Indonesia is not only the most populous Muslim-majority state but also one of the most multilingual ones. This is one of several reasons that make the field of Qur’ān translation in Indonesia highly interesting. Another, is the early and strong presence of reformist trends in the country that led, on the one hand, to sustained daʿwa activities centered on the Qur’ān and, on the other, to doctrinal debates on the permissibility of such activities, that mirrored those in Egypt. Rashīd Riḍā actually issued one of his fatwas on Qur’ān translation in response to a question from Indonesia. In the 1960s, the government of the newly independent Republic of Indonesia emerged as a strong actor in the field of religion, commissioning a national Qur’ān translation that still dominates the market. The government also promoted Bahasa Indonesia as a national language at the expense of the multitude of regional languages spoken by Indonesia’s citizens. In recent years, however, the Ministry of Religion has started to reverse that trend and published Qur’ān translations in more than a dozen regional languages. These translations often compete with existing works by local religious scholars.
Recognising the complexity and relevance of the field of Qur’ān translation in Indonesia, the Department of Islamic Studies at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, Germany, and the School of Graduate Studies at the State Islamic University Sunan Kalijaga in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, organised the first conference on this topic. On July 30 and 31, 2018, dozens of scholars and students met in Yogyakarta to discuss the political, social and linguistic dimensions of Indonesian Qur’ān translations. The schedule allowed for plenty of time to discuss the twenty-three papers, including six given by students, that were delivered in two plenary sessions and several panels on politics and media, gender, education, and regional languages.
Some dominant themes emerged during the discussions: First, the dominant role of the authoritative Qur’ān translation published by the Indonesian Government. Owing to its wide distribution, it has been able to influence social and political debates but the scholars who produced it were also forced to react to social change, as is apparent in the evolution of the translation’s approach to gender. Another topic that was discussed a great deal was the question of script. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Arabic script competed with the Latin alphabet in qur’ānic exegesis and Qur’ān translation. For some languages, such as Javanese and Buginese, these systems, in turn, competed with traditional scripts such as Carakan and Lontara. Many papers touched upon this issue but it became apparent during the conference that a conclusive history of the rise and fall of different writing systems in Islamic literature, particularly during the 19th and 20th centuries, still remains to be written.
Several papers brought up unusual, little-known and unexpected facts, such as the existence of new prophets in Indonesia who base their message on the Qur’ān and their own translation of it, or the production of rhyming translations in traditional meters in languages such as Sundanese and Acehnese by traditional scholars. The field of qur’ānic translation in practice is clearly larger than is generally assumed, and includes interlinear translation, often considered a pre-modern phenomenon, is, in fact, thriving, both due to its roots in traditional Islamic schools and to a recent upsurge in interest in learning to read the Qur’ān in Arabic, as opposed to relying on stand-alone translations.
The conference was judged a great success by the participants and will hopefully lead to a publication that will make scholarship on Indonesia, particularly that conducted by Indonesians, more visible within the field of qur’ānic Studies. It will also help develop a theoretical framework for the study of Qur’ān translations that takes multilingual contexts, changes in writing systems, and the politics of translation into account.
© International Qur’ānic Studies Association, 2018. All rights reserved.