By Rama Ramanathan
19 February 2015
The response was by the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST). In a press release, MCCBCHST urged non-Muslims not to accept copies of the translation.
IIS reacted by calling MCCBCHST paranoid and demanding an apology.
When I reviewed the announcement, I learned that IIS is proposing to do vastly more than distribute copies of translations of the Quran.
IIS wants government bodies, government linked corporations (GLC) and private corporations to fund, to the tune of RM20.25 million, a four-and-a-half-year project to create, publish and distribute translations of the Quran integrated with approved interpretations.
The interpretations, to be printed as footnotes to the text, are to be prepared by groups and individuals who are experts in fields related to Quranic interpretation. The announcement does not name any individuals. It says Jakim (Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development) and Perkim (Malaysia’s Islamic missionary organisation) are patrons and adds that the publications will be approved by the Home Ministry and Jakim.
Listed as “friends of the project” are the International Islamic University, University Islam Malaysia and University of Islamic Science Malaysia. Other resources are said to be under consideration.
The initial focus of the project will be the English translation because IIS is targeting people who have a high level of education, are ranking members of society and routinely use English. IIS has chosen an English title for the project: “One Soul, One Quran.”
Why does MCCBCHST oppose the distribution? Is MCCBCHST, the umbrella organisation of non-Muslim religious groups in Malaysia, paranoid?
Of course MCCBCHST is paranoid!
Andy Grove, CEO of Intel semiconductors, titled his book about business strategy “Only the Paranoid Survive.” Grove’s message is this: if you want to stay in business, never stop believing that someone is working to steal your business.
Every religious group believes every other religious group is out to steal its members. The Constitution of Malaysia enshrines the paranoia of Muslims in Malaysia by providing special means for Islamic authorities to prevent Muslims from being proselytized by members of other religions.
So, the accusation of “paranoia” is nothing more than the kettle calling the pot black.
Yet, the IIS venture is worthy of deeper thought for at least three reasons: (1) it seems an annotated translation of the Quran doesn’t currently exist; (2) the response from Muslim groups is mute compared to the response of MCCBCHST, and (3) IIS appears to consider the project an important solution to countering Islamophobia.
Most Christians consider the first annotated translation of the Bible to be the Scofield Reference Bible. First published in 1909, it has notes which explain how the “dispensationalist school” interpret the Bible.
The shelves of Christian bookshops now bend with the weight of study Bibles which are often the product of teams of scholars. The NIV study Bible is probably the best known.
Some Christians will not use study Bibles. They say it is too easy to confuse “the texts inspired by God” with the interpretations of those texts by humans.
Since the first study Bible was published in the 20th century, I suppose it is not surprising that there are no annotated translations of the Quran which Muslims believe was revealed by God in the 7th century. Perhaps Malaysia will enter the Guinness Book of Records as the first to produce such a work.
I suppose Muslims will be glad it will bear the stamp of approval of the school of Islam which undergirds the government of Malaysia. I suppose the interpretations will be similar to those expressed in Jakim’s Friday sermons. I hope Muslims will unite behind the IIS translation, though I’m sceptical since Christians are still divided over annotated Bibles.
I cannot comprehend why IIS suggests distribution of annotated translations of the Quran in Malaysia will help counter Islamophobia.
Is there Islamophobia in Malaysia? If there is, what are the characteristics of Islamophobia in Malaysia?
A phobia is an irrational fear.
Jais, Jakim, Isma and so on have an irrational fear that Christians can easily persuade Muslims to become Christians – though the history of mission schools and much else clearly shows the opposite.
Many non-Muslims fear Muslim officials who snatch babies, Bibles, bodies and brides in the name of Islam, misrepresent the beliefs of others and use material rewards to attract converts.
I wish IIS well in their efforts to produce annotated translations of the Quran. I wish them enlightenment about the roots of Islamophobia. I wish them courage to dialogue with non-Muslims.
Rama Ramanathan trained to be an engineer, retired as a global quality leader and now works to catalyse change in society.