The aim of this work is to present to English readers what Muslims the world over hold to be the meaning of the words of the Qur’an, and the nature of that Book, in not unworthy language and concisely, with a view to the requirements of English Muslims. It may be reasonably claimed that no holy Scripture can be fairly presented by one who disbelieves its inspiration and its message; and this is the first English translation of the Qur’an by an Englishman who is a Muslim. Some of the translations include commentation offensive to Muslims, and almost all employ a style of language which Muslims at once recognise as unworthy. The Qur’an cannot be translated. That is the belief of old-fashioned Sheykhs and the view of the present writer. The Book is here rendered almost literally and every effort has been made to choose befitting language. But the result is not the Glorious Qur’an, that inimitable symphony, the very sounds of which move men to tears and ecstasy. It is only an attempt to present the meaning of the Qur’an and peradventure something of the charm-in English. It can never take the place of the Qur’an in Arabic, nor is it meant to do so.
Before publication the work has been scrutinised word by word and thoroughly revised in Egypt with the help of one whose mother-tongue is Arabic, who has studied the Qur’an and who knows English; and when difficulties were encountered the translator had recourse to perhaps the greatest living authority on the subject. Every care has thus been taken to avoid unwarrantable renderings. On the one or two occasions where there is departure from the traditional interpretation, the traditional rendering will be found in a footnote.
The translator’s thanks are due to Lord Lloyd for an Introduction of great use in Egypt; to Dr. F. Krenkow for supplying him with old meanings of Arabic words not to be found in dictionaries; to Muhammad Ahmad Al-Ghamrawi Bey of the Cairo College of Medicine for his invaluable and patient help with the revision of the manuscript, a work which occupied three months; to the Sheykh Mustafa Al-Maraghi, former Rector of Al-Azhar University, for his advice and guidance in the revision; and to His Excellency Fuad Bey Salim Al-Hijazi, by whose efforts such revision was made possible.
The mushaf (copy of the Qur’an) which has been used throughout is a lithograph copy of that written by Al-Hajj Muhammad Shakarzadeh at the command of Sultan Mahmud of Turkey in 1246 A.H. In the Introduction and the notes to individual surahs, Ibn Hisham (Bulaq ed. 1295 A.H.) has been followed, with occasional reference to the much later, much abbreviated, but more critical Life of the Prophet by Ibn Khaldun (published as an appendix to his Tarikh, Bulaq ed.) Other Sirahs, like that of Abu’l-Fida, late in date and uncritical, have been read but not followed. Of commentators Al-Beydawi and Zamakhshari must be mentioned, while for reference during the work of revision, the brief commentary of Al-Jalaleyn was kept at hand. Wahidi’s Asbabu ‘n-Nuzul has been largely consulted, and for the authenticity of traditions the translator has relied upon Bukhari.
The Prophet’s Birth and His Marriage: Muhammad, son of Abdullah, son of Abdul Muttalib, of the tribe of Qureysh, was born at Makkah fifty-three years before the Hijrah. His father died before he was born, and he was protected first by his grandfather, Abdul Muttalib, and, after his grandfather’s death, by his uncle, Abu Talib. As a young boy he travelled with his uncle in the merchants’ caravan to Syria, and some years afterwards made the same journey in the service of a wealthy widow named Khadijah. So faithfully did he transact the widow’s business, and so excellent was the report of his behaviour which she received from her old servant who had accompanied him, that she soon afterwards married her young agent; and the marriage proved a very happy one, though she was fifteen years older than he was. Throughout the twenty-six years of their life together he remained devoted to her; and after her death, when he took other wives, he always mentioned her with the greatest love and reverence. This marriage gave him rank among the notables of Makkah, while his conduct earned for him the surname Al-Amln, the “trustworthy.”
The Hunafa and The First Revelation: The Makkans claimed descent from Abraham through Ishmael, and tradition stated that their temple, the Ka’bah, had been built by Abraham for the worship of the One God. It was still called the House of Allah, but the chief objects of worship there were a number of idols which were called daughters of Allah and intercessors. The few who felt disgust at this idolatry, which had prevailed for centuries, longed for the religion of Abraham and tried to find out what had been its teaching. Such seekers of the truth were known as Hunafa (sing. Hanif), a word originally meaning “those who turn away” (from the existing idol-worship), but coming in the end to have the sense of “upright” or “by nature upright,” because such persons held the way of truth to be right conduct. These, unafa did not form a community. They were the agnostics of their day, each seeking truth by the light of his own inner consciousness. Muhammad son of Abdullah became one of these. It was his practice to retire with his family for a month of every year to a cave in the desert for meditation. His place of retreat was Hird, a desert hill not far from Makkah, and his chosen month was Ramdiin, the month of heat. It was there one night toward the end of his quiet month that the first revelation came to him when he was forty years old. He was asleep or in a trance when he heard a voice say: “Read!” He said: “I cannot Read.” The voice again said: “Read!” He said: “I cannot read.” A third time the voice, more terrible, commanded: “Read!” He said: ‘What can I read?” The voice said:
“Read: In the name of thy Lord Who createth.
“Createth man from a clot.
“Read: And it is thy Lord the Most Bountiful
“Who teacheth by the pen,
“Teacheth man that which he knew not.”
