Some Muslim translators of the Holy Qur’an

THE 17th century witnessed the publication of first English translation of the Holy Qur’an, that is, the one published by Alexander Ross in 1649 and in the 18th century only one translation was published; namely, the one by George Sale in 1731. The 19th century witnessed the publication of two translations; namely, those of J. M. Rodwell in 1861 and F.H. Palmer 1880. In the 20th century, there was a growing interest in the studies related to the Qur’an and this led to the emergence of tens of English translations of the meanings of the Qur’an.

The 20th century also witnessed the publication of English translations by Muslims. All of the translations published before 1905 were done by Christians, Jews and Ahmadiyyas. Those translations abounded in distortions and mistakes – unintentionally or intentionally – due to religious bias or for the sake of propaganda.

This made many Muslims translate the meanings of the Qur’an to give an objective picture of Islam and its Holy Book, the Qur’an. Dr. Abdul Hakim Khan was the first Muslim translator to publish a translation of the meanings of the Qur’an entitled Holy Qur’an Translated: With Short Notes. This translation was published in India in 1905.

His translation was followed by tens of translations by other Muslims trying as much as they could to convey some of the grandeur of the Holy Qur’an and the tolerant nature of Islam and Muslims. The most important ones are those done by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall and Abdullah Yusuf Ali.

As for Pickthall, he was the first English Muslim to translate the meanings of the Qur’an into English. In 1930, he published his translation, The Meaning of the Glorious Qur’an: an Explanatory Translation.

Pickthall was a convert to Islam who was not satisfied with previous translations abounding in mistakes and distortions. Due to being the Imam of one of the mosques in England, Pickthall realized the necessity of having an English translation of the meanings of the Qur’an for his sermons and to help his congregation to have a proper understanding of the meanings of the Qur’an.

Pickthall spells out his motive for translating the meanings of the Qur’an in these words, “to try to expound the glorious Qur’an to my people in a manner intelligible to them in their own language at the present day.”

To revise his translation, Pickthall resorted to a distinguished Egyptian scholar and a devout Muslim, Dr Muhammad Ahmed Al Ghamrawi. This work was supervised by Mostafa Al Maraghy, Sheikh of Al Azhar. Since its publication, Pickthall’s translation has become among the most common ones in the Muslim world.

As for Yusuf Ali’s translation, it is regarded as the most popular translation in the Muslim world. Yusuf Ali (1870 – 1953) was born in India and received his education at the University of Bombay, St John College, Cambridge and Lincoln’s Inn, London. He worked as a lecturer of Hindustani language and Indian religious manner at the University of London between 1917 and 1919.

His father taught him Arabic when he was of the age of four or five. As a Muslim, he was highly motivated and enthusiastic to present his own translation of the meanings of the Qur’an.

In the preface to the first edition, Yusuf Ali points out that the aim of his translation is to communicate the beauty, uniqueness and inimitability of the Qur’an.

– Dr. Khaled Tawfik

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