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The debut of Turkish-language translations of the Qurʾan in the newly founded Republic of Turkey sparked lively debates over whether Qurʾan translation was possible or desirable, who should engage in interpretation of the text, and what characteristics a Turkish-language rendering of the Qurʾan should have. Whereas the abolition of the Islamic caliphate, closure of the medreses, and prohibition of the Sufi orders have received considerable attention in histories of early republican Turkey, the state-sponsored translation of the Qurʾan into Turkish remains both neglected and misunderstood. Muhammad Rashid Rida, who was highly influential in shaping opinion in the Muslim world, portrayed the state-sponsored project as a long-term plot to displace the Arabic Qurʾan. Other accounts misrepresent the involvement of President Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk) in the promotion of Qurʾan translation by anachronistically suggesting that he sparked the initiative and led a “campaign” in support of it. Mustafa Kemal had no hand in the composition of Turkish Qurʾan translations published in 1924, other than helping create the political context in which they could be published. Their composition began well before the foundation of the Turkish republic, and their inspiration emerged from the intellectual milieu of the late Ottoman public sphere.

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Brett Wilson is Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Macalester College, St. Paul, Minn. 55105, USA; e-mail:
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John Kingsley Birge , “Turkish Translations of the Koran,” The Moslem World 28 (1938): 394–99

F. Lyman MacCallum , “Turkey Discovers the Koran,” The Moslem World 23 (1933): 2428

S. M. Zwemer , “Translations of the Koran,” The Moslem World 5 (1915): 244–61

Amit Bein , “A ‘Young Turk’ Islamic Intellectual: Filibeli Ahmed Hilmi and the Diverse Intellectual Legacies of the Late Ottoman Empire,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 39 (2007): 607–25

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International Journal of Middle East Studies
  • ISSN: 0020-7438
  • EISSN: 1471-6380
  • URL: /core/journals/international-journal-of-middle-east-studies
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