St Luke's Gospel now available in Mirpuri dialect

05 December 2014

EMPICS

Neighbours: the spire of a church and the tower of a mosque, in Bradford 

Neighbours: the spire of a church and the tower of a mosque, in Bradford 

FOR the first time, St Luke's Gospel has been translated into the mother tongue of thousands of British people of Pakistani extraction.

The new version is in Mirpuri, a colloquial dialect from the rural Mirpur region of Kashmir, where many of the UK's Pakistani community originated. It exists only as a spoken language, and so the Gospel has been narrated on three DVDs over scenes from the 1979 film Jesus.

The digital Bible and translation adviser with the Bible Society, Neil Rees, said that it was "a very interesting project, which could be of great benefit". The society archives record the making of a Mirpuri version of St John's Gospel in 1932.

Mr Rees said it was estimated that there were about one million Mirpuri speakers worldwide, and that UK government figures showed that 747,000 people in Britain were of Mirpuri origin, although many spoke other languages such as Punjabi or Urdu, and many younger ones knew only English.

Peter Smithers, the research and training officer of the charity Word of Life, which provides scripture materials for people who would not normally read the Bible, said: "It's as if St Luke was telling the story himself from the text of his Gospel using the images from the film.

"Mirpuri is what you can call a hidden language, because it is not written, and - because it's the language of a generally agrarian community - it is considered low-status; even speakers of Mirpuri will say it's a good language to swear in.

"However, it is the language of the hearts and spirits of the majority of Britain's Pakistanis. I'm delighted that, having been ignored for so long, and after years of prayer and hard work, part of the Bible is finally available.

"The received wisdom is that, for people coming from a Muslim background, the Gospels of either Matthew or Luke are the ones to start with. The next instalment will be the Joseph cycle of stories from Genesis, hopefully by February or March next year, which is based on another existing film."

Dr Phillip Lewis, the former director of Churches for Dialogue and Diversity in Bradford, where about 19 per cent of the population is of Pakistani heritage, described the translation as "a useful tool" in helping Muslims understand Christianity. He said: "Part of our responsibility as churches in this country is . . . the way we develop trust with the Muslim community, to help it understand Christianity and understand the impact of this tradition on British society."

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