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THE FIRST TRANSLATIONS OF THE QURʾAN IN MODERN TURKEY (1924–38)

Abstract

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: brettirmo@gmail.com
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NOTES

Author's note: Special thanks go to Amit Bein, Johann Büssow, Susan Gunasti, Charles Kurzman, Bruce Lawrence, Ebrahim Moosa, Zeynep Türkyılmaz, the Duke–UNC Islam Reading group, and the anonymous reviewers for their invaluable feedback on various aspects of this essay. I also thank the Institute of Turkish Studies and the Duke University Center for International Studies for their support.

1 Qurʾan 26:195.

2 Rida Muhammad Rashid, “Tarjama al-Qurʾan wa-Tahrif Tarjama lahu wa-l-Tashkik fihi,” Al-Manar 25 (1924): 794.

3 Although a few Turkish scholars have devoted considerable attention to the subject, Euro-American scholarship and mainstream Turkish historiography have neglected the topic. Turkish-language studies include Altuntaş Halil, Kurʾan'ın Tercümesi ve Tercüme ile Namaz Meselesi (Istanbul: Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı Yayınları, 2001); Cündioğlu Dücane, Bir Kurʾan Şairi, 2nd ed. (Istanbul: Gelenek, 2004); idem, Kurʾan Çevirilerinin Dünyası (Istanbul: Kaknüs, 2005); idem, Türkçe'de İbadet (Istanbul: Kitabevi, 1999); idem, Türkçe Kurʾan ve Cumhuriyet İdeolojisi (Istanbul: Kitabevi, 1998); Ergin Osman Nuri, Türkiye Maarif Tarihi, vol. V (Istanbul: Osman Bey Matbaası, 1943), 1606–38. In English, no book-length study exists on Turkish-language translations in this period. For partial glimpses of the issue, see Berkes Niyazi, The Development of Secularism in Turkey (New York: Routledge, 1998), 486–90; Birge John Kingsley, “Turkish Translations of the Koran,” The Moslem World 28 (1938): 394–99; MacCallum F. Lyman, “Turkey Discovers the Koran,” The Moslem World 23 (1933): 2428; Zwemer S. M., “Translations of the Koran,” The Moslem World 5 (1915): 244–61. Bernard Lewis briefly mentions the translation project, but, contrary to his account, the project was actually completed, albeit not by the initial translator: Lewis Bernard, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968), 415.

4 Berkes, Development, 487; Bozkurt Mahmut Esat, Atatürk İhtilali (Istanbul: Burhaneddin Matbaası, 1940), 313; Sherrill Charles H., A Year's Embassy to Mustafa Kemal (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1934), 193–96.

5 Bein Amit, “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.

6 See Madigan Daniel, The Qurʾan's Self-Image (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001), 353; also refer to the excellent collection of essays Self-Referentiality in the Qurʾan, ed. Stephan Wild (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2006).

7 Qurʾan 12:2.

8 Reinhart Kevin, “Jurisprudence,” in The Blackwell Companion to the Qurʾān, ed. Rippen Andrew (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2006), 437.

9 Qurʾan 10:31, 17:88, 52:33–34.

10 See this excellent article on the subject: Richard C. Martin, “Inimitability,” in Encyclopaedia of the Qurʾān, http://www.brillonline.nl/subscriber/entry?entry=q3_COM-00093 (accessed 23 March 2009).

11 For a review of legal opinions, see Ayoub Mahmoud, “Translating the Meanings of the Qurʾan: Traditional Opinions and Modern Debates,” Afkar/Inquiry 3, no. 5 (1986): 3439.

12 İzmirli İsmail Hakkı, Maʿani-yi Kurʾan: Kurʾan-ı Kerim'in Türkçe Tercümesi (Istanbul: Kitaphane-yi Hilmi Milli Matbaa, 1927), 34.

13 Togan Zeki Velidi, “The Earliest Translation of the Qurʾan into Turkish,” in İslam Tetkikleri Enstitüsü Dergisi IV (1964): 119. Several Turkic translations have been published in transliteration, including Karabacak Esra, Eski Anadolu Türkçesi Satır-Arası Kurʾan Tercümesi: Giriş, Metin, Sözlük ve Tıpkıbasim (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, 1994), and Hamza Mehmet bin, XV. Yüzyıl Başlarında Yapılmış Satır-Arası Kurʾan Tercümesi, ed. Topaloğlu Ahmet, 2 vols. (Istanbul: Devlet Kitaplari, 1976).

