i. Hamid al-Din al-Farahi[1]

Al-Farahi was born in 1863[2]in Phriha (hence the name Farahi), a small village in Azamgarh district (Uttar Pardesh, India). He was a cousin of the famous theologian-historian Shibli Nu‘mani (d. 1914), from whom he learnt Arabic. He studied Arabic literature with Fayd al-Hasan Saharanpuri (d. 1887), who was considered a master in this field at that time. At the age of twenty one, he took admission in the Aligarh Muslim College to study modern disciplines of knowledge. Here he also learnt Hebrew from the German Orientalist Josef Horovitz (d. 1931). After graduation from the Allahbad university, he taught at various institutions including Aligarh and Dar al-‘ulum, Hyderabad.

Whilst teaching at the Dar al-‘ulum, al-Farahi proposed the setting up of a university where all religious and modern sciences would be taught in Urdu. Later in 1919, his vision materialized in the form of Jami‘ah ‘Uthmaniyyah, Hyderabad. In 1925, he returned to his home town Azamgarh and took charge of the Madrasah al-Islah. Here, besides managing the affairs of the Madrasah, al-Farahi devoted most of his time to training a few students. Among them, was Amin Ahsan Islahi, who was destined to become the greatest exponent of his thought after him. Farahi died on 11th November 1930 in Mithra, where he had gone for treatment.

For almost fifty years, al-Farahi reflected over the Qur’an, which remained his chief interest and the focal point of all his writings. His greatest contribution is to re-direct the attention of Muslim scholars to the Qur’an as the basis and ultimate authority in all matters of religion. He stressed that the Qur’an should be practically regarded as the mizan (the scale that weighs the truth) and the furqan (the distinguisher between good and evil), a status which it invests on itself. Thus Ahadith cannot change or modify the Qur’an in any way. They should be interpreted in the light shed by this divine book and not vice versa. It was as result of this status of the Qur’an that he insisted on the univocity of the Qur’anic text and rejected that variant readings be regarded as the Qur’an per se.

It was his deep deliberation on the Qur’an that led him to unfold its nazm (coherence) in a unique way. By taking into consideration, the three constituents of nazm: order (tartib), proportion (tanasub) and unity (wahdaniyyah), he proved that a single interpretation of the Qur’an was possible. This alone was a far reaching consequence of the principle of Qur’anic nazm. Serious differences in the interpretation of the Qur’an which have given rise to the menace of religious sectarianism are actually the result of disregarding thematic and structural coherence in the arrangement and mutual relationship of various Qur’anic verses and paragraphs. Each sect has adopted its interpretation because isolating a verse from its context can associate multiple meanings to it. It is only the coherence of the Qur’an which, if considered, leads to a definite and integrated understanding of the Divine Message.

Al-Farahi also made another significant contribution by rewriting and reconstructing most sub-disciplines of the Arabic language needed to study the Qur’an.

Almost all of al-Farahi’s works are in Arabic. Except for a few, most of them are in the form of notes and unfinished books. He could only complete a few of them. Foremost among them is a collection of his interpretation of fourteen surahs of the Qur’an by the name Majmu‘ah tafasir-i Farahi. In his Mufradat al-Qur’an, he explained some difficult words and constructions of the Qur’an. He elucidated the nature of oaths and adjurations in the Qur’an in his book entitled Al-Im‘an fi aqsam al-Qur’an. In his book, Al-Ra’y al-sahih fi man huwa al-dhabih, he elaborated upon the philosophy of sacrifice and by furnishing evidences from the Qur’an and the Torah convincingly refuted the claim of the Jews that it was Isaac (sws) not lshmael (sws) whom Abraham (sws) had intended to sacrifice. He re-laid the principles of rhetoric needed to study the Qur’an in Jamhurah al-balaghah and outlined some special Qur’anic styles and constructions in Asalib al-Qur’an. The arguments he presented to verify the principle of coherence are soundly enlisted in Dala’il al-nizam. His complete mastery of Arabic and Persian can be seen from his poetical works in both these languages.

Besides these scholarly dissertations, there are at least twenty other unfinished works which need to be completed and developed further.

 

ii. Amin Ahsan Islahi

Islahi was born in 1904 at Bamhur, a small village in Azamgarh (U.P.), India. He graduated from the Madrasah al-Islaharound 1922. The teacher who influenced him the most during his student life at the Madrasah was‘Abd al-Rahman Nigrami (d. 1928?), himself a versatile genius. Nigrami’s attention helped him in developing an intense inclination towards Arabic literature. After graduating from the Madrasah, he entered the field of journalism. For a while, he edited a newspaper Madinah at Bijnawr and also remained associated with Sach, a newspaper edited by the luminary ‘Abd al-Majid Daryabadi (d. 1977).

