K. A. Nizami Centre for Quranic Studies: An Introduction

AMU’s CQS is actively engaged in advancing academic excellence in teaching, research and publication, in the field of Qur’anic Studies
K. A. Nizami Centre for Quranic Studies: An Introduction

K. A. Nizami Center for Quranic Studies (KAN-CQS; henceforth CQS) is one of the prime academic centers of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) which is focused on "the study of Quran and related subjects". Named after reputed historian Professor Khaliq Ahmad Nizami (1925-97), the Centre's establishment was approved in 1998 under the provisions of the AMU Act (1981), and was inaugurated in 2012. CQS is committed to "the advancement of academic excellence in teaching, research and publication", and it provides "a meeting point between the Islamic and Western worlds of learning". Its major 'aims and objectives' are: (i) to promote research in the field of Qur'anic exegesis (tafsir), especially South Asia; (ii) to provide an academic forum for scholars whose academic interests focus on any aspect of the Quran; (iii) to promote the educational and cultural advancement of Muslims of India; and (iv) to enable the students of the Quran to gain or renew their acquaintance with the latest developments in the field of Quranic Studies.

The Founder Director of CQS was Professor Ahtisham Ahmad Nizami (2007-2017) and was succeeded, in April 2017, by Professor Abdur Raheem Kidwai. CQS has been active in organizing seminars/ conferences, extension lectures, and in publishing books on various aspects of Qur'anic Studies. In order to show more dynamism towards research, CQS has come up, since 2018, with the idea of a bi-annual academic research e-journal, Aligarh Journal of Quranic Studies (AJQS; ISSN: 2582-0796)—its inaugural issue was published in Winter 2018 and includes scholarly papers from young and senior scholars (both from India and abroad). The Chief-Editor of AJQS is Professor A. R. Kidwai and its Editor is Dr Nazeer Ahmad Abdul Majeed. Besides AJQS, CQS has published, from last few years, around two dozen books (in Urdu, English and Hindi) on various aspects of the Qur'anic Studies (a list of these works can be accessed from http://www.amucqs.com/events/publications3204018).

Some important Books/ Monographs published by CQS in English are: Bruce B. Lawrence, Abdullah Yusuf Ali's Translation of the Quran: An 80-Year Retrospective (2013); Muhammad Matloob Khan, Personality Development in the light of Quran and Hadith (2016); Abdur Raheem Kidwai, God's Word, Man's Interpretations: A Critical Study of the 21st Century English Translations of the Quran (2018; hereinafter God's Word); Sajid Shaffi, 21st Century Quranic Studies in English: A Bibliography (2018) and Academic Research on the Quran: A Critical Bibliography (2019); Dr. Abdul Kader Choughley, How to Study the Quran: Sayyid Abdul Hasan Ali Nadwi's Approach (2018) and Sayyid Abdul Hasan Ali Nadwi's Contribution to Quranic Studies (2018); Nazeer Ahmad Ab. Majeed's Quran Interpretation in Urdu: A Critical Study (2019). My own latest book, Recent Trends in Qur'anic Scholarship, was also sponsored by CQS and published (like most of its English works) by Viva Books, New Delhi in July 2020.

Moreover, CQS is also active in organizing lectures, seminars/ conferences/ symposiums, Weekly Classes, the Qur'anic Studies Forum, etc. It has also introduced Diploma courses on Tajweed, Qiraat, and Muslim Chaplaincy, which are "offered to students wishing to improve their skills in the recitation of the Qur'an (tilawat)".

As a sample, below is presented an assessment of Kidwai's God's Word, Man's Interpretation (2018):

God's Word attempts to provide a "critique" on 32 newly published English translations of the Qur'an (published in between 2000 and 2017). It provides a critical assessment of these translations; highlights their merits, demerits and literary features; points out the translator's ideological presuppositions and intrusions; and brings to the limelight trends and changes that have occurred in this field, over the decades. The book consists of 32 chapters, each covering a critical assessment of a single translation, and is preceded by a Preface (xi-xvii), and ends with an 'Appendix' (pp. 142-54) and finally by a rich 'Bibliography' on Qur'anic Studies (pp. 155-178), prepared by Sajid Shaffi.

In the Preface, the author points out that more than "40 new complete translations [of the Qur'an in English] have been published between 2000 and 2017" (p. xi). Among these, the author has  analyzed and "evaluated" only 32 translations in this book, "in terms of its approach and its strengths and weaknesses" (p. xii). He observes that these translations (and/ or translators) fall in these two major trends: (i) "surcharged with ideological presuppositions"; and (ii) "liable to confound readers on account of their pernicious ideological presuppositions or their poor presentation of the things Quranic" (pp. xii-xiii).

Of these 32 translations, mostly are done by Muslims (both Sunni and Shia), and very few by Orientalists and Qadiyani translators. Thus, in comparison to the past—when English translations were done mostly by the Orientalists—"the field is now dominated by [the] Muslim scholars" (p. xiii). But the author is well-aware of the fact that in "terms of quality", all these translations "vary [and differ] much", and here the author has tried to "provide readers with a clear idea of their pitfalls and brilliant and redeeming features" (p. xiii).

Some of the general observations made by the author, about the (de) merits of these translations are summarized here: (i) "An obnoxious practice" of "unacknowledged borrowings from the earliest printed English translations" ('academic theft or Plagiarism), especially from Abdullah Yusuf Ali, M. Marmuduke Pickthall, and A. J. Arberry; (ii) repeating the same polemical/ biased orientalist views as centuries before; (iii) seeking "to impose their peculiar sectarian views on the Quranic text"; (iv) spreading Qadiyani creed, which is more "pernicious" than sectarian issue, etc. (see, pp. xiii-xvi). However, he observes, and appreciates their positive qualities as well: among these, presenting "the true meaning and message of the Quran in chaste, easy to understand English", and the trend of highlighting "the commonalities between the Quran, and Buddhism and Judeo-Christian tradition", are appreciative (p. xvi).

On the basis of these observations, Kidwai concludes his Preface with these lines: "Despite a large number of translations in English, the field is not so rich and substantial, as it is in case of Persian, Turkish ad Urdu. What is, however, gratifying is that as compared to 1980s, the scene is far better and brighter. Muslim scholars now dominate the field and their pious ventures have been of much help to readers in order to gain some idea of the life-giving Quranic message and guidance which was otherwise inaccessible to the non-Arabic speaking readers" (p. xvi).

Keeping aside its shortcomings, Kidwai's God's Word, Man's Interpretations validates and substantiates its title, meets all the expectations, and indeed succeeded in presenting a balanced and fair 'critique' of 32 translations of the Qur'an: it thus serves, fairly and genuinely, as an extension of his 'Bibliography of the Translations' (2007) and 'Translating the Untranslatable' (2011). In sum, this 196-pages work is a remarkable one, for it presents, very succinctly and lucidly, the merits, demerits, and features of each translation. Such kind of assessment helps a reader in his/ her selection of a suitable translation.

Thus, having a look on the titles of the works published by CQS, keeping in view the focus and coverage of AJQS, and other activities of the Centre, it will not be an exaggeration to conclude that CQS is indeed committed to fulfill its set aims and objectives of advancing "'academic excellence in teaching, research and publication" in the field of Qur'anic Studies.

*The author is Assistant Professor, Islamic Studies, at GDC for Women, Pulwama (J&K).

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