Azra Choudhary, translating Quran in Dogri

Azra replies with message of peace to a region where her mother-daughter suffers horrors of 1947
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 wasshe a talented editor but she had a Masters in both Hindi and Dogri. Her workon Hindi-Dogri dictionary project and Dogri translation of various stories inSheeraza were already well received.

As Azra was yet to make her mind, Qayoom philosophicallytold 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 mydestiny why am I resisting. And I took up the job" said Azra. She politelyrefused any remuneration and assured Qayoom that she will take care ofeverything herself. Thus started a journey that saw Azra immersing in the holyscripture.

"It was not any ordinary book. I had to do ablutions beforestarting the work. At my office my job was hectic as I had to almost singlehandedly take out the Hindi version of Sheeraza magazine. So whenever I gottime like on mornings, evenings, Sundays and on holidays I would do thetranslation work," said Azra.

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

The 30th para was published separately and released byMaulana Wahiduddin  Khan in Delhi.Thereafter started the work that required almost five years of disciplinedwork. "In translating a religious book, one has to take care of every singleword, otherwise a single mistake, even a smaller one, can harm the entireexercise. So I had to check, recheck and proofread my translation four times toensure there was no mistake," said Azra. "I would take the translation back andforth to Qayoom, where we would compare it with the original and othertranslated text to ensure accuracy."

She also consulted Wahidudin's Tazkeerul Quran for makingtranslation as accurate  as possible.

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

Azra feels that everything that she had done and experiencedin her life combined to help her in the better translation. Being a religiousminded person Azra had a chance to look at the words of Quran at an altogethernew level. "During this course of time I could see Quran in a new light. Thereare so many things which became clear and I could understand them in a betterway. It  was a spiritual kind ofexperience," said Azra. "During Ramadhans I wouldn't do the separate tilawatbut 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 wasappointed as a government teacher.  Sheworked for seven years before she came upon an advertisement from JKAACLinviting candidates for a post of research Assistant in Dogri Dictionarysection. The eligibility was that the candidate should have MA in both Hindiand Dogri, which Azra possessed. She easily qualified the interview,  started the work, enriched her vocabulary andgained experience, which ultimately took her to become part of elite group ofQuran 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 Khanof RS Pora in Jammu. In 1946 Razia was married to Choudhary Ghulam Ahmad ofMiran Sahib. In 1947 when the communal riots broke in Jammu, Ahmad and otherMuslims shifted women folk to a Hindu friend's glass factory  for safety. However, during November riotsthe 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 likea war booty. Razia was taken by one Balwan Singh of Thub Village Jammu aftershe was told her entire family has been killed.

A young innocent girl who knew nothing of the world foundherself helplessly chained with Balwan Singh who took her to Punjab. She gavebirth 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 apatwari friend of Balwan gave Razia and her children a room to stay in NewPlot, Jammu.

Though poor, Razia took small time jobs, did stitching andtailoring only to ensure education to her children. She never compromised onit.

Their life took another unexpected twist when in December1974, during a visit to Tehsil office Jammu, Razia crossed paths with herex-husband's sister, also her cousin, who had survived and had been living inDalpatian, Jammu. It was an emotional reunion and both cried bitterly.

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

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

In the communally charged atmosphere of 1974, Razia and herfamily took a bold step to convert back to Islam. Karan Singh remained KaranSingh 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 Pakistanin 1979 to be with her mother and eight sisters.  Azra couldn't accompany as she didn't get a passport as her school recordsstill showed her name as Reva. As destiny had other plans for Azra, she stayedin Jammu, got education, married and got employed and ultimately was chosen forthe first ever translator of Quran in Dogri.

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

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

The translation was by a daughter who was born Hindu to aMuslim mother and whose life was nothing short of a nightmare. "I give creditto my mother whose fearlessness made me what I am today. She would often sayhad I been educated more, had I seen the world outside of my Purdah and had Inot been such an innocent that I believed whatever others said, I would not hadsuffered so much," said Azra. Her mother died in 1999 in Sialkot and sisterZarina 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 greateroutreach among people and they will come to know  about the message of peace and love containedin it.

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