Translation of the Qur’an (isl.)


(Arab. Tardschama al‑Quran, Turk. Kur’an Çevirisi)

The Qur’an, which was revealed in Arabic, was translated to other languages over the course of time. Even during Muhammad’s lifetime, the need for a translation was evident. It is known that he permitted a companion of non-Arabic origin by the name of Salman al‑Farisi (d. 656), to translate the surah The Opening (al‑Fatiha) into Persian. Much of the discussion as to whether the Qur’an is permits of translation to another language began in the era in which the Islamic schools of religious law were established. Some legal scholars considered a translation of the Qur’an to be necessary, while others declared that the uniqueness and outstanding literary character of the Qur’an made it impossible to translate. In practice, however, the Qur’an was indeed translated into other languages. Tradition has it that the first translation of the Qur’an, in the year 745 CE, was into the language of the Berbers. According to another tradition, there was a translation that stemmed from the year 883/884 CE. Indeed, the first translation of the Qur’an to reach our era was commissioned by Mansur Ibn Nuh (d. 796), a Persian prince of the Samanid Empire. One copy of this translation can be found in the Süleymaniye Library (Istanbul), while a second is held by the Sächsische Landesbibliothek/Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek in Dresden. Of the first translation into Turkish, it is known that it was prepared around the beginning of the 11th century CE. The first translation into a European language is a Latin work that dates to the year 1143 but was not printed until 1543. An Italian translation was drawn up based on this translation, and the Italian translation was later translated into German. Tradition has it that Martin Luther translated a different Latin version of the Qur’an into German in 1546. The first German translation drawn directly from the Arabic original dates to 1772 and was prepared by M. D. F. Megerlin under the title Die Türkische Bibel. During the time that followed, the Qur’an was translated into many other languages as well.

The discussion concerning the translatability of the Qur’an flared up again at the close of the 19th century and remained virulent into the 20th century. The debate was carried out in Turkey in particular, parallel to the introduction of Turkish as the language for use in religious observances. In this connection, by parliamentary resolution, Mehmed Akif Ersoy (d. 1936) was commissioned by the Ministry of Religious Affairs to translate the Qur’an into Turkish. Soon thereafter, the task was passed along to Elmalılı Muhammed Hamdi Yazır (d. 1942); he, however, described his translation as a rough summary (Turk. meal). After all, in his view, it was not possible to translate the Qur’an into another language without loss. Accordingly, he attached importance to characterising the inadequacy of his translation, with its imprecision and errors, by referring to it as rough. This nomenclature set a precedent and was adopted for subsequent translations of the Qur’an into Turkish as well. This essentially made clear that every translation of the Qur’an is a reflection of the subjective understanding of its translator. This makes every translation an interpretation at the same time.

Halis Albayrak

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