The Vision of Mount Hira: When he awoke the words remained “as if inscribed upon his heart.” He went out of the cave on to the hillside and heard the same awe-inspiring voice say: “O Muhammad! Thou art Allah’s messenger, and I am Gabriel.” Then he raised his eyes and saw the angel, in the likeness of a man, standing in the sky above the horizon. And again the dreadful voice said, “O Muhammad! Thou art Allah’s messenger, and I am Gabriel.” Muhammad (God bless and keep him!) stood quite still, turning away his face from the brightness of the vision, but whithersoever he might turn his face, there always stood the angel confronting him. He remained thus a long while till at length the angel vanished, when he returned in great distress of mind to his wife Khad1’jah. She did her best to reassure him, saying that his conduct had been such that Allah would not let a harmful spirit come to him and that it was her hope that he was to become the Prophet of his people. On their return to Makkah she took him to her cousin Waraqa ibn Naufal, a very old man, “who knew the Scriptures of the Jews and Christians,” who declared his belief that the heavenly messenger who came to Moses of old had come to Muhammad, and that he was chosen as the Prophet of his people.
His Distress of Mind: To understand the reason of the Prophet’s diffidence and his extreme distress of mind after the vision of Mt. Hira, it must be remembered that the Hunafa, of whom he had been one, sought true religion in the natural and regarded with distrust the intercourse with spirits of which men “avid of the Unseen,” sorcerers and sooth-sayers and even poets, boasted in those days. Moreover, he was a man of humble and devout intelligence, a lover of quiet and solitude, and the very thought of being chosen out of all mankind to face mankind, alone, with such a Message, appalled him at the first. Recognition of the Divine nature of the call he had received involved a change in his whole mental outlook sufficiently disturbing to a sensitive and honest mind, and also the forsaking of his quiet, honoured way of life. The early biographers tell how his wife Khadijah “tried the spirit” which came to him and proved it to be good, and how, with the continuance of the revelations and the conviction that they brought, he at length accepted the tremendous task imposed on him, becoming filled with an enthusiasm of obedience which justifies his proudest title of “The Slave of Allah.”
The Qur’an or “Reading”: The words which came to him when in a state of trance are held sacred by the Muslims and are never confounded with those which he uttered when no physical change was apparent in him. The former are the Sacred Book; the latter the hadith or Sunnah of the Prophet. And because the angel on Mt. Hira bade him “Read!” Insisted on his “Reading” though he was illiterate-the Sacred Book is known as Al-Qur’an, “The Reading,” the Reading of the man who knew not how to read.
First Converts: For the first three years, or rather less, of his Mission, the Prophet preached only to his family and his intimate friends, while the people of Makkah as a whole regarded him as one who had become a little mad. The first of all his converts was his wife Khadijah, the second his first cousin Ali, whom he had adopted, the third his servant Zeyd, a former slave. His old friend Abu Bakr also was among those early converts with some of his slaves and dependents.
Beginning of Persecution: At the end of third year the Prophet received the command to “arise and warn,” whereupon he began to preach in public, pointing out the wretched folly of idolatry in face of the tremendous laws of day and night, of life and death, of growth and decay, which manifest the power of Allah and attest His Sovereignty. It was then, when he began to speak against their gods, that Qureysh became actively hostile, persecuting his poorer disciples, mocking and insulting him. The one consideration which prevented them from killing him was fear of the blood-vengeance of the clan to which his family belonged. Strong in his inspiration, the Prophet went on warning, pleading, threatening, while Qureysh did all they could to ridicule his teaching, and deject his followers.
The Flight to Abyssinia, Conversion of Umar and The Sahifah or Deed of Ostracism: The converts of the first four years were mostly humble folk unable to defend themselves against oppression. So cruel was the persecution they endured that the Prophet advised all who could possibly contrive to do so to emigrate to a Christian country, Abyssinia.’ And still in spite of persecution and emigration the little company of Muslims grew in number. Qureysh were seriously alarmed, The idol-worship at the Ka’bah, the holy place to which all Arabia made pilgrimage, ranked for them, as guardians of the Ka’bah, as first among their vested interests. At the season of the pilgrimage they posted men on all the roads to warn the tribes against the madman who was preaching in their midst. They tried to bring the Prophet to a compromise, offering to accept his religion if he would so modify it as to make room for their gods as intercessors with Allah, offering to make him their king if he would give up attacking idolatry; and, when their efforts at negotiation failed, they went to his uncle Abu Talib, offering to give him the best of their young men in place of Muhammad, to give him all that he desired, if only he would let them kill Muhammad and have done with him. Abu Talib refused. The exasperation of the idolaters was increased by the conversion of Umar, 6 one of their stalwarts. They grew more and more embittered, till things came to such a pass that they decided to ostracise the Prophet’s whole clan, idolaters who protected him as well as Muslims who believed in him. Their chief men caused a document to be drawn up to the effect that none of them or those belonging to them would hold any intercourse with that clan or sell to them or buy from them. This they all signed, and it was deposited in the Ka’bah. Then, for three years, the Prophet was shut up with all his kinsfolk in their stronghold which was situated in one of the gorges which run down to Makkah. Only at the time of pilgrimage could he go out and preach, or did any of his kinsfolk dare to go into the city.
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