Translation in the Arab civilization: the beginnings and the trajectory

Category: History          Written by: Daqeeq          Date: 20 Oct 2021
Daqeeq says….


Translation in the Arab civilization: the beginnings and the trajectory



We can cite countless examples of cases when translators and interpreters played a focal point in the evolution of the Arab civilization dating back to pre-Islamic times.
According to scholar Hussein Abdo Rababah from Al-Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University (2015), the Arab nation in the times preceding the advent of Islam was divided in terms of loyalty between the two super powers at the time, the Roman in the West and the Persians in the East. Any communications with these powers or their representatives needed some form of translation.
The Arabs of Mecca, which gained later an unprecedented importance as the spiritual capital of the expanding Arab state, used to travel to Syria in the summer, and Yemen in the winter for trade, and they needed a translation service when dealing with non-Arab vendors and customers.
The history of translation in the Arab world, as an area lying at the heart of the world and serving as a bridge between regions and cultures, is a point in case signifying the importance of this profession across history. It is a story of the transfer of knowledge and communication, the very two factors that lead to universal prosperity and world peace.
The earliest records of Arabic translation efforts date back to the second century AD, at the hands of Syrians, basically the works of Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle.
Summing up his research, Rababah says the Arab translators’ contribution to the world civilization has been done through transferring from a wide variety of resources, including China, India in the East, and Greece, the Roman empire in the west into the melting pot of rising Islamic state during the apex of the Arab-Islamic civilization, while professional translators helped transfer the accumulating Arab achievements in the world of knowledge into Europe, which was shedding off the traces of the dark ages in the medieval age.
Moreover, there is “evidence that the transfer was not limited to sciences such as chemistry, astronomy, and botany among other branches of science. It has rather extended to include arts and literature; Arab translators have translated fiction and stories from India and East Asia to Europe and the West.”
The historical stages can be divided into seven, starting with the pre-Islamic era, the dawn of Islam, the Umayyad and early Abbasid era, including the Islamic presence in Spain, the reverse translation movement from Arabic into European languages in the medieval ages, and the Arab renaissance era, leading to modern times.


The drive behind the interest in translation during the era of Prophet Mohammad, mainly between AD620-632, was linked to his mission to spread the message of Islam, so he was helped by people like Zaid bin Thabet when he wanted to communicate the word of Allah to the leaders of other sects, such as the Jews and nations, mainly the Persians and the Byzantines.
With the expansion of the Islamic state during the Umayyad era, the significance of the translation and interpretation profession increased, but its golden era was the first Abbasid age, when Baitul-Hikma was established with a huge mandate and generous funds to transfer the knowledge of the previous empires into Arabic.
With decline of the Ottoman empire in the 19th century and the rise of the Arab identity, translation was at the heart of the so-called Arab renaissance, led by scholars such Rafa’a Al-Tahtawi, Ahmad Fares Al-Shidyaq, Butrus Al-Bustani and others.
Modern-time translation activity in the Arab world, according to scholars, might have increased in quantity but it is facing challenges related to consistency, quality and lack of cooperation.
However, a combination of machine translation and human-talent intervention, like the work of Daqeeq, is likely to accelerate the process, ensure consistency and take the industry into a whole new level.

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