In the Bulgarian Arabization school that emerged in the early sixties of the last century, Professor Tsvetan Tyovanov has a special place. He is a scholar who dived deep into the literature and poetry of the Abbasid era, practiced teaching and academic administration in his country, lectured at several Western universities, including Oxford, and during these years the Bulgarians were impressed with some of the eyes of works dealing with the Arab literary heritage. In 1987, the scientist, born in 1952, translated the meanings of the Holy Quran at the request of a Bulgarian publishing house. With the change of general and personal circumstances, Tyuvanov retranslated again to come 10 years later with the first Bulgarian text of the meanings of the Holy Qur'an copied from the Arabic original. Al Jazeera Net toured Tyovanov's cognitive journey in the context of this interview.
- In more than one press interview, you mentioned that you fell in love with Arabic at first sight, that is: when you browsed as a boy, an Arabic book for the first time. How did you feel then? Challenged? Or curiously? Or both?, especially since it is a completely strange language for a Bulgarian boy?
I was a high school student, and I wandered daily between libraries in search of interesting books. Meanwhile, something resembling a little miracle actually happened, as if fate at this moment had predetermined my future fate with Arabic. My eyes fell on a textbook in Arabic, and as soon as I browsed it, I was interested in the beauty of calligraphy. Of course, I was attracted only by the shape of the alphabet and not its content, but then the spark ignited in my heart a strong love for Arabic that has not been extinguished to this day.
I did not consider Arabic to be a complex and strange language. I did not face any difficulties and problems when learning it during the long years, but it was fun and fruitful adventure. For me, learning Arabic was not a challenge, but curiosity that led me to continuous progress until now, even though I became an elder.
- I went to study Arabic at the University of Baghdad in 1972, and that was the first opportunity to get to know the East and the Arabs in the broad sense of the word, what were your first impressions? And among your professors at the university did he leave his mark on you?
Theophanov in the uniform of graduating from the University of Baghdad in 1978 (Al Jazeera)
I remember the date November 5, 1972. It was snowing in Sofia, and I was greeted by a hot summer in Baghdad. I was happy that I was going to study my beloved language, and at first I liked everything, although sometimes it seemed strange to me, as if I was watching an episode of the series One Thousand and One Nights. For example, I was struck by the noise in the streets, the call to prayer all over the city, and the clothes of some people that are completely different from what I am used to. But whatever the case, my first impressions were positive, especially in terms of people's behavior. I later realized that good understanding, tolerance and good manners stem from the influence of religion.
At that time, Iraq was a quiet and prosperous country. Renowned professors from all Arab countries visited the University of Baghdad and gave valuable lectures, especially at the Faculty of Arts. It influenced many professors, not only with their breadth of knowledge, but also with their dealings with students and their attitudes in society. Among them are Mahdi Makhzoumi, Ibrahim al-Samarrai, Mohsen Jamal al-Din, Ibrahim al-Waeli, Ali Jawad al-Taher and others.
- You said in one of your press interviews that learning about classical Arabic literature requires knowledge of history, religion and philosophy, at what stage of your dive into the Arab heritage did you decide to start translating the meanings of the Holy Quran?
I had a specific goal: to reach a level where I could translate literary texts, especially contemporary Arabic poetry, but I gradually realized that the essence of what interests me lies in classical Arabic literature. She turned to Abbasid poetry. At the same time, it became clear to me that the Arab-Islamic civilization is a complex phenomenon that cannot understand one of its branches, one of its themes, and one of its texts without feeling its spirit and delving into all its elements. You must translate for yourself a huge amount of literary and scientific texts. This is how my long journey to the treasures of the Arabic language began.
After graduating from the University of Baghdad, I was appointed as a professor at Sofia University. She lectured on ancient and modern literature and on Arab philosophy and civilization. It has sunk more and more into the endless depths of Arab-Islamic science. I was not interested in the Holy Quran. I thought that from a purely linguistic point of view it was not difficult for me to understand and translate.
I love challenges and I don't just get the easy stuff. At the same time, I translated a number of difficult Arabic texts such as the Mu'allaqat, the poems of Abu al-'Ala al-Ma'ari, Ibn al-Farid, al-Mutanabbi, Ibn al-Mu'taz, Abu Tammam and others, but I did not reach the level of spiritual and mental maturity required to understand the miracle of the Holy Qur'an.
