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Irving Abu Nasr: The translator of Holy Qur’an

Arab News
3/18/2012
1854 views

Dr. Irving Abu Nasr is a respected name in American and Canadian academic circles. He is well known as an author, professor and scholar of Islamic history. Irving produced the first American English translation of the Holy Qur’an, “The Qur’an: First American Version,” published in 1985. He gained expertise in Arabic and Spanish languages.

 

Thomas Ballantyne Irving renamed as Al-Haj Ta’lim Ali Abu Nasr was born as the son of William Irving and Jessica McIntyre in Cambridge, Ontario (Canada) in 1914. Irving embraced Islam when he was over 35 in the early 1950s in Toronto.

 

He narrated the story of his conversion to Islam. “I remember especially a missionary who returned from India stating how the Muslims were so obdurate in adhering to their religion; that was my first encounter with Islam, and it roused an unconscious admiration in me for their steadfastness to their faith and a desire to know more about these ‘wicked’ people.”

 

He believed that Islam is the religion of every soul by birth, so the word conversion does not apply to him. In one interview in 1992 Irving said: Don’t call me a ‘convert’ because that implies change and what did I change from? I “became” a Muslim only in the sense that at one point in time I realized that was what I was.

 

Irving was a great educationist. As a scholar, Irving taught and studied at a number of leading universities in the US and Canada, including McGill, Princeton, the University of Minnesota and the University of Tennessee. He served as professor of Spanish and Arabic at the University of Minnesota; Professor of Spanish at Guelph University, Ontario, Canada and Professor Emeritus at the University of Tennessee.

 

Although Irving spent major portion of his life in America, his early years were spent in Canada where he accepted Islam and where he was active among the early Muslim community. In 1968-69, he served as a director of the Islamic Foundation of Toronto. From 1981 to 1986, Irving served as the dean of the American Islamic College in Chicago, US. As a dedicated Muslim, he worked tirelessly to promote Islam in the West. He founded Arabic and Islamic studies departments at the Universities of Minnesota, Texas, at Austin and Tennessee. Besides being a scholar  Irving was a distinguished writer, he authored numerous books on Islam.

 

Irving was considered a leading expert on the Arab-Islamic period in Spanish history. He also wrote few books in Spanish, including “Nacido Commo Musulman” and “Cautiverio Babilonico en Andalusia.” His famous book, “Falcon of Spain” was a study of Spain under Muslim rule, with a special emphasis on Abdur Rahman Ad Dakhil, the Umayyad ruler who Irving considered a “great statesman.”

 

Irving was recognized for his services to Islam by the government of Pakistan when he was awarded the Nishan-i-Imtiaz, Star of Excellence in 1983.

 

Irving Abu Nasr is best known for his translation of the Holy Qur’an entitled, “The Qur’an: First American Version (1985).” The work is an attempt to make the English meanings of the Qur’an more readable and accessible especially to Muslim youths in North America.

 

Though there are certain reservations concerning this translation, it has been duly recognized by several Islamic scholars including the late Dr. Ismail Raji Al Faruqi who wrote: “It makes refreshing reading even after all the other translations have been read.”

 

Irving passed away on Sept. 24, 2002 and was buried in Mississippi USA. He was 86 years old. He regretted that his old Muslim friends did not come to see him during his illness.

 

Abdul Malik Mujahid of Sound Vision Foundation was one of the few Muslim leaders who visited Irving during his illness. He wrote: “While Irving did not need monetary or medical help, he would have appreciated hearing from Muslims, especially those who benefited from his work as a writer and scholar...”

 

Lives of personalities like Irving convey to us this message: Each one of us should feel that we are here with Allah’s permission and He has placed us here with the mission to do something, and help someone. May Allah forgive Irving, have mercy on him and grant him Paradise for his contribution to humanity.

 






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