Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of
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Muhammad Ali --
"Probably no man living has done longer or more valuable service for the cause of Islamic Revival than Maulana Muhammad Ali of Lahore." -- Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall [Translator of the Holy Quran into English]
During the 14th century Hijrah, many great men by the name of Muhammad Ali were born in the Islamic world. Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, the great orator, patriot and politician; Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of a country and a nation, Pakistan; and Mr. Muhammad Ali, boxer, probably the greatest boxer of all times, but most probably Maulana Muhammad Ali, M.A., LL.B., of Lahore will go down in the history of mankind as the greatest of them all, for through his writings he shaped the future of mankind by bringing a change at the intellectual level. Being the first Muslim author of an English translation and commentary of the Holy Quran, which is considered the best and the most authentic, he became instrumental in illuminating the minds of the thinkers and intellectuals of the West. The Nation of Islam, in U.S.A., is a living evidence of his efforts, as it was his English translation of the Holy Quran which was presented by Fard Muhammad to His Excellency Elijah Muhammad and resulted in transforming the lives of hundreds of thousands of persons through his movement. Through his books on various Islamic topics he expounded the beauteous teachings of the Quran and the beauteous character of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, in such accomplished terms that the West came to acknowledge the Quran as the greatest spiritual force and the Holy Founder of Islam as the greatest man known to history. It can be said without any fear of contradiction that Maulana Muhammad Alis writings were the major source of information about Islam in the West in the major part of this century.
The depth of Maulanas learning is borne out by the fact that he wrote thousands of pages during his more than fifty years sojourn in the field of religious literature, and not a single contradiction can be found in his writings of various periods. This makes him the most outstanding and accomplished author on religion of this century -- and all others fall much below him in this respect.
He died on October 13, 1951, and in acknowledgement of his unparalleled services to the cause of Islam, we are publishing a brief biographical sketch of this illustrious son of Islam.
Muhammad Ali was a brilliant boy doing very well in the school. His love of virtue and truth was proverbial, commanding a great respect for him from the teachers and fellow scholars.
He was not taught to read and recite the Quran before he was admitted to the school, but having an inherent love for this Sacred Book he used to study it regularly till he learnt to recite it by himself.
After completing his studies in school, his father was anxious to give him higher education and with scanty means he managed, somehow, to provide funds for sending both of his sons to the Government College, Lahore, Pakistan. The Maulana spent five years in this college, passing the Faculty of Arts examination in 1892, Bachelor of Arts in 1894, and Master of Arts in 1895.
As for his academic life, his college career was brilliant. Having an aptitude for mathematics, he stood first in that subject in the Punjab University in B.A. When he once asked for a certificate from one of his professors the only remark he received was:
"He is the best mathematician of our College."
For his M.A., he took up English as his subject and was one of the five candidates out of twenty-three, declared successful in the examination.
Strangely enough, during his college days he never took part in literary activities. He never wrote anything for publication and never appeared on the college platform to deliver a speech. He was only interested in athletic sports and was a good player in football (even at the age of 75 he went for long walks early in the morning, this being perhaps the secret of his good health even in his old age).
After passing his B.A. examination in 1894, and while still attending the M.A. classes at the Government College, Lahore, Pakistan, he joined the Islamia College, Lahore, as a lecturer in mathematics, when he was only nineteen. After getting through his M.A., while still working in the Islamia College, he joined the Law College and came out second, first and third in the three Law Examinations of the Punjab University.
In 1897 he left the Islamia College for the Oriental College, Lahore, where he worked as a professor till 1900, when he left that college too to start practice as a lawyer in Gurdaspur, but before three months had passed he decided to begin the great work of his life as Editor of the Review of Religions, in obedience to the wishes of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, Founder of the Ahmadiyyah Movement.
