'Mahomets Alkoran' by André du Ryer

An illustrated Qur’an translation from 1696

Engraved title page Dutch translation of Glazenmaker's Qur'an, 1696

It is well known that many Muslims object to pictorial representations of the prophet Muhammad and other persons mentioned in the Qur’an. According to traditional sources, this ban on images actually includes all living creatures infused with a soul, but this directive is not universally followed and Persian and Ottoman manuscripts are known which do portray Muhammad and other prophets. Early translations of the Qur’an printed in Europe also frequently include a frontispiece depicting Muhammad. Sometimes depictions of Muhammad and Muslims are even included in the text. In the (second) edition of the Dutch translation of the Qur’an by Jan Hendriksz. Glazemaker, published in Amsterdam in 1696 by Timotheus ten Hoorn, they figure in a fine frontispiece engraved by Jan Lamsvelt and in six copperplate engravings by the prominent Amsterdam illustrator Casper Luyken (1672-1708).

The Qur’an translation by Glazemaker

Jan Hendriksz. Glazemaker (1619/20-1682), a Mennonite and a professional translator, is probably best known for his translations into Dutch of philosophical works, such as those of René Descartes (1596-1650) and Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). His translation of the Qur’an was first published in 1657 in Amsterdam by Jan Rieuwertsz. and was reprinted in the following year. It was based on the influential French translation, directly from the Arabic, by the French diplomat and translator André Du Ryer (circa 1598-1672) which was first published as L’Alcoran de Mahomet in Paris in 1647. Previously, Du Ryer had been appointed as a French vice-consul in Alexandria and in Cairo (1623 to 1626) and, as translator, had visited Istanbul in 1631 during a French diplomatic mission. Glazemaker’s Dutch translation of the Qur’an (pp. 1-451) is preceded by a brief preface, ‘Voor-Reeden aan den Leser’ (pp. *3r-*4r), and a short introduction, ‘Kort Begrip van de Godsdienst der Turken’ (pp. *4v-*6v), explaining the main doctrines of Islam. Both were translated directly from Du Ryer’s French edition. Two letters at the end of Du Ryer’s original text were not translated.

Numbering the sura’s

In modern editions and translations of the Qur’an the text is divided into 114 chapters (‘sura’s’). These are not arranged in a chronological sequence but, with the exception of the first sura, are roughly ordered according to their length: the longest at the beginning and the shortest at the end. Traditionally the sura’s were referred to by a title but it is now common to also number them sequentially. In Du Ryer’s French translation the sura’s were not numbered, but in Glazemaker’s Dutch translation sequential numbers were added. As these commence with ‘soerat al-baqara’ (‘The Cow’, nr. 2 in the modern numbering) there are only 113 numbered chapters (‘hoofddelen’).

Qur’an commentators

Detail of the Dutch translation of the Qur'an by Glazenmaker

While preparing his translation of the Qur’an, Du Ryer consulted several popular commentaries of the Qur’an which he noted in the margins of his text and which were faithfully copied in the Dutch edition. The most important of these were the commentary by ’Abd Allāh ibn ’Umar ibn Muhammad ibn ’Alī Abu’l-Khayr Nāsir al-Dīn al-Baydāwī (died about 1286) and the Tafsīr al-Jalālayn (‘The Qur’an Commentary by the Two Jalāls’), compiled by Jalāl al-Dīn Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Mahallī (died in 1459) and his pupil Abu ’l-Fadl ’Abd al-Rahmān Abī Bakr ibn Muhammad Jalāl al-Dīn al-Khudayrī al-Suyūtī (1445-1505). These are referred to in the margins as ’Bedaoi’ and ‘Gelaldyn’.

Two biographies of the prophet Muhammad

Immediately following Glazemaker’s Dutch translation of Du Ryer’s translation of the Qur’an is a second book in four chapters with a separate title page and an introduction. The first part, ‘Mahomets Leven getrokken uit de Sarasijnsche Historie van Georgius Elmacinus’ (pp. 465-477), is a biography of the prophet Muhammad translated by Glazemaker from the Historia Saracenica (1625) of the Leiden oriental scholar Thomas Erpenius (1584-1624). The latter is a Latin translation of a universal history (al-Majmū‘ al-Mubārak) compiled by the Coptic historian Jirjis ibn al-’Amīd al-Makīn (1205-1273). This is followed by a second biography, ‘Mahomets Leven uit verscheide Christe Schryvers getrokken’ (pp. 477-506), which presents a much less favourable view on the life and deeds of Muhammad. This biography, compiled from various medieval Christian sources, was already appended as the ‘De generatione et nutritura Machumet’ to the Latin translation of the Qur’an made in 1142/43 by Robert of Ketton.

