In 2002, Rogers Communications Inc., a Canadian communications and media company, initiated a contract with Bell Aliant to access its power poles at an annual rate of $9.60 per pole. Rogers intended to used the poles for its cable lines. The challenge was that some of these poles that Rogers was leasing were owned by a separate company, New Brunswick Power Company, who in 2004 increased their annual rate per pole to Aliant to $18.91. This put Aliant in a tough position, such that if Aliant maintained their contract with Rogers then they would be losing money based on the latest rate from N.B. Power. So instead, Aliant told Rogers on Jan. 31, 2005, that it would terminate their agreement in one year on Feb. 1, 2006. Rogers claimed that such actions were in breach of their contract and took Aliant to court to resolve the matter.
The sentence in the contract that was disputed was the following:
“This agreement shall be effective from the date it is made and shall continue in force for a period of five (5) years from the date it is made, and thereafter for successive five (5) year terms, unless and until terminated by one year prior notice in writing by either party.”
According to the interpretation by Rogers of the contract, they believed that Aliant had to uphold the contract for 5 years before they could provide a one year notice to terminate the contract. But according to Aliant, they argued that because the comma was placed after the phrase “successive (5) year term” this indicated that they could terminate the contract at any time as long as they provide a one year notice.
When this case first went to court, the court originally sided with Aliant’s interpretation that they were allowed to terminate the contract at any time as long as they provided a one year notice, but the following year the court reversed their decision and sided with Rogers. So what caused this change in decision?
Initially the court based their decision according to the English contract where the interpretation of this sentence was ambiguous and since it did not specifically state that the termination clause was exclusively only applicable to after the initial 5 year term, then it was left for interpretation. But since this contract was in Canada there was also a French translation of this contract that both companies agreed to. Interesting enough in the French contract this ambiguity did not exist, and it was clear that the termination clause only applied after the initial five year agreement. Therefore because of this the court reversed their decision and sided with Rogers in this case.
This is one of the main advantages of having translations of important documents. Sometimes the meaning in one translation may be ambiguous and can cause confusion regarding its interpretation, but when translated into another language the ambiguity goes away and a single understanding can be reached. This lesson doesn’t just apply to obscure court cases and legal contracts, but also the Quran.
THE QURAN SHOULD BE TRANSLATED
God repeatedly in the Quran provides verses that indicate that the Quran must be translated.
[26:192] This is a revelation from the Lord of the universe. [26:193] The Honest Spirit (Gabriel) came down with it. [26:194] To reveal it into your heart, that you may be one of the warners. [26:195] In a perfect Arabic tongue. [26:196] It has been prophesied in the books of previous generations. [26:197] Is it not a sufficient sign for them that it was known to the scholars among the Children of Israel? [26:198] If we revealed this to people who do not know Arabic. [26:199] And had him recite it (in Arabic), they could not possibly believe in it. [26:200] We thus render it (like a foreign language) in the hearts of the guilty.
[41:44] If we made it a non-Arabic Quran they would have said, “Why did it come down in that language?” Whether it is Arabic or non-Arabic, say, “For those who believe, it is a guide and healing. As for those who disbelieve, they will be deaf and blind to it, as if they are being addressed from faraway.”
وَلَوْ جَعَلْنَاهُ قُرْآنًا أَعْجَمِيًّا لَقَالُوا لَوْلَا فُصِّلَتْ آيَاتُهُ أَأَعْجَمِيٌّ وَعَرَبِيٌّ قُلْ هُوَ لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا هُدًى وَشِفَاءٌ وَالَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ فِي آذَانِهِمْ وَقْرٌ وَهُوَ عَلَيْهِمْ عَمًى أُولَٰئِكَ يُنَادَوْنَ مِنْ مَكَانٍ بَعِيدٍ
[81:27] This is a message to all the people.
(٢٧) إِنْ هُوَ إِلَّا ذِكْرٌ لِلْعَالَمِينَ
[25:1] Most blessed is the One who revealed the Statute Book to His servant, so he can serve as a warner to the whole world.
