(Mohammed) Marmaduke Pickthall (7 April 1875 – 19 May 1936) was a Western Islamic scholar, noted for his English translation of the Qur’an. A convert from Christianity, Pickthall was a novelist, esteemed by D. H. Lawrence, H. G. Wells, and E. M. Forster, as well as a journalist, headmaster, and political and religious leader. He declared his conversion to Islam in dramatic fashion after delivering a talk on ‘Islam and Progress’ on November 29, 1917, to the Muslim Literary Society in Notting Hill, West London. He was also involved with the services of the Woking Muslim Mission in the absence of Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din, its founder.
Marmaduke Pickthall was born in 1875 to Mary O’Brien and the Reverend Charles Grayson Pickthall, a comfortable middle-class English family, whose roots trace back to a knight of William the Conqueror. He was born near Woodbridge in Suffolk, as his father, Charles, was an Anglican Parson in this region. On the death of his father, when Marmaduke was five, the family moved to London. He was a shy and sickly child, suffering from bronchitis. He attended Harrow School but left after just six terms.
Pickthall travelled across many Eastern countries, gaining a reputation as a Middle-Eastern scholar. A strong advocate of the Ottoman Empire even prior to declaring his faith as a Muslim, Pickthall studied the Orient, and published articles and novels on the subject; for example, The Meaning of the Glorious Koran. While under the service of the Nizam of Hyderabad, Pickthall published his translation of the Qur’an, authorized by the Al-Azhar University and referred to by the Times Literary Supplement as “a great literary achievement.”
When a propaganda campaign was launched in the UK in 1915 over the massacres of Armenians, Pickthall rose to challenge it and argued that all the blame could not be placed on the Turkish government. At a time when many Indian Muslims in London had been co-opted by the Foreign Office to provide propaganda services in support of Britain’s war against Turkey, Pickthall’s stand was considered courageous given the war climate. When British Muslims were asked to decide whether they were loyal to the Allies (Britain and France) or the Central Powers (Germany and Turkey), Pickthall said he was ready to be a combatant for his country so long as he did not have to fight the Turks. He was conscripted in the last months of the war and became corporal in charge of an influenza isolation hospital. The Foreign Office would have dearly liked to have used his talents as a linguist, but instead decided to regard him as a security risk.
In 1920 he went to India with his wife to serve as editor of the Bombay Chronicle, returning to England only in 1935, a year before his death at St Ives, Cornwall. It was in India that he completed his famous translation, The Meaning of the Glorious Koran.
Pickthall was buried in the Muslim cemetery at Brookwood in Surrey, England, where Abdullah Yusuf Ali was later buried.