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The first edition of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s translation of the Holy Quran with commentary, 1917

We present for online viewing the first edition of the English Translation of the Holy Quran and commentary by Maulana Muhammad Ali, including the original Arabic text, printed in England and published in 1917 from the office of The Islamic Review, the Woking Mosque, Woking, England.

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It was the first English translation and commentary by a Muslim to be generally available and to be accessible to the Western world.

The author of a review of English translations of the Quran entitled Translating the Holy Quran: Is There An Ultimate Translation Of The Quran?, Dr. A. Nihamathullah of Tamil Nadu, India, has listed some criteria for determining which of the numerous English translations of the Quran are worthy of a detailed review, comparison and examination. On that basis, he eliminates the English translation attempts by Muslims before Maulana Muhammad Ali as being “of just historical interest” and “inconsequential translations”. The chronological list of translations that he has produced, as being those that deserve inclusion in a serious comparison, shows Maulana Muhammad Ali at number 4, after Sale, Rodwell and Palmer; thus making Maulana Muhammad Ali’s as the first proper translation by a Muslim. (This review was at this link of the website, from which we have saved a local copy of it here. It is no longer at the Islamic-Paths website but can be found at the well-known website at this link.)

The next major translation, that of Marmaduke Pickthall, was published thirteen years later in 1930, but it had no commentary. Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s work appeared later still in 1934. Thus all the well-known Muslim English translations and commentaries in circulation today benefitted much from this 1917 edition of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s work.

Shakir’s plagiarism of Maulana Muhammad Ali’s first edition

The widely-available English translation of the Quran purported to have been done by one M. H. Shakir has been plagiarised from Maulana Muhammad Ali’s first edition. For details read here.

Further information

The 1917 edition was reprinted in 1920 and 1935. Later Maulana Muhammad Ali thoroughly revised his translation and commentary in the last five years of his life. This revised edition was first published in 1951 and is the version in print today.

Certain features of the 1917 edition which were amended in the revised 1951 edition are noted below:

  1. It had a lengthy Preface consisting of sections on the basic teachings of Islam, details of the Islamic prayer with Arabic text, transliteration and translation, and an extensive discussion on the collection and arrangement of the Holy Quran. This material was later revised by the author for inclusion in his other writings such as Islam — The Religion of Humanity, The Muslim Prayer Book and The Religion of Islam. This Preface was replaced by a different Introduction in the 1951 edition.
  2. The translation had a left hand margin in which alternative meanings or literal translation of certain words were noted, as well as some cross references. In the revised edition this margin was removed, the information in it being incorporated in the footnotes.
  3. The instances of explanatory words being added within brackets in the translation have been considerably reduced in the revised edition. The revised edition translation was simplified and brought closer to the original Arabic. It is quite amazing to find the translation in the revised edition following even the sequence of the Arabic very closely and yet remaining in idiomatic English.
  4. The footnotes were longer and more verbose. They were made more succinct in the revised edition.

A copy of the 1917 edition at the Exploring Surrey’s Past website

A copy of the 1917 edition was found in the belongings of an Indian Muslim soldier of the British Indian Army from the First World War, Mahrup Shah. These belongings are kept at the Surrey Heritage Centre in Woking and their photographs have been published on the website Exploring Surrey’s Past (see link). The copy is inscribed: ‘B.W Addison’ of Freckleton, Lancashire.