Chapter 3: Later Translations: Pickthall and Lahore Ahmadiyya leaders
Centenary of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s English Translation of the Quran (Background, History and Influence on Later Translations)
Compiled by Dr. Zahid Aziz
Pickthall had a link with the Islamic missionary work being conducted by members of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement in England. A note about him in the Islamic Review in 1922 stated:
“Mr. Pickthall declared his faith in Islam in 1918, and has since taken a prominent part in Muslim activity in this country. During the period between the departure for India (owing to urgent reasons of health) of the Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din in the early spring of 1919, and the arrival of the Khwaja’s assistant in the autumn of that year, Mr. Pickthall conducted the Friday Prayers and delivered the sermons at the London Muslim Prayer House; led the Eid prayer and delivered the Sermon, and during the month of Ramadan in 1919 conducted the traveeh prayers at the London Prayer House, while throughout the whole period he was largely responsible for the editing of the [Islamic] Review.”1
At the death of Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din in 1932, Pickthall wrote a letter to his son Khwaja Nazir Ahmad which was published in the Islamic Review. He wrote:
“I have had a very clear remembrance of your father in these days as I saw him first in England in his prime, and of the impression which he made upon all who had the pleasure of meeting him. It is less as a missionary that I like to think of him — the word ‘missionary’ has mean associations — than as an ambassador of Islam. His return to India owing to ill-health was a blow to the cause in England from which it has hardly yet recovered.
I differed from him on some matters, as you know — relatively unimportant matters, they seem now — but my personal regard for him remained the same. And now, looking back upon his life-work, I think that there is no one living who has done such splendid and enduring service to Islam. The work in England is the least part of it. Not until I came to India did I realise the immense good that his writings have done in spreading knowledge of religion and reviving the Islamic spirit in lethargic Muslims; not only here, but wherever there are Muslims in the world his writings penetrated, and have aroused new zeal and energy and hope. It is a wonderful record of work, which could have been planned and carried out only by a man of high intelligence inspired by faith and great sincerity of purpose. Allah will reward him!”2
Just before his own death in 1936, Pickthall wrote a review of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s book The Religion of Islam which had just that year been published. The review was published in the quarterly Islamic Culture from Hyderabad Deccan, India, of which Pickthall was editor.3 It opened with the following words:
“Probably no man living has done longer or more valuable service for the cause of Islamic revival than Maulana Muhammad Ali of Lahore. His literary works, with those of the late Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, have given fame and distinction to the Ahmadiyya Movement. In our opinion the present volume is his finest work… Such a book is greatly needed at the present day when in many Muslim countries we see persons eager for the reformation and revival of Islam making mistakes through lack of just this knowledge.”
Pickthall went on to say:
“We do not always agree with Maulana Muhammad Ali’s conclusions upon minor points — sometimes they appear to us eccentric — but his premises are always sound, we are always conscious of his deep sincerity; and his reverence for the holy Quran is sufficient in itself to guarantee his work in all essentials. There are some, no doubt, who will disagree with his general findings, but they will not be those from whom Al-Islam has anything to hope in the future.”
It is, therefore, perfectly reasonable to conclude that Pickthall was influenced by the Lahore Ahmadiyya missionary and literary work, and thus his production of a translation of the Quran is indebted to that work.