(١) تَبارَكَ الَّذي نَزَّلَ الفُرقانَ عَلىٰ عَبدِهِ لِيَكونَ لِلعالَمينَ نَذيرًا
IMPORTANCE OF UNDERSTANDING THE ARABIC QURAN
There is so much value in understanding the Arabic Quran, that is difficult to understand when reading an English translation. In addition to the linguistic excellence and rhythmic structure that is lost in translation there are many aspects of meaning that do not carry over when a word is translated into another language. This is predominately due to the Arabic language and the use of triliteral roots. In Arabic every word has a corresponding root. From this root a derivative of words can be understood that typically have an underlying association that sometimes on surface level may not be apparent.
For instance the first two names that God uses to describe Himself in the first verse of the Quran and at the start of 113 of the Suras of the Quran is Al-Rahman, Al-Raheem, which is translated as Most Gracious, Most Merciful. If one was just reading the translation they could look up the meaning of these words in a dictionary and try to better understand what is being encompassed by God choosing these names to describe Himself when introducing Himself to the reader. While this approach will shed some light, another approach that is more obvious in the Arabic Quran is seeing that the Arabic use of these words share the same root as the Arabic word for womb which is أَرْحَام arḥām. When a mother has a baby it will feed, protect, nurture the baby in her belly irrespective if the baby is thankful or even conscientious of the mother’s existence or not. Similarly God does the same for all His creatures. Irrespective if a human is God fearing, heedless, or an atheist God provides for all His creatures. While this can be explained in Tafsir, this understanding cannot be understood in a simple translation.
Other examples of this is the various words and meanings that God uses in the Quran to describe the righteous e.g. mutageen مُتَّقِينَ, salehun مُصْلِحُونَ, beree بِرِّ. Each of these have some quality or context that can be important in understanding the selection for this word that may not be apparent in the English translation. For instance in 2:11, God tells us the response from the hypocrites when asked not to commit evil.
[2:11] When they are told, “Do not commit evil,” they say, “But we are righteous!”
(١١) وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ لَا تُفْسِدُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ قَالُوا إِنَّمَا نَحْنُ مُصْلِحُونَ
The Arabic word that is translated as “righteous” is mosleehun, this comes from the meaning of someone who is a reformer rather than a word like mutageen مُتَّقِينَ which would imply someone who is God fearing. By using the word that implies reformation, this implies that the hypocrites are attempting to reform the religion as opposed to follow the way of the believers in the past. This understanding is reinforced in the following verse.
[2:13] When they are told, “Believe like the people who believed,” they say, “Shall we believe like the fools who believed?” In fact, it is they who are fools, but they do not know.
(١٣) وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ آمِنُوا كَمَا آمَنَ النَّاسُ قَالُوا أَنُؤْمِنُ كَمَا آمَنَ السُّفَهَاءُ أَلَا إِنَّهُمْ هُمُ السُّفَهَاءُ وَلَٰكِنْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
The above verse is indicating that the hypocrites are believing something new that contradicts the beliefs that were from the believers before them.
Another example is the expression to “obey God and His messenger”. The Arabic word for obey that is used for this expression is أَطِيعُوا (aṭīʿū) which is the same root to willfully do something. This informs us that obeying in this condition must be by choice willfully, and not by force unwillfully.
[3:32] Proclaim: “You shall obey GOD and the messenger.” If they turn away, GOD does not love the disbelievers.
(٣٢) قُلْ أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَالرَّسُولَ فَإِنْ تَوَلَّوْا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْكَافِرِينَ
But if someone reads this verse in another language this understanding can easily be missed, despite the fact that it is only the disbelievers who use force to have others abide by their belief throughout the Quran, like the example of Shu’aib to his people in Midyan.
[7:88] The arrogant leaders among his people said, “We will evict you, O Shu’aib, together with those who believed with you, from our town, unless you revert to our religion.” He said, “Are you going to force us?
