Islamic scholar, Mawlānā Amīn Ahsan Islāhī, 93, who died in Lahore, Pakistan,
on 15 December 1997, will long be remembered for his lasting contribution to
Qur’ānic studies, especially for his approach based and evolved around the
concept of order and coherence in the contents of the divine book.
Historically, the idea of coherence in the Qur’ān has always been present in
the writings of various scholars, both old and new, but in modern times, it
was Farāhī, the renowned scholar and teacher of Islāhī, who first made it the
focus of his scholarly research, and wrote systematically on this subject.
Islāhī, a most prominent pupil of Farāhī, and later a principal of Madrasah
Al-Islah, the educational institution associated with Shiblī Nu`mānī and
Farāhī, learned and mastered Farāhī’s concept of internal order and coherence
in the Qur’ān and became the most important proponent of this school. Where as
the teacher had left a few isolated writings -- mostly in Arabic and beyond
the access of common readers -- his illustrious pupil developed, elucidated
and explained the subject through his monumental nine volume Urdu Tafthīr,
Tadabbur-i-Qur’ān (Pondering on the Qur’ān).
Islāhī was born in 1904 at Bhamhūr, a village in Azamgarh, UP, India, and
completed his scholastic Islamic education under the prevalent religious
system covering the Qur’ān and Hadīth and Arabic language and literature. Like
many of his scholarly contemporaries, he was also influenced by the Indian
freedom movement and, for some time, he acted as the president of the local
India, and by implication of the Muslims, from the British imperialism, was of
paramount importance to him, as it indeed was in the eyes of other ‘ulamā. In
the early 1930s, Mawlānā Mawdūdī developed a critique of ‘nationalist’
politics represented by the Congress and the Muslim League and called for the
formation of an Islamic party dedicated to presenting and projecting Islam as
a complete way of life. This led to the formation of Jamā’at-e-Islāmī in 1941
and Islāhī was one of its founding members. When some people left the Jamā’at
over some minor differences, Islāhī reportedly remarked: ‘I am not fanatical
enough to jeopardise the future of Islam over the length of Mawdūdī’s beard.’
Jamā’at, Islāhī occupied a position, second only to Mawdūdī; and he was
generally regarded as the successor to Mawdūdī. An eloquent orator, Islāhī
actively worked in the election campaigns of the Jamā’at, but his heart was
never in politics. Even during his most active days, he never enjoyed
politics. He left the Jamā’at in 1958 over some policy differences.
considered electioneering a useless exercise for the purposes of bringing
about an Islamic change. According to him the politicians cannot establish
Islam: their sole aim is to gain power, by whatsoever means possible. And if
some people use the name of Islam, they do so to achieve their political aims.
da`wah (message), Islāhī wrote, relies on tablīgh (propagation of the message)
and shahādah (testimony -- by observing what one preaches to others), whereas
the main tool of the political parties is propaganda to achieve their aims.
difference in the word propaganda and tablīgh is not merely of semantics, but
they are also world apart in their spirit: The purpose of tablīgh is to
disseminate the message of Allah faithfully in its true form fully and
completely, while propaganda is aimed at making the movement succeed by all
possible means, right or wrong. Propaganda is an art developed by modern
political movements, and one of its prominent features is its indifference to
all the moral obligations which the Prophets of Allah have always regarded as
an imperative and a necessary condition for establishing Islam and the Islamic
way of life.
Goebbels alone is notorious in history for his propaganda skills, to be fair
and just, we find that in the political arena almost everyone has to follow in
his footsteps, and it makes little difference whether one does so under the
banner of politics or uses the name of religion or recites the Kalimah of
Islam while entering the arena.
would like to work for the cause of Islam and its revival, he suggested,
should work among people selflessly, without any desire for power, gaining
votes or indulging in political manoeuvres. They should approach the people
solely in order to serve them, to educate them, and to help them reform their
lives morally and Islamically.
In his view,
the Pakistani society was a broken and disintegrated one, afflicted with a
most dangerous malaise: hypocrisy. As such he differed with the view that if
free and fair elections were held the masses would vote for Islam and Islamic
the establishment of Pakistan, when its leaders seemed to be going back on
their promises of making it a model Islamic state, Islāhī wrote: ‘Hypocrisy is
a deadly disease, and there have been in every age and society some people who
were afflicted with it, but we do not find in history a single nation whose
leaders have chosen it as a national policy, taking it to be the key to the
resolution of all their problems. In history there seems to be only one such
nation, and that is unfortunately our nation (Pakistani).’
