N.B. These translations are unedited, first drafts that have been uploaded for reader benefit and feedback. The detailed, revised and edited versions shall be uploaded as they come along. In view of the immediate needs of our readers, these translations have been presented here to give a very brief introduction to Amīn Ahsan’s life.
Jāvēd Ahmad Ghāmidī (1951- )
The second scholar belonging to the contemporary times of Islām has now passed away.
In 1930, when, Imām Hamīd al-Dīn Farāhī embarked on the final journey from the mortal world, Sahib-e Marūf, Syed Sulemān Nadvi lamented about the passing of the first scholar of our times. More or less 67 years after this we are mourning Farāhī’s legatee, Imām Amīn Ahsan Islāhī. Like Socrates, Aristotle, abū Hanīfa and abū Yūsuf, ibn-e Taymiyya and ibn-e Qayyim cannot be separated from each other; in this world, Farāhī and Islāhī are also two names of the same existence:
At the height of love become one the lover and beloved
In our reckoning Qais bears the same name as Leila
The splendor and beauty of knowledge, the pride in humbleness, the appeal of simplicity, the embodiment of generosity, unbridled love, the devoted translator of Allah’s last message, the pioneer of a new world with respect to dīn (religion) and sharī‘ah (Divine law), connoisseur par excellence of writing and composition, gifted orator and conversationalist, who would hold his audience in awe of him:
Brilliant in thought as the morning sun
Words simple and free, conveying deep meaning
I first saw Amīn Ahsan in 1973 and then never looked elsewhere. For me his door at that time was like a closed one, but I built up the courage to simply sit outside this closed door:
Then this door opened and opened such that it became like the very door of my own dwelling. After this day all the treasures of knowledge and practical application that I have received have been Allah Almighty’s blessing and from this door:
The powers of love and the treasure of pleasure
Everything that I have is by dint of his prowess
In 1987 when I wrote the saga of ‘Dabistān-e Shibli’, while narrating about Imam Farāhī I wrote: Amīn Ahsan is the legatee of this great man of his times. If he did not overtake his teacher he also did not lag behind either. He spent his entire life explaining the technicalities of the work of his teacher. Amongst the books on Qur’ānic exegeses his book Tadabbur- e Qur’ān, is a work par excellence based on knowledge and research. From his pen flows the narrative of a good fifty years, in the words of Urfi:
His lance asserts that war or peace
I will go on solving the problems of the King
I had written that the last remnant of ‘Dabistān-e Shibli’ is no other than Amīn Ahsan himself. How many of his friends and acquaintances are aware of this reality? For the last ten years it is the flame of this realization that is burning in my heart. The sparks from this fire keep getting buried in their own ashes but never die out completely:
Now this last remnant has also departed from this world. On December 15, 1997 around 3 AM, the same time that he presented himself before his creator, became present eternally before Him once and for all. He spent his entire life trying to solve the difficulties in understanding the layout and meaning of the Qur’ān. Now when he faces a certain difficulty, he will simply ask the author of the Qur’ān himself. His world now is:
What was Amīn Ahsan? A few years ago when his critics tried to determine his stature by the number of his supporters, I had commented for their benefit: I do not have to say anything for myself but I know for a fact that it has been my good fortune to have had the honor of being his student but as far as he is concerned, his struggle and efforts were never directed towards the possessions people live and die for. To cast a fleeting glace towards these hypocritical aspirations were below his dignity and pride. If the coveted ways that people usually adopt to gain cheap popularity were in as much even discussed in his gatherings, people would lose the rights of admission to these meetings. The value he made the cornerstone of his life was the fact that a man should state and stand by the truth even if his shadow threatens to abandon him. He did not sanctify and support the contamination of thought and practice rampant in society but tried his best to cleanse the hearts and minds of people from these impurities. He does not lower himself to the depths of ignominy but beckons to lift his subjects to high moral stations which he himself has conformed to from the very beginning. His world is a world of learning and sincerity, and there is no room for religious imposters and political brokers in it. He is in his own microcosm a vast desert and within himself a boundless ocean. In his own area of specialty he has so many interests that for such things there is simply no space. The field in which he has labored hard all these years has no room for blind following but of learning and research. If someone needs to fully appreciate his achievements they should study his work par excellence that the world knows as Tadabbur- e Qur’ān. He is not a man of today but a man of the future and his time is not far now.
