Marmaduke Pickthall

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Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall
Marmaduke Pickthall Portrait
Marmaduke William Pickthall

(1875-04-07)7 April 1875
Cambridge Terrace, London, England
Died19 May 1936(1936-05-19) (aged 61)[1]
Porthminster Hotel, St Ives, Cornwall, England
Resting placeBrookwood Cemetery, Brookwood, Surrey, England
Occupation(s)Novelist, Islamic scholar
Known forThe Meaning of the Glorious Koran

Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall (born Marmaduke William Pickthall; 7 April 1875 – 19 May 1936) was an English Islamic scholar noted for his 1930 English translation of the Quran, called The Meaning of the Glorious Koran. His translation of the Quran (usually anglicized as "Koran" in Pickthall's era) is one of the most widely known and used in the English-speaking world. A convert from Christianity to Islam, Pickthall was a novelist, esteemed by D. H. Lawrence, H. G. Wells, and E. M. Forster, as well as journalists, political and religious leaders. He declared his conversion to Islam in dramatic fashion after delivering a talk on 'Islam and Progress' on 29 November 1917, to the Muslim Literary Society in Notting Hill, West London.[1]


Marmaduke William Pickthall was born in Cambridge Terrace, near Regent's Park in London, on 7 April 1875, the elder of the two sons of the Reverend Charles Grayson Pickthall (1822–1881) and his second wife, Mary Hale, née O'Brien (1836–1904).[2] Charles was an Anglican clergyman, the rector of Chillesford, a village near Woodbridge, Suffolk.[2][3] The Pickthalls traced their ancestry to a knight of William the Conqueror, Sir Roger de Poictu, from whom their surname derives.[3] Mary, of the Irish Inchiquin clan, was the widow of William Hale and the daughter of Admiral Donat Henchy O'Brien, who served in the Napoleonic Wars.[3][4] Pickthall spent the first few years of his life in the countryside, living with several older half-siblings and a younger brother in his father's rectory in rural Suffolk.[5] He was a sickly child. When about six months old, he fell very ill of measles complicated by bronchitis.[4] On the death of his father in 1881 the family moved to London. He attended Harrow School but left after six terms.[6] As a schoolboy at Harrow, Pickthall was a classmate and friend of Winston Churchill.[7]

Grave of Muhammad Pickthall in Brookwood Cemetery

Pickthall travelled across many Eastern countries, gaining a reputation as a Middle-Eastern scholar, at a time when the institution of the Caliphate had collapsed with the Muslim world failing to find consensus on appointing a successor.[8] Before declaring his faith as a Muslim, Pickthall was a strong ally of the Ottoman Empire. He studied the Orient, and published articles and novels on the subject. While in the service of the Nizam of Hyderabad, Pickthall published his English translation of the Quran with the title The Meaning of the Glorious Koran. The translation was authorized by the Al-Azhar University and the Times Literary Supplement praised his efforts by writing "noted translator of the glorious Quran into English language, a great literary achievement."[9] Pickthall was conscripted in the last months of World War I and became corporal in charge of an influenza isolation hospital.[9]

When news of the Armenian genocide reached Britain, Pickthall frequently wrote in defense of the Ottomans by downplaying atrocities committed against Armenians, whom he also made derogatory remarks about.[10] During the war, Pickthall developed a reputation as "a rabid Turkophile", consequently denying him a position with the Arab Bureau. The role was instead given to T. E. Lawrence.[11]

In June 1917, Pickthall gave a speech defending the rights of Palestinian Arabs, in the context of the debate over the Balfour Declaration. In November 1917, Pickthall publicly took shahada at the Woking Muslim Mission with the support of Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din. He followed this with a speech contrasting the Christian and Muslim approaches to religious law, arguing that Islam was better equipped than Christianity to handle the post-World War world.[12]

Pickthall, who now identified himself as a "Sunni Muslim of the Hanafi school", was active as "a natural leader" within a number of Islamic organizations. He preached Friday sermons in both the Woking Mosque and in London. Some of his khutbas (sermons) were subsequently published. For a year he ran the Islamic Information Bureau in London,[13] which issued a weekly paper, The Muslim Outlook.[1] Pickthall and Quran translator Yusuf Ali were trustees of both the Shah Jehan Mosque in Woking and the East London Mosque.[14][15]

In 1920 he went to India with his wife to serve as editor of the Bombay Chronicle, On the behest of Nizam of Hyderabad he was appointed Principal at Chadarghat High School in the Princely State of Hyderabad in 1926. The Nizam’s Government proposed to establish a Publicity Bureau in the Hyderabad State as it appeared in the Mushir-i-Deccan on 14 June 1931, that Marmaduke Pickthall is to be appointed Publicity Officer in addition to his own duties as Principal of the Chadarghat High School.[16] Returning to England only in 1935, a year before his death at St Ives, Cornwall.

Pickthall was buried in the Muslim section at Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey, England,[7] where Abdullah Yusuf Ali was later buried.

Written works[edit]

As editor[edit]

  • Folklore of the Holy Land – Muslim, Christian, and Jewish (1907) (E H Hanauer)
  • Islamic Culture (1927) (Magazine)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Marmaduke Pickthall - a brief biography". British Muslim Heritage. Retrieved 4 February 2020.
  2. ^ a b Shaheen, Mohammad. "Pickthall, Marmaduke William (1875–1936)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
  3. ^ a b c Murad, Abdal Hakim. "Marmaduke Pickthall: a brief biography".
  4. ^ a b Fremantle, Anne (1938). Loyal Enemy. London: Hutchinson & Co.
  5. ^ Pickthall, Muriel (1937). "A Great English Muslim". Islamic Culture. XI (1): 138–142.
  6. ^ Rentfrow, Daphnée. "Pickthall, Marmaduke William (1875–1936)". The Modernist Journals Project. Archived from the original on 6 March 2016. Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  7. ^ a b "The Victorian Muslims of Britain". Retrieved 18 June 2016.
  9. ^ a b Hurst, Dennis G (2010). America on the Cusp of God's Grace. IUniverse. pp. 155–156. ISBN 9781450269551. Retrieved 7 September 2013.
  10. ^ Clark 1986, pp. 30–33.
  11. ^ Clark 1986, p. 31.
  12. ^ Jamie Gilham (2017). "Marmaduke Pickthall and the British Muslim Convert Community". Marmaduke Pickthall : Islam and the modern world. Leiden. ISBN 9789004327597.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  13. ^ Sherif, M A (2011). Brave Hearts: Pickthall and Philby: Two English Muslims in a Changing World. The Other Press. p. 28. ISBN 9789675062742. Retrieved 3 February 2020. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  14. ^ Khizar Humayun Ansari, ‘Ali, Abdullah Yusuf (1872–1953)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Oct 2012; online edn, Jan 2013 accessed 6 February 2020
  15. ^ "East London Mosque - London Muslim Centre". East London Mosque. Retrieved 6 February 2020.
  16. ^ Sherif, M. A. (1 January 2017). "Pickthall's Islamic Politics". Marmaduke Pickthall: Islam and the Modern World. Brill. pp. 106–136. ISBN 978-90-04-32759-7. Retrieved 31 May 2023.
  17. ^ "Review of The Myopes by Marmaduke Pickthall". The Athenaeum (4178): 649. 23 November 1907.
  18. ^ "Review: Pot an Feu by Marmaduke Pickthall". The Athenæum (4350): 274. 11 March 1911.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]