In his book
Pakistānī Awrat do Rāhay Par (Pakistani Woman at the Cross-roads), he explains
the dangers inherent in such bifurcated social policies of the Pakistani
leadership, as manifest in its attitude towards women and Muslim institution
of family -- perhaps the best example of their hypocrisy. ‘In our view, for
healthy national life it is essential that the leaders should invite their
people resolutely and single-mindedly to the policies that they want to follow
and pursue, but to follow one path in practice, while portraying beauties of a
completely opposite path, is a most stupid policy from which nothing but only
harm can result.’
In the light
of his social analysis, Islāhī believed fervently that no superficial efforts
at reform would succeed in transforming the present Pakistani society into a
vibrant dynamic progressive Islamic polity. Like Mawdūdī before him, he held
that an Islamic intellectual transformation in the light and guidance of the
Qur’ānic teachings was an essential pre-requisite to make changes.
himself witnessed how Mawdūdī the Jamā’at -- despite their initial, clear
long-term plan for a total intellectual transformation touching on all
disciplines and branches of knowledge as a necessary condition for any genuine
Islamic change -- were soon sucked into Pakistani politics.
He was wary
of this danger, and shortly after leaving the Jamā’at, he embarked with a
single-minded dedication on his final intellectual journey from where Mawdūdī
and Jamā’at had left. All his time and energies were focused on studying,
teaching a group of students, and completing his masterpiece,
Tadabbur-i-Qur’ān, the exegesis of the Qur’ān which he considered pivotal as a
reference work for any future work for Islam.
Jama’āt after devoting 16 years was a painful experience. But he was steadfast
in his commitment to Islamic ideals that had initially taken him into the
Jamā’at. Now he had a fresh opportunity to re-assess his own position and
talents, and needs of the society, concentrating on what he considered to be
the most important task of his life: to explain and to elucidate coherently
the message of the Qur’ān in order to pave the way for the true Islamic
renaissance world-wide. The success in recent years of his approach and
thought in attracting attention and interest of the educated classes within
his own country and outside, including the West, shows his assessment was not
writer joined Islāhī’s study circle at Lahore in 1963, he seemed to be in a
hurry, not sure how much time was left for the work, and concerned lest the
intellectual trust that he carried from his great teacher should be lost for
ever. He would often say: ‘Listen attentively, you will have ample time to
ruminate and ponder.’
Islāhī was totally engrossed in the study of the Qur’ān. His pupils were the
beneficiaries of his painstaking efforts. His advice was: ‘Study a sūrah over
and over again, until when you close your eye you are able to see it clearly
in your mind’s eye, its full splendour from top to toe, from the beginning to
seven years of studying under him, I found Mawlānā Islāhī very sensitive,
courteous and caring, frank yet very reasonable, warm and loving. Anyone who
came to see him felt important, a focus of his undivided attention; he would
not intimidate people or make them feel insignificant. His grasp and sweep of
knowledge of literature, poetry, social sciences and human psychology turned
any encounter or even a seemingly meaningless question into a major learning
experience, the taste of which would remain long after the event.
Islāhī came under the tutelage of the renowned Qur’ānic scholar, Hamīduddīn
Farāhī which changed the course of his life. During the next five years, he
imbibed from his teacher his theme about the internal order in the Qur’ān and
mastered his technique and methodology for understanding the Qur’ān and the
wisdom enshrined therein, the crux of which, according to Farāhī, was its
unique consistence and coherence.
of order in the Qur’ān and its parts is nothing new. The tradition goes back
to the Prophet (sws) who was visited every Ramadān by the angel Gabriel and
recited the entire Qur’ān with him. Similarly, when any revelation was
received, the Prophet (sws) would advise his companions where to place it in
the book. As such, the idea of the Qur’ān being a book that is well arranged
and has a definite internal order was fairly known and accepted.
explore and explain it to every age, is a difficult and arduous task. And both
Farāhī and Islāhī believe that earlier people did not pay enough attention to
this aspect of the Qur’ān, which is, in their understanding, the most
important of its intrinsic wisdom and message. Once they realised its
importance, Farāhī and Islāhī dedicated their lives to studying and explaining
the marvels of the Qur’ān.
Farāhī first became interested in this particular aspect during his student
days at the Aligarh Muslim University. He has written about it in Arabic and
also written the exegeses of some short sūrahs in the light of these
principles. Some of these were later translated by Islāhī into Urdu and were
published under the title of Majmu`a Tafāthīr Farāhī.
writings were however, aimed at the Islamic scholars, and were couched in
scholarly language beyond the access of most readers. It was Islāhī who
completed the unfinished work of his great teacher by writing an exegesis of
the entire Qur’ān based on his methodology and principles. He started his Urdu
tafthīr Tadabbur-i-Qur’ān in 1958, completing it in 1980. His 23 year work
contains some six thousand pages.