(٨٨) قَالَ الْمَلَأُ الَّذِينَ اسْتَكْبَرُوا مِنْ قَوْمِهِ لَنُخْرِجَنَّكَ يَاشُعَيْبُ وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَعَكَ مِنْ قَرْيَتِنَا أَوْ لَتَعُودُنَّ فِي مِلَّتِنَا قَالَ أَوَلَوْ كُنَّا كَارِهِينَ
Another example in how the root words can shed light on the understanding of a word that is oftentimes lost in translation are the terms Muslim and Islam which all come from the same root. While a translation may translate this word as Submission (Islam) and Submitter (Muslim) to better represent the meaning of this word, when studying the Arabic we see that this is the same root as used for the word Salam as in Peace. Thus a Muslim following the religion of Islam can also be understood as not only a Submitter who Submits, but also as a Peace-Maker following the religion of Peace.
There are also other facets that the Arabic Quran provides clarity on that may be misunderstood via a translation. Take the example of Sura 28 verse 76.
[28:76] Qãroon (the slave driver) was one of Moses’ people who betrayed them and oppressed them. We gave him so many treasures that the keys thereof were almost too heavy for the strongest band. His people said to him, “Do not be so arrogant; GOD does not love those who are arrogant.
إِنَّ قَارُونَ كَانَ مِنْ قَوْمِ مُوسَىٰ فَبَغَىٰ عَلَيْهِمْ وَآتَيْنَاهُ مِنَ الْكُنُوزِ مَا إِنَّ مَفَاتِحَهُ لَتَنُوءُ بِالْعُصْبَةِ أُولِي الْقُوَّةِ إِذْ قَالَ لَهُ قَوْمُهُ لَا تَفْرَحْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْفَرِحِينَ
Without looking at the Arabic can a reader understand if the word “band” here is in reference to a band like a rope or string, or does this constitute a band of men? If we think of the keys we have today it would see absurd to think that this word would be in reference to a group of people, but if we look at the Arabic it is clear that this is actually what the word is in refernece to.
For instance we see the same word used throughout the Quran used in the context of a group of people e.g. Joseph’s brothers, or the gang that produced a big lie.
[24:11] A gang among you produced a big lie. Do not think that it was bad for you; instead, it was good for you. Meanwhile, each one of them has earned his share of the guilt. As for the one who initiated the whole incident, he has incurred a terrible retribution.
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ جَاءُوا بِالْإِفْكِ عُصْبَةٌ مِنْكُمْ لَا تَحْسَبُوهُ شَرًّا لَكُمْ بَلْ هُوَ خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مِنْهُمْ مَا اكْتَسَبَ مِنَ الْإِثْمِ وَالَّذِي تَوَلَّىٰ كِبْرَهُ مِنْهُمْ لَهُ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ
This also corresponds with what history tells us about the kind of locks and keys that were used during the time period of Qaroon. These were not small keys like what we have today that could fit on a band of string or rope, but instead were large wooden keys sometimes the size of logs that could require multiple people to carry.
Another example of how the translation may be ambiguous while the Arabic leaves no doubt is regarding the dietary prohibitions. Four times in the Quran the dietary prohibition are spelled out for readers of the Quran (2:173, 5:3, 6:145, 16:115). When reading the translation sometimes the fourth dietary prohibition can be hard to understand if it includes animals which the name of God was not mentioned upon them at the time of slaughter, and if the prohibition includes all foods or just animal products. This ambiguity is resolved in the Arabic Quran.
[2:173] He only prohibits for you the eating of animals that die of themselves (without human interference), blood, the meat of pigs, and animals dedicated to other than GOD. If one is forced (to eat these), without being malicious or deliberate, he incurs no sin. GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.
(١٧٣) إِنَّمَا حَرَّمَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْتَةَ وَالدَّمَ وَلَحْمَ الْخِنْزِيرِ وَمَا أُهِلَّ بِهِ لِغَيْرِ اللَّهِ فَمَنِ اضْطُرَّ غَيْرَ بَاغٍ وَلَا عَادٍ فَلَا إِثْمَ عَلَيْهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
[5:3] Prohibited for you are animals that die of themselves, blood, the meat of pigs, and animals dedicated to other than GOD. (Animals that die of themselves include those) strangled, struck with an object, fallen from a height, gored, attacked by a wild animal—unless you save your animal before it dies—and animals sacrificed on altars. Also prohibited is dividing the meat through a game of chance; this is an abomination. Today, the disbelievers have given up concerning (the eradication of) your religion; do not fear them and fear Me instead. Today, I have completed your religion, perfected My blessing upon you, and I have decreed Submission as the religion for you. If one is forced by famine (to eat prohibited food), without being deliberately sinful, then GOD is Forgiver, Merciful.
