Al-Magaleh: “We should make use of Oriental culture” [Archives:2006/928/Culture]

March 13 2006

Established in Sana'a in 2005, the Oriental Cultural Association was inaugurated formally two weeks ago. At its headquarters, founder Dr. Abdulwahab Al-Magaleh spoke about the association, as well as other aspects of his career.

With a thoughtful flow of words and a mystical countenance, Al-Magaleh gave an account of the association which aims to “contribute effectively to Yemen's cultural heritage” based on a “humanitarian vision open to world cultures and rooted in awareness of oriental cultural identity.”

He refuted the claim that the association calls for isolation and confinement; rather, it aims “at spreading the values of diversity and variation of cultures and civilizations. When I head eastward, I am by no means against the occident. Actually, we should make use of the rich culture of the Orient, as we are part of it. The West itself is taking advantage of such a culture. Many Eastern experts are of great use in the West and are providing their service.”

Al-Magaleh has taught English language and translation at Sana'a University for approximately 10 years. He received higher education in the U.S., Britain and India and has successfully completed a number of translation projects (17 books so far) from various literature (Chinese, German, Japanese and Indian) from English into Arabic. He is most famous for his rendition of the Indian epic, “Mahabharata,” world literature's longest poem. Also a poet, he has two Arabic poem collections.

Part of Al-Magaleh's fascination with Oriental culture is its “richness.” He related one of his personal experiences that paved the way for his adoration of Oriental culture. “I was sick and suffered untold illness which I tried treating in various places around the world, including the U.S., but in vain. I was about to be confined to a wheelchair; however, when I began practicing yoga, I was cured. This is on a personal level. Yoga is very beneficial for many diseases and a good way to treat a wide range of physical and psychological disorders.”

During his five-year stay in India, Al-Magaleh spent considerable time with renowned yoga masters. He now has begun promoting yoga in Yemen, aiming to attract Yemenis and teach them how they can practice it and make use of its “miraculous benefits.”

“I already have prepared four trainers,” he noted, “We intend to popularize yoga.”

Concerning the association's planned activities, he said it will host a Japanese reflexology expert and hold an event entitled, “What India can offer to world culture.”

Al-Magaleh said his career as a translator is very rewarding in terms of knowledge and illumination he receives, also providing a sense of achievement. “I feel I have achieved a lot and offered a great service to society. Therefore, I can describe my work as very rewarding.”

He selects works that have a sense of intellectual and philosophical appeal, as he likes translating works of value. “Many translators work on reports and such things that are rewarding financially. But the translation I do is rewarding spiritually and intellectually.”

Al-Magaleh now is planning to work on “Manazil Al-Salikeen,” a book written by an Arab author in the fourth Hijra century. “I feel it has the same elevated level as that found in spiritual books of China and India.”

He underscored the importance of translation, which he said is vital to growth of a nation's knowledge. He described the translation situation in Yemen and the Arab world as “shameful,” comparing it to other parts of the world. “Approximately 80 percent of books published annually in the U.S. are books translated from other languages, while our production as Arabs pales shamefully into insignificance.”

Al-Magaleh said he has no particular rituals when he approaches translating a book. “If I feel a book is worth it in terms of its content, I begin translating it. I once started translating a book after just reading a few pages. Right from the beginning, I was very attracted to it. This is why it obliged me to translate it.”

Al-Magaleh enumerated some characteristics any translator “worth his salt” should cultivate: “A translator should internalize the text, identify with the writer and render the translation accordingly.” As for theories, he said acquaintance with them does not ensure a good translation. “Theories are problem solving – and they themselves are problematic sometimes. A good translator should adopt what he or she thinks fits the context at hand.”

As a teacher, Al-Magaleh complained about crowded translation classes at the Faculty of Languages' Arabic and Translation Department. “From my experience, in a class comprising some 70 students, there are only a handful of potential translators. To teach the whole crowd descends into abuse of teachers' ability and a waste of time.”

However, he pointed out another facet of the problem: “Most students in the department come with a modest level of the language itself. This makes it difficult for teachers, who don't know whether to teach language or translation.”