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Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Arabic to English Translators guide

Okay, I am writing this as a person who has been translating since 2006. In that time I have come to understand certain things and facts about translation. More importantly, I wanted to combine all the relevant information about translating. So any translator can use them as a guide to assist themselves.


Before you even think about translating you have to know basics about Islamic knowledge: fiqh and aquida. If you are going to translate advanced text then you need to learn the text, up to an advanced level. This applies to whatever field you are translating. Tafsir learn tafsir and so forth. It is best to study the text with a teacher.

If you are not familiar with terminology that is used in a subject then you have to leave translating the document or study it or have someone you can ask. The risk here is translating something in the wrong manner because you were not familiar with the subject. 

You need to make sure that you have the best version of the text. This might mean getting more than one printed text. Try to find pdfs because there are many online. Check and keep checking the text. Do this before doing any translating. You need to make sure of this before setting off. If you do not then you might be setting sail with a boat with a hole in it. I mean a text with lots of mistakes.


The text needs to be something useful and something that has not been done before. The book market is slow, so particular books sell better than others. Useful books of Fiqh do not sell unless its for the madrasa market. 


This often occurs with non-muslims who translate Islamic texts. They lack the understanding of basic concepts and then convey incorrect concepts. Some translators remove all the religious terminology. The text Instruction of the student falls into this type. Where the translators have removed religious terminology which is disappointing because its for Muslims, so they need the terminology. Although, the translation is very good, there are troubling parts which have been missed out and removed. A French expert on the works of Ibn 'Ajibah (may Allah show him mercy) also has this problem. He makes a mistake every time he uses salawat because he simply did not understand it. 

There comes a point that even the most battle hardened translator must ask someone. Using commentaries is the best option, if you have access to them. There are many books available online. 


The translators English needs to be as high as possible. So further studies in basic English are needed for some. Even a poor translation has benefits but a stronger translation means the text will sell better than a weak one. Reading classical English texts can help one form sentences and so forth. That is the inexpensive method of improving ones English.

When translating

The important thing about translating is the actual text. The first question you must ask yourself is: has it been translated before. If it has then do not touch it because no one will pay or publish the work. If you are paid by a publisher then go ahead but if you are doing it yourself then do not bother. The only exception would be if the text was very poorly translated. Even then you need to find a publisher. 

You should have as many classic dictionaries as possible: Mukhtar Al-Sihah, Al-Qamus Al-Muheet and Hans Wehr are just some of the dictionaries you should have. There are internet dictionaries but use these sparingly. If you find a word in a Arabic to Arabic dictionary then know you might need to look up the word in an Arabic to English dictionary later! Watch out for place names.


Once you have chosen a text then spend a long time searching for previous translations. 
Then look for more than one version of the text. This way you compare the information from one text to another. Dar Al-Kutub Al-Ilmiyyah and Dar Al-Fikr are two publishing houses with publications of classical works but have questions raised against them. Chapters, lines, paragraphs and so forth are missing from them. So if you have one these publications then check it without another version. An internet search can turn up a manuscript copy or even a earlier copy. I worked on a translation by comparing four publications of the same text from four different publishers. You should have at least two versions to compare.


If you are relying on a publisher then know that they take their time and can pull the plug at any time and keep the money. So get a contract between you or you might get a shock

Most publishers are interested in money alone. So consider self publishing because you could be waiting for years for some publishers and even then they could pull the plug on the project and leave with no reward for your work.

Adding Arabic

Most students of knowledge, as well as many others, want to see the original Arabic sources. The problem with this, is that people want the vowels present. Sometimes, the Arabic text does not have the tashkeel. 

So the original text of the hadith must be found and avoid guess work. Though this is often why the original Arabic is not used. It unduly delays the translation because it can take hours to find the text and then the reference of the text could be wrong. So to avoid all this, the Arabic text could be left out. This is your choice but checking the Arabic text, once its typed in, adds another layer of work. 


This is where the translators knowledge comes out. The greater the sources referred to often means that the translator has more knowledge. The lack of use of the footnotes means the translator is not bothered about adding notes or are unable to add footnotes. Often, references can be found in different versions of the same text. When I was translating the forty hadith commentary by Ibn Daqiq Al-'Id on Imam Al-Nawawi's compilation, I used another work to add  references. 

Problem is that not many people read the footnotes, so do you want to waste time adding them? I add as much footnotes as possible, seen as we live in time where people need references. Some translations that were done in the eighties and nineties did not have much foot or end notes. Also, do you want footnotes or end notes. My personal preference is footnotes because end notes takes time to find the note. Footnotes are right before you and it makes the text look bigger!   

