Among the exclusive group of the ‘born greats’, there are some who become legends in their own lifetimes, others who receive recognition just after they pass away and a few for whom the wheel of fortune must complete another rotation, before the world is able to appreciate their ‘extraordinary’ genius. Hamid Uddin Farahi, a brilliant Muslim scholar, undoubtedly, belongs to this rare breed of men. It has taken almost half a century for a handful of Muslim scholars of the subcontinent to realize the tremendous amount of work done by him to redirect the Muslim religious thought from the path it had deviated. Perhaps, it will take another half a century before his name becomes as legendary as Abu Hanifa or Ibni Taymiyyah.
Farahi was born in Phriha (hence the name Farahi), a small village in Azamgarh district (Uttar Pradesh, India) in the year 1862. He was a cousin of the famous theologian-historian Shibli Naumani, from whom he learnt Arabic. He studied Persian from Maulvi Mehdi Husain of Chitara (Azamgarh). He traveled to Lahore to study Arabic literature from Maulana Faizul Hasan Saharaupuri, 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 the modern disciplines of knowledge. He was recommended by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1897 AD) the founder of the College. In his letter of recommendation addressed to the principal of the college, an Englishman, Sir Syed wrote that he was sending someone who knew more Arabic and Persian than the professors of the college. While studying in the college, Farahi rendered parts of ‘At-Tabaqat-ul-Kubra’ of Abu Abdullah Ibn Saad Al-Zuhri (784-845 AD) into Persian. The translation was found to be so good that Sir Syed included it in the college syllabus. Farahi did his graduation from Allahbad University. For the next many years, he taught at various institutions, including Aligarh and Dar-ul-Ulum, Hyderabad. While at Aligarh, he learnt Hebrew from the German Orientalist, Joseph Horovitz (1874-1931 AD) who was a professor of Arabic at the Aligarh College. Horovitz studied Arabic with Farahi. During his stay at Hyderabad, Farahi conceived the idea of establishing a university where all religious and modern sciences would be taught in Urdu. His scheme materialized in 1919 in the form of Jami‘ah Uthmania, Hyderabad. He subsequently returned to Sarai Meer in 1925, a town of his home village Azamgarh and took charge of the Madrasatul Islah. Here, besides managing the affairs of the Madrasah, Farahi devoted most of his time in 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, Farahi reflected over the Qur’an, which remained his chief interest and the focal point of all his writings. His greatest contribution in its study is his discovery of coherence in the Qur’an. ‘He (Farahi) has achieved the impossible’, remarked Shibli while praising his student’s grand achievement. It was not doubt a superhuman accomplishment. Farahi, demonstrated to all the western critics that with a sound understanding of the Arabic language one can appreciate the coherence in the Qur’an which is certainly not a haphazard collection of injunctions. By taking into consideration, the three constituents of nazm (coherence): order, proportion and unity 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. It is only then that the Qur’an can be truly regarded as a Mizan (Balance of Justice) and a Furqan (Distinguisher of Good and Evil). It is only then that the Qur’anic verse: ‘Hold fast to the Cable of Allah and he not divided’ (3:103), can become a manifest reality and the unity in the Muslim Ummah be achieved. Farahi went on to enunciate certain principles necessary to understand and interpret the Qur’an. The foremost among them was the principle of coherence. He was able to show that unless the Qur’an is understood through a holistic approach a lot of its treasure of wisdom remains hidden.
Almost all of Farahi’s works are in Arabic. Farahi had adopted a very direct method in his study of the Qur’an and his findings were as original as his approach. He also made another significant contribution by rewriting and reconstructing all the sub-disciplines of the Arabic language needed to study the Qur’an.
Most of Farahi’s works are in the form of notes and scripts and unfinished books. He could only complete a few of them. Foremost among them is a collection of his interpretation of no more than fourteen surahs of the Qur’an by the name ‘Majmu‘ah-i-Tafasir-i-Farahi’. His ‘Mufradat-ul-Qur’an’ explains some difficult words and constructions of the Qur’an. He explained the nature of oaths and adjurations in the Qur’an in his book entitled ‘Al-Im‘an fee Aqsam-il- Qur’an’. In his book ‘Al-Rai al-Sahih Fi Man huwa al-Zabih’ he elaborated upon the philosophy of sacrifice and by furnishing evidences from the Qur’an and the Torah conclusively refuted the claim of the Jews that it was Isaac (sws) who Abraham (sws) had intended to sacrifice not lshmael (sws). He re-laid the principles of rhetoric needed to study the Qur’an in ‘Jamhuratul Balaaghah’ and outlined some special Qur’anic styles and constructions in ‘Asalib-ul-Qur’an’. The arguments he presented to verify the principle of coherence are soundly enlisted in ‘Dala’al 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. Most of these writings have been published by Da’irah-i-Hamidiyyah in Sarai Meer, India, an institution established to promote and propagate the thoughts and views.
Farahi, no doubt, with his scholarly work, laid the foundations for the intellectual awakening of the Muslims. It was left to his successors to build upon this heritage and strive for this revival. Amin Ahsan Islahi, his most distinguished pupil and disciple then set about to accomplish this task. In the Tadabbur i Qur’an, he produced a masterpiece of tafsir which does not simply reflect the principles of his illustrious guide: it also bears the mark of originality. It is a unique work that has ushered in a new era in the field of scriptural interpretation. Through it the thoughts of Farahi are now more accessible than before. Viewed thus, Islahi is the greatest work of Farahi. To a historian, Farahi and Islahi are like a flower and its fragrance – two names inseparable from one another.