The Muslim population in Indonesia now numbers some 241 million, equivalent to around 87% of the country’s total population, making it the largest Muslim population not just in Southeast Asia, but across the world. This has clearly created a huge market for Islamic goods and facilities for worship. In general, the Indonesian government provides for the needs of all of Indonesia’s various religious communities through the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA). In the case of Islam, this covers things such as the physical houses of worship, as well as more logistical aspects such as Hajj regulations and the distribution of copies of the Qur’an. When it comes to this last issue, namely the Qur’anic muṣḥaf, an institution within MoRA, the Lajnah Pentashihan Mushaf Al-Qur’an(LPMQ), is in charge of the authorization and distribution of Qur’ans in Indonesia. In addition to checking that all editions published or distributed in Indonesia are free from errors, the LPMQ is also responsible for producing the official translation of the Qur’an into Indonesian. All Qur’an translations that are distributed in Indonesia, either freely or commercially, must either use the standard MoRA translation or be checked and authorized by the LPMQ (Nugraha, 2018). The Qur’an publishing industry tends to favour using the official MoRA translation, for which copyright permission is free, since submitting a new translation for approval requires that the text undergoes a verification process (tashih) with the LMPQ that takes a long time and also costs money.
One of the private companies that has benefitted the most from the publication of Qur’an translations and associated Qur’anic works is the Syaamil Group, a Bandung-based Islamic publishing company. One of its most popular Qur’an products is My First Al-Qur’an (MyFA), an Indonesian translation of the Qur’an aimed at children launched by Syaamil in 2010. Muslims in Indonesia believe that teaching the Qur’an to children should start at as early an age as possible, and this obviously opens up opportunities for the Qur’an publishing industry. MyFA is published in two parts: the first is a copy of the Arabic muṣḥaf in two volumes, and the second is a translation of the Qur’an accompanied by additional elements, also in two volumes. The MyFA translation is taken verbatim from the MoRA 2004 edition of the official translation, Al-Qur’an dan Terjemahnya. Various supplemental materials have been added to this, including the Prophetic sīraand stories of the prophets, a map that illustrates the daʿwa journey of the Prophet Muhammad, and a special section called ‘Now I Know’ included on some pages to educate children about specific Qur’anic verses, as well as provide information about various important Muslim figures and a dictionary of Qur’anic terms (Arabic-Indonesian-English). This Qur’an is printed on colorful paper with a thick art-paper cover that cannot easily be torn.
It is clear that this project was undertaken with the goal that Muslim children in Indonesia would be able to conveniently access comprehensive information about the Qur’an and Islamic teachings. My First Al-Qur’an (MyFA) is one of approximately fifty versions of the Qur’an published by the Syaamil Group. This particular edition is certainly very useful, but the translation volume sometimes includes additional information that is random and often not related to the Qur’anic text. A particular problem is presented by the fact that MoRA’s Qur’an translation uses formal language and does not provide any explanation or guidance about how each verse should be interpreted. Using this translation verbatim in a children’s book is problematic, as it means that the Qur’anic message often does not reach the reader, while the other ornaments, such as the sīra and maps, seem to be just band aids that don’t actually fix the main issue, even though they do certainly provide additional knowledge.
Syaamil was originally established as an Islamic publishing company, and benefitted from a boom in popularity of Islamic novels in Indonesia following the start of the reformation (reformasi) period in the late 1990s. However, despite this initial success, the company went bankrupt due to internal management problems. After this, Syaamil metamorphosised, adopting a policy according to which the company would not pursue any more riba (“usury”) practices and would focus on the da’wa of making the Qur’an down to earth and more accessible to the general lay believer (membumikan Al-Qur’an, literally ‘grounding the Qur’an’), who would be enabled to live according to the Sira. They retained Syaamil as the brand name under which they published their various editions of the Qur’an, but the company overall changed its name to Sygma Group, and devoted itself to marketing its own Qur’ans, as well as printing and creating content for Syaamil products.
The company is very concerned with packaging, and applies three principles to all of its packaging products and processes. The first is tayyib, according to which it only uses raw materials that have been halal-certified by the Majlis Ulama Indonesia (MUI) in its printing production. This applies not only to the paper used in the Qur’an copies, but also to the glue used, which must not be made from animal bones. The second principle is adab, according to which all employees who come into direct contact with the muṣḥaf must be in a state of ritual purity and ablution (wudu). Thus, if a female employee is menstruating, she will be placed in a section where she does not have to come into direct contact with the raw materials until she has finished her period. The third principle is proper tashih, or authorization: Syaamil claims that the Qur’ans it publishes have been authoritized by the Ministries of Religion of three countries: the Republic of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei Darussalam. Syaamil/Sygma also emphasizes the principle of operating within an Islamic print culture. Other small publishers operating within the Qur’an printing industry often choose to print the Qur’an in cooperation with large and established printing companies that are not necessarily owned by Muslims, due to the substantial capital required. However, Syaamil/Sygma are solely Muslim-owned and operated.
