God’s Word, spoken and otherwise: Sayyid Ahmad Khan (d. 1989/1315AH) and Muslim Exegesis of the Bible in pre-Modern India

Dr Charles Ramsey
Lecturer, Forman Christian College, Pakistan

Sayyid Aḥmad Khān (1817-1898) was an educational reformer and one of the most prominent public intellectuals in pre-partition India. He is widely remembered as a controversial religious reformer who took a rationalist interpretative approach to the Qur’ān. However, it is less known that he also had much to say about the Bible.

Between 1860 and 1865 he published Tabyīn al-kalām fī tafsīr al-taurāt wa ‘i-injīl ‘alā millat al-Islām (The Elucidation of the Word in Commentary of the Torah and Gospel According to the Religion of Islam), or as the author simply termed it: ‘The Mohomedan Commentary on the Holy Bible’.

In this seminar we explore how Sayyid Ahmad Khan conceptualized prophetic revelation. This helps to what he understood himself to be doing in the Tabyīn, and what prompted him to compose it in the first place. It will be seen that Khān’s ascription to the coherence of all revelation, natural and prophetic, facilitated a reverent but critical inter-textual approach where the Bible and Qur’ān are read ‘without distinction’ as faithful deposits of revelation.

Sayyid Ahmad’s pluralistic approach challenges preconceived notions regarding the parameters of orthodoxy, and calls for renewed attention to the diversity of views on the contingency of revelation in pre-modern Persianate thought.