Marmaduke William Pickthall
Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall was a British Islamic scholar noted for his 1930 English translation of the Quran, called The Meaning of the Glorious Koran. His translation of the Qur'an is one of the most widely known and used in the English-speaking world. A convert from Christianity, Pickthall was a novelist, esteemed by D. H. Lawrence, H. G. Wells, and E. M. Forster, as well as a journalist, headmaster, and political and religious leader. He declared his conversion to Islam in dramatic fashion after delivering a talk on 'Islam and Progress' on 29 November 1917, to the Muslim Literary Society in Notting Hill, West London.
Marmaduke William Pickthall was born in Cambridge Terrace, near Regent's Park in London, on 7 April 1875, the elder of the two sons of the Reverend Charles Grayson Pickthall (1822–1881) and his second wife, Mary Hale, née O'Brien (1836–1904). Charles was an Anglican clergyman, the rector of Chillesford, a village near Woodbridge, Suffolk. The Pickthalls traced their ancestry to a knight of William the Conqueror, Sir Roger de Poictu, from whom their surname derives. Mary, of the Irish Inchiquin clan, was the widow of William Hale and the daughter of Admiral Donat Henchy O'Brien, who served in the Napoleonic Wars. Pickthall spent the first few years of his life in the countryside, living with several older half-siblings and a younger brother in his father's rectory in rural Suffolk. He was a sickly child. When about six months old, he fell very ill of measles complicated by bronchitis. On the death of his father in 1881 the family moved to London. He attended Harrow School but left after six terms. As a schoolboy at Harrow Pickthall was a classmate and friend of Winston Churchill.
Pickthall travelled across many Eastern countries, gaining a reputation as a Middle-Eastern scholar, at a time when the Institution of the Caliphate had collapsed with the Muslim world failing to find consensus on appointing a successor. Before declaring his faith as a Muslim, Pickthall was a strong ally of the Ottoman Empire. He studied the Orient, and published articles and novels on the subject. While in the service of the Nizam of Hyderabad, Pickthall published his English translation of the Qur'an with the title The Meaning of the Glorious Koran. The translation was authorized by the Al-Azhar University and the Times Literary Supplement praised his efforts by writing "noted translator of the glorious Quran into English language, a great literary achievement." Pickthall was conscripted in the last months of the World War I and became corporal in charge of an influenza isolation hospital.
Pickthall, who identified himself as a "Sunni Muslim of the Hanafi school", was active as "a natural leader" within a number of Islamic organizations. He preached Friday sermons in both the Woking Mosque and in London. Some of his khutbas (sermons) were subsequently published. For a year he ran the Islamic Information Bureau in London, which issued a weekly paper, The Muslim Outlook. Pickthall and Quran translator Yusuf Ali were trustees of both the Shah Jehan Mosque in Woking and the East London Mosque. In 1920 he went to India with his wife to serve as editor of the Bombay Chronicle, returning to England only in 1935, a year before his death at St Ives, Cornwall. It was in India that he completed his translation, The Meaning of the Glorious Koran.
Pickthall was buried in the Muslim section at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey, England, where Abdullah Yusuf Ali was later buried.
Books by Marmaduke William Pickthall
The Meaning of the Glorious Koran (1930) is an English Language translation of the Quran with brief introductions to the Surahs by Marmaduke Pickthall. In 1928, Pickthall took a two-year sabbatical to complete his translation of the meaning of the Qu...