The draft work on Tadabbur- e Qur’ān was begun by this man of posterity sometime in 1957. He had begun the preparation for this from the time when in 1925 Hamīd al-Dīn Farāhī had standing in the recesses of his home said to him: “Amīn Ahsan, will you continue writing for the newspapers or will you study the Qur’ān from me?” He had mentioned that in those days he was the editor of a newspaper working for a good remuneration but without a second thought said: “I will study the Qur’ān from you. Imām Farāhī indicating a room in his house said: “you will be residing here”. And so I resigned from the editorship, re-began my student life and moved into this room. After this Mawlānā Syed Sulemān Nadvi had proposed his name for the post of professor in a college and had promised the college patrons that he will convince Amīn Ahsan for this. When Amīn Ahsan was informed about this he walked in the scorching sun to Darul Musanifīn and informed Syed Sahib that since you have proposed the name of this humble servant, thank you for this but I am sorry I will not be able to accept this position. I cannot leave Imām Farāhī during his life and go anywhere. He later related that Syed Sahib was at a loss for words for he couldn’t understand how a humble student could turn down such a good offer. After this incident, during a lecture at the Nadva, he with a great deal of animation related this story to his student audience that this is how some devoted students are. Anyhow I spoke my mind and came away but I was worried that during this time if Ustād Imām Farāhī were to visit Darul Musanifeen it might so happen that Syed Sahib may say something to him and then he might promise to send me. He would light up with a strange expression of pride whenever he related this and much later he learnt that Ustād Imām Farāhī had visited Syed Sahib and Syed Sahib had spoken to him about this matter to which he had clearly responded that why are you after Amīn Ahsan and besides, who am I doing all this effort for?
Farāhī’s efforts bore fruit. When in 1930, close to his demise, he sent for Amīn Ahsan. At this time he was under treatment at a hospital in Mithra. When Amīn Ahsan entered the room Farāhī looked at him and said: “Amīn you are here!” Amīn Ahsan says that he had taken my name in such a manner that he was not simply just taking my name but stressing on its meaning and in this way giving me for safe keeping his legacy of knowledge and school of thought.
Amīn Ahsan spent his entire life doing justice towards fulfilling this responsibility. He would always say that I am scared that if I happen to meet Farāhī in the presence of Allah Almighty he might not be satisfied with my work.
What is Tadabbur- e Qur’ān? He writes in the introduction:
I without a modicum of pride just in the way of relating a statement of fact would suggest that this book is the result of my forty year long struggle. I have spent the best years of my youth in its preparation and now my feeble old age I am spending in its writing and drafting. During this long stretch of time I have witnessed many ups and downs in life and swallowed many a sweet and bitter morsel but I am grateful to my creator that at any given time or in any condition my mind and heart have never disengaged with this book. During this time whatever I have read, whatever I have thought, I have kept this book in focus, and whatever I have written directly or indirectly has been related to it. I have deliberated in earnest over each and every verse of the Qur’ān, have deliberated on each and every āyah and pondered upon each and every word and tried to solve each and every literary and grammatical problem thus turning in the process each and every stone under which I hoped to discover a hidden clue. This secret I would like to openly announce to the world that I have never felt any lethargy or despondency while doing this work but on the other hand have always felt a deep sense of pleasure and comfort
Yet again providence grants fresh energy
The result of these forty years of hard work in which is also included the fruits of my teacher Hamīd al-Dīn Farāhī‘s 25/30 years of hard work and struggle. I feel a deep sense of pride that whatever is in this book is all in all my teacher’s giving and although this is a reality but I am somewhat cautious in making this claim because inadvertently I may attribute some of my own oversights to him. My interaction with Mawlānā Farāhī has not been of the level that I have been able to understand and learn about his views in totality about each and every āyah. But on the other hand I learnt from him the principles of deliberating on the Qur’ān and in his guidance for five whole years have spent experimenting with these. Since that time I have kept these very rules in front of me for my work to this very day. Based on this aspect it is not incorrect to say that all this is the gift of my teacher some direct some indirect so it will not be incorrect to state that parts of this work that appear solid and above debate should be attributed to my teacher and whatever argument appears to be weak or flawed should be committed to my lack of knowledge.
I made my creator witness to the fact that I have not written an explanation of even a single āyah in which I have been unsure or unclear. If ever I have found myself in two minds I have clearly indicated the same. Similarly I wish to proclaim that at any point I have not tried to explain or use any āyah in a way that is based on my own personal understanding of it and not on the real explanation of the āyah itself. I have not felt any leaning or association, whether of mind and heart, towards anything outside of the Qur’ān. If such a thing has taken place it has always been for the Qur’ān and in the light of the Qur’ān. The readers of this book will feel that when at any point I have had a disagreement with my teacher I have openly declared the same without any hesitation.
