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August 23rd, 2017

Centenary of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s English Translation of the Quran

After much research, I have completed a comprehensive book of the above title, with the sub-title: Background, History, and Influence on Later Translations. See link.

I am pleased, as well as relieved, and thankful to Allah, to have done this duty to repay in some small amount the debt of gratitude we owe to the founders of the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat Islam Lahore.

Given below is my Preface to the book:

This booklet has been compiled to mark the centenary of the publication of the English translation of the Quran, with extensive commentary, by Maulana Muhammad Ali in 1917. It was, in any practical sense, and in terms of theological scholarship, the first English translation of the Quran by a Muslim. It was certainly the first to be published and to be available in Western countries. Some thirty years after it first appeared, it was thoroughly revised by Maulana Muhammad Ali. It is now a century that it has continued to be reprinted and re-published in different formats, most recently also in digital editions. His translation and commentary has also been used as the basis for producing translations into several other languages.

Later English translations by Muslims were influenced by this work, as we show in the present booklet. In fact, this translation paved the way for them since it broke through the barrier imposed by the orthodox scholars of Islam who held that the Quran must not be translated and who opposed the appearance of any such work.

The most remarkable fact is that a movement which is insignificant in number and meagre in resources, and faces hostility from within the Muslim world and from outside it, has been able to maintain this translation in existence and spread it widely all over the world for a century.

In chapter 1 of this book, we begin by tracing the source of inspiration which led to the producing of this translation and explain the need for such a work. Then its history at Qadian is described till the events of March 1914 which led to the establishment of the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha‛at Islam at Lahore. Continuing the historical account, chapter 2 covers the completion of the translation after the move to Lahore and its printing and publication from Woking, Surrey, England. It goes on to quote many of the reviews which appeared both at that time and in later years. Brief mention is also made in this chapter of the Maulana’s Urdu translation and massive commentary, and the English editions without Arabic text, all these appearing in the 1920s.

In chapter 3 there is a somewhat detailed examination of the relationship of the Maulana’s translation with certain well-known translations by other Muslims which appeared afterwards. It shows really the great debt which these translators owed to Maulana Muhammad Ali.

Chapter 4 relates the work of thorough revision of his translation and commentary which the Maulana carried out in the years 1947–1951 to produce the 1951, fourth revised edition. It brings the subject up to date with some details of the subsequent reprints and editions after the 1951 revised translation.

Chapter 5 gives excerpts from the writings of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad on the importance of the Quran to the world, Muslim and non-Muslim. It was his emphasis on the status, qualities and role of the Quran which inspired and motivated the pioneers of the Lahore Ahmadiyya to undertake the task of presenting the Islamic scripture to the world.

In an Appendix are displayed images of title pages of various editions of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s translations of the Quran and some typical pages from inside them.

The information brought together and compiled in this booklet, much of it not generally known, will be found indispensable for an accurate assessment of the history of the translation of the Quran into English.

— Zahid Aziz

6 Responses to “Centenary of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s English Translation of the Quran”

  1. September 9th, 2017 at 2:12 pm
    From Rashid Jahangiri:

    Noor Foundation is in process of type setting about 3000 pages of Holy Quran translation and commentary (tafseer) by Maulana Noor ud Din. This is compilation of many hand transcribed Durs (lectures) on Holy Quran by him. Noor Foundation has record of all the material from which it is compiled. I have been informed by Prof. Dr. Hibbatul Mannan Omar (aka Khalid Omar) the grand son of Maulana Noor ud Din, and board member of Noor Foundation, that when you read its pages after pages you realize that it is same as Biyan-ul-Quran (Urdu translation and commentary of Holy Quran) by Maulana Muhammad Ali.


  2. I reproduce here some quotes of Maulana Muhammad Ali about Hazrat Maulana Nur-ud-Din which are included in my new book.

