Centenary of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s English Translation of the Quran (Background, History and Influence on Later Translations)
Compiled by Dr. Zahid Aziz
This booklet has been compiled to mark the centenary of the publication of the English translation of the Quran, with extensive commentary, by Maulana Muhammad Ali in 1917. It was, in any practical sense, and in terms of theological scholarship, the first English translation of the Quran by a Muslim. It was certainly the first to be published and to be available in Western countries. Some thirty years after it first appeared, it was thoroughly revised by Maulana Muhammad Ali. It is now a century that it has continued to be reprinted and re-published in different formats, most recently also in digital editions. His translation and commentary has also been used as the basis for producing translations into several other languages.
Later English translations by Muslims were influenced by this work, as we show in the present booklet. In fact, this translation paved the way for them since it broke through the barrier imposed by the orthodox scholars of Islam who held that the Quran must not be translated and who opposed the appearance of any such work.
The most remarkable fact is that a movement which is insignificant in number and meagre in resources, and faces hostility from within the Muslim world and from outside it, has been able to maintain this translation in existence and spread it widely all over the world for a century.
In chapter 1 of this book, we begin by tracing the source of inspiration which led to the producing of this translation and explain the need for such a work. Then its history at Qadian is described till the events of March 1914 which led to the establishment of the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha‛at Islam at Lahore. Continuing the historical account, chapter 2 covers the completion of the translation after the move to Lahore and its printing and publication from Woking, Surrey, England. It goes on to quote many of the reviews which appeared both at that time and in later years. Brief mention is also made in this chapter of the Maulana’s Urdu translation and massive commentary, and the English editions without Arabic text, all these appearing in the 1920s.
In chapter 3 there is a somewhat detailed examination of the relationship of the Maulana’s translation with certain well-known translations by other Muslims which appeared afterwards. It shows really the great debt which these translators owed to Maulana Muhammad Ali.
Chapter 4 relates the work of thorough revision of his translation and commentary which the Maulana carried out in the years 1947–1951 to produce the 1951, fourth revised edition. It brings the subject up to date with some details of the subsequent reprints and editions after the 1951 revised translation.
Chapter 5 gives excerpts from the writings of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad on the importance of the Quran to the world, Muslim and non-Muslim. It was his emphasis on the status, qualities and role of the Quran which inspired and motivated the pioneers of the Lahore Ahmadiyya to undertake the task of presenting the Islamic scripture to the world.
In an Appendix are displayed images of title pages of various editions of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s translations of the Quran and some typical pages from inside them.
The information brought together and compiled in this booklet, much of it not generally known, will be found indispensable for an accurate assessment of the history of the translation of the Quran into English.
Zahid Aziz, Dr