From 1925-1930, he followed al-Farahi like a shadow. It was in this formative period of his life that he developed a deep understanding of the Qur’an and learnt from al-Farahi the principles of direct deliberation on the Book of Allah. After al-Farahi’s death, Islahi studied Hadith from a celebrated scholar of this discipline, ‘Abd al-Rahman Muhaddith Mubarakpuri (d. 1935). In 1936, he founded the Da’irah-i Hamidiyyah, a small institute, to disseminate the Qur’anic thought of al-Farahi. Under the auspices of this institute, he started publishing a monthly journal, al-Islah, in which he translated many portions of al-Farahi’s treatises written in Arabic.

Islahi was among the founder members of the Jama‘at-i Islami, a religious party founded by the eminent Islamic scholar, Abu al-A‘la Mawdudi (d. 1979), in 1941. In 1958, he abandoned the Jama‘at, after serious differences arose between him and Mawdudi on the nature of the constitution of the Jama‘at.

After leaving the Jama‘at, he finally got the chance to fulfil his cherished goal of writing a commentary on the Qur’an. He also launched a monthly journal Mithaq in which portions of this commentary, Tadabbur-i Qur’an,were published. In 1961, he established a small study circle Halqah Tadabbur-i Qur’an for college students to whom he taught Arabic language and literature, the Holy Qur’an and the al-Jami‘ al-sahih of Imam Muslim. He also taught Shah Wali Ullah’s Hujjatullah al-balighah and Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddimah to some pupils.

It was on the 29th of Ramadan 1400/ 12th August 1980 when the great day arrived – the day when a monumental effort reached its culmination: the Tadabbur-i Qur’an had taken twenty-two long years to complete. In the Tadabbur-i Qur’an, he produced a masterpiece of tafsir which does not simply reflect the principles of his illustrious mentor, al-Farahi: it also bears the stamp of originality. It is indeed a unique work that has ushered in a new era in the field of scriptural interpretation. Islahi proved from a Qur’anic verse that the Almighty has divided the Qur’an in seven discrete groups keeping in view the preaching mission of the Prophet Muhammad (sws). Each of these groups has a theme and surahs are arranged in a group keeping in view this theme. Within a group, the surahs themselves generally occur in pairs with regard to the subject discussed in them. Each surah also has a specific theme which is the most comprehensive statement of its contents.

In 1981, Islahi founded the Idarah Tadabbur-i Qur’an-o Hadith, which remained until his death (15th December 1997) the centre of his intellectual activities. A quarterly journal Tadabbur started publication in 1981 as its organ. He gave weekly lectures on the text of the Qur’an. Later, he took up deep study on the principles of Hadith and began teaching al-Mu’atta’ of Imam Malik in weekly sittings to a close circle of students and associates. After completing al-Mu’atta’, he also taught some portions of Imam al-Bukhari’s al-Jami‘ al-sahih.

Besides the Tadabbur-i Qur’an, Islahi authored a number of books in Urdu on various topics of Islam. They include Tazkiyah-i nafs (Purification of the Soul), Haqiqat-i shirk-o tawhid (The Essence of Polytheism and Monotheism), Da‘wat-i din awr us ka tariqah-i kar (Islamic Message and the Mode of its Preaching), Islami riyasat (The Islamic State), Mabadi tadabbur-i Qur’an (Principles of Understanding the Qur’an), Mabadi tadabbur-i Hadith (Principles of Understanding the Hadith), Islami riyasat mayn fiqhi ikhtilafat ka hal (Solution of Juristic Differences in an Islamic State) and Islami qanun ki tadwin (Codification of Islamic Law).

Islahi also translated al-Farahi’s commentary consisting of fourteen surahs of the Qur’an, as well as the following books by him from Arabic: Fi man huwa al-dhabih (Which of Abraham’s son was Sacrificed?) and Aqsam al-Qur’an (Oaths of the Qur’an).

www.amin-ahsan-islahi.com is a resource site on his life and works.

 

iii. Javed Ahmad Ghamidi

Javed Ahmad Ghamidi was born in 1951 in a village of Sahiwal, a district of the Punjab province. After matriculating from a local school, he came to Lahore in 1967 where he is settled ever since. Hedid his BA honours (part I) in English Literature from Government College, Lahore in 1972 and studied Islamic disciplines in the traditional manner from various teachers and scholars throughout his early years. In 1973, he came under the tutelage of Amin Ahsan Islahi (d. 1997), who was destined to who have a deep impact on him. He was also associated with the famous scholar and revivalist Abu al-A‘la Mawdudi (d. 1979) for several years. He taught Islamic studies at the Civil Services Academy for more than a decade from 1979 to 1991.

