A study of the translations of terms related to practical laws of religion (furū al-dīn): Raising students’ awareness of culture-bound items


University of Isfahan, Iran


Translation of culture-bound terms is of special importance in translation theory and practice.
The present study is an attempt to examine the procedures used in translating these terms in the
English translations of the Holy Qur’an.  As  such,  English  equivalents  of  terms  related  to
Practical laws of religion (Furū al-Dīn) in five English versions of the Qur'an are identified and
the  translation  procedures  used  in  them  in  addition  to  the  frequency  of  occurrence  of  each
procedure  have  been  examined.  The  study  reveals  that  literal  translation  is  not  only  the  most
frequently used procedure but also the most appropriate one in translating such terms.


Main Subjects

According  to  Valdes  (1986),  the
interrelationship of language and culture has
caused, and it will continue to cause, heated
debates  among  theoreticians.  Although  it  is
not  clear  how  they  influence  one  another  or
which  one  is  the  dominant  aspect  of
communication, the current consensus is that
they  operate  as  two  parts  of  a  whole  rather
than  independently.  Hence,  any  study  of
language involves a study of culture too.
In  addition,  there  are  concepts  in  any
language that are unique to that language or
to the culture associated  with that language.
These  concepts  are  called  culture-bound  or
culture-specific  items  (Schwars,  2003)  and
create  a  cultural  gap  between  speakers  of
different  languages.  Since  translation
involves  two  languages  and  two  cultures,  a
proper  translation  has  to  bridge  this  gap  as
far as possible
Religious  texts  in  general  and  the  Holy
Qur'an  in  particular  abound  in  culture-specific  terms  which  require  special
attention  in  translation.  One  of  the
categories  of  culture-bound  terms  in  the
Muslim  culture  is  that  of  practical  laws  of
religion or practices of religion (Furū al-Dīn) that will be used as the material of this
The  Holy  Qur'an  has  been  translated  into
many  languages  including  almost  all
languages  spoken  in  the  Muslim  World.  Up
to now, printed translations of the Qur’an
have  been  published  for  the  most  important
languages  spoken  by  Muslims  such  as
Persian,  English,  Chinese,  Japanese,
Indonesian,  Balochi,  and  so  on  (Dammen,
2006, p. 342). Since one of the most widely-used languages is English, this study aims to
compare  terms  related  to  practices  of  the
religion  or  practical  laws  of  religion  (Furū
al-Dīn) − as referred to in Practical Laws of
Islam  (Turner,  1998)  and  The  Practical
Laws  of  Islam  (Islamic  Propagation
Organization,  1983) −  in  the  Holy  Qur'an
with  their  five  English  translations  to  see
how  the  translators  have  tackled  the
translation  problems  in  translating  these
cultural terms.
Translation procedures
Different  theorists  have  suggested  different
procedures  for  the  translation  of  cultural
items. For example, Vladimir Ivir (1987) has
proposed the following seven procedures:
1.  definition
2.  literal translation
3.  substitution
4.  lexical creation
5.  omission
6.  addition
7.  borrowing
Hervey  &  Higgins  (1992)  have  suggested
the following procedures:
1.  cultural transplantation
2.  cultural borrowing
3.  communicative translation
4.  calque
5.  exoticism
And  the  procedures  proposed  by  Newmark
(1988a) are as follows:
1.  transference
2.  naturalization
3.  cultural equivalent
4.  functional equivalent
5.  descriptive equivalent  
6.  synonymy
7.  through translation
8.  shift or transposition
9.  modulation
10. recognized translation
11. translation label
12. compensation
13. componential analysis
14. reduction and expansion
15. paraphrase
The  classification  offered  by  Newmark
(1988a)  is  too  broad  and  covers  cultural  as
well  as  non-cultural  items.  In  addition,
according to Wylie (2004, p.12) some of the
translation  procedures  suggested  by
