Exordium to Coherence in the Quran

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Maulana Hamid Adin Farahi

An exordium to Coherence in the Quran is an English Translation of Muqaddamah Nizam al-Qur’an by Maulana Hamid al-Din Farahi and translated by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi

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Exordium to Coherence in the Quran is an English Translation of Muqaddamah Nizam al-Qur’an by Maulana Hamid al-Din Farahi
and translated by Tariq Mahmood Hashmi

Translator’s Introduction

The Holy Quran shapes and governs all aspects of the life of
the Muslim community – individual and collective, religious and
social, political and financial, legal and moral, national and
international. It gives meaning to their lives. In Muslim
perception, those who dedicate their life to understanding the
Quran and explaining it to others earn great respect in this world
and everlasting reward in the Afterlife. It raises their religious as
well as social status in the Muslim ummah. The Book has
therefore attracted the best minds over the last fourteen centuries,
who immersed themselves in deciphering its text, deriving legal
commands from it, highlighting its social implications,
discovering ethical principles and formulating religious dictates
from it that govern the Muslims’ individual as well as collective
life. Such contributions have in turn further established its
relevance to the Muslim’s belief and practice in all ages.

The first generation of readers (or listeners) of the Quran were
the Companions of the Holy Prophet (sws). The Companions and
their successors commented on the text spontaneously and
directly. “This was because they knew what was revealed before
their eyes, had full knowledge of the circumstances in which it
was revealed and were characterized by a perfect understanding,
correct knowledge and virtuous deeds.” It appears that a few of
them developed a special taste for the study and understanding of
the Quranic sciences. This activity must have involved little
research and more questioning from the Prophet (sws). The
Companions must have asked the Prophet (sws) about the verses
or surahs of the Quran to get an immediate answer which,
coming from the Prophet (sws), would be fully satisfying for
them.

The situation however must have changed immediately after
the Holy Prophet (sws). With passing time and increasing
distance from the first addressees of the Holy Quran, as in other
disciplines, the art of inteipreting the Book of God became more
and more specialized. By the third century Hijrah, it had evolved
into a highly technical discipline which became dependent on
input from a number of sophisticated disciplines like language,
grammar, rhetoric and above all a methodology of interpretation.

During the first few centuries, remarkably brilliant exegeses
were compiled by scholars from various schools. But the science
of us Cil -i tafsir (Quranic Hermeneutics) was still not
conspicuous. Though the exegetes of the classical times did not
comprehensively state the methodology and the principles they
followed in interpreting it, yet, it was possible for the later
scholars to study the works of their predecessors and explain the
principles they had followed and which, they believed, provided
an example for the subsequent generations. Immediately after the
first generation, various principles of interpretation can be traced
in the anecdotal material we have inherited from the first
generation commentators. With the passage of time, Muslim
scholars of the later generations gleaned the principles from
earlier works and attempted comprehensive and scientific
statements of the methodology of interpreting the holy text. This
led to the evolution of the Muslim hermeneutics or usiil-i tafsir.
The works of Taqi al-DTn Ahmad Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328
AD), Jalaluddln SuyutI (c. 1445-1505 AD) and Shah Walliullah
of Delhi (1703-1762 AD), based on retrospective analysis of the
major tafsir works, represent the models of usul-i tafsir that has
been widely accepted and applied by the later exegetes.

A study of the tafsir works from medieval times reveals that
most of the exegetical literature was modeled on a line that can
safely be termed as tafsir based on tradition usually termed as
tafsir ma ‘thur. This means that first, the exegetes of these times,
with few exceptions, held the received inteipretations as a
dominant factor in deciding on their interpretations of the text.
They show a pronounced preference for authority over
rationality and tradition over originality. Furthermore, most of
these scholars considered the verses as individual stand alone
independent verses, in an atomistic manner, without giving any
weight to the logical or textual coherence. Though references to
the context and to the internal organization of the text are
frequently found in the standard Muslim exegetical literature, but
they mostly followed, what may be called, a “fragmentarian” approach.

At the same time, another parallel tradition of interpretation of
the Quran can also be traced throughout the history. This mode
of interpretation emphasized the text itself to the exclusion of or
to the suppression of historical reports regarding the occasion of
revelation of each verse. The independence from such historical
reports was to be compensated by closer reading of the text and
its thematic and structural coherence. It appears that being a
lesser tradition, the exegetical works produced in this mode did
not reach outstanding levels of scholarship and there are only
few extant examples to be cited. This suppressed tradition in the
tafsTr literature however was revived in the beginning of the last
century by an Indian scholar, Hamid al-DTn Farahl (India,
1930)

Farahi emphasized a seminally important approach
Born in 1863, in the village Phariahah of A‘zamgarh, UP India.
Farahi started his education by committing the Quran to memory at the
age of ten. He studied Arabic, Urdu and Persian while he was a young
boy. He completed his traditional religious education under Shibll
Numani (1857-1914), a famous Muslim historian and scholar of the
time. Later on, his pursuit of higher studies in Arabic language brought
him to Lucknow (1881) and then to Lahore (1882-3). In Lahore, he had
the opportunity to remain under the tutelage of Mawlana Fayd al-
Hassan Saharanpurli an erudite scholar and a great Arabic poet. Farahi
joined MAO College Aligarh, to study English language and other
disciplines in 1891.

