadic inter-religious unrest and much media debate is being handled by the government away from public scrutiny because of its sensitive nature,  and negotiations are being held behind closed doors. An amenable solution is in store that will presumably appease the feuding parties. In the legal arena, the  High Court judgement allowing the use of Allah by the Catholic weekly Herald on a broad interpretation of the constitutional rights of freedom of religion and of speech is pending an appeal.

Meanwhile, there have emerged various arguments and counter-arguments by individuals and groups sitting on either side of the divide or precariously in-between. If there is any good that has emerged from the “bad blood” flowing through some religious veins it must surely lie in the education and exposure that Malaysians of all denominations have gone through in the weeks following the volatile eruption of emotions which saw some churches and mosques being vandalised. Most people are thinking and cognizing at  a more intellectual level about God and other spiritual matters! They are taking the trouble to be better informed about their own religious beliefs. And this indeed is the hikmat  (good) as it provides a firm foundation for the nation’s inter-religious relations and the mutual understanding and respect it should generate.

HOWEVER, I do not agree with the DPM that there has to be major  religious issues before the InterFaith Commission is established! An enlightened government should not wait for disaster to strike before setting up an institution whose main role is to coordinate inter-religious matters and preempt untoward happenings! A progressive government must heed the early signs of inter-religious tension and establish the organisation and structure,  mechanisms, procedures, processes and guidelines by which the IFC can operate effectively and efficiently. By mobilising teams of religious experts, NGOs and the public it can identify the KRAs in the interreligious/ interfaith area and build up the resources to allay any future threat, direct or indirect , to the nation’s moral fabric. 

Although they profess to be adherents of a certain religion or faith, many people don’t really know much about it apart from the rites and rituals of  attending church on Sunday, the mosque on Friday, burning joss sticks or carrying a kavadi or two. What they don’t realise is the deeper moral obligations entrusted upon them by their faiths. What they fail to ponder are the numerous questions about what is right and wrong about how they lead their everyday lives and the values they uphold.

What we must realise as a nation is that religion is the basis of morality and it is the breakdown of morality that is causing the problems in two of the six identified KRAs viz crime and corruption. To consolidate its great transformation programmes the government has to be proactive and take the morality bull by the horns! It must work systematically with the religious heads as well as with their congregations in tracing the roadmap to interreligious harmony.

The government can call it engagement or dialogue or consultation which can be held behind closed doors and within controlled spaces! And there is no better time than now to establish an InterFaith Commission. There must be a formal mechanism by which the issues pertaining to the religious identities and needs of Malaysians can be looked into with greater compassion, understanding and forbearance underpinned by knowledge and wisdom.

Advertisements
18
Jan
10

 

MALAY/ MUSLIM BASHING

In the light of the “Allah controversy” the Malay/ Muslim equation in Malaysia is facing fresh scrutiny and analyses – many of them prejudiced verging on racist; some racially biased; a few objective and analytical!

When there are ideological differences among people of different religions, there are bound to be divergent views and opinions understandably biased towards their own particular faith and beliefs. When there are socio-cultural differences each group veers towards its own mores – its distinctive practices, customs and traditions, its own ancestry and legacy. For we are born into this world not on the pure, white slate that our religions teach us to believe, but with the multifarious religio-cultural baggage of our families and communities. This is the stark reality!

I believe being racial is instinctive; being partial to one’s race , community, culture and religion is natural; being biased without prejudice in an informed manner is civilised.  We do after all grow up in an environment very much nurtured by our particular set of norms and values. Our thinking, conduct and behaviour conform to certain patterns influenced by the wisdom of those that came before us. This is the basis of society and culture!

In the animal world it is natural for like species to flock or herd together by virtue of shared instincts, characteristics, features, habits and habitat! In the animal kingdom, fleeing from predators and oftentimes warding off their attacks intensifies the herd instinct and consolidates the defence mechanisms in the animals. Animals in the wild are fiercely territorial, even house pets jealously guard their space against the incursions of their owners.

What more humans who have innate mental capacities to think and reason! With education, exposure and experience these become acutely sharpened and serve to moderate the emotions.

In the “Allah impasse” we are witnessing the Muslims in Malaysia jealously protecting their territory against the incursions of the Christians! The majority of the Muslims in Malaysia wonder why the word “Allah” which has developed  in Islam as the sacred, inviolable concept of God is being wrested by a Christian newsletter partial to the use of Allah for God in the Bahasa Indonesia translation of the Bible.

The Malays in Malaysia who, by reason of history, culture and decree, are Muslims wonder why the word Allah which is the all-encompassing concept of the Almighty in their Islamic Malay culture is being “hijacked”  by Christians for whom the concept of God is substantively different. Although there are overlaps in the  theological bases of Islam and Christianity, in the history of the two religions and their prophets, each has emerged as distinct creeds with a multitude of adherents throughout the world.  Within each religion, too, has developed different interpretations of the  rites and rituals and the rules governing them. One thing however remains constant , unchanging and unchangeable – the Unity in the Islamic concept of God and the Trinity in the Christian concept of God. While the concept of a universal God is inherent in both religions, His manifestations and worship are different in each. Similarly, the manifestations of God in the other religions are distinct!

It is no wonder, therefore ,that the Malay Muslims who adhere to a conservative  understanding of  the sanctity of Allah in Islam are unhappy with the borrowing of the term by the Christians. In their traditional understanding Allah is not merely the name for God but an all-encompassing concept of God and His many attributes in Islam.  The more liberal Muslims in Malaysia whose emphasis is that there is only one God for all religions choose to adopt a more accomodating stand and see nothing wrong with the Christian borrowing.

As in the animal world  where there are species and sub species, in human  society there are groups and sub groups. each highly protective of their human rights of freedom of speech and expression, and defensive of their opinions and viewpoints. The less educated, exposed and experienced with little ability or opportunity to articulate their frustrations over what they perceive as an affront to Islam resort to the physical means of attack as their line of defense.

The current controversy has resulted in  a fresh round of Malay bashing by the liberal Malays as well as by other Malaysians on the more conservative Malay Muslim believers. The latter  are being  seen as rigidly orthodox in their Islamic beliefs and unaccomodating in their relationship with the people of other faiths. What is intriguing in all of this is that the very liberals who have instituted the challenge in court and argued that the use of the word Allah is their historical right supported by their modern day right of the freedom of speech, are relatively silent in the discourses that have ensued in the mainstream media and on the internet.  

It appears as though the Malay Muslims alone are to blame for being emotional in defending their religion and cultural territory. It appears as if  the Malays alone are responsible for creating the interreligious unrest and interracial tensions that are emerging in the country.

It appears that once again the mores which have been determined by birth and  nurtured in the socio-cultural milieu are being challenged by groups claiming a more liberal and democratic understanding of them. It appears that  the Malay Muslim equation which has been accepted in the spirit of the Federal Constitution is proving to be the subject of snide racism and intellectual bigotry and as the punching bag for the people who are intent on seeing the Malays fall from their socio-political heights.

The saddest thing is that the Malay Muslims themselves are being pitted against one another at  the urgings of those eager  to prove their own supremacy.

15
Jan
10

 

HOME WEDDINGS

10.01.10 was the auspicious date for the home wedding reception of Eidia and Dzamir, the son of my good friend Fawzi. My help was solicited in planning the wedding and it turned out to be my creative and organisational pleasure!

Home weddings are usually more cosy and friendly than those held in hotels and community halls especially when they are well-attended by family and close friends. And so it was last Sunday for the pengantin and their  family!

