Clearly I need to start swearing more...

Online Dating

Mingle2 - Online Dating

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

gays (2x) dangerous (1x)

So kids, make sure you ask your parents for guidance before reading this blog! You might come across potentially unsuitable words like "gays" or "dangerous" (!?!?).

That's pretty funny.


The Qur'an in Translation, Part II

Men have charge of women
because Allah has preferred the one above the other
and because they spend their wealth on them.
Right acting women are obedient,
safeguarding their husbands' interests in their absence
as Allah has guarded them.
If there are women whose disobedience you fear,
you may admonish them,
refuse to sleep with them,
and then beat them. (Sura 4.34)
One of the more controversial passages from the Qur'an, as rendered in the translation by Abdalhaqq and Aisha Bewley. The final words, apparently permitting men to "beat" their disobedient wives, are a translation of the Arabic adribuhunna, which Reza Aslan, in his quite good book No god but God, focuses some attention on.

Aslan notes that the word adribuhunna can be translated "beat them," but he asserts that it "can equally mean 'turn away from them,' 'go along with them,' and, remarkably, even 'have consensual intercourse with them'" (70).

My knowledge of the Arabic language is virtually non-existent, but it seems unlikely to me that the text really means that men should have consensual intercourse with their wives for being disobedient (although the translation by Ahmed Ali, which is not very highly regarded, gives it precisely that meaning).

Aslan makes, in my opinion, a very problematic assertion:
If religion is indeed interpretation, then which meaning one chooses to accept and follow depends on what one is trying to extract from the text: if one views the Quran as empowering women, then Ali's; if one looks to the Quran to justify violence against women, then Fakhry's (a translation that, like that cited above, translates the word in question as "beat them"). (70)
While there is no question that personal biases influence which translation a person will prefer, it seems to me that Aslan is taking a rather black-and-white view of this problem. Personally, I would love to believe the Qur'an empowers women. But I'm not going to presuppose that it actually does before I read it. It seems to me that the more woman-friendly translation here is very unlikely, given the context.

Granted, I'm in a very different position from a Muslim, as I don't feel any obligation to accept what the Qur'an says.

I'll have more to say about Aslan's book very soon...



Marriage in America

Interesting blog post yesterday from Bernard S. Cohen and Evan Wolfson, on HuffPo. It was written to commemorate the 40th anniversary of a landmark US Supreme Court decision in a case called Loving v. Virginia. The story behind it is quite interesting:
Mildred Jeter, part African-American and part Cherokee, and Richard Loving, a white man, left their home state, Virginia, in order to get married where their love was allowed. Upon return, the couple was arrested in their bedroom for the "crime" of violating Virginia's race restrictions on who could marry whom, convicted of marrying the "wrong" kind of person, and given a choice of a year in prison or 25 years exile from their home state. The Lovings chose exile and then sued to defend their marriage. The Virginia Supreme Court upheld the trial court's ruling that, "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay, and red, and he placed them on separate continents.... The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix." On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down race restrictions on marriage, declaring, "The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men."
What was fascinating to me was that 70% of the American public was opposed to interracial marriage at the time. Seventy percent! The fact that the US Supreme Court unanimously overruled the Virginia Court decision against such staggering popular opinion is a real testament to the integrity of the Supreme Court justices of the day.

I just think that's a great story. Here's the blog post.


The Qur'an in Translation

Irshad Manji, in her book The Trouble With Islam Today, makes an interesting point about two widely held beliefs about the Qur'an: on the one hand, many Muslims insist that the Qur'an cannot be translated, per se, and that any attempt inevitably corrupts the meaning of the text. On the other hand, the teachings of the Qur'an are often thought to be particularly clear. Manji asks, "if the Quran is as straightforward as the purists tell us, then aren't its teachings easily translated into a thousand tongues?" (24). I hadn't thought about it before, but there is a real contradiction here.

Obviously the problem with any translation is that the source text might have a range of possible meanings, and one might argue that no translation can capture the full range. Additionally, there is the possibility that the translation might suggest meanings that are not suggested by the source text. This is why it is important for scholars to be able to read texts in their original language. I've come across numerous interpretations of passages from the New Testament that might have sounded plausible to someone who had only read it in English translation, but which could not be supported by the original Greek text.

In reality, though, there are limits to the number of plausible interpretations a text can yield. One can look at a dozen different translations of a particular passage, and while there might be significant differences in the wording, it is essentially the same meaning conveyed by all of them. When the meaning of one appears to be quite different, it is very often a bad translation. At least, that is my experience of interpreting the New Testament, in the original Greek, as well as in English and Latin translation.

In the Catholic tradition, the Greek text of the New Testament has been far less important than the Latin translation, particularly the Vulgate of St. Jerome. One might think that the prejudice against translation found in the Islam would find no parallel in the Catholic tradition. Of course, the opposite it true. Translations into vernacular languages were stringently suppressed until relatively recent times.

It's difficult to shake the suspicion that this stigma against translation is nothing more than an authoritarian attempt to control how the people understand their own tradition. Contrary to what one might think, the large majority of Muslims do not read Arabic. Like a lot of Catholics who pray in Latin, most Muslims don't really understand the words they are saying when they pray. Unless, of course, those words have been translated for them.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.