For some time now I have heard a lot of good things about the masterful 20th century exegete, “Abd al-Hameed al-farahi” (also known as Hamiduddin Farahi). I recently finally decided to take a look at his renowned tafsir, “Tafsir Nizaam al-Qur’an”. He was truly the father of modern literary criticism of the Qur’an, setting forward a new theory of universal (as opposed to small-scale) coherence in the structure of the Qur’an.
His study was revolutionary in many ways and has influenced modern scholars even in the west. Little known, however, is his proficiency in classical Hebrew. Farahi did not feel content with only mastering Arabic in his own time- he took on a range of classical languages, such as Persian, English and biblical Hebrew, which he learnt from an orientalist in British India.
His tafsir shows at the very least some awareness of modern historical-critical theories on the history of religion (as seen below) of his time, which he mentions in passing where they may be relevant to the reader. At times he cites historical-critical journals on particular topics, laying a traditionalist-Muslim precedent for a synthesis between classical methods tafsir and modern exegetical study.
Although I do not agree with some of his opinions, his usage of biblical studies is surprisingly helpful in his tafsir. He makes surprising connections about the employment of the name of God in the Qur’an, which I found genuinely beneficial and intriguing- such as his connection to the name of God and prayer found both in the old testament and Qur’an.
I decided that it would be a good idea to translate excerpts of Farahi’s tafsir as I read along. My Arabic is still a work in progress so I cannot guarantee the complete accuracy of this translation.
This following excerpt is from the first chapter of his tafsir, On the name of God.
Understanding the name of God and that it is the greatest of what has remained of the true religion
The alif and laam (of Allah) together is the definite article, so none are named by this other than God Himself, [as he is] the only creator of the skies and the earth and all creation. This is in fact known by the Arabs before Islam- they, even with their polytheism, avoid directly equating any of their other deities with Allah, as they say that only Allah is the creator of the sky and the earth. The Arab polytheists instead worship other gods because they think that these [other gods] are close to Allah, and so shall intercede on their behalf. This is attested to in the Qur’an:
“And they say, these are our intercessors with Allah” (Q 10:18)
“We only worship them so that they bring us closer to Allah!” Q39:3
“If you ask them who created the heavens and earth and who harnessed the sun and moon, they are sure to say, ‘Allah.’ Then why do they turn away from Him? It is Allah who gives abundantly to whichever of His servants He will, and sparingly to whichever He will: He has full knowledge of everything. 63 If you ask them, ‘Who sends water down from the sky and gives life with it to the earth after it has died?’ they are sure to say, ‘Allah.’ Say, ‘Praise belongs to Allah!’ Truly, most of them do not use their reason. Q 29: 61-63
Some writings belonging to the Christians have claimed that the true form of this word (Allah) is “El”, as has been attested in many Hebrew constructions, such as “Israel”, “YishmaEl” and “EmmanuEl”. They derive “El” from the word “Baal” which they speculate to be one of the names of the sun. This speculation is misleading, and typical of those who deny prophethood and assert that the religion of the Hebrews has its origins in paganism.
The truth is that the Hebrew language has lost singular letters from many of its 3 letter words, and philologists reconstruct the true form of these Hebrew words by returning to Arabic because it is the most complete of the Semitic languages. It is established amongst scholars of the Semitic languages that Arabic most closely resembles original Semitic, or is in-fact the original Semitic, something even Christian orientalists admit. The word “El” still exists in Hebrew in its original form: in fact, one of the first words that begin the Torah is the word “Elohim”, which is employed very often throughout the Torah.
The word “Allah” is perhaps of the greatest things that the Arabs inherited from the true religion, even while both the Jews and Christians have lost it. Instead, Jews and Christians employ the word “Allah” (in their Arabic translations) for both God himself and other beings, as it is merely an honorific title for them, as you see in their translation of Psalm 82:
“Allah has taken his place in the council of Allah;
in the midst of gods he holds judgment:
“How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?”
So the word translated here as “Allah” is in fact Elohim, which can be singular and plural in meaning. Furthermore, they extend the use the plural marker, “-im”, for glorification as well. And what is translated here as “the council of Allah” is in fact “The council of gods” as the subsequent verse clarifies, and the sentence following is very similar (to this) in Hebrew: “Allah stands as witness in the council of judges and holds judgment amidst the judges: “So how, and til when, shall you judge unjustly and be afraid of censuring evil oppressors.”
The Qur’an speaks clearly along the same idea, indeed it often informs of that which is doubtful to them: “Do you not see that Allah knows everything in the heavens and earth? There is no secret conversation between three people where He is not the fourth, nor between five where He is not the sixth, nor between less or more than that without Him being with them, wherever they may be. On the Day of Resurrection, He will show them what they have done: Allah truly has full knowledge of everything” (Q 58:7)
So notice how they (in the bible) do not differentiate between Allah and judges in the sense that they give them one name. This is attested to in Exodus 4:16- “So he shall be your spokesman to the people. And he himself shall be as a mouth for you, and you shall be to him as god.”
And furthermore, in Exodus 7:1- “The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you a god (El) to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet.”
This is interpreted to be, “I have made you the leader, and Haroon is your ambassador from you to Pharaoh, so he shall speak on your behalf.”
Moreover, we see in Genesis 32:25-30-
Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with Allah and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen Allah face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”
This is a very strange story, and they have no exit from its foolishness, and it is their result of their usage of the word Allah, ie. El, for a mighty man or a supernatural entity. Certainly, El is not the name of God in the bible, but rather given to a person of great status, interchangeable with “leader”, or “master”, or “powerful one”, or “mighty” and so on.
There is, however, another biblical name for God which is specific to Him: YHWH, but they are uncertain over the vocalization of this word, and so are unable to pronounce it, even though we see in Exodus 6:2-3-
Allah also spoke to Moses and said to him: “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty but by my name ‘YHWH’ I did not make myself known to them.
The Jews aggrandized this name which Allah honoured their prophet Moses with, and so they considered it to be the greatest of Allah’s names. They therefore believed it to be inappropriate to utter and consequently only their leader spoke it once a year. They kept the common folk from speaking it by eventually stripping its vowels, and thus all that remained of it is an obscure word. When they came by it [in scripture], they did not speak it due to their ignorance over its vowels and instead deviated from the correct reading of scripture, choosing to substitute it with “Adonai”.
How tragic it is, that they did not only lose the book of God, but they also forgot the name of the Lord!