Qur’an translation of the week #109: The Turkish ‘Path of the Qur’an’ (‘Kur’an Yolu’)

In the early 2000s, the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs (TDRA, usually known as ‘Diyanet’) expanded its publication of translations of the Qur’an by, for the first time, adding Turkish to the many languages it had previously focused on. After the first modern ‘institutional’ TDRA translation into Turkish was published in 2001 (‘Kur’an-i Kerim Meali’ by Halil Altuntaş and Muzaffer Şahin), another project was successfully realized: ‘Kur’an Yolu Türkçe Meal ve Tefsir’ (‘The Path of the Qur’an: Translation and tafsīr’). First published in 2006 in five volumes, this comprised not only a translation of the Qur’an (‘meal’, or ‘the meanings’ in Turkish), but also a voluminous commentary. Its structure varies a bit in the newer editions (a total of eight different printings had been produced by 2020, in large and small size formats), but mainly conforms to the classical Turkish format for publishing Islamic literature. According to this, short introductions are given to the suras, the original Arabic text is located on every page in separate blocks, and the supplied translation of the verses and subsequent commentary are located just after the Arabic or in footnotes. Both commentary and translation are also available on numerous Islamic websites, thus making it easily available.

The authors of this work, Sadrettin Gümüş (b. 1945), Mustafa Çağrıcı (b. 1950) İbrahim Kâfi Dönmez (b. 1951), and Hayrettin Karaman (b. 1934), represent a fusion of the Turkish religious and academic spheres. All of them have spent some time during their career working at the Yüksek İslâm Enstitüsü (‘Higherslamic Institute’) in Istanbul, which has been a part of Marmara University (Faculty of Theology) since 1982. This particular group has also worked together previously, on another Qur’an translation that was published by the Muslim World League in 1982, ‘Kur’an-ı Kerim ve Açıklamalı Meali’ (‘The Noble Qur’an and its Annotated Translation’), a revised edition of which was later published by the King Fahd Qur’an Printing Complex in 1987. This translation still remains popular in Turkey and beyond, including among the Turkish diasporas living in Europe.

How does this translation and commentary differ from other works of this kind? It includes quite expansive introductory matter which refers to dozens of classical commentaries in Arabic, from Ibn Jarīr al-Ṭabarī’s tafsīr to modern works such as Muḥammad al-Ṭāhir b. ʿĀshūr’s ‘al-Taḥrīr wa al-Tanwīr’ and, in addition, brings in numerous other commentaries in Turkish. The work is promoted as being intended for a broad audience, not only experts in Islamic Studies. The introduction also clarifies that the translation was influenced by the interpretations found in the tafsīr tradition, since the translation team’s exegetical choices were based on the general approach to the interpretation of a given verse taken by the majority of exegetes. In overall terms, the authors themselves describe their work in the following terms: ‘the tafsir you have in your hands is designed to take into account the needs of today’s Muslims’ (‘elinizdeki tefsir, günümüz müslümanların ihtiyaçları göz önünde’). This makes it clear that, to some extent, the translators see their project as falling within the modern Islamic paradigm of works written ‘to answer contemporary issues’, which can be observed in many other translations of this kind. The rest of the introduction focuses on the principles of Qur’anic interpretation, and goes into detail about how some of the most crucial theological issues of the Qur’an are treated in this work. One of the more recent editions, printed in 2008, also contains a preface from Yunus Akkaya, at that time an expert member of the Supreme Council of Religious Affairs, in which he singles out for mention the Qur’anic verses on women’s right to divorce, the relationship of the Qur’an to modern scientific theories, and other such current issues. This preface attempts, in some ways, to situate classical Sunni interpretations in a more ‘rational’ discourse, as can be seen in a reference to the ‘wife-beating verse’ (Q 4:34) as a verse which should be interpreted ‘taking into account the experiences of the community and, especially, the customs and traditions of the community [people] live in’ (‘… örf ve âdeti dikkate alınarak zikredilirken ‘kocanın karısını dövmesi’ eylemine de yer verilmiş olmakla beraber’), while still emphasizing the rule that ‘a good husband should not beat his wife’ (‘iyi bir kocanın karısını dövemeyeceği’).

The translation itself seems to be a kind of literal/grammatical interpretation, with very rare insertions of explanatory material. The reason behind this is the translators’ intent to give the reader access to the literal meaning of the Qur’anic text in the translation, and then to supplement this with full information on the multiplicity of interpretations and possible explanations in the accompanying commentary, as this is ‘tefsir’. It is interesting to compare this approach to the one taken by these same translators in their previous translation, the aforementioned ‘Kur’an-ı Kerim ve Açıklamalı Meali.’

Some of the verses in ‘Kur’an Yolu’ completely reproduce the wording of the previous translation, while many others given a much shorter interpretation: when it comes Q 2:43, for example, the older translation has ‘Namazı tam kılın, zekâtı hakkıyla verinn, rükû edenlerle beraber rükû edin’ (‘Perform the prayer in full, pay the zakat as it is needed, bow with those who bow’), while ‘Kur’an Yolu’ has ‘Namazı kılın, zekâtı verinn, rükû edenlerle beraber rükû edin’ (‘Perform the prayer, pay the zakat, bow with those who bow’). To give another example, ‘Kur’an-ı Kerim ve Açıklamalı Meali’ renders the first part of Q 2:54 as ‘Mûsâ kavmine demişti ki: ‘Ey kavmim! Şüphesiz siz buzağıyı (tanrı) edinmekle kendinize kötülük ettiniz. Onun için Yaradanınıza tevbe edin de nefislerinizi (kötü duyugularınızı) öldürün….’ (‘Moses said to his people: ‘O my people! Surely you have done yourselves a disservice by taking the calf (as god). Therefore, repent to your Creator and kill yourselves (bad emotions) …’, while ‘Kur’an Yolu’ has ‘Mûsâ kavmine demişti ki: ‘Ey kavmim! Şüphesiz siz buzağıyı (tanrı) edinmekle kendinize zulmettiniz. Onun için yaratanınıza tövbe edin de nefislerinizi öldürün’ (‘Moses said to his people: ‘O my people! Surely you have wronged yourselves by taking the calf (as god). Therefore, repent to your Creator and kill yourselves’). Thus, ‘fa ’qtulū anfusakum’(‘kill yourselves’) in the first translation is supported by an explanatory insertion, while in the later translation this meaning is explained using relevant commentary.

Overall, it seems that the earlier 1982 translation has had some effect on the text of the ‘Kur’an Yolu’ translation, but the translation of many verses has been deeply revised, with the target text considerably shortened in many places so as to create a demarcation between translation and tafsῑr. The actual translation element of ‘Kur’an Yolu’ is also designed to be used separately as a standalone work, and has already made its presence felt in Turkish academic and religious circles in this context. It is fair to say that ‘Kur’an Yolu’ can be evaluated as being one of the most significant achievements in modern Turkish Qur’anic Studies, and it there is a definite possibility that it will become a standard reference for any future translation into Turkish.

Mykhaylo Yakubovych

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