He started his career as a teacher of Arabic language in the Madrasah
al-Islam Karachi where he remained for over a decade (1897-1907).
During his stay in Karachi (in about 1900) he was appointed an
interpreter to Lord Curzon, the British Viceroy to India, during the
latter’s diplomatic visit to the Arabian Peninsula. On his return from
the tour Farahi joined MAO College Aligarh once again as Professor of
Arabic (1907-8), where he came across the German Orientalist, Joseph
Horovitz (1874-1931) and learnt Hebrew from him. In reciprocity
Joseph Horovitz learnt Arabic from Farahi. Later on Farahi joined, as
principal, Dar al-Ulum Hyderabad (1914-19). After a few years he
resigned and went back to his home town A‘zamgarh and devoted his
time to developing Madrasah al-Islah (School for Reform). He spent
last six years of his life there during which time he was able to train
many able students, lslahl being one of them, who would continue
studying the Qur’an in the light of the principles introduced by their
great teacher. Farahi died on November 12, 1930 in Mithra, India.

Contesting the attitude taken by earlier scholars,
who betrayed the belief that the Holy Quran
is devoid of apparent structure and coherence, he proposed that
every sirah of the book deals with a specific central theme and
the book as a whole is also well structured. Through this
approach, he makes the Holy Quran the central and the most
authoritative tool for its interpretation, vis-a-vis the Hadlth
literature, the recorded opinions of the Companions and their
successors, the tafsTr literature, and the narratives regarding the
occasions of revelation and the instances of abrogation within
the Holy Quran.

Basing his tafsir on a thorough understanding of the language
of the Holy Quran, instead of relying on the Hadlth narratives
and received interpretations, and taking the nazm (coherence) as
a guiding principle instead of the so called fragmentarianism , he
offers a viable alternative to the approach of traditionalism and
atomism of the traditional tafsTr model. He has forcefully
challenged conventional methodologies that dominate Qur’an
tafsTr offering a new building block for understanding the Holy
Qur’an.

Though, unfortunately, he could not complete his commentary
on the Book of God and many of his discussions on the
principles of interpretation remained unfinished, yet he showed
the scholars a well lit path for approaching the Holy Quran
which he argued, was more reliable. Farahi’s work was to be
converted into a significant and enduring tradition by Amin
Ahsan Islahi and Javed Ahmed Ghamidi. Direct guidance from
Farahi’s works and remaining under his tutelage allowed Amin
Ahsan Islahi (1904 to 1997), one of his illustrious students, to
pen a nine volume commentary of the Holy Quran named
Tadabbur-i Quran. As the tradition continued to flourish, Javed
Ahmed Ghamidi (Bom: 1954), has been able to further develop
the concept of Quranic coherence as found in the works of
Farahi and Islahi. His marked contribution however is his
attempt to explain the Shariah of God contained in the Holy
Quran and Sunnah in the light of textual coherence.

A number of introductory books, including one by Mustansir
Mir, were instrumental in introducing Farahi and Islahi to the
English readers, which in turn created a demand for the books
and articles written by the founder of the Farahl school of
thought, as it has come to be known in the Indian Subcontinent.
In fact, now this school represents a powerful intellectual current
in Pakistan. There is therefore enough justification to present the
work of Farahl in English so that the English speaking world can
access these seminal texts.

A new Quranic Hermeneutics

Farahi could not complete these introductory prologues
( muqaddamah ) to his commentary on the Quran titled Nizam al-
Quran wa Tawtl al-Furqan bi al-Furqan (Coherence in the
Quran and Interpretation of the Quran by the Quran) and these
remained in the form of manuscripts which were compiled and
published posthumously. These prolegomena constitute a set of
tracts, independent but not unconnected fragments. Farahi’s
works are marked by his conviction that the Holy Quran is a
univocal text. To access its univocal meaning, however, we have
to be perfectly comfortable with the classical Arabic language
and its usages. Then, a competent reader has to apply his
linguistic skills to the revealed text, putting aside all
preconceived notions. This will help grasp the thematic
coherence as well as the structure of the surahs and of the Holy
Quran in a holistic manner.

