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Epic Arabic 101 Fail: “Translating-Jihad” Arabic Translator Can’t Translate the Word “Translator”

By: Dawood (guest contributor) and Danios

So-called “experts and acclaimed scholars of Islam” rely on Arabic 101 level translator for their “anti-Jihad” work.

Translating-Jihad, a new blog purporting to expose “Islamic totalitarianism and intolerance by translating it from Arabic into English”, has recently appeared online. The site has received glowing praise from such Islamophobic luminaries as Robert Spencer, Nonie Darwish, and Andrew Bostom. The site’s creator, Al-Mutarajjam (more regarding this choice of name later), boasts on one anti-Muslim website:

[M]y blog is already regularly read by experts on Islam such as Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, and Dr. Andrew Bostom, and nearly half of my translations have been featured on the highly-popular website

The controversial blog aims to become the premier translation wing of the so-called “anti-jihad” movement, and was created by someone who openly states that he works as a professional Arabic translator. As always, the anti-Islam bloggers seek to portray themselves as bona fide experts of the field. But is Al-Mutarajjam, the site’s creator, really an expert in the Arabic language?

The evidence suggests otherwise. His Arabic language abilities are consistent with the level of an Arabic 101 student. (Arabic 101 is the introductory class to the language.)  His “epic Arabic 101 fail” speaks to that: he chose his pseudonym to be “Al-Mutarajjam”.  When he chose this alias, he thought it meant “The Translator.” It doesn’t. Even if we account for a “slip” in transliteration, it would mean: “The Translated.”

This word is the passive participle (ism maf3ul) and means the object translated (see Hans Wehr, p. 93)—not “translator” (which would be al-mutarjim). This is an issue of very basic Arabic grammar, something learned very early on in Arabic language study. To understand how truly basic this is, we see that it is one of the very first words learned in the near-standard text used in American universities to teach Arabic: Al-Kitaab fii Ta’allum al-‘Arabiyya.  That’s an Arabic 101 textbook.

The word “mutarjim” (translator) on p. 19 of standard Arabic 101 textbook (Al-Kitaab fii Ta’allum al-‘Arabiyya)

When this error was pointed out to the blog’s creator [by Dawood], he responded to this critique with “so what?” The “so what” is of course that it’s a huge mistake, understood best if we give an English equivalent. Just imagine if a Chinese immigrant applied to be a fifth grade English teacher in Texas and if he stated that “I was official translated at other school I work for.” Immediately the employer would know that this applicant has very poor English and would not be appropriate for the position of English teacher. If this is the case for an elementary school position, shouldn’t the standard be at least as high for the official “translation wing” for so-called “experts and acclaimed scholars of Islam”?

The difference between “the writer” and “the written” is clear, as is the difference between “the translator” and “the translated”. Calling yourself “the written” or “the translated” instead of “the writer” or “the translator” is almost something worthy of being featured on (a website that documents humorous English language gaffes in Asian countries). For someone attempting to portray himself as a competent Arabic translator, this is a huge mistake. It certainly calls into question the credentials of a person who has taken on such a lofty role as anti-Jihad translator extraordinaire.

Al-Mutarajjam’s Reaction

Al-Mutarajjam’s blunder was pointed out on here [see comment by Dawood]:

First of all, I am not entirely sure how strong your Arabic is. For a state your name “Al-Mutarajjam” (by which I think you mean “al-mutarjam”) is the passive participle (ism maf3ul), and means the object translated—not translator (which would be “al-mutarjim”). See Hans Wehr, p.93

To which Al-Mutarajjam responded:

(…Yes, I know that the correct transliteration of ‘translator’ is al-Mutarjim—so what? It’s just an alias.)

His reaction is reminiscent of Sarah Palin’s tweets explaining her usage of the word “refudiate”.   In any case, Al-Mutarajjam attempted to make it seem as if the critique of his name did not faze him, or that it did not warrant sufficient attention. He responded with “so what?” But Al-Mutarajjam’s actions belied his words. He in fact had a frenzied reaction and immediately removed his name (Al-Mutarajjam) from the blog.  If you go to his website now, the error has disappeared into oblivion. He changed his name and even his email address.

