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I do not wish to write a long preface. I merely wish to explain the history of my project, the scope and plan of this work, and the objects I have held in view. In the separate introductory notes I have mentioned the useful books to which I have referred, under the headings: Commentaries on the Qur'an, Translations of the Qur'an, and Useful Works of Reference. I have similarly explained the system that I have followed in the transliteration of Arabic words and names, the abbreviations I have used, and the principal divisions of the Qur'an. It may be asked: Is there a need for a fresh English translation? To those who ask this question, I commend a careful consideration of the facts, which I have set out in my note on translations of the Qur'an. After they have read it, I would invite them to take any particular passage—say 2:74, or 2:102, or 2:164—and compare it with any previous version they choose. If they find that I have helped them understand its meaning even the least bit more, or appreciate its beauty, or catch something of the grandeur of the original, I would claim that my humble attempt is justified. It is the duty of every Muslim man, woman, and child to read the Qur'an and understand it according to their own capacity.
If any of us attain some knowledge or understanding by study, contemplation, or the test of life, both outward and inward, it is our duty, according to our capacity, to instruct others, and share with them the joy and peace which result from contact with the spiritual world. The Qur'an—indeed every religious book—has to be read, not only with the tongue and voice and eyes, but with the best light that our intellect can supply and, even more, with the truest and purest light which our heart and conscience can give us. It is in this spirit that I would have my readers approach the Qur'an.
It was between the ages of four and five that I first learned to read its Arabic words, to revel in its rhythm and music, and wonder at its meaning. I have a dim recollection of the khatm ceremony which closed that stage. It was called "completion": it really just began a spiritual awakening that has gone on ever since. My revered father taught me Arabic, but I must have imbibed from him into my innermost being something more, something that told me that the entire world's thoughts, all the world's most beautiful languages and literatures, are but vehicles for that ineffable message which comes to the heart in rare moments of ecstasy. The soul of mysticism and ecstasy is in the Qur'an, as well as plain guidance for the plain person, which a world in a hurry considers sufficient.
It is good to make this personal confession in an age in which it is in the highest degree unfashionable to speak of religion or spiritual peace or consolation, an age in which words like these draw only derision, pity, or contempt.
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 mortal man. For me, the embodiment of that voice has been in the noble words of the Arabic Qur'an, which I have tried to translate for myself and apply to my experience repeatedly. The service of the Qur'an has been the pride and the privilege of many Muslims. I felt that with such life experience as has fallen to my lot, my service to the Qur'an should be to present it in a fitting garb in English.
That ambition I have cherished in my mind for more than forty years. I have collected books and materials for it. I have visited places, undertaken journeys, taken notes, sought the society of men, and tried to explore their thoughts and hearts, in order to equip myself for the task. Sometimes I have considered it too stupendous for me—the double task of understanding the original, and reproducing its nobility, its beauty, its poetry, its grandeur, and its sweet practical reasonable application to everyday experience. Then I have blamed myself for my lack of courage—the spiritual courage of those who gave all to the cause that was so dear to them. Two sets of apparently accidental circumstances at last made my decision for me. A person's life is subject to inner storms far more devastating than those in the physical world around them. In such a storm, in the bitter anguish of a personal sorrow which nearly unseated my reason and made life seem meaningless, a new hope was born out of a systematic pursuit of my long-cherished project.
Watered by tears, my manuscript began to grow in depth and earnestness if not in bulk. I guarded it like a secret treasure. Wanderer that l am, I carried it about, over thousands of miles and to all sorts of countries and among all sorts of people. At length, in the city of Lahore, I happened to mention the matter to some young people who held me in respect and affection. They showed an enthusiasm and an eagerness which surprised me. They almost took the matter out of my hands. They asked for immediate publication.
Arabic numerals replace Roman numerals. Surah names are transliterated. Juz division markers are included. The Arabic text appears in the Madinah script, newly reset and improved. More appropriate Islamic terminology is used throughout (e.g., “Allah” instead of “God” and “Messenger” instead of “Apostle”). A new reset type has updated spelling and transliteration. The extensive running commentary is revised and clarified to avoid misinterpretation.