Newmark  (1988a) are “by nature temporary
solutions  to  specific  problems  and  none  is
likely  to  become  the  accepted  standard
solution." Hervey & Higgins’ classification
(1992),  unlike  Newmark's,  seems  to  be  too
limited  and  not  applicable  to  the  translation
of all kinds of culture-bound terms.
Therefore,  the  theoretical  framework  of  the
present  study  will  be  the  classification
postulated  by  Ivir  (1987),  a  neat  model  that
focuses  on  the  translation  of  culture-bound
elements  and  seems  to  cover  all  the
translation  procedures  suggested  by  the
above-mentioned  theorists.  Vladimir  Ivir
(1987)  has  proposed  his  predominantly
cultural  model  in  an  article  entitled
“procedures and strategies for the translation
of culture”. This model has been used by
various  researchers  such  as  Jennifer  Wylie
Translation of culture-bound terms  
One  of  the  most  recurrent  difficulties
encountered  by  translators  is  to  find
equivalents  for  culture-bound  terms.
According  to  Newmark  (1988b,  p.94),
culture-bound terms are  particularly “tied to
the way of life and its manifestations that are
peculiar  to  a  community  that  uses  a
particular  language  as  its  means  of
As  Wylie  (2004)  points  out,  culture-bound
concepts  give  rise  to  some  of  the  most
difficult  translation  problems;  even  where
the two cultures involved are not too distant,
they  can  be  more  problematic  for  the
translator  than  the  semantic  or  syntactic
difficulties of the text.
Schwarz  (2003,  p.14)  defines  culture-bound
terms as “concepts in any language that are
unique  to  that  language  or  to  the  culture
associated  with  that  language  and  create  a
cultural  gap  between  speakers  of  different
Numerous  studies  have  been  carried  out  on
the  translation  of  culture-bound  terms.  For
example,  Hariyanto  (1999)  has  studied  the
appropriate  procedures  used  to  translate
culture-bound  sentences,  words,  and
expressions in Japanese culture into English.
The  results  show  that  to  translate  culture-bound  words  or  expressions,  the  translators
have  used  addition,  componential  analysis,
cultural  equivalence,  descriptive
equivalence,  literal  translation,  modulation,
recognized  translation,  reduction,
synonymy,  transference,  deletion  and
combination.  On  the  appropriateness  of  the
procedures  for  translating  culture-bound
terms,  the  study  shows  that  descriptive
equivalents  are  appropriate  to  translate
culture-bound  words  or  expressions  not
found  in  English  culture  but  considered
important enough in the text.
In  another  study,  Jennifer  Wylie  (2004)
investigates  the  translation  of  culture-bound
terms  in  viticultural  texts  from  French  into
English  and  identifies  the  following
appropriate  translation  procedures:
transference,  cultural  equivalence,
naturalization,  literal  translation,  label,  and
In  this  study  we  have  compared  culture-bound  terms  concerning  practical  laws  of
religion in the Holy Qur’an and five English
translations  of  them  to  see  what  kind  of
procedures  have  been  used  by  different
translators and which procedure(s) is/are the
most frequent and effective one(s).  
The  terms  related  to  Practical  laws  of
religion (Furū al-Dīn) in the Holy Qur’an
were  traced  and  their  equivalences  were
identified  in  the  five  English  versions
translated  by  Shakir  (1985):  Tr1,  Yusuf  Ali
(1996): Tr2, Pickthall (1990): Tr3, Al-Hilali
and  Muhsin  Khan  (1995):  Tr4,  and  Arberry
(1955): Tr5.
After  choosing  the  Arabic  terms,  their
equivalences were found in the five English
translations of the Holy Qur’an.    Next,  the
procedure(s) used for the translation of each
item  by  each  translator  was/were  identified.
Finally,  the  most  frequent  procedure(s)
was/were  identified  and  examined  in  terms
of appropriateness and efficacy.
Data Analysis
The following terms related to practical laws
of  religion  are  considered  in  the  present

