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The Great Mujahid: Life Story of Maulana Muhammad Ali

Part 3: Life at Lahore,
From April 1914 to October 1951.


2. From 1914 to 1917: Completion and publication of the English translation of the Holy Quran
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Part 3
Life at Lahore
April 1914 to October 1951

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2. From 1914 to 1917:
Completion and publication of the English translation of the Holy Quran

Early stay in Lahore

Following the death of Maulana Nur-ud-Din when conditions had deteriorated in Qadian, Maulana Muhammad Ali had sent his wife and children to her father Dr. Basharat Ahmad who lived in Rawalpindi at that time. On 20 April 1914 Maulana Muhammad Ali migrated to Lahore all by himself. It was decided that he would live in a house adjacent to the mosque in Ahmadiyya Buildings belonging to Dr. Syed Muhammad Husain Shah which was still under construction. Two rooms had already been built on the ground storey but still needed plastering and laying of the floor. In one of these rooms he had a door fixed and made it his office, and the other room was for receiving guests. On the second storey there were two rooms for his family; these did not yet have doors so they managed by hanging sack cloth curtains in place of doors. A hearth in the courtyard was used for cooking. He sent for his family to stay in this house and they managed to live there under these difficult conditions.

Two initial tasks

Though the Lahore Anjuman had been formed in name but it was in a state of the utmost destitution. There was no office, no funds and no missionaries. Under those circumstances, in addition to building a community, they faced two principal tasks of the propagation of Islam. One was to support the Woking Mission in England and the other was the completion and publication of the English translation of the Holy Quran. The translation of 26 parts of the Quran and their commentary had already been read to Maulana Nur-ud-Din; four more parts remained to be completed. There was revision of the manuscript, getting it typed, writing the introduction, and other aspects of the work still to be done which Maulana Muhammad Ali had mentioned to the Sadr Anjuman Qadian in the beginning in June 1909. Consequently he buried himself in this work day and night.

On the other side in England Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din was working with great energy and the Woking Mission was progressing daily. The Khwaja sahib was sending letters stressing that the English translation of the Holy Quran should be completed as soon as possible because there was an urgent demand for it among converts to Islam as well as Christians and there was no translation available to present the true picture of Islam. For Maulana Muhammad Ali this was the most urgent task, in addition to organisational matters. For the next four years he spent three or four months in the summer in Abbottabad where he could work undisturbed, devoting as much attention as possible to this task.

Before the Split, the Sadr Anjuman Ahmadiyya, Qadian, had decided to send Maulvi Sher Ali, assistant editor of the Review of Religions, to help the Khwaja sahib in Woking, but when Mirza Mahmud Ahmad became khalifa one of his first actions was to cancel this decision. So when the Lahore Anjuman was formed it was decided to send Maulana Sadr-ud-Din to Woking, and he left in August 1914. After his arrival Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din came back to India temporarily in November 1914 and stayed here till August 1916.

To organise the Lahore Ahmadiyya community, Shaikh Rahmatullah, Dr. Mirza Yaqub Baig and Dr. Syed Muhammad Husain Shah toured districts of the Punjab and Maulana Muhammad Ali himself visited many places. Due to their efforts branches of the Anjuman were set up, regular monthly subscriptions began to be received and the Anjuman’s budget steadily increased.

Teaching Quran classes (Dars-i Quran)

As soon as he came to Lahore in April 1914 Maulana Muhammad Ali started daily classes at Ahmadiyya Buildings in explaining the meanings of the Quran. When he lived in Qadian, the Maulana had for many years listened to Maulana Nur-ud-Din’s teaching of the Quran and gained knowledge of the Holy Book from there. Then he had also read out to Maulana Nur-ud-Din his own English translation and commentary of the Quran. Now the time had come for him to impart this knowledge so that others could benefit by it. Therefore, he made it a rule for himself to give regular classes in the Quran. His teaching had such an attraction that a large number of educated people of Lahore, both Ahmadis and other Muslims, used to attend. Maulana Zafar Ali Khan, editor of the newspaper Zamindar, who used to attend these meetings, wrote on one occasion:

“Respected Maulvi Muhammad Ali sahib, M.A., is one of those esteemed persons who devote every single moment of their scholarly lives, without exception, in serving Islam. Daily he holds classes in the Quran, and in explaining each and every verse he lets flow rivers of knowledge and fine and deep points. Recently he himself has written and published the most important extracts from his teaching. This commentary (tafsir) is of such high merit that one may not be able to find similar precious gems anywhere within the treasure of Urdu literature even after making the hardest search.”
(Zamindar, 15 April 1915)
Afterwards circumstances changed and Maulana Zafar Ali Khan found it expedient to turn against the Ahmadiyya Movement. But his tribute of that time is even now an evidence of the grandeur of those classes.