Farahi insists that the Holy Qur’an is a well structured book. Its
surahs are complete units of meaning. Thus, one should first
enable himself to understand the language of the Holy Qur’an
through a close study of the Book of God in the backdrop of
expertise in classical Arabic literature. Only then should a
fruitful reading of the Holy Qur’an become possible. This
reading should focus the fundamental unit of the surah. A
careful reading would lead him to learn that each surah deals
with a single issue that is comprehensively treated by it. This
issue can be called the central theme of the surah, the umud ”,
as Farahl calls it. Having identified and established the central
theme, he will be able to properly deal with the other issues that
were previously considered to have direct bearing on the
interpretation of the Holy Qur’an. Thus competence of language
of the Holy Qur’an and understanding of its coherence is a key
to the univocal interpretation of the Book.

Just as each surah of the Holy Quran is a complete unit, the
Book, as a whole, too exhibits structural and thematic coherence.
The surahs have been arranged in the present order by the Prophet
(sws) as guided by the Almighty himself and, therefore, are not
without a compelling rationale. The surahs can be divided in nine
groups, each dealing with a specific central theme. Surahs in each
group are ordered in a way that mostly Makkan surahs follow
Madinan ones . 3 Each surah, with minor exceptions, corresponds to
the previous one or to one or more succeeding ones.

Farahi also deals with other important issues like historical
resources of interpretation and the linguistic ones, as well as
recorded reports of historical events about the prophetic career of
Muhammad (sws) and circumstances generally believed to have
spurred the revelation, the role of the isrd’Iliyyat, the common
themes of the previous Scriptures, the role of Hadith in
understanding the Holy Quran. All these resources, his view, have
to be subjected to the primacy of the Quranic language and
coherence. Any Hadith that contradicts the interpretation reached
by an expert of the language of the Holy Quran, in the light of the
coherence in the book has to be abandoned. If the previous
Scriptures, the so called isra ’Iliyyat, the narratives of occasion of
revelation etc. corroborate our interpretation, that will surely add
to our confidence. If, however, they contradict and negate the clear
Quranic stance, then they have to be reinterpreted and reconciled
to the clear and obvious meaning of the Quranic text.

Most of the issues taken up by Farahi as short prologues are a
further elaboration on and establishing the principle of nazm.
The others contain discussions to remove or reform the
prevailing dominant trends in interpreting the Holy Quran.
Linguistic resources for example explain how the experts of the
language can safely reach the intended meaning and the one and
only legitimate explanation of the verses. It shows how
obstructive it would be to chain oneself to the confines of
Makkan surahs are the ones revealed in Makkah and the Madinan
surahs are the ones revealed in Madlnah during the Prophetic career of
Muhammad (sws).
Hadith reports based on the eastern folklore regarding the Jewish
and Christian milieu.Aristotelian rhetoric and to subject the Holy Qur’an to the
grammar rules, originally devised by medieval grammarians for
ordinary non-Qur’anic discourses of a mundane nature.

Yet another classification of these resources of interpretation is
epistemological. There are two broad categories, conclusive and
non-conclusive. Among the conclusive principles lie the Holy
Qur’an itself, its coherence and its language. The established
historical facts, Hadlth, the previous scriptures, the received
interpretations, the disciplines of grammar, usul al-fiqh,
balaghah etc form the secondary resources. Here again the
coherence and the language of the Holy Qur’an constitute the
foundation of the Farahi model of tafsir. The distinction between
conclusive and non-conclusive resources is the cornerstone of
Farahi’s approach and marks a major departure from the popular
mode of interpretation of Holy Quran.

In his endeavor to raise the art of Quran tafslr to a science
with a well defined methodology he penned down, besides the
principles of interpretation in this exordium, the following
booklets which illustrate these issues further or clarify a relevant
discussion that has direct bearing on the tafsir work:

i) Mufradat al-Qur’an (Vocabulary of the Qur’an)

ii) Jamharah al-Balaghah ( Manual of Rhetoric)

iii) Dala ’il al-Nizam (Proofs for Coherence)

iv) ’ Asallb al-Qur ’an (Styles of the Qur’an)

v) Al-Takmll jl Usui al-Ta ’wll (Perfection in the Principles
of Interpretation).

Most of these works remained as manuscripts or in form of
notes, and have been published without author’s closure.
However they provide immense help in developing insight into
Farahi’s approach. Produced for the consumption of religious
scholars, all of these works were written in Arabic and the
demand for their English translation has been ever-increasing.