One of the pages of the Bulgarian text translated into the meanings of the Holy Qur'an in a 1999 version (Al-Jazeera)
- What motivated you to start translating the Qur'an, is it cognitive curiosity or is it simply an invitation you received from a Bulgarian publisher?
I did not intend to translate the Holy Quran until I received an invitation from one of the Bulgarian publishing houses to do this honorable work. I accepted the offer with ease and satisfaction without thinking about the difficulties of completing the task. She was surprised by the fact that the communist authorities in Bulgaria at the time prohibited the practice of religious communities, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Years later, we learned that the government had made a decision to change the Islamic names of the country's Turks and replace them with Bulgarian names for the purpose of their forced assimilation.
In addition, measures to restrict the rights of Bulgarian Muslims increased. At the same time, the Communist Party recommended translating the meanings of the Qur'an to shift the focus from the religious question to the ethnic question. It is as if they said: Yes, we have Muslims and we offer them the translation of their Bible, but they are not Turks, they are of Bulgarian origin. Choosing a translator of the meanings of the Holy Quran was an honor, and a recognition of my scientific level and skill in this field. So I started working in 1987 and finished it after 3 years.
- What kind of difficulties did you face while translating the meanings of the Qur'an: language, terminology, place names and flags or the meanings themselves?
When I look back through the years to my destiny with the translation of the meanings of the Holy Qur'an, I remember the following Qur'anic verse from (Surat Al-Ahzab / Verse 72):
"We offered trust to the heavens, the earth and the mountains, and I show that they carry it and have compassion for it, and man carried it, for it was an ignorant injustice."
There is no doubt that translating the meanings of the Holy Qur'an is a hard work that requires knowing the secrets of the Arabic language, the various interpretations, the reasons for revelation and jurisprudence, and not only that, but the translator must choose the appropriate meaning from among the meanings. The most important thing is to capture the spirit of revelation and follow a comprehensive approach in translating the meanings of all surahs and verses.
As I said, I completed the translation in 3 years, and then there were historical changes in Bulgaria, which in turn changed my attitude towards translation. People took to the streets to protest against communist rule, and I, on the contrary, closed the door of my room and rethought and reflected on my whole life. When I read the translated text, I found it dry, dead, devoid of spirit and far from the Arabic original, albeit accurate, so that was the moment of reaching the beginning, so I started working from scratch.
This process lasted about 10 years. The General Iftaa House for Bulgarian Muslims then appointed a committee that proofread the text and edited the translation. I joined the members of the Committee in discussing their remarks. Praise be to God, we succeeded in achieving our goals. The translation is aimed at the general Bulgarian audience, not just Muslims, and is widely recognized. I believe that the text of the translation can influence the reader so that he can notice through it the extent of the Qur'anic miracles, although it is impossible to transmit the words of God into any language other than Arabic.
As for me, the Holy Qur'an has enlightened my destiny in life, cured me of worldly ambitions, and opened up horizons for me that I never thought of. It made me far-sighted, mature in opinion, and deeper vision.
- Before the Communists came to power in 1944, a first translation of the meanings of the Holy Qur'an was published in Bulgaria from the English text.
There are translations from Turkish as well. Unfortunately, I didn't benefit much from it. It is the work of translators who may know the meanings but are not fluent in Bulgarian, sometimes they use funny expressions as if they are mocking the sacred text without realizing it.
They also moved away from the Arabic origin, using for example the Persian Ottoman word "pegamber", which is not clear to the Bulgarian reader. I relied on Russian, English, and sometimes French and German translations. My translation is the first academic translation in Bulgarian and the only one recognized by Dar al-Ifta for Bulgarian Muslims.
- Have you shown interest in Sufism and Sufism, especially since some of them have a presence and followers in the Balkans?
Sufism is a phenomenon that deserves scientific attention, but there are a number of orientalists who have researched this subject, and I personally do not find a place among them. The only mystic whose poems have been translated is Ibn al-Farid. I believe that Sufi symbols and terms are very far from our time, and have only historical value.
Arbiada – Prof. Tuvanov Charitable Foundation (theophanov.com)
- Who initiated the establishment of the Tsvetan Tuvanov Charitable Foundation and the website "Arabiada" to introduce the Bulgarian reader to what the professor produced and wrote, as well as to introduce the Arabs and their heritage?