In addition to non-Ahmadi Muslims, people who had taken the bai‘at of Mirza Mahmud Ahmad or those who had not yet decided which side was right, used to attend his classes in great number. This was very worrying for Mirza Mahmud Ahmad  because he feared that Maulana Muhammad Ali’s teaching as well as his arguments about the Split were so strongly effective that it would damage his khilafat. So he issued announcements from Qadian again and again declaring that Maulana Muhammad Ali and others who had not taken the bai‘at at his hand were transgressors (fasiq) and that Maulana Muhammad Ali was not capable of translating or teaching the Quran. In connection with these announcements, Maulana Muhammad Ali wrote an article addressing Mirza Mahmud Ahmad, published in Paigham Sulh in December 1914, in which he said:

“Did not your whole community, your council of trustees, and that unique commentator of the Quran the late Hazrat Maulana Nur-ud-Din, finding me capable not only of translating the Quran into English but also into Urdu, entrust me with this work? So much so that when the Quran was being translated in English and Mir Nasir Nawab tried to get work started on an Urdu translation, the late Hazrat Khalifat-ul-Masih said very clearly that the Urdu translation would also be done by me. So why are those Ahmadis who have taken the bai‘at with Mirza Mahmud Ahmad being forbidden from listening to my teaching of the Quran? I am not saying this because I am worried about the publication of my translation. In that matter Maulvi Sher Ali has already been raising hue and cry in all the Muslim newspapers. You people’s writings have also appeared in the Paisa Akhbar. Do as much as you possibly can, so that you don’t have any regrets that you did not try your hardest. According to you, we are only a few men and no one else is on our side. We left all the funds and property with you. Be patient and wait; if you are right then we will fail by ourselves and all the activities we have started will come to nothing. But if the help of Allah is with us then He Himself will solve our lack of men and means…”
(Paigham Sulh, 29 December 1914)
In addition to the Holy Quran classes, Maulana Muhammad Ali had also started teaching Sahih Bukhari in Lahore three times a week, and continued it in subsequent years from time to time. In the summer months when he went to Abbottabad he held the Holy Quran classes daily there and these were attended by both Ahmadis and non-Ahmadis of Abbottabad. Then during every month of Ramadan he would teach one part (para) of the Quran everyday so as to finish it in the month, and many members of the Lahore Ahmadiyya community who could take leave used to spend Ramadan in Abbottabad. In short, teaching the Quran held a prominent place in his life. For many years in Ahmadiyya Buildings Lahore and wherever he went in the summer to a mountainous place, he gave these classes himself. Later on, Dr. Basharat Ahmad and other elders of the Movement continued this institution at Lahore. Teaching the meanings of the Quran was a distinctive feature of the Ahmadiyya community, and it continued in Lahore just as it existed during the time of the Promised Messiah and Maulana Nur-ud-Din in Qadian.

Completion and publication of the English Translation of the Holy Quran

At last, after a labour of about seven years, in April 1916 Maulana Muhammad Ali completed work on the English translation and commentary of the Holy Quran. In his Friday khutba on 28 April he gave the good news to the community. After reading Sura Al-Fatiha, Sura Al-Falaq and Sura An-Nas, he said:

“A human being can only take on a task by Allah’s help and it is only with Allah’s help that he can complete it. Today is a day of happiness for me. For years I have been busy in the work of translating the Holy Quran into English and by the grace of Allah I have completed it today. I am not happy like a student who, at the end of his examination, feels that now he will have free time and can rest for a few days. I am happy because all the time that I was involved in this work the worry was always at the back of my mind that life is so fickle and it may be that this work would be left incomplete. Of course, Allah is not short of men and it was His work which would have been completed somehow; if He has given strength to a weak person like me to start this work, there is no reason why He could not get it done by someone else. But it gives great pleasure to a person to complete by his own hand in his own life the work that he had started.”
After this he explained the meanings of Sura Al-Falaq and Al-Nas, as to how a person can seek God’s protection and the purpose of every work of a human being should be to seek that Divine protection. He told how God caused all the stages of this work to be completed, lifted all darkness and as to those who were trying to lay obstacles in the way, God brought them to failure.

It was decided to have the English translation printed in England because the printing machines that were required for the high quality, fine paper that was to be used were not available in India. So Maulana Sadr-ud-Din at Woking was entrusted with the arrangements for its printing, a task which he fulfilled extremely well. Later on, Mian Ghulam Rasul’s son Mian Ghulam Abbas also went to Woking for the same work. The instructions that Maulana Muhammad Ali gave to Maulana Sadr-ud-Din in connection with this work can be seen in the following letter which he wrote to him at the end of 1915 when the translation itself was ready but some other work remained to be done:


Respected Maulvi Sadr-ud-Din sahib, Imam Woking Mosque. Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatu.

As your letters show that the English translation of the Quran is urgently needed for your mission of the propagation of Islam, and without it you as well as the new converts are facing great problems, and as the translation part of my work is ready, while some work remains to be done on the footnotes, and because of difficulties with Arabic type there could be a further delay, so I give you authority to get the first edition printed consisting of the translation only, to arrange for the finance as you think fit and to publish it as you wish. However, no change, alteration or amendment whatsoever should be made in the translation except for corrections required during proof reading. You do not even have to send me the proofs.

