Oldest known Polish translation of Quran to be published

Fragment of the 1821 manuscript which is considered the oldest Polish translation of Quran. Photo: PAP/Tytus Żmijewski

The previously lost Polish translation of Quran, discovered accidentally several years ago, is now to be published. The work dates back to the first half of the 19th century.

The Centre for Kitab Studies of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, central Poland, is to publish what is believed to be the oldest Polish language translation of Quran.

Previously, it was assumed that the oldest one was the 1858 version, the work of Tatar Jan Murza Tarak Buczacki. However, recent discoveries have refuted those claims.

A few years ago an unknown work was discovered by art historian Joanna Puchalska in the archives of the burnt-down Czombrów Estate in western Belarus. “She told us about finding fragments of a manuscript with a Polish translation of the Quran. However, she did not know what exactly it was”, describes Joanna Kulwicka-Kamińska, PhD, from University of Toruń.

The manuscript was than analysed by Czesław Łapicz, PhD, from the university's Centre for Kitab Studies. Having compared the work with the existing 1858 Quran translation, he concluded that the document was a precursor of that translation, a work which served as a reference for Jan Murza Tarak Buczacki. With the watermark on the pages indicating the year 1821, it became evident that the newly-discovered document was the oldest translation of the Quran into the Polish language.

Mr Łapicz had difficulties determining the document’s authors, as they were members of a secret student organisation in Lithuania, and so the document was subject to censorship at the hands of the Tsarist Russian occupants.

However, Mr Łapicz eventually managed to narrow down the possibilities to conclude that the translators were Ignacy Domeyko and father Dionizy Chlewiński.

Now, the historic work is to be published alongside the 1858 version, accompanied with a historical and philological commentary.

“We want to show the differences between these two documents. In the publication we will indicate that although suggestions were sometimes made that Domeyko translated the Quran, until now no evidence was found. The key to the discovery was the watermark with the specific date”, Ms Kulwicka-Kamińska said.

It is also worth remembering that there exists an even older translation of the Quran to Polish. A work of Polish Tatars from the second half of the 16th century is in the Polish language, although it was transcribed using the Arabic alphabet.

The destroyed Czombrów Estate where the document was found is itself of special historic significance for Poland. Historians have determined that the Estate and its story constituted the reference for the fictional Soplicowo Mansion from Adam Mickiewicz’s magnum opus and one of Poland’s most famous literary works “Sir Thaddeus” (“Pan Tadeusz”).