Marek Dziekan and Abdalrahman Abulmajd about Qur'anic Studies in Polish researches.
We have a fresh opportunity to reflect on Qur'anic Studies in Polish researches. Marek Dziekan is going to speak about Qur'anic Studies in Polish researches as well as some Polish scholars in this field.
Prof. Marek M. Dziekan PhD (b. 1965)
Head of the Department of Middle East and North Africa, University of Łódź, Poland
Main Interests: History of Islam; History of Arabic culture and literature; contemporary Islam in political context; Islam-West relations; ideologies of Arabic World; anthropology of Arabic World.
Selected books (in Polish):
Arabia Magica. Wiedza tajemna u Arabów przed islamem (Arabia Magica. The Recondite Wisdom among the Arabs in pre-Islamic Times), 1993.
Quss Ibn Sa’ida al-Iyadi. Legenda życia i twórczości (Quss Ibn Sa’ida al-Iyadi. The Legend of Life and Work), 1986.
Symbolika arabsko-muzułmańska (Arabo-Islamic Symbols), 1997.
Arabowie (The Arabs. A Lexikon, ed.), 2001.
Historia Iraku (The History of Iraq), 2002, 2nd ed. 2007.
Irak. Religia i polityka (Iraq. Religion and Politics), 2005.
Cywilizacja islamu w Azji i Afryce (Civilisation of Islam in Asia and Africa), 2007.
Dzieje kultury arabskiej (History of Arabic Culture), 2008.
Złote stolice Arabów. Szkice o współczesnej myśli arabskiej (Golden Capitals of the Arabs. Essays on Contemporary Arab Thought (2011)
28 bajek arabskich (28 Arabic Fables), translation from Arabic (2015)
Polskie Towarzystwo Orientalistyczne (Polish Oriental Society, President), Polskie Towarzystwo Nauk Politycznych (Polish Society of Political Sciences), Union Europeenne des Arabisants et Islamisants, Towarzystwo Naukowe Warszawskie (Warsaw Society of Sciences), Komitet Nauk Orientalistycznych PAN (Committee for Oriental Sciences, Polish Academy of Sciences vice-President).
Q: First of all I know the field of Arabic and Islamic Studies is one of the most important topics of your interest, I wonder what made you focus on this field?
MD: The history of my interest in Arabic and Islamic culture is not complicated. As a student at the high school I was interested in various cultures and religions. The first book in the field of Arabic culture was a Polish translation of Mu’allaqat made by my future master, Professor Janusz Danecki. From this point on I begun to read about Arabs and, consequently, about Islam (the first book on this topic was a study by a famous Polish researcher, founder of the Arabic Studies at the University of Warsaw, Prof. Józef Bielawski). I'm impressed and after 3 years from this moment I entered the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Warsaw, where I found a group of people, who helped me to delve into the study of this culture. After the second year of my study (1986) I went to Baghdad to study the Arabic literature at the University of Baghdad. My Master Thesis written under supervision of Prof. Danecki in Warsaw was devoted to the poetry of Ash-Sharif ar-Radi, later on I wrote my Doctoral Thesis on death in Pre-Islamic Arabic Poetry (under the same supervisor). My Habilschrift was devoted to Quss Ibn Sa’ida al-Iyadi.
My interest developed with time, because in this concern I am not quiet person. Everything what is associated with Near East and North Africa is, from my point of view, worth of interest: literature, theater, history, religion and so on. For a researcher of foreign cultures it is very hard to concentrate only on one aspect of this culture. For example to understand a contemporary literary text one should know the history, religious context, manners and customs and so on. My main goal is to understand the “Other” in all dimensions. In fact, it is impossible, but I try. For this reason between my books and articles you find the history (especially of Iraq and in last years Morocco), classical and contemporary literature, ethnography and last but not least, Islamic issues, among them Islam in the West, especially in Poland. In this field I study the religious literature of Polish-Lithuanian Tatars, who live in Poland for over 600 years and between XVII and beginning of XX century wrote their books in Polish language, but in Arabic letters. They made also the first “translation” of the Holy Quran into Slavonic language in XVII century. The first contemporary translation of the Quran into Polish was made by abovementioned Prof. Józef Bielawski in 1986.
Q: Well, could you elaborate on how you study the religious literature of Polish-Lithuanian Tatars?
MD: The literature of Polish Tatars covers several genres, for example kitabs (from Arab. kitab – “book”) – consisting text on various topics: hadiths, prayers, ritual rules, legends and so on and khamails (sing. khamail, from Arab. hamala – “to carry”) – practical Muslim handbooks, prayer books with a less official character than kitabs. Kitabs contain e.g. non-canonical prayers, horoscopes, magical formulas and so on. Religious literature of Polish Tatars, being a global unique, arose mainly in the local languages, although it often contained Arabic, Ottoman-Turkish and “Tatar” elements. Nevertheless the writing was done with Arabic letters adjusted to the requirements of Polish or Belarussian language. In my work I transcript the texts from Arabic into Latin letters and comment many complicated places, terms and cultural and religious contexts of them, comparing with Quran, Sunna and other classical islamic sources, showing as interferences and borrowings as differences between Islamic tradition from the Middle East and Polish-Tatar beliefs.
Q: It is known that the field of your interest is Arabic studies. What about Qur'anic studies in Polish academics?
