Islamic Intellectual Tradition in the Indian Sub-Continent

Essays in the Honour of Dr Abdul Kader Choughley: A Critical Appraisal

Dr Mohammad Irfan Shah 

THE history of Islamic religious, spiritual and intellectual tradition in the Indian subcontinent impressively spans over a millennium. The studies exploring varied dimensions of Islam, Muslims and their religious/intellectual traditions have not only fascinated the Muslim scholarship (like I.H. Qureshi, I. H. Siddiqi, Aziz Ahmad, K. A. Nizami, M. Noor Nabi, A. Rashid, S. M. Ikram,) but a majority of non-Muslim Western Orientalists like Elliot and Dowson, Eaton, Arnold, Murray Titus, C. Ernst and Bruce Lawrence to count a few.  However, in this regard, only few instances have been recorded from the Muslim intellectuals outside the Indian subcontinent. Of these sparse attempts, Dr Abdul Kader Choughley’s (b. 1955, renowned Muslim scholar and educationist based in Springs, South Africa) works reflect a noticeable endeavor in underscoring the contribution of the scholars from the subcontinent to the Quranic and Seerah studies, Islamic intellectual tradition and biographical compendia. With this backdrop. K. A. Nizami Centre for Quranic Studies AMU  has brought out his Commemorative Volume, entitled Islamic Intellectual Tradition in the Indian Subcontinent: Essays in the Honour of Dr Abdul Kader Choughley, to recognize his contribution for ‘enhancing and enriching’ the study on Islamic intellectual and religious tradition of the Indian subcontinent. The volume has been edited by two budding scholars from Kashmir, (Dr) Tauseef Ahmad Parray and Muhammad Yaseen Gada (PhD, AMU).

Structure of the Volume

The volume contains three main sections apart from preliminary contents that include a foreword by Prof A. R. Kidwai (renowned Indian Academician and an expert on Quranic Studies from AMU/Honorary Director, K. A. Nizami Centre), an “Introduction” by the editors introducing the works of Dr Choughley as well as the contents of the book. While Section/Part-I, consisting five chapters, deals with ‘Quranic and Seerah Studies’, Section/Part-II, in its four chapters, takes in hand the ‘Islamic Intellectual Tradition Vis-à-vis Sub-Continent.’ Finally, a bio-note on and a bibliography of Dr Choughley compiled by the editors and an essay related to his academic career and adventures as “Stray Reflections” by Chougley and Parray fill the concluding Section/Part-III or Appendix of this work. Finally, a copious list of works cited in the book prepared by the editors concludes the volume.

Critical Evaluation of the Volume

The “Introduction” as usual helps in estimating the subject matter of the book although the opening portion on Dr Chougley seems a reiteration of Prof Kidwai’s foreword.

Prof Kidwai’s “English Translations of the Qur’an: Trends and Issues” (Ch.1/Section-I) exhibits a meticulous and expertly academic and critical treatment of the English Translations of the Qur’an by Orientalists, Qadiyanis, some deviant translations, sectarian translations by Muslims, the English versions of Urdu translations and recent forms of translating the Qur’an in English. The author’s critical evaluation greatly helps in alarming the general readers of the Qur’an of the obnoxious designs, misinterpretations, interpolations and distortions jam-packing their translations. However, major portion of Kidwai’s write-up depicts a reiteration or summary of his previous works especially published in the Muslim World Book Review. Furthermore,   Kidwai’s selective attitude while analyzing the “sectarian trend in translations” seems prejudiced or partial as he exclusively marks out the Shia and Barelwi  (who consider themselves as Ahl-al-Sunnah and as per Kidwai have the largest following in the subcontinent) translations in this section surprisingly sparing other Muslim sects/ideologies like the Deobandis, Jamat-i Islami, Ahl al-Hadith, modernists etc. Also, his disparaging remarks on the Barelwi translation that it carries “Prophet Muhammad’s (ﷺ) or Saint/Awliya’ ‘disproportionate’ (p.38) veneration seems questionable and need to be revisited (given the fact that a scale that would determine the justified level of Prophet’s ﷺ praise/veneration is yet to be formulated by the Muslims). Although, his proposition of the features of producing a ‘Standard English translation’ reflects his profundity and decades-long engagement and understanding of the field of English Translations of the Quran (ETQs).

Dr. Tauseef Ahmad Parray’s attempt in “Words Divine, Interpretations Human: An Analytical Study of Kidwai’s and Choughley’s Selected Works on Qur’anic Studies” (Chapter 2/Section I) at analyzing (Prof) Kidwai’s and Choughley’s works on Quranic Studies is exhaustive although by major the subject matter reflects a typical narrative articulation. His analysis that Kidwai’s critical appraisal of the Orientalists’ Translations is ‘unbiased and objective’ stands indisputable.

