“But I did it today: I raised my hand.”

I wouldn’t have been able to do this 1.5 years ago.

In my translation class today – one I’m only auditing, but ironically, enjoying more than the rest of the major-related classes I’m formally enrolled in – the topic was about the translation of sacred and religious texts; how this affects the function of language in general, and the discord, if any, between surface (form) and deep core (meaning). In favoring one over the other, how much is lost going from the native, original language to its parallel counterpart, the translated language? Which language should the scale lean heavier towards in an attempt at preservation of form and context?

Appropriately, the required reading for today’s class was about the translation of the Bible. Naturally, just before class ended, the professor opened up the floor, as usual, for discussions and exchange of personal experiences. Several students raised their hands to share their first experiences in learning the bible, specifically to narrow upon the significance of language, translated and interpreted, in shaping those experiences. I hesitated in raising my hand, outing myself as a disciple of another holy book, the Qur’an, because the connotation is obvious. Being Muslim today… isn’t something that’s easily digested by the world – not even by the best of people, as I’ve encountered time and again. I don’t hide who I am sure, but I don’t necessarily make it openly known either. Also true, that while I discuss and talk about religion often with my close friends, it’s always to those with background knowledge about myself and or the religion.

But I did it today: I raised my hand.

“I’m Muslim,” was the first thing that came out of my mouth, though not the one I had in mind, “so I don’t read the Bible, but for the Qur’an, I don’t know Arabic so I rely on translated versions and the way I do it is to ‘feel’ for the different translations out there to find which one ‘fits’ me best. The way we learn, is to then back it up with another book, a book of interpretations.” In Arabic this is called tafsir. “And that’s the one where we’ll able to find interpretations using contemporary language, to put it into context for us in present-day. We also have the hadith, which is a collection of the Prophet’s deeds and practices, so that if the theories still confound us – we have practical examples to refer to, too.” 

The professor smiled warmly and responded with a casual albeit out-of-place – given that the class is all about sharing personal experiences and opinions – thank you. I gave a small nod, though my heart swelled; a small triumph. The first thing that came to my mind was that I wouldn’t have been able to do this three years ago. No, forget three. I wouldn’t have been able to do this 1.5 years ago. I wouldn’t have been able to raise my hand in class to speak openly about being Muslim, effectively and automatically associating myself to the religion that is so often sensationalized and taken out-of-context these day, to a group of classmates who aren’t even acquaintances.

I like to think that I’ve come a long way.

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