Principles of fidelity in Hazrat Musleh-e-Maud’s Quran translation

Iftekhar Ahmed, Ahmadiyya Archive & Research Centre
tafsir e saghir
Tafsir-e-Saghir | Image: Library

In the Promised Messiah’sas prophecy, which he published in an advert on 20 February 1886 and in which it was revealed to him that God Almighty would give him a son who would possess no less than 52 qualities, one of the purposes for the coming of this Promised Son was described as follows:

“In order that […] the status of the Word of God may be made known to people.” (Majmu‘a-yi Ishtiharat, Vol. 1, p. 95)

The notable non-Ahmadi South Asian Islamic scholar Mawlana Abdul Majid Daryabadi (d. 1977), who was himself a Quranic commentator and the editor of Sidq-i Jadid, wrote the following words upon the demise of Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra:

“The endeavours in the dissemination of the Quran and its sciences across the world, as well as in propagating Islam across horizons, he went on with throughout his long life with dedication and determination, may Allah grant him recompense for them. Also, his scholarly contributions in expounding, clarifying, and translating Quranic realities and truths hold a distinguished and elevated status.” (Sidq-i Jadid, 18 November 1965)

In his translation of the Quran, Sayyiduna Khalifat-ul-Masih IIra diligently followed a range of diverse and well-established principles of Quranic exegesis. Among these principles, he placed particular emphasis on one that is often overlooked while selecting translations from the various possible renderings of Arabic expressions: ensuring that the translation does not conflict with established facts, prophecies, or the attributes of God and His chosen ones.

In the following, I will look at only two examples in this regard and explain this principle in more detail.

Example 1

First, let’s look at Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.7:

 اِنَّ الَّذِيۡنَ کَفَرُوۡا سَوَآءٌ عَلَيۡہِمۡ ءَاَنۡذَرۡتَہُمۡ اَمۡ لَمۡ تُنۡذِرۡہُمۡ لَا يُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ يُؤۡمِنُونَ

Here are some notable English translations of this verse:

“As for the Disbelievers, Whether thou warn them or thou warn them not it is all one for them; they believe not.” (Pickthall)

“As for those who have rejected (these things), it is all the same to them whether you warn them or do not warn them: they are not going to believe.” (Mawdudi)

“As for those who disbelieve, it makes no difference whether you warn them or not: they will not believe” (Abdel Haleem)

“Verily those who have disbelieved, it is equal to them whether thou warnest them or warnest them not; they will not believe” (Daryabadi)

“As for those who are kafir, it makes no difference to them whether you warn them or do not warn them, they will not have iman.” (Aisha Bewley)

What all these translations have in common is that, according to them, Allah says that the unbelievers would not believe, regardless of whether they were warned or not. Who are the disbelievers intended here? The meaning is clear: they are the non-Muslims who were in Mecca after the Prophet’ssa migration and did not believe in him.

However, they believed afterwards, after the conquest of Mecca. If not all of them, then most of them believed. The subsequent events clearly show that they believed, albeit not all of them. It is flawed to think that the verse would refer to an individual or a specific group, and yet the text uses this all-inclusiveness (“those who disbelieve”).

Searching through the books of Quranic exegesis, one only finds generalising interpretations for this universal statement. Some exegetes said that the intended group includes the staunch disbelievers like Walid ibn al-Mughira and Musaylima the Liar. Others said it refers to the Jews, while some claimed it encompasses every disbeliever who does not believe. All these explanations are unconvincing, not to mention inconsistent. Additionally, Allah, the Most High, would not be incapable of expressing the meaning clearly and explicitly if the intended group were specific.

How Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra translated this verse is as follows:

“Those who have disbelieved—it being alike to them whether thou warn them or warn them not—they will not believe.”

This translation maintains consistency with all the verses of the Noble Quran that contain the news of the future entrance of disbelievers into the circle of Islam in troops (cf. Surat an-Nasr) and the very fact that the disbelievers indeed eventually believed. Another commendable aspect of this translation is that it does not allow any objection to the sacred essence of Allah. This objection arises from the next verse, which states, ‘Allah has set a seal on their hearts’—a verse that opponents of the Quran have vehemently criticised.

After some pondering over the grammatical structure of this verse and its translation, one realises that, put in terms of Arabic grammar, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra actually suggested that the sentence “it is all the same for them whether you warn them or do not warn them” is a circumstantial clause (jumla haliya) describing the state of the disbelievers mentioned in this verse, not a predicate (khabar) or a parenthesis (i‘tirad).

It is a profound insight into the dynamics of belief and disbelief, encapsulating the essence of his spiritual state. Truly, the Quran is a book of depth and layers, revealing wisdom to those who seek it.

Example 2

Another example is Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V.27:

يُضِلُّ بِہٖ کَثِيۡرًا ۙ وَّيَہۡدِيۡ بِہٖ کَثِيۡرًا

The very same translators as above translate this verse as follows:

“He misleadeth many thereby, and He guideth many thereby” (Pickthall)

“Allah leads astray many and guides many to the right way by the same thing.” (Mawdudi)

“Through it He makes many go astray and leads many to the right path.” (Abdel Haleem)

“He sendeth many astray thereby, and He guideth many thereby” (Daryabadi)

“He misguides many by it and guides many by it.” (Aisha Bewley)

What all these translations have in common is that they attribute to Allah that He is the one who would lead some people astray Himself.

However, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra translates this verse as follows:

“Many does He adjudge by it to be in error and many by it does He guide.”

As a matter of fact, Allah does not misguide or mislead anyone. What He does is to let certain people go astray and then adjudge them to be misguided. If it were Allah who leads people astray, afterwards those people would have the excuse, and they would be justified, that they are not responsible for their misguidance, because it was their Creator Himself who created them in such a way that they went astray.

This is why Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra refers in the footnote to his translation to the eleventh-century Muslim scholar of Quranic exegesis and the Arabic language al-Raghib al-Isfahani (d. 502/1108), who explains in al-Mufradat fi gharib al-Quran, his dictionary of Quranic terms, that one of the meanings of الإضلال is أن تحكم بِضَلَالِهِ, i.e., to judge somebody to be misguided.

In conclusion, this piece has presented merely a glimpse into the profound legacy of Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra through two illustrative examples. By conscientiously avoiding any contradictions with Quranic prophecies and refraining from ascribing inappropriate attributes to Allah, the Exalted, his approach not only showcased a deep-seated insight but also illuminated the path for those in pursuit of Quranic wisdom. These instances are but a drop in the vast ocean of his contributions, each underscoring his fulfilment of the prophecy concerning his pivotal role in elucidating the true essence of God’s Word, thus affirming his status as Musleh-e-Maud – the Promised Reformer.

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