The digital revolution is spurring a slow transformation in the spiritual classrooms of one of most conservative bastions of faith. More and more Muslims in India, South Asia and around the world are logging on to the internet to read the Holy Quran, which is moving to the digital domain keeping in tune with the proliferation of e-books.
The node of all Quranic translation activity in Saudi Arabia, the "King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qura'n" - a Quran printing and translation factory in Medina - is reaching out to new readers in India and South Asia with digital and voice translations of the holy book in Urdu and English for greater people-to-people cultural understanding.
At the seven-day World Book Fair in New Delhi that began Feb 4, officials at a sprawling book stand of the Ministry of Higher Education of Saudi Arabia flaunted computer applications of digital downloads of the Quran in translation to curious youngsters.
"It is nothing short of a slow transformation in the young Islamic world," said a spokesperson for the "King Fahd Complex for the Printing of the Holy Qura'n".
Since Islam became the official faith of Saudi Arabia in the 6th century CE and spread across the world, reading the Quran has been a traditional ritual.
The student or the reader usually sits on a prayer rug on the floor and opens the book on an elevated pedestal where it can be flipped without the risk of desecration or creasing. The book has always been identified by its fine calligraphy, artistry, heft, high production quality and sacred status.The tradition is now making away for instant reading in at least six languages on the Internet: Urdu, Hausa, Indonesian, Spanish, French and English. The translated downloads are accompanied with voice recordings in Arabic.
A radio translation in Oromo caters to the Oromo people of Islamic faith in Africa, most of whom do not understand Arabic.
"The complex has hired translators from around the world to create language editions of the holy book. The texts are constantly revised. We have uploaded free translations in six languages on our website with voice recordings in Arabic," a senior official of the training department, representing the complex, told IANS.
The official said that "the digital downloads of the Quran were popular among children, young adults and older readers, who did not have access to Islamic texts in non-Islamic nations".The sound recordings were meant for old readers, whose sight was failing or those who were illiterate, he said.
"We are looking to India to increase readership even among non-Islamic readers with the digital translations," the official said, and aded that "his children read the Quran on the Internet". The translations can be read on smart phones as well, he said.
Former Jamia Millia Islamia professor and writer Zubair Ahmad Farooqi admits to a change in the reading pattern of the Quran with inroads made by the Internet.
"Computer makes the Quran easily accessible, making reading more social. It is accessible to anybody who wants to learn and has become more relevant in the context of the recent misleading propaganda about Islam, stoking controversies in countries like India," Farooqi told IANS.
The "propaganda appears to have a silver lining because it is fuelling curiosity to acquire correct and authentic knowledge, presenting the text in a new light," he added.
He said "English translation of the Quran was in demand in India but hard copies were in short supply".
Estimates by the Quran Complex say it has 55 translated editions of the Quran, that includes 24 in Asian languages, 12 European languages, 14 African languages and one in the Gypsy language for the gypsies of central Europe.
It has created more than 90 editions of the holy book in over 165 million copies.
Translations of the Quran in Sindhi and Malayalam languages are almost ready, a spokesperson for the complex said.