Later Muhammad Ali paid a visit to Qadian in March 1897, in the company of Khwaja Kamal al-Din, the Founder of the Woking Muslim Mission and Literary Trust, Woking, England, who was also at the time a lecturer in the Islamia College and who had earlier joined the Ahmadiyya Movement. There he too enlisted himself as a member of this great revivalistic Movement in Islam and had his spiritual instructions in the company of the Founder and was enlightened on the deeper meaning of Islam. He admits it himself in the preface of the English translation of the Quran:
"And lastly, the greatest religious leader of the present times, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian, has inspired me with all that is best in this work. I have drunk deep at the fountain of knowledge which this great Reformer -- Mujaddid of the present century -- and founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement, has made to flow."
After joining the Movement he remained at Lahore for three years. During that time he paid frequent visits to Qadian and did the work of rendering into English many of the manifestos issued by the Founder. This was just the beginning of his literary career.
A visit to the village of Qadian in those days was rather a hard task, as it was situated at a distance of about eleven miles from Batala, the nearest railway station, and accessible only through an ekka (a type of horse carriage) on a kachcha road [mud road]. But often would Muhammad Ali walk over this distance at midnight, on Saturday in the company of friends, and come back on foot on Sunday evening for his work in the college next morning.
When he decided to start work as a lawyer in 1890 he sought the advice of the Master, who after some time told him that he was thinking of starting an English monthly to carry the message of Islam to Europe and America, and that he would like him to edit the journal. Muhammad Ali immediately gave up the idea of working as a legal practitioner.
Assiduously learning all he could in the company of the Founder, he now undertook, for the rest of his life, to convince the world of the beauties and practicability of the teachings of Islam.
The first number of the Review of Religions came out in January 1902 with the following declared object:
"Our object in starting the Review of Religions is two-fold. Firstly, to draw the world to truth, viz., to teach true morals, to inculcate true beliefs, to disseminate true knowledge, and last but not least, to make men act upon the principles of truth ordained.
This declaration ends with the words:
"It shall defend the cause of truth and oppose every false doctrine or erroneous teaching which is in violation of the rights of the Creator or the created."
Dealing with all burning questions which troubled mens minds in those days, the Review within a period of three years acquired a fame not only in India but also in the religious circles of England and America. Its great merit was its clear exposition of the religion of Islam, though at the same time it carried on controversy with other religions, particularly with Christianity.
The Founder of the Ahmadiyyah Movement had, however, also a desire to get the Quran translated into English, to which he gave expression in 1891 in his book entitled Izalah Auham. He passed away on 26th May, 1908, at Lahore and the Sadr Anjuman Ahmadiyya, Qadian, which was founded by him to carry on his mission, worked under the guidance of the late Maulana Nur-ud-Din, who was a great scholar and religious divine of his age.
In 1909 Muhammad Ali was called upon to undertake the work of the translation of the Quran. Here also Nur-ud-Din helped him and went through "the greater part of the explanatory notes and made many valuable suggestions" (Preface to the English translation of the Quran). It took him eight years to accomplish this task. The labour spent on this translation is evident from the wealth of the footnotes attached to it. The author had to work hard for these years, tracing not only original authorities and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and all sorts of questions that are dealt with in the notes, but also the great Arabic Lexicons on which he based his interpretations whenever he made a departure from the interpretations of the current translations. He worked on it for almost twelve hours daily and had at times to perform the task in a standing posture, to keep himself fit, for which he used a high desk to enable him to work in this position. He gave up this habit only after many years when he was forced to the use of a table and chair entirely.
The belief in the finality of the Prophethood of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, was perhaps never brought under discussion so explicitly before. The question engaged the Maulanas attention for a considerable time. His various writings and particularly his book Al-Nabuwwah fil Islam (The Prophethood in Islam) made this point abundantly clear. There has never been anybody else in the past centuries who so elaborately discussed and defended the conception of the finality of prophethood (Khatam-e-Nubuwwat). His writings in this respect are unique.
The other point which he emphasised was that whoever declared his faith in the Kalima (There is no god except Allah, Muhammad is His messenger) is a Muslim and nobody has any right to dub him as kafir (heretic). Declaring brother Muslims kafirs had sapped the vitality of Muslims and had divided them against one another. This was a "pleasant" pastime of the so-called Mullahs [religious clerics]. When such a practice made its way through the followers of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Muhammad Ali and Khwaja Kamal al-Din stood up against it. To them this was quite alien to what they had been taught by the Founder.