Wassalam. Humbly, Muhammad Ali, 29 October 1915.


But this translation without Arabic text was not printed at that time. Later on, in 1928, a smaller edition consisting of the translation without Arabic text and with brief footnotes was published by Maulana Muhammad Ali for the first time.

He spent the whole of the year 1916 preparing the index and the preface for the English translation, and at the same time going through the first proofs which came printed from England. These proofs were initially read by Maulana Sadr-ud-Din in England, and then read and corrected by Maulana Muhammad Ali in his own hand here. After that stage, the reading of the second proofs, the correction of the Arabic text, and all the other tasks in connection with the printing were done by Maulana Sadr-ud-Din. As mentioned above, Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din returned from England to India in November 1914, and then on 25 August 1916 he left again for England. After his arrival in England at the end of September, Maulana Sadr-ud-Din came back to Lahore in January 1917.

By the end of 1917 the printing had been completed and the  publication of the book had started in England. Its first copies reached India at the end of November 1917. Thus was this great work accomplished which he had undertaken according to the wishes of the Promised Messiah and begun during Maulana Nur-ud-Din’s time, on which he had laboured hard, day and night, for seven years, in spite of his other religious work and engagements. So was fulfilled the vision of Hazrat Mirza sahib which he had recorded as follows:

“After that a book was given to me, about which I was told that this was the commentary of the Holy Quran written by Ali and now Ali is giving that commentary to you. Allah be praised for this!”
(Tazkira, p. 21; Barahin Ahmadiyya, p. 503, subnote 3 on footnote 11)

After its publication, this translation became exceedingly popular. All its reviews in Indian and British journals were highly favourable and appreciative. Besides the English and Christian world, it spread among the educated classes of India in abundance, and brought to the right path many well known, Western-educated Muslims who had come under the misguiding influence of Christianity or modern godlessness. The glad tidings mentioned by Hazrat Maulana Nur-ud-Din, that ‘our translation has been accepted by Allah’, can be seen to be fulfilled by reading the newspapers of the time and those countless letters received about this translation which were then published.

This translation is resplendent with the light of the truth of Islam as it contains that unique religious thought and knowledge which was produced by the Promised Messiah and which Maulana Muhammad Ali gained from him and from Maulana Nur-ud-Din. It also has the following chief features. The translation is in plain, fluent and idiomatic English, containing very few extra explanatory words and these are given within parenthesis. The footnotes have been written keeping in view the objections raised against Islam by the Christian and other religions. These notes contain an invaluable treasure of information from dictionaries, commentaries of the Holy Quran, collections of Hadith and works of history, with full references. All the chapters (surah), sections (ruku‘) and verses (ayat) are numbered, and there are plenty of cross references given so that the meaning of a passage in the Quran can be explained in the light of other places in the Holy Book. Every chapter carries an introductory note in which the subject matter of its sections is summarised and the connection between its sections and between that chapter and its neighbouring chapters is indicated. The introduction is so comprehensive as to be a book in itself, and throws light on the essentials of Islam, the compilation and collection of the Quran, and other questions. The introduction in the first edition (and its reprint editions) also presented details of the Muslim prayers, the words of prayers being given in Arabic text, Roman transliteration and English translation. In short, this work has many unique features. Its popularity can be judged by the fact that its first three editions (the 1917 original edition and its two reprint editions of 1920 and 1935) and the various printings of the version without Arabic text totalled forty-two thousand copies. The fourth edition, which was thoroughly revised by Maulana Muhammad Ali with many changes, was first published in 1951 in a quantity of twenty thousand. As that has been exhausted, the fifth edition with many print corrections is being produced in a quantity of ten thousand.{footnote 1}

Another distinction of this translation is that Maulana Muhammad Ali did not have before him any previous example of such a translation. The translations done by Christians reflected their deep hostility and prejudice against Islam. So he had to embark upon very difficult and laborious research from scratch, like having to dig a well to find water. For this translation and commentary the Maulana went through the previous commentaries of the Quran, works of Hadith and dictionaries, and having extracted the gist of their knowledge and opinions he provided thousands of references to them in his explanatory notes. The translations of the Quran done by Muslims after this, for example Hafiz Ghulam Sarwar, Abdullah Yusuf Ali and Marmaduke Pickthall, derived much benefit from Maulana Muhammad Ali’s work.

English translation of the Quran and the Qadian community

After the migration of Maulana Muhammad Ali to Lahore, the Qadian community carried out much false propaganda about many matters including the English translation of the Quran. Announcements were made by Maulvi Sher Ali that this English translation was the property of the Qadiani Jama‘at, so no one must help the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha‘at Islam Lahore in its printing or publication. When this translation was ready Maulana Muhammad Ali wrote a letter to the Anjuman at Qadian on 28 October 1915 which began as follows:

“To the Secretary, Sadr Anjuman Ahmadiyya, Qadian, Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barkatuhhu.

