Qur’an translation of the week #136: Glorioso Corano: An Italian translation by Fuad Kabazi

Italian translations of the Qur’an are relatively plentiful, and during the second half of the twentieth century in particular new translations were produced based on the original Arabic text by translators such as A. Bausani (1955), M. Moreno (1967), F. Peirone (1979) and H. Piccardo (1996). The World Islamic Call Society (WICS, founded in 1972 in Tripoli, Libya), which is one of the leading international publishers of Qur’an translations has also made a significant contribution to the Italian Qur’an translation market. In 1984 it published the first part of a new translation into Italian, of suras 1 and 78–114, under the title Le sure brevi del Glorioso Corano (‘The Short Suras of the Glorious Qur’an’). The translator, Fuad Kabazi (Fūʾād al-Ka’bāzī, 1920–2012) was born into a devout family in Tripoli and attended an Italian school for his secondary education. After Libyan independence in 1951, Kabazi started his political career as Minister of Petrol; much later, he also served as Libyan ambassador to the Vatican City (from 1998–2003). Fluent in Italian and few other European languages, Kabazi was also known as prolific columnist, translator and poet: for example, he published translations of selected twentieth-century French and Spanish poets (Qir’ā’t fī al-shiʿr al-ʿālamī, 1984). His main motive for translating the Qur’an, as far as can be established from the introduction that prefaces the translation of the short suras, was an interest in conveying the eloquence and beauty of the Qur’anic style. This approach has clearly greatly influenced the style of his translation: while most other Muslim translators have usually positioned their work as an attempt to present the Qur’an as source of divine guidance and Islamic belief, this translation has a different agenda. This is probably the main reason why Kabazi started by working with the short poetical suras rather than the longer ones at the beginning of the Arabic musḥaf. The same focus on literary features can also be seen in the more recent enlarged edition of this translation, which comprises almost the entire second half of the Qur’an (suras 19–114). Finally, in 2007, the WICS office in Rome published Kabazi’s full translation of the entire Qur’an under the same title. For unknown reasons, the name of the translator is not mentioned at all in this edition, and the quite informative introduction to the second edition has been replaced with a short preface that makes no reference to the figures behind this work. It is clear, at least, that the translations of suras 19 to 114 in this third and last edition were those previously published by Kabazi, so one may justly suppose that the translations of suras 1 to 18 also came from his pen.                                             

Published in 1991 and distributed by the WICS office in Rome, the second edition of this translation passed through careful review. As the introduction explains, WICS established a special committee headed by Sheikh Dr Ibrāhīm Rufayda (1931–1999), a graduate of al-Azhar and well-known Libyan exegete, to undertake the review. The committee also included the Libyan literary scholar Aḥmad al-Ḥaṣaʾīr, and also some experts in Italian: among them, the figure of ʿAlī Ṣādiq Ḥussnein (1925–2018) is mentioned, also a Libyan politician and diplomat, and Pierro Ferrari, Director of the Italian Cultural Institute in Tripoli.               

At a first glance, the translation generally fits the pattern of Muslim-authored Qur’an translations produced in the late twentieth century: it boasts the Arabic title tarjamat al-maʿānī (‘translation of the meanings’), and includes the Arabic text in page-to-page format (according to the Ḥafṣ reading). In contrast to the first edition of this translation containing al-Fātiḥah and the final thirtieth part of the Qur’an, it contains no introductions to the suras.

Also, the second edition contains traces of a thoroughful revision. For instance, the 1984 version gives the following translation for Q 80:13–16: ‘su pagine sublimi, elevate e pure, in mano a scribi, nobili, fedeli’ (‘those are the sublime pages, elevated and pure, in the hands of the scribes, noble and faithful’). In the second edition, these verses are translated as ‘su pagine nobili, sublimi e purificate in mano a messeggeri, insigni, fedeli’ (‘those are the noble pages, sublime and purified, in the hands of the messengers, distinguished and faithful’). When one looks at the Arabic original (fī ṣuḥufin mukarramatin marfūʿatin muṭahharatin bi-aydī safaratin kirāmin bararatin), the rendition given in the more recent edition comes across as more faithful to the source text. The change from ‘scribi’ or ‘scribes,’ to ‘messeggeri’ or ‘messengers’ can also be seen as reflecting a reconsideration of exegetical choices. The word safaratin appears to refer to angels recording and writing down human deeds, as it is usually presented in translations, but there is also another interpretive option found in tafsīrs, according to which the angels are envoys or ‘messengers’ from God to humanity.

Thus, even if most of the text of suras 78–114 remains unchanged, there are some new interventions from the translator or revising committee that show changes in the use and presentation of the exegetical tradition. What seems to be rather unclear, however, is why sometimes the translator uses ‘Allah,’ and sometimes ‘Dio’ (‘God’); for example, in the basmalah formula that precedes 113 of the 114 suras of the Qur’an, ‘Dio’ is used exclusively. However, in the third edition (2007), ‘Allah’ is used for the first eighteen suras instead of ‘Dio’. Perhaps this reflects the fact that in his later revisions the translator was adjusting his style to match other contemporary Muslim-authored translations (which tend to use ‘Allah,’ denoting it as a proper name of God rather than merely a term for ‘deity’).           

The commentary accompanying the translation, in general, is very limited and makes no reference to any sources, and is mostly confined to explaining the meaning of particular words. For, example, when it comes to the word zaqqūm in Q 56:52, most other Italian translators provide the word in transliteration only (Anonymous, 1912: zacoum; Bonelli, 1929: zaqqūm, Bausani: zaqqūm, Moreno: zaqqûm), while Kabazi translates it as ‘pianta di rovo’ (‘bramble plant’) and explains in footnote that a particular kind of ‘bitter plant’ (‘pianta amarissima’) that grows in ‘Arabia’ is meant. There are different opinions among exegetes about whether this kind of tree exists somewhere on Earth or not, but this translation describes it in a very realistic manner as something material. When taken together with a comment on the word ʿalaq (Q 96:2) as being a hint about ‘scientifically proved’ embryonic genesis, this lends the translation a kind of positivistic perspective. In the third edition from 2007, however, suras 1–18 are left almost completely without any explanation, with only a couple of comments, such as that appended to Q 3:44 which explains the practice of casting lots with pens (yulqūna aqlāmahum). The third edition consequently looks less coherent than the second, 1991 edition that comprised suras 1 and 19–114, and it is not clear whether the later translation of suras 2–18 went through the same editorial revision process. 

Still, the translatorial orientation towards the literary beauty of the text in all three editions makes it less dependent on any confessional readings than many other translations. Though all three editions, short (suras 1, 78–114), long (1, 19–114) and complete (1–114) remain a bibliographical rarity and are largely neglected by scholarship, Glorioso Corano is one of the most successful translations ever published by WICS.

Mykhaylo Yakubovych

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