An eye-opening look into the history of Urdu translations of the Holy Quran in South Asia – and how that has impacted society today.
Interpreting the Holy Quran in the Urdu Language: An Analysis of Naeemi’s Interpretation
An eye-opening look into the history of Urdu translations of the Holy Quran in South Asia – and how that has impacted society today.
The Quran is the source of guidance for all humans, every source of external and internal knowledge and the material world, which encompasses every aspect of human life. In different periods, for the sake of understanding the verses of Allah Almighty and for taking benefits from His verses, the knowledge of interpretation was raised.
The great scholars of each period have written their commentaries of the Qur’an, and only after this the meaning of the Holy Qur’an can be understood and its concepts and issues can be conveyed to the people in the language, in the best possible way. The language of the Qur’an is literally Arabic and has been translated all over the world. Since these translations necessarily change the meaning, they are called interpretations. This is the literal meaning of Tafsir.
Tafsir is a division of knowledge allied to the analysis and understanding of the Quran. Ta’wil has also been used to signify the interpretation of the Qur’anic text. Some scholars believe that the meaning of Tafsir mentions the external meanings while Ta’wil is the abstraction of the unknown meanings in the Quran.
The Quran has been translated into other languages, rather than Arabic, due to the non-Arab regions and it was a necessary work too, as the non-Arab regions used oral communication to propagate the teachings of the Holy Qur’an until the end of the 18th century. It is difficult to ignore the remark of the tradition of works on the interpretation of the Quran in Persian and Urdu language, as Urdu is also a prominent language for translation.
The first Urdu translation was done by Shah Abdul Qadir and Shah Abdul Aziz Dahlawi and the authentic translation by Ahmed Raza Khan, the Kanzul Iman and the Tafsir-e-Naeemi by Ahmed Yaar Khan Naeemi. These all interpretations of the Quran had changed the history of Muslims in South Asian countries.
The importance of South Asian commentaries on the Holy Qur’an shows the remarkable tradition of works on the Qur’an in the Urdu language. Moreover, the South Asian background of interpretations of the Qur’an is used to more clearly understand the message, revealed from Allah, for the non-Arab people. However, it can also reveal the thoughts of the generation in which it was written. The content of Tafsir can be suited to meet the demands of the current region, paired with its religious thoughts, reflecting the society, politics, and generation of the period in which it was written. As such, Tafsir studies are the primary means of examining the history of Islamic thoughts.
There are more contributions to the interpretation of the Holy Qur’an. Some of them hadn’t been completed by the authors as the successor had completed those works. From these contributions were the Tafsir-e-Kabir, Tafsir-e-Ashrafi, and Tafsir-e-Naeemi. Mufti Ahmad Yaar Khan Naeemi, a well-known scholar of India and intellect of the 20th century, has written an interpretation called Tafsir-i-Naeemi, which is known as Ashraf al-Tafsir and remains one of the most influential.
Outline of Tafsir in South Asia
Islam entered the Indian subcontinent in the first century AH through merchants and spread with the conquest of the country by the Arab Muslims in 98 AH / 712 CE under the leadership of Muhammad bin Al-Qasim during the reign of the Umayyad Caliph Walid bin Abdul-Malik, and that was in the region of Sind. Then Islam extended in the Indian subcontinent at the hands of the Ghaznawis led by Mahmud Al-Ghaznawi in the 4th and 5th centuries AH, and after them came the Ghuris, Mamluks, Khiljis, Tughlaq, Lodhian and then Mughals, those who entered India as conquerors in 1526 AD led by Zaheer Al-Deen Babur, and the rule of this state lasted for more than three centuries.
The Persian language was the official language of the Mughal state and the Muslims of India, including scholars, writers, and poets, participated in enriching the Islamic and literary heritage with this language. Although Urdu was a developed language in the days of the Mughals and was used by a wide section of the people of India, it was not the official language of the country.
The characteristic of Islam in South Asia is the multicultural nature of the society. Muslims speak Urdu, Bengali, and Punjabi so the Qur’an has been translated into various languages. It is difficult for non-Arabic people to understand the Qur’an, which cannot be easily impressed through a simple translation. The translation, therefore, should be categorized into three aspects: Dialect Language, Sacred Language, and Lingua Franca. Arabic is the sacred language, Persian is the dialect language and Urdu is the lingua franca which is mostly used by South Asian Muslims. So Urdu is the key language in understanding for the Muslims of South Asia.