When I took leave at the beginning of April 1914 the work of the English translation of the Holy Quran was far from complete. Since then I have been completing it and now, purely by the grace of Allah, thanks to Allah, it has reached the finishing stage and within a month it will be ready to give to the press for printing. Last year your deputation which came refused to discuss the translation. So I had to remain silent till its completion.

You are aware that it was from my own proposal that this translation was started, and at that time whether the Anjuman had encouraged me or not, I was going to do this work in any event. However, the Anjuman of that time not only approved of my idea but encouraged me to succeed in what was my own objective. So now may I enquire of you whether you would undertake to publish the first edition of my translation? If you are agreeable then you may participate in this noble venture subject to the following conditions.”

Among the conditions which the Maulana then specified, the first one is:

“No alteration or amendment whatsoever shall be made to my translation. What I have written shall be printed exactly word for word. The final printed proofs shall be approved by me and it is those which will be printed.”

The rest of the conditions were regarding the expenses. The printing costs were to be shared by the two Anjumans and each would take a number of printed copies in proportion to its share of the costs. It was also proposed that as the estimated cost was 30,000 Rupees, each Anjuman should deposit 15,000 Rupees in the bank. However, the response from Qadian was a flat rejection of the proposal. The leaders of the Qadiani community turned it down in a most deplorable way. Mirza Mahmud Ahmad in one of his Friday sermons, which was printed in their newspaper Al-Fazl, used highly offensive language about Maulana Muhammad Ali and his translation. He not only charged the Maulana with deceitfulness but declared that he was unfit to do this work, and went so far as to say:

“Why should we take this paper trash just to set fire to it? Tell them: keep this translation yourselves.”

Regarding these bitter comments, Maulana Muhammad Ali said in his Friday khutba which was published in Paigham Sulh of 6 June 1916:

“This is what is called being blinded by rage. He has not even seen my translation and unseen branded it as trash. Along with that he has called me dishonest. Can a person be dishonest who has only taken worthless trash? Those people can be called dishonest who knew, as they now claim, that I was utterly devoid of the knowledge of the Quran and in spite of that they remained silent. Was it not the duty of the Mian sahib [Mirza Mahmud Ahmad] to put it before the Anjuman that I was unfit for the task of translation? Ask your khalifa when did he come to know that Muhammad Ali was not capable of translating. Did he not know this after reading articles in the Review of Religions for years? Did he not know this when Hazrat Maulvi sahib [Maulana Nur-ud-Din] was getting the Urdu translation of the first few parts also done by me and when he told Mir Nasir Nawab that only Muhammad Ali’s Urdu translation will be published, and not that by anyone else? Did he not know this when I had left Qadian and he used to get the Anjuman to pass resolutions whose aim was that I should continue the translation? … Some eight or ten days before the death of Hazrat Maulvi Nur-ud-Din when he said that glad tidings had come from God that ‘this translation has been accepted’ all the community present there with me went into sajda (prostration). …

What is my dishonesty in this? I put the proposal of translating the Quran before the Anjuman and wrote in it that if the Anjuman cannot bear the expenses then Allah will provide some other means for me. I did not say to the Anjuman I am your employee so give me some work, but I said I want to translate the Quran and if the Anjuman cannot bear the expenses then God will provide some other means. Allah brought that about as well, that the Anjuman declined to pay the expenses and the generous Lord gave me other means.”

In these circumstances the Qadian community was deprived of this important service of the Quran. They proclaimed boldly and arrogantly that this translation was useless and that they were starting their own English translation and would publish one part every month, completing the entire work in thirty months. A little later the first part was even published. Then God knows what happened, that for the next thirty years nothing more was done.

To cover up this weakness they even said that this was not an important service to the religion and that translating the Quran was not the duty of an Imam sent by God, otherwise Hazrat Mirza sahib would himself have done it. Referring to this many years later, Maulana Muhammad Ali said:
“Someone should ask them that if it was not an important service then why did Hazrat Mirza sahib, when making his claim [to be Promised Messiah], express this wish in these words:
‘I would advise that, instead of these missionaries, writings of an excellent and high standard should be sent into these countries. If my people help me heart and soul I wish to prepare a commentary of the Quran which should be sent to them after it has been rendered into the English language. I cannot refrain from stating clearly that this is my work, and that no one else can do it as well as I or he who is an offshoot of mine and thus is included in me.’

If spreading the Quran in the world was not Hazrat Mirza sahib’s mission then for what other purpose did he come? To propagate the Quran in the world is the duty of every Muslim and Hazrat Mirza sahib specifically came so that this light could be spread to all the nations of the world, especially the Western nations. They say that if it had been an important task Hazrat Mirza sahib would have done it himself. I say that this translation that has been done, it is the work of the Promised Messiah and has been done by his spiritual power. The Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and the blessings of Allah be upon him, had prophesied that the keys to the treasures of the Caesar and the Chosroes had been handed to him, but those keys were handed during the time of Hazrat Umar. So the truth is that the works that are done by a follower are included in the works of the Imam. This is his work, the man who infused into our hearts the urge to translate the Quran into English and who induced us to take up this work. Remember it well that this work has not been done by our community nor by me. It is surely the work of Hazrat Mirza sahib. We are only the tools.”
(Friday khutba on 23 December 1938, on the occasion of the silver jubilee of the Lahore Anjuman)

Other writings of the Maulana during 1914 to 1917

In March 1915 the Urdu translation and commentary of the first part (para) of the Holy Quran was published under the title Nukat-ul-Quran, Volume 1. Many newspapers of the time published appreciative reviews of it, including Maulana Zafar Ali Khan’s newspaper Zamindar. In the educated circles, this translation and notes became immensely popular.