حُرِّمَتْ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْتَةُ وَالدَّمُ وَلَحْمُ الْخِنْزِيرِ وَمَا أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ اللَّهِ بِهِ وَالْمُنْخَنِقَةُ وَالْمَوْقُوذَةُ وَالْمُتَرَدِّيَةُ وَالنَّطِيحَةُ وَمَا أَكَلَ السَّبُعُ إِلَّا مَا ذَكَّيْتُمْ وَمَا ذُبِحَ عَلَى النُّصُبِ وَأَنْ تَسْتَقْسِمُوا بِالْأَزْلَامِ ذَٰلِكُمْ فِسْقٌ الْيَوْمَ يَئِسَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْ دِينِكُمْ فَلَا تَخْشَوْهُمْ وَاخْشَوْنِ الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الْإِسْلَامَ دِينًا فَمَنِ اضْطُرَّ فِي مَخْمَصَةٍ غَيْرَ مُتَجَانِفٍ لِإِثْمٍ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
[6:145] Say, “I do not find in the revelations given to me any food that is prohibited for any eater except: (1) carrion, (2) running blood, (3) the meat of pigs, for it is contaminated, and (4) the meat of animals blasphemously dedicated to other than GOD.” If one is forced (to eat these), without being deliberate or malicious, then your Lord is Forgiver, Most Merciful.
قُلْ لَا أَجِدُ فِي مَا أُوحِيَ إِلَيَّ مُحَرَّمًا عَلَىٰ طَاعِمٍ يَطْعَمُهُ إِلَّا أَنْ يَكُونَ مَيْتَةً أَوْ دَمًا مَسْفُوحًا أَوْ لَحْمَ خِنْزِيرٍ فَإِنَّهُ رِجْسٌ أَوْ فِسْقًا أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ اللَّهِ بِهِ فَمَنِ اضْطُرَّ غَيْرَ بَاغٍ وَلَا عَادٍ فَإِنَّ رَبَّكَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
[16:115] He only prohibits for you dead animals, blood, the meat of pigs, and food which is dedicated to other than GOD. If one is forced (to eat these), without being deliberate or malicious, then GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.
(١١٥) إِنَّمَا حَرَّمَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْمَيْتَةَ وَالدَّمَ وَلَحْمَ الْخِنْزِيرِ وَمَا أُهِلَّ لِغَيْرِ اللَّهِ بِهِ فَمَنِ اضْطُرَّ غَيْرَ بَاغٍ وَلَا عَادٍ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
Despite variations in the English translation the Arabic of the four verses is roughly the same regarding the fourth dietary prohibition, and it is easily resolved by understanding the mean of the word أُهِلَّ (uhila). This word comes from the root ahila which means “to invoke the name of God upon an animal before slaughtering it.”
In Classical Arabic if the word is written in the past tense adding the oo sound over the first root letter implies that the sbuject noun is the one which the act is being carried over. So for instance, أَنْزَلَ (anzala) would be translated as “he sent” while أُنْزِلَ (unzila) would be translated as “he was sent” such that something was sent to him. So by using uhila as opposed to ahila simply means “that which the name of God was mentioned upon an animal before slaughter.” So the meaning of is the following across all four verses:
In addition to roots sometimes elements of context are missing in a translation that are apparent in the original Arabic. In the following verse of Sura 60 verse 4, Abraham is informing his people that he is against them, but one key piece that is not fully encompassed in the translation is that the animosity and hatred that is felt is not just from Abraham directed towards his people, but mutual between him and his people.
[60:4] A good example has been set for you by Abraham and those with him. They said to their people, “We disown you and the idols that you worship besides GOD. We denounce you, and you will see nothing from us except animosity and hatred until you believe in GOD ALONE.” However, a mistake was committed by Abraham when he said to his father, “I will pray for your forgiveness, but I possess no power to protect you from GOD.” “Our Lord, we trust in You, and submit to You; to You is the final destiny.
