Quality Work: How Important It Is

Why the Muslim Ummah, the Muslim community worldwide, is intellectually backward? This question always disturbs me. I always pondered why the efforts that went in so far did not yield the desired result or why the outcome is not up to the expectation. My friend Dr. Ahmad Totonji, one of the founders of Muslim Students Association, US in the early sixties, addressing a select gathering in Dhaka in 1997 of such people who are working for social change remarked: I am happy to see the vast gathering of such people who intend to bring a social change in Bangladesh but I must caution that your efforts will not bear fruits unless you do things in a sophisticated and refined way, do things in an articulate, coherent and communicative manner. You have to converse in such a way and use such language that the receiving end understands your words and logic. You have to persuade your opponents, who are not necessarily your enemies, by your presentation and convincing arguments. What you have done is an excellent job. You could bring together such a huge force but that alone will not help achieve your objective unless you improve the quality of the workforce. It is not the numbers that bring change but the quality of the people, their sincerity and dedication.

Dr. Totonji emphasized on doing things in perfect and excellent manner. He called upon the assembled people to attain competence and efficiency and warned that unless they accomplish excellence all their efforts will become meaningless. In support of his statement he quoted from the Quran and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him.

Prophet Muhammad emphasized the importance of doing things in excellent manner. He said: Surely Allah is pleased when one of you carryout a task, he perfects it (Baihaqi). [Quoted in Priorities of the Islamic Movement in the Coming Phase by Professor Dr. Yusuf al Qaradawi p80. Awakening Publications, UK.2000].  Prophet is reported to have said: Verily Allah has prescribed proficiency in all things (Muslim) [Quoted in An Nawawis’s Forty Hadith. Hadith No. 17. p64. Translated by Ezzedin Ibrahim & Denys Johnson-Davies. The Holy Quran Publishing House, Damascus. 1977]. Al Quran states: Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves [13 (Surat Al Rad): 11].

The writer of this article has been working in the cultural arena for the last 45 years and I am convinced that at least in the cultural field the quality of work has not much improved. During the last 10 years I got involved with the publication of two important books of eminent Arab scholars who are known throughout the world for their academic excellence – namely Prof. Dr. Ismail Raji al Faruqi and Prof. Dr. Yusuf al Qaradawi. Getting books translated into Bangla is indeed difficult. Our journalists, at least some of them, are in haste in their translation as if translation of a news item and translation of a literary work is the same thing.

Again getting such translation edited is difficult for the original translator thinks that what he has done is superb and it cannot be further improved on the one hand and the editors are also reluctant to give enough time to carefully edit on the other hand.

It is unfortunately true that the translators and editors in Bangladesh are not paid sufficient honorarium for their job but it is also equally true that because of the bad cultural practice that has developed, it has now become almost impossible to get proper service from the translators and editors by those who are ready to pay sufficient honorarium.

During September - November 2003 this writer had to visit a printing press in Dhaka city several times to supervise the production of a book. I was astonished to see the title and the content of the book that was printed in the press. Books in Bangladesh are now being written by such persons who have no authority on the subject they are dwelling on. It so happens that someone reads a book on certain subject published outside Bangladesh and then he rewrites the same book, adds here and there and produces a book in his name. Then another person reads this locally produced book and again rewrites it, adds here and there and thus produces a new book in his name, so on and so forth. Thus second and third rate substandard books are being produced.

The readers will never get from such plagiarized books the sprit and flavor of the original books. Such books are likely to misguide the readers and will in no way play positive and meaningful role for the onward march and progress of the Ummah, the Muslim community. From my experience of visiting the press that are printing books I can tell confidently that contents of some of the books are below standard, these are likely to raise unnecessary debate and will only confuse the readers. One of the titles of the book is: ‘Tawhid O Shirk: Sunnat O Bidat’.  This book tells us that we have to believe that Allah has a face etc etc [Hafez Muhammad Ayub. Tawhid O Shirk: Sunnat O Bidat. p8. Al Islah Prakashani, Bangshal, Dhaka. First Edition December 2000].