In the non-Arab regions, Muslims used oral communication to propagate the teachings of the Holy Qur’an until the end of the 18th century. It is difficult to ignore the remark of the tradition of works on the interpretation of the Quran in the Persian and Urdu language. Translations of the Qur’an for the benefit of the public was already done by the prominent scholar Shah Waliullah in the 18th century. He composed the first complete translation of the Qur’an into Persian titled Fath Al- Rahman bi Tarjamat Al- Qur’an in 1738. In 1790, the first Urdu Tafsir was translated by Shah Abdul Qadir Al- Dahlawi. Then came the 19th century, which is considered a period of decline for the Mughals state and the evacuation of the Persian language, so the Urdu language was established in its place, and for this reason many translations of the Holy Qur’an began.
These translations were prepared by a group of scholars in the form of a committee of five members under the direction of the British. The committee finalized this interpretation in 1804. In 1867, Maulawi Abdul Gaffur Khan’s Urdu Tafseer was published. In 1899, Deputy Nazir Ahmad, the Urdu novelist, wrote an Urdu Tafsir. Ashraf Ali Thanawi wrote a 12-volume Urdu Tafsir in 1908. Other prominent scholars like Sayyid Abul A’la Maududi, Abdul Majid Daryabadi, and Amin Ahsan Islahi wrote Tafsir in the Urdu language.
As for the 20th century, many translations of the Qur’an appeared, on the top of which was the translation made by Maulawi Fath Muhammad Jalandhari, namely Fath Al-Majid, which was published in 1900 AD. The translation of Aashik Elahi appeared in 1941 AD. The meanings of the Noble Qur’an appeared in 1907 AD in three volumes made by Abdullah Chakralloy. In the same manner, another translation appeared under the name Ma’arif Al- Qur’an by Ghulam Ahmad Parviz, which was completed in 1949. These two were included as incorrect interpretations among the majority of Muslim scholars.
The other translations of the Qur’an that appeared in the 20th century, including the translation made by Mahmoud Al- Hasan in 1918, is the translation of Shaikh Ahmed Raza Khan Al-Barilawi. The translation of Abul Kalam Azad was a new method and no one had headed it before him, but he was followed in it after that by Abu Al-A’la Al- Maududi. And the translation of Muhammad Karam Shah Al-Azhari, who died in 1998 AD, Dia Al-Qur’an derived into several volumes at the end of the 20th century.
Mufti Ahmed Yaar Khan Naeemi
Hakeem-Al-Ummat Mufti Ahmad Yaar Khan Naeemi is one of the famous academic and literary personalities of Pakistan and India. He was born on 4 Jumad Al-Awwal 1314 AH (March 1, 1894) in Badawan. He started his primary education at the age of about 3 years and 11 months and received education in the Holy Quran and Arabic. He learned the Persian language from his father. At the age of 7, he entered Badawan and completed his education in three Madrasas one after the other. At the age of just 18, he wrote the first fatwa in Jamia Naeemia Moradabad, for which he was awarded the title of Mufti of Islam. He married two times. The famous sons of Ahmed Yaar Khan were Mufti Mukhtar Ahmed and Mufti Iqtidaar Ahmed.
He was also known as Hakeem Al- Ummat because he had written a Haasiya (the short of something) of the famous Tafsir Kanzul Iman, written by Ahmed Raza Khan. Thus, Masoom Shah Qadri’s movement in Pakistan where the Islamic scholars get together had named him as Hakeem Al- Ummat. The duration in which Mufti Ahmed Yaar Khan seeks knowledge can be divided into 5 eras. The first, from the Holy Qur’an until he read the first books of the Persian booklet and Darse Nizami from his father, Muhammad Yar Khan Badayouni. He finished his primary education in his 11th year. Then the second, he studied for three years under the supervision of Qadir Bakhsh Badayouni in Madarsa Shamsul Uloom. He finally enrolled in Jamia Naeemia, Moradabad, under the guidance of Shafiq and other teachers like Sadr Al-Afazl Mufti Syed Muhammad Naeemuddin Muradabadi and Hafiz Mushtaq Ahmed Siddiqui. Being in the shadow, he was blessed with a wealth of knowledge and practice and graduated at the age of 19. Mufti Ahmad Yaar Khan Naeemi obtained 40 different types of knowledge of which 30 sciences were obtained from teachers and 10 from librarians. In 1957, he was given the title of Hakeem-Al-Ummat by prominent scholars of the country and supporters of the Pakistan Movement.