14 For example, Manuscript Yazma Bağışlar 4845, Süleymaniye Library, Istanbul.

15 There are some interlinear translations with vowel markings, such as Manuscript Özel 123, Süleymaniye Library, Istanbul.

16 Midhat Ahmet, Beşair-i Sıdk-ı Nübüvet-i Muhammediye (Istanbul: Kirk Anbar Matbaasi, 1894), 9798.

17 Cündioğlu, Türkçe'de İbadet, 27.

18 Bereketzade İsmail Hakkı, “Necaib-i Kurʾaniye,” Sırat-ı Müstakim 1, no. 2 (1908): 2326.

19 Bigiev Musa, Halk Nazarına bir Niçe Mesele (Kazan: Mahmud ʿAlim Efendi Maqsudov, 1912), 93.

20 Hakkı Kılıçzade İsmail, “Pek Uyanık Bir Uyku,” İctihad 4, no. 55 (1913): 1227; idem, “Pek Uyanık Bir Uyku,” İctihad 4, no. 57 (1913): 1263. For an English translation of this text, see Hanioğlu M. Şükrü, “Garbcılar: Their Attitudes toward Religion and Their Impact on the Official Ideology of the Turkish Republic: Appendix,” Studia Islamica 86 (1997): 150–58.

21 Efgani Ubeydullah, Kavm-i Cedid (Istanbul: Şems Matbaası, 1915), 1516.

22 Nasuhi Ömer, “Nasaih-i KurʾaniyeHayrʾül-Kelam 1, no. 4 (1913): 2729.

23 Translation is my own. Gökalp Ziya, Ziya Gökalp Külliyatı: I. Şiirler Ve Halk Masalları, ed. Tansel Fevziye Abdullah (Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu Basımevi, 1952), 113.

24 Milaslı İsmail Hakkı, “Kur'an-ı Kerim Tercüme Olunabilir Mi?” (Can the Noble Qur'an Be Translated?), Sebilürreşad 15, no. 390 (1919): 447.

25 Bereketzade İsmail Hakkı, Tefsir-i Şerif Envar-ı Kurʾan (Istanbul: Selanik Matbaası, 1915); Kazım Musa, Safvetʾül-Beyan fi Tefsirʾil-Kurʾan (Istanbul: Matbaa-i Amire, 1919).

26 Kurʾan-ı Kerim Tercüme ve Tefsiri (Istanbul: İbrahim Hilmi, 1914).

27 Şirani Ahmet, “Kurʾan-ı Kerim Tercümesi Hakkında,” Hayrʾül-Kelam 1, no. 17 (1914): 136.

28 Amit Bein, “The Ulema, Their Institutions, and Politics in the Late Ottoman Empire (1876–1924)” (PhD diss., Princeton University, 2006), 282–85.

29 Ibid., 222–23.

31 Edip Eşref, “Kurʾan-ı Kerim'in Tercümesi,” Sebilürreşad 23, no. 597 (1924): 386.

32 Tevfik's translation was also released in the same year under the titles Zübdetʾül-Beyan and Kurʾan-ı Kerim'in Tercüme ve Tefsiri.

33 M. Sabri Koz, “Mehmed Tevfik ve Süleyman Tevfik,” Müteferrika Kış, no. 4 (1994): 51.

34 Ibid., 52–58, for a bibliography of Tevfik's works.

35 Dücane Cündioğlu, “Türkçe Kurʾan Çevirilerinin Siyasî Bağlamında Bir Kurʾan Mütercimi: Süleyman Tevfik,” Müteferrika Yaz, no. 13 (1998): 22.

36 Naci Kasım's advertisement appeared in several newspapers: İleri, 7 April 1924; İkdam, 7 April 1924; İleri, 10 April 1924. See Cündioğlu, “Süleyman Tevfik,” 33.

