Saturday, May 27, 2006

Lost in translation

So I'm reading Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul: Memories of a City and something in his first chapter doesn't sit quite right with me:

So pay close attention, dear reader. Let me be straight with you, and in return let me ask for your compassion.

It's that word, compassion. If he had asked the reader to bear with him, for patience, or tolerance, I wouldn't have given it a second thought, but asking readers for compassion is strange. I don't know anything about Pamuk's religious beliefs, but he is writing about Istanbul, and the word compassion has a special resonance for me in a context that is, at least potentially, Islamic. I know that Muslims address their prayers to a deity who is "merciful" and "compassionate", so compassion -- if that is the right translation -- is clearly something important to the faithful. It's important in many religions. For Christians, the deity's compassion is understood, not asserted, based in the belief that the deity became a human being, shared human suffering, and demonstrated how one should act in the face of the suffering of others. But the assertion of (and the need by the faithful to constantly re-assert) the deity's compassion in an Islamic context, without a deity who has physically shared in human suffering, strikes me as something quite different to Christian belief and practice, and I can easily imagine that that difference plays an important part in the distance between the two faiths. But then again, I may well be following an error in translation and comparing concepts which are not , in fact, comparable.

1 comment:

Gary Yoder said...

Good thoughts. The God I worship as a Christian is NOT the god of Islam.