Getting paid

Have written agreements with publisher and other parties. Its up to you if want a certain payments when certain parts are completed or payment upfront. This is all up to you but know many people who want projects do not want to pay reasonable prices. I was offered a 'generous' £1 per page to translate. I turned it down and that should not come as shock. 

Make things clear to avoid any time of confusion. Also, know people will do anything to get out of paying you. People owe me money for fees on translation that they have not paid. Get paid before hand over the work.

After completion

Review the text as many times as possible. Review the text slowly, read it out aloud or print it out. Keep your brain fresh and maybe ask someone to review it with you. 

One of the best ways of reviewing a text is to teach it. If you are qualified to do so, of course. Once you are happy with it then involve an editor then finally a proofreader. Go over their corrections and try to improve yourself. 


They are often people who are interesting in making money and not in paying the translator. They often exploit the work by not paying royalties and not paying anything for the work.

I often get tired of dealing with publishers because of their slow work rate. This is often due to the fact that they are working on more than one work at a time. Your work is often a long way down in the priorities. So you have a choice either to self publish or wait for years for the publisher. You can publish on the internet via text sharing sites such as scribd or kindle ebooks. Keep the rights of your text and keep the copyright. Publishers often do not care about the rights of the translator nor are they concerned with law. 

They might also want extra work to be done on the translation. Like adding biographies and additional notes. This can take extra time and even then the publisher can still back out of the translation. I worked for six months adding things to a text but then the publisher changed their mind and left my work hanging in the wind. I was not best pleased to say the least!

Review the texts after a few years and try to improve them, if its possible.

Final points

I hope this is useful for budding translators because its a small minefield and there is a distinct lack of professionalism in the book publishing market. Most people want to make money and will do it any cost. The publishers in particular. Most of them have nullified their good actions.

Yet, they are unaware that sincerity is paramount in any Islamic activity and the lack of sincerity means the reward is nullified. For such people its better to have the intention and not do any Islamic work. Than to do work with bad intentions such as earning money. The work needs sincere intentions and if there is not then it entails punishment because of the exploitation of others, and taking money from people unjustly

Friday, October 20, 2017


What does Allahu Akbar mean?

اَللهُ أَكْبَرْ

This is just a short clarification on this term. Firstly, let us look at the Arabic words. It means Allah is the greatest. Allah is the name of God in Arabic. This was in common usage in Arabia pre-Islam. Akbar means the greatest. Ie. There is nothing greater than Allah. This is not in relation to size, my Allah forgive us but in terms that there nothing that exists that is greater than Allah.


The majestic name [Allah] [Ism Al-Jallaha] is a noun that has its own grammatical rulings. For example when the invocation particle is added it becomes ya Allah  يالله not ya ayhul which is unlike all the other nouns. So it’s completely individual in this sense and it is not a combination of words like al-ilah see ya rasul article. Incidentally, when the Christians translate the bible into Arabic they use the name Allah.

When li is added to the majestic name it loses its first lam.  


 This is another aspect totally unique to the name Allah.


Akbar is on the pattern of ism al tafdil/the superlative. It is also on its own meaning we are not saying that Allah 'greater than' something as we would have to use min/than. We are saying that is the greatest period, full stop.

We say Allah u akbar we mean that there is nothing greater, better, more sublime, more powerful, more wise, more mighty, more anything than Allah. All those means are combined in this wonderful statement contained in two words.

This term is a pillar of the call to prayer. It is repeated four times at the beginning and twice near the end. This highlights how important these words are to the prayer. 

When begin physically praying this term is used before we begin. It is known as the opening magnification or the prohibition magnification. Meaning we have entered the sacred prescient of the prayer and now we cannot do anything except prayer. It can be used upon hearing good news or when receiving a blessing.

It is also part of the funeral and 'Id prayers. So its use is sacred and cannot be used for the profane, unjust and plainly wrong. Murder is murder and cannot be justified by any means or any religion.

For some reason indo-pak Imams say Allahu Abbari not Allahu Akbar. It is incorrect to pronounce it in this manner. 

The use of this term is to adorn an action with the sacred but it has to be lawful in the first place. Killing innocent people or harming them is wrong and it is the incorrect useage of this term. To put things very mildly. It’s a misuse and abuse of a sacred statement. I wish such people would refrain from this wretched behavior and using this term incorrectly. This term is misused by the media and those without knowledge to spread fear of Islam. When its a term of pure respect to the divine and should only ever be used for goodness.

