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Shakir identified
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(Note: The article below was first published in June 2006 as a sequel to, and completion of, an earlier article published in October 2005. Subsequently, update notes have been added to it at the end. — May 2023)

Shakir identified

Correspondence with a descendant of ‘Shakir’

Challenge to publishers of Shakir translation to add note about the truth of the matter

In a detailed earlier article, entitled Shakir’s Quran translation — blatant plagiarism of the first edition of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s translation, I summed up my findings about this plagiarism as follows:

“A comparison shows the Shakir translation to be an entire and wholesale plagiarism of the first, 1917, edition of the English translation of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali, with alterations in a few places to reflect more traditional interpretations. Even these alterations have not been made consistently and have obviously been forgotten to be done in some places.”

In the second half of the article I attempted to discover further about the identity of ‘Shakir’ by collating all published information that I could locate. The only specific information available on some book distributors’ websites described Shakir as an Egyptian Judge with some connection to Al-Azhar University who died in 1939. However, I was able to show that:

“It is abundantly clear that the Egyptian Shakir to whom this translation is attributed could not possibly have translated the Quran as he was opposed on religious principle to translating the Quran into any language. … it is most probable that M.H. Shakir is merely a fictitious name, and the name of the Egyptian judge Shakir has no connection with this translation.”

Beyond this, I was unable to identify Shakir any further.

E-mail from Shakir’s great-grandson

It was both surprising and exciting, therefore, to receive an e-mail on 7th March 2006 from one Sadiq Hassan, who wrote that:

“M. Shakir was my great-grandfather, the paternal grandfather of my mother.”

This led to an exchange of e-mails, which in the end was broken off by him. The information provided by Sadiq Hassan in his e-mails was:

  1. “His real name was Mohammedali Habib. He took on Shakir as a pen name.”
  2. “The late Mr. Mohammedali Habib was well known throughout the country (Pakistan) for having devoted his life to the cause of humanity. He with his brothers founded many educational and benevolent institutions, the most important being Masoomeen Hospital. This translation was completed by him on the 14th Shaban and the very next day he suffered a severe heart attack and passed away on the 20th of Ramadhan, i.e. 30th March 1959.”
  3. “M.H. Shakir did not speak Arabic. He supervised the translation of the Quran which was done by a group of people.”

Link to read our e-mail exchange in more detail.

Shakir identified

Working from this information, I have established that this Mohammedali Habib was the well-known financier who founded the famous Habib Bank of Pakistan. He was a well-known figure in the financial and political circles of Indian Muslims before Partition and in Pakistan after the Partition of 1947.

(For further information about him, please see the update note below.)

It is now clear that Mr. Mohammedali Habib got a group of people to go through Maulana Muhammad Ali’s 1917 edition of the English translation of the Quran and make a few verbal changes in places where the Maulana’s translation gave an interpretation differing from the commonly-held one so that it reflected the more generally-accepted view. This was subsequently published, a few years after his death, as the translation of the Quran by M.H. Shakir. The overwhelming bulk of the text of the translation remained the same as in Maulana Muhammad Ali’s 1917 edition.

Publisher’s challenged

Therefore, to call Shakir as the translator of the Quran is even more misleading than I had described in my earlier article. I now press upon all publishers of the so-called Shakir translation, whether in printed form or on websites, to insert a note along the following lines:

“The Shakir translation is to a great extent a verbatim reproduction of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s 1917 edition of the English translation of the Quran. In a few places some verbal changes have been made to express the more traditional interpretations.”

If the publishers of the Shakir work have the least integrity and sense of decency, they will preface their publication with the above note.

Further information

(Added 16th November 2010)

There is a comprehensive bibliography of translations of the Quran entitled World Bibliography of Translations of the Meanings of the Holy Quran, 1515–1980, compiled by Ismet Binark and Halit Eren, published in Istanbul 1986.

On page 93 it lists the Shakir translation as having been published by Habib Bank, Karachi, 1968.

This confirms the connection between this translation and the Habib Bank.

Another discovery: Shakir donated funds for distribution of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s books

(Added 24th September 2011)

In the biography of Maulana Muhammad Ali (Urdu: Mujahid-i Kabir, English: A Mighty Striving), a long statement by Maulana Muhammad Ali is quoted in reference to the expenditure and income of the Anjuman’s Book Depot as relating to his books. In it he writes:

“The fact is that funds for free distribution came from external donations. Just one such sum of 7,500 Rupees was donated by Seth Muhammad Ali Habib, and similarly from time to time other friends donated considerable sums for free distribution of literature, …”

(A Mighty Striving, p. 321; Mujahid-i Kabir, p. 286)

The Seth Muhammad Ali Habib mentioned here is quite obviously Shakir (Seth being a title used for a financier or businessman). It may be noted that Maulana Muhammad Ali visited Karachi during 1949, 1950 and 1951, where, among his other activities, he appealed to the prominent Muslims of Karachi for donations for free distribution of his books to Western countries, and Muhammad Ali Habib had settled in Karachi after the partition of India.

The Maulana’s visits were for the summers of these three years, and a special visit in November-December 1949. Regarding this visit, it is recorded in his biography:

“…Maulana Muhammad Ali went again to Karachi on 8 November [1949] and stayed there for over a month. During this stay he approached selected members of the general Muslim community outside the Ahmadiyya Movement, explaining to them the need and importance of this task and asking for monetary assistance. Before taking this practical step, he requested and urged the [Lahore Ahmadiyya] Jama‘at to say special prayers for its success. …

Charged with this passion and zeal, and accompanied by humble prayers beseeching God the Most High for help, Maulana Muhammad Ali in his second brief stay in Karachi promoted his proposal for the free distribution of five thousand sets of books before government officials, businessmen, industrialists and other affluent persons belonging to the general Muslim community. The Almighty answered his prayers, and those of a large number of members of the Jama‘at, and as a result of these efforts arrangements were completed during his stay to enable the distribution of 3500 sets whose total cost was 250,000 Rupees.”

(A Mighty Striving, p. 374–375; Mujahid-i Kabir, p. 310–311)

It appears that among the “businessmen, industrialists and other affluent persons belonging to the general Muslim community” was Muhammad Ali Habib.

More about who was Shakir

(Added 21 May 2023)

Please see the following links for more information on Muhammad Ali Habib (spelt also as Mohamedali Habib and Mohammad Ali Habib):

The Express Tribune newspaper — a tribute (24 March 2020)

Wikipedia entry on House of Habib

Institute for South Asia Studies at the University of California, Berkeley — The Mahomedali Habib Lecture Series

Khojapedia entry

House of Habib website (scroll down to 1941)

— Compiled by Dr. Zahid Aziz