The Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project team presents
T a h r i f
Investigating Distortions
in Islamic Texts

Abdullah Yusuf Ali's Qur'an commentary, the deletion of
the merits of Imams Hasan and Husayn [a], and other changes


Abdullah Yusuf Ali was a renowned Sunni translator and commentator of the Qur'an.  His translation and commentary has been very popular in the Islamic and Western world, wherever English is read and understood.

A comparison of the explanatory notes between the old versions and the newer 'revised' versions of his Commentary reveals many discrepancies.  These 'revisions' include the deletion of merits of Imams Hasan and Husayn [a], who were the grandchildren of the Prophet Muhammad [s], members of his Household (Ahl al-Bayt), and the second and third Shi'a Imams.  In addition, certain other interesting changes have taken place! 

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Source of the Allegation

[Miscellaneous Sources]
Evidence, Analysis and Conclusion

Abdullah Yusuf Ali was a renowned English translator and commentator of the Qur'an.  He lived many years of his life in England where he died in 1952.  His translation and commentary has been published many times and is used widely in the English speaking world as well as in places where English is read and understood.

A couple of 'revised' editions have appeared within the last fifteen years or so.  An investigation into the changes made in these new editions reveals a pattern which may be educational to the readers of this case study. 

Three editions of Abdullah Yusuf Ali's work were used to research and document this case study.  The details of these are:
The Glorious Kur'an - Translation and Commentary
(Dar al-Fikr, Beirut)
The Meaning of The Holy Qur'an
New Edition with Revised Translation, Commentary and Newly Compiled Comprehensive Index
Amana Publications
First edition, 1408 AH/1989 AC by Amana Corporation
The Holy Qur'an - English Translation of the Meanings and Commentary
Revised and Edited by The Presidency of Islamic Researches, IFTA, Call and Guidance
King Fahd Holy Qur'an Printing Complex
[Ohio State]
[Library of Congress]
[Ohio State]
[Library of Congress]
[Ohio State]
[Library of Congress]

Both the revised editions make it clear in their introductory pages that the original translation and commentary by Abdullah Yusuf Ali has been modified.  For example the Amana edition, in its 'Preface to the New Edition' (page ix), states:

The explanatory footnotes and the appendices, however, were subject to more frequent, and occasionally more substantial, changes than those in the translation and the commentaries.  The reason being there was a greater need of general updating of information and clarification of certain explanations which were subject to misinterpretation.  There were also a few instances in which certain portions of the material were deleted, either due to its outdatedness or due to its proneness to misinterpretation.
This edition also puts an "(R)" next to the passage it modifies in most, but not all, cases.

The IFTA edition, after acknowledging on page vi that it was Abdullah Yusuf Ali's work that was chosen for revision, states on page vii:

Finally, a fourth committee was formed to look into the findings of the second and third committees and to implement the recommendations made by them.  Furthermore, this committee had to finalise the text by adopting the most accurate expression where needed, besides checking the notes vigilantly so as to clear any misconceptions regarding the articles of faith, varying juristic opinions and thoughts not in conformity with the sound Islamic point of view.
This edition does not attempt to show where it has changed the commentary from that of the original Abdullah Yusuf Ali or even that of the already revised Amana edition, which it changes further in some places!

The changes selected for this case study are only some of the large number of both minor and major alterations present in the revised editions.  Throughout this case study, a red line is used to indicate deleted or changed text.

Martyrdom of Imams Hasan and Husayn [a]

The two Imams were members of the Ahl al-Bayt, the Family of the Prophet, and are respected by both the Ahl al-Sunnah and the Shi'a with the latter believing in their imamah (leadership) after Imam 'Ali [a].  Imam Hasan [a] was poisoned on the instigation of Mu'awiyah, the Umayyad despot,  in 50 AH and his son Yazid was responsible for the massacre of Imam Husayn [a] and his family and friends in Karbala in the year 61 AH.  The fact that they were martyred is undisputed by those who have studied history.

Abdullah Yusuf Ali gives the example of their martyrdom in the commentary to two different verses of the Qur'an.  Both the revised editions have deleted this reference!

Chapter 3, Verse 140

If a wound hath touched you, be sure a similar wound hath touched the others. Such days (of varying fortunes) We give to men and men by turns: that Allah may know those that believe, and that He may take to Himself from your ranks Martyr-witnesses (to Truth). And Allah loveth not those that do wrong.
Commentary footnote 457

In this instance, the Amana edition failed to indicate that a revision had taken place with an "(R)" at the end of the passage.

Chapter 4, Verse 69
All who obey Allah and the messenger are in the company of those on whom is the Grace of Allah,- of the prophets (who teach), the sincere (lovers of Truth), the witnesses (who testify), and the Righteous (who do good): Ah! what a beautiful fellowship!
Commentary footnote 586
Chapter 37, Verse 107
And We ransomed him with a momentous sacrifice.
Commentary footnote 4103

Abdullah Yusuf Ali was clearly very touched, like any good Muslim of any school of thought would be, by the history and significance of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn [a].  In the passage above he mentions a separate pamphlet by him that discussed this in detail.  Although the revised editions have taken out references to it, the pamphlet does exist in many libraries and has been made available on the web.  It is called:

It should be read by all those who wish to know what Abdullah Yusuf Ali wished the readers of his Qur'an translation and commentary to know about Imam Husayn, but which the publishers of the revised editions were not keen for them to discover!

