Tafsirul Quran: A Major Tafsir in Bangla Language

Moulana Muhamad Akram Khan was among the top four or five top scholars of former Benga in the last few hundred years. He was the president of Bengal Muslim league, a great Islamic scholar and a journalist. Above all, he was a writer and researcher of biography of the prophet (Sm), the Quran, history and literature.

One, who has read his Mustafa Charit a biography of the prophet, can realize how great a researcher he was. He analyzed the life of the prophet in the light of authentic history and accepted only the facts which are really proved. He excluded the materials which are contrary to reason. The criticism raised by western scholars about the prophet has been strongly rebutted. In this context, he considered some traditions relevant to the life of the prophet and examined the text of those traditions. Based on the principles of examining texts of Hadith (Matn), laid down by the jurisprudents (Usuliun), he concluded some of them as unacceptable. Everyone may not agree with him. But his work would make us think and enhance our ability to analyze.

His book The Social history of Muslim Bengal is an unparalleled contribution; very few books are as authentic and analytical as this.

Another extraordinary work of Akram Khan is his translation and interpretation of The Holy Quran, The Tafsirul Quran. Although he used old sophisticated Bengali language used generally by all past major writers (not used now), the translation was lucid and soothing. The language of his translation of the Quran is the best in my judgment. He adopted a very cautious approach and showed his great acumen in using appropriate words. Some examples are as follows:

(1) He has translated the word taqwa in several ways, one of them is restrain (Shangzom in Bangla), for instance in Sura Al-Bakara, Ayat - 21.

(2) He has translated the word fasiq as evil doers ( Duskarmaparayan in Bangla). In my opinion it is a very suitable translation of the word. (Ref: translation of sura Bakara, V:22; Tafsirul Quran, Zhinuk publication, Dhaka, Bangladesh ,volume -1, page - 38)

(3) He has translated the word Asmaa as knowledge of essence of al things or matter (Bostutottoguli in Bangla), which is very exceptional.

He was very cautious about women related issues and mentioned clearly where women have priority. For example he translated the verse: 36 of sura Al Imran Laisal zakaru kal unsa as whereas men are not equal (shamotulla in Bangla) to women. (Ref: ibid, page 395)Those who always refer to Ayat: 34 of Sura Nisa, should also take this verse into account.

In his tafsir he has given very logical explanation of various events. He had faith in miracles of prophets but he didnt accept unauthentic and irrational stories.

The account of Musa fleeing from Egypt with Bani Israel was given a very logical explanation. His main argument was that Musa along with his followers crossed the Nile rather than the Red Sea. The previous Tafsirs were mainly based on Exodus of the Bible and other legends. His arguments about this issue are as follows:

In the first part of the verse under discussion (Sura Bakara, Ayat: 50), the word Al Bahr has been used. ?In dictionary the word Bahr has been defined as:

(1) Large quantity of water, usually saline water. (Kamus)

(2) All streams are Bahr.(Zawhari)

(3) Word opposite to land -- saline water, each big stream, any wide substance.(Mawared)

It is therefore clearly established that Israelites lived somewhere on the bank of Nile, not far away from the royal palace. From that place they were moving to their ancestors land .--- Their destination was Palestine and Jerusalem. After crossing Egyptian border, they arrived in Sinai Peninsula and Tih area. There are many proofs in the Quran in support of this fact.

Then Akram Khan argued that it was very much illogical to reach Arabia crossing 500 miles of sea route and from there to Palestine. The irrationality lies in the fact that they were many in number and didnt have any means of transport. So it was very difficult for them to cover such distance by foot. Instead the easier option for them to reach Sinai was to cross a lake or coastland from Egypt. He further argued that to describe the place where Pharaoh died, the words Bahr and Yam were used. Both of the words can be interpreted as stream or any form of water body. Its merely a description narrated in Exodus of Old Testament that Pharaoh died drowning in the Red Sea. But there is no evidence for this in Quran or authentic Hadith.

Akram Khan said in the conclusion, The area stretching from Mediterranean Sea to Suez city was filled with many lakes and various types of marshes before Suez Canal was dug. The water of this area naturally decreased during ebb tide. Then the relatively higher lands would come above the water level and nearby shallow lands became drier. During high tide the water entered and submerged those places. ? According to Allahs command Prophet Musa started the journey from Egypt at an appropriate time. He was also directed to the right path by Allah. That is why Bani Israelites were saved and Pharaoh died drowning in the sea. In my opinion this is the most important miracle in the life of prophet Musa. (Ref: Tafsirul Quran, Zhinuk publication, volume 1, page 79 - 87)

In his Tafsir he supported the view that there is no abrogated (Mansukh) verse in the Quran. In the commentery of sura Bakara, Ayat:184 &185, he wrote about this issue: The word yutikunahu is used in this verse. I interpreted it as those who can fast with great difficulty. I think it is the proper interpretation. Imam Razi supported this view and Imam Rageb also defined it in the same way in his dictionary. It is a matter of regret that most of the narrators of Tafsir interpreted it as those who dont fast in spite of being capable of fasting-------. Because of this inappropriate translation, a group of modernist scholars of the present days are saying that fast can be broken by paying fidya (feeding poor) even if there is no difficulty. On the other hand, a group of narrators and muffassirin are telling that Ayat:185 was revealed just after revelation of Ayat: 184 abrogating the provision(of Ayat: 184).But we have to remember that this is the speech(Qalam) of Allah. He cannot be such capricious that He will reveal an ayah and immediately there after abrogate it. In fact there is no Mansukh (abrogated) ayat in the Quran.(Tafsirul Quran, commentary under Sura Bakara, Ayat 184,185, page -224,225).

He is giving very rational interpretation of verse 228 of sura Al-Bakara. He writes, It has been further said that husband has the same right over wife as wife has over husband. If both do their duties, family life will be full of happiness. Man has a degree over woman means man has a degree of more responsibility. In Sura Nisa, ayat 34, man has been said kawwam or maintainer. (Tafsirul Quran, note no. 181, Sura Bakara)

He expresses the view that it was not lawful to take female slaves except through marriage. He writes, A section of Alims think that in this ayat no instruction has been given to marry female slaves. They think that female slaves can be used in any manner on the basis of ownership, no marriage is necessary for this. I am declaring with greatest emphasis that this opinion is against the general principals of Islam and the principals laid down in the Quran. This is nothing but an extremely bad opinion. (Ref: Tafsirul Quran, Sura Nisa, note no.7, page 580)

Then Moulana Akram Khan elaborated his opinion in the next two pages where he also gives a long quotation of Imam Razi(Ahkamul Quran,vol-2,page-56).

This Tafsir of Maulana Muhammad Akram Khan is an excellent Tafsir. It has similarities with the Tafsir of Muhammad Asad. He can be said to be Asad of the subcontinent in the field of Tafsirt hough they probably did not meet each other.Akram Khan wrote his Tafsir at least 20 years before Muhammad Asad.. His rationalist Tafsir may not be liked by some. However we have to admit that he has not given any opinion in his Tafsir without good reasons. This Tafsir should be reprinted and circulated widely for the benefit of the researchers and the educated people.