Thursday, July 28, 2005

Quran Index and A.J. Arberry

I've just about finished an index project to the Quran. It's a fairly advanced draft, but not final. It's a comprehensive index that covers all the major themes and treatments of the Quran. I imagine that the index will be augmented by at least 15 percent or even more in the editing process.

Indexing is interesting work. From the outside, it may appear to be more tedium than anything else. But, of course, that's untrue. The decision-making involved in indexing a scripture involves exegesis, supported by the detailed (tedium, if you want) work. Forethought has to go into an index like this before actually flipping page by page to pick out the entries that fall under the various headings and subheading of the index. These headings are, for the most part, selected according to the emphases of the Quran itself, whether they are frequently mentioned or produced only once.

But I do want to say something about an intangible dynamic that showed itself during this experience: since the work is in English, you have to trust your intuitive feel as to what an American (or any native English-speaking) reader will want to look up and understand about the Quran. This is as important as the detailed work itself; in fact, it drives the work. It involves a mixture of things that range from psychology, trust of one’s experience, and a connection with the people whom you're implicitly inviting to engage your work. Emotion, trust, and experience are the necessary skill sets that have to go into the indexing of something as eminent and important as the Quran. None of this can be supplanted or ignored. You can't cover up its absence, too.

Well, to another point, the main point of this entry: I better understand the urgency that laces A.J. Arberry's introduction to his translation of the Quran completed in the 1950s. His translation is considered the best of the modern Orientialist tradition. I truly recommend his introduction as a “must read.” A. J. says:

“Over a period of many months the Koran has been my constant companion, the object of my most attentive study. Though many can certainly claim to have read the Koran, indeed over and over again, and to know it Well. I think it may be reasonably asserted that their understanding and appreciation of the book will always fall short of what may be attained by one who undertakes to translate it in full and with all possible fidelity. I had myself studied the Koran and perused it from end to end over many years, before I embarked upon making a version of it; assuredly the careful discipline of trying to find the best English equivalent for every meaning and every rhythm of the original Arabic has profoundly deepened my own penetration into the heart of the Koran, and has at the same time sharpened my awareness of its mysterious and compelling beauty. For this reason, if for no other, I think it is justifiable to adopt the unusual procedure of adding a separate preface to the second of a two-volume work. I suppose I shall never again recapture the freshness and excitement of the experience just now completed; the passing months and years will inevitably blur the image; this is the moment, or never, to attempt to record the impact which a sustained and concentrated exploration of the Koran has left on my mind and my heart.”


Blogger Eiman Abdelmoneim said...

Congratulations on the completion of this project. I for one look forward to getting my hands on a copy.

May this effort bring benefit for others and I pray that your efforts be accepted.

7/30/2005 12:54 PM  
Blogger OmarKN said...

As-salâm `aleikum, dear brother,

This is certainly a praiseworthy project , the index - and in case you want us to share it with our reader of * LivingIslam - IslamicTradition * we would considering putting it on the website.

ma`a salâm.
Omar K Neusser

8/01/2005 3:11 PM  
Blogger NotInCOmmanD said...

JazakAllah for that link; it was quite enlightening to read Arberry's prefaces for the first time.

The tense seemed to shift between the two - from an academic synopsis placing the work in its position, to a spiritual appreciation of the primordial harmony embedded in this remarkable Book.

In the context of indexing, Yusuf Ali's style associated related verses in footnotes, while constantly drawing attention to the various points of emphasis in what would appear repetitious themes given a cursory glance. It allows the reader to gain a deeper appreciation of the precise nature of the Message. Not to mention his lyrical summaries which are quite poignant.

8/03/2005 3:07 PM  
Blogger fromclay said...

Notincommand, good observations about Arberry's introduction and the voice of the Quran. Yusuf Ali did a good job, and the sincerity of his effort juts out so clearly. God bless him always.

8/03/2005 3:55 PM  

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