Among smaller writings, the first book is Hudoos-i Madah (‘Creation of Matter’) in which is reproduced the debate between Maulana Muhammad Ali and a follower of Swami Dayanand, which took place in September 1913 at Murree. In 1914 he wrote a booklet Al-Muslih al-Mau‘ud (‘The Promised Reformer’) after a Qadiani wrote an article in May 1914 in the magazine Tashhiz-ul-Azhan, published from Qadian, trying to prove that Mirza Mahmud Ahmad was the Reformer whose coming had been prophesied by the Promised Messiah. In this booklet Maulana Muhammad Ali proved that none of the then living sons of Hazrat Mirza sahib fulfilled the prophecy of being Muslih Mau‘ud. In 1915 his book Ayatullah was published, in which the events of the fleeing of Maulvi Sanaullah of Amritsar from a mubahila with the Promised Messiah are described. At the end of the year 1915, two booklets ‘Asmat-i Anbiya (‘Sinlessness of the Prophets’) and Ghulami (‘Slavery’) were published.

In December 1915, the Urdu translation of Sura Al-Baqara with explanatory notes was completed and published as Nukat-ul-Quran, Volume 2. As with the first volume, this turned out to be very popular.

Also in December 1915 there appeared one of his most monumental works, An-Nubuwwat fil-Islam (‘Prophethood in Islam’). Mirza Mahmud Ahmad, having established his khilafat and having branded as kafir all those Muslims who did not believe in the Promised Messiah, had alleged that the Promised Messiah claimed to be a prophet and wrote a book on this subject entitled Haqiqat-un-Nubuwwat. Although Maulana Muhammad Ali and other leaders of the community had from time to time written articles in Paigham Sulh to refute this allegation of Mirza Mahmud Ahmad, there was no permanent, comprehensive book dealing with this. An-Nubuwwat fil-Islam was not only a shattering reply to Mirza Mahmud Ahmad’s book Haqiqat-un-Nubuwwat but it also throws full light on issues such as the aim and purpose of the institution of prophethood, the distinctive attributes of wahy nubuwwat (the type of revelation which only comes to prophets and distinguishes prophets from saints), reasons for the ending of prophethood with the Holy Prophet Muhammad, the true position of visions and revelations of saints, and the status of the Promised Messiah. This book consists of about 575 pages, out of which about 200 pages are an appendix containing all the extracts and references from the writings of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad on the issue of prophethood.

In May 1916 he published the pamphlet Jihad-i Kabir (‘The Greatest Jihad’), in which the need and importance of the propagation of Islam was highlighted, and Muslims in general who were completely neglectful of this obligation were reminded of their duty.

At the end of 1916, Nukat-ul-Quran Volumes 3 and 4 were published, being the Urdu translation and notes on Sura Al-i Imran and Sura Al-Nisa, and became as popular as the previous volumes.

In July 1917, his book Jama‘-ul-Quran (‘Collection of the Quran’) was published in which the history of the revelation of the Holy Quran, its preservation, writing down, collection and arrangement etc. are discussed and the objections of the critics of Islam are answered.

In September 1917, his book Ahmad Mujtaba was published, in which it is proved from the Quran, Hadith reports and the writings of the Promised Messiah that ‘Ahmad’ was the name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad and the prophecy referred to in the words ismu-hu Ahmad, “his name being Ahmad”, in the Quran (chapter 61, verse 6) referred to him. This book was written to refute Mirza Mahmud Ahmad’s wrong belief that this prophecy applied to Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. To counter this erroneous belief Maulana Muhammad Ali and other scholars of the community had already written many articles in Paigham Sulh, and the Maulana had invited Mirza Mahmud Ahmad several times to a decisive debate on the matter, but he did not accept the invitation.

Some other events from 1914 to 1917

The first annual gathering (jalsa) of the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha‘at Islam Lahore was held from 25 to 27 December 1914 at Ahmadiyya Buildings, Lahore. The institution of the annual gathering was founded by the Promised Messiah for his Movement and he used strongly to urge members to attend this occasion so that they could get together at least once a year, strengthen their ties of love and brotherhood, review the past year’s work, plan for the coming year and consider new proposals for the propagation of Islam. So from 1914 onwards such a gathering of the Lahore Ahmadiyya community was held every December at Ahmadiyya Buildings. The community was very small at the time of this first gathering and donations of Rupees 3,846 were collected on appeal for the propagation of Islam. After a few years God made this Jama‘at to progress so much, and He infused in it such a strong spirit of sacrifice, that on appeals by Maulana Muhammad Ali for different plans that he put forward, not only thousands but hundreds of thousands of Rupees were raised.

