by: Dawood and Danios
The Translating-Jihad site is one of the newest additions to the anti-Muslim blogosphere. Its creator, Al-Mutarjim (The Translator), defines his site’s goal as translating Arabic documents into English in order to “expose this darkness” of Islam and to “to open the eyes of those already enslaved by Islam.”
The fact that Islamophobes routinely use bogus translations and out-of-context quotes is well-known. But as if only to prove our case, the Translating-Jihad website challenged us to “refute this translation”, referring to an Arabic fatwa that he “translated” on his website. We accepted this challenge and exposed his “translation” as completely bogus. Al-Mutarjim had completely mistranslated words and purposefully neglected to translate 4/5ths of the fatwa, including the mufti’s conclusion–a conclusion which directly contradicts what Al-Mutarjim claimed the fatwa said (and which he incidentally chose as the title of his article!).
Eventually, Al-Mutarjim was forced to reply to our site. Instead of admitting fault, he issued an “updated” translation in which he attempted to “explain away” his academic dishonesty. Al-Mutarjim whined:
First of all, I have no desire or need to take anything about Islam out of context. This is the tired old accusation that CAIR-types like to drag out whenever anybody in the West points out some of the objectionable material inherent in Islam.
Both Al-Mutarjim and his anti-Muslim colleague Staring at the View (SATV) use “whenever” and “anybody” arguments quite frequently. “Whenever anybody in the West…” LoonWatch is not talking about “anybody”. We’re talking about one particular person and one particular site here: Al-Mutarjim specifically and his site specifically.
Just as Al-Mutarjim quite stupidly chose to use a bogus translation when he challenged us to “refute this translation”, once again he quite stupidly validates “the tired old accusation” –namely, that Islamophobes take Islamic texts out of context. Think, McFly, think! Al-Mutarjim ends up unknowingly validating the “the tired old accusation” by “translating” a fatwa completely out of context, which is evident for everyone to see!
Nikah as “Sexual Intercourse” or “Betrothal/Marriage”?
Al-Mutarjim mistranslated the following:
فيؤخذ من الآية جواز نكاح البنت قبل البلوغ”
we can take from this verse that it is permissible to have sexual intercourse with a prepubescent girl.
When it actually translates as:
and from this verse we take the permissibility of betrothal/marriage (nikah) with pre-pubescent girls.
In Al-Mutarjim’s response, he bumbles:
That being said, Loonwatch is being dishonest when they say that the Arabic word nikah, which they translated as ‘marriage/betrothal’, “does not mean sexual intercourse at all.” The truth is, nikah can mean either ‘sexual intercourse’ or ‘marriage.’ (Need proof? Plug نكاح into Google Translate.)
Al-Mutarjim accusing LoonWatch of being dishonest? How rich! Once again, Al-Mutarjim is guilty of “half-quoting”, splicing up quotes to support his argument. In fact, what LoonWatch actually said was (emphasis added):
The word nikah here does not mean “sexual intercourse” at all.
Notice the key word “here”, which Al-Mutarjim leaves out. Even if–for argument’s sake only–we conceded that “nikah” could sometimes mean “sexual intercourse”, can this meaning work in the sentence above? For example, the English word “sex” can refer to intimate relations in one sentence, but gender in another. The meaning “intimate relations” cannot be used to explain the meaning of sex in the following sentence:
Please state your name, sex, and age.
Would Al-Mutarjim have a case if he were to claim that the word “sex” above could also mean “intimate relations”? Of course not. And neither does he have a leg to stand on when he claims that “nikah” means “sex” in the sentence reproduced from the fatwa. Even his primary “academic” proof–Google Translator–does not back his claim: when we enter the entire Arabic sentence into it, here’s what Google says:
We are of course not surprised that Al-Mutarjim invoked “Google Translator” since we have long since suspected–based on noticeable similarities–that Al-Mutarjim’s and Robert Spencer’s translations are simply “cleaned up” versions of Google Translator. Again, this speaks to the profound academic qualifications of the self-appointed experts of Islam. Perhaps The Translator ought to change his name to The Google Translator.
