Title

The Illusiveness of Translating Holiness

Subject Area

Arabic and Islamic Studies

Abstract

The holy and the sacred are usually translated into Arabic as muqaddas. The translation is problematic since the holy and the sacred refer in English to a divine nature, while muqaddas in Arabic means simply pure. I argue that this purity is rooted in the actions and deeds of the believers, not in any qualitatively different nature that removes it from humanity to root it in divinity. This discussion is related to a larger debate around the nature of wilāyah in Islam, which is translated, again inappropriately, into sainthood. In addition, Wilāyah, in Sufism, is tied to a significant concept of barakah, which is translated inconveniently into English as a sort of power—since the grounding model in English is that of the saint. Two related and significant discussions here are those around the holy land, and the karāmah. The first discussion comes with political and legal consequences tied to the meaning of the holy in Islam, on the one hand, and Judaism and Christianity, on the other hand. After exploring this question, I will explain the meaning of karāmah, which is translated inadequately into miracle. Finally, I will argue that to understand the meaning of all these Arabic terms one must understand both the semiotic and semantic differences between Christ, on the one hand, and the Qurʾān, on the other hand—one that indicates an incarnation of divinity, while the other points merely to a contingent relationship with that divinity.

Brief Bio Note

Mohamed A. Mohamed is an associate professor of sociology at Northern Arizona University. In his work, Mohamed investigates the intersection of Arabic language, Islamic theology, and a number of social formations and dynamics in Muslim societies. Mohamed's goal is to develop new poststructuralist approaches that are suitable to studying Arab societies.

Presentation Year

October 2020

Start Date

10-23-2020 11:10 AM

End Date

10-23-2020 11:50 AM

Embargo

11-15-2019

This document is currently not available here.

Share

COinS
 
Oct 23rd, 11:10 AM Oct 23rd, 11:50 AM

The Illusiveness of Translating Holiness

The holy and the sacred are usually translated into Arabic as muqaddas. The translation is problematic since the holy and the sacred refer in English to a divine nature, while muqaddas in Arabic means simply pure. I argue that this purity is rooted in the actions and deeds of the believers, not in any qualitatively different nature that removes it from humanity to root it in divinity. This discussion is related to a larger debate around the nature of wilāyah in Islam, which is translated, again inappropriately, into sainthood. In addition, Wilāyah, in Sufism, is tied to a significant concept of barakah, which is translated inconveniently into English as a sort of power—since the grounding model in English is that of the saint. Two related and significant discussions here are those around the holy land, and the karāmah. The first discussion comes with political and legal consequences tied to the meaning of the holy in Islam, on the one hand, and Judaism and Christianity, on the other hand. After exploring this question, I will explain the meaning of karāmah, which is translated inadequately into miracle. Finally, I will argue that to understand the meaning of all these Arabic terms one must understand both the semiotic and semantic differences between Christ, on the one hand, and the Qurʾān, on the other hand—one that indicates an incarnation of divinity, while the other points merely to a contingent relationship with that divinity.