Qur’an translation of the week #156: From Glorieuze to Heilige: The Distribution of Dutch Qur’an Translations

The Netherlands has a long history of engagement with Islam, due not least to the fact that for some 300 years the Dutch ruled over Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. However, Muslim translations of the Qur’an into Dutch only began to emerge following the onset of the modern, global trend of Muslim migration to Europe.

Global mobilization and the European need for workers after the second world war created opportunities for international migration, drawing individuals from Muslim countries such as Turkey, Morocco, and, in the case of the Netherlands, its former colonies Suriname and Indonesia. This migration has led the Netherlands to become a melting pot of many cultures, including Islam, and the growth of Muslim communities in the Netherlands has, in turn, had an impact on the domestic market for translations of the Qur’an, to meet both the educational and religious needs of the Dutch Muslim community, and the wider general public’s curiosity about Islam, which is effectively a new religion to their country. It is fair to say that, the world over, the drive towards Qur’an translation has emerged in response to the local Muslim community’s need to understand the Qur’an.

The establishment of mosques and Muslim shopping centers in the Netherlands over recent decades likewise reflects a new demand for Islamic products such as clothing, prayer equipment, and Islamic books, including the Qur’an. Dutch Muslims often identify both the Arabic Qur’an and Dutch translations of it by the color of the cover, referring to them as, for example, ‘the Blue Qur’an’ or ‘the Brown Qur’an’ rather than by the name of the translator(s) or their title, which usually follows a fairly typical format along the lines of ‘the Holy Qur’an,’ ‘the Noble Qur’an,’ or ‘the Glorious Qur’an’. The word ‘heilige’ (holy) often features in the title, a usage that can be traced back to Soedewo’s translation of the Qur’an into Dutch in 1934, which in turn was based on Maulwi Mohammad Ali’s English translation, The Holy Qur’an. Soedewo’s translation was followed by two modern Dutch translations by Dutch Arabist scholars, Johannes Hendrik Kramers (1956) and Fred Leemhuis (1989) both titled simply ‘De Koran’.

In 1996, the ICCN, headed up by the Indonesian Muslim Sofjan Siregar, published a Dutch translation under the name De Edele Koran (‘The Noble Qur’an’), a format that was followed by several subsequent Qur’an translations produced by Dutch Muslims.

The Islamic University of Rotterdam published De Levende Koran (‘The Living Qur’an’) in 2013, the same year that De Glorieuze Qorʼān (‘The Glorious Qur’an) was translated by three well-known Muslim figures: Rafiq Ahmed Fris, Mehmet Fatih Ozberk, and Mohammed Aarab. Shaykh Rafiq Ahmed Fris is a Dutch convert who converted to Islam in 1970, following which he married an Egyptian woman and studied in the Middle East (at Medina) and then returned to the Netherlands to become active in daʿwah, joining a Sufi order in the southern Netherlands. Before translating the Qur’an, Rafiq had also translated Pilaren Islam (‘The Pillars of Islam’), a book on the Maliki school of thought that is widely referred to by Dutch Muslims. The second author, Ustadz Muhammad Aarab, is a Muslim of Moroccan descent. Muhammad Aarab is dedicated to performing daʿwah ahl sunnah wa-l jamaʿah through the Sahih NL institution. He teaches fiqh, classical Islamic studies, Islamic law, Sunni spirituality, and also lectures on the Qur’an. The third author, Fatih Mehmet Özberk, is of Turkish origin. Their translation was first published by Turkis Publishing in 2013, by Hayrât Neşriyat, who is affiliated with the Hayrat Vakvi (Hayrat Foundation), an Islamic daʿwah and study organization that teaches Said Nursi’s thought as set out in his Risāla-i nūr.

In 2017, De Glorieuze Qorʼān was republished by Goodword Books with some changes, including the name, from De Glorieuze Qor’ān to Interpretatie van de Betekenesis van De Heilige Koran (‘Interpretation of the Meaning of the Holy Qur’an’). The content of the translation remained but the spelling was adjusted to the more modern Dutch spelling system, such as from Qor’ãn to Koran. As mentioned above, the wording ‘De Heilige Koran’ had previously been used several times in the titles of Dutch Qur’an translations, for example in Soedewo’s 1934 and Jeroen Rietber’s 2004 translations (both of which were published by the Lahore Ahmadiyya), and Nasirah B. Zimmermann’s 1953 translation (which was based on a Qadian Ahmadiyya translation published in Den Haag and Rabwa).

Goodword Books was founded in 1996, by Saniyasnain Khan, the son of the Indian Islamic scholar and peace activist, author, and Qur’an translator Maulana Wahiduddin Khan. The organization is committed entirely to producing essential books that uphold Islamic and ethical norms. Goodword’s website offers dozens of Qur’an translations in a variety of different languages at a very low price point (that starts at $ 0.90), and some are even available for free or as downloadable content. All of the various Qur’an translations have similar cover designs and layouts. The pocket-sized editions are very small and contain only the translation of the Qur’an, without any accompanying Arabic text, explanation, or commentary. All of Goodwoord’s translations are prefaced with a foreword by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, taken from his introduction to his own 2009 English translation. In it, he emphasizes two things: ‘the inner soul and realization of God, and peaceful ideological struggle’ (‘De innerlijke ziel en Realisering van God, een vreedzame ideologische inspanning’).

Modern Dutch Qur’an translations produced in the Netherlands, from my observation, have different target audiences: translations by Dutch scholars can be found in general bookstores, while those by Dutch Muslims tend to only be available from dedicated Islamic shops and websites, which carry a large selection of translations in a variety of colors and formats.  A good example of this is the Qur’an Kerim en Nederland Vertaling, a different edition of De Glorieuze Qur’an by Rafiq Ahmad Fris et al, which is printed and stocked by Mirac, a wholesaler selling Islamic and household products throughout Europe.

In addition to the Goodword edition of Interpretatie van de Betekenesis van De Heilige Koran, another translation, also called Interpretatie van de betekenis van De Heilige Koran, but by a different translator, which does not include the Arabic text of the Qur’an, can also be found in many mosques in the Netherlands, but this edition is not for sale. This translation is published by the Conveying Islamic Message Society, Egypt and distributed in the Netherlands and Belgium by Stiching OntdekIslam, Rotterdam.

For previous discussions of the Qur’an translations published by Goodword on the Gloqur website, see:

Qur’an translation of the week #101: Global da’wa in French and the gender question- Shahnaz Saïdi Benbetka’s French Qur’an translation, published by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s Goodword Books
Qur’an translation of the week #100: ‘The Qur’an: English Translation, Commentary and Parallel Arabic Text’ by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan and Prof. Farida Khanam
Qur’an translation of the week #61: A ‘Muslim’ edition of an Orientalist Qur’an translation: the newly revised Polish translation Koran. Interpretacja znaczenia według Józefa Bielawskiego

Yulia Riswan

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