Qur’an translation of the week #194: The New Edition of the Indonesian Ahmadiyya Community’s Qur’an Translation

A guest contribution by Jajang A Rohmana, UIN Sunan Gunung Djati, Bandung, Indonesia

Kitab Suci Al-Qur’an dengan Terjemahan dan Tafsir Singkat (‘The Holy Book of the Qur’an with Translation and Concise Commentary’), the latest translation into Indonesian to be produced by the Indonesian Ahmadiyya Community (Jemaat Ahmadiyah Indonesia or JAI), was published in 2023 despite massive polemics against the community in the country and the imposition of official restrictions on their activities. The Ahmadiyya was originally founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835–1908), also known by the epithet al-Masih al-Mau’ud (‘the Promised Messiah’), and has since split into two groups, the Qadiani Ahmadiyya and the Lahore Ahmadiyya. The JAI represents the Ahmadiyya Qadiani community in Indonesia, while the Indonesian Lahore Ahmadiyya calls itself the Indonesian Ahmadiyya Movement (Gerakan Ahmadiyah Indonesia or GAI). Both movements have been active in the production of Qur’an translations within Indonesia. The Indonesian translation of the Qur’an issued by the JAI was first published in 1970, while the GAI’s first edition came out nearly a decade later, in 1979. However, the GAI was the first to issue translations of the Qur’an into Dutch and Javanese, which were published in 1934 and 1958 respectively. Due to the Ahmadiyya’s pioneering role in translating the Qur’an, even the official translation of the Qur’an published by the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs initially used some Ahmadiyya sources, in the 1965, 1974, and 1989 editions. However, these sources were deleted from the 2002 and 2019 editions, reflecting the increasing persecution of the Ahmadiyya in recent decades.

The new, 2023 edition of Kitab Suci Al-Qur’an is the sixth version of the JAI’s Qur’an translation to be produced. Initially published in 1970, it was originally translated by a team of translators under the leadership of the JAI’s national commander (Amir Nasional) in charge of missionaries, Mirajuddin Syahid, and has undergone several previous revisions in 1987, 1997, 2006, and 2014. The 2023 revision began before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, and was undertaken by a translation team of eleven Ahmadiyya activists, all of whom were members of the JAI Manuscript Council, led by Fazal Muhammad, with the technical assistance of several other individuals.

The translation itself consists of two volumes in 2,403 pages, the first of which contains sections (juzʾs) 1–15 and the second of which contains sections 16–30 as well as an extensive index containing cross-references (making it bulkier than the first volume). The translation uses a column format, in which the right-hand column contains the original Arabic while the left-hand column contains its translation into Indonesian in roman script. Unlike the Ministry of Religious Affairs’ Indonesian translation of the Qur’an, which uses brackets to indicate the addition of words or clauses, the JAI’s translation uses italics to indicate words or sentences that do not appear in the source text, e.g. ellipses (maḥdhūf). The phrase bismillāh in the Fātiḥa, for instance, is translated as ‘Aku baca dengan nama Allah’ (‘I read in the name of Allah’). Italics are also used to fill ellipses (maḥdhūf) in the text. In addition, at the bottom of each column, cross-references are provided to relevant verses on the same theme(s) as those translated on the page.

This new edition, like the first edition, draws on two main sources. The first ten juzʾ’s were based on the Urdu-language Tafsir Saghir by Hadhrat Mirza Basyiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (1889–1965), Khalifatul Masih II, and was translated into Indonesian by Malik Aziz Ahmad Khan. (Basyiruddin Mahmud Ahmad was the son of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya movement.) The remaining twenty juzʾs are based on Malik Ghulam Farid’s The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary and were translated by JAI activists Ahmad Anwar and Sukri Ahmad Barmawi. The commentary provided in the footnotes is also based on Farid’s The Holy Qur’an and was translated by a team, the JAI Qur’an Tafsir Translation Committee, which consisted of Mian Abdul Hayye, Abdul Wahid, Sukri Ahmad Barmawi, and Ahmad Anwar.

Other, additional sources were used for comparison, such as Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih II’s Tafsir Kabir in Urdu; Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV’s short translation and tafsīr; the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs’ official Qur’an translation, Al-Qur’an dan Terjemahnya (it is not clear which edition); several other translations of the Qur’an into Indonesian; Qur’anic dictionaries; Urdu, Arabic, and English dictionaries; an Indonesian dictionary (Kamus Besar Bahasa Indonesia or KBBI); and the General Guidelines for Improved Spelling (Pedoman Umum Ejaan Yang Disempurnakan, or EYD).

Why was a new edition of the Indonesian translation of the Qur’an compiled by the JAI? Mirajuddin Syahid, the National Amir of JAI, mentions in his foreword that the revision was deemed necessary due to developments in the contemporary Indonesian language, based on EYD rules. Language alignment according to the latest Indonesian spelling, for instance, can be seen in the words salat, Makkah, Madinah, and setan, in contrast to the previous (2014) edition which used the words shalat, Mekah, Medinah, and syaitan. In addition, the new translation no longer includes any footnotes based on Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV’s commentary. Despite this, there are still 3,474 footnotes in this edition, which is a very large number in comparison to that found in other Indonesian commentary-translations! The reduction in the overall number of footnotes is reminiscent of the Ministry of Religious Affairs’ Al-Qur’an dan Terjemahnya, which was heavily annotated in the first, 1965 edition but had a significantly decreased number of footnotes in the 2002 edition. Section (rubu’) marks have been introduced into this new edition to facilitate recitation, using the letter ʿayn in the Arabic Qur’an columns, and ‘R’ in the translation columns. In a further move towards adapting this translation to Ahmadiyya standards, a number of titles that were not abbreviated in the previous edition now are, so that, for example, Hadhrat is abbreviated to Hz., and Maulana has become Mln.  Furthermore, all the references to the Prophet Muhammad in this edition inlcude Hz. and take the form ‘Hz. Rasulullah saw’ (‘the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him’). This is a form of respect for Muhammad that is unique to the Ahmadiyya community.

