Tuesday, May 22, 2012

"They have some beautiful things too"

At the very end of my high school career, in 1988, I sat for an oral examination in Arabic. In the room were my beloved Arabic teacher, Meir Einat, as well as an external examiner, a teacher from a nearby school.

The exam included me reading and translating a sura of the Quran. The sura that the examiner had chosen for me was number 97, al-Qadr. I was happy. I had known it by heart. I still do. I later wrote a paper on it at Tel Aviv University. It has the word salaam in it.

I read it. I translated it. I eventually got a grade of 100% on the exam.

What bugged me, though, was what the examiner said when I finished reading the sura. It went something like this (I'm translating from Hebrew): "See? Those Arabs have some beautiful things, too."

A couple of years ago I saw an obituary in an Israeli newspaper with this man's name. I wished I had had the guts at 18 to have told him what a racist he was.

Update: I have been asked what the sura meant in English. I am appending a screenshot of a bilingual version of it, though you are welcome to look up alternative translations. Note than the Islamic tradition, there are no translations of the Quran, only interpretations of it, as it is considered the word of God, which was delivered in a divine manner that can only have been expressed in the original Arabic. I am an atheist, and do not subscribe to this school of thought, but those of you who are unfamiliar with Islamic teachings may be surprised to see titles such as The Meaning of the Glorious Quran, or An Interpretation of the Glorious Quran. If the edition was prepared by a devout Muslim, typically the word translation will be avoided.

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