At the end of 1914 a college by the name of the Isha‘at-i-Islam (‘Propagation of Islam’) College was opened in Lahore to train missionaries and impart education to those who intended to do research. This was located in a house on Mcleod Road, and from the beginning of December 1914 Maulana Muhammad Ali took up his residence in the same building. The official opening ceremony of this college was performed on 28 December 1914 by Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din who had returned from England in November. Maulana Muhammad Ali was its honorary principal and used to teach in the college as well as hold his Quran classes there. The Khwaja sahib also lectured there during his stay in Lahore (from January 1915 to August 1916). Maulvi Fazl Ilahi, a convert from Christianity, delivered lectures on the Christian religion and Maulvi Mubarak Ali of Sialkot taught Arabic. The students lived in a part of the college building and one of those students was Maulana Abdul Haq Vidyarthi who had started learning Sanskrit at that time.

In July 1915 Maulana Muhammad Ali went to Abbottabad for the second time for three months. In Lahore he had so many commitments that it was only during his stay in Abbottabad that he had available sufficient time to devote to the English translation of the Quran and other writing work. That year Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din had arranged to stay in the residence of Shahzada Bukhara and he invited Maulana Muhammad Ali to join him in the same house. The Maulana took two rooms while the Khwaja sahib occupied the rest of the residence. In Abbottabad the Maulana continued giving daily classes in the Quran, as he did on his previous visit, and in the month of Ramadan he taught one part (para) of the Quran every day. Many members of the Jama‘at used to take leave from their work to go to Abbottabad for a month to attend these classes.

In November 1915 Abdul Hayy, son of the late Maulana Nur-ud-Din, died in his youth. So on 14 November Maulana Muhammad Ali along with some friends went to Qadian, but they stayed there for a few hours only and after paying their condolences to Maulana Nur-ud-Din’s wife and visiting the grave of the Promised Messiah to offer prayers they returned to Lahore.

In December 1915, the second annual gathering of the Anjuman was held. The annual budget had now risen to 22,000 Rupees. Before and after the annual gatherings Maulana Muhammad Ali, apart from his other engagements, used also to tour the community in various towns and cities of the Punjab.

He again spent the summer of 1916 in Abbottabad. During his stay the previous year, Shaikh Nur Ahmad, a lawyer and a highly respected member of the Lahore Ahmadiyya community, who was also a relation of the Maulana’s wife, and many other members made him promise to come again the following year. As the accommodation where he was staying was too small, so Deputy Muzaffar-ud-Din offered a room in his residence to be used as office. Consequently, the Maulana would go to this office immediately after breakfast and return home after the zuhr prayer, and then he would go back before the asr prayer and return home at night after the isha prayer. At the residence of Deputy Muzaffar-ud-Din the Quran classes were held and congregational prayers were said. Then when it was proposed that during Ramadan the Quran classes would cover one part (para) of the Quran everyday, two more residences were taken and Dr. Mirza Yaqub Baig, Dr. Basharat Ahmad and many other members spent Ramadan there. At that time proofs of the English translation of the Quran were coming and the Maulana was busy in reading them and in doing other writing work. In August of that year Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din left for England for the second time and Maulana Muhammad Ali came to Lahore for two days from Abbottabad to keep him company. At Lahore railway station a large crowd consisting of both Ahmadis and non-Ahmadis was present to bid him farewell. Among them was Mian Muhammad Shafi, who afterwards became Sir Muhammad Shafi.

From 27 to 30 October 1916 Maulana Muhammad Ali along with Dr. Mirza Yaqub Baig and Shaikh Rahmatullah went to visit Syed Muhammad Ahsan in Amroha as he was ailing. After the third annual gathering the Maulana toured different branches of the community for organizational purposes and attended the annual meetings of local branches in many places.

At the beginning of 1916, the Isha‘at-i-Islam College was shifted from Mcleod Road to Ahmadiyya Buildings, and Maulana Muhammad Ali also shifted his residence to the house at Ahmadiyya Buildings. In April 1917 the Muslim High School was inaugurated in a house on Mcleod Road and Maulana Sadr-ud-Din was appointed its Headmaster.

The first three and a half years of the Anjuman’s life

These, then, were the first three and a half years of this Anjuman and of the life of Maulana Muhammad Ali in Lahore. During this period the community (Jama‘at) began its life, took shape, and its branches were established in different towns and cities. Right from the beginning the history of the Anjuman opened with great achievements in the field of the propagation of Islam. In the annual reports presented at the annual gatherings of 1916 and 1917 by Dr. Mirza Yaqub Baig as secretary of the Anjuman, he described the events and impressions of that time as follows:

“Many members of our Jama‘at were confused and bewildered about what would be the fate of the community. But it is the favour of Allah that the efforts of the head of the community Maulana Muhammad Ali over two and a half years have been made to prosper by the Almighty. The community has been organised anew and raised to the stage of being devout and God fearing. A new life and freshness has been infused into the Jama‘at.