As regards the first term ‘Salât’, occuring in
the  following  verse,  table  1  shows  that  all
the  translators  but  Tr4  have  used  literal

[Shakir]  Those  who  believe  in  the  unseen
and  keep  up  prayer  and  spend  out  of  what
we have given them.
[Yusuf Ali] Who believe in the Unseen, are
steadfast  in  prayer,  and  spend  out  of  what
We have provided for them.
[Pickthal]  Who  believe  in  the  Unseen,  and
establish  worship,  and  spend  of  that  We
have bestowed upon them.
[Al-Hilali]  Who  believe  in  the  Ghaib  and
perform  As-Salât  (Iqâmat-as-Salât),  and
spend  out  of  what  we  have  provided  for
them  [i.e.  give  Zakât,  spend  on  themselves,
their parents, their children, their wives, etc.,
and also give charity to the poor and also in
Allâh's Cause - Jihâd, etc.].
[Arberry]  who  believe  in  the  Unseen,  and
perform  the  prayer,  and  expend  of  that  We
have provided them.

Regarding  the  second  term  ‘Sawm’,
occuring  in  the  following  verse,  all  the
translators  have  used  literal  translation.  As
table  2  shows  Tr4  has  used  both  literal  and
borrowing as his translation procedures.

[Shakir]  O  you  who  believe!  fasting  is
prescribed  for  you,  as  it  was  prescribed  for
those  before  you,  so  that  you  may  guard
(against evil).
[Yusuf  Ali]  O  ye  who  believe!  Fasting  is
prescribed  to  you  as  it  was  prescribed  to
those  before  you,  that  ye  may  (learn)  self-restraint.
[Pickthal]  O  ye  who  believe!  Fasting  is
prescribed  for  you,  even  as  it  was  
prescribed for those before you, that ye may
ward off (evil).
[Al-Hilali]   O  you  who  believe!  Observing
As-Saum (the fasting) is prescribed for you
as  it  was  prescribed  for  those  before  you,
that  you  may  become  Al-Muttaqûn  (the
pious - see V.2:2).
[Arberry] O believers, prescribed for you is
the Fast, even as it was prescribed for those
that  were  before  you  --  haply  you  will  be

In the case of the third term ‘Hajj’, figuring
in the following verse, as it is shown in table
3, literal translation is the procedure used by
Tr1,  Tr3,  Tr5  and  Tr2,  Tr4  have  preferred
borrowing as their translation procedure.

[Shakir]  And  accomplish  the  pilgrimage
and the visit for Allah.
[Yusuf Ali] And complete the Hajj or 'umra
in the service of Allah.  
[Pickthal]  Perform  the  pilgrimage  and  the
visit (to Makka) for Allah.  
[Al-Hilali]    And  perform  properly  (i.e.  all
the  ceremonies  according  to  the  ways  of
Prophet  Muhammad  (SAW),  the  Hajj  and
'Umrah  (i.e.  the  pilgrimage  to  Makkah)  for
[Arberry]  Fulfil  the  Pilgrimage  and  the
Visitation unto God.

Considering the next term ‘Zakât', as table 4
shows,  Tr4  has  used  the  procedure
borrowing  while  other  translators  have
resorted to literal translation.

[Shakir]  And  keep  up  prayer  and  pay  the
poor-rate  and  bow  down  with  those  who
bow down.
[Yusuf  Ali]  And  be  steadfast  in  prayer;
practise  regular  charity;  and  bow  down
your  heads  with  those  who  bow  down  (in
[Pickthal] Establish worship, pay the  poor-due,  and  bow  your  heads  with  those  who
bow (in worship).
[Al-Hilali]   And  perform  As-Salât  (Iqâmat-as-Salât), and give Zakât, and Irka' (i.e. bow
down  or  submit  yourselves  with  obedience
to Allâh) along with ArRaki'ûn. 
[Arberry] And perform the prayer, and pay
the alms, and bow with those that bow.

