One of the most peculiarly translated verses of the Quran is regarding Job in Sura 38 verse 44. Before, looking at the various translations for this verse, let’s first look at the preceding verses for context.

[38:41] Remember our servant Job: he called upon his Lord, “The devil has afflicted me with hardship and pain.” [38:42] “Strike the ground with your foot. A spring will give you healing and a drink.” [38:43] We restored his family for him; twice as many. Such is our mercy; a reminder for those who possess intelligence.

(٤١) وَاذْكُرْ عَبْدَنَا أَيُّوبَ إِذْ نَادَىٰ رَبَّهُ أَنِّي مَسَّنِيَ الشَّيْطَانُ بِنُصْبٍ وَعَذَابٍ
(٤٢) ارْكُضْ بِرِجْلِكَ هَٰذَا مُغْتَسَلٌ بَارِدٌ وَشَرَابٌ
(٤٣) وَوَهَبْنَا لَهُ أَهْلَهُ وَمِثْلَهُمْ مَعَهُمْ رَحْمَةً مِنَّا وَذِكْرَىٰ لِأُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ

This short passage regarding Job provides us some background to Job’s circumstances. First, he was afflicted with pain and hardship by the devil. Second, God restored his situation.

Now let’s look at the various translations for 38:44.

Yusuf Ali : 38:44″And take in thy hand a little grass, and strike therewith: and break not (thy oath).” Truly We found him full of patience and constancy. How excellent in Our service! ever did he turn (to Us)!

Pickthal: 38:44 And (it was said unto him): Take in thine hand a branch and smite therewith, and break not thine oath. Lo! We found him steadfast, how excellent a slave! Lo! he was ever turning in repentance (to his Lord).

Shakir: 38:44 And take in your hand a green branch and beat her with It and do not break your oath; surely We found him patient; most excellent the servant! Surely he was frequent in returning (to Allah).

Sher Ali: 38:44 And WE commanded him: `Take in thy hand a handful of dry twigs and strike therewith, and incline not towards falsehood.’ Indeed, WE found him steadfast. An excellent servant was he. Surely, he was constantly turning to God.

Clear Quran: 38:44 “Take with your hand a bundle, and strike with it, and do not break your oath.” We found him patient. What an excellent servant! He was obedient.

The Clear Quran: 38:44 And We said to him, “Take in your hand a bundle of grass, and strike your wife with it, and do not break your oath.

Edip-Layth: 38:44 “Take in your hand a bundle and travel with it, and do not break your oath.” We found him steadfast. What a good servant! He was obedient.

The Monotheist Group: 38:44 And take in your hand a bundle and go forth with it, and do not break your oath.” We found him steadfast. What a good servant! He was obedient.

Muhammad Asad: 38:44 [And finally We told him:] Now take in thy hand a small bunch of grass, and strike therewith, and thou wilt not break thine oath!”41 for, verily, We found him full of patience in adversity: how excellent a servant [of Ours], who, behold, would always turn unto Us!

As seen from the various translations the confusion lies in the first part of the statement regarding the commandment that Job was suppose to do something that based on the above translations possibly required him to take a bundle of grass and/or beat his wife. So what does this portion of the verse actually mean, and what is causing the confusion?

Consulting Tafsir

If we consult the tafsir on this matter, we see that the common writers of tafsir believed that Job promised to beat his wife if he was to have his health restored. Then upon his health being restored he regretted his oath, so was instructed by God to beat his wife with grass as not to inflict serious harm upon her so that he would not break his oath. This false history has caused much of the misunderstanding regarding the meaning and translation of this verse.

ḍigh’than

The portion of the confusion lies in the frist five words fo the verse when it states: wakhudh biyadika ḍigh’than fa-iḍ’rib bihi.

وَخُذْ بِيَدِكَ ضِغْثًا فَاضْرِبْ بِهِ

Out of these five words the word that is the crux of the misunderstanding stems from the word ضِغْثًا / ḍigh’than. Luckily for us the root of this word, ض غ ث ,occurs two other times in the Quran and this can be utilized to give us some understanding to the meaning of this word. The two other instances are in 12:44 and 21:5 and both times are in reference to something being confused.

12:44 is regarding the king’s dream that his advisers were unable to make sense of. While 21:5 is in the claim that the disbelievers made towards the prophet regarding the inspiration fo the Quran.

[12:44] They said, “Confused (أَضْغَاثُ) dreams. When it comes to the interpretation of dreams, we are not knowledgeable.”

(٤٤) قَالُوا أَضْغَاثُ أَحْلَامٍ وَمَا نَحْنُ بِتَأْوِيلِ الْأَحْلَامِ بِعَالِمِينَ

[21:5] They even said, “Confused (أَضْغَاثُ) dreams,” “He made it up,” and, “He is a poet. Let him show us a miracle like those of the previous messengers.”

(٥) بَلْ قَالُوا أَضْغَاثُ أَحْلَامٍ بَلِ افْتَرَاهُ بَلْ هُوَ شَاعِرٌ فَلْيَأْتِنَا بِآيَةٍ كَمَا أُرْسِلَ الْأَوَّلُونَ

So how come some people translate ضِغْثًا / ḍigh’than in 38:44 as a bundle of grass? If we look at the root lexicon we see that one of the derivative meanings of this root, in addtion to confusion, is “a handful of dry grass or herbs mixed up” so rather than understanding that the emphasis is of the dried grass being mixed up, people think the emphasis is on the bundle of grass itself.