The world is a witness to the service Hazrat Maulana Muhammad Ali has rendered to Islam and Ahmadiyyat at this time through his powerful writings and speeches, and by his personal example and dedication. Nobody could imagine that a reclusive and quiet man like Hazrat Maulana sahib will perform such magnificent service to defeat this heresy and false innovation and keep the community established on the path of worship of one God.”

(From the Annual  Report for 1915–16)

In the next annual report in 1917, when the English translation of the Holy Quran had been published, he writes:
“As long as the world remains, it is hoped that this service to the Holy Quran will be remembered, a large part of which was the contribution of Maulana Nur-ud-Din, namely that he listened to the notes of the translation of almost 28 parts from Maulana Muhammad Ali and gave the benefit of his guidance and improvement. Most of all, he prayed with whole-hearted feeling and urge for this translation to be popular and useful for mankind. This was his last service to the Holy Word, which he performed during his fatal illness.

No one is a better witness than my humble self to how during this most painful ailment he taught Maulana Muhammad Ali the Holy Quran when he could not even turn in bed or feed himself, and yet that spiritual being fed his spiritual son with the spiritual diet of the Holy Quran through his own pure nature. Nearly four years ago Allah gave the glad tidings to Hazrat Maulana sahib that this translation had been approved in the court of Allah, and this was the happiest news which he received a few days before his departing from this world. So he straightaway called for Maulvi Muhammad Ali sahib and related this good news to him and to the entire community which he had received through Mir Abid Ali Shah, and he went into prostration of thanksgiving along with Hazrat Maulvi Muhammad Ali sahib, myself and others present. He said: ‘It is the benevolence of Allah that He has bestowed this favour upon a dying man like me, and given this good news; all thanks be to Allah that He kept me alive till this moment’.”

(Annual Report of the Anjuman, 1916–17)

Opinions and reviews about the English translation of the Holy Quran

The special features of the English translation have already been mentioned. Some of the opinions expressed about this work from time to time are given below.

The famous Indian Muslim leader Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, editor of Comrade, wrote in his autobiography:
“It was about this time [December 1918] that a kind friend sent to us a gift than which nothing could be more acceptable, a copy of the Quran for my brother and one for myself … with an austerely faithful translation in English and copious footnotes based on a close study of commentaries of the Quran and of such Biblical literature as could throw light upon the latest Holy Writ. This was the work of my learned namesake, Maulvi Muhammad Ali of Lahore, leader of a fairly numerous religious community, some of whose members were doing missionary work in England. … The translation and the notes which supplied the antidote so greatly needed for the poison squirted in the footnotes of English translators of the Quran like Sale, Rodwell and Palmer, the fine printing, both English and Arabic, the India paper and the exquisite binding in green limp Morocco with characteristic Oriental Tughra or ornamental calligraphy in gold, all demonstrated the labour of love and devoted zeal that so many willing workers had obviously contributed. This beautiful book acted like the maddening music of the Sarod, according to the Persian proverb, on the mentally deranged, and in the frame of mind in which I then was I wrote back to my friend who had sent these copies of the Quran that nothing would please me better than to go to Europe as soon as I could get out of the ‘bounds’ prescribed by my internment and preach to these war maniacs from every park and at every street corner, if not within the dubious precincts of every public house, about a faith that was meant to silence all this clamour of warring nations in the one unifying peace of Islam.”{footnote 2}

The same Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar once met Maulana Muhammad Ali before going to England and said by way of joke: “Please allow me to tell one lie, that when I go to England I can say there that I am the author of this translation”. On this Maulana Muhammad Ali, the author, smiled and remarked: “No doubt it is Muhammad Ali who has translated it.”

Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi wrote:

“To deny the excellence of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s translation, the influence it has exercised and its proselytising utility, would be to deny the light of the sun. The translation certainly helped in bringing thousands of non-Muslims to the Muslim fold and hundreds of thousands of unbelievers much nearer Islam. Speaking of my own self, I gladly admit that this translation was one of the few books which brought me towards Islam fifteen or sixteen years ago when I was groping in darkness, atheism and scepticism. Even Maulana Mohamed Ali of the Comrade was greatly enthralled by this translation and had nothing but praise for it.”{footnote 3}

Hafiz Ghulam Sarwar, who later himself translated the Quran into English, wrote:

“The English translation of the Holy Quran is not the only book he has written, but it is the one by which he will perhaps become an immortal amongst those who have written about the Holy Quran. … The English of the Preface and the notes is unimpeachable, and Maulvi Muhammad Ali has corrected the mistakes of the previous translators in scores of passages; and wherever he differs from them his rendering is either the correct and most authoritative one or has at the back of it full support to be found in the standard dictionaries of Arabic. …  There is no other translation or commentary of the Holy Quran in the English language to compete with Maulvi Muhammad Ali’s masterpiece. … It was reprinted in 1920, and both editions have had phenomenal success and popularity amongst all classes of Muslims.”{footnote 4}

S. H. Leeder, a well known author of England, wrote:

“I have received the copy of the Holy Quran, and hasten to congratulate you on the appearance your Scripture, in such a truly beautiful and chaste form. It is pure delight to handle such a book, but when one turns to its treasures of light and learning, one is filled with thankfulness and gratitude for all the labour … I rejoice to see the Holy Quran in my own language and explained by a deeply learned and pious Muslim, and I believe that the work will be found to mark a new epoch in the religious life of the world.”

