"Alkoran or Mohammedan law": the history of the translations of the Koran into Russian language

09 April 2019

The Quran is one of the most difficult texts for the translation into any other language other than original language. Some experts in the field of the translation of the Quran consider that the translation is not capable to transmit completely internal spirit of the Quran, and only some separate fragments. At the same time, scientists have the opinion that the translation of the Quran is necessary as the need for understanding for people who do not know the Arabic language.


I offer to plunge a little into history, to learn when the Quran was for the first time translated into Russian, and what happened with other Russian-language translations of the book, sacred for Muslims.


The 18th century


In 1716 under Peter the Great decree the first translation of the Quran into Russian under the name "Alkoran about Magomet, or the Law Turkish" was published. The translator is considered to be Pyotr Postnikov (1666-1703), the diplomat, the doctor and the polyglot. Postnikov did not know Arabic and was not an orientalist, however his interest in the Quran led to an informal rank of the first translator of the Quran into Russian. The translation was made not from the original text, but from French translation of André du Rier who took liberties with the original text. No wonder, the choice of a source put in question the translation quality of Postnikov. Anyway, Postnikov's translation became the first work on the basis of which the Russian-speaking population gained an impression about contents of the Quran.


Unknown author


About hundred years ago in St. Petersburg the manuscript was found dated by the first quarter of the 18th century and entitled "Alkoran or the law Mohammedan. It was translated from Arabic into French by monsieur du Rier". In total the translation of twenty chapters of the Koran was given in the manuscript. The unknown author, as well as Postnikov, chose as the source French translation and, according to researchers, adhered to it more precisely.


Veryovkin's translation


In 1787, during the era of Catherine the Great, a new translation of the Quran was edited. The author was Mikhail Veryovkin (1732-1795) – the professional translator of various texts. He made translations of the French and German books on seamanship, worked on comparison of Russian translation of the Bible with French, German and Latin, books on agriculture, etc. Among his translations, there are also works about Islam. Veryovkin looked at the Quran much more favorably, than his brothers in faith and contemporaries. He was openly indignant with bias of the European orientalists in relation to Islam, saying that they "… did not deserve respect because everything narrated by them was solubilized with fabulous stories". Nevertheless, as former translators, he took the French work of André du Rier as a basis. Alexander Pushkin was one of readers of his translation.


Two-volume translation


In 1792 in St. Petersburg the most detailed at that time translation under the name "The Quran of Mohamed” translated from Arabic into English with attaching to each chapter on all obscure places of the historical notes chosen from the most reliable historians and the Arab interpreters of Alkoran by Georgy Seyl. The earlier works differ on the fact that not French translation of du Rier was taken in basis, but the English work of George Sale, which was considered fuller because of existence of explanations to the text was taken as a basis. In the published translation the prejudiced relation to Islam was traced. As it was made by the author Alexey Kolmakov, the translator who specialized in texts of technical character and had no relation to oriental studies. He became the first translator who supplied the Russian text with detailed explanations.


The 19th century


Nikolaev's translation


In 1864 there is new Russian translation of the Quran behind authorship of K. Nikolaev who took the French text of Albin de Kazimirski de Biberstein as a source. The book was repeatedly republished and was widely adopted in Russia.


The first translation from Arabic


It is rather unexpected that the professional military and the general Boguslavsky (1826-1893) who graduated faculty of east languages and passed exams not visiting lectures became the first translator of the Quran from original language. He was called "the worthy orientalist". He worked several years as the official translator in the countries of the East. In 1871, working in Istanbul, he not only translated the Quran, but also wrote down the explanations to the Russian text. Boguslavsky complained about essential inaccuracies in Russian translation of Nikolaev and explained this desire to complete the work in which he would like to lean only on Muslim sources. According to researchers of his life, mostly, the book "Mavakib" by Ismail Farrukh formed a basis for explanations. Against the background of the former translations such approach put work significantly above the others.


The translation long time remained unpublished. The general did not publish it, and the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences where his widow addressed with an offer of edition, refused her, though highly spoke of that translation and expressed desirability of its publication. For the first time the translation was published only in 1995.


The most popular translation of pre-revolutionary times


The most popular of translations of all times of the Russian Empire was published in 1878 behind authorship of professor of the Kazan theological seminary Gordiyya Sablukov (1804-1880) who was engaged in oriental studies, knew many languages among which there was also Arabic language.