    In the Preface to his English translation, Maulana Muhammad Ali wrote at the point where he acknowledged his sources:

    “And lastly, the greatest religious leader of the present time, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, has inspired me with all that is best in this work. I have drunk deep at the fountain of knowledge which this great Reformer — Mujaddid of the present century and founder of the Ahmad­­iyya Movement — has made to flow. There is one more person whose name I must mention in this connec­tion, the late Maulawi Hakim Nur-ud-Din, who in his last long illness patiently went through much the greater part of the explanatory notes and made many valuable sugges­tions. To him, indeed, the Muslim world owes a deep debt of gratitude as the leader of the new turn given to the expo­sition of the Holy Quran. He has done his work and passed away silently, but it is a fact that he spent the whole of his life in studying the Holy Quran, and must be ranked with the greatest expositors of the Holy Book.” 

    In his first edition of this translation, there was the following extra sentence after this point:

    “It is a pity that his valuable Arabic commentary has not yet been given to the world, but when that manuscript sees the light, it will reveal that he was one of the master minds”.

    In 1943, Maulana Muhammad Ali stated in a Khutba:

    “It was my good fortune that I had the opportunity to learn the Quran from him even in those days when he was on his death bed. I used to read out to him notes from my English translation of the Holy Quran. He was seriously ill, but even in that state he used to be waiting for when Muhammad Ali would come. And when I came to his pres­ence, that same critically ailing Nur-ud-Din would turn into a young man. The service of the Quran that I have done is just the result of his love for the Holy Quran.”

    When Maulana Muhammad Ali completed the Urdu translation Bayan-ul-Quran, he wrote in an article:

    "I am sure it is not only numerous friends of mine who feel the same spiritual pleasure today as I do, but the departed souls of Hazrat Maulvi [Nur-ud-Din] sahib and also of that holy man [Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad] … today will surely be happy at this work. May Allah shower His greatest blessings on these two who set me on this path and made me capable of doing this work."

    In the Preface to Bayan-ul-Quran (not quoted in my book), Maulana Muhammad Ali wrote:

    “Finally, it is important to mention that, although in this humble service of the Holy Quran I have had much bene­fit from the work of the classical scholars, but the man who in my life inspired me with the love of the Holy Quran and the desire to serve it was the Mujaddid of this century, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad sahib of Qadian. Then the man who enabled me to understand the Quran was my revered teacher Hazrat Maulvi Nur-ud-Din sahib. If anyone benefits from my work and prays for me, he must also include these two righteous men in his prayer. I am but dust; any fragrance anyone perceives in this work is the spirit breathed by these others.”


  3. Maulana Muhammad Ali's acknowledgement of Hazrat Nur-ud-Din sahib's extensive role and knowledge of the Holy Quran in the commentary of the Holy Quran that MMA wrote, highlights the close relationship between the two. It also highlights the fact that at the time of the Ahmadiyya split, Maulvi Nur-ud-Din was closer to MMA than he was to anyone else from the Qadiani Jamaat.

    It is inconceivable that a person who loved the Holy Book as much as Maulvi Nur-ud-Din sahib did, would entrust its commentary to someone with whom he was at odds on doctrinal issues or the status of HMGA. It is also a credit to MMA that having the highest regard for his spiritual guides HMGA and Maulvi Nur-ud-Din, he always acknowledged their guidance in his works, and often preferred Maulvi Nur-ud-Din's views rather than his own when it came to writing the commentary of the Holy Quran.


  4. @ Rashid. Salaam. Is this Commentary in English translation? I hope so. I am sure there are many bezels of wisdom from Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Hazrat Maulana Noor-ud-din and Hazrat Maulana Muhammad Ali which are yet to be available in English.

    These guys are heavyweights when it comes to Islam. It is a very great pity that this school of thought is yet to become mainstream but I think the Muslim Ummah has little choice but to pay heed to these interpretations sooner or later.

    Please keep us posted. Wasalaam.


  5. September 12th, 2017 at 1:30 pm
    From Rashid Jahangiri:

    @Pemulwuy:

    Answer to your question is yes. 

    Noor Foundation has published in print 819 pages 'Exegesis of The Holy Quran' Commentary on selected Verses. 

    Contact info:

    Noor Foundation International Inc.

    P.O.Box: 758, Hockessin, DE 19707

    Tel: 1-888-937-2665 (1-888-YES-BOOK)

    alnoorfoundation@hotmail.com; noorfoundation@gmail.com

    Website: http://www.islamusa.org


  6. Thanks Rashid. Already got that Exegesis after you mentioned it a while back on this Blog. Look forward to anything new from the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement and related schools of thought. 


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