Sublime Quran more inclusive

Dr. Bakhtiar translates ancient text

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

A new “progressive” translation of the Quran has stirred up controversy on campus and abroad.

Dr. Laleh Bakhtiar has translated the religious text using more inclusive language, so people of other faiths can appreciate the Quran as a spiritual text.

“As a Muslim woman I commend her,” Muslim Student Association president Jiman Mosa said. “From what I understand what she is doing is very progressive.”

The text, The Sublime Quran, has met some sharp criticism from religious and linguistic experts.

Heinz Klatt, professor emeritus at King’s University College, said parts of the text are not translation, but ideologically motivated interpretations.

“If I were Muslim, I would be outraged by this,” he said. “Dr. Bakhtiar probably has noble intentions ... but she is being dishonest.”

Dr. Bahktiar responded to criticism leveled against her. “There will be those fundamentalists who object ... they are closed minded and inflexible.”

MSA president Mosa agreed. “All religious texts are interpretations.”

Still, the religious document has some significant differences.

Instead of using the word “Allah” to refer to a higher power, Dr. Bakhtiar elected to use the more Western word “God.”

Mosa said using the word God in the Quran is not unique. “There are 99 names for Allah. God is one of them.”

Perhaps the most controversial translation appears in chapter four, verse 34, where men are given license to punish disobedient wives. The Arabic word idrib " traditionally translated as the imperative “to beat” " is replaced with the phrase “to go away.”

Umair Malak, a third-year political science student and MSA member, agreed with the interpretation. “That’s what I was taught, and I think most Muslims are taught.

“The best thing to do is to walk away.”

“The Arabic word [idrib] has 25 different meanings,” Dr. Bakhtiar explained. “It could be ‘to strike’ or ‘to turn aside’ ... The prophet never beat anyone, why should the text contradict that?”

Finally, the Arabic word kufr, traditionally meaning “infidel,” has been translated as “those ungrateful to God” in The Sublime Quran.

Dr. Bakhtiar said the word infidel is exclusive language, and that more people will understand her translation.

Klatt strongly disagreed with Dr. Bakhtiar’s rephrasing of the Quran. “The Quran is a rather violent document ... She attempts to translate it into non-violent language " a softening of the text.

“It’s a very subjective, biased reading,” he added.

Dr. Bakhtiar was born into an Iranian-American family. Although she grew up in the United States with Christian upbringing, she moved to Iran at age 24 and embarked on a spiritual journey. She has since converted to Islam, and married an Iranian man.

Political science professor Salim Mansur could not offer any insight as to the political repercussions. “If anything, [Dr. Bakhtiar] adds femininity and sensitivity to the translation.”

“It is not just a woman’s perspective " many men agree,” Dr. Bakhtiar said. “A sacred text is without gender.”

“The times are changing,” Mosa concluded. “People are thinking anew.”

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