Woking Muslim Mission, England, 1913–1968

M. Pickthall

His conversion to Islam
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Marmaduke Pickthall — His conversion to Islam

Conversion to Islam as reported by Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din

Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall (1875–1936) is well-known as one of the translators of the Holy Quran into English and a British convert to Islam. He is regarded as an orthodox, mainstream, Sunni Muslim. When Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din established the Woking Muslim Mission in England in 1913, Marmaduke Pickthall was not yet a Muslim but had become attracted to Islam. He was already well-known as a scholar and novelist. He began to take part in the activities organized by the Woking Muslim Mission. His subsequent acceptance of Islam is described in a brief report written by Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din for Paigham Sulh, the Urdu  periodical of the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha‘at Islam Lahore.

Below we give an English translation of this report which was published in Paigham Sulh dated 16 January 1918 on page 4:

A Great, Good News

Acceptance of Islam by a famous English scholar and orientalist

Recent letter by Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din

Brothers, assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh!

Readers of The Islamic Review will this year have been reading those invaluable articles in its pages which are a result of the high intellect of Mr Marmaduke Pickthall. Our friends will also remember his brilliantly unique speech which he made at the last function marking the birthday of the Holy Prophet Muhammad held at the Cecil Hotel, London.{footnote 1} Its translation [in Urdu] was also published in book form from the office of the magazine Ishaat Islam, Aziz Manzil, Lahore. Reading that speech, and seeing the love that its author is seen to have in his heart for the Holy Prophet Muhammad, I received many letters asking whether there remained any obstacle to this learned orientalist accepting Islam? I knew well that no preaching or effort on my part could further increase this venerable man’s faith in Islam. However, for certain reasons, we did not reach the occasion for full rejoicing.

Eventually, many kinds of veils began to be lifted from the path of the light of Islam. Frequent meetings, socialising, correspondence and conversa­tion did their work. It began to be said that this gentleman appears to be a Muslim. There can hardly be any week when he does not have occasion to make a speech somewhere or preside over a meeting. He is president of many associations. His speeches are full of the light of Islam and of great eloquence. What a blessed day was yesterday when I had to deliver a lecture in a fashionable part of London, Old Bond Street, on the Spirit of Worship. Mr Pickthall was chosen by the meeting to preside. My rejoicing knew no bounds when, while introducing me, he said the following words:

“Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din will speak on the Islamic spirit of worship. Although he and I belong to the same religion, and we are believers in the same scripture, but if I were to be asked to speak on this topic I would turn to him …”

What he said after this, only God knows. I cannot remember because I was so overcome by happiness. It is a favour of Allah that He has granted me the same ability and power of delivering speeches in this country with which my friends are familiar from my lectures in India. This lecture was itself on a spiritual topic and then this great news had worked magic on me. I rose, charged with enthusiasm and intoxicated with the love of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, and thanked God a million times. The effect on my audience was so deep that I have not seen it in my lectures in India. Today I have received a letter from Kishab Chandar Sen, the son of the founder of the Brahmo Samaj [a sect of Hinduism] as follows:

“I am thankful to you for the very great spiritual and intellectual hospitality that you offered us. Permit me to say that it is the first time I have heard such spiritual talk from a Muslim. Never before have I felt such enjoyment. I congratulate you on how simply and yet effectively you shed light on this topic.”

By summarising this letter here I do not intend to prove how well I made the speech. The diction that God has granted me out of His grace, whether it is good or bad, is known to all. I want only to show that we Muslims have up to now not fulfilled our duty of the propagation of Islam. It is after coming to England that I today come to know of the great glory of Islam, and that too of its spiritual aspect of tasawwuf, about which I cannot claim to have comprehensive knowledge. Alas, we Muslims did not value Islam nor did we fulfil our obligation of propagating it.

I also quote here a letter from Mr Pickthall which I received today:

“A friend who has become a Muslim by his own study, and who has been in correspondence with me for some time, asks me if there is available a Quran that has the English translation in between the lines of Arabic text, the English rendering opposite the Arabic words …”

Mr Pickthall writes to me in this letter: ‘This man is a scholar’.

I ask Muslims, What reply can I give to this letter? That we have not done this service for you? So God bless Maulvi Muhammad Ali, M.A., who, after nine years of hard work, has made us able to say that we can give you a translation which, while being idiomatic, adheres most strictly to the original words. The worthy Maulana has shown immense wisdom in making his translation, as far as was possible, correspond closely to the original words. This is the commendable example which was first followed in India by the family of Shah Waliullah. This is integrity. The Maulvi sahib’s English translation follows the same principle as the Urdu translation of Shah Abdul Aziz and Shah Abdul Qadir.