It is interesting that the word for confusion has caused so much confusion regarding the meaning of this verse 🙂

Job and Confusion

Not only is this understanding of ضِغْثًا / ḍigh’than linguistically aligned with the other occurrences in the Quran, it also corresponds with what we know from Job in the Old Testament. Both these sources, Quran and Torah, are much more reliable than the fabricated tafsir that attempts to make Job out to be a tyrant who promised to beat his wife or the nonsensical understanding that God commanded Job to take a bundle of grass as a response for God’s mercy upon him.

Anyone who is familiar with the Book of Job in the Bible knows that the core theme of the this narrative was the confusion that Job and his copatriats faced when they wrestled to understand why these calamities were happening ot Job. While his three friends argued that the pain and suffering that afflicted Job must have been because of some evil he has done, Job claimed his innocence. It is not until the 38th chapter that God addresses Job and his friends. The summary of God’s explanation is that they cannot fathom the reasons to why God allows the things He does no more than they can fathom the complexity that God created the universe and all the creatuers within it.

While this answer may be unsettling to some, consider if Job could have perceived that his story would reach billions of people providing hope for generations to come. Praise God!

Take In Your Hand?

Now that we have resolution to the meaning of ضِغْثًا / ḍigh’than as “confusion” how do we reconcile this with the rest of the sentence. Let’s start with the first two words of the verse وَخُذْ بِيَدِكَ / wakhudh biyadika. Luckily both these roots are widely used in the Quran and have the general meaning:

  • وَخُذْ / wakhudh / and take/seize
  • بِيَدِكَ / biyadika / in/with your hand

This would make the literal meaning of وَخُذْ بِيَدِكَ ضِغْثًا wakhudh biyadika ḍigh’than translated as “and take/seize with your hand confusion” which makes the translation a little incoherent to put it mildly. But وَخُذْ / wakhudh in addtion to the meaning “to take or seize” can also be understood as “to utilze”. While the concept of “يَدِ / yad / hand” can be taken literally as “with one’s hand” or as “with one’s abilities or experience”. We see yad utilized in this context in the immediate next verse when it describes Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as “possessors of the hands / أُولِي الْأَيْدِي / ulī l-aydī which means someone who is experienced or resourceful:

[38:45] Remember also our servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were resourceful/experienced, and possessed vision.

(٤٥) وَاذْكُرْ عِبَادَنَا إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْحَاقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ أُولِي الْأَيْدِي وَالْأَبْصَارِ

So a more appropriate translation of وَخُذْ بِيَدِكَ ضِغْثًا wakhudh biyadika ḍigh’than would be “take with your experince of confusion”.

fa-iḍ’rib bihi

So now that we reconcile this understanding that God’s command to Job was to “take his experience with confusion” with the next part of the sentence that states to “fa-iḍ’rib bihi / فَاضْرِبْ بِهِ” the fa / فَ at the beging of this statement simply means “then” while بِهِ / bihi means “therein” or “with it”. So Job is being commanded to: then “ضْرِبْ / ḍ’rib” therein or with it. So what does “ضْرِبْ / ḍ’rib” mean according to the Quran?

The root for “ضْرِبْ / ḍ’rib” is used 58 times in the Quran and almost exclusively has one of three meanings: either to strike, to travel, or to cite [as an example]. Typically when the meaning is to travel it is in conjunction with the word الْأَرْضِ / l-arḍi meaning “the land”. And when it is used in the context to cite [as an example] it is used in conjunction with the word مَثَلًا / mathalan meaning “an example”. This is the reason that this word in 38:44 is typically translated as “strike”, but how does this fit in the understanding if we were to go with this interpreation?

“And take with your experience of confusion then strike therein.”

Again this does not give a coherent understanding. What is unique about 38:44 is that the command to Job to take his experience of confusion is the substitute for what we typically see used as مَثَلًا / mathalan / an example. Secondly, it is not logical that Job was to take this example and just merely cite it as an example, when he was a messenger and prophet of God whose mission was to teach and clarify God’s lessons to the people (65:11, 5:19). Therefore, it makes the most sens that ضْرِبْ / ḍ’rib in this context was a commandment for Job to travel and share his example with others.

Summary

If we look through all the translators who translated this verse, the only author we find who translated this verse correctly was Dr. Rashad Khalifa.

[38:44] “Now, you shall travel the land and preach the message, to fulfill your pledge.” We found him steadfast. What a good servant! He was a submitter.

(٤٤) وَخُذْ بِيَدِكَ ضِغْثًا فَاضْرِبْ بِهِ وَلَا تَحْنَثْ إِنَّا وَجَدْنَاهُ صَابِرًا نِعْمَ الْعَبْدُ إِنَّهُ أَوَّابٌ

Appendix

38441وَخُذْ“And take / utilizewakhudhا خ ذ
38442بِيَدِكَwith your experience (of)biyadikaي د ي
38443ضِغْثًاconfusionḍigh’thanض غ ث
38444فَاضْرِبْand travel / serve [as an example]fa-iḍ’ribض ر ب
38445بِهِthereinbihiب
38446وَلَاand (do) notwalāل ا
38447تَحْنَثْyou break (your) oath.”taḥnathح ن ث
38448إِنَّاIndeed, weinnāا ن ن
38449وَجَدْنَاهُ[we] found himwajadnāhuو ج د
384410صَابِرًاsteadfast,ṣābiranص ب ر
384411نِعْمَa good / excellentniʿ’maن ع م
384412الْعَبْدُ[the] servant.l-ʿabduع ب د
384413إِنَّهُIndeed, he (was)innahuا ن ن
384414أَوَّابٌsincere / obedient / submitter.awwābunا و ب

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