University of Cambridge

A Comparison of Elements of Style in Quranic Stylistics Part 1

Part 1

INTRODUCTION

This paper is the first part of a two part analysis. The two parts are:

A Comparison of Elements of Style in Quranic Stylistics Part1. It deals with the stylistics analysis of verses 1-22 of surah Al-Mursalat.

A Comparison of Elements of Style in Quranic Stylistics Part2. It deals with the stylistics analysis of verses 23-50 of surah Al-Mursalat.

This writer will highlight the differences and similarities of the seventy-seventh surah from The Message of the Quran -English language translation of the meaning of the Quran by Muhammad Asad and The Holy Quran -English language translation of the meaning of the Quran by Abdullah Yusuf Ali.

Each verse translated by each translator is put one after another. Each verse from the seventy-seventh surah, Al-Mursalat, translated by Muhammad Asad is marked (B) by MA and is put first, followed by the same verse translated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali which is marked (B) by AYA.  This writer then looks closely at each translator’s style of translating the same original text (the Quran) while examining the language features.

The first noticeable thing that this writer came across is that Muhammad Asad begins his book on the left with pages running from the left side to the right side of his book whereas Abdullah Yusuf Ali begins his book from the right with pages running from the right side to the left side of his book. It is a known fact that any book written in Arabic, including the Quran in its original text, has its pages running from the right to the left side of the book as The Holy Quran -English language translation of the meaning of the Quran by Abdullah Yusuf Ali.

THE STYLISTIC ANALYSIS OF THE SEVENTY-SEVENTH SURAH, AL-MURSALAT BY MUHAMMAD ASAD AND ABDULLAH YUSUF ALI

Both Muhammad Asad and Abdullah Yusuf Ali have translated the title of Al – Mursalat to be “Those Sent Forth”.

(B) by MA             

IN THE NAME OF GOD, THE MOST GRACIOUS, THE DISPENSER OF GRACE :

(1)     CONSIDER   these [messages] sent forth in  waves

(2) and then storming on with a tempest’s force!

(3)Consider these [messages] that spread [the truth] far and wide,

(4)thus separating [right and wrong] with all clarity,

(5) and then giving forth a reminder,

(6) [promising] freedom from blame or [offering] a warning!

(B) by AYA

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

1.      By the (Winds) Sent Forth

      One after another (To man’s profit);

2.   Which then blow violently

      In tempestuous Gusts;

3.  And scatter (things)

     Far and wide;

4.  Then separate them,

     One from another;

5.  Then spread abroad

     A Reminder;

6.  Whether of Justification

     Or of Warning ;

Analysis: The first six verses of surah seventy-seven by Muhammad Asad is divided into two sentences. The first sentence comprises of verses one and two and the second sentence comprises of verses three to six. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, on other hand, does not make any special distinction or mark of any new sentence.  Every verse is numbered and verse forty marks Section two of Surah Al – Mursalat.

(B) by MA

(1)         CONSIDER  these [messages] sent  forth in  waves

(2) and then storming on with a tempest’s force!

(B) by AYA                       

1.  By the (Winds) Sent Forth

     One after another (To man’s profit);

2.  Which then blow violently

     In tempestuous Gusts,

Analysis: Muhammad Asad and Abdullah Yusuf Ali make a link with the first lines of the first verse and the title of this surah. “Consider these [messages] sent forth in waves” by Muhammad Asad and “By the (Winds) Sent Forth ” by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. The title of this surah, “Those Sent Forth”, is specifically related to the first lines of the first verse of the two translated versions. 

(B) by MA

(1)  CONSIDER  these [messages,] sent forth in waves

 (B) by AYA

1.      By the (Winds) Sent Forth

     One after another (To man’s profit);

Analysis: Both translated versions want to put across the meaning of continuity.  Muhammad Asad uses “in waves” and Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses “One after another” (an idiom) to describe continuity. Verse one of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They  appeal for the preparation of the Day of Judgement which is bound to come.

(B) by MA

(2)  and then storming on with a tempest’s force!

(B) by AYA

2.  Which then blow violently

      In tempestuous Gusts,

Analysis: Both translated versions explain the gradual strong move of the messages of God to destroy evil.  Both translated versions use cohesive links to begin verse two – “and then” in Muhammad Asad’s translated version and “which then” in Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translated version. “Storming on” by Muhammad Asad and “blow violently” by Abdullah Yusuf Ali have the same effect in meaning but different vocabulary is used. The word “tempest” is used in both translated versions but in different forms “with a tempest’s force!” in Muhammad Asad’s translated version and “In tempestuous Gusts” in Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s translated version. Where meaning is concerned, gusts give a slightly stronger effect of a sudden, violent rush of wind. Both translated versions do not differ much in meaning. They put across that strong wind and rain effect.  This effect is further accentuated by the word “force” in Muhammad Asad’s translated version and by the word “Gusts” in Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s version.  Verse two of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They relate the impact of the Quranic revelations as a whole. These revelations or messages carry the principles of right conduct.

