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Lecture | LUCIS What's New?! Series

Sources and Strategies in Translating the Canonical Readings of the Qur’an: A case study of Sūrat al-ʾAnʿām

Thursday 5 October 2023
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What's New?! Fall Lecture Series 2023
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden

Despite normative Islamic scholarship settling upon the validity and authority of ten collected reading traditions (qirāʾāt), the translation movement has tended to adhere exclusively to the sub-reading of Ḥafṣ ʿan ʿĀṣim which has been dominant in most Muslim regions for at least the past few centuries.  

As such, a large portion of what is considered “Qur’an” today still remains entirely untranslated and even fully unexplored. It is only in the past decade that some changes to this status quo have come along, most notably the Japanese translation by Kaori Nakata, Kazuki Shimomura and Yōhei Matsuyama (2014) and the English translation by Fadel Soliman (2020), both of which have tried to incorporate the other reading traditions into the translation through foot/endnotes. 

This talk will present the findings of a paper in preparation by the speaker and Sohaib Saeed, and will explore the challenges and opportunities that are present in translating the Quranic reading traditions, and will highlight the significance of the genre known as tawjīh al-qirāʾāt, which flourished alongside tafsīr works until the sixth century AH. This has two purposes: to extract those scholars’ insights concerning how variant readings can be harmonized or differentiated semantically; and to consider what their observations, and their craft more generally, imply concerning attitudes to reading variance in this early period (pre- and post-‘sevenization’ by Ibn Mujāhid, d. 324/936, and before the interventions of Abū Ḥayyān, d. 745/1344). The paper draws upon these sources to perform a close study of the reading variants in Sūrat al-ʾAnʿām (Q 6), demonstrating how they can be translated at times reductively and at times distinctly, with the rationale for these decisions.  

Comparison is made with the recent Japanese and English translations. This comparison aims to highlight good practice as well as causes for error, and to consider to what extent these modern projects align with, or diverge from, the attitudes of the early tawjīh scholars.

About Marijn van Putten

Marijn van Putten’s research focuses on the linguistics, transmission and history of the Quranic text and the Quranic reading traditions. Besides this, he also researches the linguistic history of Arabic and Berber. He is currently the PI of the ERC Consolidator Grant project: Qurcan – The Canonization of the Quranic Reading Traditions.

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