The guests get to interact with the hosts and with one another at a more  congenial level. People are in a less  formal mode and are encouraged to stroll around unintimidated by a stiff hotel setting. Even if there are VIP guests they tend to take the cue from the ambience created and gladly loosen up to show their more personable side.

On my side I enjoyed coordinating the colour scheme which included the baju pengantin, bunga telur, table setting  and selecting the lauk pauk, drinks and desert etc etc etc. As with my own childrens’ weddings, no stone was left unturned, no detail forgotten, no triviality spared.

After all a wedding is a once-in-a-lifetime affair for most people and it should be an occasion to remember!

12
Jan
10

CONSTITUTIONAL JUDGEMENT

 

BEE LIAN LAU – WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?

January 11, 2010

INTRODUCTION 

In the absence of a clear written judgement (which was not given in this matter) complete with Bee Lian Lau J’s reasons for her decision in the Catholic Herald vs the Attroney General matter, we are reliant on information supplied to us from within and outside of Malaysia and from extracts of published media reports on this controversial decision by Bee Lian Lau J of the High Court of Malaysia.

That decision being a license or permission to the Catholic Herald to use of the word Allah defies logic and reason.

Handed down amid heightened inter religious tensions, controversy and a provocation of a large sector of Malaysia’s population, its Muslims the problem is compounded and more confounding where it is not accompanies by reasons. Legal reasons. 

That controversial decision was handed down in a week that saw the culmination of tensions rise to the boil with the fire bombing of Churches in peninsula Malaysia. (see; clause 5 of Article 11 federal Constitution of Malaysia) and a widening of inflammatory rhetoric from both sides of religion affected by the decision. 

OVERVIEW 

Theories of Constitution and Constitutional interpretation, jurisprudence and precedent are areas of the law that Malaysian judges and  lawyers alike have little interest in developing or expanding their knowledge and training in.

There is a tendency amongst these officers of the courts instead to prefer the regurgitation of ancient quotes by famous English judges than for argument or analysis on substantive issues of the law and procedure on matters brought before them to be tried. 

The consequence of this apparent deficit of critical knowledge in areas of the law as the Constitution or the study of jurisprudence is quite  often a volatile and politically driven set of judgements handed down by ill informed and poorly trained judges in Malaysia.

Their decisions too often bear the stamp of partiality influenced by the legal profession’s shallow understanding of jurisprudence, Constitutional law and understanding of how the Constitution works. 

These problems are often further compounded by the racial and cultural polarization of the communities, infected by political considerations rather than common sense, logic, legal reasoning or an understanding of Malaysia’s otherwise workable constitution. 

BEE LIAN LAU-ANOTHER NH CHAN?

Bee Lian Lau J, (possibly from the NH Chan school of jurisprudence) now at the shifting centre of this controversial debate over the use of the word Allah by the Malaysian Catholic Herald, has clearly usurped the power of parliament (perhaps unintentionally) in giving a new and novel interpretation to those provisions of the Malaysian Constitution that apply to this debate. Issues that concern religion and religious freedoms, speech and freedom of expression.

In so doing she has clearly digressed and diverted attention from the critical and main issues at the heart of this controversy. Instead she has produced a highly controversial and unbalanced judgement, devoid of any substantive legal reasoning to underpin her decision as would be expected of a sitting judge.

Little is known of this judge whom the Catholics now refer to ‘that brave judge’, others still, ‘a highly respectd judge’ (as was the cliched reference to NH Chan who expressed similar levels of ignorance of the Constitution in the Perak Constitutional Crisis).

She has a Datukship, an honorific title, seen by some as a badge of dishonour and by others as that invisible tag that screams ‘government property’.

FAILURE TO DISCLOSE-A FATAL OMISSION

What Bee Lan Liau J had failed to do and quite improperly so was to disclose her religious convictions, her emotional and religious interests in the matter she was entrusted to preside over as a judge and to declare any potential for conflict with her interests.

Her duty to independence at the bench required her to disclose the extent of her commitment to her religion and the law. It is widely reported she spends a significant amount of time conducting bible classes outside of court hours (not an offence of itself).

It is however a right in the public interest which goes beyond her private ‘right’ to practice her religion in peace without any interference. She is a public person thrust willingly into an arena of conflict in which she may not be independent.

It is a matter likely to have compromised her judicial independence on a vexed issue in which she clearly has an interest. A spiritual and  ecclesiastical interest likely to conflict with her temporal and secular duties as judge. An interest which logically may have compromised her independence and compelled her to place her religious priorities above those of the law in her mind operating against the interests of fairness in this case.

 The public had a right to know as did the attorney general against whom the Catholic Church was pitted in this matter.  

The degree of her religious conviction in this regard goes further than that of her merely practicing it in private in her spare time. Christians like any other believers adhere to a way of life that does not end after prayers. Bee Lian Lau J’s commitment to one side in this dispute (Christianity) undisclosed, raises serious questions about her impartiality and her priorities in the event of a conflict between Church, law and state.  And a conflict of this nature it was indeed that she presided over.

There is nothing on record to demonstrate any scholarship or seminal legal thesis either in a historic decision engineered by her in her time in private practice or in some area of the law. Her recent decision in the Catholic Herald vs the Attorney General  may explain more fully why and question her credentials for the position she now holds on the bench.

From what may have been an argument about rights to freedom of expression or speech, she has embarked on a dangerous adventure, unnecessarily widening issues and arguments with irrelevant additions to or filtering out those issues that go to the core of this matter. Was it her religious compass at work or her judicial training and impartiality in conflict?

In failing to deal with those issues at the centre of this debate instead of creating imaginery religious freedoms and freedom of worship (as perceived to exist by many) Bee Lian Lau J has produced a controversial, and confusing judgement unhelpful for all concerned. The Constitution like the institution of the bench is as a result a casualty of Bee Lian Lau J’s legal faux pax and callous conduct as a judge.

A SIMPLE BUT CRUDE ANALOGY

To put it more crudely, Bee Lian Lau J’s judgement on this issue is the equivalent of her letting off a “smelly one” at a dinner party, paving the way for opportunists who do not mind the stench, to feed themselves of whats left at the table at the expense of others who in self preservation and out of self respect would have left the dining room in the wake of her unfortunate performance as a judge

Clearly there is more than the exercise of religious freedoms here that is at the root of this highly controversial and now volatile debate that Bee Lian Lau J has missed the point on altogether.  

THREE POSSIBLE REASONS FOR HER FAILURES

In what may well have been an unsubtle exercise of political interference and personal bias in legal proceedings, Bee Lian Lau J appears to have side stepped her professional and legal obligations to be forensic and detatched in arriving at her controversial decision last week.

Clearly she may have allowed one or both of these considerations to interfere with her judgement. There is also a possible third reason for her performance. This being that she is totally and utterly unsuited and insufficiently informed in matters of the Constitution to have presided over a matter of such importance to issues of national security, constitutional and jurisprudential significance. 

She was out of her depth in having to decide this matter.  

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION OR  PROHIBITION OF A QUALIFIED CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT?

The use of the word Allah or the prohibition on its use by non Muslims in Malaysia has more to do with limitations on the freedoms of expression or freedom of speech as provided for its its Constitution, than it has to do with freedom of religion or worship as proferred by Bee Lian Lau J in her decision. 

If such a right does exist it is not unconditional. If there is evidence of its exitence as claimed by Catholics, it is not a constitutional guarantee but a convention. And therein lies the difference.

