MUSLIM scholars are working on a plan to find new followers in the Western Isles: they want to translate the Koran into Gaelic.
They hope the 50,000 project will show Muslims' commitment to Scotland and Scottish culture and promote understanding between faiths.
However, the move has received a cool reception from some Gaels, especially in the language's heartland, the emphatically church-going Western Isles.
The project has been set up by a British-based Muslim publishing organisation, the Muslim Academic Trust, which is looking for Gaelic writers and scholars who can help them translate the Koran into the language. So far, they have failed to find anyone who knows Arabic and Gaelic well enough to start work, and are instead considering setting up a translation committee to work on the text using the existing Irish Gaelic edition, along with English translations. Irish and Scottish Gaelic are similar languages.
The Trust hopes to produce two bilingual Gaelic-Arabic editions, a decorative colour edition using Celtic and Arabic calligraphy, and a simpler print edition. The translation and publication is expected to take about four years.
The work is being funded by a donation from businesses in Dubai, and the organisers also hope to receive funding from the Scottish Muslim community.
Abdal Hakim Murad, a Muslim convert and lecturer in religion at Cambridge University – who heads the trust – said: "The Koran speaks of the diversity of human languages as a sign of God's beauty and creative power, and we feel that the specific genius of each language needs to be honoured by Muslims, and that a good translation of the Koran would be an important way of bringing this about."
Murad, also known as Tim Winter, added: "We are very anxious to get this done properly and to the highest standard. Better not to do it at all than for it not to be done well."
Bashir Ahmad, the Nationalist list MSP for Glasgow, and Scotland's first Muslim MSP, said: "We want to make progress with this over the summer."
The move drew a frosty response from the main Gaelic church in the Western Isles. Rev Iver Martin, the minister of Stornoway Free Church, said: "I wouldn't have thought there would be much of a market for this. I'm not sure that a lot of Gaelic-speaking people would be inclined to read it. Of course, Muslims have the freedom to do what they want, but it's worth pointing out that in many Muslim countries, Christians do not have the freedom to freely read the Bible."
But others have welcomed the move. Western Isles MP, Gaelic-speaker Angus MacNeil, said: "It sounds like a good idea. I have never read the Koran, but if they translate it into Gaelic, I will read it."