Book Review: A Revised English Translation of the Holy Quran

The Light (UK), June 2011 Issue (pp. 1–2)

The leaders of the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat Islam were true to the pledge they took on the hand of the Promised Messiah, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, and devoted their lives to making true his dream of presenting the true picture of Islam to the West. One monumental task, which he said Allah had entrusted to him, was an English translation of the Holy Quran which he predicted will be completed by him or one who is a member of the Jamaat [Movement].

Hazrat Maulana Muhammad Ali fulfilled his master’s desire and produced a masterpiece of knowledge. Other Muslims before him had translated the Holy Quran into English but the Divine plan was that the one to find acceptance, would be the translation produced by a servant of the Messiah sent to propagate Islam. The first edition of this masterpiece saw the light in 1917.

And yet the last word in any matter is only the Divine word and everything else may be revised and improved. No one knew this better than Hazrat Maulana Muhammad Ali, who himself revised his translation many times. In one edition he used modern English, jettisoning the use of thou, thee, wilt, etc. Although in later editions he reverted to using the older and the more formal language. His family and other members of the Jamaat continued to update his books. His son, Mr Muhammad Ahmad, revised The Religion of Islam, going so far as to add extra chapters, which the Maulana had always intended but could not find the time to do. Similarly, Islam — The Religion of Humanity was revised and expanded for publication from the US and the latest edition bears little resemblance to the original in size or matter. This is a great tradition for which our organization is unique and for which we can be proud.

It was in the late 1970s when the late Mr Muhammad Ahmad asked the delegates from the UK whether they had any proposals regarding the Centre’s publications. He was told that the Centre needed to print an edition of the English translation of the Holy Quran with simplified language, abridged text and without the Arabic. Mr Ahmad then showed the members a manuscript of such a publication on which he had done much work. Hazrat Dr Saeed Ahmad Khan, then Vice-President of the International Centre fully approved of the idea and encouraged Mr Muhammad Ahmad to carry on and complete the task with the utmost speed. He completed the work but the manuscript was lost and despite efforts, never recovered. Mr Muhammad Ahmad’s fatal illness meant that he could not return to the task. It seems that the Divine plan was for someone else to undertake and complete this task. Hazrat Dr Saeed Ahmad Khan, in a reply to a letter of condolences, wrote that he was very pleased with Dr Zahid Aziz who had volunteered to take over and complete the projects left uncompleted by the untimely passing away of Mr Muhammad Ahmad. 

Dr Zahid Aziz undertook this task and continued to work on it when he could spare time from his full-time job and other work he did for the Jamaat. The result of his labour of love saw the light of day in March 2011. A well-produced publication in paperback with an attractive green laminated cover and the title in embossed gold lettering. It is heavier than the complete edition because light paper was not used in printing.

However, the beauty of the translation lies in simplification of the language. For example verse 2:30, in the old edition says:

اَتَجۡعَلُ فِیۡہَا مَنۡ یُّفۡسِدُ فِیۡہَا وَ یَسۡفِکُ الدِّمَآءَ ۚ وَ نَحۡنُ نُسَبِّحُ بِحَمۡدِکَ وَ نُقَدِّسُ لَکَ ؕ

Will Thou place in it… And we celebrate Thy praise and extol Thy holiness”.

In the new edition it reads:

Will You place in it… And we celebrate Your praise and extol Your holiness.”

The purpose of this English translation was to propagate Islam to the West and with this in mind we can see that the second translation has better flow than the first. And, 33:23 says:

مِنَ الۡمُؤۡمِنِیۡنَ رِجَالٌ صَدَقُوۡا مَا عَاہَدُوا اللّٰہَ عَلَیۡہِ ۚ فَمِنۡہُمۡ مَّنۡ قَضٰی نَحۡبَہٗ وَ مِنۡہُمۡ مَّنۡ یَّنۡتَظِرُ ۫ۖ وَ مَا بَدَّلُوۡا تَبۡدِیۡلًا ﴿ۙ۲۳﴾

Of the believers are men who are true to the covenant they made with Allah; so of them is he who has accomplished his vow, and of them is he who yet waits, and they have not changed in the least.

The revised edition gives this verse as:

Among the believers are men who are true to the covenant they made with Allah; so some of them have accomplished their vow, and some of them yet wait, and they have not changed in the least.

The second is much easier to follow by the new generation than the first.

The last resting place of Nur Fatima, the first wife of Hazrat Maulana Muhammad Ali at the Bahishti Maqbara in Qadian, India.

The publishers should consider some changes for the reprint. The function of the page headed

“Recitational Parts of the Holy Quran”

is not clear and it may be worth giving it a different title to make its function clear. Lighter paper would reduce the bulk of the book and save on posting costs. The binding is prone to breaking and it may be worth considering a more flexible binding.

These are minor matters and insignificant when compared to the labour of love that went into the preparation and production of the book. It is a fine addition to the superlative literature produced by the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement and is to be recommended to all those involved in missionary efforts in the West as well as those who embrace Islam. It is hoped that Hazrat Maulana Muhammad Ali’s soul is pleased with these efforts because it shows that the later generations have taken heed of his words:

“When you bury your elders do not bury their ideals with them otherwise people will say that this Jamaat is dying out.”