Al-Farāhī was born in 1863 in
Phriha (hence the name al-Farāhī), a small village in Azamgarh district (Uttar
Pardesh, India). He was a cousin of the famous theologian-historian Shiblī
Nu‘mānī (d. 1914), from whom he learnt Arabic. He studied Arabic literature with
Fayd al-Hasan al-Sahāranpūrī (d. 1887), 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 modern disciplines of knowledge. Here he also learnt
Hebrew from the German Orientalist Josef Horovitz (d. 1931). After his
graduation from the Allahbad university, he taught at various institutions
including Muslim University in Aligarh, Sindh Madrasah al-Islam in Karachi and
Dār al-‘Ulūm in Hyderabad.
Whilst teaching in Hyderabad, al-Farāhī proposed the
setting up of a university where all religious and modern sciences would be
taught in Urdu. Later, his vision materialized in 1919 in the form of Jāmi‘ah
‘Uthmāniyyah, Hyderabad. In 1925, he returned to his home town Azamgarh and took
charge of the Madrasah al-Islāh. Here, besides managing the affairs of the
Madrasah, al-Farāhī devoted most of his time in training a few students. Among
them, was Amīn Ahsan Islāhī (d. 1997) who was destined to become the greatest
exponent of his thought after him. Al-Farāhī died on 11th November 1930 in
Mathra, where he had gone for treatment.
For almost fifty years, al-Farāhī reflected over the Qur’an,
which remained his chief interest and the focal point of all his writings. His
greatest contribution is to re-direct the attention of Muslim scholars to the
Qur’ān as the basis and ultimate authority in all matters of religion. He
stressed that the Qur’ān should be practically regarded as the mīzān
(the scale that weighs the truth) and the furqān (the distinguisher
between good and evil), a status which it invests on itself. Thus no narrative
can alter or modify the purport of the Qur’ān. Narratives should be interpreted
in the light shed by this divine book and not vice versa. It was as a result of
this status of the Qur’ān that he insisted on the univocity of the Qur’ānic text
and rejected that variant readings be regarded as the Qur’ān per se.
It was his deep deliberation on the Qur’ān that led him to
unfold its nazm (coherence) in a unique way. By taking into consideration, the
three constituents of nazm: order (tartīb), proportion (tanāsub) and
unity (wahdāniyah), he proved that a single interpretation of the Qur’ān was
Al-Farāhī also made another significant contribution by
rewriting and reconstructing most sub-disciplines of the Arabic language needed
to study the Qur’ān.
Almost all of al-Farāhī’s works are in Arabic. Except for a
few, most of them are in the form of notes and unfinished books. He could only
complete a few of them. Foremost among them is a collection of his
interpretation of fourteen sūrahs of the Qur’ān by the name Tafsīr Nizām al-Qur’ān
wa tā’wīl al-Furqān bi al-Furqān. In his Mufradāt al-Qur’ān, he
explained some difficult words and constructions of the Qur’ān. He elucidated
the nature of oaths and adjurations in the Qur’ān in his book entitled Al-Im‘ān
fī aqsām al-Qur’ān. In his book, Al-Rā’y al-sahīh fī man huwa al-dhabīh,
he elaborated upon the philosophy of sacrifice and by furnishing evidence from
the Qur’ān and the Torah conclusively refuted the claim of the Jews that it was
Isaac (sws) whom Abraham (sws) had intended to sacrifice not lshmael (sws). He
re-laid the principles of rhetoric needed to study the Qur’ān in Jamhurah al-balāghah
and outlined some special Qur’ānic styles and constructions in Asālīb al-Qur’ān.
The arguments he presented to verify the principle of coherence are soundly
enlisted in Dalā’il al-nizām. 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.