The years between 2010 and 2012 saw the Sygma Group experience tremendous growth. My First Al-Qur’an (MyFA) and Al Quran Hijaz Terjemah Per Kata (‘The Qur’an Translated by Word’) almost instantly became phenomenally successful products, shocking the Qur’an publishing industry in Indonesia and Malaysia. A single printing of Al-Qur’an Hijaz can run to 600,000 copies per day. Another product that became extremely popular was Al Qur’anul Karim“Miracle:the Reference”, which is almost identical to Al Quran Hijaz as both use the standard MoRA translation, which is inserted in the borders around the Arabic text. In addition to the MoRA translation, Miracle the Reference also includes commentary from Ibn Kathīr’s tafsīr to explain each verse. Both MyFA and Al-Qur’an Miracle:the Reference are sold with an e-pen, which makes them more expensive, but they are still a sought-after, high-class product. These Qur’ans and the translations are often paid for in monthly installments.
The Sygma Group consists of twelve companies that support each other’s businesses, and which all combine to constitute a huge Islamic undertaking. It runs various programmes to implement its vision of ‘membumikan Al Qur’an’, and it has no less than 3,000 Qur’an resellers throughout Indonesia. Syaamil furthermore runs a program called ‘Qur’an Tour of the Qur’anic Village’ (Wisata Qur’an Kampung Quran), for which Syaamil invites customers to visit its Qur’an production facility and view the production process. It has also established Pesantren Bumi Langit, an Islamic boarding school for young Muslims who want to memorize the Qur’an. In addition, Syaamil has become the primary sponsor for ‘Hafiz Indonesia,’ a Qur’an memorization competition broadcast on national television during Ramadhan. When it comes to television, Syaamil is also a licensing and sponsorship partner for ‘Riko the Series,’ a very popular animated children’s series with the theme of Qur’an and science. Inevitably, ‘Riko the Series’ has published a special Qur’an, which also involves Syaamil as a licensed sponsor.
Islamic publishing houses in Indonesia have at least four distinct kinds of affiliation: party politics, campus research centers, non-campus research centers, and non-organizational affiliation-based business centers (Zakki, 2009). An organizational affiliation with party politics means that a particular Islamic publishing house has a historical connection to a certain brand of party politics and even promotes the ideology of a specific party. The Syaamil Group is not specifically affiliated with any particular political party, even though its present director, Riza Zacharias, is the chairman of the Business Network and Cadre Economic Empowerment of the Prosperous Justice Party (Partai Keadilan Sejahtera-PKS), an Islamic party that has adopted the Muslim Brotherhood’s cadre system. In addition to his role as a businessman, Zacharias is also known as an Islamic preacher. As an Islamic book publishing company, Syaamil has positioned itself as a medium for Islamic daʿwah for the urban and upper-middle classes. Some of the products use special taglines, such as ‘MyFA, being pious and smart!’ and the latest tagline for the Syaamil Qur’an, ‘Friends until Heaven! (Sahabat Sampai Surga!)’ The innovative, fresh expressions used in these taglines have undoubtedly contributed to the popularity of works produced by Syaamil among urban Muslim communities in Indonesia.
When one takes into consideration the growing and diverse products of the Islamic publication industry, it is clear that the industry represents an important arena for economic activity with excellent business prospects in Indonesia. It also provides a significant means for influencing public and private perceptions of Islamic teachings and practices in the country, which is a largely Muslim country with a significant number of Islamic schools catering to students at both primary and higher levels.
However, for the future development of products such as MyFA, it might be advisable to modify MoRA’s official translation of the Qur’an to cater to the various language development phases of children. While standardized translations may be considered necessary for consistency and authenticity, a failure to produce child-friendly Qur’anic materials that align with the language and comprehension levels of young readers will mean that publishing companies like Syaamil are effectively only selling titles and images.
- Akh Muzakki, ‘The Islamic Publication Industry in Modern Indonesia: Intellectual Transmission, Ideology, and the Profit Motive’ (PhD Dissertation: School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, University of Queensland, 2009).
- Eva Nugraha, ‘Dissemination, Commodification and Sacredness of the Holy Book: Case Study of Mushaf al-Qur’an Publishing Business in Contemporary Indonesia (PhD Dissertation: UIN Syarif Hidayatullah Jakarta, 2018).