In this instance, the revised Amana edition itself seems to have been edited further and the last sentence "In this sense..." is also deleted by the IFTA edition.

To find out more about Imams Hasan and Husayn [a], their martyrdom, and their rank and importance in Islam, please see:

"The Righteous Imam"

Another area where revision was carried out was to delete references to the term 'righteous Imam' although the author, being Sunni, is clearly not using the term in the sense it is used by the Shi'ah.  A couple of examples are given below:

Chapter 2, Verse 191

And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith.
Commentary footnote 205

In this case, the Amana edition did not delete this reference to a righteous Imam although they removed the phrase "(a most important condition)".  The IFTA edition removed the whole underlined section!

In another place, both the Amana and IFTA editions deleted the reference:

Chapter 2, Verse 216
Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing which is good for you, and that ye love a thing which is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not.
Commentary footnote 236

Perhaps it was felt that the term "righteous Imam" may lead readers to start thinking about how a Muslim leader may be righteous or unrighteous, and how to distinguish between the two, which would lead to a re-appraisal of accepted history.  To understand the Shi'ah point of view on Imamate and  righteous leadership, please see the following resources:

Those who caused much sorrow to the Holy Prophet [s]

Chapter 66, Verse 1

O Prophet! Why holdest thou to be forbidden that which Allah has made lawful to thee? Thou seekest to please thy consorts. But Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
Commentary footnote 5529

The Amana edition is different from the original, and the IFTA edition has further deletion!  The changes can be analysed as follows:

The criticism of A'ishah

In order to tone down the criticism of A'ishah, daughter of Abu Bakr b. Abi Quhafa, the Amana edition replaces the word 'imprudence' with 'behavior' and deletes the cross reference to footnote 2962 which talks about an example of such imprudence.  IFTA deletes the whole comment about her which spanned several lines!

The criticism of Hafsa

Both Amana and IFTA completely delete the reference to inappropriate behaviour by Hafsa, wife of the Prophet [s] and daughter of 'Umar b. al-Khattab.

The cause of sorrow for the Prophet [s]

The fact, as stated by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, that these two wives of the Prophet [s] caused much sorrow to the Holy Prophet [s] is now gone!  Although it may seem to some readers that Abdullah Yusuf Ali's judgement on the two wives of the Holy Prophet [s] was rather harsh, it is actually reflected in many commentaries and books of hadith and is supported by solid historical evidence.  For details see:

The Ahl al-Bayt of the Holy Prophet [s]

Chapter 33, Verse 33

And stay quietly in your houses, and make not a dazzling display, like that of the former Times of Ignorance; and establish regular Prayer, and give regular Charity; and obey Allah and His Messenger. And Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you, ye members of the Family, and to make you pure and spotless.
Commentary footnote 3715

Although the Amana edition kept the wording intact from the original commentary, the IFTA edition decided to re-write a condensed passage.  As in the other cases, the reader is given no clue that any change has taken place.

In fact, three changes of substance have taken place:

Deletion of the grammatical argument

Abdullah Yusuf Ali believed that the wives of the Holy Prophet [s], by default, are members of the Ahl al-Bayt, in addition to Imam Ali [a], Lady Fatimah [a], and Imams Hasan and Husayn [a].  Although most Sunnis either agree with this position or the Shi'a position that states that the wives were excluded from the Ahl al-Bayt, a group within the Ahl al-Sunnah believe that the Ahl al-Bayt were only restricted to the wives.  Their view would become indefensible on account of the grammatical argument that Abdullah Yusuf Ali mentioned, and which has now been deleted from the IFTA edition.

Inclusion of doubt

The phrase included by the IFTA edition, "... generally in accordance with the narrative of Umm Salama" introduces an element of doubt in the mind of the reader by attributing the inclusion of the four individuals solely to, what appears to be, a single narrative by Umm Salama, a very noble wife of the Holy Prophet [s].  Nothing could be further from the truth!  The inclusion of the Holy Prophet [s] and the four, to the clear exclusion of all the wives, is reported not only by Umm Salama through reliable chains of narration, but also through other wives of the Prophet [s]. 

Deletion of merit

As if this was not enough, the IFTA edition also deletes the mention of Imams Hasan and Husayn [a] as the 'beloved' grandsons of the Prophet [s]!

Those who wish to know more about the grammatical argument and other evidence that the wives were excluded from the Ahl al-Bayt, as well as the merits of the real Ahl al-Bayt and their being beloved to the Holy Prophet [s], please examine the following resources:

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Case study created: April 2000
Last updated: April 2000