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 some of the various translations for 38:44.
(٤٤) وَخُذْ بِيَدِكَ ضِغْثًا فَاضْرِبْ بِهِ وَلَا تَحْنَثْ إِنَّا وَجَدْنَاهُ صَابِرًا نِعْمَ الْعَبْدُ إِنَّهُ أَوَّابٌ
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 supposed to do something that, based on the above translations, possibly required him to take a bundle of grass and/or beat his wife with it. So what does this portion of the verse actually mean, and what is causing the confusion?
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 so as not to inflict serious harm upon her so that he would not break his oath. This false history has caused much misunderstanding regarding the meaning and translation of this verse.
The portion of the confusion lies in the first five words of 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 of the meaning of this word. The two other instances are in 12:44 and 21:5, and both times are about something being confused.
12:44 is regarding the king’s dream that his advisers could not make sense of. While 21:5 is regarding the claim by the disbelievers that the inspiration for the Quran came from the muddled or confused dreams of the prophet.
[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 addition to confusion, is “a handful of dry grass or herbs mixed up,” so rather than understanding that the emphasis is on the dried grass being mixed up, people think the emphasis is on the bundle of grass itself.
Interestingly, 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, but 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 familiar with the Book of Job in the Bible knows that the core theme of this narrative was the confusion that Job and his compatriots faced when they wrestled to understand why these calamities were happening to Job. While his three friends argued that the pain and suffering that afflicted Job must have been because of some evil he had 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 are incapable of fathoming the multitude of reasons why God allows things to happen any more than they can fathom the complexity that God created the universe and all the creatures within it.
While this answer may be unsettling to some, consider that Job most likely could not 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 a 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/by 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. In Arabic, there are a couple of idioms regarding the hand that shed light on how we might be able to understand this phrase.
- take by the hand : أخذ بیده (help or assist)
- the cure is in your hand : بِيَدِكَ الشِّفَاءُ (the outcome is in your hand)
- your matter is in your hand : أَمْرُكِ بِيَدِكِ (your situation is in your hand)
The above shows that in these instances, both the action of taking and the hand are metaphorical rather than literal. In these examples, we see that the action of taking and the hand can be understood to utilize control. Based on this, وَخُذْ / wakhudh, in addition to the meaning “to take or seize,” can also be understood as “to utilize.”
Additionally, the concept of “يَدِ / yad / hand” can be taken literally as “in one’s hand” or, can be understood another way, “with one’s abilities or experience.” We see the Arabic word for hand (yad) utilized in a similar 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 possesses experience or is 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
Other examples of يَدِ / yad being used in reference to one’s past actions can also be seen in the following two verses:
[22:10] This is what your hands have sent ahead for you. GOD is never unjust towards the people.
(١٠) ذَٰلِكَ بِمَا قَدَّمَتْ يَدَاكَ وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ لَيْسَ بِظَلَّامٍ لِلْعَبِيدِ
[7:149] Finally, when they regretted their actions, and realized that they had gone astray, they said, “Unless our Lord redeems us with His mercy, and forgives us, we will be losers.”
(١٤٩) وَلَمَّا سُقِطَ فِي أَيْدِيهِمْ وَرَأَوْا أَنَّهُمْ قَدْ ضَلُّوا قَالُوا لَئِنْ لَمْ يَرْحَمْنَا رَبُّنَا وَيَغْفِرْ لَنَا لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ
So a more appropriate translation of وَخُذْ بِيَدِكَ ضِغْثًا wakhudh biyadika ḍigh’than could be “take with your experience of confusion.”
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 beginning 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 ض ر ب and 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 why 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 interpretation?
“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 sense that ضْرِبْ / ḍ’rib in this context was a commandment for Job to travel and serve as an example with others.
We see the root ض ر ب used in other places in the Quran that show that ضْرِبْ without the words الْأَرْضِ / l-arḍi or مَثَلًا / mathalan meaning other than to strike. Some examples are the following: 13:17, 18:17, 20:77, 24:31, 43:5, 43:58, and 57:13.
The most telling example is in 43:58, where the people are presenting an argument to justify their disbelief, and the word ḍarabūhu / ضَرَبُوهُ is used without either of the words الْأَرْضِ / l-arḍi or مَثَلًا / mathalan.
[43:58] They said, “Is it better to worship our gods, or to worship him?” They present this only to argue with you. Indeed, they are people who have joined the opposition.
(٥٨) وَقَالُوا أَآلِهَتُنَا خَيْرٌ أَمْ هُوَ مَا ضَرَبُوهُ لَكَ إِلَّا جَدَلًا بَلْ هُمْ قَوْمٌ خَصِمُونَ
|1||waqālū||وَقَالُوا||And they said,|
|2||aālihatunā||أَآلِهَتُنَا||“Are our gods|
|7||ḍarabūhu||ضَرَبُوهُ||they presented it|
|14||khaṣimūna||خَصِمُونَ||contentious people / argumentative [ones].|
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
|38||44||1||وَخُذْ||“And take / utilize||wakhudh||ا خ ذ|
|38||44||2||بِيَدِكَ||with your experience (of)||biyadika||ي د ي|
|38||44||3||ضِغْثًا||confusion||ḍigh’than||ض غ ث|
|38||44||4||فَاضْرِبْ||and travel / serve [as an example]||fa-iḍ’rib||ض ر ب|
|38||44||6||وَلَا||and (do) not||walā||ل ا|
|38||44||7||تَحْنَثْ||you commit perjury / break (your) oath.”||taḥnath||ح ن ث|
|38||44||8||إِنَّا||Indeed, we||innā||ا ن ن|
|38||44||9||وَجَدْنَاهُ||[we] found him||wajadnāhu||و ج د|
|38||44||10||صَابِرًا||steadfast,||ṣābiran||ص ب ر|
|38||44||11||نِعْمَ||a good / excellent||niʿ’ma||ن ع م|
|38||44||12||الْعَبْدُ||[the] servant.||l-ʿabdu||ع ب د|
|38||44||13||إِنَّهُ||Indeed, he (was)||innahu||ا ن ن|
|38||44||14||أَوَّابٌ||sincere / obedient / submitter.||awwābun||ا و ب|