In January 2004 this writer was requested to edit a book on Western Agenda in the Muslim World by an eminent writer of a local daily. No doubt that I am not competent to edit such a book. Anyway, being requested by the proposed publisher of the book, I decided to do the job, a voluntary job. The content of the book is no doubt good but then again it needed thorough, careful and painstaking editing and also updating for the book is a composition of articles written earlier for the newspaper and considerable time has passed since those articles were written. But the requested job could not be accomplished due to impatience of the author to wait enough so that the editing could be completed and the editing had to be abandoned in the middle. Considering the competence, preoccupation and health, the editor needed six months to do the job but that time was not given. The author in fact started to press the editor to clear the book ten days after handing over of the book for editing.

In February 2003 I had to supervise the production of a book and it took four months and in all thirty five readings to make the book possibly free from printing error. The book ultimately came out in June 2003. Our authors, publishers and even the editors are seldom prepared to go through such an onerous, difficult and time-consuming process. I know of a book that was published by IIIT whose editing was undertaken in USA by three persons – for preparation of index, stylistic editing, editing footnotes and bibliography-  and proofreading was done in UK,  the author himself mentioned this in the preface of the book. This is how quality books are produced. We have no other option before us.

A local publisher has published the Bangla translation of the monumental commentary of the Quran by eminent Egyptian scholar Sayyid Qutub - ‘Fi Zilal al Quran’.  In July 2002 while writing an article – ‘Woman: Chastisement & Other Issues’ - this writer consulted both the locally printed Bangla translation and English rendering of this particular commentary of the Quran – ‘In The Shade Of The Quran’ - published from UK. While consulting verse 4 (Surah An Nisa): 34 I found that the translation of the verse in Bangla and English is not similar. I got puzzled and confused. The English rendering of this commentary from Arabic has been made by eminent Arab scholars whose mother tongue is Arabic. [In The Shade Of The Quran. Translated into English by Adil Salahi & Ashur Shamis. Vol. III. p112. The Islamic Foundation, UK. Tafseer Fi Zilal al Quran. Bangla Edition. Vol. IV. pp 124-125. Al Quran Academy London, Elephant Road, Moghbazar, Dhaka. January 1996].

Readers who have access to both the Bangla and English translations of this commentary of the Quran may make a comparative study of the translation of the commentary of verse 4 (Surah An Nisa): 34 to find out themselves the difference in translation [Bangla Edition pp169-185 and English Edition pp128-139].

The most incredible and amazing thing is that the same person has translated and edited the Bangla version which should not be the system in any case for it becomes almost impossible for the translator to detect his own mistakes when he edits his own writing.

Mawdudi Research Academy, another well-known publishing house having to its credit a good number of published works, also does not take enough care to bring out quality books although it prints editions after editions of the same book. Without giving a detail description of the standard of its published works it would be enough to quote the mistake it committed while publishing the book ‘Islami Rastro O Shongbidhan’ which will undoubtedly expose the weakness of its panel of translators and editors.

While translating the classic work of eminent Pakistani scholar Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi, it translated for example a sentence into Bangla: it is a laborious job to classify and place before people what the jurists of the previous centuries have abandoned (exact Bangla words used: tader parittakto eshob mulloban shampad) [Sayyid Abul A’la Mawdudi. Islami Rastro O Shongbidhan p203 Mawdudi. Research Academy, Moghbazar, Dhaka. June 1997] whereas it should have been translated into Bangla as what the jurists of the previous centuries have contributed or what we have historically inherited from the jurists of the previous centuries as heritage or what the jurists of the previous centuries have left and not abandoned. 

At another place the Bangla translation mentions that no article of this constitution (Quran and Sunnah) can be transferred (exact Bangla words used: sthanantor kora zabena) whereas it should be something like no article of this constitution (Quran and Sunnah) can be suspended or annulled (ibid. p100).

The mistakes in this book came to my notice when I consulted the book ‘Islami Rastro O Shongbidhan’ for writing an article on ‘Power Sharing In Islam’ in November 2001. The English version of the book ‘Islamic Law & Constitution’ has been published from Lahore and I had the opportunity to read this book in the sixties. When the mistakes came to my notice I asked the senior most translator of the panel of four translators as to how such a mistake could have happened but he could not give a proper reply.