[Shakir] And know that whatever thing you
gain,  a  fifth  of  it  is  for  Allah  and  for  the
Messenger  and  for  the  near  of  kin  and  the
orphans  and  the  needy  and  the  wayfarer,  
[Yusuf  Ali]  And  know  that  out  of  all  the
booty  that  ye  may  acquire  (in  war),  a  fifth
share  is  assigned  to  Allah,-  and  to  the
Messenger,  and  to  near  relatives,  orphans,
the  needy,  and  the  wayfarer.
[Pickthal]  And  know  that  whatever  ye  take
as  spoils  of  war,  lo!  a  fifth  thereof  is  for
Allah,  and  for  the  messenger  and  for  the
kinsman  (who  hath  need)  and  orphans  and
the needy and the wayfarer.
[Al-Hilali]  And know that whatever of war-booty  that  you  may  gain,  verily  one-fifth
(1/5th)  of  it  is  assigned  to  Allâh,  and  to  the
Messenger,  and  to  the  near  relatives  [of  the
Messenger  (Muhammad  SAW)],  (and  also)
the  orphans,  Al-Masâkin  (the  poor)  and  the
[Arberry]  Know  that,  whatever  booty  you
take,  the  fifth  of  it  is  God's,  and  the
Messenger's, and the near kinsman's, and the
orphans', and for the needy, and the traveler.

For translating the term ‘Jihad', arguably one
of the most important culture-bound terms in
the Holy Qur’an, all  the  translators  have
used  literal  translation  except  for  Tr4  who
has prefereed has used addition.

[Shakir]  Say:  If  your  fathers  and  your  sons
and  your  brethren  and  your  mates  and  your
kinsfolk  and  property  which  you  have
acquired,  and  the  slackness  of  trade  which
you  fear  and  dwellings  which  you  like,  are
dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger
and striving in His way, then wait till Allah
brings about His command:
[Yusuf  Ali]  Say:  If  it  be  that  your  fathers,
your  sons,  your  brothers,  your  mates,  or
your  kindred;  the  wealth  that  ye  have
gained;  the  commerce  in  which  ye  fear  a
decline: or the dwellings in which ye delight
-  are  dearer  to  you  than  Allah,  or  His
Messenger,  or  the  striving  in  His  cause;-
then  wait  until  Allah  brings  about  His
[Pickthal]  Say:  If  your  fathers,  and  your
sons, and your brethren, and your wives, and
your tribe, and the wealth ye have acquired,
and merchandise for which ye fear that there
will  no  sale,  and  dwellings  ye  desire  are
dearer to  you than Allah and His messenger
and striving in His way: then wait till Allah
bringeth His command to pass.
[Al-Hilali]  Say:  If  your  fathers,  your  sons,
your brothers, your wives, your kindred, the
wealth  that  you  have  gained,  the  commerce
in  which  you  fear  a  decline,  and  the
dwellings in which you delight … are dearer
to  you  than  Allâh  and  His  Messenger,  and
striving  hard  and  fighting  in  His  Cause[],
then  wait  until  Allâh  brings  about  His
Decision (torment).  
[Arberry]  say: “if your fathers, your sons,
your  brothers,  your  wives,  your  clan,  your
possessions that you have gained, commerce
you fear may slacken, dwellings you love- if
these  are  dearer  to  you  than  Godand  His
Messenger, and to struggle in his way, then
wait till God brings His command.