قَدْ كَانَتْ لَكُمْ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ فِي إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَالَّذِينَ مَعَهُ إِذْ قَالُوا لِقَوْمِهِمْ إِنَّا بُرَآءُ مِنْكُمْ وَمِمَّا تَعْبُدُونَ مِنْ دُونِ اللَّهِ كَفَرْنَا بِكُمْ وَبَدَا بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمُ الْعَدَاوَةُ وَالْبَغْضَاءُ أَبَدًا حَتَّىٰ تُؤْمِنُوا بِاللَّهِ وَحْدَهُ إِلَّا قَوْلَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ لِأَبِيهِ لَأَسْتَغْفِرَنَّ لَكَ وَمَا أَمْلِكُ لَكَ مِنَ اللَّهِ مِنْ شَيْءٍ رَبَّنَا عَلَيْكَ تَوَكَّلْنَا وَإِلَيْكَ أَنَبْنَا وَإِلَيْكَ الْمَصِيرُ
This is made apparent in the following verses where we are informed that Abraham was imploring not to be oppressed by his people and then God cites Abraham as a good example of someone who was kind and compassionate not hostile or an aggressor.
[60:5] Our Lord, let us not be oppressed by those who disbelieved, and forgive us. You are the Almighty, Most Wise.
(٥) رَبَّنَا لَا تَجْعَلْنَا فِتْنَةً لِلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا وَاغْفِرْ لَنَا رَبَّنَا إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ
[60:6] A good example has been set by them for those who seek GOD and the Last Day. As for those who turn away, GOD is in no need (of them), Most Praiseworthy.
(٦) لَقَدْ كَانَ لَكُمْ فِيهِمْ أُسْوَةٌ حَسَنَةٌ لِمَنْ كَانَ يَرْجُو اللَّهَ وَالْيَوْمَ الْآخِرَ وَمَنْ يَتَوَلَّ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ الْغَنِيُّ الْحَمِيدُ
UNDERSTANDING THE ARABIC QURAN THROUGH TRANSLATION
Many individuals will argue that the Quran cannot ever be fully understood in any other language aside from Arabic. While this is partially true, this does not negate the immense value that translating the Quran provides in understanding the Arabic as well. This is because translating the Quran can sometimes also provide clarity on matters that may seem ambiguous when reading the Arabic. This is beautifully captured in the following verse of the Quran, but interestingly enough this verse itself serves as a lesson for this phenomenon.
[3:7] He sent down to you this scripture, containing straightforward verses—which constitute the essence of the scripture—as well as multiple-meaning or allegorical verses. Those who harbor doubts in their hearts will pursue the multiple-meaning verses to create confusion, and to extricate a certain meaning. None knows the true meaning thereof except GOD and those well founded in knowledge. They say, “We believe in this—all of it comes from our Lord.” Only those who possess intelligence will take heed.
هُوَ الَّذِي أَنْزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِنْ عِنْدِ رَبِّنَا وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ
This verse informs us that per God’s design the majority of the Quran is straightforward and easy to understand which constitutes the foundation of the Quran. At the same time there is a portion of the Quran that is multi-meaning which can cause some ambiguity as various interpretations can be understood. By God’s leave there are some instances where these multi-meaning verses can be resolved via a translation that can eliminate the ambiguity.
In the above verse, the question to who exactly knows the true meaning can be understood in one of two ways if one was to look at only the Arabic when it states:
وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ
This all depends to where one puts the period. For instance, this expression could be understood as one of two ways:
(1) None knows the interpretation except God. And those well founded in knowledge…
(2) None knows the interpretation except God, and those well founded in knowledge.
While this ambiguity exists in the Arabic, we see that the ambiguity can be instantly eliminated when translated into English. The reality is that we know the messenger himself must have known the meaning of the verses to the Quran based on the information that was revealed to him by God, therefore if we say that only God knows its interpretation then this would imply that God did not share this information with any of His servants, which we know is not true.
