Translating the Qur'an into regional languages in Indonesia began back in the 1800s. At the time, Kyai Sholeh Darat from Semarang translated the Qur'an into Javanese. He translated it into pegon, which is Javanese written in Arabic letters. This particular translation had considerable influence on the country's national heroine, Raden Ajeng Kartini. Last June, the Islamic community in the East Java city of Madura launched the Qur'an in the local Madurese language. Although only three of the Qur'an's 30 sections have been translated, it nonetheless becomes the latest addition to the already long list of local translations of Islam's holy book. What are the problems of translating the Qur'an? Can local languages capture the essence of Qur'anic verses? Tempo looks into the stories behind the translations of the Qur'an in Madurese, Acehnese, Sundanese and Mandar.
ONE Saturday afternoon, sheer pride filled Abdul Aziz, a resident of Pademamu in Pamekasan, Madura. It was a day in June, when the 32-year-old man along with hundreds of Pademamu villagers, local religious leaders or ulema and Pamekasan regent Khalilurrahman, marked the launch of the official translation of the Qur'an in the Madurese language, at the Ronggosukowati Pendapa community center in Pamekasan. The translated works, entitled The Qur'an Translated into Madurese: Parts 1, 2, and 3, was launched by the local Qur'anic Translations and Study Institute.
According to Aziz, the translation of the Qur'an into Madurese had been carried out chiefly by ulemas who understood the essence of the Arabic language and grammar. The statement above is one example of their works it is an excerpt from Verse 183, Second Chapter of the Qur'an which has been translated into the Madurese language, and calls on people of faith to fast in the month of Ramadan (fasting month). At present, only three of thirty parts have been translated completely from the Qur'an's First Chapter to Verse 91 of the Third Chapter. This in itself took three years, beginning 2008.
In addition to Aziz, the Jamaah Pengajian Surabaya (JPS), a religious study group with its offices on Jalan Peneleh in Surabaya, has expressed gratitude for this particular translation of the Qur'an. Indeed, the initiative and core idea to have Islam's holy book translated into Madurese emerged from this group.
"The teaching of our teacher, the late Kyai Haji Abdullah Sattar Madjid Ilyas, was clear the reading of the Qur'an in a language used on a daily basis is easier to understand, and follow," said Haji Indrayadi, a JPS elder, last week.
Abdullah Sattar, who died on October 2, 2010, was the son of Abdul Madjid, a man who founded the study group in 1957 which today boasts thousands of followers from across Surabaya, Lawang and Malang. The JPS may be headquartered in Surabaya but its followers consist of not just the Javanese, but also Sundanese and the Madurese.
Once, during a study session, KH Abdullah allowed the participants to read translations of the Qur'an in their local languages. The Javenese and the Sundanese immediately fished out the local translations of the Qur'an. But those from Madura were unable to do so.
"This is what started all our efforts to translate the Qur'an into a language for the people of Madura," KH Ali Rahbini, Head of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) in Pamekasan told Tempo last week. According to Haji Indrayadi, he was ordered by Kyai Abdullah to being this work in 1998. "However, the initial preparation work only began in 2002," said Indrayadi, a native of Pamekasan and graduate of Surabaya's November 10 Institute of Technology.
In truth, a complete Madurese translation of the Qur'an has been done before, in 2006. The reference for this translation however was the Al-Quran Terjemahan Bahasa Indonesia, or an Indonesian translation of the Qur'an. KH Abdullah signed the book's first printing, entitled Al-Qur'an al-Karim, A Translation of the Qur'an into the Madurese Language. Former East Java governor Raden Panji Mohammad Nur provided with the book's foreword. In it, he hoped that the translation could elucidate the essence of the Qur'an for the Madurese. That first Madurese translation of the Qur'an only saw a limited circulation just 500 copies were printed.
The JPS took this translation work to the State Islamic College (STAIN) of Pamekasan for validation purposes. The STAIN of Pamekasan side held back on giving its stamp of approval and decided to look into the matter first. They asked for input from the MUI, the country's largest Islamic organization the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), and religious leaders from a number of Islamic boarding schools, including the Islamic Boarding School of Bata-Bata, Banyu Anyar, Ummul Quro Assuyuty in Pamekasan; the Annuqoyah and Al-Amien Islamic Boarding School in Prenduan, Sumenep; and leaders from Sampang and Bangkalan.