It would be untrue for us to say that Mr Pickthall’s acceptance of Islam is due to our efforts. What we did was to establish a centre [at Woking, England] and presented Islam in its pristine purity, with the strength that God gave us. When we presented the philosophy, wisdom and rationality of Islam to this thinking world, it did not result in embarrassment for us. In this short time, at least wherever our writings and spoken words reached, it was conceded that Islam excels all other religions in terms of its simplicity, spirituality, depth of wisdom, thought, morality, civilization and theology. God granted us a community here which, although small in number, consists of persons of respectability, members of the nobility and those belonging to high lineage, scholars and people of excellent rank. Because of the existence of this centre, its acquiring this fame, and the creation of such a group of converts, many admirers of the beauty of Islam have come out from behind closed doors. Just now one Pickthall has emerged, but there are plenty of other shining stars like him hidden behind the clouds in the West. Arise, awaken, give up this negligence, and make the bright rays of the light of Islam to shine on the walls of the West. Then you will see that the time is near when you will hear other similar voices saying: This is our religion. But let us look at ourselves and see how inadequate our efforts are.

For the information of my friends, I quote here from the entry about Mr Pickthall given in the British book{footnote 2} which lists famous people:

“Marmaduke William{footnote 3} Pickthall, son of the late Rev. Charles Pickthall, rector of Chillesford [Suffolk], Educated at Harrow and various European countries. Travels: Spent several years in journey and study of places in the Ottoman empire and other countries of the East. Writings: Said The Fisherman, With the Turk in Wartime during the Balkan wars, Knights of Araby, …”

This shows the pedigree of this bright jewel. He is author of scores of books. If his early writings are compared with his present writings, one’s hearts becomes filled with the praise of Allah at the fact that the man who took up his pen on Islam in order to ridicule Islam became, in the end, captivated by its beauty. May Allah be praised for it.

Footnotes on Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din’s article by Website Editor

Footnote 1. The function mentioned here by Khwaja Kamal-ud-Din was held on 6 January 1917 and Pickthall’s speech was published in The Islamic Review, February–March 1917, pages 53–59. To read his speech from The Islamic Review, click here.

See also below for a report of the January 1917 function from a London newspaper.

Footnote 2. The name of the book is left blank in Paigham Sulh but presumably Who’s Who is meant.

Footnote 3. In the Urdu text in Paigham Sulh this name seems to read Visech or Wisech which presumably is a misprint for William.

Conversion reported in The Islamic Review

The Islamic Review of January 1918 contains a brief report of a meeting, at the “London Muslim House”, organised by the “Muslim Literary Society, on 29th November 1917. It informs us that Mr. Pickthall delivered a lecture there entitled Islam and Modernism. The report goes on to state:

“Opportunity was taken by the audience who crowded the lecture hall to give an ovation to Mr. Pickthall for his having declared openly a few days before his acceptance of the Faith of Islam.” (p. 3)

At this link this issue of The Islamic Review is available online. The report is on pages 3 and 4. His speech is also published in this issue, and runs from page 5 to page 11 of the magazine.

It would thus appear that Mr. Pickthall declared his conversion to Islam sometime during November 1917.

Report of the earlier January 1917 function at Cecil Hotel

In the London newspaper India, a report of this function appeared in its issue of 12 January 1917, p. 20, col. 1. Its text is as below.

(Note: It was the later function, held in November 1917 as mentioned above, which relates to Pickthall’s acceptance of Islam.)


The Central Islamic Society gave a highly successful conversazione at the Hotel Cecil, on Saturday last (January 6), in commemoration of the birthday of the Holy Prophet. The guests, who numbered about 150, were received by Syed Ehsan El Bakry Bey (Egypt), Sahibzada Wajid Ali Khan of Rampur, Vicomte Ahmed de Potier, Mlle. Hadji Hanum, and Mr. M. D. Suleiman (Sudan). Among those present were the Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, Princess Ourousoff (Russia), Haji Khwaja Kamal-ud-din (Woking), Mr. and Mrs. Marmaduke Pickthall, Miss J. E. Beck, Dr. T. W. Arnold, C.I.E., Professor A. M. Belsha (Bagdad), Mr. Syed Erfan Ali (Calcutta), Mr. Abdul Qayum Malik (Aligarh), Mr. and Mrs. Duse Mahomed, Mirza Asaf Ali Baig (Bombay), Mr. Sarvar Ali Kidwai (Rampur), Mr. Sadiq Dudley Wright, Miss Ataullah, Col. Pitcher, Mr. and Mrs. Westbrook, and Mr. Mushir Hosain Kidwai (hon. secretary of the Society).

A recitation from the Quran was given by Saada Bey, after which prayer was offered by Khwaja Kamal-ud-din, and a Persian ghazal in praise of the Prophet was sung by Mr. Ali Khan.

Mr. MARMADUKE PICKTHALL, then addressed the meeting and gave a sketch of the life of the Prophet, dwelling upon his unique trust in God, his gentleness to the weak and poor, his forgiveness of even his worst enemies, and his deep affection for his wife Khadija.

Mr. A. YUSUF ALL, who was in the chair, expressed the appreciation of the work which the Society was doing, and called upon every Moslem not only to admire the beauties of the life of the Prophet but also to follow his practices and his precepts.

A programme of Eastern music was rendered by Professor Inayat Khan and his Indian musicians, and a selection of Western songs was also given by a number of ladies, whose efforts were heartily applauded.

In closing the meeting, Prince ABDUL KARIM KHAN of Sachin, the President of the Society, said that one of the objects of the Society was to bring together the East and the West. He asked for the help of the British people in the work.

See at this link the image of the full page from the London newspaper India where this news item was published.

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