Mawlānā Wahiduddin Khan`s English Translation of the Quran: An Introduction

By Abid Qayoom Mir | Kashmir Reader

Mawlānā Wahiddudin Khan, an Indian Muslim scholar, was born on 1st January 1925, in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh. The Mawlānā has authored many books to present message of the Islam. Apart from his books, he has also done a translation of the Quran. “The Qur’an” (without the Qur’ānic text in Arabic) which is an English version of his Urdu translation and commentary of the Qur’ān, Tadhkīr al-Qur’ān (1985). It is ably and brilliantly edited by his daughter Farida Khanam and was published in 1985. This translation , both in English and Urdu, is accessible to a wider speaking readership of both languages.
“The Qur’ān” was published for the first time by “Goodword Books”, New Delhi , in 2011. As every translator has started his translations of the Qur’ān with an introduction, mostly written by the author himself, the Mawlānā’s work also starts with an “Introduction”. In the introduction , he has brilliantly explained his views about the Qur’ān and its translation. He had also highlighted the methods he has adopted in his translation of the Qur’ān. Regarding translations of the Qur’ān, he has held that, these are not substitute of the original but they serve the purpose to spread Word of God to Non-Arabs. According to the Mawlānā, “one who has little access to the Arabic or even no grasp of Arabic language can read the scriptures only in translation in order to understand the message of the Qur’ān”.
The Mawlānā states that Qur’ān was revealed in Arabic for being the language of the nature; God, for the first time, addressed all the human creation in the language of nature. Similarly, Mawlānā Mawdūdī, also mentions in his introductory notes that the Qur’ān was revealed in “consonance with man’s own nature and with which he is already familiar”. So , he is of the view that Qur’ān is not indifferent from the reality which a man already knows and according to Khan, “In reality , the Qur’ān is the unfolding of the Human mind”. God addressed all human souls at the time when Adam was created as mentioned in the Qur’ān and all human souls accepted God as their Lord, Here, Khan posits that “only those can read and understand Qur’ān properly whose nature is alive, and by reading Qur’ān his/her those cells gets activated wherein God`s first address is preserved”.
In the introduction, the Mawlana describes Qur’ān as a “verbal expression of that same Divine Reality which is in consonance with man`s own nature” and regarding the objective of the Qur’ān Khan holds that that the main objective of the Qur’ān is to make human beings aware about the purpose and aim of their creation. Khan states, “Every book has its objective and the objective of the Qur’ān is to make man aware of the creation plan of God”. The Mawlana, while explaining the aim of the Qur’ān says “is to initiate and bring to fruition an intellectual revolution within man” and adds that, this intellectual revolution is the “Realization of Truth”. Khan states that the creation plan of God is to test man`s activities in his pre-death period and result of those activities will be by the way of reward or punishment. Understanding the creation plan of God is secret of man`s Success as Khan posits “The secret of man`s success in this life is to understand God`s creation plan map out his life accordingly”.
According to the Mawlana, the Qur’ān is a Book of “Divine Warning”, book of “Wisdom”, and book of “Reminder of the blessing granted by the Supreme Benefactor. , that is, the “Word of God”, and is a book of God “revealed to the Prophet Muhammad(SAW)”
Khan’s work is more of a transliteration than a literal translation which makes it extremely readable. Simple and direct, the book reaches out to a large audience-Muslims as well as non Muslims. Unlike bulky translations difficult to reach , this is one you can carry with you even while traveling. Another feature is a chronological table detailing all the important events in the Prophet’s(SAW) life. Numerous translations of the Qur’ān already exist in English, and so what made the Mawlānā decide to add one more to that number?
“The answer is simple,” says the Mawlānā. “Many other translations lack clarity, which, according to the Qur’ān (54:17), is the specialty of this Book. My translation is very clear and easily understandable. A research of the various Qur’ān translations in English was undertaken by The Qur’ān Complex, Madinah, Saudi Arabia in which they concluded, ‘in spite of 47 English Qur’ān translations, none has received the acceptance of the modern world.’ The reason of this non-acceptance was that these translations were not in the modern idiom, while my translation is so. In terms of style, it is very simple. Its language is modern. In terms of idiom, it is contemporary. It is free from the interpretations that were included in translations in later times.”
Professor Abdur Raheem Kidwai, while commenting on this work, states that, “The present work represents a tafsīr with a difference. This unconventional tafsīr does not delve into the Qur’ānic commands, events, personalities, places, and geo-historical allusions.” and he concludes his review on this work by stating that “ Khan`s tafsīr, notwithstanding some serious shortcoming, represents a substantial addition to the tafsīr corpus in English, especially in view of its forceful, inspiring elucidation of the main articles of the Islamic faith.”
Khushwant Singh, in his review of this translation , which is available on the official website of Khan`s organization, has said: “I have a few translations of the Qur’ān in English including Pickthall’s and Amir Ali’s — the first recognized as lyrically the most readable, and the second, as the most accurate. I spent a few hours reading Wahiduddin’s renderings of my favorite passages, particularly the last short suras which are in lyrical prose. All I can say is I found them more readable than any translations I had read earlier. I recommend it to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”
Mawlānā Wahiddudin Khan has brilliantly translated the Quranic verses which are very simple and easy to understand. For example, his translation of the verse of (2:21) is “People, worship your Lord, who created you and those before you, so that you may become righteous” which is very simple and easy to understand to that of Abdullah Yusuf Ali`s translation who translated the same verse as, “Ye People! Adore your Guardian –Lord, Who created you and those who became before you, that ye may the chance to learn the righteousness” ; the usage of “Ye” in the translation of this verse makes it difficult to understand the exact meaning. In sum, the nature of the translation is fairly good. The translator has done a good job in articulating the meaning and message of the Qur’ān in simple language and has avoided usage of “Thee” and “Thou” as other English translators have employed.
All in all, the English translations of the Qur’ān by Muslim scholars throughout the world are an attempt to present the Message of the Qur’ān to the Non-Arabs. Islam, being the religion of approximately one-fifth of mankind, the message of the Holy Qur’ān assumes universal importance. Given the vast diversity of social and cultural outlook among the followers of Islam, English translations and commentaries of the Holy Qur’ān play a fundamental role in decoding the Qur’ānic message to the non-Arab reader. Arabic, the language of the Holy Qur’ān, known as one of the most eloquent languages, has a singular advantage over other languages in explaining the spirit of the Holy Qur’ān. However, when Muslim power declined, and most of the Muslim world, came under colonial rule the imperialists sought to perpetuate their supremacy by depriving the Muslims of their legacy. This led to English translations of the Holy Qur’ān sponsored by the colonial powers. In an attempt to thwart these conspiracies and to convey the true message of Islam to the English speaking people, the Muslim scholars of the time, came up with their own English translations of the Holy Qur’ān. Since then a large number of English translations and commentaries of the Holy Qur’ān have appeared in print. The Scholars in the Sub-continent like Daryabadi, Yusuf Ali and many other scholars played a key role in translating the meaning of the Holy Qur’ān.

—The author holds a Masters in Islamic Studies from the Islamic University of Science and Technology, Awantipora. He can be reached at: Abidmir412@gmail.com