Quranic Arabic : O you who have believed

Discussion in 'العربية (Arabic)' started by Sujon, Feb 9, 2013.

  1. Sujon Junior Member

    A frequently used Quranic phrase is يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا , which is translated as "O you who have believed" [see any good English translation].

    The phrase addresses to "You" (2nd person), but the verb "Aamanuu" is 3rd person (they believed). The Arabic does not say "Amantum" (you believed).

    Is this a problem with English translation ? In English "O them..." sounds strange. But is it normal is Arabic ?
  2. إسكندراني

    إسكندراني Senior Member

    أرض الأنجل
    عربي (مصر)ـ | en (gb)
    I think your issue is with الذين. I've never encountered something like الذين قلتم it's always الذين قالوا
    If we take a sentence like
    هم الذين قلتم أنهم صدقوا
    Then the الذين is not referring to 'you' any more, rather it now refers to 'they'.
    I do not know the formal grammatical rules for الذي but I hope someone else here does.
  3. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    الَّذِينَ requires a verb in the 3d person plural. You could translate literally: "Oh those who believed", but in English you need to use the 2nd person when you are addressing someone.
  4. إسكندراني

    إسكندراني Senior Member

    أرض الأنجل
    عربي (مصر)ـ | en (gb)
    If I may just contradict myself then to ask you, fdb; is it not right to say أنتم الذين قلتم كذا ?
    Maybe this 3rd person rule is only applicable when الذي is preceded by يا أيها ?
  5. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    Yes, you are right. Let us say that الَّذِينَ requires a verb in 3rd plural unless it is explicitly preceded by a pronoun in the 1st or 2nd person. Is that better?
  6. Tracer

    Tracer Senior Member

    Wadi Jinn
    American English
    A small note: although the verb آمَنُوا appears in the "past tense", this phrase and others like it are almost always translated (into English) in the "present tense":
    "Oh you who believe....." (The "you" here is 2nd person, but of course, it's 2nd person plural, not singular....."vous", not "tu").

    There is a formal explanation for this which I used to know but no longer do.

  7. fdb Senior Member

    Cambridge, UK
    French (France)
    There is no good linguistic reason to translate it as present tense in English, though there might be a theological/exegetical justification: they believed in the past (and, by implication, still believe now).
  8. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    Sujon, gratitude is due to you for asking this very interesting question and to fdb for answering it. I have to confess that this fine point never occurred to me!
  9. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    I am not sure fdb, if this is true. I think there is a linguistic explanation for this although I'll have to give this matter some thought and/or search for an answer in one of the grammar books. Forum friends might find this interesting but this concept of past for present does occur in Urdu and Persian too.

    Arabic: fahimta? na3m, fahimtu... Do you understand? Yes, I understand.

    Persian: fahmiidii? bale, fahmiidam.

    Urdu: samjaa? haaN, samjhaa.

    In fact, in English one can say, informally...Understood? Yes, I understand.
  10. Sujon Junior Member

    Nice discussion, and I have learnt a lot from all of you. Thank you.

    As for using past tense verbs to mean the present, I think those languages that have Present Perfect Tense have an advantage over Arabic. Present Perfect tells us that the action is already done, but the consequence of the action is still present and fresh. I get a feeling that in the phrase we are discussing, Aamanuu is kind of like Present Perfect. It talks about them who already accepted the faith in Islam, but the consequence / effect / follow-up is eternally present.

    I would say the phrase means, "O those who have believed".
  11. Tracer

    Tracer Senior Member

    Wadi Jinn
    American English
    If you check any of the celebrated and accepted translations of the Koran, you will find that the phrase يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا is always translated in the present: "Oh you who believe".

    One of the most widely used Quranic scholarly sites does so.

    Check 8-15-1 here: http://corpus.quran.com/wordbyword.jsp?chapter=8&verse=15

    Check 8-20-1 here: http://corpus.quran.com/wordbyword.jsp?chapter=8&verse=19

    Check Yusuf Ali....same Sura (8) as above, same lines (15-1 and 20-1): http://www.searchtruth.com/chapter_display.php?chapter=8&translator=2&mac=

    (Arberry avoids the problem by saying : "Oh Believers" turning the verb into a noun.)

    The "present perfect" tense is much more complicated in English than simply saying it is used when something happened in the past and is still going on.

    In this particular case, it partly has to do with the verb "believe". As I said, there's a legitimate and scholastically accepted explanation why the "present" is used in English for this phrase. Hopefully, someone will let us know.

    Finally, let me say this: A native English speaker, with no Arabic or Islamic background, who reads the phrase: "Oh those who have believed" would almost certainly assume that those who have believed no longer do so. The emphasis definitely favors "the past", in this case.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2013
  12. Sujon Junior Member

    Actually, the Saheeh International translation uses "O you who have believed". See for example verse [49:1]. This translation is done by three American Muslim revert women - Amatullah J. Bantley, Aminah Assami and Mary M. Kennedy. This translation is gaining popularity.

    But, yes, most other translators uses "believe".

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