Qur’an translation of the week #49: “Kur’an-ı Kerim ve Türkçe Açıklamalı Meali”: A Saudi Edition of a Popular Translation into Turkish

Although there are many translations of the Qur’an into modern Turkish, Kur’an-ı Kerim ve Türkçe Açıklamalı Meali is of special interest. Prepared by a team of scholars on the initiative of the Muslim World League (MWL) and first published in 1982, this is a collective work rather than the more traditional individually-authored translation that comprise the majority of modern Turkish interpretations. Following the publication of the MWL-approved 1982 edition, further editions of this translation were published within only a few years by both the King Fahd Qur’an Printing Complex in Saudi Arabia (KFQPC), in 1987, and the Turkish Religious Foundation (TDV), in 1993.

The 1987 KFQPC rendition was effectively an unedited reproduction of the first 1982 MWL edition, but a second edition, additionally revised by Sadrettin Gümüş, one of the original translation team, was published in 1992/1993. This became the effective ‘standard’ edition, and was reprinted in 1997, 2007, 2012 and 2018. This second edition is presented following the typical pattern of most KFQPC translations (such as publishing the Arabic text in parallel with the target text on the page, the inclusion of a formal introduction from the Ministry of Religious Affairs, etc.), and is the fruit of a special cooperation project undertaken in 1990 and 1991 between the KFQPC, the TDV and the Theological Faculty Foundation of the University of Marmara.

It should also be noted that all the members of the original translation team were at the time affiliated with the theological department of the University of Marmara (Istanbul): Ali Özek (1932-2021), Hayrettin Karaman (b. 1934), Ali Turgut (d. 1992), Sadrettin Gümüş (b. 1945), Mustafa Çağrıcı (b. 1950, mufti of Istanbul between 2003 and 2011) and İbrahim Kâfi Dönmez (b. 1951). Ali Özek later became a member of a different team (alongside Nureddin Uzunoğlu, Tevfik R. Topuzoğlu and Mehmet Maksudoğlu), that produced “The Holy Qur’an with English Translation” (Istanbul: İlmî Neşriyat, 1992), one of the first ‘Turkey-based’ English translations of the Qur’an.

According to information given in the introduction of “Kur’an-ı Kerim…”, the members of the team divided the Qur’anic text into six almost equal parts, working individually on each part in the early stages, and then coming together at the final stage in order to ensure the translation was stylistically cohesive. As with almost all Turkish Qur’an translations, each sura is prefaced by a short introduction, and there are also comments appended to the main text, mostly of a simplified nature with no exegetical sources or other references mentioned. The translation also includes quite a detailed thematic index, beginning with the topic of “ahlak” (‘ethics’) and finishing with “muhtelif mevzular” (‘varieties’). The actual text of the translation also includes some interpolations (in brackets), but these are mostly of auxiliary origin: i.e. pronouns explained, some key-concepts interpreted, etc. The style of the translation seems to be rather late Ottoman/Early Modern Turkish, and resembles that of Mehmed Elmalılı, who published one of the first modern translations of the Qur’an in 1935. Arabic words are often used in the text, despite the existence of Turkish equivalents. For example, the very beginning of Sūrat al-Baqara uses Qur’anic vocabulary in almost every verse: “müttakîler” (for muttaqīn) in verse 2, “gayb” (for al-ghayb) and “rızıktan infak| (for mimmā razzaqnāhum yunfaqūn) in verse 3, “kalplerinde” (for qulūbihim) and “azap” (for ʿadhāb) in verse 7, etc.

A good example of this can be seen in Q. 2:218, where almost all of the key concepts in the translation are expressed in language based on the Arabic words: “İman edenler (alladhīna amanū) ve hicret edip (hājarū) Allah yolunda cihad edenler (jāhadū) var ya, işte bunlar, Allah’ın rahmetini (raḥmat Allāh) umabilirler. Allah, gafur (ghafūr) ve rahîmdi (raḥīm)” (‘Indeed, those who have believed and those who have emigrated and fought in the cause of Allah – those expect the mercy of Allah. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful’). Generally, the translators follow the ‘literal’ trend of twentieth-century Saudi exegetics in dealing with theological issues, however, there are exceptions to this. Thus, for example, the phrase yawma yukshafu ʿan sāqin in Q. 68:42 is translated literally as “O gün incikler açılır” (‘the Day the shin will be uncovered’), but a comment explains that ‘this may refer to hardships, or [the Day] when all truths are revealed clearly’ (işlerin güçleşmesi veya bütün hakikatlerin apaçık ortaya çıkması kasdedilir). This comment reflects the most widespread interpretation of this expression, which is that it should be read as referring to some kind of ‘horrifying things’ (shiddat al-amr) that will happen during the Day of Resurrection, while the second interpretation mentioned (about ‘revealed truths’, ḥaqāʾīq al-umūr) is found in a number of late Ottoman tafsīr works, such as those by Abū Suʿūd, Ismāʿīl Ḥaqqī and al-Alūsī. A third interpretation of this verse, which is quite popular in Salafi circles, that the phrase literally means ‘Allah’s shin’ is not mentioned here at all. The influence of the modern Turkish exegetical tradition can also be seen in the commentary provided on Q. 3:7, which states that God has sent down the Book, in which are verses that are muḥkamāt (‘of clear meaning’) and also verses that are mutashābihāt (‘ambiguous’).

While the Kur’an-ı Kerim translators render the phrase wa-mā yaʿlamu taʾwīlahu illā’llāhu wa’l-rāsikhūna fī’l-ʿilmi yaqūlūna in this verse in the most widely accepted way as “Halbuki Onun tevilini ancak Allah bilir. İlimde yüksek pâyeye erişenler ise…| (‘No one knows its interpretation except Allah. And those who are firmly grounded in knowledge say …’), i.e. with a pause after Allāh, they also comment on an alternative reading. According to this alternative reading, it is not only God who knows the true meaning of the Qur’an’s verses, but also those ‘grounded in knowledge’ (al-rasikhūna fī’l-ʿilmi). In accordance with this interpretation, the Turkish translation comments that “müteşâbih âyetlerin manaları, zaman içinde ilmin gelişmesi ile çözülecektir” (‘the meanings of the mutashābih verses in the Quran will become clear with the development of science over time’). This seems to be a kind of modernist reading, orienting the audience towards a ‘scientific’ reading of the Qur’an as containing verses that reveal future inventions and scientific explorations. This could also explain why the index to the translation also includes a list of “kevni/kozmolojik” (‘cosmological’) verses. Quite a popular trend of the 1960s and 1970s, such scientific exegesis was later criticized in some Salafi circles as being “pseudo-rationalism”.

Thus, “Kur’an-ı Kerim ve Türkçe Açıklamalı Meali”, while being a kind of conservative Sunni rendition of the Qur’an (which overall follows Salafi tradition in its literal/grammatical rendition of many verses and its ‘Arabicized’ style), still seems to be promoting a specifically Turkish Qur’anic culture rather than following contemporary Salafi exegetical discourse. Still popular in Turkey under the name “Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı Meali” (and thus fulfilling the role of a kind of ‘standard’ TDV rendition), this translation also has been an important source for Qur’an translations into other languages, for example the Russian translation by Fazıl Karaoğlu (1994) and the Crimean Tatar translation by Riza Fazıl (1998). Its continuing relevance is clearly signalled by the fact it remains one of the main gifts Turkish pilgrims receive during the Hajj pilgrimage, when visiting the city of Madina and the KQPCQ itself.

Mykhaylo Yakubovych

Share this post