Azra Choudhary, translating Quran in Dogri

In 2014 when Azra Choudhary, 62, former chief editor Dictionary section at Jammu Kashmir Academy of Art Culture and Languages (JKAACL) was approached by Rajouri based Shah Hamdan Trust to translate the Holy Quran in Dogri language, she was reluctant. It was a huge responsibility as she was not confident enough to accomplish it.

Abdul Qayoom Nadvi, principal of a school in Rajouri, who had contacted Azra for the job, knew that if anybody could do justice with this work, it was Azra. Qayoom had once asked his wife Shamima who was working as Additional Secretary JKAACL too about the right person who can translate Quran in Dogri. Shamima without any hesitation said that Azra was the right person to do the job. Both Qayoom and Shamima are members of Shah Hamdan Society which is a religious and social work.

As Dogri was included in the eighth schedule and it had good number of speakers in Jammu and Himachal Pradesh, the society felt that it is the need of the hour to translate Quran in Dogri language so that its message of peace, love, brotherhood reaches a larger population. As of now Quran is translated in all major languages of the world numbering more than 100 but Dogri translation was missing.

Azra was indeed the best choice for the job. Not only was she a talented editor but she had a Masters in both Hindi and Dogri. Her work on Hindi-Dogri dictionary project and Dogri translation of various stories in Sheeraza were already well received.

As Azra was yet to make her mind, Qayoom philosophically told her, “Ye aap hi ne karna hai.” (It is only you who has to do this work.”

“The words touched my heart and I thought if this was my destiny why am I resisting. And I took up the job” said Azra. She politely refused any remuneration and assured Qayoom that she will take care of everything herself. Thus started a journey that saw Azra immersing in the holy scripture.

“It was not any ordinary book. I had to do ablutions before starting the work. At my office my job was hectic as I had to almost single handedly take out the Hindi version of Sheeraza magazine. So whenever I got time like on mornings, evenings, Sundays and on holidays I would do the translation work,” said Azra.

Qayoom had asked her to start with the last section, 30th Para, of the Quran, as it had small surahs. The first draft was to be evaluated to check whether the translation was going in right direction. The verification and counter checks indicated all was going well and Azra was given green signal for the entire Quran.

The 30th para was published separately and released by Maulana Wahiduddin  Khan in Delhi. Thereafter started the work that required almost five years of disciplined work. “In translating a religious book, one has to take care of every single word, otherwise a single mistake, even a smaller one, can harm the entire exercise. So I had to check, recheck and proofread my translation four times to ensure there was no mistake,” said Azra. “I would take the translation back and forth to Qayoom, where we would compare it with the original and other translated text to ensure accuracy.”

She also consulted Wahidudin’s Tazkeerul Quran for making translation as accurate  as possible.

After Azra retired as Chief Editor, Dictionary Section from JKAACL in 2017, the translation became her full time job.

Azra feels that everything that she had done and experienced in her life combined to help her in the better translation. Being a religious minded person Azra had a chance to look at the words of Quran at an altogether new level. “During this course of time I could see Quran in a new light. There are so many things which became clear and I could understand them in a better way. It  was a spiritual kind of experience,” said Azra. “During Ramadhans I wouldn’t do the separate tilawat but just worked on the project as I felt it was one and same.”

Azra feels that it was her destiny to do the translation. After her MA (Hindi) in 1978, B Ed in 1985 and MA (Dogri) in 1987, she was appointed as a government teacher.  She worked for seven years before she came upon an advertisement from JKAACL inviting candidates for a post of research Assistant in Dogri Dictionary section. The eligibility was that the candidate should have MA in both Hindi and Dogri, which Azra possessed. She easily qualified the interview,  started the work, enriched her vocabulary and gained experience, which ultimately took her to become part of elite group of Quran translators. 

During the education, it was her mother Razia Choudhary that was her support. She was keen to get her children, especially girls educated. She never stopped her two daughter from education and also extra curricular activities. “She was of the opinion that it is extremely important for girls to experience the world. If they remain ignorant, they will suffer. She would let us go to picnics, NCC camps, do sports and other activities. She would just advise that do all the activities only take care of our dignity,” said Azra. “Her goal was to make every girl self dependent.”

It was after experiencing the hard lessons of life that Razia knew how important education was for girls. She herself was educated till fifth grade, but she felt that had she been educated more, her life story would have been different.

Razia was the daughter of a landlord Choudhary Abdullah Khan of RS Pora in Jammu. In 1946 Razia was married to Choudhary Ghulam Ahmad of Miran Sahib. In 1947 when the communal riots broke in Jammu, Ahmad and other Muslims shifted women folk to a Hindu friend’s glass factory  for safety. However, during November riots the area was run over by Hindu mobs, who killed, looted and raped at ease. After the men were killed, the mob distributed the women among themselves like a war booty. Razia was taken by one Balwan Singh of Thub Village Jammu after she was told her entire family has been killed.

A young innocent girl who knew nothing of the world found herself helplessly chained with Balwan Singh who took her to Punjab. She gave birth to a son Karan Singh and two daughter Reva Rani and Anju. In 1965 Balwan, an alcoholic, died and his family in Jammu disowned his family. However a patwari friend of Balwan gave Razia and her children a room to stay in New Plot, Jammu.

Though poor, Razia took small time jobs, did stitching and tailoring only to ensure education to her children. She never compromised on it.

Their life took another unexpected twist when in December 1974, during a visit to Tehsil office Jammu, Razia crossed paths with her ex-husband’s sister, also her cousin, who had survived and had been living in Dalpatian, Jammu. It was an emotional reunion and both cried bitterly.

With regular contact now established, Razia came to know that many of her close relatives including husband, mother in law, mother and eight sisters had miraculously survived and are living in different locations in Jammu and Pakistan.  

Few months later Razia and her family bid farewell to the old nightmares and shifted to Dalpatian. She came to know that her ex-husband after surviving had crossed over to Sialkot. He returned few years later and unable to find her husband married another woman.

In the communally charged atmosphere of 1974, Razia and her family took a bold step to convert back to Islam. Karan Singh remained Karan Singh but Anju became Zarina and teenage Reva Rani became Azra Choudhary.

A local Molvi taught Azra, nimaz and Quran.  Razia along with Zarina shifted to Pakistan in 1979 to be with her mother and eight sisters.  Azra  couldn’t accompany as she didn’t get a passport as her school records still showed her name as Reva. As destiny had other plans for Azra, she stayed in Jammu, got education, married and got employed and ultimately was chosen for the first ever translator of Quran in Dogri.

The tumultous life of Razia and Azra was also detailed by former IGP Kashmir Javid Mukhdoomi in one of his write-ups.

Last month when Maulana Wahiduddin released the Dogri Translation of Quran, it was an accomplishment worth celebrating and a culmination of a long struggle to inner peace.

The translation was by a daughter who was born Hindu to a Muslim mother and whose life was nothing short of a nightmare. “I give credit to my mother whose fearlessness made me what I am today. She would often say had I been educated more, had I seen the world outside of my Purdah and had I not been such an innocent that I believed whatever others said, I would not had suffered so much,” said Azra. Her mother died in 1999 in Sialkot and sister Zarina lives in USA.

As every one asks Azra what are her future plans in writing, she says that she has now dedicated her life to Islamic work only. Maulana Wahiduddin was so impressed with her work that he gave her a book of Hadith in Urdu to be translated to Hindi and a Seerat book in Hindi to be translated into Dogri.

Azra feels that the translated version will have a greater outreach among people and they will come to know  about the message of peace and love contained in it.