Qur’an translation of the week #86: ‘Kur’an Časni’- one of the earliest Qur’an translations in Yugoslavia

One of the most populous Muslim areas of Europe, former Yugoslavia played quite a significant role in the development of Muslim revivalism and activism in the Eastern European context. This is reflected in the fact that one of the first Muslim translations of the Qur’an into the local language, ‘Kur’an Časni’ (‘The Holy Qur’an’), appeared as early as 1937. Published in Latin script in the Serbo-Croatian language (srpskohrvatski), known in present-day Bosnia and Herzegovina as ‘Bosnian’, while in Croatia it used to be known as ‘Croatian’, ‘Kur’an Časni’ was the product of the Bosnian Islamic religious establishment, and was authored by two members of the local ʿulama. The first, Džemaludin Čaušević (1970–1938) was educated in Islamic schools in Bihac (in Bosnia) and Istanbul. He also spent some time in Cairo, where he attended lectures by the famous Egyptian reformer Muḥammad ʿAbduh as well as other scholars. After his return to Sarajevo, Čaušević became a professor in Sarajevo’s Sharia school and, in 1914, was proclaimed the ‘reis el-ulema’ (Grand Mufti) of the Islamic community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, a position he retained until 1930. His co-author, Muhammed Pandža (1897–1962) was one of the most active Islamic leaders in inter-war Bosnia. He was the first editor of ‘El-Hidaje’(‘The Guidance’), a popular Islamic periodical and later published several books on various Islamic topics.

Notwithstanding their outstanding skills (Džemaludin Čaušević, at least, was well-versed in the Arabic language and the Qur’an and its associated Islamic disciplines), the scholars opted to base their translation on another, pre-existing translation rather than the original Arabic text. Their primary source was a Turkish interpretation by Ömer Rıza Doğrul (1893–1952), published in 1934 in Istanbul under the title ‘The Command of God’ (‘Tanrı Buyruğu’). However, the Turkish translation by Ömer Rıza is itself based on the Ahmadi English translation by Muhammad ‘Ali (1917), which means that we have a case where the meanings have been transferred from the Arabic into English, then from English into Turkish, and, finally, from Turkish into Serbo-Croatian. Čaušević and Pandža do not only follow the actual text of Ömer Rıza’s rendition, but also his introductory material (in which he discusses the Qur’an, its features and its most important teachings), prefaces to the suras, commentary and supplements. It appears that Čaušević and Pandža made no additions to their primary source in their translation, but they did shorten some of the commentary they took from Rıza’s text. There is also a question as to whether Čaušević and Pandža were actually aware of the fact that Rıza’s Turkish translation was based on an English translation and not the Arabic source: in the late 1930s some Bosnian scholars were already expressing concerns about ‘heretical’ influences in Qur’an translations, on the basis of their fears of possible influences from the Ahmadi movement.

Džemaludin Čaušević mentions in his foreword that many ‘Islamic centers’ (in Egypt, for example) had already published translations of the meanings of the Qur’an into various languages, and his work is intended to suit the needs of Balkan Muslims. In order to achieve this goal, the translators opted for complete domestication of their text. They used a Western dialect of Serbo-Croatian (which now is regarded as a separate Croatian language) and minimalized the usage of Arabic and Turkish words in the target text (the honorific title ‘hazret’ before the names of prophets, however, is preserved). As with every secondary translation, this work is less accurate than its source, in this case the English translation by Muhammad ‘Ali. In many places, it merely presents the reader with a paraphrase of the overall sense. A good example of this can be found at the beginning of the first verse of Surah 67, where Čaušević and Pandža give ‘Posvećen je, slaven i čist u Biću Svome Onaj, u ćijoj je moći sva vlast i gospodstvo’ (‘The Holy, the Glorious and Pure in His Being, the One in Whose power all the rule and domination is’) for ‘Tabāraka ’lladhī bi-yadihi ’l-mulk’ (translated more literally by Abdel Haleem as ‘Exalted is He who holds all control in His hands’). Here, the Serbo-Croatian translation reads more like a paraphrase with accompanying glosses than a direct translation. Furthermore, these ‘paraphrases’ of meaning often provide descriptive translations of divine names that are somewhat indirect as translations: in their rendition of Q. 15:25, ‘innahu Ḥakīmun ʿAlīmun’ (‘He is All-Wise, All-Knowing’) the reader is presented with ‘On svakom stravi mudro upravlija i svaku stvar istinski poznaje’ (‘He rules every creature wisely and truly knows every creature’).

The influence of Muhammad ‘Ali’s translation (through Ömer Rıza’s work) is also obvious, especially when it comes to verses that address the process of creation. This is not entirely surprising, given that Muhammad ‘Ali was one of the first translators to apply ‘scientific hermeneutics’, i.e. to approach the Qur’an in the light of the modern natural sciences. Thus, for example, in Q. 41:41, Čaušević and Pandža use the expression ‘vremenska razdoblja’ (‘periods of time’) for the Arabic ‘yawmayn,’ and in the first edition of Muhammad ‘Ali’s translation the word is read with the same sense: ‘[He created the earth in] two periods’. However, some of the theological interventions made by Ömer Rıza in the comments, (for example, in Q. 2:23, where he discusses Sunni and Muʿtazili positions on freedom of choice) were omitted from Čaušević and Pandža’s work, probably to make the commentary as simple as possible.

After its first publication in 1937 in Sarajevo, this translation appeared in 1969 in a new, revised edition which was reissued many times since in Zagreb and later, Croatia. In addition to another Qur’an translation by Ali Karabeg (which was also published in 1937 and was mostly based on an earlier Christian Orthodox interpretation of the Qur’an by Mićo Ljubibratić, published in 1895), Čaušević and Pandža’s remained one of the most readily available sources through which to access the Qur’an in Socialist Yugoslavia. Despite some of the controversies behind it, it was also reprinted and distributed by various Islamic foundations based in the Middle East and Africa (for example, in the UAE, and also Egypt, where it was reprinted by al-Azhar University in 1993). However, nowadays, due to the availability of other translations such as that by Bessim Korkut (1976), not to mention more modern renditions, this work is generally out of use.

Mykhaylo Yakubovych

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