Qur’an translation of the week #154: AGH Muhammad Yunus Martan and his Tafsir Al-Qur’an Bil Lughah Al-Bugisiyah

A guest contribution by Muhammad Alwi HS and Iin Parninsih, STAI Sunan Pandanaran Yogyakarta, UIN Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta.

Ever since the arrival of Islam in Indonesia, Muslims living in the Bugis region of Eastern Indonesia have studied the religious teachings of Islam almost entirely in their local language, also called Bugis. Ulama who teach in the pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) of the region both teach Islam and conduct da’wah in the mother tongue of their audience. The teaching materials they use to do so include the Tafsir Al-Qur’an Bil Lughah Al-Bugisiyah, a text that attempts to convey an understanding of the Qur’an authored by Anre Gurutta Haji (AGH) Muhammad Yunus Martan, an alim from South Sulawesi.

AGH Yunus (d. 1986) was a prominent member of the Eastern Indonesian ulama. In his early years, he studied at Madrasah al-Falah in Mecca from 1932 to 1933, which later gave him important social capital when it came to his career as a preacher in Eastern Indonesia, especially in South Sulawesi. Between 1938 and 1952 AGH Yunus was active in preaching in court circles, becoming a qadi(king companion) in Belawa, South Sulawesi, where he taught the king and his family about Islam. Following this, his career developed rapidly when he became the leader of Pesantren As’adiyah in South Sulawesi, following in the footsteps of AGH Daud Ismail (1907–2006) who had held this position from 1953 until 1961. After AGH Daud felt compelled to return to his home village to found a Pesantren there, AGH Yunus took over the sole leadership of Pesantren As’adiyah from 1963 until his death in 1986.

Pesantren As’adiyah is the oldest pesantren in Eastern Indonesia, and has undergone many transformations of its role and ritual practices over time. Initially, this pesantren undertook Islamic da’wah activity through halaqah recitation (Bugis: Mangaji Tudang), following a circle-shaped da’wah model at the house of AGH Muhammad As’ad Al-Bugisy (d. 1952), who became the leader of Pesantren As’adiyah, in 1928. This recitation tradition was obtained from ḥalaqāt performed in various mosques in Mecca, as experienced by AGH As’ad. As the oldest pesantren in Eastern Indonesia, As’adiyah plays a significant role as a religious educational institution as well as providing a centre for religious worship and preaching to the wider community. In this context, the religious standing and credentials of AGH Yunus were supported by his position as first, companion of the king, and later, leader of Pesantren As’adiyah, and it is this that enabled his da’wah to reach a wider community through his various religious activities, which included the writing of a tafsīr.

AGH Yunus’ tafsīr, entitled Tafsir Al-Qur’an Al-Karim bi Al-Lughah Al-Buqisiyyah, was written using Lontara script in the Bugis language (hereafter referred to as Lontara-Bugis), and published by Toko Buku dan Percetakan Adil Sengkang, South Sulawesi. The book covers juzʾ 1 and juzʾ 30 in two volumes, each containing 62 pages: Juz Alif Lam Mim (published in 1958) and Juz Amma (i.e. juzʾ 30, published in 1974). The two volumes present their interpretation of the Qur’an in different ways. Juz Alif Lam Mim has the Arabic at the top and the Bugis underneath, while in Juz Amma, the Arabic is presented in parallel columns with the Bugis translation.

AGH Yunus’s main consideration when undertaking his book of tafsīr was the fact that, after Sūrat al-Fātiḥah, the juzʾ ʿamma is the part of the Qur’an that is most commonly read and recited in prayer. Accordingly, he writes:

‘aiyea tpEeserew msEro suptoai nbolai to mtEpEea serkoamEGi nnEsai medecGi pbEtuwn aegson am aiy mbiasea riapGupurE rillE sEPj, serkoamEGi simt mtEtEai perGErt nEniy husu nsuku apln sEPjt.’

 ‘This tafsīr should be owned by believers so they can fully understand the meaning of the juzʾ ʿamma, as in general they recite the surahs from this part in prayer after Sūrat al-Fātihah, so that the prayer is carried out properly and [by understanding the meaning they are] continually remembering Allah.’

In addition to AGH Yunus’ Tafsir Al-Qur’an Al-Karim, several other tafsīrs have also been written in the Lontara-Bugis language, such as AG Muin Yusuf’s Tarjumanna Nenniya Tafserena Akorang Mabbicara Ogi by, and AGH Daud Ismail’s Tafsir Al-Munir. When compared to these other books of tafsīr, AGH Yunus’s work is interesting because in his case, the choice of title does not really reflect the actual contents of his book: in the title he positions himself as an interpreter of the Qur’an as well as a religious scholar (ʿālim, or ulama in Indonesian) through his use of the term tafsīr, even though his book is actually translation.

AGH Yunus’ translation contains a literal rendition of the text furnished with additional explanations contained in brackets where necessary. For example, the phrase wa l-ḍuḥā in Q. 93:1 is translated as naengka wettu Duhae (wettu ele’e) (‘as for the time of Duha [morning]’). Here, wettu ele’e was chosen to convey the meaning of the Arabic word ḍuḥā. This is significant because Bugis includes words that convey several different ideas of morning time, namely Wettu Wajengpajeng (which occurs in the period from around dawn until 6 am), Wettu Ele’e (around 7am to 9am), and Wettu Abbueng (from around 10am to 11am). The selection of Wettu Ele’e in this context reflects the customary time of the Ḍuḥā prayers performed by AGH Yunus (and santri of Pesantren As’adiyah).

The difference between what is promised in the title of Tafsir Al-Qur’an Al-Karim and its actual contents indicates two things that can be related to AGH Yunus’ translatorial approach and agenda. First, it is clear that this book seeks to provide brief interpretations, presumably on the assumption that it will be distributed to ordinary people who are looking for a concise and uncomplicated understanding of the Qur’an. Second, it is influenced by the debates over the legitimacy of translation of the Qur’an that have occurred in Islamic history. Some ulama refuse to undertake any translation of the Qur’an on the basis that Arabic and other languages are very different. We can posit that AGH Yunus’s was aware of this debate, and that he decided to take the safest path by using the term ‘interpretation’/tafsīr rather than ‘translation’ in his title. This decision may be read as effectively a statement that translation is the most concise model of interpretation. In other words, AGH Yunus tries to find a compromise between ‘translation’ and ‘exegesis’ by choosing to call his work an interpretation while at the same effectively translating it into Lontara-Bugis.

Finally, we can assert that AGH Yunus’ use of Lontara-Bugis as a language of interpretation is an attempt to transmit and transform his understanding of the verses of the Qur’an into one that accords with conceptions held in Bugis culture. Lontara-Bugis is used so that people, as da’wah audiences, can understand the contents of the Qur’an, given that not many of the Bugis community have a detailed understanding of Arabic. At the same time, his use of Lontara-Bugis is also illustrative of an effort to maintain the existence of local Bugis culture within Islamicate literature. Of course, the choice to provide an ‘interpretation’ of the Qur’an and the use of Lontara-Bugis can be linked with, and described as reflective of, the social role of local ulama as interpreters and preachers. In this context, AGH Yunus’s attempt to convey the meaning of the Qur’an in Lontara-Bugis demonstrates how the attitude of the interpreter cannot be separated from their socio-cultural context.

Muhammad Alwi HS and Iin Parninsih

Share this post