Qurʾanic translations in Malay, Javanese and Sundanese: a commentary or substitution?

Ervan Nurtawab

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (Book)Researchpeer-review


The language of the Qurʾān is Arabic because the Prophet Muḥammad was an Arab. In this regard, in Q 14:4 God says: “We sent not a messenger except [to teach] in the language of his [own] people, in order to make [things] clear to them.”1 The first evidence of Qurʾanic translation activity comes from the very earliest times, although for the majority of Muslims the Qurʾān as the word of God remains in Arabic. Its recitation may be used in the acts of worship. Its translated versions, on the other hand, are considered commentary and no longer considered the word of God, thus making them unlawful for use in prayer. According to İhsanoğlu, all translations of the Qurʾān may be seen to serve two goals: first, they serve as the medium for understanding the meanings in non-Arabic languages, something Muslims witnessed during the Prophet’s lifetime; second, they offer a substitute, meaning that the recited Qurʾān does not exist in its original Arabic text.2 We find that the Qurʾanic translations which fall into the former category include its original Arabic text. In this category, the translation itself is made for understanding the original Arabic text. As for the latter category, the original Arabic text is no longer included. Instead, not only does the translated version serve as the tool for understanding, but it is also used as a recitation and considered an alternative to the Qurʾān in its original language. The first category is widely accepted in the Muslim world. The second, says İhsanoğlu, has been controversial among Muslims since the period of the Companions of the Prophet, which is when Salmān al-Farsī translated sūrat alFātiḥa (Q 1) into Persian to be recited in their prayers (ṣalāt). The Qurʾān has become one of the most widely translated books in the world. This work on translation may also be considered to be a commentary. This chapter will bring to light the picture of Qurʾanic commentary activity in the Malay, Javanese and Sundanese worlds from the period in which the first evidence of Qurʾanic exegetical activity was found up until the early twentieth century.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Qur'an in the Malay-Indonesian World
Subtitle of host publicationContext and Interpretation
EditorsMajid Daneshgar, Peter G. Riddell, Andrew Rippin
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781315646350
ISBN (Print)9781138182578
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2016

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in the Qur'an

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