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Revised 2010 edition of the English Translation of the Holy Quran

Originally by Maulana Muhammad Ali

Language updated and notes abridged
by the Editor
Zahid Aziz

Extracts from the Preface

The English translation of the Holy Quran with extensive explanatory footnotes, by Maulana Muhammad Ali (d. 1951), was first published in 1917. It was the first English translation and commentary by a Muslim to be generally available in the world. The 1917 and several subsequent editions were printed in England and distributed from the Muslim mission at the Woking Mosque in England. This work remained the only Muslim English translation for several years. It was widely acclaimed as being an accurate, faithful, and true rendering, one which was desperately needed. It influenced all the major later English translations.

Maulana Muhammad Ali’s translation was not merely an academic or literary exercise. It was done to refute the vast mass of misrepresentations of Islam by its Western critics, to convey the faith-reviving and heart-inspiring light of Islam to the world, to show how Islamic teachings are applicable to solving the problems of modern times, and to teach and guide both the Western-educated Muslims and English-speaking new Muslim converts. Towards the end of his life, Maulana Muhammad Ali thoroughly revised his translation and commentary, the revised edition being published in 1951. The translation was made simpler and the commentary was brought up to date with the changed circumstances prevailing after the Second World War.

The language of the translation was solemn and dignified, as befits a Divine scripture, yet it was also plain and easy to understand, aimed at the level of an educated reader having a reasonable standard of English. However, due to changes in the usage and teaching of English in the second half of the twentieth century, such a reader today is much less familiar with certain forms and styles of literary expression used in the translation than was the case with previous generations. To bring the language closer to the general readership, it became necessary to replace some expressions by more modern forms. This has been my aim in producing the present updated version of the translation, while showing reverence to the original work and remaining as close as possible to the language used by Maulana Muhammad Ali.

The factor of greatest assistance during this editing work has been that the Maulana has himself in some places used more modern terms and in other places older styles to translate the same original words. Utilising this, I have been able to select his own phraseology to replace the older expressions. Thus, in the work of updating the translation in various places, I have applied the wording used by him elsewhere if such could be suitably found.

The most noticeable change is the replacement of the second person singular forms, ‘thou’, ‘thee’, ‘thy’, etc. by ‘you’ and ‘your’. In fact, in the Preface to his first edition published in 1917, the Maulana wrote: “I have, however, given up the antiquated thou (except when the Divine Being is addressed)”. In that edition he added a marginal column on the left of the translation, in which he indicated whether ‘you’ in the line of text opposite was the singular ‘thou’. In his revised 1951 edition, he removed this margin as unnecessary and used the ‘thou’ forms within the translation itself. I have reverted to the usage of the 1917 edition, but have employed the convention that whenever ‘you’ is in the singular the letter y is printed in italics as in: you, your. When God is addressed, which is always in the singular in the Quran, I have also used “You”, with capital “Y”, instead of “Thou” and “Thee”.

The next most prominent change is also a reversion to the first edition, and that is in the use of the negative. In the revised 1951 edition the Maulana has used constructions such as “you know not”, “they see not”, etc. I have restored the style of his 1917 edition in which these are of the form: “you do not know”, “they do not see”, etc.

In clarification of certain points, I have consulted not only the 1917 edition of the Maulana’s English translation but also his Urdu translation with extensive commentary known as Bayan-ul-Quran. I would also mention that in case of some verses I have compared other English translations of the Quran, old and new, to form a judgment as to the most suitable level of language.

It is clear that Maulana Muhammad Ali produced his translation to the highest standard of literary scholarship and he used words, expressions, phrases and styles that reflect the original Arabic with great precision, perhaps unmatched by any other English translation. In my effort to update its language, and bring it closer to current usage, it was inevitable that in some places its high literary level would be reduced and the new expressions employed be somewhat less precise than those which they replace.

Maulana Muhammad Ali had also produced two editions of his translation without including the Arabic text and with much condensed footnotes, in order to make available a handier book for the general reader. Following the same approach in the present work, the Arabic text has not been included, and the footnote content has been abridged although not nearly by the extent of reduction in the Maulana’s two editions. Taking the footnotes from his revised 1951 edition (as also found in its subsequent reprints), I have eliminated the detailed lexical discussion of the range of meaning of words and the explanation of the variety of views about the interpretation of the text. Only the conclusion reached by the Maulana as to the explanation of the verses is retained. Occasionally the abridgment has required some insignificant re-phrasing of his original words.

Those who wish to benefit from the Maulana’s full, scholarly commentary are referred to the reprints of his 1951 edition.

At certain points in the footnotes it was necessary to make some further comment on a text, due mainly to issues and questions that have arisen in recent years. To meet this need I have added my own comments, marked as Editor’s Note. These occur within existing footnotes and also as additional footnotes. …

The introductory notes at the head of the chapters have had to be abridged considerably and therefore they have been re-worded.

As in the two editions produced by the Maulana which do not include the Arabic text, I have laid out the translation in continuous running form, not starting each verse on a new line. However, for ease of reading as well as comprehension I have divided most sections further into paragraphs. …

This edition carries an Introduction consisting of a life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad and some information about the Quran, its teachings, and the history of its compilation, all taken from writings of Maulana Muhammad Ali as indicated there.

The responsibility for all aspects of this revision rests with me, and I crave forgiveness from Allah as well as from the readers of this edition for any flaws in this production.

Zahid Aziz
September 2010