How about we rely on some real academic sources, instead of Google Translator? Here’s what Al-Mawrid, arguably the most commonly used Arabic-to-English and English-to-Arabic lexicon, says:
As can be clearly seen above, the highlighted areas dealing both with nikah and nakaha (the verb/root nikah comes from), all relate to marriage. In fact, the compiler of the dictionary equates nikah with zawaj, which Al-Mutarjim himself translates as “marriage” in the fatwa. Similarly, the verb nakaha is equated to tazawwaj, which means “to be married”.
The authoritative Hans Wehr dictionary, regarded as an essential tool for the English-speaking student of Arabic, says:
Notice that every single word the dictionary gives from the root letters “n k h”–including nikah–all refer to marriage.
When we look at Al-Mu‘jam al-Wasit, which is an established and popular Arabic-Arabic dictionary (similar to the Oxford English Dictionary in English, for example), we find likewise:
The underlines within the red box show the word zawaj (marriage) as being synonymous to nikah–and in fact to all the various words from the root “n k h”. In other words, all refer to marriage, marrying and the procedure of marriage.
Nowhere do we see the meaning of “sexual intercourse” in any of these dictionaries! It is the reader’s decision whether to rely on Google Translator in its beta form or to refer to actual academic sources.
I concede that the Mufti could have meant marriage, but he also could have meant sexual intercourse.
No, he couldn’t have. If Al-Mutarjim had not used ellipses (…) everywhere to mask the fatwa’s real meaning, he would have noted this immediately above:
ومن المهم كذلك أن نعرف أن الفقهاء وإن أجازوا تزويج الصغيرة فإنهم منعوا زوجها أن يطأها حتى تطيق الوطء ، وهذا يختلف باختلاف الأزمنة والأمكنة والبيئات.
And it is important for us to know that even though the jurists approved betrothing a child, they prevented her husband from having intercourse with her until she could bear it [lit. intercourse], which can differ according to the time, place and environment.
What is amazing is that Al-Mutarjim himself–in his updated version–is forced to translate the passage above, which he renders as:
It is also important that we understand that the scholars, while they permitted marrying off young girls, they forbade her husband from having intercourse with her until she could bear it…
This sentence in and of itself completely invalidates his “translation” of the sentence (“we can take from this verse that it is permissible to have sexual intercourse with a prepubescent girl”) as well as the title given to his article (“It Is Permissible to Have Sexual Intercourse with a Prepubescent Girl”). This is the case even using his own translation! The Mufti could not possibly mean “sexual intercourse” in the sentence translated, since he clearly states that the jurists forbade/prevented it.
What the mufti was saying, quite clearly, was:
(1) Betrothal/marriage of young (prepubescent) girls is technically permitted.
(2) However, this does not mean that sexual intercourse may take place.
(3) Later on in the fatwa, he states that the ruling permitting such early betrothals/marriages is archaic and does not apply to today’s situation.
Al-Mutarjim’s deceitful manipulation of the fatwa changed (1) above to say that sexual intercourse is permitted, and completely omitted points (2) and (3). If this is not academic dishonesty, then what is?
Yet, Al-Mutarjim says:
Translation is an art, not a science, and translators can and do argue over the correct translation of certain words and phrases.
In this case, the only art that Al-Mutarjim has mastered is the art of deception! (Yet another example of how the Islamophobes are guilty of projection when they cry about taqiyya.)
Al-Mutarjim continues to build a case against himself, explaining why he chose “sexual intercourse” instead of “betrothal/marriage”:
In this case, I went with ‘sexual intercourse’ because from the context, it seems clear to me that the Mufti is not just talking about signing a marriage contract without consummating it. Right after that statement he talks about how Muhammad not only married ‘A’isha but then had sex with her when she was only nine years old, i.e. a prepubescent girl.
Here, Al-Mutarjim’s lack of educational qualifications and profound ignorance of Islam come to the fore! Here’s what the fatwa said, which he refers to:
وقد صح أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم عقد على عائشة وهي بنت ست سنين إلا أنه لم يدخل بها إلا وهي بنت تسع سنين، رواه البخاري.
And it is verified that the Prophet (peace be upon him) had contracted with Aisha when she was six years old, but he did not have intercourse with her, until she was 9 years old, as narrated by Bukhari.