The application of articles 3, (4, 8, 10) and 11 of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia (Constitution) relating to various freedoms, rights and those rights and freedoms to practice religion, freedom of speech and expression which to some extent Bee Lian Lau J relied upon in reaching her decision, appear to have been given very selective, very narrow interpretations and meanings. Reading it up in the process to achieve an outcome devoid of any proper or logical legal reasoning to underpin her decision.

None of these provisions referred to above found in the Articles of the Constitution provide any ‘Guarantees’ to any freedoms or rights as are often argued to exist by critics of government in such matters in Malaysia.

Rather these are qualified freedoms and rights are couched in language as may create rights to non Muslims and Non Malays and others at the discretion of the government and the king subject to certain conditions being met. These perceived ‘rights’ are without doubt ‘conditional’. 

And here are the reasons why we believe Bee Lian Lau erred: 

Article3 Which Bee Lian Lau J refers to in her judgement:

(1) Islam is the religion of the Federation; but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony in any part of the Federation.

Clearly there is and had been tension and discord brewing amongst the various races and religious groups in Malaysia over the controversial use of the word Allah by the Catholics in their weekly publication the Herald. The consequence of the Herald’ use of the word has undoubtedly given rise to a threat to ‘peace and harmony’. A condition to that ‘right’ cannot be met.  

This dispute concerns views and interpretations of the impact, the use of the word Allah has in particular on Muslims, when used by Catholics in their publication distributed widely to non Muslims (and aimed at potenttial converts including Muslims), that has led to the debate taking on a dangerous and sinister form in the inevitable shape of an inter religious dispute. (the peace and harmony condition is threatened).

These facts are not controverted by either side to this extent. 

WHAT CLAUSE (1) OF ARTICLE 3 REALLY SAYS 

The operative conditions under which clause (1) of Article 3 of the Federal Constitution

With respect to ‘freedom of religion’ (“may be practiced” which is discretionary and not a guarantee as some read it) are the qualifying words “in peace and harmony”.

When read in conjunction one set of words with the other, the cautionary character of that particular clause and the meaning it conveys becomes clear. 

In plainer English than that in which it is written, this clause provides a discretion to government to allow the practice of other religions rather than to compel government to allow its practice or for government to guarantee the practice of other religions in Malaysia. 

This clause in the Constitution expressly acknowledges that Islam is the religion of the Federation. Not subject to or existing alongside any others.  The Constitution in this clause is unequivocal in respect of the paramouncy of Islam over other religions in Malaysia.

As to the second part of the clause (1) of Article 3 of the Constitution, the expression “in peace and harmony” , it is clear from the conditions that exist as a result of the action of the Catholic Herald’s action that ‘peace and harmony‘ is threatened and cannot be maintained (by who ever and for whatever reasons. The Constitution is silent on the point). 

The absence of or threat to ’peace and harmony’ as referred to in clause (1) of Article 3 again without equivocation, gives rise to a discretion in the hands of responsible government to exercise its powers in maintaining that ‘peace and harmony’.

In preventing a debate of this nature from deteriorating into a conflict situation that threatens national security, political stability and civil strife, government is well within its rights and is empowered to act, even if that means curtailing the rights of some or all sectors of the community. 

Bee Lian Lau J clearly failed to give cognizance to or a proper reading of those words in the meaning of clause 1 of Article 3 of the Constitution. Her judgement is desultory and callous. 

Further Bee Lian Lau J, in her oral decision, is reported to have implied (expressly in the oral decision)  that:

 pursuant to Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution, it is  an offence for non-Muslims to use the word Allah to Muslims to propagate the religion”.  Addiing further that:

 “it was not an offence for non-Muslims to use the word to the non-Muslims for the purpose of religion”, she added. 

Interestingly the Constitution does not provide for the creation of an ‘offence‘ she refers to for use of the word Allah by non Muslims to Muslims in the propagation of their religion. It appears to be a creature of Bee Lian Lau J’s own imagination. Nothing more. 

FOR CLARITY: Article 11 of the Federal Constitution (Malaysia) reads as follows:

 Article 11

(1)Every person has the right to profess and practice his religion and, subject to Clause (4), to propagate it.

 (2) No person shall be compelled to pay any tax the proceeds of which are specially allocated in whole or in part for the purposes of a religion other than his own.

(3) Every religious group has the right –

(a) to manage its own religious affairs;

(b) to establish and maintain institutions for religious or charitable purposes; and

(c) to acquire and own property and hold and administer it in accordance with law.

(4) State law and in respect of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Lubuan, federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam.

 (5) This Article does not authorize any act contrary to any general law relating to public order, public health or morality.

Relevant to the issues at the heart of this debate and to Bee Lian Lau J’s controversial decision is, whether the Malaysian Herald has the right to use the word Allah in its weekly publication or to use it in the propagation of its religion.

Even if the Constitution in this Article 11 clause (1) appears to confer that right (in clause (1) of Article 11) on the Catholic Church, that right in clause (1) of Article is qualified, restricted or subject to operation of the provisions of Article 11 clause (4).

Clause (5) of Article 11 and not Bee Lian Lau J’s selective and misguided interpretation of clause (4) of Article 11 provides possibly for the creation of an ‘offence’ in breach of Article 11 which clause (4) of Article 11 does not  in any manner, shape or form provide for.

Article 11 of the Constitution provides amongst other things in clause (1) that every person (one would have to read that it would include a corporate personality) has the right to profess and practice his (generic) religion, subject to clause (4), to propagate it.

Critical to the Churches position and to Bee Lian Lau J’s judgement is that the Church denies the word is being used to propagate the faith, especially amongst Muslims.

MALAY MUSLIM SENSITIVITY OVER CATHOLIC EXERCISE OF CLAUSE (1) OF ARTICLE 11

The threat of or the actual propagation of the Catholic faith amongst Muslims is a matter squarely at the fore front of Muslim Malay anxiety a matter which no account was taken of on considered as being at the source of conflict in this debate and a potential or trigger for the exercise of a power by government under clause (4) of Article 11.

Given the history of the Catholic and other Christian Churches of late to aggressively proselytize and ‘harvest’ followers from amongst the Malay Muslim communities post 9/11 (Lina Joy being but one high profile example of the point I make) it is no wonder that the anxiety of Malays and Muslims are heightened to a fever pitch in Malaysia over the sinister use of the word Allah by Catholics.

POWER TO RESTRICT OR PROHIBIT USE OF ALLAH UNDER CLAUSE (4) AND (5) OF ARTICLE 3 OF THE FEDERAL CONSTITUTION

Under clause (5) of Article 11 of the Constitution, the government’s right to restrict the use of the word Allah by the Catholic Herald is clearly and understandably justified and correct. This is because the use of the word Allah by the Catholic Herald is not authorized by clause (5) of Article which provides:

“This Article does not authorize any act clearly contrary to” any general law relating to public order, public health or morality”

Clause (4) of Article 11 provides; 

State law and in respect of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Lubuan, Federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam. 

Clearly the judge was selectively oblivious to or had no understanding of the powers provided to the various states and territories in clause (4) of Article 11 of the Federal Constitution with respect to “the control or restriction of the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief”. A Matter which the Catholic Herald as a medium of the Catholic Church is carrying out or peceived to be carrying out in the eyes of a majority of Malaysians. Its Muslims. 

The government sees the widespread availability of the Herald (not a restricted publication) as having a distribution capability of reaching ‘persons professing the religion of Islam’ referred to in clause (4) of Article 11 of the Constitution. 