One of the translators of the panel of four translators also has edited the book. It is not befitting that a translator of a book becomes an editor for that book at the same time; rather what is required is that if more than one translator is involved in the translation of a book in that case one of the translators should act as coordinator. The editor should not be from amongst the translators. The Bangla version of this book needs to be thoroughly revised.

How responsible (!) the publisher of this book is proved from the simple fact that the publisher mentioned at page 3 and 4 of this book from which it seems that apparently three separate publishing houses are responsible for the publication of the book namely (i) Mawdudi Research Academy Dhaka printed in Bangla alphabet at page 3 and then on the opposite page- at page 4 (ii) Sayyid  Abul A’la Mawdudi Research Academy Dhaka printed in Bangla alphabet and in the same page (iii) Sayyid Mawdudi Research Academy printed in English alphabet [here spelling of The Islamic Foundation, UK has been followed and is different from that of the book]. These three are not separate organizations but one and the same. This mistake could perhaps be avoided if people entrusted with responsibility had been more careful and vigilant.

The less is said about the quality of production of the Islamic Foundation Bangladesh, the better. Its books are full of printing errors; the reason may be poor payment for proof reading. It does not pay for proof reading what others say Bangla Academy or Asiatic Society pay to the proof readers. Surprisingly in our country this job, although very important, is done by such people who are less qualified and people treat them with disrespect.

It is not clear why the major publishing houses cannot raise the quality of production of books to the level in the West when the development of technology has made the production of quality books much easier than say 30 years ago. If people entrusted with the responsibility in the major publishing houses take enough care, nurture, foster and try to develop a system that will ensure quality production and invigorate persons involved in the production process of the publication, there is no reason why books published in Bangladesh will be of lesser quality.

Khoshroz Kitab Mahal is another old publishing house of the country. It has the reputation of publishing books of law and jurisprudence. It also publishes Islamic books. It has marketed Bangla translation of the Quran without Arabic text; first edition was published in January 1997 and reprinted in July 1999. While going through this Bangla translation one major mistake came to my notice.  The unbelievable mistake is that Surah At Tauba begins with the translation of Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim whereas it is the only Suarh of the Quran which begins without Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim. With this mistake this translation was printed and marketed twice, January 1997 and its reprint in July 1999 [Quran Shorif. Banganubad. p207. Khoshroz Kitab Mahal, 15 Bangla Bazar, Dhaka. July 1999].

Bangladesh Institute of Islamic Thought (BIIT) is the local chapter of US based International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). One of the reputed research organizations of the country which apart from holding seminars and workshops regularly also publishes translation works of eminent Islamic scholars working for Islamic awakening worldwide. Its published works are full of printing errors. Books so far published by it need through, careful, meticulous and painstaking editing from beginning to end. It should also think over changing the whole lot of translators and editors team. While engaging several translators for translating a book which is quite voluminous, it should entrust one of the translators of the team the responsibility of coordination for maintaining uniformity in translation. One of the drawbacks of BIIT is that it is not staffed by such full time employees who have the ability of translating, editing, proof reading and above all the competence of supervising the production of books.

The inability of the BIIT in supervising the production of books will be clear from the fact that while publishing Dr. Marwan Ibrahim Al-Kaysi’s book ‘Morals and Manners in Islam: A Guide to Islamic Adab’ it used three different kinds of spelling in Bangla for Ibrahim, another three types of spelling for Al-Kaysi and Dr. Marwan was printed three times and another three times only Marwan. This can be found if someone has a cursory look at first 12 pages of the book and the cover [Islame Naitikata O Acharan: Islami Adaber Diknirdeshana. First Edition 1998].

One of the important publications of BIIT is the Bangla translation of Dr. Muhammad Umar Chapra’s outstanding work ‘Islam and the Economic Challenge’. This book has lost its spirit and appeal because of printing errors in the Bangla edition. BIIT should find out the reasons for the poor and awful production of this book for that would enable it to chart out the future course. [Islam O Arthonaitik Challenge. Bangla  Edition 2000].

