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On Some Recent Translations of the Qur'n Author(s): A. Bausani Source: Numen, Vol. 4, Fasc. 1 (Jan., 1957), pp.

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SHORTER NOTES
ON SOME RECENT TRANSLATIONS OF THE QUR'AN

R. Blachere's clear and useful translation of the Qur'an, published in three volumes in the years I947-I95I, seems to have opened the door to a flow of re-translations of the Muslim Holy Book into various languages. Almost contemporary with Blachere's version is the first volume of an English translation of the Qur'an prepared by the qadyani Ahmadiyyas of Pakistan, with a long introduction by the Chief of the Ahmadiyya Community and very abundant footnotes. In I953 the indefatigable and prolific English orientalist A. J. Arberry produced an Anthology of the Qur'an 1), followed in 1955 by a complete translation in two volumes. In 1954 the Ahmadiyya Mission in Europe published (in Holland) a German translation. The following year saw the publication of my Italian translation with introduction and notes: another Italian translation, not yet published, had been entrusted by another publisher to a remarkabe personality in Italian orientalism: M. M. Moreno, presently Italian Plenipotentiary Minister in Khartum. At last, in I956 a Dutch translation of the Qur'an was published, as the posthumous work of the great Dutch orientalist J. H. Kramers. All this work of re-interpretation has been accompanied by studies and "Introductions" into the religious world of the Prophet of Arabia, of which I only mention R. Bell's Introduction to the Qur'an (I953), W. Montgomery Watt's Muhammad at Mecca (I953), G. Widengren's study on Mohammad the Apostle of God and his Ascension (I955). I leave apart the more technical articles appeared on various scientific journals concerning this and that Qur'anic problem. We are now very far from the times when the Qur'an was a book sealed with seven seals for the Christian world! The books mentioned above contain nothing extremely new for what concerns philology stricto sensu: actually Qur'anic philology does not present those complicated problems implied in the interpretation, e.g.,
I) A. J. ARBERRY, The Holy Koran, London, I953.

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of the Avesta or other religious Books of the antiquity. We can freely say that - with some minor exceptions - we substantially know pretty well what the Qur'an means, at least what it meant for centuries to the Muslim world. The only originality that the new translations may offer is an originality of approach. For a really new interpretation, whose interest would however remain purely philological and probably affect more the Muslim world than the Western, we have to wait the final results of the preliminary works for an editio critica of the text, begun already in I930-34 by Bergstrasser and Pretzl and continued by others: particularly interesting in this aspect are the painstaiking and extremely accurate studies of P. E. Beck 2). The translations made by Muslims, on the other hand, are further examples of tentative solutions of the central problem of Muslim modernism: i.e. to justify modern trends, though remaining attached to the traditional and antiquated idea of the verbal inspiration of the Holy Book. As it is well known - quite differently from what happened in the history of Christian theology - Islam, and even its most modernistic representatives, always considered the Qur'an as the literal dictation of the actual words of God to the Prophet. In a way all the attempts of modernism in Islam could be defined as attempts to give modern meanings to words spoken by God directly to solve problems of an Arab community of thirteen centuries ago, whereas even orthodox Christian moderns - with the now widely accepted idea of a non-verbal inspiration of the "holy" authors, - simply try to imagine what those holy persons would have said when faced with our present problems: a task, perhaps, more colourful and phantastic, but no doubt easier! But let us return to our books, beginning with the Ahmadiyya translations. a) The Holy Qur'an, with English translation and commentary. Rabwa, 1947 ff. b) Der Heilige Qur'an. Arabisch-Deutsch. Versehen mit einer ausfiihrlicher Einfiihrung, unter der Leitung von Hazrat Mirza Bashi2)

Koranlesung in den beiden ersten Jahrhunderten(1948, pp. 326 ff.); Die Kodizesvarianten der Amsar (ibid. 1947, pp. 353 ff.); Die Sire ar-Rgm (ibid. I944 pp. 334 ff., 1945, pp. 118 ff.) etc.

