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Tribute by Omer Riza Dogrul of Turkey

Published in The Islamic Review, May 1952 (pages 17–18)

Omer Riza Dogrul (died March 1952) was a Turkish Islamic scholar, writer and a deputy to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. He wrote the following article about Maulana Muhammad Ali after the Maulana’s death in 1951, in which he pays tribute to his services to Islam and also gives an account of meeting him in Lahore in February 1951. See below for further information about the author.

A heavy loss for the Muslim world,
Muhammad Ali and his work

by Omer Riza Dogrul

The debt I owe to Muhammad Ali

With the death of Muhammad Ali we have lost a man who devoted his whole life to the service of Islam; a savant and a thinker, he was a hard worker and a prolific writer. I was profoundly moved on learning this sad news through reading The Islamic Review for November, 1951. He was certainly the greatest Muslim thinker and writer of our time, and was possessed of a sound and fertile brain, a pure heart full of enthusiasm, a faith which was profound and unshakable and a knowledge that was limitless. During his lifetime he devoted all his capabilities and talents to one object, the revival of Islam, the brushing aside of useless superstition among Muslims, and re-establishing the original doctrine of Islam in its pristine beauty. And he rejuvenated its lost force. This good worker in a saintly cause, whose days of work are over, was called Muhammad Ali of Lahore, famous translator and commentator of the Quran into English. He was an eminent personality who left his mark on the world by this supreme work and a host of other books on Islam.

It so happened that after taking part in the World Muslim Conference at Karachi in February, 1951, we spent several days in Lahore. Here our first duty was to pay a visit to Maulana Muhammad Ali. We had read his writings in Turkey for 30 years with great benefit to ourselves. He enlightened us on many matters, for he had penetrated deeply into the spirit of Islam and understood its aims and objectives, and had set out to explain them to others. He wrote with equal facility in English and his native tongue. Through his writings in English we were able to understand what he had to say. It has been calculated that he wrote altogether 7,000 pages in English and 10,000 in Urdu. I can truthfully say that I have read in full the 7,000 pages written in English. These are quite sufficient for me to judge the full extent of my great debt of knowledge to him.

On our arrival at Lahore we were confronted with a very full programme of activities, but when I was told that he wished to see me, I solved my difficulty by scrapping the official scheduled arrangements, and taking his emissary by the arm, said to him, “Let’s go to see Maulana”.

On the way I asked him, “How is he getting on and what is he working on?” He replied:

“At one time all hope of saving his life was given up, as he was greatly incapacitated by severe heart attacks. But thanks to the care of his entourage he has pulled through. He ought not to work, but none the less he does. Whenever we request him to rest he replies:

‘Let me work; rest is death, it is only by working that I feel that I am alive’.

He is at present revising the new edition of his translation of the Holy Quran into English, and will not rest until he has checked all the proofs himself. His only wish is that he will live long enough to complete this work. Insha Allah he will live long enough.”

Face to face with Muhammad Ali

On our arrival at the Maulana’s house I asked that we should cause him no inconvenience. “I will go to his room and kiss his hand,” I said. I was promised that my wishes would be fulfilled, and so I waited in the drawing room. After one or two minutes I saw a light shining through the open door; I was irresistibly drawn towards it, and a moment later was embracing Muhammad Ali. His form had really acquired a sort of transparency and translucidity which were not of this world. His hair and beard, which were exceptionally white, surrounded his face like a halo. He was of striking stature. His eyes were pale and dim, and gave the impression that his thoughts were already not of this world. I spoke in order not to tire him; I treated subjects which I knew would interest him, and as I was very well informed about these ideas, he received my remarks with a sympathetic smile.