When Muhammad Ali settled in Lahore he started from scratch. There was no organisation and no funds to push forward the cause of Islam. A handful of men assembled and decided to carry on the task of the propagation of Islam assigned to them by the Founder. As Amir (spiritual leader) and President of the Anjuman, the Maulana Muhammad Ali had manifold duties. Besides all this he steadily pushed on with his literary work. The English translation of the Quran with notes and comments was published in 1913, the Urdu translation and commentary of the Quran being published seven years later.
He was a prolific writer, being the author of a large number of books both on the doctrinal and historical sides of Islam and having contributed about seven thousand pages to English literature and about ten thousand pages to Urdu literature on Islam. Reviewing one of his books. The Religion of Islam, Marmaduke Pickthall, an English convert to Islam and the translator of the Qur'an, wrote in 1936:
"Probably no man living has done longer or more valuable service for the cause of Islamic Revival than Maulana Muhammad 'Ali of Lahore. His literary works, with those of the late Kamal-ud-Din, have given fame and distinction to the Ahmadiyya Movement. In our opinion the present volume is his finest work. It is a description of Al-Islam by one well versed in the Sunnah who has on his mind the shame of the Muslim decadence of the past five centuries and in his heart the hope of the revival, of which signs can now be seen on every side. Without moving a hair's breadth from the traditional position with regard to worship and religious duties, the author shows a wide field in which changes are lawful and may be desirable because here the rules and practices are not based on an ordinance of the Qur'an or on an edict of the Prophet (peace be on him) and should be altered when they cease to meet the needs of the community. Such a book is greatly needed at the present day when in many Muslim countries we see persons eager for the reformation and revival of Islam, making mistakes through lack of just this knowledge.
Like his translation of the Qur'an this book is "indispensable." As the late 'Allama Iqbal [a poet] put it, to the students of Islam. This monumental work deals comprehensively with the sources, principles, laws and regulations of Islam In parts this work has been translated into Turkish and Arabic. Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad, New World Order. A Manual of Hadith and an Urdu translation of Sahih al-Bukhari with comments, are some of his books which have also been greatly appreciated.
When the educated classes of Muslims were dazzled by the glory of Western civilisation, Muhammad 'Ali's writings showed them the right path. From the date when the Maulana Muhammad 'Ali Jauhar (of the Khilafat Movement) was editing the Comrade till now, Muhammad 'Ali's writings have been awakening Muslims to the potential beauties of Islam. Muhammad 'Ali Jauhar was thrilled when he received a copy of the translation of the Qur'an. He wanted to shout about it from the top of every European house. To him it was an austerely faithful translation into English which could help groping humanity at this great hour of peril. Muhammad 'Ali Jinnah (Founder of Pakistan) sometimes remarked with pride that he had read the English translation of the Qur'an by his namesake. He possessed all the important works by the Maulana in his library and would often consult them whenever he wanted to address Muslims of India on any religious occasion.
The late Liaquat 'Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan (d. 1951) was also a great admirer of the Maulana's works. He was so interested in his writings that he donated a considerable sum to present these works to various libraries of the world on his behalf.
Although Muhammad 'Ali had never been a legal practitioner or a judge, he kept close to the evidence of facts and was never moved to action on the basis of emotion. This attitude of his has been the guiding principle of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, which has stayed away throughout these years from the extremism of the Qadian section. It was Muhammad 'Ali, the man, the writer and the preacher who was the moving figure behind all the activities of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement.
The secret of his success lay in his unwavering faith in God kept active by his constant study of the Qur'an, the Hadith and the inspiring words and memory of the Founder, and last but not least his devotional prayers. As a man he had unassuming habits and did not know how to pose. As a writer, he was a very hard-working and methodical worker. As a preacher, he only knew how to say a thing and he simply said it. It is rather difficult to describe him in full as he was. Only those who have seen him and lived with him may feel and remember the live personality behind him.