Now let us see what the country’s most prestigious publishing house University Press Limited (UPL) is doing. There is no scope of denying the contribution of UPL in publishing eminent original works of the country’s intellectuals and making them known outside Bangladesh. UPL has also made notable contribution in translating well-known works of the scholars from outside Bangladesh. But then again this publishing house should pay more attention while publishing books so that its good name is not jeopardized. It must ensure that people who are involved in reviewing and editing books take enough care before approving translations. Why I am mentioning this is that I found that Bangla translation of James J Novak’s book ‘Bangladesh: Reflections on the Water’, which has been edited by none other than the acting editor of country’s prestigious  newspaper Dainik Ittefaq Rahat Khan, who is widely known for his competence, has such a mistake that it cannot be imagined.

The English text, during the month of Ramadhan the “fasters rise before dawn to take some rice” has been translated into Bangla as the fasters eat some rice in the morning (exact Bangla words used: rozaderra bhore kichu bhat khai) [James J. Novak. Bangladesh: Reflections in the Water. p53. UPL, Dhaka. First Bangladesh Edition 1994. Bangladesh: Jale Jar Pratibimba. p52. Bangla Edition.1995]. There is no reason to believe that Rahat Khan does not know that Muslims in Bangladesh and elsewhere keep fast during Ramadhan after eating something before dawn and not in the morning as the Bangla translation mentions. This could happen only because Rahat Khan approved the translation perhaps without reading. This is also a great injustice to James J Novak for the original book does not contain this silly mistake.

It has also been noticed that some publishers after translating a book of foreign origin into Bangla publishes the book after adding a chapter written by a local scholar as translator or editor of the translated book which contradict the very content of the original book and also use as the cover of the book such design that contradicts the whole facts narrated by the original author but in keeping with the spirit of what the local translator or editor of the book has added in the book. This is an intellectual dishonesty and should not be done. The publishers in Bangladesh are free to publish books of local scholars and the readers in Bangladesh and elsewhere are also interested to know about the intellectual contributions of our scholars. Their contribution can be printed as independent books and not necessarily as preface or introduction of another book that contradicts with the original author. The local publishers need not play duplicity with the original authors of the books keeping them in dark as to what the publishers are doing here in Dhaka with their works.

This article shall not be complete and I shall not be doing justice to the topic I am discussing unless I briefly touch the role of the printing press in bringing out quality products. No doubt the rate of printing is too low for quality production and therefore those who want quality production should be prepared to pay more than the existing so-called competitive market rate. It is not always possible to ensure quality printing with the poor market rate of printing. Sometimes the market rate of printing is not supported by the underlying principle of costing.

Publishers should also get prepared to bear the cost of minimum ten proof readings, instead of the existing practice of three proof readings, to make printing matter free from error and thus ensure quality production as in the West. They should also get ready to enhance the rate of proof reading per format. The major publishing houses while reprinting a book should get it edited afresh. In fact every edition of the book should be edited afresh to make the book free from error. This is one side of the story.

But then again the printing press in Bangladesh is not that organized that it should be. The printing press here in Dhaka has the latest sophisticated machines and other equipments but short of working space, trained and skilled manpower. The result is that most advanced printing machines are in no way helping to maintain high quality, the outcome being the low quality printing products that are not at all satisfactory.

In fact aesthetic culture of sophistication in the field of printing has not developed particularly among the press owners who print Islamic books. They in fact lack the sense of beauty. No press has a check list to ensure that all the necessary steps have been taken to ensure quality production.

To ensure quality production the approaches of authors, translators, editors, publishers and printers must be changed. We must not forget that quality production is only possible when all the people associated with the printing act in concert, collaborate and cooperate with each other in all earnestness. 

While concluding the article I shall quote eminent intellectual German diplomat Murad Hoffman who lamented for the deficiency of the quality of production of the books produced in the Muslim world which is an obstacle for the progress and onward march of Islam. In an interview with www.islamonli.net he said: “We get often Islamic books from Pakistan ………. their English is faulty, their paper is bad, the binding is awful, there are many printing mistakes. That alone disqualifies the books, people won’t even touch them because they are used to good paper, good binding, perfect printing and it is little things like that that disqualifies a book that otherwise would be worthwhile reading” [Islamic Renaissance in the West: An Interview with Murad Hoffman by Hossam Tamman. www.islamonline.net/English?ArtCulture/2004/01/article07.shtml].

1st May 2004