Ṣūwar min Ḥayat Al Saḥaba – صُوَرٌ مِن حياةِ الصَحابة

The title of this book can be translated to “Manners and/or ways of the Companions of the Prophet” . The word Ṣaḥaba is a noun describing the people who were alive and saw the Prophet Mohammed (p.b.u.h).

The first word of the title of this book [Ṣūwar – صُوَرٌ] is one of the one thousand and one words that could be incorrectly interpreted within the Arabic lexicon.

The first letter of the word [Ṣaḍ – ص] is the 14th letter of the Arabic alphabet.  Edward William Lane describes the letter in his Arabic-English Lexicon as a “non-vocal letter, pronounced with the breath only without the voice”.

The word [Ṣūwar – صُوَرٌ] is the plural form of [Ṣūra – صورة] which can mean either: picture; image; illustration; photo OR it can mean: manner; way; form. 

Both meanings are written in the exact same form as shown below.

surah-arabic translation
surah-arabic translation

A simple example of how without a familiar understanding of the context – which requires cultural and linguistic information – a word can be incorrectly deviated from its meaning.

How many times has this happened when translating Arabic classical texts into English I wonder?

The Perfection, Copiousness, and Uniformity of Language

Stories are the best possible way to communicate information of any kind. Whether you are crunching numbers, living historical/contemporary events, or just selling coffee. Telling a good story will help you deliver the message intended for it’s audience.

Every possible medium of content distribution we have today as Gary V. would say is “trading attention” .  So how do you create interest in the Arabic language among non-Arabs? What do you say? Who do you write about? Why would they care about it? The story of the language is what needs to be told in order to attract that attention and keep it.

I continue to read about Edward William Lane and I just can’t stop. An Englishman that travelled to Egypt to learn the Arabic Language and publish what is possibly the greatest Arabic English Lexicon book – IN 8 VOLUMES!

Lane believes that literature is the guardian of language. He writes: “Every language without a written literature tends to decay more than to development by reason of foreign influences; and the history of the Arabic exhibits an instance of decay remarkably rapid, and extraordinary in degree”.

It is as if this prophetic text jumps ahead 154 years and expresses the current state of affairs in the Arab world. I realize the hypocritical nature of this paragraph, expressing the degeneration of Arabic literature / content in English – [I want to also use “Content” because of the contextual significance in a knowledge economy] – but the story is not about what language is used. The story is about the people who use the language to open themselves to a new world.

So, to conclude this abnormally long post, I will be using the Edward William Lane Arabic English Lexicon to translate and explain the meanings of words written in the books I will translate. My intention is to 1) use the “mind” of an non-arab as a vehicle to tell the story of words written between these translated pages. 2) to show that there are no barriers to culture or clashes between civilizations. If a keen Englishman can learn the Arabic language and open up its world to non-arab speakers, maybe an Arab man can help tell his story to Arabs and non-Arabs alike.

We begin here…

My son is stretched out next to me in our bed, struggling with the Arabic alphabet exercises assigned to him by his teachers. As I sit here, I wonder how his future and many other children like him in the west will look like? There is so much knowledge out there that is out of reach for many just because of language barriers. Many of the books I found translated did not really convey the essence of the original Arabic text. Many of the misconceived notions about Islam and Muslims in the media stem from the simple errors of misinterpretation. As a father, I fear for my children’s access this vast wealth of knowledge, I fear that it may get hindered as a result of further neglect to this critical issue.

I do enjoy historical texts but some of the translated texts I have come across are simply…boring! How can I expect my child to express any sort of interest in the subject matter? When I can’t even stay awake past page 2. The problem is that the principal objective of these texts is to bring their heart and soul closer to God and the Prophet Muhammad (saw). This connection might prove difficult to materialize if we use the same “dry” translations and not evoke more emotional textual elements to bring the reader – regardless of age – closer to the text.

One word at a time, one page at a time, one book at a time. I will ask Allah (swt) for his guidance in this endeavour. May Allah accept it on my behalf for his sole pleasure.