his articlesin Orientalia, derkufischen Especially e.g. StudienzurGeschichte

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ruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Zweiter Kalif des Verheissenen Messias, Oberhaupt der Ahmadiyya-Bewegung des Islams. Ahmadiyya Mission des Islams, Den Haag, I954. The second translation is without footnotes, and contains only a detailed Introduction, which is a summary of the English Introduction of the previous work. The ideas of the Ahmadiyya movement are sufficiently well-known in Europe, especially due to the vast propaganda made by this branch of Islam in the Western world. The Qddyand subdivision of the Ahmadiyyas, having now, after the partition of India, its center in Rabwa ca. Ioo km. from Lahore in Pakistan, is the more conservative section. They are generally (and in my opinion wrongly) known as a "modernistic" and "progressive" movement of Islam. Only an example: at p. 496 of the first vol. of the English translation (footnote) the reader will notice that these alleged "modernists" - contrarily to many modern Muslims who try to explain away polygamy from the Qur'an - maintain that "the West will never recover from the terrible moral and social diseases from which it is suffering...unless, setting aside all false notions and false sentiments, it submits to the Islamic injunctions about polygamy". the small town of During my visit to their center in PakistanRabwa, practically created out of a desert by the remarkable efforts of the Ahmadiyya refugees from Qadyan (India) - I did not succeed in seeing a single woman: the "parda" custom, now gradually abandoned even by conservative Muslims, is by them most strictly observed. One of their most "modern" tendencies is their categorical and meritorious refuse of the Holy War, but for what concerns dogmatics Ahmadiyyas (and specially Qadyanis) can not at all be considered as it is often the case in Handbooks of Islamistics -under the heading "modernistic trends". At p. II35 and 1227 of this

same work (notes to XII, 3 and XIV, 5) the commentator maintains, following the ideas of the Founder of the Movement, that Arabic is the mother of all languages (umnmu 'I-alsina), a tenet which has nothing to do with modernism and that, together with other ideas as that of the death of Jesus Christ in Kashmir, has become almost a new dogma for the Ahmadiyya believers. The English Introduction comprises 276 pp. and is a most interesting and authoritative compendium of the Ahmadiyya doctrines. The translation is generally accurate, but can be useful only for those

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who know the "weak points" of the Ahmadiyyas. They show a general tendency to rationalize the eschatological parts of the Qur'an and to smooth away every trace of anthropomorphism. One example: LV, 30 is so translated into German: "Ihn bitten alle die in den Himmeln und auf Erden sind. Jeden Augenblick (offenbart Er Sich) im (neuem) Glanz" (for "every day He is upon some labour", Arberry). The idea that God is every day occupied in new works evidently seemed too anthropomorphic: the Ahmadiyya doctrine also denies the commonly accepted Muslim tenet that God can abrogate a passage of the Holy Book substituting it with another. c) II Corano. Introduzione, Traduzione e commento di Alessandro Bausani. Firenze, I955 ("Classici della Religione", Collezione diretta da Raffaele Pettazzoni). It is not easy for an author to speak of his own work without falling into an excess of (false) modesty, or, in the worst case, of exaggerated self-contentment. Reading the precedent two translations of the Qur'an into Italian, that of Fracassi and that of Bonelli 3), one is compelled to remark two facts: the extremely literal rendering of the original, which completely spoils the text of any literary beauty, and the almost total lack of foot-notes and commentary, which makes practically impossible to the Italian non-specialist reader of the Qur'an to understand the text. Moreover Bonelli's translation included only a very short introduction (no more than ii pp. in I6?). My aim in retranslating the Sacred Book of Islam has been that of giving to the Italian non-specialist public what was not to be found in the preceding translations: a readable Italian prose, which in some parts of the Qur'an, especially Meccan sura's, passes into a sort of rhythmic prose; a sufficiently extended Commentary (238 pp.); an Introduction (78 pp.) on the life of the Arabian Prophet, and the history of his Book. In the Commentary I abounded as much as possible in the indication of cross-references: the first commentary of the Qur'an is that given by itself, and the utility of a wise employment of this internal system to the study of this Book (and other Sacred Scriptures too) will never be emphasized enough. In my commentary, among other things, I tried to show
Bonelli's translation substituted the preceding one by Fracassi (published in the same collection "Manuali Hoepli" in 1914) which was unscientific and very imperfect.
II Corano. Milano, 1929 (2 ed. with only slight changes, I940). 3) L. BONELLI,

