Towards understanding "The Holy Quran"
Imam W. Deen Muhammad
(Editor's note: Following are excerpts from Imam Warith Deen Muhammad's Sunday address at Masjid Honorable Elijah Muhammad in Chicago, 1IL, Dec. 21,1980.)
As-Salaam-Alaikum. Praise be to Allah, the Guardian, Evolver, Cherisher and Sustainer of all the worlds. I bear witness that nothing deserves worship except Allah. And I bear witness that Muhammad is His Messenger.
Dear beloved people, Muslims and visitors, we are happy to be here on this cold day; it's a beautiful day though. The sun is shining bright. And I know that we all have benefited by the lecture from the visiting Imam from the South Region. Imam Ibrahir Pasha is the Regional Imam of the- South Region, and he resides in Atlanta, Georgia — a very nice place. I'm sure he's anxious to get back there for the weather, if not for anything else.
I want to bring your attention to a verse, if I can find it — I've marked it here. It's a verse in the Quran translated by two translators. I have both here — Maulana Abdullah Yusuf Ali, who has a fine commentary; a very poetic, a very beautiful and a very learned scholar.
And here I have a translation by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall, another scholar of Quran, but with not quite the recognition that Abdullah Yusuf Ali has. But he seems to be more familiar with the English language. I bring this to your attention just to keep the desire in us for a better translation of Quran. I hope one day that we will have a translation from us, from the African-American Muslims.
To translate, you need strong knowledge in both languages. If I want to translate in Spanish from Arabic, I should be strong in both Arabic and in Spanish. To translate from Arabic to English, I should be strong in both Arabic and in English. These scholars are pretty strong, but I think they have to rely too much on outsiders for English. And perhaps Pickthall had to rely too much on others for the Arabic.
I'm told that recently a group of scholars, professors, doctorates went over Pickthall in an examination of his translation and pointed out numerous mistakes. We were told that there are numerous mistakes in the translation of Pickthall.
Long ago, 1 myself had discovered in Maulana Abdullah Yusuf AH's translation some problems. Later [ learned that they also are discovering mistakes in his translation. All the scholars say no translation does justice to the Arabic, to the original. No translation meets the quality of the original. Therefore we should all want to speak the Arabic and read it; at least the Quranic Arabic so we can better understand it.
This is quite a big job for many of us, because we are not a people who speak foreign languages. We are the most ignorant people in the world when it comes to languages. I've gone many places in this world, and I find people — common people — able to speak two or three different languages. They are surprised when they see so many Americans not able to speak but one language.
The chapter that we are going to comment on is the Chapter titled "The Most High" "Al-A'ala." And the verse is Verse 8. When Imam Pasha was reading, something didn't sound right, although he read the English correctly. I wanted to see did he read it correctly — he did.
Verse 8: "And we will make it easy for thee to follow the simple path.''
The scholar here, I'm sure, did his best; he was trying to get the meaning as perfect as possible. But I don't think he was hearing the English with an ear of one who understands English very well. "We will make it easy for thee to follow the simple path.”
Why is it hard to follow the simple path? Why is it hard for the Prophet to follow the simple path? If he had used some other word, it wouldn't cause a big problem. 1 can suggest some words that wouldn't cause as much a problem. "We shall make it easy for you to follow the simple orientation." That's different.
"Path" suggests to us the religious path. When anybody who speaks English reads this, "path" suggests the religious path. Now if Prophet Muhammad was having a hard time following the simple religious path, what is to be expected of others? No, he was always right in his mind, the most obedient man in righteousness. He had no problem following the simple truth. That was his nature. He was looking for the simple truth. This is not about his difficulty following something! It is about his difficulty delivering something.
God promised him — not only here in this verse but in other verses — that He would ease the way for him, until he comes into easy grasp of the revelation for an easy delivery. The word here is "yusraa" — al yusraa.
There is another verse in the Quran where the word "yusraa" is translated, "ease." To translate al yusraa, the "path of ease" would be more correct than translating it the "simple path." The human soul struggles and strives and hungers to follow the simple path. What is the struggle? Why are we struggling? Because someone has put confusion between us and the simple way. So the real difficulty is moving the confusion, the misconceptions, the wrong things out of the way.
To say that the Quran says, or should we say the Prophet experienced difficulty following the simple path requires explanation. (NOTE: "We" in the verse being discussed is always capitalized.)
Pickthall's translation gives the following for "al yusraa": — "a state of ease." "We shall ease you into a state of ease." Where the state is difficult for you now, where the condition is hard on you now, "We" shall ease you, gradually, out of all difficulty. You shall be gradually eased into "a state of ease."
When the one who has a message to deliver sees it in bigger scope, it becomes clearer in his own mind. Therefore, he can give it to the people clearer, better. But while he has only a part of the picture, it's hard for him to tell the people what it's all about. Quran may abrogate Hadith, and Quran is God's word.
We understand that this Quran came to Prophet Muhammad in stages over a period of 20-some years. Sometimes more came than at other times. He, himself, was being taught Quran. And as more Quran came to him, his vision became more clear, more complete. God gave him even the word, the language, the clear language, the powerful language to reach the people and to convince them that Al-Islam is the way.
When you follow the order in which the Quran was revealed, you notice the smaller chapters are in the last part of the Quran, and they represent the earliest revelation. If you read those earlier verses and chapters, you find them to be more metaphorical.
The pre-Ummah Arabs being not familiar with scripture found it difficult. Can you imagine the difficulty the Prophet faced reciting verses at the outset? The rejecters say: "This is difficult." Really they were mocking; they were making criticism. Telling Prophet Muhammad. "You're reciting these difficult verses. Ah, this is hard on my mind. What is this mind-boggling message you are bringing us? Are you possessed?" - the rejecters would taunt our Prophet.
But Prophet Muhammad knew he was receiving revelation from the Lord of all the worlds; he continued to deliver it as it came to him, then later on as more light came, they were able to see mystical verse. When they saw, then those who laughed were ashamed.
"How a mortal has received this great wisdom in such beautiful language." What came to Prophet Muhammad put all the poets, all the literary geniuses out of business. They had nothing to captivate the mind of the people and to charge the intellect for positive life.
God said He would teach him. He would teach him stage-by-stage. He would ease him into a state of ease. God would teach him. Himself, and make it easy for him. Never think that Prophet Muhammad had difficulty following the simple way of submission. There is difficulty in trying to show people the simple way with their minds up in the sky and all out east and west and beyond. That's where the difficulty is.