The Islamic “N” Word;
What Does It Exactly Mean?
By Abdullah Al Araby
Those who master the Arabic language, and who have read the Quran in the original
Arabic, are usually stunned when they read it translated into a foreign language.
They can’t help but notice that there are numerous discrepancies between
the original Arabic and the translation. Careful examinations would lead one to
discern that these are not merely routine human errors. Analytical thinking uncovers
the reality that the discrepancies are part of a deliberate, intentional plot
to deceive. The translator‘s objective is to distract the foreign readers
and prospective converts from the cruelties and prejudices of the Quran.
Certain words, concepts and phrases in the original Arabic Quran sound strange
to foreign readers. Arabic speaking Muslims have become accustomed to them. However,
when one attempts accurate literal translation of these, the result is rather
shocking. You will have in hand a book that contains strange expressions and vulgar
language. What was supposed to be a “holy” book would become X-rated,
unsuitable for family-oriented use and children reading material.
Muslim translators facing this dilemma, found themselves in a position demanding
meticulous cleverness. It would take a lot of patching and polishing to make their
translations of the Quran read as a “holy” book should.. Their aim
was to present the outside world a version of the Quran that would attract people
to Islam rather than repel them from it.
The intentional mistranslation of the Quran is a massive subject that needs
to be explored and dealt with in a separate thesis. For the purpose of this article
we will give just a few examples before zeroing in on the topic of this article.
In Sura 112:1
"Say: He is Allah, the One and Only..”. In
the original Arabic, the word which was translated "Only" in
this verse was actually "One of." The translator
couldn't literarily translate it, because it would have implied "shirk"
(associating other Deities with Allah).
In Sura 33:056
“Allah and His angels send blessings on the Prophet: O ye that believe!
Send ye blessings on him, and salute him with all respect.”
The phrase “send blessings” was originally “pray upon”.
The translator didn’t think it is appropriate to say that God and His Angels
would pray upon (inferring praying to) the prophet Mohamed, so he had to
change it to “send blessings.”
This is an example of the difficulty translators sometimes face when trying
to literarily translate the Quran, and how they have to deviate from the original
text to present something that makes sense. We are not trying to say here that
Muslims believe that God or Muslims pray to Mohammed.
In Sura 24: 30, & 31
“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard
their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And
Allah is well acquainted with all that they do…… And say to the believing
women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty….”;
”The phrase “their modesty” was originally a word which means
the specific private parts of a man or a woman. The translator didn’t think
it is appropriate to literarily translate the word.
In Sura 4:34
“As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct,
admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat
them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them
Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).”
This verse actually gives a husband the right to beat his wife if he deems
her disobedient. The translator attempted to reduce the shocking effect of such
teaching and substituted his own inventions. First, he introduced the concept
that the discipline progresses in stages; (first, next, and last). The stages
do not exist in the original Arabic. The verse in its original form implies that
a husband can choose one or all of three responses, if he thinks his wife is disobedient.
The stages are the product of the translator’s devious imagination. Even
his terminology about the degree of severity permitted in beating a wife is also
deceptive. The qualifying word lightly does not exist in the original Arabic
Quran. His plot was to soften and qualify the concept of beating one’s wife
by adding in the word lightly. The Arabic Quran says “beat them,”
Another word in the list of serious intentional mistranslation is the Arabic
word “Nikah.” The word has been translated as “marriage.”
But those who understand Arabic know that this is not the exact meaning of the
word. There is another word that is normally translated as marriage, and correctly
so. It is the Arabic word “Zawag.” It is also mentioned in the Quran,
as in the following verses:
“Then when Zaid had dissolved (his marriage) with her, with the necessary
(formality), We joined her in marriage to thee: in order that (in
future) there may be no difficulty to the Believers in (the matter of) marriage
with the wives of their adopted sons, when the latter have dissolved with the
necessary (formality) (their marriage) with them. And Allah's command must be
fulfilled.” Sura 33: 37
The Arabic word “Nikah” is also translated as “marriage"
in many other verses in the Quran as in the following:
“If ye fear that ye shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans,
Marry women of your choice, Two or three or four” Sura
“Let no man guilty of adultery or fornication marry
and but a woman similarly guilty, or an Unbeliever: nor let any but such a man
or an Unbeliever marry such a woman: to the Believers such a thing is forbidden.”