One day, scores of religious leaders in Madura, all fluent in the local tongue, and representatives of the JPS gathered at the Al-Amien Islamic Boarding School in Prenduan, Sumenep. They broke into several groups to inspect the translation work. "The meeting lasted from 2pm to 5pm. We were only able to discuss the translation of Bismillah (the recurring phrase "In the name of God" found at the beginning of the first chapter)," said Rahbini, laughingly. There were no further meetings after this initial gathering at Al-Amien. No validation of the translated work came after that.
Undaunted, a few months later, in 2008, the JPS again visited STAIN of Pamekasan. They proposed a smaller team of translators be used. A team consisting of twelve members was finally formed, with three representatives each from the ulama and kiai (cleric), STAIN, JPS, and Madura language experts from the Pakem Maddu Foundation of Pamekasan. This team formed the Qur'anic Translations and Study Institute (LP2Q), which was headed by KH Lailurrahman from the Ummul Quro Assuyuty Islamic Boarding School in Plakpak, Pamekasan.
"We met every Friday night, sometimes at my house, sometimes at the official residence of the Pamekasan Deputy Regent," said Lailurrahman. It took three years to complete the first three parts, he said. The chief difficulty involved the lengthy deliberations over correct use of grammar for verses of the Qur'an, and putting into context the appropriate meaning in the Madurese language.
One example is the word shudhur, which literally means chest. In the true context of the verse however, said Lailurrahman, it does not mean chest, but what is in the heart. "So, if it was difficult to translate it literally. We would translate it according to its intent," he explained. The LP2Q translation, said Lailurrahman, was a second effort at translating the Qur'an in Madurese. The JPS (first) translation was used for comparison. "There were many uncertain meanings in the JPS version, so we reworded it," he said.
The main references used by the LP2Q translation were the exegesis Tafsir Jalalain by Jalaluddin asy-Syuyuthi, and Jalaluddin Muhammad Ibn Ahmad al-Mahalliy. Another reference was the Kitab I'robul Quran. The translation used the alphabet, but stuck to standard Madura spelling of words. "After becoming involved with this translation work, I realized there was much of the Madura language that I did not know," said Lailurrahman.
Despite only completing the first three parts, the team agreed to release the translated works to the public. This was done for two reasons: first, to in essence ask for their blessings to complete all thirty parts; second, to gauge the public's response. According to Lailurrahman, it turned out that this project does have the broad support of the people of Madura. Upon seeing this response, they are targeting that the remaining 27 parts be completed in the next four years. If this project is completed, their main goal is to help the people of Madura who are illiterate and cannot use Indonesian to understand the contents of the Qur'an. "Many are interested in having it once it is completed," said Lailurrahman.
He emphasized that this project was an act of religious devotion. There are no permanent donators who are funding this translation. "We use personal funds. There are also some funds from the JPS group. Sometimes there is assistance from the Pamekasan regental administration. If the public wants to contribute, they are welcome," he said.
Mochammad Ali, an Airlangga University lecturer in Islamic philology, said that this translation of the Qur'an was the start of the Muslim community's awareness toward about their own Maduran identity, which is inseparable from Islamic identity. The lecturer from the university's Cultural Studies Faculty said that actually Madura does have a manuscript of a translation of the Qur'an into Madurese.
This translation was used by the kyai in the local Islamic boarding schools to teach their students. However, this Maduran translation used Arabic lettering, known as pegon. In pegon, he said, the everyday language of Madura was written down according to the sounds of the Arabic letters.
However, this translation, according to Mochammad, still had its weaknesses, including that the words chosen were a literal translation. This, he said, might have happened because linguists were not involved.
Mochammad cited the translation of the word "homosexual", as conducted by people during the time of Prophet Lot. In the translation, LP2Q uses the phrase "apolog padha lake" (gather with men), which is unclear. This was despite the fact that in some Madura-language dictionaries already published, in order to emphasize the word "liwath" in Arabic, the word "dala", which means indecent behavior, is used. "On this account, this translation should also have taken a look at the previously-existing manuscripts available in the Madura language."
According to Indrayadi, many ulemas in Madura were initially opposed to translating the Qur'an into the Madura language. In fact, he said, those ulemas drafted out a written statement against the Qur'an being translated into their local language.
"There is a view in Madura that the Qur'an may not be translated by just anyone. Only religious leaders can do it," he said.