In the case of the terms ‘Amr-Bil-Ma’ruf’
and  ‘Nahi-Anil-Munkar’,  occuring  in  the
verse  below,  as  table  7  shows,  all  the
translators  but  Tr4  who  has  employed
addition  ,  have  used  the  procedure  of  literal

[Shakir]  They  who  turn  (to  Allah),  who
serve  (Him),  who  praise  (Him),  who  fast,
who  bow  down,  who  prostrate  themselves,
who  enjoin  what  is  good  and  forbid  what
is evil, and who keep the limits of Allah; and
give  good  news  to  the  believers.
[Yusuf  Ali]  Those  that  turn  (to  Allah)  in
repentance; that serve Him, and praise Him;
that  wander  in  devotion  to  the  cause  of
Allah,:  that  bow  down  and  prostrate
themselves  in  prayer;  that  enjoin  good  and
forbid  evil;  and  observe  the  limit  set  by
Allah;-  (These  do  rejoice).  So  proclaim  the
glad  tidings  to  the  Believers.
[Pickthal]  (Triumphant)  are  those  who  turn
repentant (to Allah), those who serve (Him),
those  who  praise  (Him),  those  who  fast,
those  who  bow  down,  those  who  fall
prostrate (in worship), those who enjoin the
right  and  who  forbid  the  wrong  and  those
who  keep  the  limits  (ordained)  of  Allah  -
And give glad tidings to believers!
[Al-Hilali] (The believers whose lives Allâh
has  purchased  are)  those  who  repent  to
Allâh (from polytheism and hypocrisy, etc.),
who  worship  Him,  who  praise  Him,  who
fast  (or  go  out  in  Allâh's  Cause),  who  bow
down  (in  prayer),  who  prostrate  themselves
(in  prayer),  who  enjoin  (people)  for  Al-Ma'rûf  (i.e.  Islâmic  Monotheism  and  all
what  Islâm  has  ordained)  and  forbid
(people)  from  Al-Munkar  (i.e.  disbelief,
polytheism  of  all  kinds  and  all  that  Islâm
has forbidden), and who observe the limits
set  by  Allâh  (do  all  that  Allâh  has  ordained
and  abstain  from  all  kinds  of  sins  and  evil
deeds which Allâh has forbidden). And give
glad tidings to the believers.

[Arberry]  Those  who  repent,  those  who
serve,  those  who  pray,  those  who  journey,
those  who  bow,  those  who  prostrate
themselves, those who bid to honour and
forbid  dishonour,  those  who  keep  God's
hounds  --  and  give  thou  good  tidings  to  the

Regarding  the  term  ‘tawalla’,  as  table  8
shows,  all  the  translators  have  used  literal
translation as their translation procedure.

[Shakir]  O  you  who  believe!  do  not  make
friends  with  a  people  with  whom  Allah  is
wroth;  indeed  they  despair  of  the  hereafter
as the unbelievers despair of those in tombs.
[Yusuf  Ali]  O  ye  who  believe!  Turn  not
(for  friendship)  to  people  on  whom  is  the
Wrath  of  Allah,  of  the  Hereafter  they  are
already  in  despair,  just  as  the  Unbelievers
are in despair about those (buried) in graves.
[Pickthal]  O  ye  who  believe!  Be  not
friendly  with  a  folk  with  whom  Allah  is
wroth,  (a  folk)  who  have  despaired  of  the
Hereafter as the disbelievers despair of those
who are in the graves.
[Al-Hilali] O you who believe! Take not as
friends  the  people  who  incurred  the  Wrath
of  Allâh  (i.e.  the  Jews).  Surely,  they  have
been  in  despair  to  receive  any  good  in  the
Hereafter, just as the disbelievers have been
in  despair  about  those  (buried)  in  graves
(that they will not be resurrected on the Day
of Resurrection).
[Arberry] O believers, take not for friends
a people against whom God is wrathful, and
who  have  despaired  of  the  world  to  come,
even  as  the  unbelievers  have  despaired  of
the inhabitants of the tombs.