Sura 24: 3
“And when ye ask (Mohammed’s wives) for anything ye want, ask
them from before a screen: that makes for greater purity for your hearts and for
theirs. Nor is it right for you that ye should annoy Allah's Messenger, or that
ye should marry his widows after him at any time. Truly such a thing
is in Allah's sight an enormity.” Sura 33: 53
Other verses where this word is also used are:
Sura 2: 221, 230, 232, 235 & 237; Sura 4: 6, 22 ,25 & 127; Sura 24:3,
27, 32, 33, 60 & 127; Sura 33: 49 & 50
The meaning of “Nikah”
What exactly does “Nikah” mean? The word Nikah doesn’t exactly
mean “Marriage.” Let’s explore what the word means from the
classical Islamic reference books according to the opinion of recognized Islamic
From: Dictionary of the Quranic phrases and its meaning; Sheik
Mousa Ben Mohammed Al Kaleeby, Cairo, Maktabat Al Adab, 2002
The definition of “Nikah” is the penetration of one thing by another.
Examples would be as in saying the seed (N) the soil or sleep (N) the eye. It
also can mean the entwining of two objects one with the other. An example would
be saying the trees (N) each other, meaning they entwined with one another.
From: Kitab (Book of) Al Nikah. Commentary of Imam Ahmed Ben Ali
Ben Hagar Al Askalani, Beirut, Dar Al Balagha, 1986
Linguistically, “Nikah” means embracing or penetrating. When it
is pronounced “Nokh” it refers to a woman’s vagina. It is mainly
used in the context of “sexual intercourse.” When it was used in reference
to marriage it is because sex is a necessity in marriage. Al Fassi said,”If
someone says a certain man (N) a certain woman, it means he married her, and if
he says a man (N) his wife, it means he has sexual intercourse with her.”
The word can also be used metaphorically as with expressions: the rain (N) the
ground, or, the sleep (N) the eyes, or, the seed (N) the soil, or, the pebble
(N) the camel’s hoof. When it was used in the context of marriage it is
because sexual intercourse is the purpose of marriage. It is necessary in marriage
to “taste the honey” (an Islamic expression meaning literal intercourse).
This is the how the word has generally been used in the Quran except in the verse
that says, “Make trial of orphans until they reach the age of (N)”
Sura 4: 6. In that instance it pertains to the age of puberty. The Shafia and
Hanafi schools of jurisprudence assert that the word nikah when used as
a fact conveys that sexual intercourse has occurred. And when used as a figure
of speech it denotes marriage. The reason for this variance is because it is offensive
to mention the word “intercourse,” so a metonymic word is used to
There is a word in Arabic that correctly translates “marriage.”
It is “zawag.” However, “Nikah, the (N) word,” which is
more commonly used in translations of the Quran to mean marriage, carries entirely
different implications. “Nikah” implies that the emphasis in the relationship
between a man and his wife solely sexual. This degrades marriage. It is another
proof about how Islam looks down on marriage and the role women play in it. It
enforces the Islamic concept that a wife's primary role in Islam is that of a
sex object, created to satisfy the husband’s sexual appetites. On the other
hand, marriage in the Christian tradition is a union between a husband and his
wife based on mutual love, respect and equality. It is two people of the opposite
sex becoming one, not just for sex, but to be the nucleus for a family that shares
ALL of life’s challenges. While sex is an important part of marriage, it
is tragic to consider it primary. Marriage is a life-long relationship that supposed
to lovingly endure beyond the perimeters of sex.
“And, Allah knows best,” as the Muslims would say.
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