Controversy over the translation of the Qur'an into the local language did not take place only in Madura. There was also controversy in West Java when the late R Hidayat Suryalaga tried to translate the Qur'an into Sundanese in stanza form or pupuh in sentences which could be sung out in 1994. His work was entitled: Nur Hidayah: Meaning of the Qur'an in Sundanese (Nur Hidayah Foundation, 1994).
According to Riza Darajat, son of the late Hidayat Suryalaga, work on the book Nur Hidayah: Meaning of the Qur'an in Sundanese was done from 1981-1982, and was completed in the 2000s. It was first printed in 1994, published by the Nur Hidayah Foundation, containing stanzas of the short Chapters of the Qur'an from the 30th part. After this, said Riza, three volumes were published in stages, each containing ten parts.
Hidayat did the work by himself at home. "Father made those pupuh while putting them to poetic recitation," he said. Hidayat had learned how to do this from his father. They were not professional singers, said Riza, but had liked the Sundanese songs from the Cianjur region since their childhood. For that reason, Hidayat used four types of pupuh in his work with the Qur'an, according to the types of Cianjur songs, namely KSAD, an abbreviation for kinanti, sinom, asmarandana, and dandanggula. "The pattern was that each part used one type of pupuh, from start to finish," he said.
According to Riza, Hidayat Suryalaga did not make these pupuh an actual translation of the Qur'an, but a summary, based on the original. His idea was to bring the verses closer to the Sundanese culture through the pupuh or the Sundanese people's tradition of reciting poetry. "That translation created a controversy between the religious leaders and the public," said Nina Herlina Lubis, a historian from Padjadjaran University.
Those who disagreed with it felt that translating it as pupuh meant putting more emphasis on melody, number of syllables, and the placement of vowels according to the form and meaning of the pupuh itself. This was deemed potentially dangerous, because the translation could end up differing from the original meaning. "So, there was concern that the original meaning or essence could be displaced, because of the pupuh," said Nina.
Hawe Setiawan, an expert on Sundanese culture, said that the translation of the Qur'an done by Hidayat was creative, because it was in the form of Sundanese poetry, which is bound by particular patterns of rhyme and number of syllables in each line, and is usually used as lyrics of song. Hawe suspects that Hidayat was building on the creativity of the late regent of Bandung, R.A.A. Wiranatakusumah, who put the First Chapter of the Qur'an in this form.
This was not the first time that the Qur'an had been translated into Sundanese in the form of pupuh poetry. KH Dimyati from the Sukamiskin Islamic Boarding School, in Bandung, had done this in the 1950s. According to Nina, there was never an attempt to translate the Qur'an into Sundanese before KH Dimyati's attempts to do so. This was especially true during colonial times. "The Dutch Indies Government, which was Islamophobic, did not allow the translation of the Qur'an, including Friday sermons, which had to be done in Arabic," she said.
However, in other places during colonial times, there were ulemas who translated the Qur'an into local languages in secret. One of them was Muhammad Sholeh bin Umar, better known as Mbah Sholeh Darat from Semarang. He was entrusted as the first person to translate the Qur'an into Javanese. He used pegon in order to fool the colonizers.
This translation was entitled Faidhir Rahman Fit Tafsiril Quran, Volume One, which consists of thirteen parts. He gave this book to Raden Ajeng Kartini as a gift, when this student of his married Raden Mas Djojodiningrat, Regent of Rembang, on November 12, 1903. Kiai Sholeh Darat died on December 18, 1903, after translating just the one volume.
In Aceh, the late Tengku H. Mahjiddin Jusuf is believed to be the first person who translated the Qur'an into Acehnese. As pointed out by his son, Tengku Anwar Fuadi, 70, to Tempo, last Thursday, his father began making the Freestyle Poetic Translation of the Noble Qur'an into Acehnese, in prison in 1955.
Mahjiddin was detained by the government in 1955 because it was believed that he was involved in the Darul Islam/Islamic Indonesian Army (DI/TII) rebellion movement in Aceh, in 1953. "Father was held in several prisons in Medan. This is where he translated the Qur'an into poetry-like Acehnese language," said Anwar.
Mahjiddin was released in 1957 after the Ikrar Lamteh a peace agreement between the Indonesian government and the DI/TII of Aceh. He continued the translation work outside of prison. His daily work was as a religious teacher. In 1988, he completed the handwritten translation. In 1995, the government of Aceh and the Islamic Culture Research and Study Center (P3KI) at the Ar-Raniry State Islamic Institute (IAIN) wanted to publish it.
