Amin Ahsan Islahi: A Brilliant Islamic Scholar

Author: Khurshid Ahmad Nadeem

Mawlana Amin Ahsan Islahi was born in 1904 in Bamhor, a village in district Azamgarh, U.P., India. After receiving early education at home, he joined Madrasat al-Islah at Sara’i Mir, a town in U.P., and remained a student there from 1922 to 1925. Islahi worked in Madinah, an influential Muslim newspaper appearing from Bijnor. In 1925, he joined Madrasat al-Islah as a teacher and continued to work in that capacity till 1943. During his stay there, he developed a close association with Hamid Uddin Farahi, a very profound and distinguished scholar of Islam, especially in the field of Qur’anic studies. During the period from 1925 to 1930, Islahi learned Tafsir and a number of other subjects from Farahi. After Farahi’s death in 1930, Islahi studied Hadith for several years under Mawlana Abdul Rehman Mubarakpuri, one of the most accomplished scholars of that subject in the sub-continent. In 1935, Islahi also established Da’ira Hamidyyah in order to publish the work of Farahi, and also started publishing a scholarly monthly magazine, al-Islah. In 1941, he joined Jama‘at-i Islami, a religio-political organization. He remained with the Jama‘at for seventeen years; in fact, as one of its prominent leaders, but resigned in 1958 after developing differences with the Amir of the Jama‘at, Mawlana Mawdudi. Following this, in 1959, he initiated a monthly magazine called, Mithaq. In 1981, he went on to establish Idarah-i Tadabbur-i Qur’an o Hadith. Under the auspices of this institution, his instructional lessons of the Qur’an and Hadith continued till 1993. Thereafter, his health condition began to deteriorate and eventually, on December 15, 1997, at the age of 93, he breathed his last.

Islahi’s mentor, Farahi, was the founder of a new school of tafsir. He emphasized that the sequence of the surahs and verses was from God Himself and that this sequence had an enormous significance for an in-depth understanding of the Qur’an. He also emphasized that the Qur’an was characterized by nazm (coherence) and that this was a crucial factor in a profound understanding of the Qur’an. Nazm, he offered, has two layers: the Qur’an as a whole, to be treated as an organic unity, and likewise, each surah is also an organic unity. With reference to the contents of the Qur’an, Farahi divides it into nine groups. Each surah has a central theme (‘amud, literally, “pillar”). Likewise, each group of surah has a central theme (‘amud).

Another important feature of Farahi’s tafsir is his emphasis on the language of the Qur’an. In his view, it is not ordinary Arabic but the Arabic of the highest quality – the language of such great poets as Imru’ al-Qays, Labid, and Zuhayr.

Essentially, Islahi accepted the basic principles of Qur’anic exegesis as expounded by Farahi. He, however, made some modification in Farahi’s scheme of ideas. For example, he divided the Qur’an into seven groups, whereas Farahi divided it into nine. Similarly, according to Islahi, each group starts with one or more Makkan surahs and ends with one or more Madinan surahs. He also considers each surah to be part of a pair of surahs; that is, two surahs form a pair (or sub-group) of each of the seven groups of surahs.

He systematically identified the sources of Islamic knowledge and accorded to each, its appropriate position, especially with reference to tafsir. These sources were divided into two categories: internal and external. The Qur’an itself is an internal source because of the known principle that one part of the Qur’an explains the other. At some places, the Qur’an simply lays down rudimentary guidance pertaining to a subject, and at other places, it treats it comprehensively. Besides the Qur’an, its nazm and its language are the other internal sources that illuminate the meaning of the Qur’an. In his view, the Sunnah, the traditions, the earlier Scriptures, exegetical literature and Arab history are the external sources. Qur’anic terms, such as salah, zakah, etc., will be understood in the light of the Sunnah, i.e. the way of the Prophet (sws) as a whole, which has been consistently followed by the ummah, age after age. All other sources, apart from the Qur’an and the Sunnah, are aids to the understanding of the Qur’an and will only be given secondary importance since their evidence is of a conjectural nature and does not provide knowledge with full certitude. Islahi’s major contribution to Islamic scholarship of our time lies in his voluminous, 9-volume commentary on the Qur’an called, Tadabbur-iI Qur’an.

Apart from Tadabbur-iI Qur’an – Islahi’s magnum opus – he wrote several other works. Some of these are Mabadi-i Tadabbur-i Qur’an, Mabadi-i Tadabbur-i Hadith, Tazkiyah-i Nafs, Da’wat-i Din aur us ka Tariqa-i kar, Islami Mu’asharah mein ‘Awrat ka Maqam; and Falsafay kay Bunyadi Masa’il: Qur’an-i Hakim ki Rayshni mayn. All these works are in Urdu.

Islahi’s writing, especially his work on the Qur’an, highlighted by his exegesis, Tadabbur-i Qur’an, might prove to be the most potent works produced by the Islamic scholarship of the sub-continent in the current century. May his soul rest in peace.