The reviews of some newspapers and periodicals over the years are now given.

1. The Quest, London:
“It is certainly a work, of which any scholar might legitimately be proud.”

2. The Madras Mail, 15 October 1929:
“Maulvi Muhammad Ali’s name is a guarantee that the translation is as accurate as it could be … few translations into English have reached such a high standard.”

3. The Hindu, Madras, 15 October 1929:
“As a translator, he always had the reputation of being accurate and reliable … The wealth of material put into the introduction and explanatory footnotes is impressive.”

4. United India and Indian States, Delhi, 21 December 1929:

“Among human productions of literary masterpieces, the English translation of the Holy Book by Maulvi Muhammad Ali undoubtedly claims a position of distinction and pre-eminence.”

5. The Advocate, Lucknow, 24 October 1935:
“Maulana Muhammad Ali, M.A., Ll.B., is a well-known personality, a great scholar, and as a translator he has the good reputation of being accurate and reliable, and his translation in English is of high standard … We congratulate Maulana Muhammad Ali for this production which has surpassed other English translations.”

6. The Hindustan Times, Delhi, 6 May 1935:
“Maulana Muhammad Ali’s name is known to every lover of the holy literature of Islam. … Very illuminating notes are provided by the translator which will be of great use to students. Maulana Muhammad Ali’s language is restrained and eminently suitable for the purpose.”{footnote 5}

Two opinions from recent years may also be added here.

1. In the Atlas of the Islamic World since 1500 by Francis Robinson (Time-Life Books, 1991 reprint), it is stated in the bibliography about translations of the Quran:

“Notable for its precision is that of Muhammad Ali of Lahore, the version used with one exception throughout this book.” (page 229, column 2)

2. In the Urdu monthly Islami Digest of Karachi, Pakistan, March 1996, in its series Tashrih-ul-Quran, the following comment appears:
“This commentary of Maulana Muhammad Ali appeared in 1917, seventeen years before the commentary of Allama Abdullah Yusuf Ali. This is why the Allama, in the Preface of his commentary, besides mentioning other English commentaries, has also appreciated this commentary and written as follows:

‘Its Lahore Anjuman has published Maulvi Muhammad Ali’s translation (first edition in 1917), which has passed through more than one edition. It is a scholarly work, and is equipped with adequate explanatory matter in the notes and the Preface, and a fairly full Index’.”

In the same way the Reverend Zwemer, in his well-known Christian magazine The Muslim World for July 1931 (pages 289 to 297), comparing the translations of  Maulana Muhammad Ali, Marmaduke  Pickthall and Hafiz Ghulam Sarwar, plainly writes that “both Mr. Sarwar and Mr. Pickthall have followed Muhammad Ali very closely” and that “in the passages which we have examined carefully … the translation of Pickthall follows Muhammad Ali so closely that one finds very few evidences of original work”.{footnote 6} The reason is that the Maulana’s translation and footnotes are based on an extensive study of sources and deep research work. In this sense the later translations cannot be called original works.

There are many other instances of such opinions expressed from time to time, most of which have been published in the Anjuman’s journals Paigham Sulh and The Light. In addition to these, numerous letters have been received from many countries of the world in which English speaking people have acknowledged the merits and qualities of this translation and admitted receiving guidance from it.


Footnotes

(To return to the referring text for any footnote, click on the footnote number.)

[1]. Up to the fifth edition mentioned here, published in 1963, the printing was done in England. From the sixth reprint edition onwards in 1973, the publication has been done from the U.S.A. From 1985 onwards, reprints have been published very frequently in larger numbers than ever. A newly typeset edition incorporating many misprint corrections, with an improved layout and a much expanded index, was published in 2002.

[2]. My Life — A Fragment, edited by Afzal Iqbal, published by Muhammad Ashraf, Lahore, 1966 reprint, p. 115.

[3]. Newspaper Such, Lucknow, 25 June 1943.

[4]. Translation of the Holy Quran, by Hafiz Ghulam Sarwar, second edition, National Book Foundation, Pakistan, 1973, pp. xxxvi – xxxvii.

[5]. All the quotations given here, except the one from Abdul Majid Daryabadi, were originally written in English, and appear only in Urdu translation in Mujahid-i Kabir. We have obtained and reproduced here the original English wording of these quotations (and not retranslated the Urdu back into English).

[6]. These and further quotations from Rev. Zwemer’s article are given by Maulana Muhammad Ali in the Preface to his revised edition of the translation of the Holy Quran, first published 1951, and in current circulation.

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