By Paul Goble
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 (credo.press/239475/).
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.