Respectfully to a seeker who stumbled upon my blog through the search string: “Is Javed Ahmed Ghamdi a true Islamic scholar”.
It has been narrated that Awzai (the Syrian jurist), who was a contemporary of Abu Hanifa, once asked Abdullah Ibn Mubarak, “Have you heard about the innovator from Kufa whose kunyah is Abu Hanifa”.
Ibn Mubarak ignored his question and started narrating complicated jurisprudential issues, the juridic opinions regarding those and the fine deductive reasoning leading to those opinions.
“Whose fatawa are these?,” Awzai asked, after hearing him with interest .
“I met him in Iraq” Ibn Mubarak replied.
“He is surely a great scholar. I would some day meet him and learn from him,” Awzai said.
“He is Abu Hanifa,” Ibn Mubarak told him.
We have come a long way since those pre-modern times and like everything else, grapevine has been evolved considerably and transformed into a pseudo-conventional medium of attaining knowledge. It has now become customary in the cyber world to do cursory homework on scholars and jump upon the task of writing and discussing. But even though surfing can give you a lot to chew over, it cannot be an alternative for traditional methods of judging veracity and credibility of scholars.
As I suggested in the past, it is better to spend time in reading the scholars themselves, rather than gathering all the meat from those who have criticized them; sometimes derisively and in harshest of the ways. And I am not overreacting, as one of the search parameters in question, besides pointing to my rambles, retrieves links where Javed Ahmad Ghamidi is called a liar, cheat, fitna and even shaitan (the devil).
There is nothing more heartrending than ignorance.
I do not intend presently to do an extended entry on Ghamidi’s works or methodology and feel it enough to assert that his life and work represents a deeply rooted quest of knowledge. Even if one disagrees completely with whatever he has produced, his truthfulness and purity of intent is extremely hard to miss and these traits are very well embedded in the tradition of thought that he cherishes, carries and channels forward. The wikipedia entry, though helpful in directing towards many important resources, cannot obviously point towards this valuable tradition. Ghamidi himself calls it Dabistaan-e-Shibli (the school of Shibli) in one of his essays. I just aim to limn this tradition for those who don’t know.
Two distinct and usually rival currents of Islamic thought, i.e. traditionalist and modernist, can be identified in the Muslim Subcontinent since its exposure to western civilisation in the 19th Century.
Those who identified themselves with the traditionalist stream primarily contended that religion cannot be re-interpreted and reformed beyond the canons of their respective traditions and any enquiry into religious sources, i.e. Quran and Sunnah, must not remain independent of tradition. A logical byproduct was an attitude that willfully disregarded all the western methods of education, the categories of education itself and ultimately shaped a weltanschauung that was completely ignorant of modern socio-political philosophies. Great scholars like Qasim Nanotwi, Rashid Ahmed Gangohi, Mahmood ul Hasan Deobandi, Anwar Shah Kashmiri and Ashraf Ali Thanwi were torchbearers of this school of thought. A religious seminary in Deoband was established to uphold this tradition and disseminate its contents to next generations.
The Modernist School, as opposed to the traditionalist one, virtually set aside most of the tradition – at least in theory – and went about reforming Islam from scratch. Syed Ahmad Khan, who is arguably the pioneer of Modernist Movement in Subcontinent, established a school in Aligarh in order to introduce modern fields of study and impart education on a relatively progressive curriculum, never adopted previously in Muslim India. Aligarh movement was successful to a great extent and produced few notable scholars, for instance Syed Ameer Ali.
Shibli Nomani (1857 – 1914) brought forth a third current of religious thought in contrast to the above two. This third dimension, though progressive and revivalistic, claimed to carry the burden of tradition as well. Those who associated themselves with it, felt the need to go back to original sources and interact directly with Quran, as it was revealed in history, while trying not to be anachronic. Shibli was undoubtedly the first voice in Subcontinent asserting the need for modernisation of speculative theology (Jadeed ilm al-kalam). It can arguably be contended that Sulayman Nadwi, Abul Kalam Azad, Mawdudi, Muhammad Iqbal and Abdul Majid Daryabadi remained associated with this school of thought in one way or the other.
However, Hameedudin Farahi (a comparatively less known scholar from Azamgarh) can be called the ideal manifestation of this doctrine and the only one dedicating his life in establishing and articulating the canons of this new methodology which was supposed to be rooted firmly in the language of Quran. His student Ameen Ahsan Islahi carried forward the project of his mentor and climaxed it in the form of Tadabbur-i-Quran. Javed Ahmad Ghamdi remained under the tutelage of Islahi for a large part of his life and worked with him on various intellectual projects.
Islahi is no more, but Dabistan-e-Shibli still continue to live in the form of Javed Ahmad Ghamdi and others who have been learning directly and indirectly from him. It is only after drinking from the fountain of this tradition that you can judge about the veracity or mendacity of those who belong to it. No amount of googling can do it for you.