Here’s what his site looked like before we pointed out his epic fail (we’ve circled the relevant parts):

Then Al-Mutarajjam quickly took the incriminating error off his site and changed his contact info as well:

After a few days had passed, Al-Mutarajjam quietly fixed his name and put the corrected name up.  As of today, his site looks like this now (notice the dramatic change):

He also corrected the mistake on other sites where his articles were found, such as Andrew Breitbart’s site.  (We’ll ignore the fact that Al-Mutarajjam’s work features on a site like Andrew Breitbart’s website which lost what little credibility it had by posting manipulated videos of Shirley Sherrod and ACORN.)  This means Al-Mutarajjam was so worried about his blunder that he went through the effort of frantically contacting Breitbart’s site.  Here is what Breitbart’s site looked like before the change:

And here is what it looked like after Al-Mutarajjam attempted to do damage control:

Most importantly, he immediately shut down the comments section—all the previous comments critiquing his choice of name vanished.

Here is what the Translating-Jihad blog looked like before the vanishing comments:

After the comments [by Dawood] criticizing Al-Mutarajjam’s name were posted, suddenly the comments were removed and commenting on the site was banned altogether:

Such a dramatic reaction–making the comments on the entire site vanish and disabling commenting altogether–belies the “so what?” response.  So what indeed!

Not satisfied with the So What Defense, Al-Mutarajjam started to think of ways to explain away his mistake.  This is similar to how Sarah Palin later came out and stated that she simply made a typo.  No doubt aware of the catastrophic nature of his mistake, Al-Mutarajjam came up with the “likely” story that he chose his user name long time ago during his earlier days of Arabic study.  In other words, the mistake was supposedly made when he was a newbie to the Arabic language, but now he is a seasoned veteran.  Not only did he post this explanation in the comments, but he also felt the need to add an “About the Name” section to his website:

Note that this “explanation” only appeared on his website after his name was critiqued on LoonWatch.  (In fact, the explanation appeared right after we questioned him about it.)  Prior to us bringing up this issue, not only was there no explanation about the curious choice of “Al-Mutarajjam” but in fact there was no “About” section to his website at all.  Here is what his site looked like before the change (notice no “About” section in the top right hand corner):

But after we pointed out the error, suddenly he found the need to create an “About Me” section:

All of these changes–from changing his pseudonym altogether, changing his contact address, scrambling to contact other friendly websites to correct the mistake, adding an About section, etc.–show how concerned he was about his epic fail.  His explanation that this was simply a mistake of the past is hardly believable.  If he later learned that his pseudonym was incorrect, why didn’t he have an explanation on his website (the About Me/About My Name) section?  Why did that only appear right after we pointed out to him this error?  If this was indeed a “so what?” problem, then why did he find the need to scramble to make changes right after being exposed on LoonWatch? Al-Mutarajjam was quite happy to use the name ever since the creation of the blog…until after the critique came up on LoonWatch. Why did he delete all the comments made on his website about this topic?  It seems far more likely that he had no clue about this mistake until it was pointed out to him.  Then he tried to cover it up.

It seems that Al-Mutarajjam thinks that he has gotten away with his mistake, since now he has removed the explanation from his site altogether. Here’s what the About Me section looked like shortly after we pointed out his mistake and his subsequent name change to Al Mutarjim:

After some time had passed and he was hopeful that his mistake was forgotten, Al-Mutarajjam carefully deleted the sentences about his previous name–hoping no doubt to remove any evidence of his initial gaffe:

In any case, even if we believe Al-Mutarajjam’s “likely” story, then this does not exonerate him.  His explanation was that “he mistransliterated the name way back when he first began blogging.”  Well, when was “way back”?  In fact, his very first blog posting was only one year ago (on Feb. 21, 2010).  So in just one year he went from being an Arabic 101 level student to a professional full-time Arabic translator!?  This is reminiscent of Pamela Geller’s claim that she became an “expert on Islam” after just one year of reading anti-Islam books.  The fact that these jokers think they can become “experts” after a year indicates their disdain for true academia.

Additionally, this raises another issue: why was he parading around on the internet as “The Translator” during his early days of Arabic study (just one year ago)? If at that time he didn’t even know the basics of Arabic 101, why was he feeling confident enough to call himself The Translator? The fact is that whenever he made the cocky name of “The Translator”, he didn’t even know how to translate the word “translator”! Whether he was guilty of this mistake now or before (the difference being only one year), it shows that he is a complete fraud who has no qualms in pretending to be what he is not.

The Frauds and Hucksters of the Anti-Muslim Blogosphere

This of course means that Al-Mutarajjam (who is now Al-Mutarjim) fits right in with the anti-Islam blogosphere, which is full of frauds pretending to be experts on Islam. Similarly does Robert Spencer’s website boast that Spencer is “the acclaimed scholar of Islam.” This, even though Robert Spencer has not obtained a single degree in an Islam-related subject from any recognized university. Al-Mutarajjam’s standards of what constitutes an “expert” can be ascertained by the fact that he considers Robert Spencer one of the “experts on Islam” (see above quote). Interestingly enough, Spencer doesn’t even have Al-Mutarajjam’s “concentration in Middle Eastern Studies” (noting of course that a “concentration” in something is not equal to a degree in it).