The 20th century


Krachkovsky's translation


Still Ignatiy Krachkovsky (1883-1951) translation is, perhaps, the most known among contemporaries. Krachkovsky was an arabist, gave lectures on the Quran at the faculty of east languages in St. Petersburg. Krachkovsky conducted work on the translation of the Quran from 1921 to 1930. The author was engaged in completion of the Russian text practically until the end of life. During lifetime of the translation, it was not published. The first edition was issued only in 1963.


Valeria Iman Porokhova's translation


The author of the next translation of the Quran into Russian became Iman Porokhova (born in 1949). The woman began a work on the poetic translation of the Koran in 1985. The text received final registration only 6 years later – in 1991. For many the book became a discovery: against the background of the former translations, the text favorably differed in ease of language. Completion of the text continues to this day therefore new editions differ from the former ones.


Poetic translation of Shumovsky is a unique one


In the 90s there were two poetic translations of the Quran at once. One belonged to Porokhova, and the second to arabist Theodor Shumovsky (1913-2012), Ignatiy Krachkovsky's pupil. He worked on the translation during 1992.


Theodor Shumovsky is the famous orientalist, the pupil of Ignatiy Krachkovsky, the founder of the Soviet school of oriental studies. Future author of poetic translation of the Quran was born in 1913 in Zhytomyr, in the Polish family. He spent his childhood and youth in Shemakha (Azerbaijan), the ancient capital of the Shirvan kingdom where his family moved in the years of World War I. Walks along neighboring mosques and Muslim cemeteries where there were many inscriptions in Arabic, awakened interest in an arabistika.


The first acquaintance to the Koran happened in Leningrad when he was a student of the university and worked as a librarian additionally. "Somehow our manager, wishing to exempt book shelves from "the collected stuff", threw out a heap of some dusty books in a recycle bin. I watched it with my own eyes the Arab letters, and shortly before, I had entered the arabistika faculty. Therefore, when the manager left, I began to rummage in a final resting place of "stuff" and pulled out a pack of hardly fastened pages. On the first of them the place and year of the edition were specified in Latin: "Rome, 1592", further there was a name of the publisher: "Nikolay Panetsy", and the edition contained the Arab text of the first twenty two suras of the Quran with Latin translation. I understood that the large bibliographic pearl fell into my hands. With the shyness natural to the young student, I called the head of a scientific arabistika of our country — the academician I.Yu. Krachkovsky, reported to him about what I had found".


It should be noted that prior to Theodor Shumovsky only two translations of the Noble Quran were admitted in Russia, the translation by G.S. Sablukov (the teacher of the Saratov Spiritual Academy, Chernyshevsky’s teacher), and the second one by academician I.Yu. Krachkovsky, the founder of the Soviet school of an arabistika. However, both translations were written by prose. In spite of the fact that Shumovsky in many respects relied on Krachkovsky, being his pupil, he was the first pointed to big number of incorrect translations and inaccuracies of editorial character in the edition of the translation of Krachkovsky. The edition was carried out after death of the academician and was not prepared for printing by him.


Shumovsky tried to combine the scientific analysis of the text, following classical oriental scholarship tradition, with the accepted traditional treatments. And it is, perhaps, the only poetic translation of the Quran. As the author noted, verses allow translate most correctly, and adequately the Arab original text, as practically each inhabitant of the Arab world easily can say poetically.


Osmanov's translation


In 1995 there was a translation which gained rather big distribution in Russia. Magomed-Nuri of Ottomans (1924-2015), the professional orientalist from Dagestan, the specialist in Persian became its author. During the work on the translation of Osmanov took consultations of the Russian orientalists also used tafsiras of the Quran widely known in the Muslim world.


Guseynov's translation


In 2002 there was a translation made by the literary critic Chinghiz Hasan Oglou of Guseynov (born in 1929) under the name "The Suras of the Quran Placed by Ibn Hasan in process of Sending to Their Prophet". In his work he arranged chapters not in an order and even broke some chapters into slightly separate ones. A translation was made not from Arabic, but on the basis of the Russian, Turkish and Azerbaijani translations.


Magomedov's translation


In 2008 Council of muftis of Russia awarded Suleyman Magomedov (born in 1968), for semantic translation of the Koran with comments. The deputy mufti of SDM of AR.


Alyautdinov's translation


The translation of the Moscow imam Shamil Alyautdinov (born in 1974) published in 2012 became very popular. The edition includes own comments of Alyautdinov on the Quran.


Modern-day times


Despite existence more than twenty Russian translations of the Koran, we, perhaps, wait for tens more, and even hundreds of new works.


Ilmira Gafiyatullina