(B) by MA

(3)Consider these [messages] that spread  [the truth] far and wide,

(B) by AYA

3.  And scatter (things)

    Far and wide;

Analysis: Muhammad Asad begins a new sentence with the same few words as the first sentence, “Consider these [messages]….”  Abdullah Yusuf Ali continues the metaphor of the “Winds” that scatter things far and wide.  He uses the conjunction “And” to begin verse three. Muhammad Asad and Abdullah Yusuf Ali both use the idiom “far and wide” in verse three.  However, Muhammad Asad uses “the truth” that are spread “far and wide” and Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses “things” that are scattered far and wide”, the former being more literal and the latter more of an interpretation. Verse three of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They give the picture of Allah’s messages being distributed.

(B) by MA

(4)thus separating [right and wrong] with all clarity,

(B) by AYA

4.  Then separate them,

     One from another,

Analysis: The word ‘separate” appears in both translated versions but in different forms. Muhammad Asad uses “separating” and Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses “separate” Muhammad Asad goes on further to explain separating right and wrong. This writer feels that the words, right and wrong , do make a difference in clarity. Although Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses more idiomatic expressions, he may have lost some readers where clarity is lacking. Here, this writer feels that  Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s version can definitely be appreciated by readers of higher level of competence in the English language. Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses another idiom to describe “separate them, One from another”.  Muhammad Asad uses “thus” and Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses “then” as conjunctions to begin the fourth verse. The “then is used as a substitute word for adverb expressions of time. It means that after this, “then” that happens. In the case of this verse, after scattering things far and wide, “then” separating them one from another happens. The “thus” is used to show a logical consequence in a formal way. In other words, “thus” evokes a causal concept. In the case of this verse, the messages that spread the truth far and wide will therefore in itself consequently separate one from another. Verse four of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They tell of the separation of  good and evil among men– the believers and disbelievers.

(B) by MA

(5)  and then giving forth a reminder,

(B) by AYA

5.  The spread abroad

     A Reminder,

Analysis: The words ” a reminder ” are used in both translated versions.  “Spread abroad” is another idiom that Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses. Muhammad Asad uses “and then” and Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses “Then” as conjunctions to provide cohesion to begin verse five. Verse five of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They tell that the believers and disbelievers will receive a reminder.

(B) by MA

(6) [promising] freedom from blame or [offering] a warning!

(B) by AYA

6.   Whether of Justification

      Or of Warning; —

Analysis: The conjunction “or” is used in both translated versions to introduce alternatives. Muhammad Asad puts it as “[promising] freedom from blame or [offering] a warning!” and Abdullah Yusuf Ali puts it as “Whether of Justification or of Warning;”. Verse six of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They tell that the reminder that the believers and disbelievers will receive will be one of either justification for the believers and of warning for the disbelievers.

(B) by MA

(7)     BEHOLD,  all   that  you  are   told  to  expect  will  surely come to pass.     

(B) by AYA

7.      Assuredly, what ye are

        Promised must come to pass.

Analysis: Verse seven marks a new section in Muhammad Asad’s translated version.  Abdullah Yusuf Ali does not mark verse seven as a new section in this surah. This writer notices that Muhammad Asad seems to break a surah up into smaller portions as if to deal with clarity more closely. Abdullah Yusuf Ali has broken up this surah of fifty verse into two sections. Verse seven tells one of the Day of Judgement which is bound to come.  Muhammad Asad uses “you” whereas Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses “ye” to refer to the reader, the former adhering to Modern English whereas the latter adhering to Classical English. Both translated versions use somewhat the same words to carry the meaning across. Verse seven of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They tell the believers and disbelievers to expect the promised Day to come. The Day of Judgement is bound to come.

(B) by MA

(8) Thus, [it will come to pass] when the  stars are effaced,

(9)  and when the sky is rent asunder,

(10)  and when the mountains are scattered like dust,

(11) and when all the apostles are called together at a time appointed .….

(B) by AYA

8.    Then when the stars

       Become dim;

9.    When the heaven

       Is cleft asunder;

10.  When the mountains are

       Scattered (to the winds) as dust;

11.  And when the messengers

       Are (all) appointed a time

      (To collect);

Analysis: Verses eight to eleven are descriptions of the signs of the Day of Judgement.

