Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sad Ending of Abdullah Yousuf Ali - the Translator of Quran

Sad Ending of Abdullah Yousuf Ali - the Translator of Quran

The Late Obituary of Abdullah Yousuf Ali, the author of the popular translation and commentary of Holy Quran, begins:
"Sixty years ago, on Dec 10, 1953, few in the Muslim world noticed a minor tragedy unfolding in London. The previous day, a sick man was found sitting on the steps of a house in London in a bitterly cold British winter day, and was taken to hospital by police.
On this day, a man whose name was already known around the Muslim world, died a pauper's death, without even a companion by his side. British authorities contacted the Pakistani High Commission in London to arrange his funeral and burial.
Ask any English-speaking Muslim what translation and commentary of the Quran they originally studied, and the chances are that it was the one by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. First published in 1934, it remains to this day the most widely read and quoted English translation of the Quran. "  Late Obituary: Sad Ending of the Translator of Quran .... (read on) [As the link seems not to be working I have copied the material below at the end of my post]
I read Abdullah Yusuf Ali's biography "Searching for Solace" around 2001 and it made a profound impact on me. I first became acquainted with Yusuf Ali's translation and commentary when I went to USA in 1987. 

M A Sherif, author of the biography "Searching for Solace", had done a painstaking job of collecting Yusuf Ali's personal papers and publishing this biography. It evoked much of the same feelings as portrayed in this "late obituary". The description of his last days especially how some people in Pakistan's bureaucracy tried belatedly and halfheartedly to send him some funds, while he sat forlornly, out of his senses, forgotten by all, on his suitcase, in a corner of street, as the end came near, is heart wrenching.

It is heart breaking to read about his inner conflicts arising from being one of the earliest Muslims and being among the smartest civil service officials of late nineteenth century looking up to the Raj ideals. He wrote profuse propaganda during the first World War that encouraged hundreds of thousands of Indians (Muslims included) to the World War fronts. He was later co-opted in to leading the Indian Muslims delegation 
to the League of Nations, which supported the resolution for the formation of Israel. The 3-member delegation also included Sir Aga Khan and Feroz Khan Noon. It is interesting to note that the documents related to this delegation's mission and deliberations are still classified even after 70+ years. I think some of our researchers should take a deeper look in to the configuration of this delegation and their later contributions to the British interests. Feroz Khan Noon role in the early years of Pakistan and when he later became the PM of Pakistan and of course the role of "Sir" Aga Khan needs to be explored. 

The deep love with Arabic and the spiritual love that Yousuf Ali demonstrated in his translation and commentary marks the tension of the conflict of the inner Muslim values vs the anglophile compulsions.

I think the tendency of the ulema to correct and modify Islamic writings without identifying the places where correction is made and also not mentioning in the preface or on the title that the text has been edited and updated and modified is a colossal crime of plagiarism which has been committed unabashedly with Abdullah Yusuf Ali's work. The last such updated version that I saw only had a line at the end of the introduction saying that this work is based on the work of Abdullah Yusuf Ali. This tendency is also contrary to the care and scholarship of Early Hadith scholars who made it a point to identify each and every sentence and its attributions. This scholarship of tracking the changes over time by different authors has now been lost and is being committed unashamedly. A good case of research in this aspect is the book "Behashti Zevar" of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi which is held in very high esteem culturally among the Indian and Pakistani Muslims. Over the last fifty years this book has also gone through such unabashed editorial changes without attribution and proper identification.


See Also:
  • "The Musharraf Factor: Leading Pakistan to Inevitable Demise"  By Abid Ullah Jan sheds more light on the role played by Feroz Khan Noon, Sir Zafrullah and others in the formation of Israel. 
  • By Shahid Qureshi: FEROZ KHAN NOON: " Israel had come to stay" declared Feroz Khan Noon. Mr. Noon was Pakistan 's then Foreign Minister. He was in London for a British-convened conference, 19-21 September 1956. Feroz Khan Noon had, however, a background, but few were aware of it. Sir Feroz, an empire loyalist with an Austrian Jewish wife Vicky Noon, who was widow of a Hindu. Feroz Khan Noon was serving as high commissioner for India in London before Partition in 1936-41, when the colonial secretary, Lord Moyne, asked him to prepare a draft scheme for creating a Jewish state in Arab Palestine, but in a way that no blame should lie on the British imperialists for being anti-Arab or pro­ Zionist. The can-do knight submitted his proposal to the secretary of state for India , Leopold Amery, who too happened to be Jewish. Noon proposed that they first create an Arabian federation, but also slip in an autonomous Jewish state within that federation. This Jewish entity should be a part of the treaty creating the federation.
    The full blown Jewish state would come into existence later, Sir Feroz explained, but the federation would provide the cover that they all needed so that no Muslim ruler can blame England for having created a Jewish state in Palestine or part of Palestine'. Noon's proposals were forwarded by Amery to Churchill on 10 September 1945 (F0372-275-E6190/53/65)".
[The following article is Pasted from the Internet]

