The Legacy of Marmaduke William Pickthall

Do you have any idea who is Marmaduke William Pickthall?For those who know nothing about him, this is the least that I can do to enlighten you. A brief introduction about Marmaduke William Pickthall.

Marmaduke William Pickthall or Muhammad Marmaduke William Pickthal, was born in 1875 London to Mary O'Brien and the Reverend Charles Grayson Pickthall . His father was a country gentleman, devoted to his religion. Two of his daughters (step-sisters of Marmaduke) were Anglican nuns. As Marmaduke‘s formative years were spent in rural Suffolk, he became a lover of the countryside and its way of life. He was admitted to in the prestigious school at Harrow where Winston Churchill was a contemporary.

Upon completion of his education, he appeared in the test for Lavant Consular service, but failed. Thereupon Marmaduke moved to Suffolk and began a literary career, writing novels with Suffolk settings. In 1894, he set out on a tour of Arabia and spent two years in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, and learnt Arabic during this tour. Having gained proficiency in Arabic language, he returned to England, travelling through Turkey and Balkans. On his return, he began to publish novels that depicted Arab life and culture. Inspired with a romantic view of the Islamic east, he published his best known novel Knights of Araby in 1917, set in 11th century Yemen. These novels tend to show that Marmaduke’s initial interest in Islam and its culture grew with the passage of time.

The fact that a practicing English Christian would convert to Islam and become a renowned translator of the holiest of Muslim texts during years of volatile relations between Britain and the Ottoman Empire is itself exceptional. Yet, Pickthall was much more than an historical oddity or gifted translator: he was a novelist, journalist, political and religious leader.

He surprised the Christian world by declaring his conversion to Islam. He called himself Muhammad Marmaduke William Pickthal and assumed the role of a preacher of Islam in England. He began to lead a small band of converts to Islam and had a mosque built in Notting Hill in London, where he led the prayers. Among the European converts to Islam were Muhammad Marmaduke’s wife, Muriel, and his friend, Rex Ingram. The latter’s wife, Alice Terry, who happened to be renowned film-actress also followed her husband in embracing Islam. Rex Ingram himself was a pioneering film maker. Remarkably, Marmaduke and his friends entered the fold of Islam without the slightest reduction in their love and respect for Jesus Christ and Mother Mary; Muhammad Marmaduke was of the view that the original teachings of Jesus Christ were identical to that of Islam.

Impressed by the fame of Muhammad Marmaduke’s missionary zeal, Sir Akhbar Haidari and his ministerial colleagues at the court of Mir Osman Ali Khan, the Nizam of Hyderabad in Southern India invited him to work for the enlightenment of Muslims in India. Muhammad Marmaduke reached Hyderabad with his wife in 1920, and became a self proclaimed ‘Hyderabadi’ or a citizen of Hyderabad. In fact, he even established an English high school where English was the medium of instruction. Muhammad Marmaduke himself became its principle. Besides, he introduced modern journalism in Hyderabad and encouraged the elite to work for the cultural advancement of their community.

He contradicted the view held by Muslims in his time that Islamic education meant the teaching of Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence). He wrote,” Islamic education was never confined to the teaching of Fiqh alone. In fact, every effort made by a Muslim to acquire learning was considered worthy of religious merit.Thus it was necessary for the rejuvenation of the Muslim community to the modern education and Islamize it. Islam stands for free thought. The mind of each one of us has to perform the functions of discrimination and decision, which in other religious communities are reserved to a closed priesthood".

He attributed the cultural stagnation in Islamic societies to a lack of will among later Muslims to carry forward the tradition of their ancestors. He observed that Muslims take pride in their history, but do not respond to the needs of the present time and are not preparing for future.

After 1931, Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthal became in charge of the Nizam’s information department as its director. Overburdened with heavy work as Pickthall was, he did find time to translate the Qur’an from Arabic into English for the benefit of Muslims who could not read Arabic. He considered the translation to be the most important achievement of his life. On its completion, Pickthal took it to Egypt for vetting by scholars at Al Azhar University. His translation of the Qur’an helped the progress of Islam in European countries. Today, in every European country, there is a sizeable community of white Muslims, who pray in their mosques and manage Islamic centres; it is attribute to the pioneering work of Muhammad Marmaduke William Pickthal in the 20th century.

In 1935, poor health and illness forced Pickthall to leave for England for medical treatment. He passed away on May 19, 1936. His death was considered a loss to the Islamic community. May Allah give blessings to his soul. Ameen


a.j. said...

salam, thanx for the info brother ... he lived during ottoman empire =) never knew ...

TheHumbleWayfarer said... pleasure Ayub =D
love to share with my brothers n sisters.

Qasim said...

I highly recommend people interested in M. M. Pickthall to read "Oriental Encounters", a travelogue of his journeys in the Khilafat-e-Usmanya provinces in the 1890s. The copyright has expired, and it's available for free on Gutenberg.

It is quiet inspirational, and gives readers a flavor for how life was back then, how facinatingly different the Muslim system of governance was, even in it's decline it was inspiring and appealing. People enjoyed more freedoms than they did in the west. Most spent their entire lives never seeing a policeman or interacting with their government in any way,

(government *not* being a burden and a hinderance in people's way, and not demanding a share of the money people worked hard for and earnt(via taxes) and educating people that this was morally right)

It is available here for free here:

Rawalpindi, Pakistan

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