Qur’an translation of the week #140: Anglo-Islamic Publishers Going Global: Darussalam International

A guest contribution by Azhar Majothi, University of Nottingham (azhar.majothi@nottingham.ac.uk)

Darussalam International is one of the Muslim Anglosphere’s most recognisable brands in Islamic book publishing today. Since its establishment in Riyadh in 1986, the publisher claims to have printed more than 1,400 ‘authentic’ Islamic titles in various world languages. Despite the publisher’s achievements, little is known about its founder Abdul Malik Mujahid, inner-workings or financing. This introductory article on the import of Darussalam’s English-language publications is based on fieldwork conducted during research for my forthcoming PhD on Anglo-Salafi print culture in Britain. To begin with, it is worth situating Darussalam in the wider context of Anglo-Islamic print culture.

Muslims first began using English as an international medium for communicating Islam in the late nineteenth century. Aside from a limited number of Anglo-Islamic publications that appeared in Victorian England produced by Muslim converts and missionaries, a more significant shift took place in British India. Muslim elites, some of whom were trained in English-language Indian colleges, began publishing translations of the Qur’an and other works about Islam. By the 1970s, the Indian subcontinent was the largest producer of Anglo-Islamic works, although these were mostly aimed at professionals and students, as well as non-Muslims (the wider South Asian Muslim reading public was more familiar with Urdu). Following the post-war mass migration of South Asian Muslims to countries like Britain, Anglo-Islamic print culture accelerated as diasporic communities sought to communicate Islam to Western audiences and forthcoming generations of Muslim children educated in English-language schools. English was fast becoming another ‘Islamic language.’ 

With this context in mind, it is possible to see why Mujahid established an international Islamic publishing house primarily aimed at English-reading audiences before extending his remit into other world languages. Mujahid was born in Pakistan in 1955 to a respected Ahl-e-Hadith family of scholars and authors (the Kaylanis) and currently serves as the amīr of the Arab division of Markaz Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith Pakistan. It is unclear when he first moved to Saudi Arabia, although Bilal Philips reveals that the two met during the early 1980s in Riyadh; Mujahid was clearly involved in a printing press there, as he taught Philips how to lay down pages on a lithographic press. He established Darussalam in 1986, but appears not to have started publishing properly until the early 1990s (after which Darussalam went ‘International’).

Darussalam’s original logo, a telling sign of the publisher’s early years before going ‘International’

There are a number of factors why an international Anglo-Islamic book market appeared in the Anglosphere during the 1990s. These include the perceived dearth on the part of Muslims living in Western countries of Anglo-Islamic books and the increasing ease with which Muslims could now harness computers, phones and fax machines in pursuit of publishing and networking. Mujahid capitalised on these factors by connecting with a pre-existing transnational network of Ahl-e-Hadith and Salafi translators equally invested in Anglo-Islamic daʿwah. Darussalam’s earliest publications were thus reprints of previously translated works, including M. Muhsin Khan and Taqi al-Din al-Hilali’s Noble Qur’an (1993) and Suhaib Hasan’s (UK) The Muslim Creed (1996). Darussalam franchises were soon established in Britain, Pakistan and the United States by fellow Ahl-e-Hadith members. In 1996, there were only four Darussalam agents outside of Riyadh; seven years later, there were fifteen.

Darussalam branches and agencies involved in the distribution of its multi-lingual print enterprise

Darussalam quickly became a household name in the Muslim Anglosphere because it churned out dozens of high quality publications on a yearly basis, rarely disclosed its Ahl-e-Hadith/Salafi orientation, and appealed to wider Anglo-Muslim reading publics with its largely inclusive, non-polemical and unique titles, particularly in the fields of Qur’an and ḥadīth studies. Khan and al-Hilali’s Noble Qur’an was one of the earliest translations of the Qur’an to ‘rely’ on al-Ṭabarī and other classical Muslim exegetes, and it was only widely distributed after Mujahid obtained an exclusive license to reprint it. In 2000, Darussalam was also the first Islamic publisher to produce an English-language exegesis of the Qur’an, albeit summarised, written by a ‘classic’ author, Ibn Kathīr; prior to this the only available exegeses of the Qur’an in English were in the form of selected parts of the tafsīrs of the Islamists Sayyid Qutb and Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi. Darussalam has since published a five-volume exegesis of the Qur’an by the Ahl-e-Hadith scholar Salah al-Din Yusuf (originally written and published in Urdu), various volumes of Tafsīr al-Saʿdī (originally in Arabic) and other works on Qur’anic exegesis and its related sciences.