This is a simple case to when the translation can provide clarity to the Arabic, but this is not the only occurrence. In Arabic the word for soul, self, ego are all the same, which is the word نفس (nafs). This can lead to some confusion in the understanding of the Quran for a couple verses. The best example of this is in the following verse.
[2:54] Recall that Moses said to his people, “O my people, you have wronged your souls by worshiping the calf. You must repent to your Creator. You shall kill your egos. This is better for you in the sight of your Creator.” He did redeem you. He is the Redeemer, Most Merciful.
وَإِذْ قَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِقَوْمِهِ يَاقَوْمِ إِنَّكُمْ ظَلَمْتُمْ أَنْفُسَكُمْ بِاتِّخَاذِكُمُ الْعِجْلَ فَتُوبُوا إِلَىٰ بَارِئِكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ ذَٰلِكُمْ خَيْرٌ لَكُمْ عِنْدَ بَارِئِكُمْ فَتَابَ عَلَيْكُمْ إِنَّهُ هُوَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ
An individual can read this verse in Arabic and think that it is informing them to kill themselves. This ambiguity can easily be cleared up with a simple English translation where we distinguish between the self and the ego. The reason for this translation is obvious for the following reasons:
- God never advocates sin (7:28)
- God prohibits suicide (4:29)
- God prohibits to ever be an aggressor (2:190,193)
- God advocates people to have freedom of religion (Sura 109)
- There is no compulsion in religion (2:256).
- Oppression is worse than murder according to God (2:191)
- It is the ego that leads us astray (2:87)
[2:87] We gave Moses the scripture, and subsequent to him we sent other messengers, and we gave Jesus, son of Mary, profound miracles and supported him with the Holy Spirit. Is it not a fact that every time a messenger went to you with anything you disliked, your ego caused you to be arrogant? Some of them you rejected, and some of them you killed.
وَلَقَدْ آتَيْنَا مُوسَى الْكِتَابَ وَقَفَّيْنَا مِنْ بَعْدِهِ بِالرُّسُلِ وَآتَيْنَا عِيسَى ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ الْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَيَّدْنَاهُ بِرُوحِ الْقُدُسِ أَفَكُلَّمَا جَاءَكُمْ رَسُولٌ بِمَا لَا تَهْوَىٰ أَنْفُسُكُمُ اسْتَكْبَرْتُمْ فَفَرِيقًا كَذَّبْتُمْ وَفَرِيقًا تَقْتُلُونَ
Another example is regarding the steps for ablution (wudu). If we read the Arabic in Sura 5 verse 6, it is difficult to determine if we are to wash or wipe our feet as the fourth step of ablution.
[5:6] O you who believe, when you observe the Contact Prayers (Salat), you shall: (1) wash your faces, (2) wash your arms to the elbows, (3) wipe your heads, and (4) wash your feet to the ankles. If you were unclean due to sexual orgasm, you shall bathe. If you are ill, or traveling, or had any digestive excretion (urinary, fecal, or gas), or had (sexual) contact with the women, and you cannot find water, you shall observe the dry ablution (Tayammum) by touching clean dry soil, then rubbing your faces and hands. GOD does not wish to make the religion difficult for you; He wishes to cleanse you and to perfect His blessing upon you, that you may be appreciative.
يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلَاةِ فَاغْسِلُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرَافِقِ وَامْسَحُوا بِرُءُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَيْنِ وَإِنْ كُنْتُمْ جُنُبًا فَاطَّهَّرُوا وَإِنْ كُنْتُمْ مَرْضَىٰ أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ أَوْ جَاءَ أَحَدٌ مِنْكُمْ مِنَ الْغَائِطِ أَوْ لَامَسْتُمُ النِّسَاءَ فَلَمْ تَجِدُوا مَاءً فَتَيَمَّمُوا صَعِيدًا طَيِّبًا فَامْسَحُوا بِوُجُوهِكُمْ وَأَيْدِيكُمْ مِنْهُ مَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيَجْعَلَ عَلَيْكُمْ مِنْ حَرَجٍ وَلَٰكِنْ يُرِيدُ لِيُطَهِّرَكُمْ وَلِيُتِمَّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
Linguistically the reason that the washing is associated with the feet, despite the commandment to wipe your head is mentioned before and washing is not menitioned after is because the word for “and your feet” in the verse is وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ (wa-arjulakum) with the fathah ontop of the lam, which corresponds with the face and hands, and not the wiping of the head. Had the word instead been وَأَرْجُلِكُمْ (wa-arjulikum) then it would imply that one was to wipe their feet. Again this ambiguity can easily be avoided using the English translation to specify that the washing is tied back to the feet and that the wiping is only associated with the head.
