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

Compiled by Dr. Zahid Aziz

Chapter 5: Status and Role of the Quran

The Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, reiterated certain long-forgotten principles regarding the status of the Quran and its interpretation which are necessary for a true appreciation of its teachings. His forceful exhortations in this connection created faith and zeal in the hearts of his followers to present the Quran to the world. We summarise some of these here.

He taught that the Quran contains within itself endless treasures of knowledge which are disclosed in each age in accordance with the needs of the time. In one of his earliest books he wrote:

“Know that the clear miracle of the Holy Quran … is that the knowledge and the truths contained in the Quran are unlimited, and are disclosed in every age according to the needs of that age. They stand like armed soldiers to combat the [wrong] philosophies of every age. If the Holy Quran had been a limited thing in terms of the truths contained in it, it could not possibly be a perfect miracle. Eloquence of language by itself is not a quality whose miraculous nature can be appreciated by everyone, whether learned or uneducated…

The wonders of the Holy Quran can never come to an end, just as the wonders of nature did not come to an end in some previous age, but ever newer ones are constantly appearing. The same is true of this holy scripture, so that there is conformity between the word of God and the work of God.”1

“God says: ‘The treasures of everything are with Us, but We send them down in a known measure’ (the Quran, 15:21), and according to need. … This age is, in fact, a time which by its nature requires that the Holy Quran disclose its inner secrets. … In this age, these needs arose to the full. Humans made great advances in such knowledge as makes them oppose Islam. There is no doubt that, if at this critical time, the knowledge concealed in the Quran does not become manifest, the present-day Ulama by their adherence to simplistic and superficial religious teachings, can never face the opponents. … Everything created by God possesses unlimited wonders within it. The pretext that if we accept such subtle points and knowledge from the Quran which the people of the past did not know, then this is being disrespectful to the consensus they agreed upon, … is a wrong conception of the Mullas. Since it is possible that in the present day a property may be discovered in some plant, or such like, which was not known to people of the past, why is it not possible that some wonderful truths may now be found from the Quran which were not known in the past because at that time there was no need of them? Of course, the essentials of faith relating to religious law, which are obligatory in order to be a Muslim, are set down openly in the Holy Quran for the information of everyone. But those points and truths which increase understanding are always being disclosed according to need, and at the time of ever newer evils, new meanings full of wisdom make their appearance. …

The present age, with its research in the sciences and philo­sophy, is bringing about unusual changes. Is it not necessary that at such a critical time the door of spiritual progress also be opened?”2

In another book Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad wrote:

“Given that every created thing has properties that are limit­less and unbounded, and has within it wonders beyond measure, how can the Holy Quran which is the Word of God be limited in its meanings to a commentary which is, say, even a thousand sections in size, or be limited to the explanations given by our Prophet, may peace and the blessings of Allah be upon him, in a limited period of time? … It is true that all the meanings of the Holy Quran explained by the Holy Prophet are the right and correct ones, but it is certainly not true that there is no more in the Holy Quran beyond the knowledge taught by him. … Our Prophet was not sent merely for the Ummis (Arabs of his time); rather, human beings of all classes and categories are among his followers. Allah says: ‘Say: O people I am the Messenger of Allah to you all’ (7:158). This verse shows that the Holy Quran has been revealed for the development of every kind of human capability. … Thus the notion that whatever the Holy Prophet has taught from the Holy Quran, it is not possible to get more than it, is clearly wrong.”3

New problems requiring solution arise in every age:

“The Ummah faces new problems in every age. The Quran is certainly a reservoir of all knowledge, but that does not imply that all the knowledge in it should be disclosed in just one age. On the contrary, corresponding to the kinds of problems that are faced, the appropriate Quranic know­ledge is disclosed, and corresponding to the issues of every age, for the resolving of those issues spiritual teachers are sent who are the heirs of the messengers of Allah and who attain the qualities of the messengers by way of image.”4

Another unique characteristic of the Quran much stressed by him is that it puts forward all its own claims and supports them by arguments provided by itself. It does not leave it up to its followers to make claims on its behalf nor does it just make claims and rely on its followers to provide arguments and proofs for them.5 In interpreting the Quran, the first criterion is the Quran itself. He writes:

“The first criterion for its right interpretation is the evidence provided by the Holy Quran itself. … The Holy Quran, unlike ordinary books, is not dependent on other sources for substantiating and exposing the truths it contains. It is like the perfectly proportioned edifice, moving a single brick from which would change the shape of the whole structure. It contains no truth within it that is not supported by at least ten or twenty pieces of evidence from within itself. If we interpret a verse of the Holy Quran in a certain way, we should see to it that affirmative evidence for it is provided by other verses of the Holy Quran. … The distinguishing feature of a true interpretation is exactly this that the Holy Quran contains abundance of evidence in support of it.”6

As to the relative positions of the Quran and Hadith, he wrote:

