Translating The Qu’ran

For long and complicated reasons that I won’t go into here, but I assure you, are hilarious, I was lent a DVD series of a debate between a Dr Zakir Naik and a Dr William Campbell called “The Quran & The Bible In The Light Of Science”. It’s around four hours of rip-roaring side-splitting fun, in which both parties throw aside the notion that their respective holy books are the ultimate guide to truth and chose to submit their beliefs to the word of science in the hope that that will somehow prove which one of the religions is the winner. And by “the hope that that will somehow prove which one of the religions is the winner” I mean “the hope that that will impress the audience with their clever arguments and turns of phrase and so prove which one of the religions is the more acceptable”. In short, if you want to hear tedious arguments about whether or not the moon being described as a lamp or a direct light destroys the (alleged) word of God, then this is the DVD for you.

In all this though, there is occasionally a glimmer of interestingness, unintentionally revealed during arguments over the size of mountains, or in the below case, the Arabic word which can be translated blood clot. Watch the clip, paying close attention to the last line that he says.

Bad arguments from Matthew 10:5-6 and Matthew 15:24 aside, there’s something really wrong going on here. Dr Naik agrees with the man he’s debating with about how to find out what a word used in a historical document really means. Go back to the source, see how it’s used in the source, see how it’s used at the time the source was written. That’s the meaning of the word. In writing this sentence, I use the word “writing”, in previous times this would have meant putting something down onto paper with an instrument like a pen. Now it can include typing too. Meanings change or adapt over time, therefore you’ve got to see how the word was originally used. In the Bible, the words were given to people at a specific time in a language they could understand. God reveals himself in a way we can understand. Is there an eternal meaning? Of course, but how can we know that if it’s not given in words that people can understand and translate?

That’s not true of the Qu’ran says Dr Naik, “So as far as the Qu’ran is concerned you cannot limit the meaning for only that time, because it is meant for eternity”. The Qu’ran is a book of which the words have an eternal meaning. Just because the early Muslims would have understood a word to mean one thing doesn’t mean that the word actually means that. So the phrase they thought meant “Here is the word of God” could actually eternally mean “Here is the word of a carp”. Which kinda makes the entirety of the Qu’ran nonsense. I mean, reasonably following this logic, you could rightly say about any verse “ah, but we don’t understand the Arabic here correctly, we think it means ‘sword’, but eternally it means ‘the first series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ “.

And so what you’ve got is not the Qu’ran with eternal meaning, but the Qu’ran with no meaning.

1 I’m not sure I should even bother with a rebuttal, reading either of the passages in full shows the nonsense of his position. Even the second more difficult passage ends with Jesus saying “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” Or better yet, you could read all of Matthew and hear the closing words “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”