Centenary of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s English Translation of the Quran (Background, History and Influence on Later Translations)

Compiled by Dr. Zahid Aziz

Chapter 2: Publication and Reviews: Reviews

The publication was noticed immediately in the Literary Supplement of The Times which gave a description of the book from the announcement and wrote:

“We have here in an attractive form and bound in flexible leather cover the first English translation and commentary of the Quran by a Moslem theologian”.1

About the same time, a reviewer in the Westminster Gazette wrote:

“I have always found a fascination in looking through occasional chapters of the Koran … and have often felt that there was something lacking in editions prepared by Christian edi­tors. The lack is removed by the issue of a very fine edition, ‘The Holy Qur-án,’ by a distinguished Muslim, Maulvi Muhammad Ali, of Lahore, who has devoted seven years to its preparation, which comes to me from the ‘Islamic Review’ office, in the Muslim settlement at Woking. It gives the Arabic text (which, I am sorry to say, is of no use to me) in parallel with the translation; the commentary is remarkably full and interesting; the preface is both a summary of Islamic teaching and practice and a history of ‘the Book’; and — even in war time — the thinnest of thin India paper, gilt edges, beautiful type, and a limp green morocco binding make the volume an unusually sumptuous one.”2

In advertisements in the Islamic Review, a lengthy review is quoted from The Quest, some extracts of which are as below:

“The English and the proof-reading are both remarkably good. It reads as well as any other English version and is superior to them in its systemic arrangement. … in general appearance and get-up THE HOLY QURAN might have come straight from the Oxford presses of The Holy Bible. As to the general reliability of the version … we have been assured by a distinguished English Arabist that it has on the whole been carefully and well made … its language is simple, straightforward, and impressive — in short, largely ‘biblical’.

On the whole then we may say that we have before us a version that is not only faithful but dignified; and that is high praise. It is certainly a work of which any scholar might legitimately be proud, and especially an Oriental scholar; it has further been completed in a remarkably short time for so difficult an undertaking. Eight years only have gone to its making, years therefore of such unremitting devotion and strenuous toil as legitimately to compel our admiration and praise.

Maulvi Muhammad Ali, as we have been told by one who knows him intimately, is a man of rare intellectual gifts, who could easily have distinguished himself in any pro­fession and made a very large income. He has preferred to devote himself to the service of religion and to live a life of poverty in that service. The translation is his alone; it has not been done by various hands and simply edited by him. As to the commentaries and the rest of the matter, though he has had the great advantage of being able to consult on all points many living Muslim scholars and theologians of the highest repute, as well as innumerable written and printed sources and authorities, the labour is still all his own, and the skilful presentation of the results of his researches show further that he has been an apt scholar in the school of Western metho­dology. Moreover, whenever in his version he departs from a generally accepted rendering, he tells us why he has done so frankly in the notes and sets before us the evidence for and against his new interpretation.”3

S.H. Leeder was a British scholar and author who lived for many years in Egypt and wrote the books The Desert Gateway (1910), Veiled Mysteries of Egypt and the Religion of Islam (1913), and Modern Sons of the Pharaoh (1918). A Christian of such a high scholarly calibre and deep knowledge of Muslims, he expressed the following opinion:

“I have received the copy of the Holy Quran, and hasten to congratulate you on the appearance your Scripture, in such a truly beautiful and chaste form. It is pure delight to handle such a book, but when one turns to its treasures of light and learning, one is filled with thankfulness and gra­ti­tude for all the labour — it has been, I am sure, a work of love — which has gone to make the production. I rejoice to see the Holy Quran in my own language and explained by a deeply learned and pious Muslim, and I believe that the work will be found to mark a new epoch in the religious life of the world.”



  1. Literary Supplement, The Times, 25 October 1917, in the Islamic Review, December 1917, p. 494.
  2. Westminster Gazette, 12 November 1917, in the Islamic Review, December 1917, p. 494.
  3. The Islamic Review, October 1919, March 1920, etc.