One could go down the list of notable Islamophobes and not find a single scholar amongst the entire lot, even though they all claim to be erudite scholars and esteemed experts in the subjects they propound. From Andrew Bostom who is a professor of Islam medicine to Pamela Geller who spent a whole year reading anti-Islam books to become an expert on the subject, one cannot find a scholar. The same is the case with the legion of other Islamophobes: Bat Ye’or, Brigitte Gabriel, Debbie Schlussel, Walid Shoebat, Joe Kaufman, Wafa Sultan, etc. The notable exception is Daniel Pipes, but he doesn’t count since he retired from academia in the 1980’s. (In his own unusually honest words: “I have the simple politics of a truck driver, not the complex ones of an academic. My viewpoint is not congenial with institutions of higher learning.”)

The lack of academic qualifications of these so-called “Islam experts” is apparent in their usage of an Arabic 101 level speaker as a source.  Robert Spencer, who uses Al-Mutarajjam’s work (and had gushing praise of Al-Mutarajjam’s site) never noticed the glaring mistake in Al-Mutarajjam’s alias. Spencer has repeatedly claimed to be fluent in Arabic. The fact that Spencer didn’t pick up on this grave mistake speaks volumes. Imagine, for example, if an anti-American Iranian website claimed to have an expert English translator, and how much fun we would poke if that “expert English translator” went around claiming he was “The Translated”. Wouldn’t we notice the mistake immediately? Well, why didn’t Robert Spencer ever notice that Al-Mutarajjam’s name was completely off? It seems like Al-Mutarajjam is not the only one faking his Arabic abilities!  This indicates the completely unprofessional and sophomoric nature of the self-proclaimed “Islam experts” of the internet.

Why Translating-Jihad and Other Islamophobic Websites are not Taken Seriously By Academics

The absolute lack of qualifications and credentials of the Islam-bashers is something we’ve harped on again and again. Robert Spencer and the other Islam-bashers diligently try avoiding the topic. Their minions on the other hand will say “so what?” or “their qualifications or lack thereof does not impact the content of what they are saying.” Of course, we know this is not true by the fact that the Islam-bashers wouldn’t be seeking to portray themselves as “experts and the acclaimed scholars of Islam” if it were not important to be so.

But more than this, the anti-academic background of these people has very real consequences in the substance of what they argue. While their arguments may appeal to non-academic minds (like their vitriolic foaming-at-the-mouth fans who comment on their sites), these arguments would be ripped asunder by actual scholars. This is certainly the case with Al-Mutarajjam’s website. For example, he earlier debated with us about a fatwa (religious edict) he translated about Muslims being forbidden from transporting Christians to church. Al-Mutarajjam posted this fatwa following a bomb blast in Alexandria, Egypt (after which many Egyptian Muslims called for solidarity with the Christian community). Al-Mutarajjam posted:

Lest all the calls of Muslim-Christian solidarity from smooth-speaking Muslim spokesmen in the wake of the Alexandria bombing fool you, here comes this fatwa from the highly-popular Islamic website ruling that Muslims are not allowed to drive Christians to church, as that is tantamount to “support[ing] them in their vain and perverted rites and religion.” Apparently Muslim-Christian outreach and understanding is only one-sided.

Notice how he uses the term “smooth-speaking Muslim spokesmen”, implying that they are being deceitful and lying. To “prove” this, he cites a fatwa that implies the exact opposite of solidarity. Thus, he concludes, these Muslim spokesmen must have understood solidarity as only one-sided. The non-academic Islam-haters nod in agreement and wonder in amazement at their great discovery.

Yet, such a line of argumentation would hardly be taken seriously in an academic setting. No scholar—no person with even an above average intelligence—would take this seriously. Obviously, the problem with Al-Mutarajjam’s argument is that the “calls of Muslim-Christian solidarity from smooth-speaking Muslim spokesmen” did not come from the mufti who issued the fatwa on the Islamweb site. The fact that Muslims are not the Borg—one singular organism where what one Muslim says or does means another Muslim is also responsible for that—is lost on Islamophobes.

There are over a billion Muslims in the world; one mufti issuing one fatwa doesn’t represent the views of them all. Some Muslims would support solidarity with Christians, while others would oppose it. Similarly, some Christians support solidarity with Muslims, and others oppose it. Would finding one Muslim from the second group prove that the first group is lying? What odd logic!