One last example of how the translation of the Quran can help clarify ambiguity in the Arabic Quran is regarding the single requirement God specifies in the Quran that is necessary for any individual to be able to understand the Quran. This is specified in the following verse:
[56:77] This is an honorable Quran.
(٧٧) إِنَّهُ لَقُرْآنٌ كَرِيمٌ
[56:78] In a protected book.
(٧٨) فِي كِتَابٍ مَكْنُونٍ
[56:79] None can grasp it except the sincere.
(٧٩) لَا يَمَسُّهُ إِلَّا الْمُطَهَّرُونَ
The Arabic word الْمُطَهَّرُونَ (l-muṭaharūna) is a mult-meaning word. One of the meanings of this word is to be physically clean.
[2:222] They ask you about menstruation: say, “It is harmful; you shall avoid sexual intercourse with the women during menstruation; do not approach them until they are rid of it (clean / purified). Once they are rid of it (clean / purified), you may have intercourse with them in the manner designed by GOD. GOD loves the repenters, and He loves those who are clean.”
وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ عَنِ الْمَحِيضِ قُلْ هُوَ أَذًى فَاعْتَزِلُوا النِّسَاءَ فِي الْمَحِيضِ وَلَا تَقْرَبُوهُنَّ حَتَّىٰ يَطْهُرْنَ فَإِذَا تَطَهَّرْنَ فَأْتُوهُنَّ مِنْ حَيْثُ أَمَرَكُمُ اللَّهُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ التَّوَّابِينَ وَيُحِبُّ الْمُتَطَهِّرِينَ
Another meaning of this word is to be spiritually purified or sincere.
[9:108] You shall never pray in such a masjid. A masjid that is established on the basis of righteousness from the first day is more worthy of your praying therein. In it, there are people who love to be purified. GOD loves those who purify themselves.
لَا تَقُمْ فِيهِ أَبَدًا لَمَسْجِدٌ أُسِّسَ عَلَى التَّقْوَىٰ مِنْ أَوَّلِ يَوْمٍ أَحَقُّ أَنْ تَقُومَ فِيهِ فِيهِ رِجَالٌ يُحِبُّونَ أَنْ يَتَطَهَّرُوا وَاللَّهُ يُحِبُّ الْمُطَّهِّرِينَ
This distinction may be confusing for some causing many to think that one has to be physically clean in order to touch or read the Quran, to the extent that many cultures prohibit menstruating women from touching a Quran. But in Arabic this ambiguity is clear. For one notice that it uses the masculine form for the word touch يَمَسُّهُ / yamassuhu. Individuals have twisted the meaning of this verse to prohibit half the Muslim world from being able to study the Quran and perform these sacred duties for a big chunk of their adult lives. Funny how the verse that states who can access the Quran is misunderstood by so many people.
Secondly, this verse is not a commandment, but instead a statement of fact. If we think that this verse is in the context of physically being clean then how do address all of the physically unclean people who have touched and will touch the Quran well into the future. Does this mean that God’s promise was false? Of course not. Anytime we run into a supposed contradiction in the Quran it is not the Quran that needs to be assessed but our understanding. So by translating this verse that no one can grasp the Quran except those who are sincere it eliminates any contradiction and ambiguity one may have in the understanding of this verse.
So while it is well understood the value of the Arabic Quran, oftentimes the translation of the Quran is downplayed yet alone sometimes frowned upon. The examples gave above help to shed light on the value that a translation provides as well as hopefully encourage those who read the Arabic Quran to study the translation and those who depend solely on the translation to learn the Arabic as well. In such a scenario you may be amazed with what you find, if God wills.