That power provided to the government at State, Territory and Federal level was for some reason overlooked by the judge in an extraordinary decision (oral at that) without any further explanations to it. 

Further, clause (4) of Article 11 does not impose conditions upon the government as to when it should or may use or apply that power at all. It is discretionary. Arguably a discretionary power in government which lies in the words “may control”. 

If in its wisdom (something the Bee Lian Lau J clearly misunderstands) the Federal or other government within Malaysia decides that a particular act or omission by a religious group (in this case the use of the word Allah by the Catholic Church) amounts to propagating its faith amongst Muslims, then the government has a duty to act under the Constitution to prevent its use and the greater mischief that would result from its use amongst Muslims especially not only because they are Muslims but also because they constitute a not insignificant majority in a democracy. 

The Catholic Herald is not restricted in its distribution and is difficult to restrict in its reach throughout Malaysia.

 FURTHER ERRORS IN THE BEE LIAN LAU JUDGEMENT 

Bee Lian Lau J further appears to have shot herself in the foot by making reference specifically to clause (5) of Article 11 which tightened the noose around her flawed interpretation of the relevant Article 11 of the Constitution and her decision in this matter.

Clause (5) of Article 11 when read in conjunction with the other clauses in Article 11 clearly to give it its wider meaning, supports the government’s position in prohibiting the use of the word Allah by the Catholic Herald which Bee Lian Lau J appears to have not understood and here is why:

It provides in clause 5 of Article 11 of the Federal Constitution that:

This Article (11) does not authorize any act contrary to any general law relating to public order, public health or morality. Again it is difficult to see how she could have possibly escaped the ‘act contrary to public order’ when all the evidence clearly pointed to threats to the peace in this regard.

The fall out from Bee Lian Lau’s farcical and scandalous decision and the communal divisions and public disquiet that preceded it, clearly point to a right and an obligation on the part of the government to put paid to the Catholic Herald’s use of the word Allah if for no other reason then for a breach of the provisions of clause (5) of Article 11 by the Catholic Church.

It cannot possibly be read in any other way. The controversial use of the word Allah by the Catholic Herald has created a situation not only likely (and now with the benefit of evidence) but expressly so to affect public order and morality.

THE AFTERMATH 

The fire bombings regardless of whoever it is who carried it out, is evidence of that public order situation that ought to have been foreseen and prevented by government at the outset. It is a matter that was brewing on both sides of the divide now for some time. 

Clearly this matter is not about to go away in a hurry because of a flawed decision or declaration (Whichever the case may be in the absence of a written judgement) by an inexperienced Bee Lian Lau J. 

She has merely thrown more fat into the fire which has embarassingly reflected once more for the public record the caliber of judicial incompetence in Malaysia. Incompetence in their decision making that is dangerous in a highly politicised and polarised legal and political environment.  

JUDICIAL MISCONDUCT 

It is a widely held perception and a universally held one at that amongst academics and jurists, that a failure to deliver a written judgement by a judge constitutes a form of removable judicial misconduct.

On such a matter of grave national importance, critical to stability and internal security in a country as polarized and divided along religious and race lines as Malaysia is, it was incumbent on Bee Lian Lau J to produce a written judgement at least on the day immediately after the date of judgement which she did not do.  She could have nominated a future date for delivery of a writen judgement with her reasons on that day of her judgement which she also failed to do. 

More important than any other aspect of her scandalous conduct from the bench  Bee Lian Lau J’s decision is a departure from convention, civil procedure and the Constitution, in that she does not provide or refer to any precedent, law,  power or authority she may have relied on (apart from selective and distorted readings of the Constitution) apart from a cursory reference to articles of the Constitution to draw the outrageous conclusions she came to in her judgement.

Malaysia’s political woes appear to have its genesis in its courts and in a  shallow and inexperienced legal profession. 

It would do itself a huge favour by encouraging the entry of foreign legal practices and legal practitioners from other commonwealth jurisdictions, a move which could only serve to enhance the quality of its lawyers and the bench.

CONCLUSION

The clergy of Malaysia’s Catholic Church enjoys a kindred spirit with it judiciary and its legal profession. Acceptance to the vocation of priesthood is often less on merit than it is on the patronage of Bishops and parish priests who weild more than termporal and spiritual power on their faithful’s unquesitoning loyalties to them.

The world body of the Church in its diversity appear to have moved on but not the poor second cousins in Malaysia. Father Lawrence Andrew a Jesuit (an elite of the Catholic Church’s many religious orders) and his Bishop Pakiam may have been taken for a ride by over ambitious lawyers from the Catholic lawyers association who ought to have known better about the issues the Church faced in this unwinable battle they embardked on.

Fr. Lawrence (not much about Pakiam) according to a BBC reporter who interveiwed the man over a year ago is by all accounts and honourable and honest advocate of the Church’s interest in an environment as volatile as Malaysia is on matters of religion, race and culture.

His legal advisors could have advised him to moderate the position of the church to one more closely reflecting its theological and moral position than for them to have allowed the issue to develop into a lawyers picnic complete with media circus and inflammatory remarks upping the ante at each stage to reach such an unfortunate watershed in inter religious relations in Malaysia.

The position of the Church has not been aided in any way by an incompetent and illogical decision by Bee Lian Lau J. It has merely served to further alienate the Church from that sector of the community injured by the Pontiff’s caustic and unwarranted remarks  about their religion being ‘the most evil’ in recent years.

FR. Lawrence will eventually be left out to dry by the legal team that are we believe to be at the core of this misadventure by the Church. His Bishop by all accounts is reported to be a man of similar character make up as the lawyers.

Note: This article is subject to changes as new material on this subject comes to hand 

Gopal Raj Kumar

12
Jan
10

 

LINGUISTIC  PERSPECTIVE

Being trained in linguistics, in particular translation theory, I see the “Allah” issue as one involving semantics and the translation of a key religious concept – GOD. The word for the Muslim concept of God ALLAH has been transposed or borrowed to represent the Christian God in the Bahasa Indonesia translation of the Bible.
 
Cultural and religious concepts are the hardest to translate and often the most elusive. Many words like “Allah” are culturally loaded and have evolved in the holy books and its teachings among the multilingual community of followers. They are often embellished and reinforced by their distinctive sociolinguistic environment and have acquired specialised contextual meanings.
 
In the lexicon of a language some words have a direct referential or denotative meaning – the most obvious being a name. “Ali” refers to or denotes the person of Ali. Others have a referential meaning as well as a connotative or implied meaning e.g. “pig” refers to the pig (animal) but it can be used to imply the pig’s characteristics such as “gluttony” as in “You are a real pig”. However this expression would be culturally offensive to a Muslim or Jew to whom the pig is taboo. Similarly the idiom “like a pigsty” should not be translated literally and would need a translation relevant to the particular language and culture.
 
“Allah” is a culturally loaded concept in Islam both in the language of the Quran and the language of its Malay Muslim adherents in Malaysia. It is imbued with many meanings including the 99 attributes of God familiar to the Muslims. To juxtapose “Allah” in the culturally distinct Christian milieu is to translate what are basically untranslatable concepts– both of the unity in the Muslim understanding of God and the trinity in the Christian conception of God. These concepts are highly complex and abstract in themselves. Why confuse the people further with poor or inaccurate translations/ transpositions? 
 
