Centenary of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s English Translation of the Quran (Background, History and Influence on Later Translations)
Compiled by Dr. Zahid Aziz
Chapter 4: Revised 1951 Edition and Later: Sermon announcing completion of revision
In June 1947 Maulana Muhammad Ali embarked upon his last major literary work, the revision of his English translation and commentary of the Holy Quran. He completed the main part of this thorough and extensive revision in two years.
Sermon announcing completion of revision:
Maulana Muhammad Ali announced the completion in a Friday sermon (khutba) in August 1949. When the sermon was published, its heading was: The Second Important Occasion of Happiness in My Life — Completion of the Revision of the English Translation of the Quran.1 Here are some extracts from it:
“The verse I have recited today, ‘Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds’, I have recited on a specially joyous occasion. In my life there have been many other happy moments but this is the second occasion of special happiness. The first occasion was when I completed the English translation of the Holy Quran, and today it is the second when I have completed the revision of the translation. I have come after finishing it at about 1.45 pm today.
Starting such a monumental task and taking it to completion depended entirely on the grace and favour of God. Many friends had been asking me for several years for this revision, but at my age I could not muster the strength required for this stupendous hard work. It was a task both huge and difficult. My earlier experience was there, when I had worked day and night for seven years. But those days were different. Then I had much more physical strength than I have now. I used to work for twelve to fourteen hours daily. When I got tired sitting down, I would work standing up. Now, firstly due to my age, and secondly the magnitude of the task, I felt I had no strength to take on this work. But Allah’s grace and mercy know no bounds, and with His help this work has been completed today.”
He went on to stress the importance of service of the Quran:
“The service of the Holy Quran is the work by which we can best serve mankind. It must be remembered, with the fullest faith in the heart, that the welfare and betterment of the world lies nowhere but in the Word of God which He revealed to His last Messenger. Nothing can rescue the world from its present troubles except the Quran. It is absolutely true that the reason for my happiness is not that Allah has granted me some further knowledge of the Quran, but that with His help I had the opportunity to place the Holy Quran before the world in a way which shows that it contains a solution for its present problems. Perhaps this may serve as a source of guidance for the world and illumine the hearts of people with the light of God.
Reading the Quran illuminates your heart, but this depends on the concentration with which you read this word of God. The more you concentrate on it, and the deeper you go into it, the more it will enter your heart. Just as pearls are found in the depths of the oceans, likewise the boundless treasures of knowledge contained in the Quran, which will continue to be unfolded till the Day of Judgment, are to be found in the depths of the meanings of its words. It is an ocean to which no one is denied access, but to obtain those valuable pearls from it, which give us light to solve our problems, is dependent on how much effort and exertion we put in for their acquisition.
Therefore I advise my friends to try to find solutions to the problems of the world from the Holy Quran. Apply thought to these problems and then ponder over the Quran. Remember this principle that the solution of the problems of the world lies in developing faith in God, and nothing else can create as much faith in God as can the Holy Quran. But to develop faith requires a struggle.”
Then Maulana Muhammad Ali mentioned the source of his inspiration to study and spread the Quran:
“I must tell you that the true knowledge of the Holy Quran has in this age been disclosed particularly to your community and this blessing is in reality due to that man at whose feet we gained this knowledge [Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad]. … However, we never accepted him as one to be followed blindly. … He declared the Holy Quran to be supreme over everything. So if we see something clearly in the Quran, then in a secondary matter we consider it permissible to hold a different interpretation from him, provided it is supported by strong arguments. We have learnt the Quran from him but he did not shut the doors of knowledge upon us; rather, he opened them. …
Therefore, it is no sin to differ, even with the greatest of persons. Of course, one cannot differ with the founder of the religion, the Holy Prophet Muhammad. After him, one can differ with anyone from Hazrat Abu Bakr to Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. The concept that such differences are not allowed caused Muslims to become stagnant. Prior to that, the Muslims were racing on the path of progress, in terms of both knowledge and deeds. They led the world in all aspects of life. But when this nation got stuck in the mire of taking religious leaders “for lords besides Allah” (the Quran, 9:31), it went into decline.”
He concluded by again urging the study and the propagation of the Quran:
“You must read the Holy Quran, and read it with thought and concentration. Only God knows to whom He will grant knowledge for the benefit of His creatures. Allah has given a brain to everyone and placed a light within each person as well. As you take more and more interest in the Quran, and make your connection with it stronger, the things in it which appear remote and distant will seem to be emerging from your own heart.
There remains another stage, which is the crucial one. … The Holy Quran is already in our homes. If, after translation, it remains confined to our homes, will it reach the world? The real objective is its propagation.
I look with amazement as to how the idea occurred to a recluse living in Qadian [Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad], occurring at the same time as he made his claim [of being sent by God to revive Islam], that the Quran should be translated and sent to the peoples of Europe and America. Perhaps the second resurgence of Islam would take place by their hands. It would not be surprising if Islam spreads among them and makes them the more capable of serving the Quran.
So the other task is to spread the Holy Quran. In this, everyone of you can participate, whether you are great or small. … Try to acquire knowledge of the Quran and pass it on. Allah never wastes anyone’s effort and struggle. The brains of all human beings have more or less the same capability. The difference is in man’s effort. The person of average intelligence can achieve through effort what a highly intelligent man cannot achieve without effort.”
- The sermon (khutba) was delivered in Karachi on 19th August 1949 in Urdu. It was published a few days later in the Lahore Ahmadiyya Urdu periodical Paigham Sulh, 7 September 1949, 5–6. The translation here is by Zahid Aziz. ↩