Imam Muhammad al-Asi, the mufassir of the noble Qur’an, The Ascendant Qur’an: Realigning Man to the Divine Power Culture, has been awarded the prestigious Farabi International Distinguished Research Award.
The award was given at the closing ceremony of the 14th Farabi International Award held in Tehran on July 10.
Recognizing his ground-breaking work on the tafsir of the Qur’an, the award was announced in the presence of professors, researchers and high-ranking officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Fourteen volumes of the tafsir have been published by the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT).
More volumes are being produced although the work has slowed somewhat because of lack of resources.
Efforts are underway to raise the necessary funds to continue this monumental project that will benefit many generations to come.
The Farabi International Award on The Iranian and Islamic Studies is an institute based in Tehran, Iran.
It takes its name from the well-known Muslim philosopher, Abu Nasr al-Farabi (257–331 AH) that would correspond to 870 – 950 CE, is widely regarded as the founder of philosophy in the Islamic world.
The Great Thinkers website says this about Al-Farabi.
“Although he had some noteworthy predecessors, such as al-Kindi and al-Razi, he was the first philosopher of his epoch to command the unqualified respect of future generations. Avicenna (Ibn Sina), Averroes (Ibn Rushd), and Maimonides all considered many of Alfarabi’s themes and left written testimony of their admiration for him.”
Let us return to Imam al-Asi’s tafsir.
What is distinctive about this tafsir compared to so many others before it?
This is the first tafsir ever produced directly in the English language.
In that sense, it is truly historic.
Every other tafsir in English has been translated from another language.
There are several weaknesses in such an approach.
First, Qur’anic verses have to be explained in another language, whatever that may be: Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, Turkish etc.
Then, it has to be translated into English.
Such an approach has to go through multiple layers of translations running the risk of losing the essence of the message of the Qur’an.
Given the richness of the Arabic language, the Qur’an’s eloquence and poetic beauty cannot be translated word for word into another language.
Every language comes embedded with its own values and developmental biases.
An idiomatic expression that may be suitable in one language may not adequately convey the same meaning when literally translated into another language.
For instance, the Arabic word taqwa has no English equivalent.
It would require several paragraphs to adequately convey the meaning of this word.
There are many other Qur’anic words and expressions that cannot be adequately translated into English.
Every translation is, therefore, an approximation of the message of the noble Qur’an.
There are also other factors that influence the tenor and style of a tafsir: the mufassir’s understanding of the Qur’an, his personal preferences in highlighting some aspects over others and the contemporary historical situation in which he lives.
The beauty of Imam al Asi’s tafsir is that it has avoided the multiple layers of translations by going through an intermediate language before rendering it into English.
The other distinctive feature of his tafsir (and indeed his translation of the noble Qur’an) is that Imam Al Asi has full command of both the Arabic as well as English languages.
He has rendered the meanings of the Qur’anic ayat to relate them to the contemporary situation.
When the Qur’an mentions such figures as Pharaoh and Nimrod, these are not mere historical figures.
They represent the archetypical enemies of Allah that are found in every generation.
Imam al-Asi emphasizes in his tafsir that we must identify the Pharaohs and Nimrods of our age.
It is also important to recall the launch of the tafsir project.
In April 1996, the Crescent International had organized a highly successful international conference under the theme, ‘Creating a New Civilization of Islam’.
It was held in Pretoria, South Africa.
After the conference, Dr Kalim Siddiqui (who passed away in Pretoria within days of the conference) asked Imam al-Asi to start work on the tafsir of the Qur’an.
Imam al Asi accepted the request and has worked on the tafsir ever since.
The result has been a highly enriched tafsir of the noble Qur’an that is meant to inspire many generations of Muslims to come.
It has received accolades from a wide cross-section of the Muslim society.
Imam al-Asi’s translation, also by the same name: The Ascendant Qur’an, has been so well received that the first print has all sold out.
A second print is being prepared after removing some of the typos that were missed in the first edition.
Both the translation and the Tafsir volumes are available from Crescent International at the following email address:
Translation: US$45 plus shipping;
Each Tafsir volume: US$30 plus shipping.