Two Afghans Face Death Over Translation of Quran
Friday, February 06, 2009
By Heidi Vogt, Associated Press
Kabul (AP) - No one knows who brought the book to the mosque, or at least no one dares say.
The pocket-size translation of the Quran has already landed six men in prison in Afghanistan and left two of them begging judges to spare their lives. They're accused of modifying the Quran and their fate could be decided Sunday in court.
The trial illustrates what critics call the undue influence of hard-line clerics in Afghanistan, a major hurdle as the country tries to establish a lawful society amid war and militant violence.
The book appeared among gifts left for the cleric at a major Kabul mosque after Friday prayers in September 2007. It was a translation of the Quran into one of Afghanistan's languages, with a note giving permission to reprint the text as long as it was distributed for free.
Some of the men of the mosque said the book would be useful to Afghans who didn't know Arabic, so they took up a collection for printing. The mosque's cleric asked Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai, a longtime friend, to get the books printed.
But as some of the 1,000 copies made their way to conservative Muslim clerics in Kabul, whispers began, then an outcry.
Many clerics rejected the book because it did not include the original Arabic verses alongside the translation. It's a particularly sensitive detail for Muslims, who regard the Arabic Quran as words given directly by God. A translation is not considered a Quran itself, and a mistranslation could warp God's word.
The clerics said Zalmai, a stocky 54-year-old spokesman for the attorney general, was trying to anoint himself as a prophet. They said his book was trying to replace the Quran, not offer a simple translation. Translated editions of the Quran abound in Kabul markets, but they include Arabic verses.
The country's powerful Islamic council issued an edict condemning the book.
"In all the mosques in Afghanistan, all the mullahs said, 'Zalmai is an infidel. He should be killed,'" Zalmai recounted as he sat outside the chief judge's chambers waiting for a recent hearing.
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