Translating the Quran in Vedic Language
by Muhammadullah Khalili Qasmi
Deoband is again all set to add another translation of the Quran in to its Islamic heritage. It is interesting that the Quran is being translated in the Vedic language of Sanskrit in Deoband, and that too by a woman. Razia Sultana, 22 year old, from a fairly educated Muslim family who completed her Masters degree in Sanskrit from Chaudhury Charan Singh University Meerut has already started this noble task.
She has long cherished a dream to translate the Quran in Sanskrit and with the same intention she completed her Masters. Razia Sultana was inspired to venture this task by her grandfather Pro Muhammad Sulaiman, a Hindi writer and translator. He translated the Quran and wrote its Tafseer in Hindi language in collaboration Maulana Arshad Madani, Professor of Hadith at Darul Uloom Deoband. This first ever Hindi Translation and Tafseer was published by Jamiatul Ulama Hind in two volumes and was inaugurated in 1991 in a splendid ceremony attended by Shankar Dayal Sharma, President of India.
Razia Sultana is using this translation as base for her Sanskrit version. She has already started the translation and completed the translation of more than one part.
History of Quran Translations
The phenomenon of translating the Quran in other languages is not a new one. It started rightly from very beginning of Islam in 7th century. Salman Farsi, the famous Persian Companion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), is said to have first of all translated the first chapter of the Quran Surah Fatihah in his native Persian language.
But, the phenomenon of translating the Quran was not so widespread in early days of Islam as Muslims were culturally dominant and wherever they went they left everlasting impressions on the cultural and social life. Thus Arabic spread far and wide across from Central Asian states of Khurasan, Turkistan and Persia to the African Sahara States up to western African Costs and even up to Europe i.e. al-Andalus which that time included modern-day Spain, Portugal and some parts of France.
In later centuries, the Quran was translated in foreign languages especially Latin, but all these translations were furnished by non-Muslims in order to serve their self designed mottos and which were void of authenticity due to the distortions made by the biased translators.
Robert of Ketton was the first person to translate the Qur’an into a Western language, Latin, in 1143. For the first time in Italian it was by Andrea Arrivabene (published 1547) which was used for the first German translation. Andre du Ryer, a Frenchman who lived in Istanbul and Egypt for some time, made a direct translation from Arabic to French, published in Paris in 1647. Alexander Ross offered the first English version in 1649. But, first scholarly translation of the Quran into English was produced by George Sale in 1734.
Intellectual Heritage of Deoband
Among Muslims, the first translation into Persian, a team effort, was that of al-Tabari's Tafsir done in the period of the Samanid king Abu Salih Mansur ibn Nuh (961-976). But most important contribution in this regard is from Shah Waliullah (1703-1765), renowned philosopher and scholar, who completed translation of the Quran in Persian in India. Shah Waliullah created awareness about the Quran and as part of his mission he embarked on the adventurous task of translating the Quran which was argued by many so-called scholars of the day that the Quranic text can not be reproduced in another language or form. Shah Waliullah was opposed to continue his mission and he suffered repercussions, but true to his commitment, he marched on and behind him followed a generation which reformed Islam in India and revived the Islamic teaching in its purest forms. His sons Shah Rafiuddin and Shah Abdul Qadir translated the Quran in Urdu.
After the Shah family, it was Deoband which succeeded to carry their mission forward. In this line it was first Maulana Ashiq Ilahi Meeruti who translated the Quran in Urdu in 1902, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi in 1905 and then Maulana Mahmood Hasan known as Shakihul Hind in 1919. Among all languages, Urdu is on top and, according to International Research Centre of Islamic History, Art and Culture (IRCICA) based in Istanbul (Turkey), the largest number of works, pertains to Urdu (171 including the anonymous translations), followed by Persian (57), Turkish (50), English (41), Bengali (33), German (22), Indonesian, Malay and Javanese (together 19), French (17), Punjabi (14), Sindhi and Spanish (both 13) and Pashto (11). Nevertheless, the Quran has been translated into most African, Asian and European languages. In 1936, translations in 102 languages were known that now must have advanced further.
Past Sanskrit Translations
But, whether the Quran is being translated in Sanskrit first time, it is a serious question. In view of the long contacts between Muslims and Hindus and their cultural exchange it seems impossible that the most valued scriptures are overlooked. In order to find out answers to the questions, we found that the Quran was translated in Sanskrit earlier as well, but no such works are publicly available. The IRCICA in its research of Quranic translations throughout the world, enlisted two Sanskrit translations which are: Qur'an Sharif, The Holy Koran, Cawnpore: Razzaqi Press 1897, p. 616. Muhammad Yusuf, Qadiyan and Amritsar 1932, p. 724. According to Jayza Trajim Qurani (in Urdu), there was another Sanskrit translation by H Ganday Rao, but no other details were available. Rahul Sankrityayan (1893-1963), a great multi-faceted scholar and traveller, translated the Quran into Sanskrit while he was jailed for three years for anti British writings and speeches.
Sanskrit, a historical Indo-Aryan language one of the liturgical languages of Hinduism and Buddhism, and one of the 22 official languages of India. There is a wonderful link between Arabic and Sanskrit. Arabic is the most living language of the Semitic line while Sanskrit is the mother of Aryan languages. There have been less contacts and exchanges between the two ancient and rich languages.
Some argue that there is no use to translate the Quran into a dead language like that of Sanskrit which is no where spoken by a group of people. But, it can be contradicted by many others that cultural and intellectual exchange also has its importance.
publihsed in monthly Eastern Crescent Mumbai