In translation theory there is the notion of “untranslatability” and when a concept is untranslatable the translator resorts to employing the generic term supported by notes or an explanation. In this case the generic Malay word for the concept of the universal God “Tuhan” can be used in the Bible translation with notes and an explanation about the Trinity.
 
Translators must demonstrate the highest linguistic sensitivity and exercise the greatest caution when they translate important texts and documents. Not only must they be specialists in the subject area but also linguists in their own right. Ideally, the translator must be a native speaker of one of the two languages involved and have a mastery over the other.

11
Jan
10

HOLY BOOKS

 

Why So Many Bible Translations?
 For over three hundred years the King James Version, published in 1611, was the prominent translation used in most Protestant churches. However, as the English language continued to change, it became increasingly more difficult for people to understand the Old English vernacular. Faced with the obvious need for our society to understand God’s Word, scholars sought to update the scriptures into more contemporary language.
Dr. Lewis Foster, one of those who helped translate the NIV and the NKJV says, “It is necessary to continue making new translations and revising old ones if people are to read the Word of God in their contemporary languages. With the passage of time, words change in meanings. For instance, in King James’ day the word ‘prevent’ could mean ‘come before’ but not necessarily in a hindering way. So the translators in that day rendered 1 Thes. 4:15, ‘For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.’ But today the word ‘prevent’ has lost that earlier meaning (come before), so it must be translated differently to convey the proper meaning: ‘According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not ‘precede’ those who have fallen asleep’ (NIV). …To keep the translation of God’s Word living it must be kept in the living language the people are using.”¹
While new translations have generally been a welcome contribution to the comprehension of scripture, they have also received mixed reactions across the Christian spectrum. One story is told of a pastor who tried to introduce a revised version of the Bible to his rigidly conservative congregation. “So what’s wrong with the King James Version?” said one woman in defense. “In my opinion, if it was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for us!” The amusing irony is that Jesus obviously did not speak the Old English of the King James Version — neither was the Bible originally recorded in English. Despite the sacred tradition that many revere of the KJV, it is merely a translation of the inspired Word of God, not the initial source. The Old Testament was authored in Hebrew and Aramaic, and the New Testament in Greek. While the original autographs no longer exist, translations are made from ancient manuscript copies, of which there are today at least 24,000, whole or in-part, with which to compare.²
An English version of the Bible did not exist until a little more than 600 years ago. Before then, a version translated into Latin by Jerome in the fourth century, called the Latin Vulgate, was the most widely-used Bible translation in the middle ages (the first major book printed on Gutenberg’s press in 1456). Portions of scripture in English began to emerge in the early seventh century, but the first complete English translation was not produced until 1382 by the influence of John Wycliff. Despite fierce opposition of the Roman church, and absence of the printing press, copies of this work were widely circulated. Later in the 16th century, seven more popular English versions were produced, beginning with William Tyndale’s work in 1525. This English version of the New Testament was the first to be translated directly from the Greek instead of Latin texts. Before Tyndale’s completion of the Old Testament, he was tried as a heretic and executed in 1536. After Tyndale, several other famous Bibles were produced in the 16th century. The Cloverdale Bible in 1535, Matthew’s Bible in 1537, The Great Bible in 1539, The Geneva Bible in 1560 (the first to use chapters, verses, and the italicization of added words), and the Bishops Bible in 1568.

Finally in 1604, in an effort to resolve severe factions between Englishmen over Bible versions, King James I authorized the translation of another version that came to bear his name. Forty-seven scholars spent six years on the translation, with all work meticulously reviewed and refined by their combined collaboration. The four existing Massorec texts were used for the Old Testament, and a third edition of the Byzantine Greek text by Stephanus (often referred as the “Textus Receptus”), was used for the New Testament. The King James Version was finally published in 1611, and together with its four revisions (in 1629, 1638, 1762, and 1769), it remains as the most widely circulated Bible in existence. A few other translations were produced over the centuries, but the real revolution of new Bible versions began to erupt in the 20th century, largely due to the widening language barrier. Some of the more influential, recent translations have been: The Revised Standard Version in 1952, The Amplified Bible in 1965, The New English Bible in 1970, The New American Standard Bible in 1971, The Living Bible in 1971, Today’s English Version in 1976, The New International Version in 1978, and the New King James Version in 1982.

Apart from these versions, there are numerous study Bible editions, such as the Scofield Reference Bible, the Open Bible, the Thompson Chain Reference Bible, or the Spirit Life Bible, etc., but these are not different translations. These volumes merely feature special study helps, commentaries or references added as a supplement to a particular translation. Besides updating the Bible to contemporary language, another controversy with new translations arises over the issue of the original texts. The KJV New Testament (and all editions since Tyndale) was compiled primarily from the Byzantine family of manuscripts (A.D. 500 – 1000) frequently referred to as the Textus Receptus. But many of the newer translations were produced using a composite of later discoveries of other manuscripts and fragments dating from an earlier period. Among such are The “Alexandrian Family” manuscripts (A.D. 200-400) which include the three oldest: The Codex Alexandrius, the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus, all which were major contributors to most Bible versions after the King James version. Other important codices come from The Western Family, (of the Western Mediterranean areas), and the Caesarean Family of manuscripts (A.D. 200). (A codex is a manuscript bound together like a book instead of rolled into a scroll. Codices is plural for codex.)

Many scholars feel that the older manuscripts have been somewhat more accurate and important to the refinement of the newer translations. However, this has been disputed by others, especially since the older copies make up a tiny portion of the large quantity of manuscripts available. At least 90% of the 5,400 existing Greek manuscripts come from the Byzantine family (the basis for the Textus Receptus), and due to the overwhelming numbers of copies with which to compare and verify for accuracy, some scholars feel that the small handful of older texts should not be used to overrule the credibility of the majority. Although textual criticism shows only slight differences between the manuscript families, in those passages where the older text differs with the newer, the modern translators usually deferred to the older, primarily from the Alexandrian Family manuscripts — Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus. It should be emphasized that none of the revisions in the new era translations, such as the NIV or NASB (compiled with Alexandrian Family Manuscripts), conflict with any rule of faith or doctrinal issue, but some conservative church leaders refuse to accept any tampering with the “tried and proven” Textus Receptus translation of the King James Version. In response to such concerns, the theological community came to see the need for another version, one which would satisfy the need for updated language without venturing beyond the traditional text source. Thus, in the late 1970’s, Thomas Nelson Publishers commissioned a company of scholars to produce a revision of the traditional King James Version. Relying on the familiar Textus Receptus, 130 translators made the needed revisions to modern English and corrections to minor translation errors, while making every effort to retain the traditional phraseology of the old version. This New King James Version, as it was called, was completed in 1982.

Today, most Evangelical churches will make random use of any of the various translations mentioned here. Frequently a pastor will recommend one particular version to be used exclusively by the congregation so that everyone will have an identical source to refer to during the preaching or Bible studies. This not only helps eliminate confusion, but also makes it possible to engage in corporate word-for-word readings of scripture, something that wouldn’t be possible if everyone was reading from a different version. After some research on the various versions, every believer would do well to zero in on a primary version to which they devote their study and commit passages to memory. It’s inadvisable to allow the issue of translations to become a distraction. For the average layman, most of the differences between the translations are relatively insignificant. All the versions we have listed have a high degree of harmony and convey the same general message of God’s Word, but will use some of their own distinctive phrases and words. The following is a summary of the most popular versions, along with a brief evaluation:

The King James Version (KJV) — Translated in 1611 by 47 scholars using the Byzantine family of manuscripts, Textus Receptus. This remains as a good version of the Bible. It has been the most reliable translation for over three centuries, but its Elizabethan style Old English is difficult for modern readers, especially youth. This is still a good translation for those who can deal with the language.

