[I apologise for the long silence. My "little" fall seems to have taken more out of me than just my broken rib and its attendant discomfort, and I have been feeling, as a consequence, a general sense of "unwellness". However, here is a post I had almost finished before I decided to "take it easy," which you may find interesting in the mean time. I do not expect to be back "full time" for a little while yet. Thanks for your patience.]
It has been said that a translation of the Qur’an is not the Qur’an, but an interpretation of the Qur’an. So Pickthall’s “translation” of the Qur’an is called The Meaning of the Glorious Koran: An Explanatory Translation. For that, after all, is all that it can ever be. The Qur’an is in Arabic, which is, in some sense, though Rahman denies it, the language of God. Evangelical Christians often say that the Bible is inerrant in its original text. Both Muslims and Christians, although they acknowledge the existence of both translation and interpretation, deny that it applies to the sacred text in (at least) its sacred meaning, as though text and sacred meaning are somehow miraculously conveyed merely by reading the text in a certain frame of mind.
Some Christians have got themselves into a bind by supposing that the true meaning of scripture is hidden from those who are unworthy. But how is worthiness to be characterised, so that we know who indeed has grasped the true meaning of scripture, the original meaning intended by God, whatever, presumably, its human “authors” thought? This is what I call the “hermeneutic auction,” and it is a defeater for any sense of sacred truth. Why those who believe that God speaks through texts, do not recognise the problem, is itself a problem, for there are clearly dynamics at work that tend to send interpretation spiraling out of control.
Take, for example, issues of ethics in the Roman Catholic Church concerning the end and the beginning of life. Similar things might be said, as well, about Islam and Judaism, since Christians, Jews and Muslims (inclusive) tend to hold that abortion is forbidden, and that suicide is a grave moral error. It is occasionally acknowledged that people who kill themselves sometimes do so because they are mentally disturbed, and so allowance is sometimes made for this possibility. But abortion, which is a conscious choice by someone, is apparently never justified under any circumstances, if the practice of the Roman Catholic Church is anything to go by. Protestants, on the other hand, sometimes provide some latitude for choice in the matter of abortion as well as in the matter of self-deliverance, though it is not quite clear how these exceptions get through the fine mesh of the Protestant moral conscience. Latitude is sometimes allowed as a matter of “compassion,” but it is hard to see how compassion can make a difference. If abortion is contrary to the will of a god, then presumably there is an ultimate, indefeasible prescription which it would be wrong to ignore. Compassion could cover a multitude of sins, and if obedience to a god is the issue, that is obedience to a being than which nothing greater can be thought, whose writ is universal and absolute, where is the room necessary for raising doubts about this or that individual case?