KHARTOUM, 2011 (SUDANOW)—The thundering voice of the imam (prayers leader) glided like a roaring river, echoing across the spacious, capacious Haram (Holy Mosque), a situation that occurs during the month of Ramadan of each year when pilgrims and mini-pilgrims flow from all corners of the globe into Mecca to satisfy their religious yearning.
A group of Turkish women of different ages, who were sitting near me, were listening in utmost reverence and attention to the imam who was speaking in pure classic Arabic. When the imam concluded the Friday prayer sermon and we stood up in straight lines, I spoke to the Turkish woman next to me, commenting in pure Arabic that the sermon was splendid and contained valuable ideas and topics. She just gave me a quick glance as if she were not hearing what I said. To my surprise, I heard her talking in a language that I could not understand; I was puzzled as I remembered that she was listening carefully to the imam, could it be that she understood nothing of the sermon?
I turned right and left and saw women apparently from Pakistan, Nigeria, Malaysia and Europe as well as other nationalities and I wondered whether all of them were in the same situation as the Turkish lady with regard to the sermon.
The prayers came to a close but my thoughts continued flowing and I imagined how the pilgrims were longing to reach the Grand Holy Mosque of Mecca and the Holy Mosque of Medina, saving big amounts of money and going through numerous procedures for the purpose.
It excruciated me that those pilgrims, despite all the hardships and the long journey to the holy places, cannot understand the Friday sermon and other speeches delivered after the Eid prayers, not even the Holy Koran recitation by the imam or invocation. I wondered that they may not be able to learn Arabic, but can they be served with an instantaneous translation of everything that they hear?
Muslims tend to describe pilgrimage as an international conference because it brings peoples from different countries and of different nationalities together and, although they perform almost similar rites and utter almost similar sounds, they do not share comprehension of what is pronounced during the common rites or of the sermons of the prayers leaders. Therefore, they do not share discussion on the topics raised by the imams. Such a discussion may be practiced only by the few elite and thinkers in private meetings.
The Islamic Conference Organization (ICO) is the second biggest inter-governmental body, after the United Nations, grouping 57 member states spread over the four continents. And, according to the latest statistics on various organizations, the Muslims in the world count about 1.5 billion people, that is, about 23% of the world population, 25% of them in Asia, mainly concentrated in southeast Asia, 15% in Africa, south of the Sahara, and 20% in the Middle East. Of this population the Muslim Arabs count about 339 million people.
The Public Relations and Information Director in the General Headquarters of the Grand Holy Mosque, Ahmed al-Mansoury, considered the instantaneous translation as having many positive aspects for Muslims and of great importance to pilgrims who do not understand Arabic and consequently do not comprehend what the imam or somebody else says in the mosque.
Mansoury said, in order to help pilgrims acquire the maximum benefit from their pilgrimage, the
Grand Holy Mosque Administration is presently establishing for the pilgrims a multi-language database
internet website that contains the sermons and information on this important rite to all Muslims.
He said the Holy Mosque authorities would consider this instantaneous translation idea and examine
the relevant Sharia and technical aspects for securing a proper and harmless implementation.
The Chairman of the Khartoum-based Islamic Dawa (call) Board of Trustees, Marshal Abdul Rahman Swar al-Dahab, stressed that the Saudi Arabian authorities spare no effort in the service of the two holy mosques and the pilgrims throughout the year. Those authorities have made available translations of the Holy Koran and its relevant studies, rites and other Islamic studies for the pilgrims in many languages.
Nonetheless, the idea of providing instantaneous translation of the sermons and Koranic recitations during prayers is a new, useful idea nobody has thought of and can be implemented, Marshal Dahab remarked. He said the idea is important and practical and translators can be recruited to offer this service inside the Holy mosques, starting at the outset with the five languages the UN uses in its international conferences and meetings which spoken by a large number of the world population –These languages are: The English, French, Spanish, Russian and Arabic.
Other languages can be added gradually, Dahab said, suggesting that small, easy-to-handle wireless, low-cost devices can be made available for the pilgrim to purchase and keep in his possession as a personal property.
Engineer Hatim Siral Khatim, an audio-visual expert, said the idea is not impossible but is a bit expensive. The instantaneous translation requires two devices- a transmitter and a receiver and, accordingly, there are three methods for implementation of the idea:
The first method is connected with the traditional translation applied at conferences where a complete system of instantaneous translation transmitters must be installed within the Holy Mosque and at the same time all pilgrims and mini-pilgrims must possess receivers to listen to the translation, Khatim said.
He added this method is very expensive as one receiver costs more than 500 US dollars. Therefore it is extremely costly for the Saudi Arabian authorities to supply to all pilgrims and for a pilgrim who decides to buy by himself, Khatim said.
He pointed out that this method is a harmful to the hearing, considering the multiple languages and channels. This system, Khatim went on, is effective for only for languages while the transmitter relays to only 50 receivers.
The distant waves of this transmitter can be easily infiltrated, posing a risk to the system and undesirable messages can be transmitted and the transmission can also be jammed, according to Khatim.
He said the second method provides for distribution inside the Holy Mosque and its outside surroundings of gigantic 3X4m screens, a technique which entails a cost lower than the first one, cannot be infiltrated and causes no environmental, physical or hearing harm.
However, the audio-visual expert points out that the shortcoming of this second method is that the beneficiaries will be literates who can read well and will not be beneficial to the blind, poor-sighted and to the a person who does not sit in a proper option
to see the screen.
Engineer Khatim prefers a third method which he said provides for using the broadcasting service (radio) on the mobile. This technique has several advantages the first and foremost of which is that it is of a low cost as only an FM radio station will be needed to cover the area inside and outside the Holy Mosque and up to Mina and can reach Arafat if a TV transmitter is added. The pilgrims can use their own mobile and all they have to do is to know the wavelength of their respective language.
This technique cannot be infiltrated and does not cause any harm to the pilgrim or his surrounding environment, Khatim said, adding that more than 15 languages can be transmitted through this method. All pilgrims can make use of this method, except the deaf who are usually few compared to the large number of pilgrims.
The quality of the instantaneous translation service is generally contingent on many factors, the most important of which is the quality of the devices of a wide-scope of prices ranging from a few dollars to millions, but it is always wise to select the best which lasts tens of years and is not liable to failures.
Lastly, can the pilgrims who do not understand one day be provided with an instantaneous translation service that enables them to comprehend what they hear and exchange views with other pilgrims on what they hear? Can this idea arouse wide religious scholarly and popular discussions on issues that help Muslims incur an intellectual advancement and revitalize their unique contribution to the human civilization?
The proposed service may deepen the worshippers reverence during prayers and enable them to understand and contemplate on the Koranic verses recited in pure Arabic as well as the invocations by the imam for the benefit of Muslims world-wide.