(B) by MA

(8)Thus, [it will come to pass] when the stars are effaced,

(B) by AYA

8.  Then when the stars

     Become dim;

Analysis: Muhammad Asad uses the conjunction “thus” and Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses “then” to begin verse eight. “Thus” holds a formal way of presenting a logical consequence or causal concept and “then” holds a time concept or used as a substitute for adverb expressions of time. Muhammad Asad uses more forceful words than Abdullah Yusuf Ali about the stars – “effaced” and “become dim” respectively. Both the translated versions do not differ much in meaning. They want to put across the fact that the stars will disappear. Verse eight of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They inform about the first sign of the Day of Judgement described in this surah. The stars will lose their shine and lustre and will disappear from the sky.

 (B) by MA

(9)  and when the sky is rent asunder,

(B) by AYA

9.  When the heaven

     Is cleft asunder;

Analysis: Muhammad Asad uses “the sky” and Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses “the heaven” to describe up above where the stars appear. The word “asunder” is used in both translated versions to put across the meaning of torn up to bits and destroyed like in a big explosion. Muhammad Asad begins verse nine with the conjunction “and” whereas Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses “when”. Verse nine of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They tell what will happen to what is above us or to where the stars appear –the heavens or the sky. It will all explode.

(B) by MA

(10)  and when the mountains are scattered like dust,

(B) by AYA

10.  When the mountains are

       Scattered (to the winds) as dust;

 Analysis: Similar words are used in verse ten in both translated versions.  Again, Muhammad Asad uses the conjunction “and” to begin the verse whereas Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses “when” to begin the verse. In Muhammad Asad’s version, “when” appears following “and”. It normally appears without “when” repeated in the next clause. In other words, When the sky is rent asunder and the mountains are scattered like dust…..  In Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s version, the conjunction “and” is not there to provide that smoother effect. Verse ten of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They give the picture of the huge masses of sand (mountains) being uprooted and fly about in the wind like dust.

(B) by MA

(11) and when all the apostles are called together at a time appointed …

(B) by AYA

11.  And when the messengers

      Are (all) appointed a time

      (To collect);

Analysis: Muhammad Asad begins verse eleven in the same way as Abdullah Yusuf Ali – “and when”.  Muhammad Asad uses “the apostles” and Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses “the messengers” to refer to the Prophets, one being a paraphrase of the other.  Both translated versions use similar words to put across the same meaning. In Muhammad Asad’s versions, “when” appears again. In Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s version, the conjunction “and appears to give that cohesive effect. Verse eleven of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They say that the Prophets or Messengers who have lived and died at different times will all gather on the Day of Judgement.

(B) by MA

(12)  For what day has the term  [of all this] been set?

(B) by AYA

12.  For what Day are these

       (Portents) deferred?

Analysis: Both translated versions ask what day do the signs in verses eight to eleven mark? Muhammad Asad uses “the term [of all this]” and Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses “these (Portents)” to mean omen or signs. Both translated versions begin with the same few words – “For what day”.  The letter “d” in “Day” is capitalized in Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s version to reemphasize this special “Day”. Verse twelve questions and verse thirteen answers in both versions. As a matter of paraphrasing, The Day of Judgement or The Day of Decision or The Day of Distinction or The Day of Sorting out, are all synonymous expressions. This verse of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They tell when the good will be separated from the evil.

(B) by MA

(13) For the Day of Distinction [between the true and the false]!

(B) by AYA

13.  For the Day of Sorting out.

Analysis: Verse thirteen answers verse twelve.  Muhammad Asad uses “the Day of Distinction” and Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses “the Day of Sorting Out”.  Both translated versions mean “the Day of Judgement”.  Muhammad Asad goes on to further explain this “Day of Distinction” with “[between the true and the false]!”. Verse twelve questions and verse thirteen answers in both versions and they do not differ much in meaning. They tell that The Day of Judgement is when the believers (good) will be separated from the disbelievers (evil).

(B) by MA

(14) And what could make thee conceive what that  Day of Distinction will be?

(B) by AYA

14.  And what will explain

       To thee what is 

       The Day of Sorting out?

Analysis: Verse fourteen of both translated versions reach out to disbelievers to believe.  This address is in a question form.  Both translated versions begin verse fourteen with “And what ….” to provide cohesion. Muhammad Asad who usually adheres to Modern English has made use of “thee” to refer to the disbelievers. It gives a Classical English effect and the sound of appeal comes through. Verse fourteen in both versions do not differ much in meaning. They appeal to the disbelievers to believe.