The miraculous night journey of Muhammad

Print 1 Glazenmaker's Dutch translation of the Qur'an

Following this is a chapter with the title ‘Vertoning, door Mahomet en zijn navolgers verdigt, van een reis, die hy, op het beest Alborach zittende, naar Jerusalem deê, en vandaar ten hemel opklom’ (pp. 506-518), describing Muhammad’s miraculous journey to the ‘farthest mosque’ and his ascent to the uppermost celestial spheres. Referred to only briefly in the Qur’an (sura 17:1; 53:1-21 & 81:19-25), this tradition was greatly expanded and elaborated in later Islamic works, often supplemented by illustrations depicting various events of the prophet’s journey.

Dialogue with the Jew Abdias

The last part, ‘Samenspraak van een Jood met Mahomet, die aan hem rekening van zijn lering geeft’ (pp. 518-547), was already appended as the ‘Doctrina Machumet, quae apud Saracenos magnae authoritatis est’ to the Latin translation of the Qur’an made in 1142/43 by Robert of Ketton. In this short treatise, commonly known as the Book of One Thousand Questions and preserved in Arabic,  Persian, Turkish, Hindustan, Malay and Javanese manuscripts, ’Abdallāh ibn Salām (‘Abdias’), a rabbi from Medina (‘Jesrab’), poses various questions about the religion of Islam to the prophet Muhammad. Convinced by the veracity of the answers given to him, the rabbi then converts to Islam.

Muhammad and Muslims in 17th-century Dutch art

Print 2 with a man praying from Dutch translation of the Quran by Glazemaker

The copperplate engravings by Casper Luyken, which were added to the edition of 1696, show the ambivalent ways in which Muslims and their prophet were viewed in 17th-century Dutch art. On the one hand they were regarded as potential business partners and as allies against European powers which threatened the young republic. On the other hand they were also feared, since Ottoman armies had brought large parts of southeast Europe within the Islamic sphere of influence and the capture of the city of Vienna (in 1683) had only been narrowly averted.

The first four prints (facing pp. 1, 94, 266 and 355) depict Muslims in prayer or Muslims approaching a mosque. The last two prints (facing pp. 491 and 496) refer to anti-Islamic stories about the prophet Muhammad circulating in medieval Christian sources. According to one of these stories the divine revelations which Muhammad received were merely delusions caused by epileptic fits. Others claimed that the miracles shown to Muhammad were actually staged by himself to fool the ignorant.

The popularity of Du Ryer’s translation of the Qur’an in the Low Countries

Du Ryer’s translation of the Qur’an, published in 1647 in Paris as L’Alcoran de Mahomet, did not enjoy great popularity in France and only a few reprints (1649 and 1651) are known. In the Low Countries the original French version appears to have been much more popular. The first editions were published in 1649 in Amsterdam by Johannes Janssonius and, in the same year, also by Lodewijk III Elzevier (a reprint of the latter edition was issued by Daniel Elzevier in 1672). A new edition was published in 1683 in The Hague by Adriaan Moetjens (reprints in 1685 and 1719). The Antwerp publisher Jean-François Lucas printed an edition in 1719 and another edition, in two volumes, was published in 1734 in Amsterdam by Pieter Mortier II. The last edition, also in two volumes, was brought onto the market in 1770 by Johann Caspar Arkstée and Henricus Merkus in Amsterdam and in Leipzig (reprinted in 1775).

An anonymous English translation, ascribed to the Scottish writer Alexander Ross (c. 1590-1654), was published in 1649 as The Alcoran of Mahomet and was reprinted several times. Glazemaker’s Dutch translation of Du Ryer’s translation also enjoyed great popularity and, following the earlier mentioned editions, was reprinted in Amsterdam (1698), Rotterdam (1698) and in Leiden (1707, 1721 and 1734)