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: Urdu translation ‘Bayan-ul-Quran’

In the Preface quoted above, he has referred to his Urdu translation of the Quran with its enormous commentary. Although the subject of this present book is his English translation, but a few words about the Urdu work are in order. When Maulana Muhammad Ali was as yet writing the English commentary under the guidance of Maulana Nur-ud-Din, the latter instructed him to make a start on an Urdu translation as well, and by the time of his death in March 1914, Mau­lana Muhammad Ali had translated six or seven parts and had read them out to him for approval. This work was done by him more regularly during 1918–1923, and this massive tome was published in the form of volumes, with the third and final volume appearing in November 1923. It is also appropriate to quote here from the article he wrote upon the completion of the Urdu work:

“Monday, 2 April 1923 was a very auspicious day for me as on this day Allah, the Most High, enabled me to reach the completion of the Urdu translation of the Holy Quran, and it was merely by the grace of the Almighty that, after the English translation, the Urdu translation and commentary was finished. All praise is due to Allah Who has enabled a helpless man of limited knowledge like me to do work of this enormous magnitude. Praising Allah for this achievement fills my heart with a delight that cannot be des­cribed in words.

It was in 1913, when much of the work on the English trans­lation still remained to be done, that … [Maulana Nur-ud-Din] instructed me to start the Urdu translation and show it to him little by little. So I translated six or seven parts and showed them to him.… The English translation took some three more years to comp­lete, and due to some other impor­tant commitments the Urdu trans­lation remained in abeyance.… Finally, ten years after it was first proposed, and after four to five years of hard labour on the Urdu translation, this work is complete merely by the grace of Allah. …

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] who, by writing that the English translation and commentary would be done by him or by one ‘who is an offshoot of mine and thus is included in me’, plainly declared me as his son — their souls 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.”

Maulana Muhammad Ali’s humility is amply shown by what he wrote at the end of this article:

“I have tried my best to be faithful to the word of Allah but I know I have made errors. So today, after comp­leting this task, if on the one hand I am happy because of Allah’s bless­ings bes­towed upon me in the form of the service to the Quran, at the same time I am afraid in case any errors I may have made, due to human fallibility or because of lacking know­ledge, may cause others to stumble. Every single word of the Quran is a guiding light and a conclusive argument for every Muslim. In my translation and commentary, I have tried, according to the best of my under­standing, to subject my views to the Word of God, the Hadith of the Holy Prophet, and rules of the Arabic language. But still it is my interpretation and not binding upon anyone else unless it con­forms with the Word of God and the authentic Hadith reports of the Messenger of Allah. Any interpretation in which I have made an error by going against the Quran or authentic Hadith should be rejected. My attempt is only to make people study the knowledge contained in the Quran and to turn their minds to its ser­vice.”1

In an Urdu book published in 1995, Quran aur Insan, which quotes verses of the Quran on many subjects, the author writes:

“I have taken the translation of the verses of the Holy Quran mostly from the [Urdu] translation by the late Maulana Muhammad Ali because it is, to a great extent, a transla­tion of the words and not his own interpretation, and for this reason it expresses the Divine will in the Urdu lan­guage in a better way.”2

The Urdu monthly Islami Digest of Karachi (editor, Syed Qasim Mahmud), in its March 1996 issue, opened a series entitled Tashrih-ul-Quran. Regarding Bayan-ul-Quran it says:

“Five years after his [Maulana Muhammad Ali’s] English translation and commentary the Urdu translation and commentary was published, hav­ing the title Bayan-ul-Quran. … Expressing her view about this work Dr. Saliha writes:

‘The translation, while being simple, has literary weight. The language is eloquent and chaste. As to the meaning, some people have objections against his translation and commentary because of his beliefs and views. The fact is that he was the head of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Jama‘at. Despite this, we consider that his translation and comm­en­tary is almost free of ‘wrong beliefs’. He has done the translation very cautiously, with great sincerity, and having kept before him the generally prevailing views. Despite closely following the text and the order of the ori­ginal words, the translation has continuity and flow.’ ”



  1. Paigham Sulh, 7 April 1923, p. 2.
  2. Quran aur Insan by Safdar Hasan Siddiqi, Ferozsons, Lahore, p. 29.