This exegesis has been written in Lahore and for many years just around the outskirts of Lahore near Khanqua Dogran in a difficult to reach village of Rahmān Ābād under Sarsay and Shisham trees. Here there was no electricity, no fan or any facility for writing and compilation. I witnessed the manuscript time and again being drenched in the writers sweat but his pen continued with a flourish. He was forever ready to solve the difficulties of the Qur’ān and also commit to paper his consequential thoughts and was fully ready to tackle any difficulty that he may encounter for this:
The seeker never tires of traveling
Love the route as well as destination
The state of belief in which Amīn Ahsan wrote this explanation of the Qur’ān is hard to describe in words. I remember he was writing the explanation of Sūrah al-Rahmān for when he encountered the problem relating to pearls that they are always found in salt water but the Qur’ān is adamant on the fact that they are found both in sweet and salty water. He made me conduct research on the same. I saw that on his face were not even a trace of anguish but a certain peace and a glow of faith. I don’t think I can repeat the utterances he made at that occasion word for word but the gist was: by God, if pearls were to come to me themselves and say that we are only formed in salty waters I will tell them you are in doubt about your formation, the verdict of the Qur’ān cannot be wrong.
Amīn Ahsan Islāhī was born in 1904 in a village by the name of Bhambore belonging to the United Provinces. His paternal uncle Shibli Mutakalim Nadvi was the in-charge of Madrasah tul Islāh. At his behest Amīn Ahsan’s father, in January 1915 admitted him to this madresah. His entire education took place at this seminary in Sara-e Mīr, Azam Garh. Although this was a religious seminary but his grasp on English language was exceptionally good that not only could he easily read in a remarkably short span of time books on all important subjects but he could also easily comprehend them very well and explain the complicated meanings to people with ease. Students reading in religious seminaries usually to do not master spoken Arabic but while he was residing with Imām Farāhī for his studies he would speak fluent Arabic. When the famous scholar Mosa Jarullah came to Hindustān he went to meet Imām Farāhī at Madrasah tul Islāh. Amīn Ahsan was his host there. When he saw him converse and engage with confidence in Arabic he commented: how many years have you spent in Arabia? Amīn Ahsan replied to this: “These two feet of mine have never even touched the soil of Arabia”. For a long while Mosa Jarullah kept expressing his astonishment at this.
During this time once in the presence of Mohammad Ali Johar and Syed Sulemān Nadvi young Amīn Ahsan delivered a speech. His remarkable oration got further polished as time went by and he was greatly lauded by well know orators of his time such as Syed Atā ullah Shah Bukharī in these words: “I too am an orator but you are a scholar and orator and this was reflected in your speech”. People applauded these comments but he was awaiting Amīn Ahsan’s response. In the evening when all and sundry were collected for Imām Farāhī’s lecture someone mentioned this to Imām Farāhī. He kept listening to the conversation going around and then in his own unique style said: yes my brothers this is a great Abul Kalam Azad. Amīn Ahsan later related that the manner in which he said the word Azad sounded more like a reprimand then a compliment. This was my teacher’s method of training his students. Before this at the time when he was still at the seminary Imām Farāhī had complimented him on a certain speech in the words: this student has delivered a remarkable speech. On this Amīn Ahsan’s teacher, Mawlānā ‘Abd al-Rahmān Madanī said: he should have some memento to remember your compliment. Farāhī gave him his exegetical collection awarded for beautiful oration affixed with his signature.
In 1925 on Farāhī’s instruction he went to Malaya for some seminary related work and while there wrote to his colleague Amīn Ahsan in which there was one particular sentence: the tumultuous ocean are days of spring. When Imām Farāhī read this he said: Amīn mian is a writer. He related himself that in his student days if he was ever asked what he wanted to become, he would say Adīb al-Hind .
During this time he was fond of poetry. He always had a vivacious personality. Once he wrote a satire on a seminary teacher. Maulana Nigrāmi called him reprimanded him, also fined him, but at the same time also remarked, there is no doubt about the fact that your art of composing is very good but this interest ended in those days. He used to say that when I compare myself to Shibli I realize that I cannot compose poetry like him and so have left this arena.
During his time at the seminary an exam was conducted on Sab‘ Muallaqāt. Syed Sulemān Nadvi was the examiner. He wrote on Amīn Ahsan’s paper: this is a student’s paper, but from where will I be able to procure teachers like him for the Nadvā
At the seminary there were some people who had strained relations with him; they said to Farāhī that Amīn Ahsan is not familiar with grammar. He related that when I entered class Imām Farāhī asked (Amin lam kia segha hai?)When I answered he looked inquiringly at the people who had complained and said: “who said that Amīn is not familiar with grammar”.
In another similar situation Imām Farāhī asked the students in class: who is the youngest member of this group? Amīn Ahsan was their response. Then he asked: who joined much later? Amīn Ahsan was the reply yet again. Then he commented: Prophet Jesus said: Many will come later but will take the lead from everyone else.