(B) by MA

(15)Woe on that Day unto those who give the lie to the truth!

(B) by AYA

15.  Ah Woe, that Day,

       To the Rejecters of Truth!

Analysis: Verse fifteen of both translated versions is a warning to disbelievers if they continue to disbelieve.  The word “woe” is used in both translated versions. According to the Oxford dictionary, woe means bitter grief. This writer feels that woe also carries a streak of disappointment in its meaning. Although this warning can sound stern, it can still carry a form of persuasive, warning tone. Muhammad Asad uses “those who give the lie to the truth!” and Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses “the Rejecters of Truth!” to mean the disbelievers. Muhammad Asad who usually adheres to Modern English has made use of “unto”. It does give that Classical English effect. Abdullah Yusuf Ali who usually adheres to Classical English has made use of simply “to”. In comparison, the “to” does give the Modern English effect. Furthermore, in Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s versions, the word “Ah” precedes the word “woe”. This gives a sadder, perhaps an even more disappointed tone to this warning. Here, this writer feels that Muhammad Asad, in his effort to provide an interpretation rather than a literal translation, has complicated the expression to label the disbelievers. This writer further adds that Abdullah Yusuf Ali, simply but aptly labels the disbelievers-“the Rejecters of Truth”. Verse fifteen of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They carry the first warning of ten repeated warnings. These warnings contain the essence of this surah. They aim to reach out to the disbelievers to turn to Allah in humility and repentance. The analysis of this first warning  (in verse fifteen)  provides the basis of analysis for the rest of the remaining nine same warnings throughout this surah. This writer will make a back reference to verse fifteen whenever appropriate.

(B) by MA

(16) Did We not destroy [so many of] those [sinners] of olden days? (17) And We shall let them be followed by those of later times: (18) [for] thus do We deal with such as are lost in sin.

(B) by AYA

16.  Did We not destroy

       The men of old.

       (For their evil)?

17.  So shall We make

       Later (generations)

       Follow them.

18.  Thus do We deal

        With men of sin.

Analysis: These three verses appear in one paragraph in Muhammad Asad’s translated version whereas Abdullah Yusuf Ali puts them numbered one after another. These arrangements clearly put forth the narrative prosaic style of Muhammad Asad and the poetic-like style of Abdullah Yusuf Ali.

(B) by MA

(16) Did We not destroy [so many of] those [sinners] of olden days?

(B) by AYA

16.  Did We not destroy

       The men of old

       (For their Evil)?

Analysis: Using the past tense, The /d/ alliteration is felt in reading this verse to plod on a reminder in a question. The /d/ in “did”, “destroy”, “olden”, “days” is felt in the pronunciation of each word. This effect is felt more so in Muhammad Asad’s version who managed to use more /d/ words without changing the meaning of the verse. Verse sixteen of both translated versions do not differ much in meaning as they tell one of “those [sinners of olden days]” by Muhammad Asad and “The men of old (For their Evil)” by Abdullah Yusuf Ali to mean the sinners of the past who have been destroyed by God. Both translated versions start the question in verse sixteen with the same few words – “Did We not destroy …..” “We” is used to refer to God in both translated versions. “We” can either be used to be inclusive or exclusive of the listener or in this case, the reader. For this verse, “We” excludes the reader because “We” means God’s doing through the Prophets, excluding the believers or disbelievers (humans). This puts across the meaning that God has been around since the beginning of time and that nothing or no one has been able to destroy or defeat God. Thus, in effect, it emphasizes further on God’s everlasting strength and that we (humans) are indeed weak. Verse sixteen of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They remind all that sin and corruption will bound to lead to suffering and punishment as it happened to the sinners of the past.

(B) by MA

(17)And We shall let them be followed by those of  later times:

(B) by AYA

17.  So shall We make

       Later (generations)

      Follow them.

Analysis: Both translated versions use the future tense to show the continuity or timelessness of God’s law. This same law will apply in the future.  “We” is used to refer to God in both translated versions and to exclude the reader. Verse seventeen of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They tell that as for the sinners of later times, the same, that is, suffering and punishment will befall on them as it happened to the sinners of the past.

(B) by MA

(18) [for] thus do We deal with such as are lost in sin.

(B) by AYA

18.  Thus do We deal

        With men of sin.

