Part I. Pp. VIII, 117. (Through Surah 2, verse 142.)
Publishers: The Anjuman-i-Taraqqi-i-Islam, Qadian. Punjab, India. (1915)
The English translation of Part 1 of the Holy Quran was based on the commentary by Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, Khalifatul Masih IIra. It was welcomed by scholars of Quranic exegesis. Below is a review published in the Harvard Theological Review. While one will appreciate the breadth of knowledge of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IIra, the prickled sentiment of the occidental mind and their bias for the new aspects of Quranic meanings will also be felt on occasions. Nonetheless, the review is hereby presented for our readers.
Charles C Torrey
About forty years ago there appeared in the town of Qadian, near Lahore in the Punjab, a religious leader, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who before his death, which occurred in 1908, was hailed by his numerous followers as the Messiah promised by all the great prophets of antiquity. The Ahmadiya sect, called by his name, has continued to spread, chiefly in the Far East but also to some extent in the West, even gaining adherents in England. It is Mohammedan in its origin, and claims to represent the true Islam, the one universal religion; by orthodox Moslems, however, the Ahmadiya movement is looked upon as heretical.
The sacred book of the new sect is the Quran, and the commentary before us is being prepared as its authoritative interpretation. It is an ambitious undertaking, and one in which scholars the world over would be keenly interested if it were in competent hands. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
The appearance of the quarto page is very attractive. At the top is the Arabic text, reproducing in large characters a masterpiece of calligraphy. Below this is a transliteration in Roman letters, followed by the English translation in large type. The principal part of the page is usually taken up with the commentary. Below, in finer print, are running notes of a more general – often controversial – character; and at the bottom of the page are references to parallel passages.
In regard to previous English translations of the Quran the author says (Foreword, p. 5) that they “have been done either by those who were swayed by nothing but religious prejudice and whose object was… the presentation of a ghastly picture of the Holy Quran before the world; or by those who had no acquaintance worth the name with the Holy Quran and the Arabic language.” He claims to have followed a new and original method, by which the chance of error has been practically removed. “We have not based the translation and notes, and in fact every other matter connected therewith, on current stories and popular tales; but, on the other hand, our procedure has been to base the meaning of every word first on the corroborative testimony of the Holy Quran, and secondly on the context. The same golden rule has been observed in the preparation of notes.”
… The nature and extent of the author’s equipment for a work of scholarly research will be apparent from the following examples. Under transliteration (Foreword, pp. 6 f.): “Alif at the beginning of a word, pronounced as a, i, u, preceded by a very slight aspiration, like h in the English word ‘honour’; dhal, pronounced like the English th in ‘that’; dad, similar to the English th in ‘this’; hamza, a sort of catch in the voice.”
In matters of etymology: The word Shaitan (p. 16) “comes either from the root shtn or shyt.” In fact, he decides, it comes from both roots. “The former means ‘straying away from truth,’ and therefore Shaitan means ‘one who has gone astray from the right path.’ Taking the latter root, which means ‘burning,’ the word Shaitan signifies ‘one burnt or doomed to perish.’ Thus, Shayatin signifies ‘those men… and who had gone astray from the truth.’”
This same liberality in the recognition of Arabic roots and the combination of various meanings appears in many places. Thus, as to the meaning of the word Surah (p. 22): “Literally, a piece, a portion. Here it means a chapter, a section that has been set apart. Surat also means ‘height.’ In keeping with this sense, the chapters of the Quran are called Surahs because they contain each a discourse on a lofty subject.”
In commenting on 2:36 (33 in Flugel), the account of Adam’s temptation and fall in the Garden of Eden, our interpreter explains the meaning of the two principal words in the clause: “Approach not this shajara, lest ye be among the zalimin.” Shajara means “tree,” but in the Quran it “is also used to mean a quarrel, as in the verse… 4:66 (68 in Flugel). The Quran also mentions elsewhere both a ‘pure tree’ and an ‘evil tree.’ In the light of these Quranic explanations, the verse means, (1) that Adam was forbidden to quarrel; (2) that Adam was warned against evil things.” “As for the other word, zalim, the root means, first, ‘putting a thing in a wrong place or in a place not its own.’ Secondly… etc. The phrase would thus mean that the result of approaching the Shajara would be that he (Adam) would become one of those who do not observe the propriety of time and place in their actions.”
What this kind of learning can accomplish in the way of etymologies is also well illustrated in the case of Gabriel (p. 80); the angels Harut and Marut, the former from harata “to tear” and the latter from marata “to break” (p. 85); the borrowed words – here of course regarded as genuine Arabic – hanif and sabt (p. 113 f.). The following lexical and grammatical notes are characteristic: “It is a rule in Arabic grammar that whenever somebody is required to be induced to do a thing, the verb is omitted and only the object is mentioned” (p. 116). “The Hebrew word Elohim, which originally meant ‘to be strong’ has come to mean ‘the strong one’” (p. 80).