Monday, July 03, 2017

The way of Imam Ghazali (d 505/1111)

Okay this is going to be a dig in the ribs so brace yourself. Allah (the Exalted) blessed me to study the books of Imam Al-Ghazali (may Allah show him mercy) when I started my path to knowledge. I was obsessed with his books and I read everything. I borrowed and brought all the books that I could find. I recognised there was something in his works that I could not find elsewhere. 

I looked at how others read books, which had strange opinions in them. It got to the stage that I do not want to read anything else. This was vital for me to remain balanced. I am grateful for this blessing because so many adhere to rare and unreliable positions. 

Imam Al-Ghazali was Sunni but not a 'qatar' sunni ala the indo-paks! He clarified points that caused a lot of disagreement at the time. From matters of belief, Sufism, sects and so on. His way was balance in terms of his writings. Moderation in matters was important because far too many people rely on opinions that are not the majority or relied upon opinion. People read books and quote without knowing that there is a mistake in it. 

Imam Al-Ghazali was not someone who would refute others without looking into their points and then after a period of learning and questioning. Only then would dissect the group, sect or religion. He became known for refuting groups from their own books. (Munqid min Al-Dallal p.20/1) He did this to remove all doubt that he had about the other. (ibdi p.21) He saw true knowledge as something there is no doubt in (Ibid p.23).

He threw off the shackles of trusting what others say and looked for necessary truths. He concluded that the senses could not be relied upon. He spent two years studying the books of philosophy and one deliberating with himself (Ibid p.30). He was a great scholar at the same time he studied to increase his knowledge. There are points mentioned in the texts that cannot be understood without a teacher. Reading books and then speaking is one the many modern problems.

In many of his books, he emphasised the way of knowledge and practice. And that true success was the combination of these two and not the isolation of one over the other.


Upon his study of the Sufism, he realised that this subject could not be learnt, it had to be experienced (ibid p.55) He saw it as the difference between learning what intoxication was and being intoxicated. Therefore, learning of Sufism by books was not sufficient then, as it is not sufficient now. A person who reads Sufi texts and then follows what he wishes is the one who is following his passion rather than a standardised method of a spiritual path. After the passing of Imam Al-Ghazali do we see the rise of the Tariqah. Great masters such as Abdul Qadir Al-Jilani (may Allah show him mercy) appear after his time. This was due to Imam Al-Ghazali placing Sufism as an inseparable part of Islam.

The bayah or oath of allegiance is promoted in adherents to a particular path of a Sheikh. This was one of the reasons he left his position and went in search of someone who could teach him the spiritual way. This sojourn was to last ten years. He worked for bed and board in masjids such as the Ummayyad in Damascus. He also came to the realisation that his teaching was not for Allah (the Exalted). He paused and reflected hard on this for a length of time. He found a teacher of the spiritual path. During his sojourn, did he transform and then in this illuminated state did his magnum opus emerge. The Ihya Ulum Al-Din was written in order to improve himself. He wrote about what he experienced in that time.

Many teachers refute others without reading what they say, therefore make their refutation unacademic. So it is not worthy of being read or being adhered to. 

The best policy

Imam Al-Ghazali's Ihya is taught all over the world. Its pages have been are poured over by scholars for centuries. There were times it was burnt because some scholars saw a mirror of themselves. So rather than admit and be honest, the book was burnt. It is still one of the most popular books in Turkey, a Hanafi Dominated country. However, it does not resonate as much in the indo-pak world.  

The last thirty years has seen parts of the Ihya enter the English language. The better translations are by Islamic texts society. However, these are single or double chapters at time. There is a very poor translation that arrived from the indo-pak world of the whole text. It is arduous to even read and I recommend the translations from the latter.

Strangely, one of the most popular commentaries is by a Hanafi Al-Murtada Al-Zabidi.

The way

The Yemenis in the valley of Hadaramaut have made the Ihya part of their scholarship program and part of their teachings. Even then, the scholars of the area warn that the opinions of Imam Al-Ghazali are very difficult to put into practice. He often takes the toughest approach to the self. So they might not accept particular parts. So we can ask does anyone carry the method of Imam Al-Ghazali in totality? I am going to upset the apple cart and say no. I will give you my reasons why because Imam Al-Ghazali is not a tariqah. The Ihya is taught by Sufis but some are on a spiritual path and others are not. It is not a book of suluk/wayfarering not like the same manner of the books of Imam Al-Sharani. However, parts of it are taught to Murids for their spiritual benefit like the books of death, destructive vices and breaking two desires etc.

