Iran and China clash over errors in Qu’ran

An international quarrel broke out this week due to faulty reproduction of text in the Qu’ran, Islam’s Holy Book. Iranian Director of the Department of Evaluation on Publication of the Holy Quran, Ahmad Haji-Sharif, criticised Chinese manufacturers for producing low-quality copies that were apparently riddled with errors. Publishers in Iran had been outsourcing production of their Qu’rans to China, but Haji-Sharif has now called for a ban on import of the Chinese-made versions.

No doubt there is a nationalistic element to the Director’s complaint; after expressing his displeasure with the Chinese publications he went on to emphasise the superior quality of Iran’s high-quality printing presses, and the skill of their calligraphers and publishers. However, Haji-Sharif’s further claim that there are at least one hundred different translations of the Qu’ran available inside Iran – and thus no need for outsourcing – raises interesting questions about the very act of translating such an important document.

Translation and transcription of the Qu’ran is historically and theologically a contentious topic. Muslim scholars maintain that as the Qu’ran was revealed to Mohammed in Arabic, translation into other tongues perverts the true word of Allah. Theologian S.M. Zwemer described the book as “untranslatable. To imitate its rhyme and rhythm is impossible. Its beauty is altogether in its style, and, therefore, necessarily artificial. For the sake of the rhyme, unnecessary repetitions are frequently made, which interrupt the sense of the passage and sometimes even appear ridiculous in translation.” For this reason, Qu’rans in languages other than Arabic are often referred to as interpretations rather than translations. In Iran, where today’s controversy began, it is common for Qu’rans to contain both the original Arabic – the true Qu’ran – and a Persian (Farsi) translation.

Publication of a new translation is still a significant event, and is likely to lead to the work being pored over by scholars and judged on its fidelity to the language and spirit of the original. Iran, as a theocratic Muslim state, takes new interpretations particularly seriously, and just last month, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel’s new translation was celebrated in a ceremony in Tehran.

From ancient times then, the dangers of imprecise translation have been recognised and feared, as a central tenet in one of the world’s biggest faiths. The re-emergence in the present day of disputes regarding Qu’ranic translation stands as a reminder of the importance of accurate work done by translators with expert knowledge. At TJC-Global, our extensive network of skilled translators and interpreters means that we can call on specialists in various areas of expertise. Our clients can always be confident that the work done by our linguists will be tailored specifically to their needs. For more information please see our website at www.tjc-oxford.com, or if you wish to get in touch to discuss a project email us on info@tjc-global.com.

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