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how the Qur'an is not so "contradictory" and so similar to a rudis indigestaque moles as many still think. Moreover, I tried to correct here and there what I think to be the prejudices of a certain Western scholarship about the Qur'an: such as the idea that Muhammad was an "ignorant beduin" who had only extremely vague ideas of the Christian and Jewish scriptures; that of the "materialistic" eschatology of the Qur'an, and that of the impossibility of the Qur'an containing also some allegorical or symbolical materials 4). d) A. J. ARBERRY, The Koran Interpreted. London, I955 (in 2 voll., the first comprising suras I-XX, the second XX-CXIV). The aim of the new translation of Mr. Arberry into English is practically the same as that of mine into Italian. In his Preface (22 pp., mainly devoted to a study of other English translations of the Qur'an) he writes (p. 24): "The discriminating reader will not have failed to remark, even in the short extracts quoted, a certain uniformity and dull monotony characteristic of all, from the seventeenth down to the twentieth century. A conscientious but slavish faithfulness to the letter - so far as the letter has been progressively understood - has in general excluded any corresponding reflection of the spirit, where that has at all been appreciated". I agree completely with this view of the learned Professor of Cambridge: the more or less precisely definable anti-islamic spirit, which was and partly still is widely spread in even highly educated European milieus, is also a result of the style of the majority of European translations of the Holy Book of Islam. It would be difficult to express in words better than those of Prof. Arberry an experience that every translator of the Qur'an - not lacking at least a minimum of "poetical" sense should share: "There is a repertory of familiar themes running through the whole Koran; each Sura elaborates or adumbrat s one or more - often many of these. Using the language of music, each Sura is a rhapsody composed of whole or fragmentary leitmotivs; the analogy is reinforced by the subtly varied rhythmical flow of the discourse. If this diagnosis of the literary structure of the Koran may be accepted as true - and it accords with what we know of the poetical instinct, indeed the whole aesthetic impulse, of the Arabs 4) See now,on thesethreesubjects, my articlePostillea Cor.II, 248-XXXIX,
23-

XX, 15 in "Studi Orientalistici in onore di Giorgio Levi della Vida". Rome,

1956, I vol., pp. 32-51.

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it follows that those notorious incongruities and irrelevancies, even those "wearisome repetitions", which have proved such stumblingblocks in the way of our Western appreciation, will vanish in the light of a clearer understanding of the nature of the Muslim scriptures. A new vista opens up; following this hitherto unsuspected and unexplored path, the eager interpreter hurries forward upon an exciting journey of discovery, and is impatient to report his findings to a largely indifferent and incredulous public". This writer agrees so completely with Prof. Arberry's statement that he regrets not to have had the courage (due perhaps to an excess of scientific prudence) to express himself more clearly on this subject in his commentary. See however pp. LXIV ff. of my introduction and passim in various footnotes (as e.g. XI, 35) where I express the opinion that the "interpolations" so easily detected by European scholars unware of the artistic unity of some outwardly "broken" passages, may in some cases be due to an excess of criticism. It is only a pity that Prof. Arberry did not deem it useful to append to his so valuable "interpretation" a commentary or a longer and more detailed introduction, in order to elucidate his new views more fully. c) De Koran. Uit het Arabisch vertaald door J. H. Kramers. Amsterdam, I956. pp. XX, 728. This is a posthumous work by the well-known Arabist and Islamist of Leiden. He had worked at this translation long years, but unfortunately he was not able to complete it with a sufficient quantity of foot-notes and an introduction. The introducion of the present edition (14 pp.) has been written by the editor of the book, Mr. R. W. van Diffelen, from notes by the Author. The footnotes are unfortunately rather scarce and prepared by the editor basing himself on marginal manuscript notes by Kramers, but very useful indications of cross-references (work of Kramers himself) are inserted in the text. The editor is also responsible for the short introductions to the single suras. Completely a work of Kramers is the very detailed alphabetical Index at the end of the book (more than 80 pp.), which will prove very useful to every student of the Qur'an; it is perhaps not exaggerated to say that it is one of the best of such Indexes. This eulogy of the Index does not however mean a depreciation of the translation itself, which is exact and a fruit of wide and deep erudition. My knowledge of Dutch is not so deep as to allow me the possibility

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of a literary judgement. It seems to me however that Kramers' translation is made on the pattern of the classical scientific translations, and quite far from Arberry's "new style". Summing up, it seems that, after the long and fruitful work of European scholars for a better understanding of the literal meaning of the Qur'an, not much has been left to the recentiores to say in this field. The way is now open to a better and deeper appreciation of the aesthetic and religious (two terms meaning things not so different as it seems at first sight) value of the Qur'an: a way until now barred by the sacred horror of the Muslims to connect such a frivolous term as "poetry" with the Word of God, and by the overcriticism of certain "pure" philologists (read "pure" in the sense of "arid") of Europe. A. BAUSANI.Rome

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