Does he not see that this is a great proof against his claim!? The mufti is saying that Aisha was betrothed/married to the Prophet Muhammad at the age of six, but sexual intercourse did not take place for three years. This three year delay supports the idea that the mufti was permitting betrothal/marriage of prepubescent girls (hence, the marriage at the age of six) but forbidding sexual intercourse (for three years in this case), until the girl was able to bear it without harm coming to her, which he says is “the age of puberty.”
Although many reformist Muslims question the age of Aisha, the traditionalist opinion has been that Aisha had passed through puberty at the age of nine, which is why sexual intercourse was–according to this opinion–permissible. Clearly, the mufti’s invocation of Aisha is wholly consistent with the idea that betrothal/marriage was permitted before puberty, but sexual intercourse allowed only after it. Traditionalists believe that Aisha was betrothed before puberty, and that the marriage was consummated after puberty.
“Sexual Intercourse” is a “Tropical Meaning”
The primary, well-known, and common meaning of nikah is “betrothal/marriage”. This is the meaning that any competent Arabic translator would know to use. As for the meaning of “sexual intercourse”, this is considered an unusual translation of the word. In fact, Lane’s Lexicon–widely considered the best classical Arabic-English dictionary in the world–notes that such usage is a “tropical expression”, something outside the normal range of meaning. [Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon (1968), Vol. 8, p. 2848]
This fact is something very easily verifiable by simply asking any (neutral) Arabic speaker. And this is certainly confirmed by the images of the dictionary pages we have reproduced above, where we do not even see the meaning given! That is how obscure that definition is!
Furthermore, using the translation “sexual intercourse” is even stranger in the context of a fatwa (religious verdict). It is well-known that fatwas use Islamic legalese. Religious terms that are used in Islamic law have very specific meanings. Words like halal, haram, caliph, imam, zina, sahih, etc…These are all religious terms that even non-Arabic speaking Muslims will know, because they have special religious significance. The word nikah is most definitely one such “religious term”, used for example even by Pakistani Muslims who don’t usually speak Arabic.
The well-known religious meaning of the word is found in the Quran itself. Prof. Joseph Schacht, who is considered by many to be the pioneer of Islamic legal studies in the West, notes in the Encyclopedia of Islam (2nd Edition) that while “sexual intercourse” is a meaning, “in the Kur’an [it is] used exclusively for the contract of marriage.” Wherever the word nikah is used in the Quran, it means the contract of betrothal/marriage–not sexual intercourse. (For the record, Prof. Schacht is hardly known to be sympathic towards Islam, and his work is routinely cited by the Islamphobic polemicist Ibn Warraq.)
This trend is found in the books of hadith and the Islamic legal literature as well. For example, the hadith collection known as Sahih al-Muslim has a chapter entitled “Book of Marriage (Kitab al-Nikah)”–in it are sayings regarding marriage, i.e. who should marry, who one can marry, who one can propose marriage to, conditions of marriage, etc. etc. Nary a soul would dare claim it is the Book of Sex, since its topics are far more wide-ranging than that.
As for Islamic legal literature, we can cite a book that Islamophobes love to cite, The Reliance of the Traveler, that also has in it a “Book of Marriage (Kitab al-Nikah)”–which cannot possibly be understood to be the Book of Sex. The examples we could cite are numerous.
It is quite telling that Al-Mutarjim invoked a “tropical definition” to a term that Arabic speakers–even non-Arabic speaking Muslims–know immediately as meaning “betrothal/marriage.” Additionally, the mufti uses three different words to clearly refer to sexual intercourse:
يدخل عليها (he enters into her)
الجماع (coming together)
There is no ambiguity here. But to top off the absurdity of using a “tropical meaning” is the fact that the context of the fatwa itself–as noted in the above section–would completely negate such an unusual usage. The desire to do so can only be born out of a specific agenda.
We must reiterate here that we do not agree with the IslamOnline fatwa. Therefore, we do not see the need to defend its substance. (Future articles will tackle the dispute about Aisha’s age, the minimum age of marriage in Islam [although it was briefly discussed here], etc.) The focus here ought to be Al-Mutarjim’s misleading and dishonest translations. Our readers simply need to compare the original “translation” he provided to the updated translation he was forced to publish after we exposed his original. The dramatic difference–between his own initial translation and the new one we forced him to provide–speaks volumes!
