Qur’an translation of the week #25: Indonesian Qur’an translation for women

An Indonesian Qur’an translation for women – does this mean a feminist translation? No. It means that, in a country with a market economy and a large urban Muslim middle class, publishers have discovered women as a lucrative target group of bilingual Qur’an editions, just as there is a substantial market for children’s books teaching the Qur’an. The Qur’an has become a commodity and is marketed as such, in myriad editions in all sizes and colors, with prestigious names, recitation aids, and various types of additional material such as hadiths, exegesis, occasions of revelation and prayers.

There are some Indonesian Qur’an editions that target men as well, typically in sober colours with the look of a business planner, but the market for women is larger by several orders of magnitude.

One might think of a number of explanations. Possibly, publishers assume that women are more pious, or more interested in performing their piety through consumerism, or more interested in consumerism in general, which would make them more likely to purchase several copies of the Qur’an in different colours. Or they implicitly target their non-gendered Qur’an editions at men who are treated as the invisible, “normal” gender while women are the visible exception that would need targeted marketing, much as Simone de Beauvoir has already theorized in her 1949 book “The second sex”: “Humanity is male” and woman is the “other”, with particular needs, desires and tastes.

What do publishers do to match those perceived desires and tastes in their Qur’an editions for women? Neither the text of the Arabic Qur’an, the mushaf, nor the translation they use are out of the ordinary; they rely on the government-approved Indonesian standard mushaf and on the translation by the Indonesian Ministry of Religion that we have discussed before (https://gloqur.de/quran-translation-of-the-week-01-al-quran-dan-terjemahnya). The features that they use to make their products appeal to women are not in the text but in the attributes, physical presentation and paratexts.

The covers come in a wide variety of colours and patterns, often made of luxurious fabric, leather or artificial leather, with lace and ornaments. Pink, purple, pastel colours, and flower patterns are particularly common. The pages are coloured, frequently rainbow-coloured, again with a preference for pastel colours and lavish, flowery designs. Many of these editions have names, as is typical of Qur’an editions in Indonesia, but rather than referring to a general Islamic concept such as “Al-Hikmah” or “Adz-Dzikraa”, women’s editions are called “Aisyah”, “Sabrina”, “Yasminah”, “Raihan”, “Shafana”, “Halimah”, or “Humairah”, “Marwah” and “Ash-Shafaa”. We also find “Ummul Mukminin” (“Mother of believers”, an epithet of each of the prophet’s wives) which sounds somewhat strange in the singular.

If a woman has opted to buy the edition presented in this thread, what women-specific content will she find in addition to the Arabic Qur’an and the Indonesian translation? The publisher’s main strategy to tailor this edition to women’s perceived needs is to include boxed paragraphs containing “hadiths about women and family”. These are inserted wherever the editor felt they match the content of the segment of the mushaf printed on that page and concern anything from marriage and menstruation to less gender-specific advice about choosing the right friends or how to attain paradise.

At the very end, the book contains a twelve-page section on “practical fiqh for women”, summarizing rules about ritual washing, menstruation, ritual impurity, dress, conduct towards men, and the role of women in society and marriage, which is mainly described as caring for her household and family. All of these rules project a conservative understanding of Islam according to which modesty, ritual purity and the role of housewife should be among women’s priorities. They also tend to describe women’s roles, rights and duties predominantly in terms of their relationship towards men.

This “Qur’an for women” thus encourages women to perform piety in a gender-specific manner and in a gender-segregated setting, starting with the fact that it construes women as a distinct type of believer with special interests and needs, which center on the family and on their relationship to men.

For more on this topic, we await the work of Muhammad Dluha Luthfillah!

Johanna Pink

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