The New American Standard Bible (NASB) — Translated in 1971 by 58 scholars of the Lockman Foundation, from Kittle’s Biblia Hebraica and Nestle’s Greek New Testament 23rd ed., which include the Alexandrian Family codices. Though academic in tone, it is said to be the most exact English translation available. A very good version.

The Living Bible (TLB) — A paraphrased rendition of the King James Version by Kenneth Taylor in 1971. This is not a genuine translation, but is a type of phrase-by-phrase commentary that was originally intended to help the author’s own children understand the scriptures. It is useful for inspiration and commentary, but for serious Bible study it should only be used in conjunction with a legitimate translation.

The New International Version (NIV) — Over 100 translators completed this work in 1978 which was composed from Kittle’s, Nestle’s and United Bible Society’s texts, which include the Alexandrian Family codices. This is considered an “open” style translation. It is a good, easy to read version.

The New King James Version (NKJV) — 130 translators, commissioned by Thomas Nelson Publishers, produced this version from the Byzantine family (Textus Receptus) in 1982. This is a revision of the King James version, updated to modern English with minor translation corrections and retention of traditional phraseology. This is a very good version.

References:
¹ Selecting A Bible Translation, Lewis Foster
² Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Josh McDowell

By Dr. Dale A. Robbins

 

Translating the Untranslatable: A Survey of English Translations of the Quran
by A.R. Kidwai

Despite the historical fact that the early Muslim community’s stand on the translation of the Arabic text of the Quran was ambivalent, as indeed, the general Muslim attitude remains so to this day, the act of translation may be logically viewed as a natural part of the Muslim exegetical effort. However, whereas the idea of interpreting the Quran has not been so controversial, the emotional motives behind rendering the Quranic text into languages other than Arabic have always been looked upon with suspicion.

This is obvious as the need for translating the Quran arose in those historic circumstances when a large number of non-Arabic speaking people had embraced Islam, and giving new linguistic orientations to the contents of the revelation – as, for instance, happened in the case of the ‘New Testament’ – could have led to unforeseeable, and undesirable, developments within the body of the Islamic religion itself. (For a brief, though highly useful, survey of the Muslim attitudes towards the permissibility of translating the text of the revelation to non-Arabic tongues, see M. Ayoub, ‘Translating the Meaning of the Quran: Traditional Opinions and Modern Debates’, in Afkar Inquiry, Vol. 3, No. 5 (Ramadan 1406/May 1986), pp.34 9).

The Muslim need for translating the Quran into English arose mainly out of the desire to combat the missionary effort. Following a long polemical tradition, part of whose goal was also the production of a – usually erroneous and confounding – European version of the Muslim scripture, Christian missionaries started their offensive against a politically humiliated Islam in the eighteenth century by advancing their own translations of the Quran.

Obviously, Muslims could not allow the missionary effort – invariably confounding the authenticity of the text with a hostile commentary of its own – to go unopposed and unchecked. Hence, the Muslim decision to present a faithful translation of the Quranic text as well as an authentic summary of its teaching to the European world. Later, the Muslim translations were meant to serve even those Muslims whose only access to the Quranic revelation was through the medium of the European languages. Naturally, English was deemed the most important language for the Muslim purpose, not least because of the existence of the British Empire which after the Ottomans had the largest number of Muslim subjects.

The same rationale, however, applies to sectarian movements within Islam or even to renegade groups outside the fold of Islam, such as the Qadiyanis. Their considerable translational activities are motivated by the urge to proclaim their ideological uniqueness.

Although there is a spate of volumes on the multi-faceted dimensions of the Quran, no substantial work has so far been done to critically examine the mass of existing English translations of the Quran.

Even bibliographical material on this subject was quite scant before the fairly recent appearance of World Bibliography of the Translations of the Meanings of the Holy Quran (Istanbul, OIC Research Centre, 1986), which provides authoritative publication details of the translations of the Quran in sixty-five languages.

Some highly useful work in this field had been done earlier by Dr. Hamidullah of Paris. Appended to the Cambridge History of Arabic Literature Volume 1, Arabic Literature to the End of the Umayyad Period (Cambridge university Press, 1983) is a bibliography of the Quran translations into European languages, prepared by J.D. Pearson, as is the latter’s article in the Encyclopaedia of Islam. It is, however, of not much use to the Muslim.

Since none of the above-mentioned works is annotated, the reader gets no idea about the translator’s mental make-up, his dogmatic presuppositions and his approach to the Quran as well as the quality of the translation.

Similarly the small chapter entitled ‘The Qur’an and Occidental Scholarship’ in Bell and Watt’s Introduction to the Qur’an (Edinburgh, 1970, pp. 173-86), although useful in providing background information to Orientalists’ efforts in Quranic studies, and translations, more or less for the same reasons, is of little value to general Muslim readers. Thus, studies which focus on those aspects of each translation of the Quran are urgently needed lest Western scholars misguide the unsuspecting non-Arabic speaking readers of the Quran. An effort has been made in this survey to bring out the hallmarks and shortcomings of the major complete translations of the Quran.

The early English translations of the Quran by Muslims stemmed mainly from the pious enthusiasm on their part to refute the allegations leveled by the Christian missionaries against Islam in general and the Quran in particular.

Illustrative of this trend are the following translations:

(i) Mohammad Abdul Hakim Khan, The Holy Qur’an:’with short notes based on the Holy Qur’an or the authentic traditions of the Prophet, or and New Testaments or scientific truth. All fictitious romance, questionable history and disputed theories have been carefully avoided’ (Patiala, 1905);

(ii) Hairat Dehlawi, The Koran Prepared, by various Oriental learned scholars and edited by Mirza Hairat Dehlawi. Intended as ‘a complete and exhaustive reply to the manifold criticisms of the Koran by various Christian authors such as Drs. Sale, Rodwell, Palmer and Sir W. Muir’ (Delhi, 1912); and

(iii) Mirzal Abu’l Fadl, Qur’an, Arabic Text and English Translation Arranged Chronologically with an Abstract (Allahabad, 1912).

Since none of these early translations was by a reputed Islamic scholar, both the quality of the translation and level of scholarship are not very high and these works are of mere historical interest.

Later works, however, reflect a more mature and scholarly effort.

Muhammad Marmaduke William Pickthall, an English man of letters who embraced Islam, holds the distinction of bringing out a first-rate rendering of the Qur’an in English, The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an (London, 1930).

It keeps scrupulously close to the original in elegant, though now somewhat archaic, English. However, although it is one of the most widely used English translations, it provides scant explanatory notes and background information. This obviously restricts its usefulness for an uninitiated reader of the Qur’an.

Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s The Holy Qur’an: Translation and Commentary (Lahore, 1934 37), perhaps the most popular translation, stands as another major achievement in this field. A civil servant by vocation, Yusuf Ali was not a scholar in the classical Muslim tradition. Small wonder, then, that some of his copious notes, particularly on hell and heaven, angels, jinn and polygamy, etc. are informed with the pseudo-rationalist spirit of his times, as for instance in the works of S. Ahmad and S. Ameer Ali.

His overemphasis on things spiritual also distorts the Qur’anic worldview. Against this is the fact that Yusuf Ali doubtless was one of the few Muslims who enjoyed an excellent command over the English language. It is fully reflected in his translation. Though his is more of a paraphrase than a literal translation, yet it faithfully represents the sense of the original.