The “Fatwa Team” on the Islamweb site consists of “a group of licentiate graduates from the Islamic University, Al-Imaam Muhammad Bin Sa’oud Islamic University in Saudi Arabia.” The fact that the site has nothing to do with Egypt (remember, it was Egyptian Muslims calling for solidarity with Christians) means nothing to Al-Mutarajjam. The fact that the fatwa site belongs to the ultraconservative Wahhabi (Salafi) sect of Islam—which only a very tiny percentage of Egyptian Muslims follow—means nothing to him. Somehow they are all interchangeable, so when an Egyptian Muslim spokesman says one thing and a Saudi Wahhabi cleric says something else, then aha!, I told you they can’t be trusted!

The Wahhabi (Salafi) mufti makes clear at the end of his fatwa that transporting Christians anywhere except to church or religious festivities is absolutely permissible. Considering that this represents the hardline approach of Wahhabi Islam, it goes without saying that more liberal Islamic interpretations would differ.  This is especially true since no clear Quranic support can be found for such a restriction, nor even in the more nebulous Prophetic traditions (Sunnah).  In light of this fact, no Islamic cleric can compel a Muslim to do or not do anything.  Fatwas–contrary to popular misconception in the Western world–are considered completely non-binding on the Islamic faithful.  They are just opinions, and Muslims can look for other fatwas with completely differing conclusions.  Even hundreds of years ago, the Hanafi school of thought permitted transporting Christians to church and their religious festivals. If that was the case then, one can imagine the liberality with it now.  Indeed, it takes place all the time in the Islamic world, such that it is only the rare exception that a cab driver would refuse such a service.  The fact that this type of situation happens in real life all the time in the Middle East shows that the mufti is projecting an imagined reality into the world, instead of dealing with the facts as they are.

Also absent from Al-Mutarajjam’s sensationalist analysis is the fact that such views are hardly singular to Islam: one only need look at Orthodox Judaism’s views towards interaction with unbelievers to see similar (and often times harsher) restrictions.  While for instance we are talking about cab drivers, let’s take a look at this interesting Orthodox Jewish rule in Halacha (Jewish Law, which is the Jewish equivalent of the nefarious Sharia); Jewish-American professor Dov S. Zakheim (who has served under various posts in the Department of Defense) explains how peaceful Jewish interaction with non-Jews is

based on Jewish self-interest…[something] that continues to resonate in contemporary halakhic literature.  For example, in discussing whether a Jewish taxi driver must compensate his non-Jewish counterpart for damages caused in an accident, Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch, when still residing in Johannesburg, argued that the primary criterion is whether the non-Jewish taxi driver is aware that his vehicle was damaged by a Jew.  If he knows this was the case, the Jew must pay damages…If the non-Jew is unaware that the Jew was the actual cause of the accident, however, Rabbi Sternbuch ruled that there is no need for the Jew to pay anything. (Dov S. Zakheim on p.499 of War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition)

But perhaps the Jewish taxi-driver might at least be able to drive the injured non-Jew to church if that’s where he happened to be going…?  (Actually, Orthodox Jews are not allowed to step foot inside churches–and since we don’t fancy ourselves as experts of Jewish law–we hope our more informed readers might let us know if Orthodox Jews are allowed to drive Christians to church.)  In any case, one can only imagine how the Islam-bashers would use this divine Hit-and-Run Law against Muslims had this been part of Islamic and not Jewish law.  Islam is certainly not alone in having uncomfortable opinions found in its hundreds year old religious tradition and honored by its ultraconservative followers in the modern day; one can easily find similar examples in Judaism and Christianity.  Such revelations, which provide proper contextual understanding to scholars, are dismissed by anti-Islam ideologues as “tu quoque fallacies” that shouldn’t get in the way of bashing Islam.  Meanwhile, the most fundamentalist, ultraconservative, and extremist views of Islam should be cited as proof that Muslims with more tolerant, pluralistic, and liberal views are being deceitful and lying.

In any case, the “calls of Muslim-Christian solidarity” were heeded by Egyptian Muslims and were certainly not understood by them as being “one-sided.” Just as Egyptian Christians sought to protect Muslims with their lives, so too did Egyptian Muslims act as “human shields” to protect the lives of Christians praying in churches. That seems like pretty reciprocal solidarity to us.  But to the fraudster—The Translated—these hundreds of Muslims risking their lives for Christians are just putting up an act—those “smooth-speaking Mooz-lums” just can’t be trusted!

Trusting an Arabic “translator” who can’t even translate the word “translator” on the other hand? No problem with that.

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