The idea of establishing the foundation and website aims to familiarize the Bulgarian public with the achievements of Arab civilization and culture and the contemporary Arab world in general, as well as to encourage young Bulgarian Arabists. My humble personality is an expression of a humble scholar and translator who devoted all his life to the service of the Arabic language and its genius civilization. The initiative came from my colleagues with the spiritual participation, not financial, of businessmen, who have economic relations with the Arab world.
The important thing is that we want to focus on the positive things that bring us together with the Arab world and the contribution of Arabs to global civilization. It is no secret that Bulgarian society in general did not have much information about Arab history, sciences and literature, and although it existed, it was not objective. Terrorist operations carried out by people with Arabic names and the large number of immigrants from some Arab countries have led to public opinion against Arabs. We are trying to change this position by publicizing Arab achievements. The site enjoys a lot of traffic and visits and this indicates its success and usefulness.
- What are the circumstances of your choice of Abu al-Atahiya's poetry as the subject of your doctoral thesis?
The Abbasid poet Abu al-Atahiya was a wise preacher who meditated on the issues of life and death and expressed despair of this world, inclination to the hereafter, annihilation, human destiny, morals, advice, guidance, and so on. In his poetry, he developed the so-called asceticism, and we find him addressing in his asceticism two prominent points: intimidation from this world, and encouragement in the hereafter.
Abu al-Atahiya also calls for contentment, because money does not enter the graves with its owners. He is the one who said: "A person is made of glass, and if it is not attached to him, it will break." I loved this poetry because I found in it a reflection of my personal thoughts and attitudes towards life and society. Another motivation for working on this subject was the orientalists' disregard for Abu al-'Atahiya's place in the history of Abbasid literature.
- In 1987 she obtained a doctorate from the Moscow Institute of Orientalism for a thesis entitled "The Role of Abu al-Atahiya in the Development of Philosophical Poems in Arabic Poetry", and in 2001 she received a second doctorate for a thesis entitled "Classical Arabic Poetry as a Dichotomy Model". What is the summary of the idea of the second thesis?
The thesis provides a comprehensive overview of medieval Arabic poetry. The idea is based on the existence in this poetry of the bilateral branching or the so-called khidrama, and it is known that God Almighty created from everything a couple: disbelief and faith, misery and happiness, guidance and delusion, night and day, heaven and earth, human beings and jinn. In this thesis (for a state doctorate) I look at counter-concepts such as nomadism, civilization, body, spirit, and so on. I answer the question, how do these conflicting concepts overlap in classical Arabic poetry and what is the role of Islam in shaping these ideas?
The appendix of the treatise contains a huge collection of my translations of the poems of the most famous Abbasid poets. I am proud to be the first person in Bulgaria to draw attention to such matters and this literary wealth.
Tyufanov's work entitled "Arab Qurosian Culture from Pre-Islamic Era to Islam" published in 2004 in 985 pages (Al-Jazeera)
- You published an early poetry collection entitled "Oases" but you did not return to publishing poetry collections, did you completely abandon writing poetry, and why?
I gave up the systems of poetry as a result of the influence of the miracle of the Qur'an on my soul and soul. After the "oases", two diwans were issued, namely "The Night Pharmacy" and "Man Under the Sky". At some point in my life, I fell into a spiritual crisis stemming from the conviction that no one cares about my thoughts and feelings, so there is no point in publishing my poems. And turned to the wisdom of the Holy Quran.
Then after the free forum appeared on Facebook, the army of poets, young and old, talented and untalented, drowned my desire to organize poetry. This does not mean that I have left poetry completely, but rather that I have given myself the freedom to choose between expression and non-poetic expression according to my desires and mood. Now I prefer prose and I still occasionally compose poetry and short stories.
- What are the circumstances of your move to France? Does this have anything to do with new research work?
My daughter is a French citizen and lives with her family in Paris. Three years ago, I decided to move to France for good to be near my two young grandchildren. I also opened up opportunities to realize joint projects with my French colleagues, and France has become my second home.
I am currently doing research on the life of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and have reached an advanced stage in this work. At the same time, I continue to work on the history of classical Arabic literature – a subject where I have been lecturing for more than 40 years.