Qur’an translation of the week #73: De Edele Koran: A Qur’an Translation from the Indonesian Diaspora in the Netherlands

Interest in Islam and the Qur’an in the Netherlands has led to the publication of several translations of the Qur’an into Dutch, including ‘De Koran’ (1860) by a Jewish Orientalist from Leiden, Solomon Keyzer; ‘De Koran (1956) by the Arabic linguist Johannes Hendrik Kramers; and ‘De Koran (1989) by another Arabic linguist, Fred Leemhuis. In addition to these, a number of transnational institutions, have produced a number of different, and sometimes competing, translations of the Qur’an into Dutch, aiming thereby to strengthen their authority in the global Islamic world. These include both state-sponsored organisations based in, for example Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and influential Islamic institutions such as Al-Azhar.

As a former colony of the Netherlands, Indonesia is connected to its former colonizer in various ways. The appeal the Netherlands holds for many Indonesians can be seen in the exchange of knowledge and language between the two countries and in the migration patterns of their respective people. Accounts of Indonesians moving to the Netherlands, either for temporary visits or permanently, have been recorded since 1600. These Indonesian immigrants range from royal envoys to young people wanting to continue their education, artists, laborers, and unskilled workers. The wave of migration increased when the Netherlands provided an opportunity for residents of the Dutch East Indies (as Indonesia was known before independence) born before 1949 to obtain Dutch citizenship, on the basis that the Dutch government only recognized Indonesia’s independence in 1949. These Indonesian migrants, the majority of whom were Muslims, did not let go of their cultural identity and background after their arrival in the Netherlands. So, it is not surprising that many of the Islamic organizations that have emerged in the Netherlands either incorporate the name of Indonesia in their titles or, in the case of more global Islamic organizations, are organised and run by Indonesian migrants.

During colonial times, Dutch was widely used as a language of business, government, and education in the East Indies. Within this context the first Qur’an translation into Dutch, ‘De Heilege Qoeran’, was produced by Soedewo, a Muhammadiyah school teacher from Java, in 1934. However, following the proclamation of Indonesian independence in 1945, Dutch gradually disappeared from everyday conversation, as well as academic activities, and Soedewo’s Dutch Qur’an lost its social significance in Indonesia. In contrast, Indonesian communities in the Netherlands did continue to use Soedewo’s Qur’an, but, as time passed, it came under criticism for its strong reliance on an English translation of Qur’an ‘The Holy Quran’, produced by Muhammad Ali, who was an Ahmadiyya follower (please see Johanna Pink https://gloqur.de/quran-translation-of-the-week-21-soedewo-and-the-dutch-quran-in-indonesia/ This was problematic, as the Ahmadiyya is not recognized as an Islamic movement by the majority of mainstream Muslims. In addition, ‘De Heilege Qoeran’ also uses archaic Dutch vocabulary, which made it increasingly inaccessible to its target audience.

‘De Edele Koran’(DEK) was produced in 1996, against the background outlined above, in which the only other Qur’an translations into Dutch were authored by non-Muslims or associated with the Ahmadiyya. The translation was undertaken by a team of Indonesian Islamic scholars, with the aim of producing a Dutch Qur’an that could considered as representing the meaning of the Qur’an from the ‘real’ Muslim perspective. The team was led by Sofjan Sauri Siregar, a graduate of the Islamic University of Medina, and consisted of five core translators, all of whom were graduates of Middle Eastern universities, and two Dutch language experts from Leiden University. The translation was completed within six years and, as is laid out in the Introduction of the first edition, was motivated by the search for a translation that provides ‘the correct version of the Qur’an’ (‘een correcte vertaling van betekenissen van de Koran’). My investigation has shown that prior to the translation the team made contact with Fred Leemhuis, the translator of ‘De Koran’, and invited him to discuss issues they had with his Qur’an translation, and it was their dissatisfaction following this meeting that led to the birth of ‘De Edele Koran’ (see https://gloqur.de/quran-translation-of-the-week-66-de-koran-een-weergave-de-betekenis-van-de-arabische-tekst-in-het-nederlands-by-fred-leemhuis/)

Sofjan Siregar, who oversaw the ‘De Edele Koran’ project, studied Sharia at the State University of Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta (formerly IAIN) after which he continued his studies at the Islamic University of Medina and the Imam Muhammad bin Saud University Riyadh in Medina. His fluency in Arabic and understanding of fiqh and uṣūl led to his appointment as a member of the De Nederlandse Raad voor Ifta (the Dutch Fatwa Council). Because of this expertise, he was also appointed rector of the European Islamic University in Rotterdam and became an important figure in various Islamic organizations, such as the European chapter of the Indonesian Association of Muslim Intellectuals (ICMI) (between 2000 and 2015). He was also Director of the Islamitisch Cultureel Centrum Nederland (ICCN), the institution that initially published ‘De Edele Koran’. Not only active in the field of Islamic daʿwah in the Netherlands, Sofjan Siregar even participated in the Indonesian Independent Presidential Candidate convention twice, in the 2004 and 2014 Indonesian elections, after previously establishing a political party, Partai Maslahat Rakyat, in 2002. In the same year he founded the Indonesian Community Forum in the Netherlands – Forum Komunikasi Masyarakat Indonesia Netherland(FKMIN). Although he lived in the Netherlands, Sofjan actively responded to affairs in Indonesia through his writings, which were published posthumously as a book entitled ‘Ijtihad Democracy’ by LP3ES Indonesia in 2020.

Sofjan Siregar’s knowledge of Islam, and his authority and identity as a devout Muslim, give him certain advantages over previous translators of the Qur’an into Dutch with his target readership. It is partly because of this that ‘De Edele Koran’ is one of the most popular translations of the Qur’an among Dutch Muslim communities and has been disseminated both in print and online. To date, according to the introduction to the revised 2020 edition, more than 100,000 copies have been printed and distributed throughout the Netherlands and Belgium. While Soedewo’s version only appears on the Ahmadiyya website, Siregar’s translation appears for free on several Qur’an sites (such as quranunlocked.com and tanzil.net) alongside other Dutch translations of the Qur’an, such as those by Solomon Keyzer and Fred Leemhuis. The popularity of ‘De Edele Koran’ led the Turkish Diyanet to buy a publication license for it five years before the death of Sofjan Siregar so that they can distribute this translation to its network of mosques in the Netherlands and Belgium.

In the years following the publication of Siregar’s translation, many other Dutch translations of the Qur’an appeared, published by various parties with different missions. For example, in 2013 a group of lecturers from the Islamic University of Rotterdam (IUR) decided to publish a translation of the Qur’an, which was published by the IUR Press. In the same year, the Salafi sheikh Aboe Ismail (Jamal al-Hajjaj), Imam of the Moroccan mosque in The Hague, and his students at the As-Sunnah Foundation (Stichting As-Soennah) also published a translation of the Qur’an.

In 2020, Sjahdian Siregar, the eldest son of Sofjan Siregar, republished a revised edition of ‘De Edele Koran’. The revisions to the original edition were carried out by a team chaired by George Muishout (one of Sofyan Siregar students) and Onno van Hulst, together with Asma Claassen and Gokhan Coban from Islamitische Schoolbesturen Organisatie (ISBO) Netherland. In the initial version of ‘De Edele Koran’, the translation was carried out by translating Arabic into Indonesian and then into Dutch, and the text was adapted to the context of Dutch society. This revised edition fixes some of the shortcomings of the early version of ‘De Edele Koran’, in terms of Dutch grammar, as well as adding citations from several well-known tafsīrs without much influencing the meaning of the original reading.

Yulianingsih Riswan

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