He always spoke gently. His gestures were very few. While addressing his audience from the pulpit he had a gentle and easy manner. He would never go in for effect. Unnecessary oratorical expressions were alien to his nature. He said nothing superfluous. He would quote the Holy Qur'an and the Hadith accurately but on quoting poetry he was not so good, forgetting a line or altering the sequence of words, not caring, not knowing perhaps about the metre.
He used to dress in a sherwani (a long coat) and a white shalwar (a king of pyjama). Generally he used a turban, but occasionally used a fez. More or less this was his dress throughout his life. In this respect he did not change.
He used to start his sermon with a recitation of the Qur'an in a low voice. He would stand straight and hold his right hand with his left just a little below his abdomen. This posture was very common with him. As he proceeded with his sermon he steadily moved his face sidewards. His movements were reserved for awhile but when he wanted to emphasise some point, he lifted his left hand with its palm towards the audience and raised his voice and became enthusiastic. He let his hand then move freely. Sometimes he would place one of his hands on his hip, in his effort to bring home some point to his audience, and point out with the first finger of the other to make them really understand it. He then pressed the palms of his hands against each other, sometimes running his fingers into one another. When he finished the sermon he uttered words of prayer loudly and asked forgiveness and pardon from God and then quietly sat down. This is how he spoke in public.
The climate of Lahore had a soothing effect on him and his health steadily improved. He could stroll a little now and worked harder. For the annual gathering of the Anjuman in December, he dictated two long speeches which were later read out at the meeting. He emphasised the need of opening missions in Hong Kong, Turkey, and Egypt. Two more months slipped by peacefully. In March 1951, he was almost working with the zeal of a young man. When requested not to exert himself so much, he would just smile and say that he could not live without work. If he stopped doing anything he would cut short his life; this work kept him going. He did not listen to what his friends and doctors said. He wanted to go through the proofs of the Qur'an that were coming from England. He had another programme in mind, so he wanted to complete his work as soon as possible. He wanted to make a tour of Europe, America and the Middle East and perform the Hajj when returning. We quote a part of his letter to S.M. Tufail, his secretary, in this regard:
"I had decided to leave this year in the month of June but two difficulties have arisen in the meantime. Firstly, the typed manuscript is still lying with Dr. Ahmad Hasan and has not been fully compared by him yet and secondly they have also started sending me the proofs (of the Qur'an T.) which has increased my work considerably. I intended to leave after the 'Id but that is not possible now, and still if I go sufficient time is not left, so I have decided to leave for England in April next. And if God wills I would like to present the true picture of Islam to those people by visiting these places. It is just possible that God may bless me in these efforts. After staying for sometime at Woking, I intend to go to Berlin and then visit Istanbul while returning I have definitely a mind to stay in Egypt. If God makes it possible for me I would like to perform the Hajj also which has been my ardent desire throughout. After the Hajj we shall be coming back via Damascus, Baghdad and Basra."
So everything was settled and the passage was booked for April, but when the doctors examined him in March they dissuaded him from undertaking such a long journey. In April he had another attack of the disease and once more he was in the hands of nurses and doctors, who struggled hard day and night for his recovery. The proofs of the Qur'an were still coming from England and that was his main worry. He wanted to see the Qur'an printed as early as possible. He personally looked through every detail of it. He was never content unless he himself had compared the manuscript for the last time. His writings were dear to him like one's own child. He was warned not to exert himself again but Allah gave him another chance.