MD: The Islamic and Quranic Studies in Poland develop from over 100 years. The really founder of Islamic studies in our country was Prof. Tadeusz Kowalski, the author of several books on Arabic, Turkish and Persian culture, and, among others, the editor of diwan of Kab Ibn Zuhair. He was the founder (in 1919) of the oldest center of Islamic studies in Poland, Department of Arabic at Jagiellonian University in Cracow (recently headed by Prof. Barbara Michalak-Pikulska; other employees: Prof. Elżbieta Górska, Prof. Barbara Ostafin, Prof. Iwona Król). Recently the biggest center of these studies is the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies (headed by Prof. Katarzyna Pachniak; other employees: Prof. Janusz Danecki, Prof. Paulina Lewicka, Prof. Ewa Machut-Mendecka), University of Warsaw. Besides these centers we have also smaller departments in Poznań, Łódź (Prof. Izabela Kończak, Prof. Radosław Bania), Toruń and Bydgoszcz (Prof. Jerzy Łacina). From among retired and late researchers are to mentioned Prof. Krystyna Skarżyńska-Bocheńska and Prof. Danuta Madeyska (Warsaw), Prof. Tadeusz Lewicki and Prof. Maria Kowalska (Cracow). There are also sociologists, historians, philosophers and politologists in other universities who write in the field of Arabic and Islamic studies, e.g.: Prof. Jerzy Zdanowski (Warsaw), Prof. Jerzy Hauziński (Słupsk). We organize every year a lot of seminars and conferences devoted to various problems of Islam and Arabic culture. There exist also some journals dealing with Oriental cultures, the oldest of them is “Rocznik Orientalistyczny” (“Yearbook of Oriental Studies”, edited in foreign languages), founded in 1914 and currently I am an Editor-in-Chief of this journal. The Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies in Warsaw edits “Studia Arabistyczne i Islamistyczne” (“Arabic and Islamic Studies”, in foreign languages), editor-in-Chief: Prof. J. Danecki.
Q: Well, professor Dziekan, you talked about professors and scholars nicely, I want to know some of their famous works that translated into other languages.
MD: Unfortunately, the most important books of our Professors were written in Polish, because we work above all for our society. But trere are some books of Polish Orientalists i foreign languages, for example: Józef Bielawski and Marian Plezia, Lettre d’Aristote a Alexandre sun la politique envers les cites; Tadeusz Lewicki, Etudes Maghrebins et Soudanaises; Ewa Machut-Mendecka, Studies in Arabic Theatre and Literature; Danuta Madeyska, Poetisc of the Sirah. A Study of the Arabic Chivalrous Romance; Barbara Michalak-Pikulska, Modern Poetry and Prose of Oman 1970—2000; Paulina Lewicka, Food and Foodways of Medieval Cairenes: Aspects of Life in an Islamic Metropolis of the Eastern Mediterranean. Of course, you can find a lot of our articles in various scientific journals from all over the world.
Q: What made Polish researchers take up Qur'anic studies?
MD:As you know, Poland has no imperial experiences, for this reason our Oriental Studies has no connection with Edward Said’s “Orientalism”. It is only the aim to recognize the “Other”, and in the past, also a “close Other”, because we had close relations with Ottomans. The presence and cultural activity of Polish Muslims is also an important factor for development of Islamic and Quranic studies in my country. Recently, of course our works are viewed through current events in the world. We try to explain to our readers what is Islam, what is Quran, we want to describe the achievements of Arabo-Islamic culture in the past, but also to show, that the Arab World has his own values and that the people who recently speak out “in the name of Islam” represent themselves only, not the whole Islamic world.
Q: I want to know how you find Qur'anic studies today.
MD: In our times the politics and media build the image of our world. For this reason the future of Arabic, Islamic and Quranic Studies in the West are very important to understand what goes around us. Our role as academics is to give a true, “objective” view of Islam and its Holy Book, because we find in the Islamic world few of people, who understand the Quranic words in their own manner, remote of the ideas transmitted by the God’s Word. We want to help our people to understand Islam and to help Muslims living outside the Islamic World, unless there are Muslims, who don’t make it easy for us. It is very important to us and to Muslims to understand, that the academic work is not the politics. In most cases we have no connections with the policy of our countries and we work on our own account. We try to be away from political issues – we work with texts and their historical and cultural contexts. The truth is our main goal, but we need also a sort of help from the Islamic side: we all are often condemned as “these Orientalists”, who help to destroy the Islamic World. Without doubt, there are some individuals of that kind, especially these, who are involved in politics, but first of all, the vast majority of us want to show the Arabic and Islamic civilization in its authentic shape. In contemporary world it is impossible without cooperation between Western and Islamic Scholars.
Q: Well, you need a sort of help from the Islamic side, I wonder what kind of help you need badly.
MD: Of course, I don’t mean material help, but so to say, mental. It is associated with what I noted above: you should to explain to Muslims, that the European scholars in their researches in the firld of Arabic and Islamic studies are not the enemies of Islam, but on the contrary: we try do built a friendly picture of Islam and Arabic culture. This topics we treat as an important part of our life. It is also very important not to deal with the Oriental studies as a homogenous feature not restricted to Western Europe and America. In Poland, Czech Republic or in Slovakia there are also scholars who write important books and studies, who translate fundamental works of classical and contemporary Arabic literature – and this of course into Polish, Czech or Slovak language. The promotion of such information this is the help I mean.
Abdalrahman: Thank you very much, professor Marek Dziekan.
Please write: COMMENT in this box to verify that you are human