Publishing: Is Perfection Achievable?

At White Thread Press we strive for perfection in every aspect of book publishing. Sometimes it takes us several months longer to produce a book just because we want it right from every aspect. It may need another edit or proofread, a fact or reference may need re-checking, or we are just waiting for a scholarly review, or it is something associated with the seemingly mundane aspect of typography, or the grayness of the text blocks are not balancing well enough. Readers who appreciate our books may not be able to identify all the little things that go into in our books but probably do appreciate the finished product. Though we strive our utmost, there is always something that could be changed or corrected in the second print. This is probably the case with all other good publishers. The following highlights some important aspects to this dilemma.

Imad al-Din al-Asfahani says,

I have seen that whenever someone writes a book he says the next day, “If this part could be changed it would be better,” or “If this was added it would be appreciated more,” or “If this part was brought forward it would be superior,” or “If this part was left out it would read better.”

In this is an important and critical lesson that defectiveness dominates over mankind (Muhammad Musa, Al-Madkhal li Dirasat al-Fiqh, p. 6). Muzani the student of Imam Shafi’i relates about his teacher’s work the Risala,

“I read the Risala to Shafi’i eighty times and each time we would find errors.” Imam Shafi’i then remarked, “Yes, Allah has refused that there be any book other than His that is completely free of errors” (Bukhari, Kashf al-Asrar 1:4).

A similar account is related from another of Imam Shafi’i’s students Rabi’ ibn Sulayman who says,

“I read the Risala Misriyya to Shafi’i over thirty times and each time he would edit it. He would then remark, “Allah has refused that there be any book other than His that is completely free of errors” (Bayhaqi, Manaqib al-Shafi’i 2:32).

It is related that Imam Malik had originally composed his Muwatta’ of about ten thousand hadiths. He would review it every year and remove some narrations from here and there until it came to be in its current form (Qadi Iyad, Tartib al-Madarik 1:193).

If this is the state of these great and noble Imams  whose works have been universally celebrated then the position of people like us becomes clear. We can only say,

“Lord, do not take us to task if we forget or make mistakes. Lord, do not burden us as You burdened those before us. Lord, do not burden us with more than we have strength to bear. Pardon us, forgive us, and have mercy on us. You are our Protector, so help us against the disbelievers” (Qur’an 2:286).

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Reader Reviews

  1. Alhamdulillah. Alhamdulillahi Rabb’il Alameen. The work that White Thread Press (WTP) produces and distributes is outstanding. , Alhamdulillah, The mere fact that WTP saw fit to post the following blog entry (“Publishing: Is Perfection Achievable?”) says all that one needs to know and understand of the ethic and ethos underlying WTP. Everyone should know that your efforts are appreciated and everyone at White Thread Press is to be commended for their effort.

    Islam did not arise in the English-speaking world and the best and most useful Islamic literature is NOT written in English. Even leaving aside the financial, practical & mechanical typesetting, printing and aesthetic challenges associated with all publication ventures; the task of translating and unlocking the treasure and riches of voluminous literature of Islam that is NOT written in English is neither simple nor straightforward. Translation is an art and like all art requires skill. Skilled writers are needed to translate even the most basic non-English books so that the resulting translation is both true to the original and capable of standing on its own for its English audience. As anyone who has attempted to construct even a single written statement of any worth will know, the choice of a single word can determine the arc of an entire work. Word choice is just the beginning and sound also plays an integral part in transmitting meaning.

    Sadly not many people pay regard to these facts and far too many deeni materials available in English language are badly prepared and poorly presented.

    Many years ago, I read a text that purported to be a translation of the Bihishti Zewar of Maulana Thanwi RA but it was virtually incomprehensible. To this day, nearly thirty years later, I have yet to come across a more horrendous piece of literature. When I read Professor Barbara Metcalf’s “Perfecting Women: Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi’s Bihishti Zewar” a few years ago; I could not believe that it was the same book. For the first time in my life, I was able to recognize Maulana Thanwi RA as the man who Maulana Maseehullah Khan RA described as having been wrongly maligned as being “vehement and severe” when in fact, Maulana Thanwi RA was “soft, very soft”.

    Alhamdulillah, Professor Metcalf’s translation made me appreciate the value and worth of a job well-done and WTP is therefore to be applauded for its honest and sincere concern and efforts do its work properly.

    Besides, the Messenger of Allah (sal’Allahu alaihi wa sallam) said: “Surely, Allah has ordained perfection in everything. If you kill, then kill well. If you sacrifice, then sacrifice well. Each one of you should sharpen his blade and alleviate suffering to the animal he slaughters.” [Sahih Muslim]

    Please know that besides Allah and His Angels, some of your fellow human beings appreciate and applaud your efforts.
    Was salaam

    Abd'Allah ibn turab

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