It was in 1983, Martin Lings published his magnum opus, Muhammad – His Life Based on Earliest Scriptures in England. It came to our notice in the early 1990s, long before Other Books was even planned. Those days, a few people who work behind Other Books had been involved in running a book shop – Book Room, as it was called in a minimalist way – at Manipal. The book, with its admirable articulation of the Prophet’s life with minute and beautiful detailing, heavily relying on the earliest sources, was more than irresistible. It was obsessive to many of us. The book became a topic of active, long discussions. However, the book was too costly to afford for the students attached to the Book Room and some even photocopied due to the deep love they found for the work and the man being lovingly depicted on those pages. Then we came to notice a pirated edition; with some mistakes and even certain chapters emitted.
Ever since Other Books ventured into publishing, we have always had this book in our wish list. Dr. Ismail, a Calicut based nephrologist, rekindled our desire to publish it in a conversation with Auswaf Ahsan, our managing editor. He asked why OB didn’t publish Martin Lings in Malayalam. When he was told that it was an issue of want of finance, to buy copyrights and pay the press bills, Thasneem, an avid reader and Dr. Ismail’s wife, offered to involve financially. There, serendipitously, started our actual journey to publish our most coveted title. We first contacted Haji Koya of Islamic Book Trust in Kuala Lumpur and then reached out to Islamic Text Society, London, the original publisher and copyrights holder. Fatima Azzam, of ITS, was prompt to respond and sign the deal.
It was 2009 when we started. Like all great, voluminous works, years would go into it, particularly for a small publishing house with limited resources. Our editors were unanimous to think that poet and writer KT Sooppy would be apt to translate the work into Malayalam. We requested him and sent a copy. He went through it and almost fell in love with the content and style of the book. He took great pleasure in rendering it into Malayalam, emotionally and spiritually – of course a slow and laborious process. We fondly remember, once Sooppy mash invited the entire editorial team to his house at Kuttiadi for a discussion on the progress of the translation and we had a long session – inevitably accompanied by ghazals and yummy culinary grace of north Malabar’s dishes served by his wife Salma. The meeting also discussed the means to improve the quality of the Malayalam version and the ways to get it to a wider public. The Quran translations in the book were also done by Sooppy mash himself. As the translation progressed, we also organized a get-together to listen to the translation experiences of KT Sooppy mash at Marina Residency in Calicut. Other Books associates and book lovers came to attend it and it was a curious discussion about a book yet to come out in Malayalam.
To write the foreword of the work, we wanted none other than Muttanisseril Koyakutti Maulavi, the renowned Quran translator, author and orator, a long time friend and well-wisher of Other Books. On a Friday, Auswaf gave him a call requesting him to write this foreword, and he was preparing to go for the prayer. “It is good that you called me now. I have the book of Martin Lings with me and as I often do, I was going through some pages of it before I leave for the Friday prayer. It is a privilege for me to write a foreword to this book,” he told. Well, the privilege was actually ours. Ustad Muttanisseril wrote a memorable foreword, which would later become one of his last writings. He didn’t wait to see his words printed. May Almighty accept his soul.
Once the translation was completed, there was a meticulous and rigorous copy-editing process, as we do with every title, particularly with very important works. We gratefully remember the involvement of AK Abdul Majeed, KC Saleem, Abdulla Manima, Basheer Varikkodan, Ashraf Koyilandi along with our own inhouse editors. Harshad designed a graceful cover for the book; Nujum did the pagination elegantly. Once the first edition was out, it was well-received and a few errors were spotted here and there. We are thankful to K Abubaker for his effort to going through the book again with an editor’s precise eye.
Martin Lings’ Muhammad has had two launches: one at Sharjah International Book Fair in 2013 and one in Calicut. At both venues, we were lucky to have Shaikh Idris Meyers to launch the book. A publisher of Islamic titles and himself a scholar, Shaikh Idris talked about how important a title this is in the entire body of Seerah literature available in English.
The book is doing well among the readers, reviewers and the market. This book has given us new networks and connected us to new people. It even gave us faith in more similar titles and in people to take out hard-pressed journeys to promote this title and the mission of Other Books in the month of Ramadan, in the previous year.