Sep 162014

This article is from “Fifteen Letters (Khamsata ‘Ashara Maktuban)

This is not the first English translation of this book. It was first translated in 1997 by Muhtar Holland, the outstanding translator of many of Shaikh ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jilan’s works into English. Mr Holland used one manuscript from the Databank der Orientalischen Handschriften der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany. In my editing and translation of the text I have used three manuscripts, one at the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, UK, the second in the Special Collections Library at Michigan University, USA, and the third in King Saud University in Saudi Arabia.

Translating a mystical work like this is a big challenge. The meaning of the text is often subtle, deep, and open to interpretation. The task of translation is not made any easier by the fact that the Arabic text is itself a translation from the original Persian. But as I explained earlier, the fact that the text consists of short sentences each followed by a Qur’anic verse makes the job of the translator easier. Unsurprisingly, Holland’s translation and mine show differences in understanding various parts of the text.

The style of the writing has resulted in a translation structure like this: words of the Shaikh + of: + Qur’anic verse. I have used the character “—” to indicate that the text on a new line continues the preceding text. This is an example:

Be afraid of:

The Day on which the person flees from his brother, mother, father, spouse, and sons, (80.34-36)

—and think of the reckoning of:

Whether you show what inside your souls or hide it Allah will reckon with you for it. (2.284)

I have used “of” to link the Shaikh’s words to the verse they precede, instead of using something like “that is mentioned in the following verse” which is too verbose. This means that the transition from the end of the Shaikh’s words to the beginning of the verse is often not smooth linguistically but completely natural and elegant at the level of the meaning.

Each pair of words of the Shaikh and the verse that follows them has a concept that is present in both the Shaikh’s words and the verse. The Shaikh’s words explain the verse, and the verse explains what the Shaikh meant. So in the example above, the Shaikh is talking about a particular “call” that he quotes a specific verse to elucidate.

To retain the tone of the original text while at the same time presenting it in a way that is easy to read, I have put the long conjunctive sentences on separate lines. To make it easy to distinguish between the Qur’anic text and the Shaikh’s words, I have used a different font for the former and placed each verse on a separate line.

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