37 Ibid., 32–33.

38 Ibid., 33.

39 Edip Eşref, “Kurʾan-ı Kerim Tercümeleri Hakkında,” Sebilürreşad 24, no. 599 (1924): 11.

42 Edip Eşref, “Kurʾan-ı Kerim'in Tercümesi,” Sebilürreşad 23, no. 596 (1924): 377.

43 İbrahim Hilmi, “Nurʾul-Beyan,” Vatan, 17 Nisan 1924, 5 (advertisement).

44 Hüseyin Kazım Kadri, Meşrutiyet'ten Cumhuriyet'e Hatıralarım, ed. İsmail Kara (Istanbul: İletişim Yayınları, 1991), 7.

45 Ibid., 8.

46 Ibid., 24.

47 Ibid., 12, n. 5.

48 Ibid., 15.

49 Ibid., 16–17.

50 Hüseyin Kazım Kadri under the pen name Fani Şeyh Muhsin-i, Nurʾul-Beyan: Kurʾan-i Kerim'nin Türkçe Tercümesi (İstanbul: Matbaa-ı Amire, 1924), iii.

53 The two most commonly cited Turkish language tefsir works of the period are Antebi Mehmet Debbagzade, Tefsir-i Tıbyan (Cairo: Bulaq, 1842) and ʿAli Husayn b. (Waʾiz) al-Kashifi, Tefsir-i Mevakib Tercüme-i Tefsir-i Mevahib, trans. Ferruh İsmail (Istanbul: Matbaa-ı Amire, 1865).

54 Fani Şeyh Muhsin-i (Hüseyin Kazım Kadri), “Hazret Şeyhʾin Sebil'e İlk ve Son Cevabı,” reprinted in “Kurʾan-ı Kerim Tercümeleri Hakkında,” Sebilürreşad 24, no. 599 (1924): 8.

55 Edip, “Kurʾan-ı Kerim'in Tercümesi,” 386–89; idem, “Kurʾan-ı Kerim Tercümeleri Hakkında,” Sebilürreşad 24, no. 599 (1924): 8–11; “Kurʾan Tercümelerindeki Hatalar,” Sebilürreşad 24, no. 601 (1924): 35–37.

56 Rifat (Börekçi) , “Beyan-ı Hakikat Müslümanlara,” Sebilürreşad 24, no. 599 (1924): 78.

57 Ibid., 8.

58 See his response to the Directorate of Religious Affairs: Şeyh Muhsin-i Fani, “Bazı İzahat-ı Mühimme,” in Nurʾ ul-Beyan, Appendix, 2–7.

59 Sait (Dikel) Cemil, “Bir Kurʾan Mutercimi Cemil Said'in Kendi Kaleminden Özgeçmişi,” ed. Cündioğlu Dücane, Dergah, IX, no. 100 (1998): 46.

61 Cemil Sait (Dikel), Kurʾan-ı Kerim Tercümesi (Istanbul: n.p., 1924), 3.

62 Ibid., 4.

63 Ibid., 5.

64 Akseki Ahmet Hamdi, “Türkçe Kurʾan Namındaki Kitabın Sahibi Cemil Said'e,” Sebilürreşad 24, no. 624 (1924): 404.

65 This popular French translation was de Biberstein-Kazimirski Albert, Le Koran (Paris: Charpentier, 1832). It was reprinted subsequently in sundry editions.

66 Sait, “Bir Kurʾan Mutercimi Cemil Said'in Kendi Kaleminden Özgeçmişi,” 47.

67 Aksekili, “Türkçe Kurʾan,” 404.

68 Rifat (Börekçi) , “İkaz,” Sebilürreşad 24, no. 620 (1924), 349.

69 Kazım Şeref, “Yeni Neşriyat: Kurʾan Tercümeleri,” Mihrab 1, no. 1 (1924): 352.

70 “Yeni Tefsircilerden Müslümanların Ricası,” Sebilürreşad 24, no. 602 (1924): 64.