Somebody brought him some sheets of paper on a roller. “These must be your proofs,” I said. “Please let me look them over with you.” He appeared to appreciate my efforts not to tire him. I was able to observe that his work was well on the way to its final completion. As far as I can remember, 20 parts of the Quran had already been corrected and only ten remained to be completed. As the proofs had been prepared with the greatest of care, and the text and corrections had been treated with equal attention, the checking was quickly carried out. I asked him: “What are your other occupations?” He replied slowly in a deep voice:

“I have sworn an oath to send a complete set of my works to all the libraries of the world. I have 5,000 complete sets of my works, for which my friends have collected money in order to send them to all the important libraries of the world. Would you kindly give me a few addresses of libraries that would be interested in receiving them?”

I immediately wrote down several addresses, and he gave them to his secretary. I made as though to retire, but he stopped me. He said:

“I have read your translation of the Holy Quran entitled Tanri Buyrugu (The Order of God). I have the first and second editions in my library, and I hope that you will publish a third. I beseech you to do all that lies in your power to express the enlightenment of Islam. I am sure that you will never in any way give satisfaction to the fanaticism of the narrow-minded people or even consider supporting the views of the intolerant.”

I kissed his hand and asked permission to leave.

This was my first and, alas, my last, interview with him.

His life and work

Muhammad Ali was born about 1874, in the village of Murar, in the province of Kapurthula. His education was a sucess; he was an excellent mathematician as well as a man of letters. He studied law at the University of the Punjab and started to embark on a legal career, but destiny had ordained that he should contribute to the revival of Islam. He met Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement. He joined forces with him at the same time as Khwaja Kamaluddin, and for many years they were engrossed in profound religious studies. He was editor of The Review of Religions, and was asked by the Ahmadiyya Anjuman in 1909 to translate the Holy Quran into English. It took him eight years working twelve hours a day to complete the translation and the Commentary.

Meanwhile, there had been a split in the Ahmadiyya Movement. On the death of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in 1908 some of his supporters who wrongfully interpreted his intentions attributed to him the claim of a prophet, and treated those who would not accept this view as unfaithful. Muhammad Ali broke with them, and in 1914 set up, with the help of his associates, Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha‘at Islam, at Lahore. He was elected president of the organization. Muhammad Ali believed that the Prophet Muhammad was the Last of the Prophets, and there were none to come after him. Furthermore, nobody has the right to dub another an unbeliever (kafir) once he has recited the Kalima, which says: “there is but one God, and that Muhammad is His Messenger”.

Later, Muhammad Ali published a translation and Commentary on the Holy Quran in the Urdu language, and this was followed by other works. As most of these works were written in English, they helped to spread the light of Islam across the whole world.

Until he breathed his last, Muhammad Ali gave his life to the spreading of the publications of Islamic literature, and published without interruption many new works; this activity went on without hardly a break.

His chief objective was to reveal the true meanings of Islam, to show it in its full glory so that it would give satisfaction to human beings brought up under modern education. For this purpose his first field of activity was to combat all false legends and superstitions prevalent among Muslims which were in contradiction with common sense. He wished to restore the simplicity of Islam, and reject all that was opposed to this. But his chief objective was not that of pleasing this generation, but the search for historical truth. His work was essentially of historic value which will live for ages to come.

About Omer Riza Dogrul, the writer of the above tribute to Maulana Muhammad Ali

Omer Riza DogrulHe knew English and Arabic. After graduating from al-Azhar University of Cairo, he devoted his life to the study of Muslim problems. He translated the works of the late Indian Muslim scholar, Shibli Nu‘mani, into Turkish. He also translated passages from the Quran published in a book Tanri Buyrugu (The Commandments of God). The late Omer Riza Dogrul was a great admirer of Iqbal. He translated some of the writings of Iqbal and published them in his publication Selamet Review. He was a regular writer in the Turkish daily Jumburiyyet, Istanbul, and its French edition, La Republique. In 1950 he was elected Deputy for Konya to the Grand National Assembly of Turkey. He performed the Hajj in 1950 and visited Pakistan as a delegate to the World Muslim Conference held at Karachi in February 1951.