[Shakir]  When  those  who  were  followed
shall  renounce  those  who  followed  (them),
and  they  see  the  chastisement  and  their  ties
are cut asunder.
[Yusuf  Ali]  Then  would  those  who  are
followed  clear  themselves  of  those  who
follow  (them):  They  would  see  the  penalty,
and all relations between them would be cut
[Pickthal]  (On  the  day)  when  those  who
were  followed  disown  those  who  followed
(them),  and  they  behold  the  doom,  and  all
their aims collapse with them.
[Al-Hilali] When those  who were followed,
disown  (declare  themselves  innocent  of)
those who followed (them), and they see the
torment,  then  all  their  relations  will  be  cut
off from them.
[Arberry]  when  those  that  were  followed
disown  their  followers,  and  they  see  the
chastisement, and their cords are cut asunder
when  those  that  were  followed  disown  their
followers,  and  they  see  the  chastisement,
and their cords are cut asunder.
Every act of translation involves at least two
languages  and  two  cultures;  hence,  the
proper translation of cultural items is one of
the  most  important  aspects  of  translation  to
which  due  attention  must  be  paid.
Translators have to find the most appropriate
procedures  to  successfully  convey  these
aspects  in  the  target  language.  Of  course,
this success is bound to be always relative.  
Based  on  the  analysis  of  the  translation  of
the terms related to Practical laws of religion
(Furū al-Dīn)  in the Holy Qur’an, three out
of  seven  (of  the  above  procedures)  were
observed  to  be  used  by  the  selected
translators.  These  procedures  are  displayed
in table 10 below in order of their frequency.
As  table  10  shows,  the  procedures  of  literal
translation, borrowing and addition are most
frequently used by the above translators; the
procedures  of  definition,  omission,
substitution  and  lexical  creation  have  no
occurrence in the translations of the selected
materials.  It  seems  that  according  to  the
translators  whose  work  has  been  considered
in  this  study,  literal  translation  is  the  most
appropriate  procedure  in  translating  such
culture-bound  terms.  As  such,  the  findings
of the present study are in line with those of

Ivir  (1987)  who  believes  that  literal
translation  is  the  most  common  method  of
cultural transference and spread of influence
from  one  culture  into  another.  He  also
asserts that "the main value of this procedure
is  its  faithfulness  to  the  source  language
expressions and its transparency in the target
language" (p.41). Since faithfulness is one of
the  most  important  factors  in  the  translation
of  religious  texts,  and  the  Holy  Qur'an  in
particular,  the  appropriateness  of  this
procedure  for  the  translation  of  culture-bound terms of the Holy Qur'an is evident.
One  more  point  in  this  regard  is  the
influence  of  ideological  leanings  of
translators and interpretive tendencies of the
religious orders to which they belong on the
selection  of  translation  procedures.  For
instance,  Tr4  (Al-Hilali  &  Muhsin  Khan)
with  their  Salafi  persuasion  (which  tends  to
have a literal interpretation of the Qur’an)
have  used  literal  translation,  borrowing  and
addition  most  frequently.  Tr5  (Arberry),  a
non-Muslim  translator,  has  not  used
borrowing or addition at all. His emphasis is
basically  on  the  general  sense  of  terms
whereas  Muslim  translators  seem  to  be
keener on shades of  meaning or interpretive
nuances,  especially  if  the  translators  have
more  literalist  tendencies  in  their  religious
Another point to be taken into consideration
is  that  a  uniform  treatment  of  elements  of
culture  in  translation  is  not  possible.  The
translators  of  such  items  have  to  choose
from  among  the  possible  procedures  by
considering the nature of the cultural term to
be  translated  and  the  nature  of  the
communicative process in which it appears.

As  a  final  comment  on  the  appropriateness
of the procedures used  for the translation of
the  selected  material  (see  Appendix  for  the
summary), we quote the statements made by
Ivir (1987) in this regard. As he puts it,  
For  the  translator  there  is  a  hierarchy  of
options  or  an  order  of  preference  with
respect  to  the  translation  procedures.  He
knows  that  borrowing,  lexical  creation,
literal  translation  and  definition  (in  that
order)  will  explicitly  draw  the  receiver’s
attention  to  the  specific  source-culture
content, while substitution and omission will
mask  it;  addition  makes  explicit  the
information  that  was  unexpressed  yet
implicit  in  the  source  text  .  .  .  (p.47)

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