The Egyptian ruler Muhammad Ali in 1826 sent a delegation of scholars to France in order to investigate the defining factors and determinants that led to the rise of European powers. Rifa’ah Rafi’i al-Tahtawi was also a member of the committee tasked by the government to carry out the survey. A graduate of Al-Azher, Tahtawi came back to Egypt from France in 1831 and paved the way for the modernization of Egyptian government and society at a grand scale. The movement of Nahda that swept across the Middle East in the late 19th century can be traced back to the reformist ideas of Rafi’i Tahtawi.

Rafi Tahtawi in one of his famous works ‘A Paris Profile’ revealed that the intellectual awakening in Egypt had already gathered momentum after the arrival of Murtada Zabidi in Cairo. Murtada Zabidi was the student of Shah Wali-ullah in India. He travelled across different parts of the Middle East and finally settled down in Egypt in 1770s. He courted a vast number of followers in Cairo. Hassan Attar, one of Tahtawi’s inspirations, remained under the tutelage of Zabidi. Murtada Zabidi was an exceptionally brilliant legal philosopher, Hadith expert, mystic, lexicographer, and Arabist. He wrote a voluminous commentary on Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s magnum opus Ahy’aa al ulum uddin. Zabidi’s most famous work was his dictionary on Arabic language Taj al-Arus. He is considered to be one of the most original contributors to Arabic language in India.

Murtada Zibidi continued to inspire scholars all across the Islamic world. Hameed uddin Farahi was also amongst one of his admirers. Born in 1863 in Azamgarh India, Hameed-ud-din Farahi established a unique tradition of scholarship. He was home-schooled early in his life. He was tutored by famous scholars of North India who were associated with Deoband institute, Faranghi Mahal, and Muhammadan Oriental College. He was gravitated towards Logic, philosophy, grammar, and literature. Farahi later on joined Muhammadan Oriental College which became Aligarh University years after. He studied not only traditional sciences, but also the rational sciences at Aligarh. He associated himself with Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Mawlana Shibli Noumani, and other famous orientalists. In fact, Mawlana Shibli Nouman was related to Farahi by his mother. Mawlana Shibli and Sir Syed were impressed by the intellectual calibre of Hameed uddin Farahi. Years later, Abul’ Kalaam Azad, Abdul Majid Daryaabadi, and Muhammad Ali

Jouhar remained under his tutorship.

Hameed-ud-din Farahi was a genuis of high order. He mastered Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, English, and Urdu. He was schooled in the ancient guilds of Hanbalism, Aashirism, Maturidism, and Mutazilism. He was skillful at acquiring mystical sciences. He was acquainted with the Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, and Avicennian philosophical discourse. He deeply studied the political philosophy of Farabi, the rationalism of Averroes, the Wahda-tul-Wujud of Plotinus, Ibn-e-Arabi, and Mirza Abdul Qadir Bedil and the Wahda-tul-shudud of Simnani, Shaykh-e-Mujaddid, and Mirza Mazhar-e-Janan. He was a savant in his own right. Farahi did not accomplish most of his tomes and his works are scattered in his notes. His main books include: Nizam-e-Quran, Fima’n huv’a al-dhabiha, Jamhara-tul-Balagha, and Aasalib-al-Quran.

Hameed-ud-din Farahi in his writings summoned into use the scriptural text of the Qur’an in order to formulate, define, and propound an interpretation of Islam commensurate with the dictates of modernity. Islam is, in the theoretical framework of Farahian hermeneutics, is neither a philosophic speculation nor a gnostic disclosure, but a divine dispensation firmly anchored in the revelatory experience of the Prophet. The illuminative ratiocination, legal formalism, dialectic rigor, and theosophic vision are later scholarly endeavours that tend to becloud our ability to apprehend the inherent coherence of the scripture, Farahi contended. He devised a theory of hermeneutics in his book Nizam-e-Quran geared towards deciphering the coherence of the Qura’n. He contended with logical argumentation that the text of the Qura’n was not a series of disjointed divine enunciations, but a literary whole held together by a thread of common leitmotifs. The classic Muslim exegesists as erudite as Tabari, Zamakhshiri, Razi, and Ibn-e-Kathir insisted on the cohesiveness of the divine speech, but failed to decode the exegetical verbiage. The iconoclastic maverick of Azamghar Hameed-ud-din Farahi at last propounded a language-theory that set the tone for comprehending the divine lexical vocabulary inherently built into the Quranic hermeneutics. This was his single most important contribution to the language of the Qur’an.

Imam Farahi was way ahead of his contemporaries in the likes of Rashid Rida, Abul Kalaam Azad, Ashraf Ali Thanvi, Hussain Ahmad al-Madni, and Muhammad Iqbal, for his unique approach to Islam both as a social science and as a religion. Muhammad Iqbal was mere a reflection of a promising attempt to understand Islam, but Hameed-ud-din Farahi was an independent interpretation with its own set of reasoning, hermeneutics, literary logic, and textual historicity. His work was carried forward by his student Ameen Ahsan Islahi. Islahi spent almost 17 years of his life in the scholarly companionship of Mawlana Mawdudi, but later on parted his ways and left his political party Jamaat-e-Islami. Bringing into use the theory of coherence propounded by Hameed-ud-din Farahi, Islahi wrote an entire commentary of the Qura’n entitled Tadabbarul Quran. Ameen Ahsan Islahi’s student Javed Ahmad Ghamidi further refined his works and gave a definitive character to the school of Farahi. The erudite scholar of Pakistan, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi draws extensively from the collective scholarly literature of Hameed-ud-din Farahi and Ameen Ahsan Islahi. Farahi was a rare mind for his time and age, Ghamidi notes in his famous lectures at Dallas.

Farahi remained shrouded all his life in the mist of oblivion, Sulaiman Nadwi noted upon his death. He left the earthly abode in 1930 after an unsuccessful surgery. Less than 10 people were attendants at his funeral, his precocious student Ameen Ahsan Islahi later revealed. The genius of Azamghar left behind a work so scholarly and groundbreaking that it was incorporated into the curriculum of Islamic Studies at Cambridge University years later. His works still remain under-studied and his name unheard of. It is about the time that we reclaim both of them.