Gratefulness, and the problem with English translations

Allah says in the Quran,

إِنَّا هَدَيْنَاهُ السَّبِيلَ إِمَّا شَاكِرًا وَإِمَّا كَفُورًا

This verse, Al-Insaan 3, was translated in the manner below in their respective translations:

“We showed him the Way: whether he be grateful or ungrateful (rests on his will).” [Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din al-Hilali, Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Quran in the English Language]

“Indeed, We guided him to the way, be he grateful or be he ungrateful.” [Sahih International, The Quran: Arabic Text with Corresponding English Meanings]

However, the verse would probably better be translated as: “Verily, We showed him [man] the way, whether he be grateful or very ungrateful” (al-Insaan 3). This translation is preferred because the word for ungrateful is in the intensive while that for thankful is not, as is clear from the Arabic construct. Recognizing this Arabic construct gives a powerful meaning to the verse: no matter how grateful a person is to Allah, compared with all the blessings that he has received from Allah, the most that he could be called is grateful, but not extremely grateful in comparison to the gifts and mercy he has received. However, with all of the bounties that a person has received, if he is ungrateful to Allah, then he is not just being slightly ungrateful but, by definition, he is being extremely ungrateful. That explains the differences in the two words of this verse and this conclusion can easily be arrived at from the Arabic text but may be obscured by a translation into any other language.

[From How to Approach and Understand the Quran by Jamaal Zarabozo]


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