Analysis: Using the present tense, both translated versions tell that the sinners who are described as “such as are lost in sin.”  by Muhammad Asad and “men of sin” by Abdullah Yusuf Ali are being dealt with the same way now. This writer feels that Muhammad Asad, in his attempt of an interpretation of the expression label for sinners, has complicated the clarity of the label. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, on the other hand, in the simplicity of a literal translation, has come up with an expression label to serve its purpose- “men of sin”.  The “thus” used in Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s version, carries the causal concept and begins a new sentence in this verse. Muhammad Asad begins the verse with the conjunction [for] to provide cohesion.  The next few words – “thus do we deal with …. ” are repeated in Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s version. The “We” here again is a personal pronoun to include God and the Prophets, excluding the reader. Verse eighteen of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They underscore the fact that sin and corruption prepares its own destruction.

(B) by MA

(19) Woe on that Day unto those who give the lie to the truth!

(B) by AYA

19.  Ah woe, that Day,

       To the Rejecters of Truth!

Analysis: Verse nineteen is the same warning to the disbelievers as in verse fifteen.  This warning is repeated for the second time. Verse nineteen of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They call out to the disbelievers to turn to the right path.(Refer to verse fifteen for a more complete analysis)

(B) by MA

(20)  Did We not create you out of a humble fluid, (21)  which We then let remain in [the womb’s] firm keeping (22) for a term pre-ordained?

(B) by AYA

20.  Have We not created

       You from a fluid

       (Held) despicable? –

21.  The which We placed

        In a place of rest,

       Firmly fixed,

22.  For a period (of gestation),

       Determined?

Analysis: Muhammad Asad writes verses twenty to twenty-two to be in one paragraph whereas Abdullah Yusuf Ali writes them numbered one after another. These arrangements put forth the narrative prosaic style of Muhammad Asad and the poetic-like style of Abdullah Yusuf Ali. These three verses do not differ much in meaning. They remind one of our humble beginnings and that none should be arrogant.

 (B) by MA

(20)  Did We not create you out of a humble fluid,

(B) by AYA

20.  Have We not created

       You from a fluid

       (Held) despicable? –

Analysis: The  past tense is used in both translated versions.  Verse twenty in Muhammad Asad’s version is only part of a question whereas verse twenty in Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s version has already formed the whole question.  “We” is used in both translated versions to refer to God, excluding the reader, because although conception is brought about by the act of sexual intercourse of a man and a woman, conception can only occur if God wills it.  Conception is described as “a humble fluid” by Muhammad Asad and “a fluid (Held) despicable” by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. Abdullah Yusuf Ali uses the word “despicable” to describe and to humiliate humans’ contribution  to conception.  Verse twenty of both versions do not differ much in meaning. They aim to put man back in his place and remind man of his humble beginnings.

(B) by MA

(21)  Which We then let remain in [the womb’s] firm keeping

(B) by AYA

21.  The which We placed

       In a place of rest,

      Firmly fixed,

Analysis: Verse twenty-one in Muhammad Asad’s version still has not formed the question.  The whole question is formed with verse twenty-two.  Abdullah Yusuf Ali begins to form part of the second question in verse twenty-one and will complete the whole question in verse twenty-two.  Muhammad Asad mentions “womb” and seems to go straight to the point, whereas Abdullah Yusuf Ali metaphorically describes the womb as “in a place of rest”. This writer feels that through his words, Abdullah Yusuf Ali seems to give more respect and appreciation to the carrier of the child.  Both translated versions do not differ much in meaning. They try to put across the silent, protected growth of man in his mother’s womb.

(B) by MA

(22)  for a term pre-ordained?

(B) by AYA

22.  For a period (of gestation),

       Determined?

Analysis: Muhammad Asad completes the question with verse twenty-two.  Abdullah Yusuf Ali completes the other part of the second question. According to the Oxford’s dictionary, preordain means determined beforehand and gestation means the process of carrying and being carried in the womb between conception and birth. Again, Muhammad Asad goes straight to the point as in the previous verse and Abdullah Yusuf Ali exhibits more care and caution in his choice of words, perhaps to suit the context of mother and child. This writer adds that she prefers Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s style of language for verses twenty to twenty-two. Both translated versions do not differ much in meaning. They put across in different words the nine months and ten days that God has set for the pre-natal period. Verse twenty-two of both versions specifically points out the determined period of time in the womb which man ourselves have no control of and are unconscious about.

CONCLUSION 

In this paper, the two sets of Meccan surah from the two versions of the English language translations of the meaning of the Quran by Muhammad Asad and Abdullah Yusuf Ali were compared.The seventy-seventh surah, Al-Mursalat translated by Muhammad Asad  and Abdullah Yusuf Ali was marked (B) by MA and (B) by AYA respectively. Similarities and differences were found.

This Part 1 analysis deals with verses 1-22 of surah Al-Mursalat. Part 2 analysis deals with the verses 23-50 of surah Al-Mursalat.  

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