The sad ending of Yusuf Ali, translator of the Qur'an
 by Abdar Rahman Koya


Sixty years ago, on Dec 10, 1953, few in the Muslim world noticed a minor tragedy unfolding in London. The previous day, a sick man was found sitting on the steps of a house in London in a bitterly cold British winter day, and was taken to hospital by police.


On this day, a man whose name was already known around the Muslim world, died a pauper's death, without even a companion by his side. British authorities contacted the Pakistani High Commission in London to arrange his funeral and burial.

Ask any English-speaking Muslim what translation and commentary of the Quran they originally studied, and the chances are that it was the one by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. First published in 1934, it remains to this day the most widely read and quoted English translation of the Quran. Despite the efforts of numerous other scholars - Muslim, non-Muslim, English and non-English - to better it, few have been able to come close to Yusuf Ali's classical English, which has given readers a sense of the beauty of the original Arabic verses.

At the same time, it has had many critics, who have accused Yusuf Ali's translation of being rife with linguistic errors, and his accompanying commentaries of being 'too spiritual', particularly for those with anti-sufi sectarian inclinations.

But for millions of ordinary English-educated Muslims (and non-Muslims), Yusuf Ali's translation has been their main gateway to the Quran for decades. So widely accepted was this work that it was reprinted and distributed by the tens of millions by publication houses in the east and west, often funded by despotic Arab governments seeking Islamic legitimacy from their own people and those important Muslim minorities living in Western countries.

http://en.harakahdaily.net/images/stories/features/quran_yusufali.jpg
Unauthorised Revisions

Over time, however, this exercise became increasingly controversial, not least because some of these publishers and their sponsors saw it their responsibility to 'improve' Yusuf Ali's work, by correcting what they perceived as errors of translation or interpretation. Although this exercise did not butcher the original work completely, it was criticised by other Muslim scholars as a form of plagiarism.

Other attempts to discredit Yusuf Ali's work betrayed the Arab-centric character of some Arab scholars of Islam, who evidently believed that they were better qualified to disseminate the Quranic language because of their knowledge of Arabic. Unfortunately, these critics generally lacked the knowledge of other languages, and the way languages are spoken and comprehended. For all the failings of his work, time has only confirmed that Yusuf Ali, with his deep knowledge of Arabic and remarkable grasp of the English language, was in fact superbly equipped to bring the message of the Quran to a people who hitherto could not absorb its beautiful phrases and intended meanings in Arabic. As a result, Muslim publishers recently reprinted Yusuf Ali's original translation and commentary, ignoring most subsequent attempts at revising it.

Having said that, there can be no doubt that any translation and commentary of the Quran reflects that understanding and outlook of the translator and commentator. To fully understand Yusuf Ali's perspective, therefore, it is necessary to know something about the man, his life and his times.

The Story of Yusuf Ali
In Yusuf Ali's case, however, little was known about him until the publication of Searching for Solace, a biography by M A Sherif, in 1994. It was only then that many Muslims realised that Yusuf Ali, far from being a feted ulama and scholar, was in fact a civil servant in British India and a loyalist to the British empire, whose life was one of personal tragedy. He died alone after being neglected by his children and his community in a city which did him little honour.

Many Muslims, discovering this sad story, have responded with harsh judgements, reflecting their reservations about elements of his work. This, however, is unfair.

Yusuf Ali was, as Sherif's superbly compassionate and balanced biography shows, a product of his time and environment, but also one whose hardships led him to a deep study and understanding of Islam and the Quran. His life story, his strengths and his weaknesses, offer lessons for Muslims today.

Like many Muslims of the last couple of centuries, Yusuf Ali's life was defined by the impact of western power on Muslim societies. Like much of India's Muslim elite, Yusuf Ali served the British rulers of India, as an Anglophile member of the Indian civil service, much as his forebears had served earlier Muslim regimes.

Brought up to be more British than the British, he placed trust in British values of justice, fair play and benevolent empire, going as far as to marry an English woman. Throughout his life, he put his skills at the service of the Empire, always under the illusion that this was in the best interest of his community.

But the incompatibilities of life as a 'native' Muslim in India, and a loyal British gentleman, were soon to be laid bare, not by any issues of conscience that arose in his work as an official of the empire, but in his personal life.

