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The First Vernacular Tafsir in the Caucasus: The Legacy of Two 20th Century Azerbaijani Qur’ān Commentaries

Abstract

The Azerbaijani language (also referred as Azerbaijani Turkish) is one of the most important languages of Islam in the South Caucasus region. Nowadays spoken by at least 25 million people in the Republic of Azerbaijan, Iran and Georgia, usage of Azerbaijani as a vernacular language has played an important role in the rise of Islamic reformism in the area during the first decade of the 20th century and, almost a century later, in the Islamic revival that has taken place since 1991. At the turn of the 20th century, two vernacular Qur’ān commentaries by Azerbaijani scholars, Kashf al-Ḥaqāʾiq ʿan Nukat al-Ayāt wa’l-Daqāʾīq (1904–1905) by Mīr Muḥammad Karīm al-Bākuwī and al-Bayān fī tafsīr al-Qurʾān (1908) by Muḥammad Mawlā Zādah al-Shakawī, opened new avenues in the debate about the translatability and interpretation of the Qur’ān in non-Arabic discourses, as well as the status of those sources in local Islamic education. This study argues, despite the many dramatic changes brought about by atheist Soviet policies between 1920 and 1991, the impact of these two early 20th century tafsir on modern-day Azerbaijani Islamic education and scholarship has remained substantial, and their influence can be seen in everything from Qur’ānic studies courses in the current curricula of theological colleges to the most recent translations of the Qur’ān in Azerbaijan and beyond.

Keywords

Azerbaijani language, Qur’ānic studies, Vernacular Qur’ān, Tafsir, Islamic reformism, Azerbaijani tafsir

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