I saw an ad in the paper about two weeks ago for the Holy Quran in Wolof (and Mandinka, and Pular) translation, being sold by the Ahmadiya Center here, and I bought myself a copy: there is a dearth of books published in Wolof or any of the local languages, and I bought it not only because I was interested in seeing how the old, "high" language of the Quran would translate into Wolof, but also because any attempts at producing a body of work in the local languages ought to be encouraged, in my opinion.
I went to the Ahmadiya center with high expectations, and I wasn't dissapointed. The book itself is a plain black one, hard-cover, solidly-bound so pages don't fall out. On the front is "The Holy Quran" in Arabic, and beneath that the words: "Al Xuraan Bu Tedda Bi, Bindi Arab Ak Pirim Wolof". ["The Holy Quran, Written in Arabic and its Wolof Translation"]. There is also a handy string bookmark to mark your place when you stop reading.
Inside, after the copyright and book information pages, there is a full-page Preface ["Ubbité" - literally "Opening"] detailing how the whole translation project came to take place (an idea the Ahmadiyya Center had, as a way of spreading the religion), and how long it took (5 years: from 1997 to 2002), as well as a list of the translators involved.
After the preface there is a table of contents, again in Wolof, though the Sura names are not translated, but written as they are pronounced (Al-Faatiha, Al-Baxara, etc.). Then the Quran itself starts proper.
As I said at the beginning, I bought this mainly because of my interest in the Wolof language. The Wolof currently spoken all across the country (especially in the urban areas) is a mixture of English, French, Arabic and Wolof words. The same is also mostly true across the border in Senegal, though there are more words borrowed from French than English. The Wolof in the translated Quran however is "pure" Wolof (in as far as a language can be called pure), and thus it is very instructive to read it. Ironically enough, I find myself reaching for the English translation every time there is a Wolof word I don't understand - I compare the English translation with the Wolof one, and that way get the meaning of the Wolof. (The irony lies in the fact that when I apply for schools in the US, for example, I have to check a little box on the form to tell them that English is not my first language; yet I need to use an English dictionary to understand words in my first language).
The verses are beautifully rendered in the Wolof - the translators did a very good job. The fourth verse of the first Sura (Al-Fatihah - "The Opening") reads "Master of the Day of Judgement", and is translated into Wolof as "Buuru Bés Pénca". Read that out aloud - it rolls, like a rumble of thunder, carrying with it an undercurrent of both the Mercy of this Master, as well as the terribleness of His wrath, and the absoluteness of His rule come the Day of Judgement. The sixth verse of the same Sura reads "Show us the straight way". This, translated directly, would have been "Won ñu yoon wu jub wi" - the translators instead chose to render it as "Gindi ñu ci yoon wu jub wi" (literally "Make us choose the straight way", i.e. don't just show us the way, but make it our volition to take it). I do not speak Arabic, but I have a feeling this is closer to the original Arabic meaning of that verse, considering it is a prayer.
The Quran is full of metaphors, and allegories - where necessary, the translators have not shied away from injecting these with local color, to make them more meaningful to local readers. For example, the first part of verse 27 of Al-Baxara reads: " Allah disdains not to use the similitude of things, lowest as well as highest...". The translation of the same section reads: "Yalla du kersawu ci def misaal ci lu tuutee ni yoo walla lu ko gënna ndaw" - "Allah will not disdain from giving examples from creatures even as tiny as the mosquito, or even tinier..."
. Notice the introduction of the mosquito, that tiny, irritating, but nevertheless ever-present part of Gambian life; and how the mentioning of it points at the omniscience of Allah, who notices even the things we consider small and beyond the consideration of one as high as Him.
This is an indispensable book for those interested in improving (or perhaps even learning) their Wolof. Used simultaenously with an English translation, it will teach you quite a lot of the language. It is not easy-going, but it is certainly rewarding - definitely worth buying.