Author: Shafi Fazaluddin
Publisher: De Gruyter, 2023
Format: Hardback, paperback
In the rich corpus of twentieth century religious scholarship, an outstanding example is Amin Ahsan Islahi’s multi volume tafsir in Urdu, Tadabburul Qur’an (published 1983). Much inspired by his teacher Imam Hamiduddin Farahi at the Madrassatul Islah in the UP in the late 1920s, he developed a highly original classification of Qur’anic surahs. In this scheme, starting from Al-Fateha to Ann-Naas in a linear fashion, there are seven groupings, each possessing a distinct theme, and within a group, there are pairings of surahs reflecting a coherence of content. For example, in the group from Surat Al-Furqan (S.25) to Surat Al-Ahzab (S.33), he considers the central theme to be proof of the veracity of Prophethood. Surat Al-Naml (S.27) and Surat Al-Qasas (S.28) are a pair, because in the former “that part of the account of Moses was described that related to assigning him as a prophet and then being sent to Pharaoh”, while in the latter, “the complete details of this account are mentioned beginning from his birth to being given the Torah” [Shehzad Saleem’s translation]
A further breakthrough in modern Qur’anic scholarship was the focus on discrete concepts. Syed Abul ‘Ala Maududi’s Qur’an ki char bunyadi istiilahen (Four Basic Concepts of the Qur’an, ~ 1941-42) is notable.- he also authored a multi-volume tafsir Tafhim ul-Qur’an. An unexpected contribution was Japanese scholar Toshihiko Izutsu’s ‘Ethico-Religious Concepts in the Qur’an’ (published 1966), examining the semantic field of concepts including kufr, nifaq, iman and birr. Mention must also be made of the work on Qur’anic concepts by the Egyptian Muhammad Abdullah Draz (died 1958), Algerian Malek Bennabi (in particular his Le Phenomene Coranique, ~1943-44) and Pakistan’s Professor Fazlur Rahman.
Dr. Shafi Fazaluddin’s creative genius has been to apply Islahi‘s Qur’an-wide coherence to the concept of ‘Conciliation’, examining how it remoulds and extends as one traverses through the seven surah groupings.
Thus in Surat-Al-Furqan there is verse 25;63, “And the servants of Most Gracious are those who walk the earth in humility and when the ignorant address them, they say ‘Peace’” – Wa ‘ibaadur Rahmaanil lazeena yamshoona ‘alal ardi hawnan wa izaa khaata bahumul jaahiloona qaaloo salaamaa. In Islahi’s tafsir, there is the comment that “a humble gait reflects the inner self” and that the concluding word, ‘salaam’ is a word of greeting, but is also advice to politely depart and go away from the company of those making sarcastic remarks about the Prophet, rather than dispute and argue. Dr. Fazaluddin’s reflection is that this is a model of conciliatory conduct. Drawing on Imam Razi, he observes, that hawnan is related to al-rifq wa ‘l’lin (gentleness and leniency) and not desiring fasad (disorder) on the earth, “another conflict management concept”. In a further reference to Razi, he notes that the Muslim greeting of ‘salaam’ “is also a symbolic assurance of security, diffusing tension, indicating non-retaliation and avoiding or confirming the resolution of a dispute.”
An underlying theme in Dr Shafi Fazaluddin’s work is that Islam’s imperative is peace and coexistence rather than belligerence and combat. He distinguishes between Divine-Human Conciliation and S0cial Conciliation and explains the central role of the Prophet, peace be on him, in establishing an interconnectivity.
He demonstrates that the private and public transformation of Muslim conduct began in the early Meccan revelations, such as Al-An’am and Al-Araf,
“At first read, the content of Q.6 [Al-An’am] has little to do with a conventional understanding of Conciliation. A thorough analysis of the same material however reveals two important aspects of Conciliation. The first of these is the non-confrontational etiquette in the propagation of faith which pervades Q.6 and is also referred to in Q.7 [Al-Araf]. The second aspect of Conciliation in Q.6 is an injunction to abide by both Divine rights and human rights , thus maintaining good relations in these relationships.”
This type of analysis is a welcome riposte to a common orientalist perspective that perceives a distinct contrast between the tone of the Meccan and Medinan revelation. From Dr. Fazaluddin’s research, at a “comprehensive, macro-level, it is difficult to see disjunct between the emphasis on Conciliation” between these two periods. Moreover, “Conciliation in the Meccan period was essentially a preparatory development process for the crystallisation of these ultimate reconciliation opportunities in the Medinan period. All this suggests a consistent progression of conciliatory teachings across the two periods, climaxing in the Medinan period”.
The author makes an interesting parallel between the detailed Qur’anic injunctions on inheritance with the distribution of war booty. Their purpose “in both cases, I would argue, [is] to prevent disputes by addressing the root cause, namely uncertainty over the allocated shares in a large capital sum which naturally incites personal greed and mutual confrontation.”
In Conciliation in the Qur’an there is a reference to how out-of-court sulh agreements came to be integrated into the Ottoman court system. The work is also to be commended for insights into the significance of the Treaty of Hudaybiya ( described as ‘conciliation in practice’) and clarifying the context of the ‘Sword Verse’ in Surah At-Tawbah 9:.5.
While acknowledging the debt to Islahi and Al-Razi, the author frequently expresses his own dissenting opinion. At one point – perhaps an overstatement – he asserts that Islahi “displays a fatal flaw [by] fallaciously misdirecting two important references to enjoining ihsan in social relations, towards the display of ihsan in worship”. The contention relates to Surat Yusuf 12:90, in which, for Islahi, a bunyadi shart (foundational condition) of ihsan is taqwa and sabr, but the counter-argument presented is “the true magnitude of Yusuf’s ihsan and the actual emphasis on ihsan in social relations at [Q] 12:90 cannot be fully understood without additional reference to [Q] 12.92.” The disagreement amongst our mashaikh is indeed a blessing!
This book is based on a doctoral thesis at the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London, that was supervised by Professor M. A. S. Abdul Haleem and Professor A.H.I. Al-Matroudi. Modern, authentic scholarship, like Dr. Shafi’s, owes much to Professor Abdul Haleem for establishing Qur’anic Studies as an academic discipline that can allows serious-minded practicing Muslims to engage with their sacred text in a respectful but objective manner.
This work has much contemporary relevance, particularly in shaping Muslim conduct in relations with those of other faiths or no faith.