The All-World Muslim Conference was held in the month of February 1951, at Karachi; delegates from several Muslim countries attended. After the Conference was over, many of them came to visit Lahore, and quite a few made a point to meet Maulvi Muhammad 'Ali at his bungalow in Muslim Town, as he was too weak to go out. The leader of the Turkish delegation, Mr. Omar Raza Doghral, who was a great literary man as well as a member of the Turkish Parliament, wrote an account of his interview in the May 1952 issue of The Islamic Review, Woking. He was greatly and very favourably impressed by what he saw and heard from Maulvi Muhammad 'Ali. The main burden of the meeting was the necessity of spreading Islam all over the world and as soon as possible. Mr. Doghral also informed Maulvi Muhammad 'Ali that many of his books were already translated into the Turkish language. The Ceylonese [Sri Lankan] Muslim delegation expressed the wish that the translation of the Holy Qur'an into Tamil might be published soon. The Thailand delegate, Mr. Ibrahim Qureshi, showed Maulvi Muhammad 'Ali's books in the Thai language. Similarly, the Chinese delegates showed the Chinese translations of his books. On 27 April 1951, the Egyptian Ambassador, Abdul Wahab Azzam (who later on became Secretary General of the Arab League) came to see Maulvi Muhammad 'Ali. Copies of literature were supplied to the Ambassador and also permission was given to him to have the book The Religion of Islam translated into Arabic. A Turkish lady journalist, Miss Kuterman, also came to Lahore, specially to see Maulvi Muhammad 'Ali. She kissed his hands, saying that his English translation of the Holy Qur'an had opened her eyes anew to the beauties of Islam. Similarly, one prominent lady, Habiba Shoban Bekan of Lebanon, wrote from Beirut that the book Muhammad and Christ by Maulvi Muhammad Ali had changed her life. She got it translated into Arabic and distributed its copies.
In 1951, when the late Liaquat 'Ali Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, was touring the United States of America, he received a telegraphic message from Mr. William Aherberg, Secretary, Religious Section of the United Nations in New York, asking him to convey his suggestion to Maulvi Muhammad 'Ali and the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat-i-Islam Lahore, Pakistan, to come and open a "branch" of theirs in the United Nations Centre, for which he promised all the facilities, viz., of international press, radio, etc. They may form part of the Pakistan delegation to the UNO or may remain independent.
About the middle of August 1951, Maulvi Muhammad 'Ali received a request, channelled through the Government of Pakistan, from the great Orientalist Professor Kraemer of Holland, that he had formed a board to edit the Encyclopaedia of Islam, and that he would be pleased if Maulvi Muhammad 'Ali could become a member of that board. It was a great and noble work and, in spite of his bad health, Maulvi Muhammad 'Ali expressed his willingness.
When his condition improved he left for Karachi. It was on the 31st May, 1951, when his friends, relatives and followers saw him off to Karachi for the last time. He looked pale and exhausted. When the train whistled and started moving he started up from his chair and with shaking legs and hands said goodbye to all who had come to see him off. The train faded away in the mist taking away the soul which was dear and near to many hearts.
Karachi again put on him a comforting hand and within three months he finished going through the proofs of the Qur'an (except those of the Index), making minor alterations here and there, at the same time sending instructions to the office at Lahore, as he still controlled the general administration of the Anjuman. This was too heavy now for his weak constitution, but he worked and worked because he could not live without it. But the mighty pen wielded for fifty years for the cause of Islam at last came to a stop at 11:30 a.m. on the 13th of October, 1951.
"O soul that art at rest! Return to thy Lord well pleased with Him, well pleasing Him" (89: 29-28).
He had booked his seat for Lahore by Pakistan Mail (Note: A railway service) on the 15th, but he arrived two days earlier. Five or six days before his demise he became very quiet and lost all interest in things around him. He wanted to come to Lahore as early as possible. He told his attendants that he must go on the 13th otherwise it would be difficult for them to take his body to Lahore, as if he knew his appointed time had come. Everybody tried his best to book a seat for him on the thirteenth, but it was not possible. His body was carried to Lahore on the same day by train.
About a thousand people gathered at the Railway Station to receive him. They brought his coffin out of the train, at 8 p.m., with tears in their eyes. The funeral services were led by the Maulana 'Aziz Bakhsh, his elder brother, in the mosque at the Ahmadiyya Buildings. At 9:40 p.m., his body was slowly lowered at Miani Sahib Graveyard in his earthly abode for eternal rest. Forty-five minutes later people showered flowers on his grave and prayed for him for the last time and slowly and sorrowfully moved out of the graveyard. It was dead quiet after a while. Only the pale moon was shedding its yellow light over the grave.
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