Another notable aspect is that this new edition of the JAI’s Qur’an translation has a license (taṣḥīḥ) mark from the JAI’s translation team, which is chaired by Dendi Ahmad Daud (p. iii). Qur’an editions (muṣḥafs) in Indonesia are generally issued their licence by an official institution, Lembaga Pentashih Mushaf Al-Qur’an (The Qur’anic Mushaf Licensing Committee, or LPMQ), which is part of the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The absence of an LPMQ license mark indicates that this new edition was not submitted the LPMQ for an official license (and it may be that this is true for previous editions as well). This raises questions as to why it was not submitted, and why it only includes the internal licence mark of the JAI. The JAI is aware that the arrangement of the Qur’anic verses in their muṣḥafs is slightly different from that of the Indonesian standard muṣḥaf (the Mushaf Standar Indonesia or MSI). This can be seen in the placement of the basmalah at the beginning of all sūras, where it is counted as the first verse, except in Sūrat al-Tawbah (Q 9) where it does not occur. Conversely, the MSI counts the basmalah as the first verse only in Sūrat al-Fātiḥah (Q 1). The other sūras include the basmalah only as a separator between sūras, without counting it as a verse. This causes the JAI muṣḥaf’s verse-numbering system to differ from that of the MSI. Sūrat al-Baqarah (Q 2) in the JAI’s muṣḥaf, for instance, has 287 verses, while in the MSI it has 286. The new edition of the JAI’s translation also differs from the official Indonesian translation in that it uses the Arabic muṣḥaf published by the French Ahmadiyya Community.

The JAI translation is affected by a number of Ahmadiyya teachings that are indebted to a particular type of exegetical rationalism, the influence of which can be seen on those verses pertaining to miracles, prophethood, and the death of Jesus. This corresponds with the reading of the Qur’an found in the sources on which this translation relies, namely Hadhrat Mirza Basyiruddin Mahmud Ahmad’s Tafsir Saghir and Malik Ghulam Farid’s The Holy Qur’an with English Translation and Commentary. Verses that discuss God’s miracles for His prophets are explained in a rationalistic manner in the commentary, since the JAI belief is that the Qur’an does not contradict the laws of nature. In the story of Solomon’s army and al-naml in Q 27:18–19, for instance, which is commonly understood to mean that Solomon could understand the speech of ants, the Arabic word naml is translated not as ‘ants’ but as ‘the Naml tribe’. The story of Moses splitting the sea with his staff (Q 2:49–50) is interpreted as referring to sea water receding due natural causes; the blow of Musa’s staff on the rock that made it emit water (Q 2:60–61) is likewise understood as an ordinary event, on the basis that there may be many places where springs might emerge from the ground from just one blow; and the story of Abraham surviving being thrown into a burning fire (Q 21:69–70) is interpreted by arguing that there might have been rain or storms that extinguished the fire at that time.

One specific issue that also reflects Ahmadiyya teachings is the doctrine that Jesus did not die on the cross, nor was he raised to heaven while still alive, but rather he died an ordinary death on Earth (Q 4:157–158 and Q 3:55–56). Another can be found in the introduction to Q 62, which mentions the possibility of having a spiritual experience through Hz. Masih Mau’ud (Mirza Ghulam Ahmad), and the commentary on Q 62:3–4 reads these verses as evidence for the fulfillment of the second mission of Muhammad in the figure of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. The JAI translation also quotes the ḥadīth on the prophecy of the Star of Thurayya, which is interpreted here as referring to the figure of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Likewise, the well-known reference to the ‘seal of prophets’ (khātam al-nabiyyīn, Q 33:40–41)is explained in the footnotes as meaning two things: a stamp or seal of the prophets, and the last prophet who carries the law of God (sharīʿa). This interpretation does not preclude the appearance of another, non-law-giving prophet such as Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. The JAI’s translation thus clearly conforms to the works of Basyiruddin Mahmud Ahmad and Malik Ghulam Farid.

The publication of a new edition of Kitab Suci Al-Qur’an demonstrates the Ahmadiyya community’s determination to continue producing Qur’an translations, one of their main methods of spreading the message of Islam to the world. Historically, hundreds of Qur’an translations have been published by the Ahmadiyya community and, because their identity as a global pioneer in Qur’an translation is so important to the Ahmadiyya movement, the JAI continues to update their translation, even though it is not licensed by the Indonesian government and will never granted a license because it is considered to ‘deviate’ from the MSI. Amidst increasing restrictions on the Ahmadiyya’s existence and activities in Indonesia, especially in West Java and Banten (see Peraturan Gubernur Jawa Barat No. 12 Tahun 2011 and Peraturan Gubernur Banten No. 5 of 2011 on the prohibition of their activities), this effort to update the JAI translation should be welcomed. It is hoped that JAI translations in regional languages will be pursued, beyond Javanese and Sundanese, to compete with the official translations published by the Ministry of Religious Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, which has to this date produced more than twenty Qur’an translations in Indonesian regional languages.

Jajang A Rohmana, UIN Sunan Gunung Djati, Bandung, Indonesia

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