Besides the Mahabharata’s translation into Old Javanese (and other Southeast Asian languages) in the 10th/11th century, the first translation into a non-Indian language was into Persian, commissioned by Akbar in 1591.
The translator, Badāyūnī or Badāōnī, relates how it came to be:
The following considerations disposed the emperor to the work. When he had heard the Shāhnāmah, and the story of Āmīr Ḥamzah, in seventeen volumes transcribed in fifteen years, and had spent much gold illuminating it, he also heard the story of Abu Muslim, and the Jāmi’-ul-hikāyat repeated, and it suddenly came into his mind that most of these books were nothing but poetry and fiction; but that, since they were first related in a lucky hour, and when their star was in the act of passing over the sky, they obtained great fame. But now he ordered those Hindu books, which holy and staid sages had written, and which were all clear and convincing proofs and the pivot on which all their religion, and faith, and holiness turned, to be translated from the Indian into the Persian language, and thought to himself, “Why should I not have them done in my name? For they are by no means trite, but quite fresh, and they will produce all kinds of fruits of felicity both temporal and spiritual, and will be the cause of circumstance and pomp, and will ensure an abundance of children and wealth as is written in the preface of these books.”
So apparently, Akbar thought they (Hindu books) were more than mere poetry and fiction, and yet fresh, and he even believed (essentially) the phalashruti told in the books.
But the translator Badāōnī himself, an orthodox Mullā, doesn’t seem to have agreed with his emperor, or liked the job:
The Emperor sent for me and desired me to translate The Mahābhārata, in conjunction with Nāqib Khān. […] The consequence was that in three or four months I translated two out of eighteen sections, at the puerile absurdities of which the eighteen thousand creations may well be amazed.
<!–(The sections are parvas. The “18000 creations” is a Muslim belief, and unconnected with the recurrence of the number 18 in the Mahābhārata.)–>
Besides finding sections full of “puerile absurdities”, he also found sections objectionable and disturbing to his Muslim sentiments. It led him to complain:
But such is my fate, to be employed on such works. Nevertheless, I console myself with the reflection that what is predestined must come to pass.
Akbar seems to have been merely amused by this reaction:
We thought that [Badāōnī] was an unworldly individual of Ṣūfī tendencies, but he seems to be such a bigoted lawyer that no sword can sever the jugular vein of his bigotry.
The rest of the translation had to be completed by others.