Ramadan is a special time of year for Muslims around the world, a time of fasting, prayer and reflection and a cleanse both in the physical and spiritual sense that is awaited year on year. Ramadan is venerated and celebrated where millions anxiously await the announcement of the moon citing.
Apart from the vast rewards that Muslims seek from Allah in partaking in the fast and prayer, Muslims acknowledge that this is the month in which the first verse of the Holy Qur’an was revealed.
“Read in the name of your Lord who created” [96:1]. The first command issued to the Prophet Muhammad (s) and to all Muslims thereafter.
A four-letter imperative, both in Arabic (اِقرأ) and in English (read), set the tone for a people who emerged from their slumber and forged one of the greatest civilisations. The tradition of literacy has been handed down to us from our predecessors.
However, over time, many have narrowed the meaning of the word to the bare bones of a rudimentary skill. For them, the word read, has come to mean the recognition and correct utterance of a series of sounds signalled by shapes painted beautifully on a sheet of paper.
These, often haunting renditions made with phenomenal recitational capacities resound in rooms and echo off mosque walls pulling on the strings of any heart that witnesses such a display.
Sadly, for many these sounds tantalise and torment. Such beauty demands comprehension of the message but remains locked away until they pull out their favourite “translation” to try and steal a glimpse into the world that these incantations herald.
Fully, reliant on a mediated interpretation, they faithfully place their trust in others to tell them what these verses mean. Failing to realise that translations of the Qur’an are merely impoverished attempts at interpreting potential meanings of divinely selected, often multi-faceted and precisely organised words that leave many translators grappling with words in their respective languages that may or may not capture the essence of the complex Arabic root.
Such brothers and sisters are often told that they are not really experiencing the Qur’an. They are told that translations do not convey the beauty of poetry, the rhythm, the cadence or rhetorical devices the Qur’an so miraculously uses.
Those who tell them this are also left feeling frustrated that they cannot make someone miss something they have never experienced.
However, the greater question remains, how can one be satisfied with a reliance on someone’s interpretation of the Qur’an when Allah has asked one to “Read”?