Abdul Majid Daryabadi’s The Holy Qur’an: with English Translation and Commentary (Lahore, 1941 – 57) is, however, fully cognate with the traditional Muslim viewpoint.

Like PIckthall’s earlier attempt, it is a faithful rendering, supplemented with useful notes on historical, geographical and eschatological issues, particularly the illuminating discussions on comparative religion. Though the notes are not always very exhaustive, they help to dispel the doubts in the minds of Westernized readers. However, it too contains inadequate background information about the Suras (chapters of the Quran) and some of his notes need updating.

The Meaning of the Qur’an (Lahore, 1967), the English version of Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdud’i’s magnum opus, the Urdu Tafhim al-Quran is an interpretative rendering of the Qur’an which remarkably succeeds in recapturing some of the majesty of the original.

Since Mawdudi, a great thinker, enjoyed rare mastery over both classical and modern scholarship, his work helps one develop an understanding of the Qur’an as a source of guidance. Apart from setting the verses/Suras in the circumstances of its time, the author constantly relates, though exhaustive notes, the universal message of the Qur’an to his own time and its specific problems. His logical line of argument, generous sensibility, judicious use of classical Muslim scholarship and practical solutions to the problems of the day combine to show Islam as a complete way of life and as the Right Path for the whole of mankind. Since the translation of this invaluable work done by Muhammad Akbar is pitiably poor and uninspiring, the much-needed new English translation of the entire work is in progress under the auspices of the Islamic Foundation, Leicester.

The Message of the Quran by Muhammad Asad (Gibraltar, 1980) represents a notable addition to the body of English translations couched in chaste English. This work is nonetheless vitiated by deviation from the viewpoint of the Muslim orthodoxy on many counts. Averse to take some Qur’anic statements literally, Asad denies the occurrence of such events as the throwing of Abraham into the fire, Jesus speaking in the cradle, etc. He also regards Luqman, Khizr and Zulqarnain as ‘mythical figures’ and holds unorthodox views on the abrogation of verses. These blemishes apart, this highly readable translation contains useful, though sometimes unreliable background information about the Qur’anic Suras and even provides exhaustive notes on various Qur’anic themes.

The fairly recent The Qur’an: The First American Version (Vermont, 1985) by another native Muslim speaker of English, T.B. Irving, marks the appearance of the latest major English translation. Apart from the obnoxious title, the work is bereft of textual and explanatory notes.

Using his own arbitrary judgment, Irving has assigned themes to each Qur’anic Ruku’ (section). Although modern and forceful English has been used, it is not altogether free of instances of mistranslation and loose expressions. With American readers in mind, particularly the youth, Irving has employed many American English idioms, which, in places, are not befitting of the dignity of the Qur’anic diction and style.

In addition to the above, there are also a number of other English translations by Muslims, which, however, do not rank as significant ventures in this field.

They may be listed as:

1. Al-Hajj Hafiz Ghulam Sarwar, Translation of the Holy Qur’an (Singapore, 1920)
2. Ali Ahmad Khan Jullundri, Translation of the Glorious Holy Qur’an with commentary (Lahore, 1962)
3.
Abdur Rahman Tariq and Ziauddin Gilani, The Holy Qur’an Rendered into English (Lahore, 1966)
4. Syed Abdul Latif, Al-Qur’an: Rendered into English (Hyderabad, 1969)
5. Hashim Amir Ali, The Message of the Qur’an Presented in Perspective (Tokyo, 1974)
6. Taqui al-Din al-Hilali and Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Explanatory English Translation of the Holy Qur’an: A Summarized Version of Ibn Kathir Supplemented by At-Tabari with Comments from Sahih al-Bukhari (Chicago, 1977)
7. Muhammad Ahmad Mofassir, The Koran: The First Tafsir in English (London, 1979)
8. Mahmud Y. Zayid, The Qur’an: An English Translation of the Meaning of the Qur’an (checked and revised in collaboration with a committee of Muslim scholars) (Beirut, 1980)
9. S.M. Sarwar, The Holy Qur’an: Arab Text and English Translation (Elmhurst, 1981)
10. Ahmed Ali, Al-Qur’an: A Contemporary Translation (Karachi, 1984).

(In view of the blasphemous statements contained in Rashad Khalifa’s The Qur’an: The Final Scripture (Authorized English Version) (Tucson, 1978), it has not been included in the translations by Muslims).

Even amongst the Muslim translations, some are representative of the strong sectarian biases of their translators.

For example, the Shia doctrines are fully reflected in accompanying commentaries of the following books: S.V. Mir Ahmad Ali, The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary, according to the version of the Holy Ahlul Bait includes ‘special notes from Hujjatul Islam Ayatullah Haji Mirza Mahdi Pooya Yazdi on the philosophical aspects of the verses’ (Karachi, 1964); M.H. Shakir, Holy Qur’an (New York, 1982); Syed Muhammad Hussain at-Tabatabai, al-Mizan: An Exegesis of the Qur’an, translated from Persian into English by Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi (Tehran, 198~). So far five volumes of this work have been published.

Illustrative of the Barelvi sectarian stance is Holy Qur’an, the English version of Ahmad Raza Khan Brailai’s Urdu translation, by Hanif Akhtar Fatmi (Lahore, n.d.).

As pointed out earlier, the Qadiyanis, though having abandoned Islam, have been actively engaged in translating the Qur’an, Apart from English, their translations are available in several European and African languages.

Muhammad Ali’s The Holy Qur’an: English Translation (Lahore, 1917) marks the beginning of this effort. This Qadiyani translator is guilty of misinterpreting several Qur’anic verses, particularly those related to the Promised Messiah, his miracles and the Qur’anic angelology.

Similar distortions mar another Qadiyani translation by Sher Ali, The Holy Qur’an: Arabic Text with English Translation (Rabwah, 1955).Published under the auspices of Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, second successor of the “Promised Messiah” and head of the Ahmadiyyas, this oft-reprinted work represents the official Qadiyani version of the Qur’an. Unapologizingly, Sher Sher Ali refers to Mirza Ghulam Ahmad as the “Promised Messiah” and mistranslates and misinterprets a number of Qur’anic verses.

Zafarullah Khan’s The Qur’an: Arabic Text and English Translation (London, 1970) ranks as another notable Qadiyani venture in this field. Like other Qadiyanis, Zafarullah too twists the Qur’anic verses to opine that the door of prophethood was not closed with the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). The obtrusion of similar obnoxious views upon the Qur’anic text is found in the following Qadiyani translations, too:

(i) Kamaluddin and Nazir Ahmad, A Running Commentary of the Holy Qur’an (London, 1948)
(ii) Salahuddin Peer, The Wonderful Koran (Lahore, 1960)
(iii) Malik Ghulam Farid, The Holy Qur’an (Rabwah, 1962)
(iv) Khadim Rahman Nuri, The Running Commentary of the Holy Qur’an with under-bracket comments (Shillong, 1964)
(v) Firozuddin Ruhi, The Qur’an (Karachi, 1965)

Apart from the Qadiyanis, Christian missionaries have been the most active non-Muslim translators of the Qur’an. As already noted, origins of this inglorious tradition may be traced back to the anti-Islamic motives of the missionaries.

Small wonder, then that these ventures are far from being a just translation, replete as they are with frequent transpositions, omissions, unaccountable liberties and unpardonable faults.