His marriage ended with divorce, when he discovered that his wife had been unfaithful – something normal and tolerated in English high society at the time, but obviously unacceptable to him as a Muslim. One result was his alienation from his children, brought up as English.

Blind loyalty and re-awakening

His pain and anguish had left an indelible mark on his later world view, and he turned to the Quran for solace. Ultimately, one man's loss soon became the Muslim world's greatest gain.

He devoted himself to the study of the Quran, and soon came out with the first volume of his translation, first published in Lahore in 1934, a feat he had been hoping to achieve for some forty years of his life.

The circumstances Yusuf Ali was in are not dissimilar to our own era, in which a section of Muslim intellectuals are obsessed to portray Islam's image as a moderate religion, so as to please their political masters in Washington.

Yusuf Ali's generation was attracted by the same slogans, and the situation is no different today, albeit in a more subtle manner through the setting up of think-tanks, Islamic chairs at universities and through publication of bulky but mostly hollow and pedantic theses on Islam.

The difference is that Yusuf Ali went through such a phase and learnt the consequences of blind loyalty. How many we know today have even gotten over the blind loyalty phase?

As he writes in his 1934 preface to his translation: "I have explored western lands, western manners and the depths of western thought and western learning, to an extent which has rarely fallen to the lot of an eastern mortal. But I have never lost touch with my eastern heritage.

"Through all my successes and failures I have learned to rely more and more upon the one true thing in all life – the voice that speaks in a tongue above that of a mortal man. I felt that with such life-experience as has fallen to my lot, my service to the Quran should be to present it in a fitting garb in English."
Yusuf Ali was buried at a cemetery in Woking, Surrey, UK. His grave is not far from that of Marmaduke Pickthall, whose earlier translation of the Quran was the first by a Muslim Englishman. May he rest in peace.

Abdullah Yusuf Ali
Yusuf ali.jpg
Born
14 April 1872
Bombay, India
Died
10 December 1953 (aged 81)
Brookwood, Surrey 
Occupation
Religion

20 comments:

  1. May his gentle soul rest in Peace, his works has revealed a lot to both Muslims and non-Muslims.
    Barkindo Muhammad Saidu

    ReplyDelete
  2. May his gentle soul rest in Peace, his works has revealed a lot to both Muslims and non-Muslims.
    Barkindo Muhammad Saidu

    ReplyDelete
  3. May his gentle soul rest in Peace. And Allah give jannahtul (paridise) firdaus

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What a shame, If it is true that A.Yusuf Ali, Sir Aga Khan and Feroz Khan Noon helped in the creation of Israel. It is even rumored that Feroz Khan Noon prepared the draft for the creation of Israel.

      Delete
  4. إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ
    اَللَّهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لَهُ وَارْحَمْهُ وَعَافِهِ وَاعْفُ عَنْه

    ReplyDelete
  5. He did a great job Surat Fateha for him May his soul rest in peace

    ReplyDelete
  6. I found the article quite heart-wrenching. It also brings back the point that all success in life may not be "relative" and there are some successes which are internal to self and may not get the appreciation / support of all. Good for the sake of good should be an objective.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This climb down for his translation where even his authorship is being diluted and not being acknowledged is what saddens me the most.

      Delete
  7. May Allah forgive him. Dr.Iran Hyder, please how can I get the "searching for solace"? Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dr. Irfan Hyder, I am sorry for the first spelling

      Delete
  8. Filled with slander about British culture, especially the part of it being normal for women to be unfaithful.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Is there any way to find the original book of translations done by Yusuf Ali? May his soul rest in peace, he has done a tremendous job regarding the commentary I must say. I don't have the original one, nevertheless, I was helped.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Muslim scholars globally need to acknowledge his English translation of Quran. May Allah s.w.t. reward Abdullah Yusuf Ali for his English translation of Quran. May his soul rest in peace.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Abdullah Yusuf Ali converted to Sunni Islam towards the end of his life.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Dr Abullah Yusuf Ali in my view translated not only the Text but ….. also the SPRIT of the Holy Quran. Nowhere have I found in his translation the earthly life being glorified.

    “Our deeds, good and bad, go to Allah before us. They will of course be brought to our account; but our account will also be swelled by the example we left behind us and the consequences of our deeds, that will come into play or continue to operate after our earthly life has ceased”

    We are still talking about what he left behind.

    True that he lived among us but never as a politician demanding self glory at any cost. The end as described in the obituary that he reached the state which personifies his ‘fully renouncing the earthly glories’ we are accustomed to more than Buddha proves the honor he deserves before the Judgment Seat!

    G V Gnanasooriyam

    ReplyDelete