New Russian Translation Of Koran Inevitably An Interpretation And Thus A Potential Problem – OpEd


Because of the nature of the Arabic language, any translation from it is a form of interpretation, something that most Muslims view with suspicion and that entails serious problems especially in the case of the Koran and especially given the approach of the current Russian government to religion in general and Islam in particular.

That makes the appearance of any new translation of the meaning of the Koran – neither translators nor Muslims refer to “a translation of the Koran” but instead insist such texts are by nature “a translation of the meanings” of the Arabic original – is thus a major event fraught with problems for Muslims and for the governments of the states within which they live.

There have been Russian translations of the meaning of the Koran since Petrine times, including the now-classical versions offered by Krachkovsky, Shidfar, and Osmanov. Now. Elmir Rafael-ogly Kuliyev has offered a revised version of his 2003 effort which Eksmo publishers have brought out (

In his introduction, Kuliyev acknowledges that however close to the original he has striven to be, his translation like all the others is an interpretation. And for many Muslims, interpretation is a problem because it means that the translator is putting his own ideas in and thus concealing the original intent of Allah who dictated the original.

That is a problem for all Muslims in all countries, but in Russia, there is an additional one. The Russian authorities have already declared extremist translations of religious works they don’t like, including the Biblical translation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the appearance of new translations of the meaning of the Koran is likely to have the same result.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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