"Father sat for several meetings with the editor before the book was published," said Anwar. Unfortunately, Mahjiddin did not live to see the first printing of his work. He died a week before the book was published. "All of us ten siblings and our children are proud of him," said the oldest of Mahjiddin's children.
Despite once being unpopular among the public, this translation of the Qur'an in the language of Aceh was republished in 2007 by P3KI. About 12,000 copies were printed, and it was well-received. "There was just another request for more because it is almost Ramadan," said P3KI Secretary Dr. Abdul Rani Usman.
The translation of the Qur'an into the language of Mandar went differently. While most local-language translations of the Qur'an are published by local printers, the Mandar-language translation or Koroang Malaqbiq was published in 2005 by Mujamma' al-Malik Fahd Li Thiiba'at al-Mushhaf Ash-Sharif, the official Qur'an printers belonging to the government of Saudi Arabia in Madinah. Muhammad Idham Khalid Bodi, an official from the Research and Development Center of the Religious Affairs Ministry in South Sulawesi, worked on the translation in the Mandar language.
Idham said that this translation was initially done as a side pursuit. Around 1995, when he was a senior student majoring in Arabic Studies at the Islamic Sciences Faculty of the Sultan Alauddin State Islamic Institute (IAIN) in Makassar, he represented South Sulawesi in a program to cultivate Prospective Young Indonesian Religious Propagators.
During this two-month program, Idham met with representatives from a number of provinces. Upon hearing that his associates who were Javanese and Sundanese already had translations of the Qur'an in their local languages, he was moved to make a translation of the Qur'an into Mandar, the language used on a daily basis in his home region (now West Sulawesi).
"When I was in Jakarta I just translated the thirtieth part," he said. However, after returning to Makassar, he continued this work, bit by bit. It took him three years to complete it. After it was done, he submitted it to the Ministry of Religious Affairs to be published. The Government of South Sulawesi formed a validation team before publishing it. The publishing project was handled by the Post-Graduate Program of the Alauddin IAIN in Makassar.
IAIN then worked with the regional governments of Polewali Mandar, Majene, and Mamuju to publish 300 copies, four times, from 2001 to 2004. The copies which were printed were distributed to the people of Mandar. They are hoping for feedback or corrections on the translation done by Idham. "However, at that time, no corrections were received," he said.
Idham used a combined "literal and meaning translation" technique. He said the work was not easy, despite being fluent in Arabic and Mandar. The difficulty is that Arabic is a divinely-revealed language (through the Qur'an) which has a very high literary value. "It is difficult to combine the literary styles of these two languages," he said.
However, for Idham, the most important thing was that the translation was not out of context from what is contained in the Qur'an. Another difficulty encountered was that sometimes there were words in the Qur'an which did not have equivalents in the Mandar tongue. In these cases, he only used equivalent language and still wrote the original Arabic words, with the hope that it can enrich the vocabulary of Mandar.
This Mandar-language translation of the Qur'an was then distributed to the people of West Sulawesi, who were leaving to perform the haj pilgrimage to Mecca. Baharuddin Lopa, who comes from Mandar, played a role in the publishing of Koroang Malaqbiq by Mujamma' al-Malik Fahd Li Thiiba'at al-Mushhaf Ash-Sharif. At that time, Lopa was the Indonesian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. He and Idham first met in 2001 in Mecca, when Idham was performing the haj. According to Idham, Baharuddin Lopa helped him to submit a proposal to the Qur'an printers of the Saudi government.
Idham happened to have a friend who was studying at the University of Madinah, Irwan Fitri Aco, who was also from Mandar. This friend helped with the translation process. In the end, 20,000 copies of the Qur'an in the Mandar language were published, making it the first local-language translation in the world to be published by the Mujamma'.
Idham said that this year he plans to print another 30,000 copies in cooperation with the Governor and the Indonesian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. However, it is not guaranteed that this project with be implemented. He hopes the regional government will take the initiative to publish it on their own, without hoping for assistance from other parties.
By Dody Hidayat (Jakarta), Musthofa Bisri (Madura), Dini Mawuntyas (Surabaya), Anwar Siswadi (Bandung), Sohirin (Semarang), Adi Warsidi (Banda Aceh), Aniswati Syahrir (Makassar)
No. 49/12, July 31, 2012