One or two illustrations must suffice. Surah 2:73 f. (67 f.), the story of the Red Heifer, where the text reads: “Ye (Israelites) killed a man (qataltum nafsan); … then We said, ‘Strike him (the dead man) with a part of her (the heifer)’; thus Allah gives life to the dead,” etc. Our translator renders: “Ye almost killed a person. … Then We said, ‘Smite it (margin: i.e., the class responsible for the sufferings of the man whose murder was attempted) for a part of its (sin).’” Then follows the explanation: The word nafsan is undetermined, “which often denotes a sense of grandeur. So the wording of the verse itself points to the inference that the person killed is a remarkably grand personality… Such a one can be no other than a prophet… Our investigation has so far enabled us to affirm with absolute certainty that he was a prophet. The verse also enlightens us on another important fact. It shows that the Israelites entertained doubts as to his death… So the person spoken of in this verse can be no other than Jesus Christ.” This, he affirms (p. 61), explains the last clause of verse 73 (67): “And Allah would bring to light what ye concealed.” “With the appearance of the Promised Messiah (Mirza Ghulam Ahmad), the mask which had been so long hanging over the incident has at last been thrown off.”
With this may be compared certain comments on the First Surah, pages 2 and 3. Its title, Fatihah, “occurs in a prophecy in the [New Testament] Revelation, chapter 10, which also contains a reference to the number of verses in this Surah. The name occurs in the second verse… where it is translated as open. The original Hebrew word is Fatoah [sic]… The seven thunders in the prophecy represent the seven verses of this chapter. The Christian writers agree in holding that the prophecy refers to the second advent of Jesus and they are right in their opinion. [It should be remarked here, that the Messiah of the Punjab claims to embody the returning Jesus, as well as the Mahdi of the Moslems.] The little book Fatoah or Fatihah was constantly in the hands of the Promised Messiah, who wrote many commentaries on this chapter.” He adds, that the inspired Interpreter revealed in the chapter many great truths which no one had found there before, since it had hitherto remained a “sealed book” (Rev. 10 4). It is one of these unsuspected truths, doubtless, which our commentator presents in his interpretation of the closing verse, the text of which he renders as follows: “[Guide us in] the path of those on whom Thou hast bestowed Thy blessings; excepting those on whom Thy wrath has descended and those who have gone astray.” On this he remarks: “The last verse of this chapter embodies a mighty prophecy… [It] contains for the advent of a Messiah, for whose rejection the Muslims are threatened to be reckoned among the Jews and whose advent was to be preceded by the ascendancy of the Christian religion. The Messiah referred to in this verse has already appeared, and his name is Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (Punjab, India).”
It is quite plain from these last examples especially, that the main purpose of this translation and commentary is not to inquire into the meaning of the Quran, but to present a religious leader. How much of the exegesis offered here is derived from the latter, is an interesting question. Near the beginning of the commentary (p. 5) our author names ‘Abdallah Ibn ‘Abbas and the Promised Messiah as his two chief authorities. Those who hold the view of Ibn ‘Abbas’ trustworthiness which is held by all competent occidental scholars will feel that this lays a great weight of responsibility on the Messiah. And in fact, belief in the infallibility of this divine emissary – and his lesser representatives – will be found indispensable to acceptance of the views contained in this volume.
The claims of the Promised One and the proofs in support of them are set forth in some detail on the cover of this First Part of the work, as well as in accompanying circulars. The last Imam in the great succession of twelve disappeared from human sight in the Mohammedan year 266 (879 A.D.), since which time his reappearance has been eagerly awaited by a large part of the Moslem world. After the lapse of just 1,000 (solar) years, in 1879 A.D., the leader stands forth at Qadian. Again, the Prophet Daniel prophesied (12:11) that “1,290 years after the breaking of idols in Mecca” the Messenger would appear. The breaking of idols took place in the Mohammedan year 8; the addition of 1,290 (lunar) years gives the equivalent of the Christian year 1881. Moreover, “just as the Israelite Messiah appeared 1,300 years after Moses, similarly the Promised Messiah made his appearance 1300 years after the Holy Prophet.” In fact, Moses appeared 1300 (solar) years BC, and 1,300 (lunar) years after the Hijra brings us to 1882 AD. This is all interesting as illustrating the credentials which can be obtained from chronology.
“The Holy Prophet of Islam… even named the very place where the promised Mahdi was to appear. He called it Kad‘a, a name which is quite like the name Kadi or Kadian.” This is certainly striking; and it is remarkable that the fact of this prediction should have remained so long unknown to the learned world, and especially to Mohammedan scholars. The Punjab Messiah has also himself foretold many events, it would seem. “He published hundreds of prophecies, many of which have already come true (such as his prophecy regarding the Partition of Bengal, the defeat of Russia and the annexation of Korea by Japan, the Persian Revolution, the outbreak of plague in India,… the downfall and death of Dr Dowie, the false prophet of America, etc.), and many still await fulfilment.”
(The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 10, No. 4, October 1917, pp. 382-387)