Friday, February 20, 2009

The Islamic language

You know by now that the tragicomic past and possible future of the Republican Party, Rick Santorum, uttered this yesterday:
The Quran is perfect just the way it is, that’s why it is only written in Islamic.
Most of the justifiable outrage about his truly stunning ignorance has gone to the politics of things, with a few yucks about him thinking 'Islamic' is the name of a language. But I think that he just reads Nature and recalls that Islamic is a branch of Indo-European, as laid out here. And the notion of an 'Islamic language' is out there well beyond the bad editorial and production processes of Nature. This article is freely available over the internet:
Rahman, Tariq. Urdu as an Islamic Language. Annual of Urdu Studies vol. 21 (2006).
Here's a chunk of the conclusion that indicates what Rahman means:
Except for Arabic, there is no special language of Islam. however, a language used by a community of Muslims can become the language of Islam and of Muslim identity in a specific time period and region. With the advent of modernity, Urdu, a language of North Indian origin, became such a language with political, social, educational, economic and cultural consequences. It became part of (ashrāf) Muslim identity replacing Persian which occupied that position earlier. It became a symbol of the Muslim political identity next only to Islam itself during the struggle for the creation of Pakistan out of British India.
OK, you say, that really isn't remotely consistent with what Santorum meant. Sure, but I'm trying to avoid the snark for once.

In a sense more puzzling is the notion here that the Qur'an is "written only" in one language. I've never mastered writing a single text in more than one language. What he means, presumably is this:
According to modern Islamic theology, the Qur'an is a revelation very specifically in Arabic, and so it should only be recited in the Arabic language. Translations into other languages are necessarily the work of humans and so, according to Muslims, no longer possess the uniquely sacred character of the Arabic original.
Maybe he is a man trapped by his own words. In a way, Sarah Palin is a lot funnier.

Image from here.


Anonymous said...

You know, he IS one of the dumbest figures in national politics. People can have arguments about whether Bush is 'smart' in some sense or other, but there's no discussing the issue with Santorum. I guess I'm just trying to say that this statement is so idiotic that it's hard to believe EVEN from him.

John Cowan said...

I omit, as too indelicate to mention, the current meaning of the noun "santorum".

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks ... we are a family-oriented blog, I guess.