"I didn't want to write this" : the social embeddedness of translating moonsighting verses of the Qur'an into Swahili

Title"I didn't want to write this" : the social embeddedness of translating moonsighting verses of the Qur'an into Swahili
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsG.C. van de Bruinhorst
Secondary TitleJournal of Qur'anic studies
Pagination38 - 74
Date Published2015
PublisherEdinburgh University Press
Publication Languageeng
KeywordsArabic language, calendars, Islam, Koran, Oman, Ramadan, Swahili language, Tanzania, translation, Zanzibar

As a result of increasing globalisation the public sphere has expanded over the recent decades. Consequently Qur'an translations exhibit a highly pluralised concept of religious authority, demonstrating an eclectic use of sources as authors respond simultaneously to local and global discourses. This paper shows how the commentary in a popularising Swahili tafsir by the preacher Said Moosa al-Kindy on two particular Qur'an verses, Q. 2:185 and Q. 2:189, cannot be understood as the outcome of theological and linguistic considerations only, but rather as a multi-epistemic, socially embedded product. Q. 2:185 and Q. 2:189 are often used to endorse particular viewpoints in East African moon sighting debates. This discourse revolves about the question of whether to accept a crescent sighting report from anywhere in the world to determine the beginning of the lunar month or to wait for a visible moon from a more restricted locality. This paper situates al-Kindy's translation within the wider field of Swahili Qur'an commentaries, and compares his treatment of these verses to that in two scholarly products from outside the established genre of tafsir. One is the polemical discourse on this subject by an Ibadi intellectual writing in Swahili and the second is the lunar calendar and website produced by a Tanzanian book trader. In all three of these works Qur'anic authority is paramount, but if we want to understand the diverse mediations of the Qur'anic message in a specific milieu we should not only look at the influence of exegetical traditions but also focus on social actors and their very personal, localised experiences.

IR handle/ Full text URLhttp://hdl.handle.net/1887/41316
Citation Key8219