A very crude specimen of the Orientalist-missionary approach to the Qur’an is found in Alexander Ross’s The Alcoran of Mahomet translated out of Arabique into French, by the Sieur Du Ryer…And newly Englished, for the satisfaction for all that desire to look into the Turkish vanities (London, 1649).

In translating the Qur’an, the intention of Ross, a chaplain of King Charles I, was: ‘I thought good to bring it to their colours, that so viewing thine enemies in their full body, thou must the better prepare to encounter…his Alcoran.’

In the same rabidly anti-Islamic vein are the two appendices in the work entitled as (a) ‘A Needful Caveat or Admonition, for them who desire to know what use may be made of or if there be danger in reading the Alcoran’ (pp. 406 20) and ‘The Life and Death of Mahomet: the Prophet of the Turks and author of the Alcoran’ (pp. 395-405).

George Sale, a lawyer brought out his The Koran, commonly called The Al Koran of Mohammed (London, 1734), which has been the most popular English translation. Sale’s exhaustive ‘Preliminary Discourse’, dealing mainly with Sira and the Qur’an, betrays his deep hostility towards Islam and his missionary intent in that he suggests the rules to be observed for ‘the conversion of Mohammedans’ (q.v.).

As to the translation itself, it abounds in numerous instances of omission, distortion and interpolations.

Dissatisfied with Sale’s work, J.M. Rodwell, Rector of St. Ethelberga, London, produced his translation entitled The Koran (London, 1861). Apart from hurling all sorts of wild and nasty allegations against the Prophet and the Qur’an in the Preface, Rodwell is guilty of having invented the so-called chronological Sura order of the Qur’an. Nor is his translation free from grave mistakes of translation and his own fanciful interpretations in the notes.

E.H. Palmer, a Cambridge scholar, was entrusted with the preparation of a new translation of the Qur’an for Max Muller’s Sacred Books of the East series. Accordingly, his translation, The Qur’an, appeared in London in 1880. As to the worth of Palmer’s translation, reference may be made to A. R. Nykl’s article, ‘Notes on E.H. Palmer’s The Qur’an‘, published in the Journal of the American Oriental Society, 56 (1936) pp. 77-84 in which no less than 65 instances of omission and mistranslation in Palmer’s work have been pointed out.

Richard Bell, Reader of Arabic, University of Edinburgh, and an acknowledged Orientalist produced a translation of the Qur’an with special reference to its Sura order, as is evident from the title of his work, The Qur’an translated with a critical rearrangement of the Surahs (Edinburgh, 1937-39). In addition to describing the Prophet as the author of the Qur’an, Bell also believes that the Qur’an in its present form was ‘actually written by Muhammad himself’ (p. vi). In rearranging the Sura order of the Qur’an, Bell, in fact, makes a thorough mess of the traditional arrangement and tries to point out ‘alterations substitutions and derangements in the text.

A.J. Arberry, a renowned Orientalist and Professor of Arabic at the Universities of London and Cambridge, has been, so far, the latest non-Muslim translator of the Qur’an.

Arberry’s The Koran Interpreted (London, 1957) no doubt stands out above the other English renderings by non-Muslims in terms of both its approach and quality. Nonetheless, it is not altogether free from mistakes of omission and mistranslation, such as in Al’ Imran 111:43, Nisa’ IV: 72, 147 and 157, Ma’ida V: 55 and 71, An’am VI: 20, 105, A’raf VII: 157, 158 and 199, Anfal VIII: 17, 29, 41, 59, Yunus X: 88, Hud XI: 30 and 46 and Yusuf XII: 61.

N.J. Dawood is perhaps the only Jew to have translated the Qur’an into English. Available in the Penguin edition, Dawood’s translation, The Koran (London, 1956) is perhaps the most widely circulated non-Muslim English translation of the Qur’an. The author’s bias against Islam is readily observable in the Introduction. Apart form adopting an unusual Sura order in his translation, Dawood is guilty also of having mistranslated the Qur’an in places such as Baqara II:9 and A’raf VII:31, etc.

No doubt, the peculiar circumstances of history which brought the Qur’an into contact with the English language have left their imprint on the non-Muslim as well as the Muslim bid to translate it. The results and achievements of their efforts leave a lot to be desired.

Unlike, for instance, major Muslim languages such as Persian, Turkish and Urdu, which have thoroughly exhausted indigenous linguistic and literary resources to meet the scholarly and emotional demands of the task, the prolific resources of the universal medium of English have not been fully employed in the service of the Qur’an.

The Muslim Scripture is yet to find a dignified and faithful expression in the English language that matches the majesty and grandeur of the original. The currents of history, however, seem to be in favour of such a development. Even English is acquiring a native Muslim character and it is only a matter of time before we have a worthy translation of the Qur’an in that tongue.

Till them, the Muslim student should judiciously make use of Pickthall, A. Yusuf Ali, Asad and Irving, Even Arberry’s stylistic qualities must not be ignored. Ultimately, of course, the Muslim should try to discover the original and not allow himself to be lost in a maze of translations and interpretations.

(Originally printed in The Muslim World Book Review, Vol. 7, No. 4 Summer 1987)

09
Jan
10

 

DASTARDLY ACT

The burning of churches by Muslim freaks is a dastardly act that must be viewed with the greatest contempt and condemned by all rational and right-thinking Muslims! 

It stinks of  crime and corruption where fanatical Muslims dare to take the law into their own hands and hold the Christian community to ransom in the most despicable manner viz destroying  their churches through arson and potentially threatening  their lives!

This over the use of the word “Allah ” for “God’  in the Bahasa Indonesia translation of the Bible used in Sabah and Sarawak!

It this these irrational Muslims who act on impulse and whose religious fervour is nothing more than bravado that bring shame to the Muslim community in Malaysia who have embraced our multireligious and multicultural society with the greatest respect and understanding. They are a disgrace to Islam – the religion of peace, of love, of compassion, of generosity, of understanding, of mercy – and all the other 99 attributes implicit in the name of Allah!

An irony and a farce of the highest order indeed!

In the mad fever of  protesting against the use of what is considered the culturally loaded concept of Allah specific to Islam, these freaks of religion are displaying the very characteristics abhorred by Allah. Endowed with the teachings, principles and tenets of Islam contained in the Quran and Hadith , Muslims everywhere are obliged to show the highest ethics and decorum in their conduct and behaviour. Any deviation from these teachings is considered an affront to Islam and to Allah and will meet with remorse and retribution in this world and the next. Crime and corruption are among the worst sins that people can commit against their fellow mankind!

Instead of adhering to  the teachings of Islam to show patience and tolerance, and heeding the calls of the nation’s leaders to allow the due processes of the country’s law to run its course, these errant individuals are doing the very things they so smugly condemn in others. Instead of allowing the Muslim and Christian leaders to come up with an amicable solution to what is a poor translation of the concept of the Christian God, they are displaying the worst of ungodly behaviour!

God is universal! There is only one God which all religions embody! Unity is God! The manifestations of this 1 God for all mankind, however, differ from religion to religion. For each religion and its followers, their God is indeed special to them and they understand Him through the teachings in their Holy Books. The concept of the Trinity is implicit in the Christian God and underlies Christian beliefs. To shake this belief is to undermine their faith!

The translators of religious texts must therefore exercise the greatest wisdom after much study and research to ensure that their translations are accurate and relevant, bearing in mind that cultural and religious translation subsumes the element of untranslatability or ketidakbolehterjemahan.




January 2010
M T W T F S S
« Dec   Feb »
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031

Pages