The Birds in the Air

Surah al-Mulk 67:19

Pickthall Yusufali Shakir Sher Ali
Have they not seen the birds above them spreading out their wings and closing them? Naught upholdeth them save the Beneficent. Lo! He is Seer of all things. Do they not observe the birds above them, spreading their wings and folding them in? None can uphold them except (God) Most Gracious: Truly it is He that watches over all things. Have they not seen the birds above them expanding (their wings) and contracting (them)? What is it that withholds them save the Beneficent God? Surely He sees everything. Do they not see the birds above them, spreading out their wings in flight and then drawing them in to swoop down upon the prey? None withholds them but the Gracious God, HE sees all things well.
Rashad Khalifa Irving M. Sarwar Hilali/Khan
Have they not seen the birds above them lined up in columns and spreading their wings? The Most Gracious is the One who holds them in the air. He is Seer of all things. Have they not watched the birds flapping [their wings] in rows above them? What holds them up except the Mercy-giving? He is Observant of everything. Did they not see the birds above them, stretching out, and flapping their wings. No one keeps them up in the sky except the Beneficent God. He certainly watches over all things. Do they not see the birds above them, spreading out their wings and folding them in? None upholds them except the Most Beneficent (All‚h). Verily, He is the All-Seer of everything.

I am not sure what was the reason for individual translator to produce such different translations in regard to this verse. For some it might partly be the attempt to avoid a certain scientific problem.

Comments on the translatations:

An Arabic friend told me that in his opinion Pickthall is the most accurate translation of the above. Therefore I will compare the other translations with his.

Shakir and Irving make the second sentence a question, which is less problematic than a plain statement. One could theoretically answer the question by "the air".

Shakir and Sher Ali translate "withhold" instead of uphold. This might be correct technically, but it is clearly meant "withhold from falling down on the earth" and "uphold" is the clear meaning of it. "Withhold" obscures the meaning.

Yusuf Ali, Khalifa, Sher Ali and Muhammad Sarwar translate "none" or "no one" instead of "nothing", thus personalize the statement and since there is no other person (air is not a person) taking some force out of the statement and making it less dangerous as well. Khalifa again translates positive instead of negative and avoids the problem that way.

Without relation to the scientific problem, we might ask also for the basis allowing Sher Ali to add "to swoop down upon the prey"? How come that Irving translates "in rows above them" where all others have "closing/folding their wings"? [Khalifa: lined up in columns - but who has ever seen birds fly in columns?] Why has Irving only one verb while all others have two in the first sentence?


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