Ghamidi has written and lectured widely on the Qur’an, Islamic law and various other aspects of Islam. He is the founder-president of Al-Mawrid Institute of Islamic Sciences (www.al-mawrid.org) and is the chief editor of the Urdu Monthly “Ishraq” (www.ghamidi.net/Ishraq.html) and the English Monthly “Renaissance” (www.monthly-renaissance.com). He is also the founder of the Mus‘ab School System (www.musab.edu.pk). He appears regularly on various television channels to discuss Islam and some contemporary issues as a part of his campaign to educate people about Islam. His talks and lectures can be accessed online from www.tv-almawrid.org.

Ghamidi has drawn heavily from the Qur’anic thought of his two illustrious predecessors, Hamid al-Din al-FarahiandAmin Ahsan Islahi presenting many of their views in a more precise manner. However, many of his contributions to Islamic thought are original.

Both these features can be witnessed in his ongoing annotated translation of the Qur’an, al-Bayan. It takes the reader close to the classical Arabic of the Qur’an in which ideas are conveyed with brevity and terseness. Words and concepts which are understood are suppressed and left to theperspicacity of the reader. To achieve this brevity, various devices are employed in classical Arabic which are not found in most other languages. Ghamidi has tried to unfold the meaning of the divine message by taking into consideration these devices within the text of the translation.

Another original contribution of Ghamidi is his categorization of the contents of religion. According to him, the Qur’an itself divides the contents of Islam in two categories: al-Hikmah and al-Shari‘ah. Whilst the former refers to topics related to the philosophy of religion, the latter to those that relate to law. Ghamidi further classifies these two categories into sub-categories. The former comprises two sub-categories: Faith and Ethics and the latter comprises ten sub-categories: The Shari‘ah of Worship Rituals, The Social Shari‘ah, The Political Shari‘ah, The Economic Shari‘ah, The Shari‘ah of Preaching, The Shari‘ah of Jihad, The Penal Shari‘ah, The Dietary Shari‘ah, Islamic Customs and Etiquette, Oaths and their Atonement. In each of these categories, Ghamidi has made unique contributions in interpreting the directives of the Qur’an. Examples include his views on the specific nature of the preaching mission of Abraham’s progeny, the punishment of apostasy, the testimony and diyat of women, the etiquette of gender interaction, slavery in Islam, the requisites of citizenship, inheritance laws and the general and specific directives of jihad.

Ghamidi has also contributed to the science of hermeneutics. He has enunciated foundational principles of understanding Islam in his essay, Usul-o mabadi(Fundamental Principles). These principles take into account the specific nature of the texts of the Qur’an and Hadith. One distinctive feature of the approach that pervades these principles is what can be summed up in the form of a dictum: the Hadith should be interpreted in the light shed by the Qur’an and not vice versa.

An important contribution of Ghamidiis the distinction he has made between shari‘ah and fiqh. They are generally rather loosely regarded as synonymous. Whilst the former is divine, the latter is a human endeavour and thus the two must be distinguished from one another. In his seminal work on Islam, Mizan, he has attempted to decipher the shari‘ah from the sources of Islam.

Another prominent contribution of Ghamidiis his concept and definition of the word Sunnah. Whilst categorizing it to be distinct from Hadith, he has laid down certain principles to precisely determine its corpus. By applying these principles, he has actually come up with a list of contents of the Sunnah.

Ghamidihas also presented an integrated framework of the concepts and terms of Islam in his essay Haqiqat-i din (The Essence of Religion). This framework in itself is a representative of a complete interpretation of Islam in contrast with the two other prevailing interpretations of Islam in the Muslim ummah: the tasawwuf-based interpretation and the jihad-based interpretation.

Burhanand Maqamat are two of Ghamidi’sother books. The former is a treatisein which contemporary religious thoughts have been critically analyzed, while the latter is a collection of religious and literary essays.

www.ghamidi.net is a resource site on his life and works.



[1]. Expanded from: Mustansir Mir, Coherence in the Qur’an, A Study of Nazm in Tadabbur-i Qur’an, 1st ed. (Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1986), 6-9.

[2]. Sharf al-Din Islahi, Dhikr-i Farahi, 1st ed. (Lahore: Dar al-tadhkir, 2002), 68.

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