Qur’an translation of the week #183: Kuran s prijevodom, a Bosnian translation by Esad Duraković

Esad Duraković (born 1948) is a leading Bosnian scholar of Arabic and Islamic Studies. After graduating from the University of Belgrade in then Yugoslavia (now Serbia) in 1972, Duraković embarked on his academic career in Belgrad and Priština (nowadays Kosovo), with a doctoral dissertation on Arabic literature. Since 1991 Duraković has been affiliated with various academic institutions in Sarajevo, particularly the Oriental Institute. During his career, he has published numerous studies on various aspects of Arabic literature, as well as Bosnian translations of a number of works, including the ‘One Thousand and One Nights’(1999), and in 2003 he was awarded the prestigious UNESCO-Sharjah Prize for Arab Culture. Duraković’s research on the Qur’an is mainly concerned with the rhetorical dimensions of the text as can be seen, for example, in his 2009 book Stil kao argument: nad tekstom Kur’ana (‘Style as Argument: Over the Text of the Qur’an’).

Kuran s prijevodom (completed in 2002, and first published in 2004) is one of the most recent translations of the meanings of the Qur’an into Bosnian. In contrast to earlier Bosnian Qur’an translations, Esad Duraković claims to reproduce the actual rhetoric of the Qur’an; for example, he deems it necessary to follow the rhetorical twists (al-iltifāt) of the original Arabic source text while translating. In one study, in which he explains his translation methodology when working with the Qur’anic text, Duraković writes that ‘[any instance of] Qur’anic iltifāt, besides having improved stylistic functionality, is fraught with meaning: it carries the essence in itself of the Qur’anic message’. In a relevant introduction to his translation Esad Duraković reveals his belief in the need for a translation of the meanings of the Qur’an that will prioritize the eloquence of the original text rather than simply engaging with theological issues ‘as have other translators previously’.

The artistic tools Duraković uses in order to realize this approach seem to be quite innovative in terms of Bosnian Qur’an translations. First of all, Duraković undertakes a poetic translation of the Meccan suras which paraphrases the meaning in order to conform to a specific rhyme scheme. Sūrat al-Ṭīn (Q 95), for instance, is rendered with the end-rhyme -e to repeat the -īn end-rhyme found in the original Arabic (‘Tako Mi smokve i masline, i Gore Sinajske, i grada ovoga što siguran je – Čovjeka smo stvorili u obličju koje je najljepše, Potom ćemo vratiti ga na stepene najjadnije!’). Other Meccan suras, depending on the style of the original, are also translated using a rhyme scheme. In contrast, his rendition of the Medinan suras, due to their stylistic features, are in more prosaic wording (although some verse endings are also given a rhyme scheme), and generally corresponds to the ideals of dynamic equivalence translation theory. A particular strong point of this translation is the absence of literalisms and Duraković’s quite intelligent domestication of key concepts. The style of the translation makes it accessible to a wide audience in Bosnia and the neighboring Balkan states.

The actual text of the translation is supplemented by short footnotes (bilješke), which generally conform to mainstream Sunni views. In terms of language and vocabulary, this interpretation is one of the most artistic of the Slavic translations. Its sensitive use of rich, meaningful expressions and rhythm results in a text that is completely attuned to its target audience. A good example of this can be seen in Duraković’s use of rhyme in the first verses of Sūrat al-ʿĀdiyāt (Q 100:1–4):

‘Tako mi deva što sopćući jurišaju, te varnice pod njima sijevaju, i one zorom napadaju, i pri tome prašinu uzvitlaju’,

which reworks the original Arabic end-rhyme of -hā(n) and -ā(n):

wa l-ʿādiyāti ḍabḥā(n), fa l-ʿuwriyāti  qadḥā(n), fa l-mughriyāti ṣubḥā(n), fa-atharna bihi naqʿā(n).

Predictably, Duraković’s attention to the ‘rhetorical twists’ of his source text have made other features of the Qur’anic text less visible. This can be seen, for instance, in relation to the pursuit of the codification of meaning of specific terms. As Mustafa Mlivo, also a translator of the Qur’an into Bosnian, argues in his 101 Neispravimost u Prijevodima Kur’ana (‘101 Mistakes in Translations of the Qur’an’), in many places Esad Duraković renders the same concept or phrase using different wording.For example, the phrase fāra l-ṭannūr, whichoccurs in Q 11:40 and Q 23:27) is translated as ‘voda pokuljaše’ (‘water will flow’) in the first instance, and ‘voda poćne šikljati’(‘water will begin to well’) in the second. And Duraković provides at least three meanings for the Arabic word ṭāgūt: ‘Davol’ (‘devil’, Q 2:256), ‘idola Taguta’ (‘the idol of Tagut’, Q 16:16), and ‘idoli’ (‘idols’, Q 39:17). Duraković mostly opts for the most general meaning of Qur’anic terms and phrases: for instance, araʾyta (‘have you seen?’, Q 107:1) becomes ‘znaš li ti’(‘do you know?’), while al-māʾūn is rendered as ‘dobroćinstvo’(‘charity’). The vocabulary he uses is generally modern, and it seems that previous translations into Bosnian have had no significant impact on his rendition.

Džemal Latić, in his review of Kuran s prijevodom, concludes that Esad Duraković intended to make his translation free from ‘stylistic depression’ and ‘trivial form’. In most aspects, the translator has completely realized his goal. Although many verses cause no additional comments, inconsistencies in some places (especially when dealing with the codification of meaning) may mislead a reader. However, Duraković’s translation, which gives priority to Qur’anic rhetoric and eloquence, is notable for being the only work of its kind in the Bosnian language, and must be esteemed for its literary ambition alone.

The only edition of this work (which was published with the Arabic text of the Qur’an in the same volume) was published in 2004 by Svjetlost publishing house in Sarajevo. It gained a degree of popularity in scholarly circles (judging by the number of reviews that were published), although its acceptance by a broader audience can be hardly compared with that of the most widely-distributed Bosnian translations, such that by Besim Korkut. Still, it appears to be a unique attempt to engage with the literary, artistic side of the Qur’an, and with Qur’anic style. Having said that, it echoes another, more radical idea in translation studies that was promoted in the 1980s and 1990s, that of the ‘poetic translation’, which resulted in such translations of the Qur’an as those by Iman Porokhova (into Russian, 1993) and Fazlollah Nikayin (into English, 2000).

Mykhaylo Yakubovych

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