Qur’an translation of the week #67: Abdulqadir as-Sufi, the Shādhiliyah-Darqāwiyyah brotherhood, and the path towards the first translation of the Qur’an into Belarusian

Belarusian, which is spoken by around seven million people in Belarus and beyond, is probably the last official, state language in Europe into which the Qur’an has been translated. Belarus has a small Muslim population (of around 30,000, or 0.3 percent of the total population), consisting of an indigenous Tatar community, a newly arrived immigrant diaspora, and local converts, all of whom mainly rely on translations of the Qur’an into other languages, predominantly Russian and Polish. There was a long-established tradition in Belarus Tatar manuscript culture (shared with other Polish-Lithuanian Tatars) of partial translations of the Qur’an from the Arabic and Turkic into Slavic languages which continued into the 1990s, but these projects failed to provide a complete translation of the Qur’an. For example, the first serialized translation of the Qur’an, which was published in the journal Bayram (under the supervision of the Mufti of Belarus, Ibragim Kanapackiy, d. 2005) stopped at Sūrat Ibrāhīm in 2002, since when there has been no further progress. In some ways, this can also be related to the language politics of the country, where Russian remains not only the second state language but the main tool of communication in everyday life.

In 2021, the first complete translation of the Qur’an into Belarusian appeared in a limited edition. Launched by the Istanbul-based publisher Sözler (which mostly specializes in translations of Said Nursi’s Risale i-Nur) during the Minsk International Book Fair (18–21 February 2021), the translation was produced by Aleksei Ismail Kryutsou. Born in the Bryansk region of Russia, not far from the Belarus border, Kryutsou trained in psychiatry at the Military Medical Academy in Saint Petersburg, Russia, A convert with Belarusian and Tatar roots, he is associated with the Shādhiliyah-Darqāwiyyah Sufi brotherhood, specifically the Al-Murābiṭūn group, which, until very recently, was led by one of the most famous European Muslim scholars, Abdulqadir as-Sufi (born Ian Dallas, 1930–2021). Kryutsou was inspired by the example of Qur’an translations by other Muslim converts, such as Aisha Abdurrahman Bewley’s English and Abdel-Ghani Melara Navío’s Spanish translations, and outlined his project as not only aiming to promote Islam in his domestic language, but also to promote the ‘domestication of Islam’ among Europeans. Thus, his Svyaschenny Karan. Pereklad na Belaruskuyu movu (‘The Holy Qur’an. Translation into the Belarus language’) did not take the form of an original, personal reading of the Qur’an, but rather relied heavily on other, previous interpretations (although it still reconstructs the basic meanings of the verses according to the Arabic text of the Qur’an). Among the sources he used were translations into the closest Slavic languages: Ukrainian, Polish, and then Russian. Likewise, when it comes to the tafsīr corpus, Kryutsou also used a number of works in translations, such as a Russian translation of Ibn Kathīr’s tafsīr.

The first edition of Svyaschenny Karan contains the text of the Qur’an, accompanied by a few short footnotes, while the second edition (which is due out next year) will have an updated introduction and more commentary. The style of the text seems to be a kind of grammatical rendition, and appears to be highly reliant on a Ukrainian translation first published by the King Fahd Qur’an Printing Complex in 1434/2013. The language and vocabulary of the translation is modern Belarusian, and sometimes the translator shifts away from the wordings used in the Ukrainian and Russian texts that he relies upon to provide a more profound meaning: thus, for example, while both the Ukrainian and Russian translations by Elmir Kuliev (first published by KFQPC in 2002), have ‘Vidayuchyj’ / ‘Vedajuschij’ (‘The Knowing One’) for the divine name of al-khabīr (Q. 11:1), the Belarusian text provides ‘Dasvedchjany’ (‘The Knowledgeable’).

The main differences between Kryutsou’s translation and the Ukranian and Russian translations seem to occur in the cases of theological issues which often give rise to allegorical interpretations of some Qur’anic verses. For example, in contrast to the Ukrainian and Russian translations, which provide very literal readings of verses describing divine attributes, the Belarusian text provides a footnote under its translation of the word yad (‘hand’) in Q. 5:64 which says: ‘By ‘Hand’ (Yad) His generosity and mercy is is meant, for Allah is pure from (lit.) being described as parts of the body!’ Special attention to such theologically significant verses shows that Kryutsou follows one of the most powerful trends in Qur’an translation, especially in Post-Soviet Muslim communities, according to which the translator’s choice to provide either literal or metaphorical meanings of the divine attributes as described in the Qur’an is usually regarded as a marker of ‘traditionalist’ (Ashʿarī/Mātūrīdī/Sufi) or ‘non-traditionalist’ (Salafi) Islam respectively. Contrasting to that, the translation into English by Abdalhaqq and Aisha Bewley (1999), also belonging to Al-Murābiṭūn but still providing the literal reading of the text.

According to some reports, two more projects to translate the Qur’an into Belarusian are underway, but these have not yet appeared in print. In the meantime, Kryutsou’s Svyaschenny Karan, although printed in limited numbers, and despite the wait for more copies to become available, has already gained quite a lot of attention from Belarusian-speaking readers as the first complete translation of its kind.

Mykhaylo Yakubovych

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