“I have written this article to show the right path, which is that Muslims have three things to enable them to adhere to Islamic guidance. (1) The Holy Quran which is the Book of Allah. We possess no other word more certain and definite than this. It is the word of God, untainted by doubt and conjecture. (2) The Sunnah … meaning only the practical, repetitive example of the Holy Prophet which accompanied the Quran from the beginning and will do so forever … (3) Hadith, meaning the remembrances collected through narrators some 150 years after the Holy Prophet. … The Quran and the Sunnah must be considered as ruling over Hadith reports, and a hadith which is not contrary to the Quran and the Sunnah should be readily accepted.”7

In a later book, published 1902, he described the importance for Muslims of honouring the Quran and holding it above everything else. He told his own followers:

“An essential teaching for you is that you must not leave the Quran neglected because your very life lies in it. Those who honour the Quran shall receive honour in heaven. Those who give precedence to the Quran over every hadith report and every other saying, they shall be given precedence in heaven. There is now no book for the guidance of mankind on earth except the Quran.8

You must read the Quran with understanding, and love it very greatly. Love it as you have not loved anything else because, as God has informed me, all types of good is in the Quran. This is true. Pity be on those people who give precedence to something else over it. The source of all your success and salvation lies in the Quran. There is no spiritual need of yours which is not provided in the Quran. … God has done you an immense favour by giving you a book like the Quran, … So value the blessing given to you.”9

In one of his last books, he emphasized that the Quran should be taken to the whole world as it was revealed for all nations. He writes of the time when the means of transport and communications were to allow people living in different parts of the world to be acquainted with and meet each other:

“At that time God sent for all the countries one book, and commanded therein that as this book reaches various countries in different ages it shall be obligatory on those people to accept it and believe in it. It is the Holy Quran which is the book that has come to join together all the countries. Each of the books before the Quran was limited to one nation, … and had nothing to do with any other nation. But the Holy Quran which came after them all is an international book, and is not for a particular people but for all the nations. The Quran came for a group of beings who were going to become a single nation gradually. So in the present age those resources have come into existence which are making the various nations into one. Meeting one another, which is the real basis of becoming one nation, has become so easy that journeys which were many years in length now take only days. Such means of communication have come into existence that news from a distant country, which could not take less than a year to arrive, now reaches in an instant. … This clearly shows that God Almighty now intends to make into one nation all the nations spread over the earth, and join together those who had been separated for thousands of years. This news is given in the Holy Quran, and it is the Quran which has openly made the claim that it has come for all the nations of the world.”10

It was such powerful teachings of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad which inspired Maulana Muhammad Ali to lead the task of taking the Quran to the world, both non-Muslim and Muslim, by translating and explaining its meanings in the light of the principles mentioned above. In his speech at the annual Lahore Ahmadiyya gathering in December 1949, Maulana Muhammad Ali said:

“In this age, no one among the Muslims arose to hold high the name of God in the world until Hazrat Mirza [Ghulam Ahmad] sahib raised this loud proclamation. His attention remained always directed towards the Holy Quran, as a result of which you can see a change taking place in the world, if you look carefully. This work could not have been accomplished by a state or government, nor by means of finance and wealth. It is only as a result of the prayers of the Mujaddid and his drawing attention to this work.…

The Holy Quran was undoubtedly kept by Muslims in their homes with the greatest respect, but they had no thought of taking it to the world. In this age, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad is the only one who made it an aim of his life to take the Quran to the whole world and to make Muslims give the highest precedence to the Quran [as the source of guidance]. … In the present time, when Muslims were unaware of this priceless treasure and they treated it as something unrelated to real life, considering that to place it in a cupboard or on a high shelf would earn them Divine reward, who was the man who announced that the Quran was the fountain of life, and in whose heart the desire arose to take it to every corner of the world? Ponder deeply, and you will find it was only Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. …

God also created the means for the fulfilment of this desire. On the one hand, there was the most intense opposition to his Movement, and on the other its internal condition reached the low point that it split into two. Then from these two groups, it was the smaller and weaker one through which his desire was fulfilled.… This is an important event in the history of Islam, and the inspiration behind it is the deep urge that arose in the heart of the Imam [Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad]. …

Our small [Lahore Ahmadiyya] community has so far published 40,000 copies of the English translation of the Quran. This is no small number. And by means of this translation, not only was the message of truth made to reach non-Muslims but the popularity of the Quran spread among all Muslim countries as well.…

It was the desire of the Hazrat which God Himself is bringing to fulfilment. If it was not myself, then God would have chosen someone else for this task. It is the grace of God upon us that He made our community a means for accomplishing His works.”11



  1. Izala Auham, p. 305–311.
  2. Izala Auham, p. 675–679.
  3. Karamat-us-Sadiqeen, p. 19.
  4. Shahadat-ul-Quran, p. 52.
  5. See his famous book The Teachings of Islam, Preliminary Remarks.
  6. Barakat-ud-Dua, p. 15.
  7. Review Mubahasa Batalvi wa Chakralvi, p. 3–4, 5.
  8. Kishti-i Nuh, p. 13.
  9. Kishti-i Nuh, p. 24.
  10. Chashma-i Ma‛rifat, p. 67–68.
  11. Paigham Sulh, Lahore Ahmadiyya organ, 18 January 1950, p. 3–4.