Regardless of whatever personal (and vague) advice the Mufti gives much later in his fatwa, the case is already closed per the Qur’an and Sunnah.
We are not going to argue what the Quran and Sunna say regarding the matter, as that is another topic altogether. The fact that the mufti himself does not understand the Quran and Sunna to imply what al-Mutarjim states it implies, is itself telling. The issue here is that Al-Mutarjim translated a fatwa from an IslamOnline mufti, making it seem as if the mufti was perfectly fine with sexual intercourse with prepubescent girls. But here is what Al-Mutarjim purposefully excluded from his “translation”:
(1) The mufti forbade sexual intercourse before puberty, arguing that “at the very least” puberty should be the minimum age for marriage.
(2) The mufti noted that sexual intercourse with prepubescent girls should be prevented because it can cause severe “negative physical and emotional ramifications that would stay with her for the rest of her life.”
(3) Betrothal/marriage of prepubescent girls is, according to the mufti, a thing of the past and no longer applicable.
All of this was hidden in those ever so strategic ellipses. Al-Mutarjim’s response seems to imply that our criticism of his translation revolved solely around that one word (nikah) and that one sentence.
Yet, even if we pretend, for argument’s sake only, that he translated it correctly (which he didn’t), this does not change the fact that he has produced a highly misleading and dishonest translation. He purposefully deleted all three points above (and 4/5ths of the fatwa), a deception that is even greater than simply mistranslating one sentence.
The fact that Al-Mutarjim and his defenders are trying to make it all about one word and one sentence indicates their desire to obfuscate the issue. So let’s be very clear: Al-Mutarjim’s translation is fraudulent not just because of one sentence but because he purposefully omitted key information from the fatwa.
This begs the question: why? Why did Al-Mutarjim hide these very important points? Why did he neglect to translate 4/5th’s of the fatwa? Why was there even a need for an “updated version” of the translation, which magically only appeared when we criticized his first one? Had his first translation been an honest one, why the need for an update? We think the reasons for this are patently obvious.
To conclude: Al-Mutarjim had “translated” a fatwa making it seem as if it permitted sexual intercourse with prepubescent girls, even though it said the exact opposite–namely, that the age of puberty is to be considered the minimum age “at the very least.” Using ellipses, the Translating-Jihad site manipulates texts…kind of like if we rendered Al-Mutarjim’s words like so:
I previously produced an excerpted translation…deliberately taking things out of context…
My goal…is being dishonest.
SATV’s dishonesty can be gauged by his conciliatory comment on our site:
I believe that much of your response to Translating-Jihad was also quite good. I won’t speak for him, but I agreed with much of your grammatical analysis. Where I disagree is your assumption that people critical of Islam deliberately mistranslate Arabic.
and his completely opposite attitude on his blog. Would SATV like to be honest and state on his blog that he agrees with our grammatical analysis of Al-Mutarjim’s “translation”?
Also, note here the invocation of a “whenever” and “anybody” argument once again: “your assumption that people critical of Islam deliberately mistranslate Arabic“. Here, we are talking about one particular person and one particular site. Each stands on its own merits. Al-Mutarjim specifically and Translating-Jihad specifically are deliberately mistranslating and obfuscating Arabic. The evidence speaks for itself, and SATV’s refusal to admit this speaks to his own dishonesty.
Staring at the View (SATV) has issued a response to our article, saying (emphasis added):
I have carefully read Loonwatch’s grammatical analysis of the Fatwa that caused this duststorm, and I can say that I agree with that analysis. I agree that the primary meaning of the word Nikah is marriage, and I agree that the Mufti who issued the Fatwa was not advocating sex with young girls.
We must give credit where credit is due. It is pretty stand up of him to admit this.
Of course, the fact that even SATV agrees with our analysis of Al-Mutarjim’s flawed translation does not fare well for Al-Mutarjm and the Translating-Jihad website. What’s interesting though is that SATV himself seems to be connected to the Translating Jihad website; Al-Mutarjim introduced SATV on his website as follows:
My buddy over at Staring at the View has agreed to start cross-posting his excellent articles here at Translating Jihad.
It’s just barely a stretch then to say that even Translating Jihad doesn’t think Translating Jihad is reliable!