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

Compiled by Dr. Zahid Aziz

Chapter 3: Later Translations: Criticism of “Ahmadiyya propaganda”

Then, in that Preface, the Maulana refers to what the reviewer wrote immediately after the words quoted above from page 303, and that comment of the reviewer was as follows:

“It is a pity that his work is so saturated with the peculiar doctrines of the Ahmadiyya sect and with bitter denunciations of Christian teachings that the results of his Oriental scholarship have been seriously vitiated.” (p. 303)

We may add here that the reviewer continued his last sentence above as follows:

“and his translation can hardly be viewed as anything more than Ahmadiyya propaganda”.

Maulana Muhammad Ali has given a full reply to this charge in his Preface, a part of which we quote below:

“The talk of Ahmadiyyah doctrines is, however, nothing but false propaganda. The faith of Islam is one and all sects of Islam are one so far as the essential doctrines of Islam are concerned. There are differences in interpretation but they all relate to minor and secondary points. The Chris­tian reviewer’s combining together “the peculiar doctrines of the Ahmadiyya sect” and “bitter denunciations of the Christian teachings” lets the cat out of the bag. So far as the criticism of the false church doctrines of Trinity, Sonship and Atonement is concerned, the doctrines are so emphatically denounced in plain words in the Quran itself that no commentator need be bitter. What offends the Christian missionary and what he calls the peculiar doctrines of the Ahmadiyyah sect is no more than an expression of opinion that Jesus Christ did not bodily ascend to heaven and is not alive there and that he died a natural death like other prophets. There is not a single doctrine of the religion of Islam in which this Translation differs from orthodox views.” (p. I-14 of the year 2002 edition)

In support of this, the Maulana quotes the opinions of three leaders of orthodox Muslim opinion — Pickthall, Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi and the Urdu newspaper Wakeel of Amritsar — showing that they highly approved of his writings and affirmed that his views are not heretical. These quotations show, writes the Maulana, that

“there is not the least ground for the false propaganda that this Translation is saturated with any unorthodox or heretical views” (p. I-15, year 2002 edition).

His quotation from Pickthall is from the latter’s review of the Maulana’s book The Religion of Islam, from which we quoted above (see here). From Pickthall’s review, the Maulana also quotes the following:

“It [the book The Religion of Islam] is a description of Al-Islam by one well-versed in the Quran and the Sunnah who has on his mind the shame of the Muslim decadence of the past five centuries and in his heart the hope of the revival, of which signs can now be seen on every side. Without moving a hair’s breadth from the Traditional position with regard to worship and religious duties, the author shows a wide field in which changes are lawful and may be desirable because here the rules and practices are not based on an ordinance of the Quran or an edict of the Prophet.” (p. I-14)

The quotation which the Maulana gives from Abdul Majid Daryabadi has also been given by us earlier (see here), beginning with the words:

“To deny the excellence of Maulvi Muhammad Ali’s translation, the influence it has exercised and its prosely­tising utility, would be to deny the light of the sun.”

From the newspaper Wakeel of Amritsar the review which the Maulana quotes is as follows:

“We have seen the translation critically and have no hesitation in remarking that the simplicity of its language and the correctness of the version are all enviable. The writer has kept his annotations altogether free from sectarian influence with wonderful impartiality, and has gathered together the wealth of authentic Muslim theology. He has also displayed great skill and wisdom in using the new weapons of defence in refuting the objections of the opponents of Islam.”

Maulana Muhammad Ali emphasized in his reply to the Chris­tian critic:

“…this Translation does not contain anything contrary to the views of the great Imams and learned Ahl Sunnah that have gone before. That there have been differences in the interpretation of the Holy Quran among the greatest commentators, among even the Companions of the Holy Prophet and the great Imams, cannot be denied. But these differences do not relate to the essentials of the faith of Islam on which all Muslims are agreed; they relate to minor or secondary points. All Muslims believe in the Unity of God and the prophethood of Muhammad. They believe in all the prophets of God and in His Books. They believe that Divine revelation came to perfection with the Prophet Muhammad who is thus the last of the prophets — Khatam al-Nabiyyin — after whom no prophet will come, and the Holy Quran is the last Divine message to the whole of humanity. All these doctrines find clear expression in my translation and the explanatory footnotes.” (p. I-14, year 2002 edition)

He added:

“The only important matter wherein I may be said to have differed with the majority relates to the death of Jesus Christ. But in the first place the belief that Jesus is alive somewhere in the heavens has never been included among the essentials of Islam. It has never been included among the religious doctrines of the faith of Islam. … Most learned Muslims all over the world, if not all, are today convinced that Jesus Christ died like other prophets and many of them have given expression to such views, among them being the famous Mufti Muhammad Abduh and Sayyid Rashid Rada of Egypt.” (p. I-15, year 2002 edition)