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What Muslims Mean by the Glory of the Untranslatability of the Arabic Qur’an

November 11, 2010

To earn the right to agree or disagree with another person one must, I believe, make some effort to understand what that person is trying to say. Take, for example, one of Islam’s central tenets, the untranslatability of the Arabic Qur’an. Translation of the Qur’an “is expressly forbidden. The text is divine, inimitable, uncreated and eternal, and to translate it would be an act of presumption and impiety.”[1]

 They do translate it, of course; The Qur’an is in English, Turkish, Persian, Indonesian, Urdu, French, etc. But these translations are merely tafsiraat (commentaries), meant simply to help the read in the meantime, as everyone is supposed to be learning Arabic, the language of God in heaven, so that we can pray in Arabic. Today 90% of all Muslims do not understand Arabic but they must pray in Arabic, for their daily prayers, like the Qur’an, are untranslatable.

Regardless of your language, your prayer is that God hears you, understands you, and is concerned about you.

This version of God is quite a contrast from the God who reveals Himself in the Bible and in Jesus Christ. In fact, as soon as one opens the Gospels “in the original” it has already been translated from the language of Jesus Christ (Aramaic) into Greek. On the day of Pentecost all the people gathered from far away heard the apostles preaching in many languages.[2]

The difference between these two versions of praying and reading is quite plain; in Islam, Arabic is a superior language; in Christianity all the languages are respected. This difference is so great as to be, I believe, incompatible. Since we know the Bible to be “inspired by God, profitable for correction, reproof” then we must disagree with the Islamic version of reality. The God who revealed Himself in the Bible as the One who will be worshipped in every language (Revelation 5:9) cannot be said to be the same as the deity who supposedly revealed his preference for Arabic to the exclusion of all other languages. One must choose between these two versions of what God is like, (or not choose at all, of course). I choose the God of the Bible, and I accept His invitation to pray and read His word in any (and every) language.

[1] Bernard Lewis, From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004). 19

[2] “Here we are: Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome—both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God. And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” Acts 2:8-11

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kimberly permalink
    May 22, 2012 12:43 am

    I know this is an old post, but my question is: with this information, how can we possibly get the Truth across to our Muslim friends when they don’t even agree on the very basic issue that the Bible is God’s Word? I struggle with this and have no answer, other than to pray for God to open their eyes.

    • BornAgain permalink
      December 29, 2012 7:27 am

      Prayers is a great way to start but if you want to reach them you have to learn about Islam Father Zakaria Botros translated some of his videos in English. I was a Muslim and Zakaria Botros changed my life. You can contact me if you have question about Islam.

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