The Role of Context in Interpreting and Translating the Qur’an
Keywords:Qur’an, tafsir, translation, context, wujuh
AbstractQuoting out of context can become especially serious when dealing with religious texts. As will be demonstrated in this article, attention to context (siyāq) is essential to proper understanding and translation of the Qur'an. However, in much tafsīr writing, and in most of the translations of the Qur'an into English, as well as more general discussion of the Qur'an, we come across examples where insufficient regard to the context seriously mars understanding and results in misrepresentation of the Qur'an's message. The study of context has a central place in rhetoric (balāgha) and in Qur'anic studies in Arabic, but is hardly mentioned in Qur'anic studies undertaken in English. This article explores the significance of context in reading the Qur'an. In the introduction, I outline the various types of context, and then move on to examine its role in determining the meaning of words and sentences, and in determining the inclusion and omission of material, as well as the order and amount of material used in any given situation in the Qur'an. The discussion will also explore which linguistic features can cause difficulties in determining meaning, and what clues are given in the Qur'an to help identify the context and appropriate meanings of specific passages. Examples will be given from translations of the Qur'an, tafsīr, and Qur'anic studies.
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