In Memory of Prof. T.B. Irving
by Abdul Malik Mujahid
Our brother, Dr. T.B. Irving has passed away. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun. To Allah we belong and to Him we return.
Dr. Irving was once a fixture at Muslim conventions. This author, professor, and translator of the first American English translation of the Quran who accepted Islam over 50 years ago passed away peacefully on the morning of September 24, 2002 in his Mississippi home. He had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
Few Muslim publications or media know about his death or published anything about his condition while he was sick. We need to remember our scholars. We need to be there for them with our concern, our Dua and our good wishes, especially in the last moments of their lives.
The state of this translator of the Quran can remind us of Yusuf Ali, another Muslim whose translation of the Quran into English is world renown. Yusuf Ali did not need money to take care of himself. But when he passed away on a cold London night about 50 years ago, he was sick and alone. The Muslim community only came to know later about his death.
Some background on Dr. Irving
It was Muslim “stubbornness” which eventually led the Canadian Quran translator and writer Thomas Ballantyne (T.B.) Irving to Islam.
“I remember especially a missionary returned from India stating how the ‘Mohometans’ (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 recounted in the book “Islam: Our Choice”, a collection of interviews with Muslims who have converted
to the faith.
T.B. Irving later became one of these “obdurate” people, choosing the name Al Hajj Ta’lim Ali Abu Nasr. Born in Preston, Ontario in 1914, this professor, writer, translator and activist is best known for his translation of the Quran entitled, The Quran: First American Version (1985).The work is an attempt to make the English translation of the Quran more readable to an audience not used to the old style of English common in most translations.
Irving was particularly concerned about making the Quran accessible to Muslim youth in North America.
“A new generation of English-speaking Muslims has grown up in North America which must use our scripture differently than their fathers would have done. Their thinking roots have become distinct on a new continent without the familiar use of our holy tongue, and a great difference has developed between their customs and their ancestral
faith,” he wrote in the introduction of his translation, entitled, The Qur’an: The Noble Reading.
The cover of the 1993 edition of this translation features a photograph of the dome of the Great Umayyad Mosque of Cordoba, Spain. This provides a hint at another passion of his: Muslim Spain.
Irving was considered a leading expert on the Arab-Islamic period in Spanish history, especially with his book Falcon of Spain. This was a study of Spain under Muslim rule, with a special emphasis on the Umayyad ruler AbdurRahman I, who Irving considered a “great statesman”.
Irving’s other books in English include: Growing Up In Islam; The Quran: Basic Teachings, which he co-authored with Dr. Khurshid Ahmad and Muhammad Manazir Ahsan; Had You Been Born a Muslim; Religion and Social Responsibility; Tide of Islam; Islam Resurgent; Islam in its Essence; Polished Jade; Stories of Kalil and Dimna; The Mayas Own Words, as well as various articles on Central American Literature.
In Spanish, Irving wrote Cautiverio Babil?nico en Andalus?a, Nacido como Musulm?n, and El Poema de Jos In addition, he wrote a number of other articles and essays published in various journals.
Irving learned and taught at a diverse list of universities from across the continent, including McGill University in Montreal, Canada, Princeton University in New Jersey, University of San Carlos in Guatemala, University of Minneapolis, and the University of Tennessee, from which he retired as a professor of Spanish and Arabic in 1980.
Following retirement, he served as the dean of the American Islamic College in Chicago between 1981-1986. It was during his time there that he published his translation of the Quran.
His service to Islam as a writer was noticed by the Pakistani government, who rewarded him the Sitara-e-Imtiaz award (Star of Excellence) for service to Islam in 1983.
Dr. Irving’s last years
Dr. Irving’s son, Nicholas, moved from Guatemala to take care of his father. While Dr. 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.
Although he could not talk and could only eat with the help of a feeding machine, he was conscious. I visited him last year, while he was in a nursing home. Standing next to his bed, I felt each time I said Shahadah (the Islamic declaration of faith), he moved as though he was trying to respond to it.
May Allah forgive him and grant him Paradise for his contributions to humanity.
Reprinted from the Sound Vision site. http://SoundVision.com/info/scholars/irvingdeath.asp
For more on Professor Irving see previous articles in The American Muslim.