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