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Marmaduke Pickthall

(1875 - 1936)

He was born William Pickthall in 1875 in London, to an Anglican clergyman, and spent his formative years in rural Suffolk. He was contemporary of Winston Churchill atHarrow, the famous private school. During intervals from living a sedentary life in Suffolk, Pickthall traveled extensively in the Arab world and Turkey. In 1917, Pickthall reverted to Islam and soon became a leader among the emerging group of British Muslims.
In 1919, Pickthall worked for the London-based Islamic Information Bureau that among other things published the weekly Muslim Outlook. After completing his last novel the Early Hours in 1920, he departed for his new assignment in India to serve as the editor of the Bombay Chronicle. Pickthall devoted considerable interest in the independent Islamic empire of India that was gradually eroded through a string of British conspiracies. In 1927, Pickthall took over as the editor of Islamic Culture, a new quarterly journal published under the patronage of the Nizam of Hydrabad. He gave eight lectures on several aspects of Islamic civilization at the invitation of The Committee of "Madras Lectures on Islam" in Madras, India. His lectures were published under the title "The Cultural Side of Islam" in 1961 by S.M. Ashraf Publishers,Lahore. For an abridged version of his fifth lecture, point your browser to Tolerance in Islam.

In 1928, Pickthall took a two-year sabbatical to complete his translation of the meaning of the Qur'an, a work that he considered as the summit of his achievement.
 Like any other Muslim scholar, Pickthall too maintained that the Qur'an being the word of Allah could not be translated. He wrote in his foreword: "The Qur'an cannot be translated." Understandably he titled his work that he finally published in 1930 as The Meaning of the Glorious Koran (A. A. Knopf, New York 1930), declaring that it is a simply a meaning of the Message and not a presentation in English of the Arabic text. It was first by a Muslim whose native language was English, and remains among the two most popular translations, the other being the work of Abdullah Yusuf Ali.

The mission of 'translating' the Qur'an had preoccupied Pickthall's mind since he reverted to Islam. He saw that there was an obligation for all Muslims to know the Qur'an intimately. Even while serving as an imam in London in 1919, he often put aside the then available translations and offered his own in the course of his khutba. In 1930, Pickthall published The Meaning of the Glorious Koran (A. A. Knopf, New York). His devotion to the Book - a "wonder of the world" - was profound and he noted that while he had great difficulty in remembering a passage in his native English, he could easily memorize "page after page of the Qur'an in Arabic with perfect accuracy." Pickthall warned against the danger of adoring the book rather than its content. He chided the Muslims to "keep the message always in your hearts, and live by it."

In early 1935, Pickthall, just shy of sixty, retired from the Nizam's service and returned to England. In 1936 he moved to St. Ives where he died on May 19, 1936 and was buried in the Muslim cemetery at Brookwood,Surrey, nearWoking on May 23. Later another illustrious translator Abdullah Yusuf Ali was to join him in this earthly domain.

Reference: Peter Clark, Marmaduke Pickthall: British Muslim; London: Quartet, 1986.

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