As I motioned earlier Islahi and Ghamidi have further
developed this model of Quran tafsir. It would therefore be
useful to briefly explain their contributions. Islahi’s
understanding of the ‘umud’ of the surahs is identical to that of
his teacher. He has however modified the overall structure of the
Book as understood by his mentor. He holds that there are seven
groups of the surahs instead of nine. He believes that all surahs,
with few exceptions, have been put in pairs. He has established
the seven- fold division of the Holy Qur’an by pleading to the
Quran itself. He holds that in each group the Makkan and
Madinan surahs constitute distinct blocks, the former preceding
the latter. Farahi, however, did not stress on this aspect of
internal arrangement of groups. Islahi believes that each of the
seven sirah groups treats all the phases of the Islamic movement
as led by Muhammad in Arabia, though emphasis in each groups
is on different themes of the movement. Farahi does not assign
specific themes to each group of surahs,
As to Ghamidi’s contribution to the concept of nazm he makes
valuable additions to the elaborateness of the overall structure of
the Holy Quran while keeping alive emphasis on the internal
nazm of the surah. Asif Iftikhar has summarized Ghamidi’s
concept of Quranic nazm in the following words. “The basic
theme of the Quran is a description of the Prophetic indhar
(admonition) to his people, the Banu Ismail-more specifically
the Quraysh. Prophet Muhammad, according to Ghamidi,
belonged to a specific category of the messengers of God who
were sent to specific peoples as God’s final judgment on them.
The Quranic term for such messengers is rasul (plural: rusul).
Unlike some other messengers, termed as anbiya’ (singular:
nabT), whose basic purpose is to prophesize the coming of a
rasul and who are sometimes killed by their own people, the
rusul always triumph. A rasul’s people are always given Divine
punishment on denial after a stipulated time period and rewarded
with a special privilege in this world if they accept his message
and the authority. In Prophet Muhammad’s case, his prophetic
mission of doing indhar went through different phases, which
can be categorized as general admonition ( indhar-I ‘am),
culmination of the conclusive argument (, itmam-i hujjat ), the
abandonment and migration ( bardat and hijrat), and the reward
and punishment (jaza and saza). A depiction of these themes is
given in the Quran in seven distinct groups, each group
consisting of a set of Makkan and Madinian surahs. The surahs
within each group occur in pairs. Each group of the Quran
possesses certain special features as a central theme of its own
and arrangement of ideas. The order of the groups has a thematic
significance too. For example, thematically, the second group is
culmination of the themes gradually flowing backwards from the
seventh group. The theme of the seventh group is admonition
(indhar) to the polytheists of Mecca. This theme moves
gradually towards the inner purification ( tazkiya ) and
organization of those who paid heed to this admonition and
became Muslims (from the seventh group to the second). Then,
in the second group, after culmination of the conclusive
argument(itmam-i hujjat), the Divine law of retribution is
implemented on all the religious groups present in Arabia in the
time of the Prophet (sws). From the first to the second group, the
topical arrangement is also somewhat the same. While indhar is
done to the People of the Book (the Israelites and the Nazarites),
guidelines for the tazkiya and organization of the nascent
Muslim community are also given, who are the umma that has
now been given the responsibility of being witnesses of God
over people ( shuhada ‘ala al-nas).”
A study of these introductory prologues, it is hoped, will show
how Farahi seeks to change our approach to the Quran tafsir.
His theory of nazm , emphasis on univocity of the Quran,
reliance on the language of the Qur’an and interpreting the
Quranic verses with their parallels are expanded and elaborated
upon in his other works. His successors too made significant
contributions in this movement.

I wish to explain that while remaining true to the original
Arabic work of Farahi, I have, in the present translation, made
free use of Islahl’ s Urdu translation of the work, Majmu’ah-i
TafasTr-i Farahl (Collection of Exegeses of Farahl). Farahl, it
should be noted tends to be terse and concise. There are places in
his works where terseness overtakes required clarity. Therefore
this translation draws heavily on Islahi who having remained
under the tutelage of Farahi and being an erudite scholar and a
prominent figure in the Farahi School, is able to fully
comprehend and explain Farahi. Thus with the help of his Urdu
translation, difficult passages of the book could be correctly
rendered and properly explained. All the notes by Farahl and
Islahl have been included in the translation. References have
been added wherever required. Important concepts and
terminology exclusive to the Farahi School have been further
explained by cross references from the author’s other works.
Arabic terms have been provided along with their English
equivalents. It is hoped that the translation proves to be fairly
proper and sufficiently faithful rendering of Farahi’s original
work.

All my teachers and colleagues deserve my profound gratitude
for their valuable help and guidance in accomplishing the
translation. I am deeply indebted to Mr Talib Mohsin and Mr
Sajid Hameed who, on more than one occasion, helped me make
sense of several difficult passages of the original text in Arabic.
Mr Nadir Aqueel Ansari and Mr Jhangeer Hanif made a number
of valuable suggestions to help improve the quality of the
translation. My thanks are therefore also due to them. I owe
special thanks to Mr Manzoor ul-Hassan, under whose
magnanimous supervision, the publication of the translation
finally became possible. A note of thanks is also due to all the
support staff of al-Mawrid, who contributed towards bringing the
text into publishable form.

Tariq Mahmood Hashmi