tathsīr, Islāhī repeatedly pays tribute to his teacher for the exegesis,
saying it is all based on what he learned form him, and that all the credit
goes to Farāhī. The fact, however, is that Islāhī added greatly to what he had
inherited. Farāhī had given some rudimentary ideas and principles but did not
have the opportunity to elucidate his philosophy in tangible terms.
great achievement lies in the language and form that is both scholarly and
easily accessible to an educated reader. Considering the complexity of the
task this is not small accomplishment. His frequent references to his teacher
show not only his enormous love and reverence for him, but his own forthright
sincerity and humility.
tafthīr, in his works, comprehends a century’s thinking and work on the Qur’ān
by him and his teacher. Starting his critical study at Aligarh, Farāhī carried
on for the next 30-35 years until his death. Similarly, Islāhī tells us that
the Qur’ān has been at the centre of his own thought and study for the last 55
years. Thus, the book covers an entire century of hard work by both.
methodology is based on a direct approach to the Qur’ān. Both Farāhī and
Islāhī# seek to explain the Qur’ānic message by focusing on the Qur’ān itself.
They stress the importance of understanding the Qur’ān in the context of its
language, Arabic idiom (classical Arabic literature) as used and understood at
the time of its revelation, supported with internal evidence found in the
Book, and the fact that the Qur’ān explains and elucidates its own meaning in
diverse forms and contexts:
This is a
book with verses basic or fundamental [of established meaning] - further
explained in detail from One Who is Wise and Well-Acquainted [with all
things]. (Hūd 11:1)
this methodology revolves around the Qur’ān’s internal order and the core idea
of the entire tafsīr is to elucidate it.
Islāhī’s concept of the Qur’ānic coherence, all the sūrahs are found in pairs
just as there are pairs in life. Every sūrah is a well-knit unit, has a
definite theme, an introduction, leading to an exposition of its message and
arguments, and ending on a suitable epilogue. Just as there is coherence
within a sūrah and all its verses are inter-related and bear remarkable
relationship to each other, so also there is coherence between sūrahs of the
Qur’ān. Islāhī points out seven distinct groups of sūrahs in the Qur’ān, each
of which has a definite theme and a distinct flavour of its own, with a most
eloquent exposition of its respective theme.
that the division of the Qur’ān into seven distinct groups is based on clear
evidence from the Qur’ān. He cites the famous Qur’ānic verse (al-Hijr 15:87)
as evidence to prove the presence of these seven distinct Qur’ānic groups.
According to him, this verse refers to these seven groups, rather than to
‘seven-oft-repeated (verses)’ (or Sūrah al-Fātiha, as it is generally
understood). Thus being the most important element of his methodology of study
of the Qur’ān, Islāhī gives prime importance to the elucidation of coherence
in the Qur’ān throughout his masterly work. Every sūrah is preceded by an
explanation of its special theme, and an analysis of its contents.
believes that the principles elaborated by him in his tafthīr are scientific,
rational, and based on common sense, without which the true message and beauty
of the Qur’ān cannot be understood or appreciated. In the preface to the ninth
volume, he says that he has written this exegesis not out of any desire of
authoring a book, but purely and solely in response to a call of duty.
have the Qur’ān with us, its true knowledge is non-existent. The Qur’ān has
rather been reduced to a means of earning reward or supplications for others;
it has been turned into a commercial object. Those who talk about it most
vociferously are that much ignorant of its knowledge and are remote from it
... But if this Ummah is to survive and exist as a living community, mere,
repetition of the need for unity will not be enough, nor will the repetition
of the name of the Qur’ān will be of any use. Instead, the most important
thing to achieve these goals is to explain and propagate the true
understanding and knowledge of the Qur’ān. Those who have its true knowledge
will be able to act rightly, and only through their efforts will this Ummah
find the cure for all its ills.’
In the light
of experience of those who have regularly followed his methodology in studying
the Qur’ān, including the writer of these lines, it can be said without
hesitation that Islāhī has given us in explaining the coherence and the
intrinsic order of the Qur’ān the master key to unravel its inexhaustible
treasures. He has provided us with a set of rules and principles to study and
understand the Book of Allah, and to explore and imbibe its wisdom. Islāhī was
a prolific writer; he has to his credit more than 16 titles.
anti-Qadiyani movement in the Punjab in 1951, Mawlānā Islāhī together with
Mawlānā Mawdūdī and Mian Tufail Muhammad was imprisoned in Rawalpindi and
Multan jails. In 1956, when the government of Pakistan set up the Islamic Law
Commission, Mawlānā Islāhī - also an eminent expert on Islamic law - served as
a member until the commission was abolished in 1958 by the martial law regime
of General Ayub Khan.
Ahsan Islāhī is survived by two sons and two daughters. He has also left
behind a group of dedicated pupils determined to carry on his noble mission.
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