In terms of ḥadīth, Khan’s nine-volume translation of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī was similarly licensed by Mujahid and was the only printed rendition available in English up to the 2010s. Darussalam was also the first, and for a time the only, publisher to produce English editions of the complete set of the six canonical books of ḥadīth (kutub al-sittah). More recently, the publisher has taken on the elaborate task of translating the entirety of Musnad Aḥmad, which currently runs to six volumes (it has already published an Urdu translation of the same text in twelve volumes). Elsewhere, in the field of sīrah (biographical) studies, it has produced a number of biographies of the Prophet Muḥammad by various authors, including the prize-winning Sealed Nectar by the Ahl-e-Hadith scholar Ṣafī al-Raḥmān al-Mubārakpūrī; selected volumes of Ibn Kathīr’s history Al-bidāyah wa l-nihāyah are also routinely being released.

A re-examination of Darussalam’s ten-volume edition of Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged) provides further clues about Mujahid’s enterprise. By around 1998, Darussalam’s head office in Riyadh included a research department, and Mujahid employed researchers to summarise Ibn Kathīr’s exegesis under the supervision of Aḥmad Shāghif, an Ahl-e-Hadith scholar. This reworking was then reviewed by another prominent Ahl-e-Hadith scholar, Ṣafī al-Raḥmān Mubārakpūrī, and published as a single volume in Arabic in 2000. The ‘publisher’s note’ in the English rendition reveals that Mujahid’s ‘sole purpose’ behind preparing the Arabic reworking was so that the text could be translated ‘into all the major languages of the world.’ Recognising that English is the ‘most widely written and spoken [language] in the world’, Mujahid commissioned a team of English native speakers to produce the English-language rendition first (it has since been translated into French as well). This process took two years in total and involved a team of six North American translators and several editors based in the United States, India, Pakistan and Egypt. The Palestinian American Jalal Abualrub, for example, completed the translation of approximately half of the entire text.

The North American Muslim convert Abu Khaliyl was tasked with the publication’s final edit and ‘to make harmony between all of the translators.’ He first met Mujahid during an Islamic book fair in the United States in early 1999 and agreed to work on Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged) in Riyadh. Abu Khaliyl went on to delete all of the translators’ interpretive footnotes and then copied and pasted the translations from the original Word documents into Arbotext, a bi-lingual software which he himself had introduced to Mujahid. Abu Khaliyl also revealed that he was unhappy with some of the ‘unauthentic’ ḥadīths included in the original Arabic reworking, and convinced Mujahid and Mubārakpūrī that they should be omitted from the English rendition. Once completed, the final publication was printed in Beirut and distributed on to Darussalam franchises and agents in the wider Anglosphere.

Abu Khaliyl’s guidelines inserted into the English rendition of Tafsir Ibn Kathir (Abridged)

The above highlights how Darussalam merges Mujahid’s vision with the efforts of Ahl-e-Hadith and Salafi scholars, teams of researchers, translators and editors, not to mention international printing presses and transnational distributors. But how does Mujahid afford this obviously expensive enterprise? Following 9/11, Western media outlets have largely construed the widespread visibility of Anglo-Salafi literature, free or otherwise, as evidence of petrodollar-fuelled Saudi-Wahhabi expansionism. The conflations between Darussalam, a private enterprise, and the Saudi government are not always unwarranted. As well as being based in Riyadh, some of Darussalam’s titles, including the Noble Qur’an, are often ‘gifted’ by the King of Saudi Arabia to Islamic centres around the world; the King Fahd Glorious Qur’an Printing Complex also distributes millions of Quran copies with an English translation closely resembling that of Darussalam; a large number of Darussalam titles are also translations of Saudi (but not necessarily ‘Wahhabi’) works including eight volumes of translated fatwas issued by the Permanent Committee for Scholarly Research and Fatwas (KSA).

Yet both Talha, the son of Mujahid and Darussalam’s distribution manager in Britain, and Hafiz Wahid, a Darussalam franchise owner in London whose bookstore sits inside of London Central Mosque, insist that Mujahid is a private businessman and that Darussalam receives no Saudi government subsidies. Occasionally, Talha admits, the Saudi government does sponsor a limited print run of select Darussalam titles (including the Noble Qur’an). It is also reasonable to believe that Mujahid’s enterprise may be part-funded by a private Saudi donor (who could very likely be his kafīl, or sponsor, in the kingdom). Putting these free ‘gifts’ aside, it is reasonable to conclude that Darussalam has made its name in the Anglo-Islamic book market because it has capitalised on the Anglo-Islamic information gap in the post-war era, as well as modern technology, transnational networks and age-old business and networking practises. Its growing expansion into other world languages under a similar pretext may well lead to a rise in its global renown in coming years.

Azhar Majothi

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