72 Börekçi, “İkaz,” 349.

73 Börekçi, “Beyan-ı Hakikat,” 8.

74 Edip, “Kurʾan-ı Kerim'in,” 599: 11.

75 Börekçi, “Beyan-ı Hakikat,” 8.

76 Edip, “Kurʾan-ı Kerim'in,” 599: 11.

77 Edip, “Kurʾan-ı Kerim'in,” 597: 386.

78 Edip, “Kurʾan Tercümelerindeki,” 601: 37.

79 “Yeni Tefsircilerden,” 64.

80 Börekçi, “Beyan-ı Hakikat,” 7.

81 ʿAli Muhammad, The Holy Qurʾan: Containing Arabic Text with English Translation and Commentary (Woking, U.K.: Islamic Review Office, 1917).

82 Edip, “Kurʾan-ı Kerim'in,” 597: 387.

83 Cündioğlu, Bir Kurʾan, 107.

84 Türk Büyük Millet Meclisi Zabıt Ceridesi, II. İntihab Devresi, İkinci İctima Celse, 2 February 1925 (Ankara: T.B.M.M. Matbaası), 210–27.

85 Fergan Eşref Edip, Mehmed Akif: Hayati-Eserleri ve 70 Muharririn Yazıları (Istanbul: Asari İlmiye Kütüphanesi Neşriyatı, 1938), 187. Emphasis added.

86 Ertuğrul Düzdağ and M. Orhan Okay, “Mehmed Akif Ersoy,” in Türk Diyanet Vakfı İslam Ansiklopedisi, 432–34.

88 Fergan, Mehmet Akif, 190.

89 Ibid., 201.

90 Sağdıç Ruhi Naci, “Kurʾan Tercemeleri Münasebetiyle Mehmed Akif Merhum Hakkında Hatıralar,” Sebilürreşad 11, no. 2 (1958): 281–83.

91 Cündioğlu, Akif, 129–30.

92 Düzdağ and Okay, “Mehmet Akif Ersoy,” 434.

93 Fergan, Mehmet Akif, 186–205. Cündioğlu has compiled translations of verses that Akif published in various works, but these are not synonymous with the complete translation that was reportedly burned: Cündioğlu Dücane, Mehmed Akif'in Kur'an Tercümeleri (Istanbul: Kaknüs, 2005).

94 Bein, “The Ulema,” 209.

95 Yusuf Şevki Yavuz, “Elmalılı Muhammed Hamdi,” in Türk Diyanet Vakfı İslam Ansiklopedisi, 57–58. Very little has been written on Elmalılı in English. On Elmalılı's understanding of the concept “religion,” see Karamustafa Ahmet, “Elmalılı Muhammed Hamdi Yazır's Philosophy of Religion (1848–1946),” Archivum Ottomanicum, 19 (2001): 273–79. Susan Gunasti's doctoral dissertation in progress (Princeton University) on Elmalılı's commentary will provide a much needed study of Elmalılı, his magnum opus, and late Ottoman tefsir works.

96 Yazır Elmalılı Muhammed Hamdi, Hak Dini Kurʾan Dili: Yeni Mealli Türkçe Tefsir (Istanbul: Matbaa-ı Ebüzziya, 1935), 9. The translation is my own. I have altered the original format in order to accentuate the rhyme pattern.

97 Ibid., 8–9.

99 Ibid., 9.

100 Ibid.

101 Barnstone Willis, Poetics of Translation (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993), 16.

102 Elmalılı, Hak Dini, 12.

103 Ibid., 12.

104 Ibid., 15.

105 Ibid. Emphasis added.

106 Cündioğlu's Türkçe Kurʾan ve Cumhuriyet İdeolojisi describes this campaign in detail.

107 Elmalılı, Hak Dini, 15; Cündioğlu, Türkçe Kurʾan, 65.

108 Elmalılı, Hak Dini, 16.

109 Cündioğlu, Türkçe Kurʾan, 65.

110 Elmalılı, Hak Dini, 15.

111 Nearly all recent printings of Hak Dini Kurʾan Dili translate the work into contemporary Turkish through the process of “simplification” (sadeleştirme) to facilitate the language for contemporary readers. For example, see Yazır Elmalili M. Hamdi, Hak Dini Kurʾan Dili: Meâli, ed. Kılıç Sadık and Cebeci Lütfullah (Ankara: Akçag, 2006).

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International Journal of Middle East Studies
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