Among the exclusive group of the ‘born greats’, there are some who become legends in their own lifetimes, others who receive recognition just after they pass away and a few for whom the wheel of fortune must complete another rotation, before the world is able to appreciate their ‘extraordinary’ genius. Hamid Uddin Farahi, a brilliant Muslim scholar, undoubtedly, belongs to this rare breed of men. It has taken almost half a century for a handful of Muslim scholars of the subcontinent to realize the tremendous amount of work done by him to redirect the Muslim religious thought from the path it had deviated. Perhaps, it will take another half a century before his name becomes as legendary as Abu Hanifa or Ibni Taymiyyah.
Farahi was born in Phriha (hence the name Farahi ), a small village in Azamgarh district (Uttar Pradesh, India) in the year 1862. He was a cousin of the famous theologian-historian Shibli Naumani, from whom he learnt Arabic. He studied Persian from Maulvi Mehdi Husain of Chitara (Azamgarh). He travelled to Lahore to study Arabic literature from Maulana Faizul Hasan Saharaupuri, 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 the modern disciplines of knowledge. He was recommended by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1897 AD) the founder of the College. In his letter of recommendation addressed to the principal of the college, an Englishman, Sir Syed wrote that he was sending someone who new more Arabic and Persian than the professors of the college. During his stay at Hyderabad, Farahi conceived the idea of establishing a university where all religious and modern sciences would be taught in Urdu. His scheme materialized in 1919 in the form of Jami‘ah Uthmania, Hyderabad. He subsequently returned to Sarai Meer in 1925, a town of his home village Azamgarh and took charge of the Madrasatul Islah. Here, besides managing the affairs of the Madrasah, Farahi devoted most of his time in training a few students. Among them, was Amin Ahsan Islahi, who was destined to become the greatest exponent of his thought after him. Farahi died on 11th November 1930 in Mithra, where he had gone for treatment.
Almost all of Farahi’s works are in Arabic. Farahi had adopted a very direct method in his study of the Qur’an and his findings were as original as his approach. He also made another significant contribution by rewriting and reconstructing all the sub-disciplines of the Arabic language needed to study the Qur’an.
Farahi, no doubt, with his scholarly work, laid the foundations for the intellectual awakening of the Muslims. It was left to his successors to build upon this heritage and strive for this revival. Amin Ahsan Islahi, his most distinguished pupil and disciple then set about to accomplish this task. In the Tadabbur i Qur’an, he produced a masterpiece of tafsir which does not simply reflect the principles of his illustrious guide: it also bears the mark of originality. It is a unique work that has ushered in a new era in the field of scriptural interpretation. Through it the thoughts of Farahi are now more accessible than before. Viewed thus, Islahi is the greatest work of Farahi. To a historian, Farahi and Islahi are like a flower and its fragrance – two names inseparable from one another.