Changing criticism of Swahili Qur'an translations: the three 'Rods of Moses'

TitleChanging criticism of Swahili Qur'an translations: the three 'Rods of Moses'
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsG.C. van de Bruinhorst
Secondary TitleJournal of Qur'anic studies
Pagination206 - 231
Date Published2013///
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Publication Languageeng
ISSN Number1465-3591
KeywordsSwahili, Tanzania, translation

This article examines three Swahili books with the same title Fimbo ya Musa ('The Rod of Moses'), published between 1970 and 2010, each of which critically investigates Qur'an translations and vernacular religious texts in Swahili. The first Fimbo was written by the Kenyan Ahmad Ahmad Badawy and criticises one of the earliest Swahili Qur'an translations, by Abdullah Saleh al-Farsy. In the second, Nurudin Hussein Shadhuly, head of the Shadhuly/Yashrutiyya ?ufi branch in Tanzania examines and condemns the translation efforts by Saidi Musa, a student of al-Farsy. The final Fimbo is a treatise by the Ibai scholar Juma al-Mazrui from Oman and digitally distributed in 2010 which deals with the doctrine of God's visibility in the hereafter and is an answer to the Salafiyya Tanzanian Kassim Mafuta's 2008 work on this topic. The example of these three polemics over the last four decades shows the shifting concerns in the reaction to the translated Qur'an in Swahili. The act of translation from Arabic to the vernacular is no longer attacked, but rather the theological implications of a deficient translation are at the heart of the more recent discussions. While authoritative knowledge is still associated with a high command of Arabic, affiliation to a particular school of law or intellectual genealogy is not. Religious learning is no longer primarily transmitted through well-established links of personal authorities, but can increasingly be derived from private study and reading. As a direct result of this opening up of a wide field of knowledge for a non-Arabic reading audience, the potential numbers of discussants increases: each new Swahili Qur'an translation reveals more of the enigmatic character of the Qur'an and fuels new debates.


Under embargo until November 2014.

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