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Learning to read Arabic script

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Translation is usually a poor approximation of the original text.  Like a photograph or a statue, you can recognise the person depicted,  the resemblance is there in every detail, but that person is not really there - there is no spirit.

It is difficult enough for an English person to learn to recite Qu’ran, without starting to penetrate the meaning of the words as well.  However, by beginning to read those words more or less correctly, something of their essence penetrates the heart, and in time this can add life to the translations we rely on.

We have to remember that it is said that there are many thousands of meanings within the Fatihah.  Each word of the Qu’ran is full of meaning and even scholars can only scratch the surface of these.  However, it may be useful to look at some of the words and phrases we regularly use and think more deeply about the meaning of them:

“Bi-smi-llahi-r Rahmani-r Rahim”

This is a Verse (or Sign) used at the beginning of a recitation from sacred texts, for we need to be reminded that whatever is the subject matter of the text, all comes under the umbrella of Divine Compassion and Love.  The meaning is usually rendered as “By the name of Allah, most beneficent, most merciful.”

“Bi-smi-llahi-r Rahmani-r Rahim” is a reminder to us, re-awakening an awareness that we exist always in waves of Divine Love and Mercy.  If we of those who are seeking to be in the Presence of Allah, the One, it is right that we should begin something by saying “with the name of Allah”.

But we must always remember that the name is being used to indicate that to which it refers, Whose Essence is beyond description and beyond knowledge.  That One is known through His Attributes - He is Infinite, Eternal, Unique, All-powerful, All-loving, Merciful, and so on.  The number of His attributes is endless.

We may know of His Divine Attributes by the use of His Divine names.  So that He is the Eternal, the Compassionate, the One, the Creator, and so on.  Each name indicates something of His attributes which are all infinite so that what we can know of an Attribute is minuscule.  But the use of a Divine name makes it possible for us to reach towards that attribute and receive something of it in our hearts.

In this case, it is a word, (or specifically, a name), whereby physical sound is the vehicle of transmitting something from the Divine Presence to our “hearts”, our inner selves.  Because He Himself has chosen this name of “Allah”, it is He who has invested it with spiritual power.

Using the name “Allah” we turn to face in the right direction, and by facing the right way we are enabled to receive from the One to whom the name is applied.  Those who perform the Dhikr in which the name of “Allah” is recited can testify to the spiritual power of this name.

I am aware that the use of any name to refer to that One transcendent and absolute beyond all, creates difficulties.  The use of a name may suggest a personality, and give rise to some kind of anthropomorphic image in our minds.  Again, the tendency to do this is precisely what we are trying to avoid.

What needs to be understood is the difference between ordinary human language and sacred “heavenly” language.  The purpose of our naming something in our ordinary speech is to identify it, to catch hold of it with our minds, so that we can define it, or imagine it, or think about it.  The purpose of sacred language is quite the opposite.  There is a special way in which the word “Allah” does refer to the One to Whom it applies.  When used, something from that source can pass through the particular form of word.  That is to say that it provides something of a higher nature necessary to activate our innate ability to be aware of ourselves in the Divine Presence and to understand what is beyond the reach of our ordinary thought.

The use of this name thus provides a means of focusing our awareness towards the One who is the Reality beyond the Name.  It is at the same time the channel by which something from that Reality may reach our hearts.  As things are, there is a barrier between our hearts and the higher realities.  The repeated use of the Name has the effect of battering through this barrier, opening ourselves to more and more rays from the Divine.

MD (with thanks to DR)


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