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Tuesday, 11 July 2017 12:01

New book: Hermeneutics and the Problem of Translating Traditional Arabic Texts

by Alsayed M. Aly Ismail

This book focuses on the problematic issues arising when translating and interpreting classical Arabic texts, which represent a challenging business for many scholars, especially with regards to religious texts. Additionally, the reception of these interpretations and translations not only informs the perception of Muslims and their awareness of the outside world, but also impacts the vision and perception of non-Muslims of Islam and the Muslim world.

Consequently, this book reconsiders the concepts of understanding and interpretation, and their nexus in the mechanism of translation, and proposes a novel, hermeneutic method of translating, interpreting, and understanding traditional and classical Arab texts. Handling the issues of understanding from a hermeneutical perspective is shown here to remove the possibility of translation and interpretation rendering a distorted translated text. Drawing on the powerful interpretive theories of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Martin Heidegger, the hermeneutic method of translation starts from a premise that the meaning of a classical text cannot be deduced solely by linguistic analysis of its words, but requires in-depth investigation of the invisible, contextual elements that control and shape its meaning. Traditional texts are seen in this model as ‘travelling texts’ whose meaning is transformed across time and space.

The hermeneutic method of translation allows the translator to identify those elements from the real-world that informed a classical text at the time of its writing, so that it can be adapted and made relevant to its contemporary context. Traditional texts can enlighten our minds and cultivate our souls; religious texts can elevate our behavior and thinking, and help refine our confused contemporary lives. When texts become isolated from their world, they lose this lofty goal of enlightenment and elevation

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