Jumaat, April 15, 2016

Interpolation and ambiguity in manuscript reading

We are reading this book during islamic Political Thought and Institution. On the left is in English, translated by FRC Bagley from the Persian text edited by Jalal al-Huma'i and the Bodleian Arabic text edited by HD Isaacs. It means Bagley using two version of text as comparison - in Persian and in Arabic. It is PDF version that can easily found through internet.

On the right is Malay version translated from Arabic into Malay, one of good work by renowned Malay scholars, Dr Jelani Harun. His PhD at SOAS is on Raniri's Bustan al-Salatin. While completing his thesis, he found one manuscript at SOAS (M4636) which talk almost the same topic and he did the transliteration then.

The book has the same meaning - Nasihat al-Muluk by Hujjah al-Balighah Imam al-Ghazali. In English, Bagley add another name - Counsel for Kings while Jelani's Nasihat Kepada Raja-Raja. Both convey the message of the book - a mirror for princess or an advise to the princess or leader.

While reading English version, we found very strange part that make me initially confused with the originality of the text. Then we make assumption that because the text originally from manuscript, then there will be many different version. This is what we called interpolation - additional words put into the text after the demise of the original writer or added by the scribers and copier. This is why manuscript reading is the most challenging part because you have to know which is the original text, which is copied from what, different version of writing, variation in reading and consistency of the text itself.

I found Malay version very difficult to read. Maybe because it is a translation version and the translator (unknown translator of the text) eventhough did good job in translating the book, maybe because of the Arabic text, he strictly follow the form and style of Arabic language, thus make the translation weird and difficult to understand. On some part, the transliterator mistakenly spelled or guess the word, thus make the sentence strange and hard to understand when comparing with Arabic and English text. In some aspect we may thing that why many ambiguity arises here. Yeah, that is the beauty of manuscript research, not the weakness or the text or the writer. When you do manuscript work, this is the challenge that you have to encounter with. Nobody to be blame. It is about time and technology.

In Bagley's version, we found additional pages that does not exist in Arabic text. On page 162-167 on chapter VII 'On Women and their Good and Bad Points' there were anecdotes and aphorism that insulting women . How come Imam al-Ghazali wrote something that hurts the women? Totally strange, right? Let me copy some text to prove.

On page 162:
Ahqaf ibn Qays has said: 'If you want women to like you, satisfy them sexually and treat them tenderly.'

On page 163:
A teacher was teaching girls how to write. A sage passed by and said, 'This teacher is teachinh wickedness to the wicked.'

The rest are too long to type :)

Page 162 and 163 of Counsel of the King

What can we learn from this? When doing manuscript reading, we need to take extra careful. There are many things that may cause the text is totally different from the original version and totally varied from the actual writing. We need to check with many versions of text that we can found at that moment of time, if possible. When I am editing a thesis yet to published by Dr Anuar Mamat on Ta'lim al-Muta'allim by Imam Abu Hanifah, he make comparison with 10 version of manuscripts and 2 published text, which give him variation of writing, though the difference is not very wide. Another point is, do not accept 100% work by the Orientalist! Go and find the original source in that original language. In this case, in Arabic and Persian. Remember, the Orientalist study very hard to understand our culture and religion by mastering the language first, then they read the manuscript. But don't accept them just like that, just because they did the job (so-called well job). We are the one that totally responsible to our culture and religion, not them.

This is the beauty of learning that I like most in CASIS. We have to dig and study by our own self, don't let other people do your job!

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