Qur’an translation of the week #56: The Condensed Commentary of Daryabadi

This week’s post concerns the English translation & commentary by ʿAbdul Mājid Daryābādī (1892–1977), who authored numerous works including another commentary in Urdu.

As we have noted previously, a translator of the Qur’an inevitably does some of the work of an exegete and/or relies upon exegetes who interpreted the Arabic text. When a Qur’an commentary is composed in any non-Arabic language, the translation of the Qur’an (if not adopted from elsewhere) is an inevitable by-product; or, more positively, it forms the core of the target-language commentary. This is not much different from the approach of writing a translation with footnotes, so there should not be a stark division between these genres.

Sometimes, a translation is eventually distilled from the longer work and presented in a single-volume format. We noted the example of Ansari’s English rendering of Mawdudi’s Urdu translation (twitter.com/GloQur/status/1380582979370688515).

Daryabadi’s translation and commentary was written directly in English, with the encouragement of Mawdudi and several other major figures, particularly the famous Deobandi scholar Ashraf Ali Thanwi (d. 1943). The first edition emerged slowly from 1941 to 1957 in Lahore, then was reprinted three times with revisions. After the translator’s death, Nadwatul Ulema (Lucknow) acquired the rights and reissued it in 4 vols. with further revisions in 1981-85.

The well known writer on Qur’an translations, Abdur Raheem Kidwai, praises Daryabadi’s work both for its “faithfulness” and for being the first to champion what he deems authentic Sunnism. For Kidwai, even previous Sunni translations were unsatisfactory due to being unscholarly or lacking in explanatory notes.

A.Z. Hammad notes, however, that, lacking the “inspiration and elegance” of the likes of A. Yusuf Ali, Daryabadi’s work “has never found an audience.” Presumably to remedy this obscurity among English-speaking Muslims, the Islamic Foundation (UK) issued a summarised edition in 2001. It reproduces the short introduction by Daryabadi and another by Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (d. 1999).

The translator’s introduction notes some unique features of the Arabic language, his approach to annotation, and previous works which he drew upon. Nadwi’s preface emphasises the orthodox credentials of Daryabadi’s work, contrasted directly with the works that preceded it. The Islamic Foundation edition notes the work’s “special focus on comparative religion”. The footnotes, selected from the longer work, reflect the author’s approach to arguing for the superiority of the Qur’an, and his use of a range of comparative sources.

If the 4-vol. commentary filled a gap in its time (per Nadwi & Kidwai), the translation alone is unremarkable. Rather, there remains a thirst among Muslim readers for full English Qur’an commentaries which the full work might help fill, if reissued.

Sohaib Saeed

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