Ahmed Yaar Khan spent his 50 years teaching and propagating Islam. After graduation, he taught in Jamia Naeemia Moradabad, Madrasa Maskiniya, Kuchuchha Sharif, and Bhikhi Sharif under the direction of his teacher Sadr Al Fazil Syed Muhammad Naeemuddin. Then he came to Gujarat District and spent the remaining days of his life here. For 12 and 13 years, he taught at Darul Uloom Khuddam Al-Sufiya in Gujarat and for ten years at Anjuman Khuddam Al-Rasul. Six years before he passed away, he taught at Jamia Ghousia Naeemia. He wrote all his works (except Ilm-Al-Meerath) during his stay in Gujarat.
Among his works, Tafsir-e-Noor-Al-Irfan, Tafsir-e-Naeemi (up to 11), Mara‘at-Al-Manijih and Jiya-Al-Haqq are very famous and well-known among the public. Most of his books and letters were published by Maktab al-Medina (Dawat-e-Islami). He has about 500 works, some of which were lost in India at the time of partition and some are still unpublished. In Tafsir, Tafsir Naeemi and Noor Al-Irfan, in Hadith, Mara’at Sharah-e-Mishkat and Sharah-e-Bukhari, in Jurisprudence, Fatwa-e- Naeemiyya, besides Jiya -Al-Haqq, Ilm-e-Qur’an, was his masterpieces.
Tafsir-an-Naeemi is one the contributions done by Mufti Ahmed Yaar Khan Naeemi, and remains very famous and well-known among the public and the elite.
Tafsir-e-Naeemi has a unique nature in its style and manner in which the Qur’anic rules and issues are explained in a comprehensive and detailed manner and all types of objections are answered with reasons. Mufti Ahmad Yaar Khan Naeemi wrote Tafsir-e-Naeemi only up to the last quarter of the 11th verse, each verse of which consists of one volume. He could not complete this commentary because he passed away before completing it. That is why the interpretation of the remaining verses was completed by his son Hazrat Mufti Iqtar Ahmad Khan Naeemi.
Mufti Ahmad Yaar Khan Naeemi Badayouni has commented on Surah Yunus up to verse number 68 which is completed on page 414 of the eleventh volume. Up to two-thirds of the Tafsir was written by Mufti Ahmed Yaar Khan Naeemi. At the end of the tenth volume, these words of appreciation are written: “Thanks to Allah Almighty that the tenth volume of Tafsir Naeemi started on 13 July, and it was completed today in 18 March 1971” – the commentary beyond that was written by Mufti Iqtar Ahmad Khan Naeemi.
Tafsir-e-Naeemi has an exclusive methodology and curriculum in which the Qur’anic verses are explained in a comprehensive manner and all types of objections are answered with reasons. The interpretation covers in the words of Mufti Ahmed Yaar Khan Naeemi:
- The summary of Tafsir -e-Naeemi is collected from Tafsir Ruh al-Bayan, Tafsir Kabir, Tafsir Azizi, Tafsir al-Daqra, Tafsir Muhyiddin Ibn Al-Arabi.
- Khazain Al Irfan, the best commentator in Urdu Tafsir, was made an inspiration for the description of this Tafsir.
- Among the Urdu translations, the highest and best translation of Urdu is “Kanz-Al- Iman”.
- Every verse has been described very well related to the first verse.
- The revelations of the verses have been explained very clearly and if the revelations are few, then they have been modified.
- Each verse is first interpreted and then summarized and then interpreted in a mystical, attractive, and faith-inspiring way.
- Academic benefits and legal issues are explained with each verse.
- Under each verse, the objections of Christians, other religions, Qadiani, etc., along with their answers have been explained.
- Under each verse, Mufti Ahmad Yaar Khan Naeemi has listed eleven things in the devotion of Ghous-e-Azam:
- Arabic quotes related to the verses of Qur’an,
- Literal translation of the verses,
- Translation of Ala Hazrat Bareli; Imam Ahmed Raza Khan,
- Relationship between the two verses,
- The reason for the descent of each verse,
- Sentence structure of every verse and the syntax of verses,
- Explanation of scholars to the verses in their commentaries,
- Benefits of the verse,
- Jurisprudential issues from the verse,
- Objections and answers related to theology,
- Mystic interpretation of the verse.