There are individuals blessed with ijaza to him and have the text but not the spiritual path. The Ihya is a wholesale view of Islam that includes belief, fiqh, character, description of vices, death and redeeming qualities. A book of a path would be just about ones relationship with Allah (the Exalted) and all related fields. The Hikam of Ibn 'Ata Allah or Adab Al-Murid or Risala Qushayria etc. Are books of general Sufism, practical Sufism and experimental Sufism. The Ihya has fingers in all the richness of the arts of knowledge. There is no book like it. Muslims ignore it their peril, yes they do.

So his texts or way is not adhered to in its totality.


Imam Al-Ghazali retreated from public life and teaching for thirteen years before briefly returning to it before he died. Even if someone was to read Ihya and try to practice it then they would undoubtedly find it too difficult. Because following books is not the way of the Tasawwaf. We follow men who are realised in spirituality not dead papers. Imam Al-Ghazali attested to this fact himself because there were sciences he could study himself because he was a master but he could not study something where he had little knowledge of the subject matter.

No one now can say that they are following the way of Imam Al-Ghazali because this is folly. Moreover, it is akin to giving oneself permission in the path which could lead to disbelief. This path has to be traced by to him but there is no spiritual path of Al-Ghazali present in the world. Maybe his path merged with another path and or died out.

There is no doubt that millions of Muslims benefit from the tawfiq he was given. I am one such individual to benefit immensely from his works. One of the scholars said that a sign that a scholar is one of the scholars of the afterlife is his love for the Ihya. A sign that a scholar is one of the worldly scholars is his hate of the Ihya. A scholar of the world being someone to avoid and a scholar of the afterlife someone to cling to.

Most of all, if I could narrow Imam Al-Ghazalis way it would be honesty. Honesty is the way of Imam Al-Ghazali. Yet, how many people reading this cannot admit this? He was not a lair and nor did he pretend things were okay when they were not. He was honest and the Ihya is a lasting testament to his honesty. He asked questions of himself that no one dared ask and then researched the answers. This is a massive lesson for the 'speakers and scholars' of this time who do not cease to be found in the wrong part of the book of knowledge.

Consider one point about the way in which Imam Al-Ghazali considered backbiting which is that he considered speaking good about someone backbiting - because they disliked it! No one says that! Backbiting is normally saying something evil spoken about someone. So consider how deep his knowledge was and how he interpreted hadith. If Imam Al-Ghazali's way is difficult then how greater and harder is it to adopt the Sunnah of the Prophet (may Allah bestow peace and blessings upon him)? This is why we have madhabs so we can focus and do a part because the whole is too difficult.

Tasawwaf is about making ones heart pure from all sin. This is why it is only arrogance that we think we can follow a path without the means of a master. The same is he who reads medical books and says that he can understand the procedure; would you now trust him to do an operation on you? Your deen is more important than this. You do not need it all but you can learn parts, ideally at the hands of a teacher. 

People seem to think that they can delete the scholars and follow Quran and Sunnah alone. Ponder how this fact is against Umar ibn Al-Khattabs (may Allah be pleased with him) way. He was one of the great companions yet used to send questions and consult Ali (may Allah ennoble his face). As well as gather the people of Badr to consult on a matter. Even though he was a leader, he sought clarification by making sure there was no room for doubt. He did not interpret Islam as he wished. Rather he consulted companions who could advise him. He never had the audacity to say that he was following Quran and Sunnah and did not need anything else. Which many people claim now.

There is a sad trend of people 'distilling' the works of the Imam Al-Ghazali for the sake of earning money and not for the sake of teaching. They put his name to sell books and I do not mean valid summaries by scholars with ijaza. I mean those intellectuals who have picked up books and started to teach or 'summerise' without valid ijaza/permission. 
Not many people can be honest like Imam Al-Ghazali and even to refute others from their own books is not possible for most. Because they have, doubts in themselves so cannot refute others correctly. Refutation must be based on sound knowledge and not mere visceral opinion. So their arguments are based on doubt and this is why they are ignored.

There is no way of Imam Al-Ghazali in this time just fragments of his teaching in special places of the world. Yet that is watered down to make is accessible. In knowledge his way was to study until he had no doubts. He sought knowledge not just to practice it but to live it.

We are in need of studying until we have no doubts but how can you when most of the 'speakers' have doubts? So you have a lot of work to do to find that teacher without doubt but he is present.

But what we are mostly looking for is someone honest.