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Abdullah Yusuf Ali
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Abdullah Yusuf Ali

Under the heading The Sad End of a Great Muslim Scholar — Allama Yusuf Ali’s death in London, the magazine The Light of Lahore, Pakistan, organ of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, in its issue of 16 January 1954, reproduced an item of news from The Evening News, London, dated 16 December 1953, about the death of Allama Abdullah Yusuf Ali, the famous translator of the Holy Quran into English. This item was as follows:

The story of how a world-famous Indian literary figure and former Minister of the Government of India died the death of a poor man a day after police found him sitting on the staircase of a house in Westminster was told at Hammersmith Coroner’s Court today.

Mr. Abdullah Yusuf Ali, C.B.E., aged 81, although a wealthy man was said by his widow, Mrs. Gertrude Yusuf Ali, of the Quadrant, Wimbledon, to have had no fixed address at the time of his death. “We had been separated for about 12 years,” she added.

Mr. M.G. Murtaz, education officer at the Pakistan Embassy, said he saw Mr. Yusuf on the day of his death in an L.C.C. [London County Council] institution in Dovehouse street, Chelsea.

“I had not seen him for three years,” he said, “and his condition was deplorable.”

“I had known him in the days when he was a great man and I was horrified at the change. What caused it, I do not know. He had excellent friends in this country; some of them are members of House of Lords.”

Mr. Yusuf Ali died from heart failure in St.Stephen’s Hospital, Chelsea, three hours after being transferred from the institution.

On the morning of his death he was discharged from Westminster Hospital where he had been taken the previous evening by the police.

“I did not consider him sufficiently ill to be admitted,” said Dr. Walter Harris, casualty officer at the hospital.

The coroner (Mr. H. Neville Stafford), recording a verdict of death from natural causes, said: “I am satisfied that everything that could have been done for Mr. Yusuf Ali by the hospitals was done.”

Obituary from the Islamic Review (February 1954)

The Late Allama Abdullah Yusuf Ali

Allama Abdullah ibn Yusuf Ali, C.B.E., who died in London recently at the age of 81, held a record of intellectual activity by speech and pen in varied fields scarcely equalled by any other Indian member of the I.C.S.

He was born in Western India on 4th April 1872, and from Wilson College, Bombay, entered St. John’s College, Cambridge. In the Indian Civil Service examination of 1894, he took the highest marks in English composition, and two years later, was called to the Bar by Lincoln’s Inn. In the United Provinces, he served in various districts, interspersed with two short periods as acting Under-Secretary and then Deputy Secretary in the Finance Department of the Government of India. When on leave in 1905, he gave a series of six lectures at the Passmore Edwards Institute in London, and they provided the nucleus for his first considerable book, Life and Labour in India. The humdrum routine of district magistracy in the Sultanpur and Fatehpur collectorates was not very congenial to a man of his intellectual zest, and he welcomed the interlude provided by the task of preparing an official monograph on silk fabrics. On grounds partly of health and partly of family anxieties, he was allowed to retire from the I.C.S. in 1914 on proportionate pension.

Settling in England, Yusuf Ali did much useful work for the 1914–18 war effort in platform appeals for recruitment, in written propaganda both in English and Urdu, as a private in the West Kent Fencibles, and as president of the Indian Students’ Prisoners of War Fund. Mr. Edwin Montagu, then Secretary of State for India, obtained his assistance for the Indian delegation at the Peace Conference. In the early years of the School of Oriental and African Studies he was Lecturer in Hindustani, Hindi, and Indian Religions, Manners and Customs.

Soon after the signature of the Treaty of Versailles, Yusuf Ali entered the service of the Nizam of Hyderabad as counsel in the Sarf-i-Khas, and in 1921 he was appointed Revenue Member of the Executive Council of the State. Toward the close of the next year he moved to Lucknow and took up legal practice. For three years from 1925 he was principal of the Islamia College, Lahore. In 1928 he was one of India’s representatives at the ninth Assembly of the League of Nations. Next followed a round-the-world lecturing tour through the United States to Japan, China, the Philippines, Malaya, Ceylon, and India again. In 1932 he travelled through Canada from coast to coast as guest of the National Council of Education. Thence he went to India, where he presided at the All-India Muslim Educational Conference and the Sind Azad Conference. After serving as a member of the Punjab University Inquiry Committee he returned in 1935 to the principalship of the Islamia College, Lahore, and held it for a further two years. He was also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Shah Jehan Mosque, Woking.

Much of his time in Lahore was occupied by an elaborate recension in English of the Quran, with notes and commentary. While a great deal of the literary output of Yusuf Ali related to the history and current problems of India, his chief love was the Islamic field. He wrote that the high sounding music of the Quranic verses had haunted him like a passion from his childhood. He broke fresh ground in such studies as Mestrovic and Serbian Sculpture (1916) and Social and Economic Conditions in Medieval India (1932). Indeed, no subject seemed foreign to his pen or his oratory.

He was an active supporter of the World Congress of Faiths and spoke frequently at its meetings. In his best days he was a man of inborn courtesy and charming manners, and had warm friends in many lands. He wandered about at the end, an unquiet spirit with no fixed abode.

He was twice married and leaves a widow of British birth, together with a son of their marriage who served in the 1939-45 war.

— The Islamic Review, February 1954, p. 35–36

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