The Style of Ahmed Yaar Khan and His Son
The style of the interpretation has changed in many aspects, which is written by Iqtar Ahmed Khan Naeemi. The style of the interpretation which was done by Ahmed Yaar Khan Naeemi is different from his son. The following are some of the style variations and their differences:
- Mufti Ahmed Yaar Khan has given a short syntactical interpretation as well as an academic commentary, which is only titled as Tafsir, while Iqtar Ahmed Khan initially gives a Tafsir under the title of Syntactic Commentary, in which literal translation, terminology, and Sharia translation are mentioned separately. Then he describes the meanings of the verse with some syntactical commentary under the title of Al-Ma’na Tafsir.
- Mufti Ahmed Yaar Khan does not write an introductory sentence when mentioning the objections but rather goes ahead by writing the first objection, while Iqtar Ahmed Khan writes the first introductory sentence and then begins the objections with “the first objection”.
- It is the habit of Mufti Ahmed Yaar Khan that while giving Tafsir he often mentions the references to books of different interpretations while Iqtar Ahmed Khan mentions the references very rarely. The change of style and these three differences can be seen before and after verse 68 of Surah Yunus. While introducing Tafsir Naeemi, it is written in one place: Ashraf Al-Tafsir is a historical name that identifies the year 1363 AH, in which Mufti Ahmed Khan Naeemi had completed this Tafsir up to the quarter of the Qur’an.
Comparison between Tafsir-e-Naeemi and other Urdu Tafsirs
Tafsir-e-Naeemi has an exclusive methodology and curriculum in which the Qur’anic verses are explained in a comprehensive manner but the other Urdu interpretations are also collected in an exclusive manner in which the Tafsir-e-Naeemi can’t be compared with those Tafsirs. Some of them are focused only on jurisprudence and some are collected only on the meanings of the letter while some are focused on the Hadith and the mystical meanings in the Qur’an. Tafsir-e-Naeemi includes the stories related to each verse in the Qur’an while the others hadn’t included it in their interpretations.
Tafsirat Ahmediyya has collected only the jurisprudence of the Quran. He also interpreted and explained the rules of the Qur’an on the principles and rules of Hanafi jurisprudence. The origin of the Tafseer-e-Ahmadiyya is in the Arabic language; the Urdu of this interpretation is a review of the Arabic.
Tafsir-e-Mazahri also contributed to the jurisprudence of the Holy Qur’an. The slight difference in this interpretation is that it also gathered the view of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence and their arguments in every verse. The special feature of Tafseer-e-Mazhari is that there are many narrations of Hadith in it. Apart from the other interpretations he had mentioned many Hadith in the reference of each Hadith. Imam Sanaullah Mazahri was an intellectual and spiritual leader; he also mentioned the most precise issues and subtle points of Sufism.
Kanzul Iman is ordered in a different style, and among the Urdu translations, the highest and best translation is “Kanzul Iman”. It is easy to understand the meaning because the whole interpretation is included by its outstanding methods. Imam Ahmed Yaar Khan Naeemi also mentioned the Translation of Ahmed Raza Khan in his commentary. Tafsir-e-Naeemi is different from Kanzul Iman in describing the mystical meaning of the Qur’an as well as the jurisprudence which are mentioned in the Qur’an. Imam Ahmed Yaar Khan Naeemi also mentioned the objections and the answers related to Islamic theology, raised by the other religious scholars and the scholars of Qadiani.
In this article, I have analyzed the outline of Urdu Tafsir. Tafsir is not merely a religious guide; it also reflects the issues of the people of a society. The study of the past policy of the Quran’s explanation established and practiced by the Prophet, companions, and the majority of the traditional interpreter leads that primarily, the process of understanding and explanation of the Qur’an is based on the contextual approach in the objective and changed circumstances, though it may not be in agreement with the literal meaning of the text.
The role of Tafsir in Muslim society has been clarified to explore the potential of Tafsir in South Asia. Many Muslims in South Asia use the Urdu language to share Islamic thoughts so this helps many to understand the interpretation of the Quran in the Urdu language. There are a large number of scholars from every school of thought in Pakistan who translated the Quran into the Urdu language – there are innumerable additional interpreters who have not been described here.
The contribution of Imam Ahmed Yaar Khan Naeemi to the Tafsir-e-Naeemi and the methodology and the curriculum of his interpretation is so unique compared to the other Urdu Tafsirs. These works on the interpretation of the Qur’an are appreciable and remembered by every generation, in order to remain aware of the true meaning of the Holy Qur’an.
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