Qur’an translation of the week #01: Al-Qur’an dan terjemahnya

“Al-Quräan dan terdjemahnja”, a hugely successful project of the newly-independent Republic of Indonesia, was the first Qur’an translation ever to be commissioned by a government and produced by a committee of scholars.

The first volume was published in 1965. President Sukarno’s “Old Order” regime wanted it to represent the revolutionary “fire of Islam”. Sukarno was ousted in 1967. Sukarno’s successor Suharto seized the project and erased all mention of Sukarno from the forewords. The translation became part of the country’s five-year-plans and saw several revisions, the last one in 2019.

“Al-Qur’an dan terjemahnya” (in new Indonesian spelling) is still the work of a large committee of scholars. Due to the work of an editorial team, the voices of individual contributors are not discernible. The goal is to represent traditional religious scholarship. The translation largely avoids modernizing or overtly political interpretations. While it is criticized for this by liberal Muslims and Islamists alike, it might also be what helped it achieve the position of authority it holds today.

The translation dominates the market in Indonesia. Nearly all Qur’an translations available in the country are based on it, whether they are printed Qur’ans or mobile phone apps or even the copies pilgrims receive in Saudi Arabia. Like all Qur’an translations in Indonesia, it is always published as a bilingual edition. Initially, the reading direction was left-to-right and the layout was reminiscent of Muhammad Ali’s 1917 Ahmadiyya translation, which by the 1930s had been translated into Dutch by an Indonesian Muslim and was later published in Bahasa Indonesia and Javanese. Contemporary editions of “Al-Qur’an dan terjemahnya” have switched to a right-to-left reading direction and abandoned the column style layout that juxtaposed the Arabic Qur’an with the translation. Indonesian society has changed and the focus today is more on Qur’anic recitation than on reading the translation as a stand-alone text.

With Indonesia being the country with the largest Muslim population today, “Al-Qur’an dan terjemahnya” might well be among the most successful Qur’an translations of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Fadhli Lukman’s seminal thesis on “Al-Qur’an dan terjemahnya” will hopefully be published soon!

Johanna Pink

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