Qur’an translation of the week #144: Darussalam International as a Multilanguage Publisher

While QTOTW#140 covered Darussalam’s main publishing projects in English, and QTOTW#138 their translation into French, this post goes further in presenting their Qur’an translations into other languages. A Saudi-based multilingual international publishing house, Darussalam now operates in more than thirty countries and is positioned as one of largest publishers of translations of the Qur’an in the world.

As one advertisement for the publisher says, since Darussalam began this project, it has translated the Qur’an into more than twenty-five languages’… ‘some of the most prominent being English, French, Urdu, Spanish, Persian, Hindi, Pashto, Sinhala, Russian, Chinese and Bengali.’ Can all of these translations be traced back to one original rendition, and what approaches do they take to the interpretation of the Qur’an? If the KFQPC, the biggest Saudi publisher of Qur’an translations, has a more or less standardized vision of Qur’an translation, is that applicable to Darussalam as well?

To take just one example, recently Darussalam has published an original translation of the Qur’an into Sindhi (a language with thirty million speakers in Pakistan) by Amīr Buaksh Channā, a scholar working at King Saud University. This translation differs from a previous Sindhi translation published by the KFQPC (by Tāj Maḥmūd Imrōtī, d. 1929), especially in its use of modern language and inclusion of plenty of commentary. In addition, Darussalam has produced original translations into Sinhala, Gurmukhi, Tamil, Marathi, Hindi, Pashto, Bengali, Malayalam, Nepalese and few other languages, almost all of which are spoken in South Asia; that, generally, illustrates their prioritization of this area over others. Darussalam has also historically been more successful than the KFQPC in publishing in Persian. In contrast to the classical Walī Allah Dehlavī translation, which dates from the eighteenth century and which has been published by the KFQPC, albeit after some ‘editorial changes,’ Darussalam has produced a modern work of interpretive translation, named Tafsīr Aḥsan al-kalām, by Ḥusayn Tājī and ʿAbd al-Ghafūr Ḥusayn. This work comprises an explanatory translation that claims to be based on the Sunnah corpus as well as the tafsīrs of Ibn Kathīr and al-Qurṭubī. When it comes to African languages, there are two translations available from Darussalam, into Somali (by the Salafi scholar Cabdicaziiz Xasan Yacquub) and Swahili. For their Swahili translation, Darussalam used a work authored by Alī Muḥsin al-Barwānī (1919–2006), a scholar and politician from Zanzibar who spent most of his life in the UAE. This translation was initially published in 1995 in Abu Dhabi (according to some sources, this edition was produced with the cooperation of al-Azhar in Egypt), but it looks as if after this Darussalam republished it in an edited version, with the addition of more commentary from the ḥadīth corpus.

Interestingly, when it comes to Turkish and Albanian, Darussalam used nothing other than the Hilali-Khan English translation of the Qur’an (1994): for their Turkish translation, the publisher even designed a trilingual version, in Arabic, English and Turkish. They have also produced a partial translation of the Hilali-Khan translation into Russian (comprising the last five parts of the Qur’an, pp. 25–30), which looks like a word-for-word reconstruction of the English text, with no influence from any other sources, which means that the text can hardly compete with the numerous Russian translations that have been made directly from the Arabic. The story behind their Indonesian translations is also a straightforward one: their Al Quran dan Terjemahnya is simply a reproduction of the third edition of the official state translation published by the Indonesian Islamic Affairs Ministry, and only differs from that produced by the KFQPC in 1990/1991 in that this uses the second edition.

In addition, there are also cases where Darussalam has produced direct reprints of KFQPC translations: for example, Darussalam’s Spanish translation seems to be nothing more than a reproduction of Abdel-Ghani Melara Navío’s work (the first edition of which was published in 1997 by the KFQPC). However, in a slightly strange twist, Darussalam used the Ḥafṣ reading for the Arabic parallel text, despite the fact that the translation was based on the Warsh reading (which the KFQPC edition correctly included).

The question also remains as to what kind of review processes Darussalam has in place for the translations it publishes, since many of the editions contain absolutely no information about this, or about any of the people or special committees involved. One of Darussalam’s co-founders is reported to be ʿAbdullāh al-Muʿtāz (b. 1358/1939), a student of famous Salafi authority Sheikh Ibn Bāz (d. 1999). An active member of many Saudi-run Islamic projects in the Middle East and Africa, ʿAbdullāh al-Muʿtāz also published a couple of books on Qur’anic Studies (one of which is a popular tafsīr in Arabic). For particular projects, it appears that Darussalam invited various external experts on board as members of their research committee (al-lajnah al-ʿilmiyyah), apparently in a similar way to KFQPC (i.e., they recruit native speakers of the languages in question who have specialist knowledge of Islam and the Qur’an).

When browsing many of the translations published by Darussalam, one can easily see that the Hilali-Khan translation into English remains the exemplary work for them. They either treat the new edition of this as a kind of standard text (the same text is also used also by the KFQPC for their own translations), producing multilanguage ‘versions’ of this translation (in, for example, Turkish and Albanian), or alternatively they use it as a ‘pattern’ for translations into some languages. What must be noted is that, in contrast to the KFQPC, Darussalam, as a private publisher, relies on the authority of individual translators, rather than producing any kind of ‘institutional translation.’ Darussalam general politics of prioritizing Asian languages with a great number of speakers in areas with high demand for translations has contributed much to Salafi missionary activities in these areas, since almost all the translations remain loyal to the basic hermeneutical principles of the modern Salafi reading of the Qur’an. In addition, excerpts from these Qur’an translations have been used in other kinds of Islamic literature published by Darussalam, for example, in quotations. Many of the works printed, however, were unlikely to always fall on fertile ground, for various reasons, and thus have remained a rarity in some places. In countries like the UK and USA in the West, or Pakistan in the East, Darussalam has developed very good networks for book distribution, while in some other countries its translations have had fewer chances to reach the reader. However, with so many interpretations printed (and many of them for the first time), Darussalam remains the largest, and most prolific, private Saudi publisher of Qur’an translations.

 Mykhaylo Yakubovych

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