A thematic piece related to Quranic studies by Juneefa Bilal marks the presentation of Indo-Pak Muslim scholars’ approaches/views on the concept of the I‘jaz al-Qur’an (Miraculousness of the Quran) meanwhile  reflecting  a thematic, informative and comprehensive endeavor. Although a thematic piece yet bereft of a deep analytical or critical method, the discussion “Recent Approaches to the Concept of I’jaz al-Qur’an: A Study of Muslim Scholars of the Sub-continent (Ch.3/Sec.1)”  by Juneefa Bilal  follows a descriptive and narrative style unfurling the views of the traditional as well as some modern Muslims scholars’ views on the concept of I‘jaz al-Quran. The author’s assessment  pertaining this issue seems fitting and this chapter adds a significant addition to the opening section on the Quranic studies.

“Writing Seerah in the Light of the Qur’an: A Study of Abdul Majid Daryabadi’s ‘The Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) Life in the Light of the Qur’an” (Ch.4/Sec.1) by Adil Hussain Malik furnishes an interesting theme for the readers. Malik’s summary and extensive description, though lacking an analytical treatment (except for a few statements), of Abdul Majid Daryabadi’s works on Seerah appears helpful in understanding the Seerah in light of the Qur’an.

“Modern Trends in the Seerah and the Contribution of Yasin Mazhar Siddiqui: An Appraisal of Selected Works” (Ch.5/Sec.1) by Dr Parray is an academic endeavor to highlight Prof. Y. M. Siddiqui’s (AMU) remarkable contribution to the Seerah Studies posthumously. Parray’s assessment that Siddiqui’s works on Seerah accrue a unique position with regards their themes, objectivity, analyses and methodology is indisputable and his selection of Siddiqui’s works is timely and highly relevant. Although Parray reviews the works in his own capacity, he frequently seems to rely on the statements of other reviewers of these works.

Discussion on the studies related to Islamic intellectual tradition of the subcontinent would be deficient without mentioning Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi’s works, thought and philosophy. Pertinently, Dr S. Jameil Ali and T. A. Parray’s  “Mawlana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi’s Educational Thought and Philosophy” (Ch. 6/Sec.2) and Dr Samee-Ullah-Bhat’s (Ch. 7/Sec.2) “Sayyid Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi’s Contribution to Islamic History: An Analytical Study of his Tarikh-i-Dawat-o-Azeemat” embellish the volume with an exhaustive discussion on Nadwi. The Dr Jameil & Parray have maintained a descriptive and analytical delivery while accentuating Ali Miyan Nadwi’s educational philosophy. Their content offers a coherent style emphasizing initially on Nadwi’s espousal of modern educational pedagogy alongside the religious and moral education followed by his critical appraisal of the Western worldview, philosophies and education system. Dr Samee-Ullah’s chapter spreads out a content summary of Nadwi’s celebrated five volume Tarikh-i-Dawat-o-Azeemat (Saviors of the Islamic Spirit). The author delivers the content with a narrative and preaching style and the discussion lacks in proper academic analysis or critical investigation of this voluminous title by Nadwi. However, the write-up would be of substantial help for the readers in comprehending the methodology as well as the comprehensiveness of the themes discussed in the volume.

With a direct bearing on the title (under review), Dr M. Yaseen Gada exerts at analyzing Choughley’s works on Fazlur Rahman Ansari (d.1974) a renowned Islamic scholar of the Indian subcontinent. (Ch. 8/Sec.2) in “Abdul Kader Choughley’s Works on Fazlur Rahman Ansari: An Analysis”. The author draws on Choghley’s works selecting few themes and regurgitates Chougley’s understanding of Ansari’s works without any meticulous or critical observation except for assessing that Choughley’s approach toward Ansari is “panegyric”.

With a narrative style and comparative methodology, Dr. M. Younus Kumar’s “Contextualizing Jihad (Striving in the Path of God): A Study of the Approaches of Wahiduddin Khan and Javed Ahmad Ghamidi” (Ch. 9/Sec.2) represents a descriptive thematic study among few such endeavors contained in the title. Kumar’s description of Ghamidi’s and Khan’s views on the concept of Jihad seems a recurrent emphasis on their monotonous stance and departure from the interpretations of the traditional ‘Islamist’ scholars (like Mawdudi and Qutb) on Jihad. The chapter, although bereft of a profound critical or analytical examination (of the views of Khan and Ghamidi), helps in estimating the similarity as well as the expanse of difference of opinion among the Muslim scholars/intellectuals pertaining the crucial concepts like Jihad in the modern era.


In an overall valuation, the work appears as a compilation of loosely correlated academic writings by researchers, scholars and experts of different branches of Studies on Islam. The work marks a genuine academic contribution to the studies on Islamic intellectual tradition with some novel and insightful additions pertaining to Quranic and Seerah studies. Besides, the volume adequately acknowledges and brings to limelight Choughley’s contribution to the Islamic intellectual tradition of the subcontinent. However, a critical and analytical treatment of Choughley’s works is wanting and the sequence of the contents/themes discussed considerably lacks coherence. Markedly informative, furnishing some novel, relevant and academically significant pieces for the deliberation of readers, the work is strongly recommended for researchers, academics and intellectuals especially those interested in exploring Islamic Intellectual tradition.

The Reviewer (Dr M. Irfan Shah) holds a PhD in Islamic Studies from AMU. He can be reached at : [email protected] 

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