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Disclaimer: this is a long post - to be fair, it has been over 280 days since the last update!

It's been a long few months for the Humble Foundation. With Muhammad Tim moving to Dubai, we haven't been able to update you as often as we would have hoped. Having said that, we all feel that the charity is in a better position now than at any time previously, and all praise is for Allāh.

With Muhammad Tim now settled, and able to give a significant portion of his time to the Humble Foundation projects, we are on schedule to meet our 2015 deadlines, in shā' Allāh. However, we recognise that we need to improve our updates and communication, hence the new blog!

As Muhammad Tim wrote recently on his personal blog:

I'm almost working full-time on Humble Foundation projects for the next couple of months, since I'm not teaching. Primary goals are to finish volume eight of Tafseer as-Sa'dī (keep an eye out for that on twitter which I'm intending to start up again next week), to finish the Allah's Names first draft, and to complete Welcome to Islam. All of these are scheduled for release before Hajj, and I very much hope that with the help of Allāh, they will provide the critical mass needed to push the foundation to the next level. I'm quietly confident, that with the help of Allāh, then a strong push from the volunteers, we can meet our deadlines for the 2014/15 projects.

We also have some legal and regulatory things to tie up, with Basak Omar taking a lead on that during his summer break from the Islamic University of Madeenah.

Apart from keeping you updated, we thought it would be nice to share with you some of the technology that we are using to assist with translation. Looking at our projects for 2014/15, two involve major amounts of translation: The Qur'an Project, including the translation of Tafseer as-Sa'dī; and Allah's Names. As a small organisation with a limited budget, we needed to find a way to facilitate the translation of large amounts of Arabic text (Tafseer as-Sa'dī runs to almost 2000 pages) into English. We also wanted a way to achieve a high level of consistency, despite allowing community contributions, as well as making the translation easy to maintain, as we expect that there will be several draft releases before an official release is made. Add the need for robust backup to the mix, and we have a challenge on our hands!

In the beginning, we settled on Penflip - an online tool for writers, based on git. There are a number of things that we really like about Penflip, including:

However, like any tool, there are some limitations, including:

So, we started looking at tools to help with translation, and came across SDL Trados Studio, an industry-leading CAT (computer-assisted translation) tool. The benefits for us included:

Once again, there were some concerns:

In the end, it was a special offer that sold it for us, with one of the top packages on sale for around £450, including a free upgrade to the 2015 version on release. That would give us a minimum of 18 months before wanting to upgrade - in shā' Allāh - and conceivably more than that. After a 30-day free evaluation, and doing some calculations on both current and future translation volumes, it was well worth the investment, especially if it plays a big role in producing the Qur'an and Tafseer translations. To put this in context, we were willing to pay up to £5,000 to purchase the rights to Tafseer as-Sa'dī from one of the existing organisations who were translating it, but were unable to reach a deal. If this software, after the help of Allāh, makes it possible to complete the translation within the allotted time, and with no additional cost other than volunteer time, and a better standard of translation than the one that we were trying to purchase, then the investment has paid for itself many times over. Of course, we can't be sure that this will be the case, but based on the evaluation, we were happy to proceed.

What followed was several days of training and the odd post to SDL's support forum. Since the software uses databases of existing translations to learn, as well as terminology databases, we needed to feed it something to get started. What better than some existing (copyright-free) translations of the Qur'an! At first we tried the inbuilt alignment tool, but soon gave up - it was a nightmare to get the Arabic and English aligned, and we needed to get the translations into a format that would be recognised by the software another way. An SDL engineer recommended Excel, with Arabic in one column, and English in the other. A free add-on package called Glossary Converter does the rest. This is the process we settled upon:

This gave us another idea: that we should share these translation memory files and dictionaries once they are complete. These are a huge investment for any translator, and we are a not-for-profit organisation, so there's no reason not to share! While the software is expensive, the cheaper 'freelance' versions are not so bad, and by providing our dictionary files and translation memories, we hope to be able to contribute to a generally higher standard of specialist Islamic translation, as well as to encourage the use of professional translation tools, as opposed to having our best translators do everything in Microsoft Word.

For the next step in our project, we were not content to lose all of the benefits of Penflip/Git, and so we started looking for a way to integrate the two. Since Trados Studio is perfectly capable of handling plain text files, and Git (at least for most of the time) is nothing more than a collection of plain text files, we reasoned that it should be possible to take the input from our Penflip Git repository, pull it into Trados Studio, and then output to the same place. This is a work in progress, but so far, things are going well. In the end, we hope that we can automatically publish our updates on a regular basis to Penflip (or another Git-based solution), and get the best of both worlds, including community contributions and the robust change management that Git provides.

Finally, we are at the stage where we are starting to think about how we will publish our first drafts. Expensive typesetting is out of the question (at least until the first major release), and isn't really compatible with our aim to be open for everyone to use and benefit from (how many people have a license for Adobe InDesign and the knowledge of how to use it?). We're currently researching LaTeX (no, not the rubber material - the computer software for typesetting and document preparation), specifically XeLaTex and Polyglossia. The idea is to eventually migrate away from Markdown (or at least to use some sort of hybrid), and move to storing the text using LaTeX formatting and templates. If all goes well, with the help of Allāh, we should be able to automatically generate PDF and other formats, with at least semi-professional typesetting and layout. Once again, any templates which are developed will be shared with the community, in shā' Allāh.

What's exciting about all of this from our point of view is that we are pushing boundaries and thinking outside of the box; we aren't content with just translating. Instead, we are aiming, with the help of Allāh, to develop a more efficient process and toolset for translation, that can be used and shared with others around the world. If successful, this could potentially have a greater impact than the translations themselves, particularly as commercial publishing of quality Islamic books is so rare, and so fraught with problems.

Looking forward to sharing some our work with you, and wishing you all a successful and productive Ramaḍān!

Muhammad Tim & Basak Omar