They were rivals, not friends: Pickthall dismissed Yusuf Ali’s work as only fit for Muslims who ‘know English better than the teaching of their own Qur’an’.
Fate, though, has decreed they are now only a few plots away from one another.
To get your students to think intellectually about Islam, you will want to engage them in serious academic work such as writing essays.
When students craft responses to social studies essay topics, they have to strongly state their arguments and then use specific evidence to back up any major claims.
Then came 9/11 and suddenly being a Muslim became political. this is no longer the case.’ Ahmed was right that such linguistic narrowing had damaged the intellectual culture of the Islamic world.
I began to be asked questions that my mosque education had not equipped me for: about the rules of war, about the Prophet’s treatment of Jews and women, and the apparent intellectual stagnation of the Muslim world. In his much-discussed book (2015), the Harvard scholar Shahab Ahmed identifies this descent to monolingualism as a general historical phenomenon: ‘In the pre-modern period,’ he writes, ‘the educated elite of the Balkans-to-Bengal complex would, as a matter of course, have been proficient in reading texts in Arabic and Persian . Especially so for British Muslims, I would argue, many of whom have absorbed their compatriots dislike of learning languages. We are cut off from the past 1400 years of interpretation and re-interpretation, from the poems and songs, the commentaries and treaties, the folklore and stories that make up Islamic civilisation.Meanwhile, in Zanzibar, my grandfather – who in his spare time was a preacher, scholar and linguist – was preparing his own English Dictionary of the Holy Qur’an.The legacy of these almost-forgotten personalities, equally at home in the western canon as the Islamic, offers a suggestive example to modern British Muslims. The deluge of commentary about what one tabloid commentator has called ‘the Muslim problem’ is now pervasive.We also stumbled across some early British Muslim intellectuals: the convert Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall, an English Indiophile; and Yusuf Ali, an Indian Anglophile who, like my grandfather, hailed originally from Gujarat, and who died destitute on the streets of 1950s London.Both Pickthall and Yusuf Ali produced rival English translations of the Qur’an in the 1930s – two of the earliest done by Muslims.He surveyed us from a black-and-white photograph in the living room, sitting on an ivory chair at Zanzibar’s High Court, where he worked first as a prosecutor and later a magistrate.Clustered on his chest are the medals he won for his service to the empire, including the Coronation Medal and an MBE.As one of the world's major religions, Islam deserves careful study and thought.This lesson offers essay topics that will help your students think about the key tenets of Islam as well as how it has developed over time.At a party, I was told by a senior journalist who fancied himself an expert on these things: ‘Of course the problem is that al-Ghazali closed the gates of and barely knew anything about al-Ghazali. And all we are left with is a Wahhabi-fied religion starved of the revitalising infusions gained over the centuries from the people that the religion first conquered, and whose cultures then conquered it.(I know a bit more now and if my questioner is reading this: you’re wrong, the gates remain wide open.) I felt unsettled by my ignorance of Islamic philosophy, theology, literature and the languages they were written in. My papa was an expert in three of the four main languages of Islam: Arabic, Persian and Urdu. All of which is my way of explaining why over the last ten years I’ve been studying, with varying degrees of application and more than one fallow period, Arabic, Urdu and Persian.