It was one hundred and twenty-five years ago, in 1886, when Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as) of Qadian was informed, through a grand prophecy, that he would father a ‘Promised Reformer’ (Musleh Mau‘ud); a prophecy fulfilled in 1889 when Hadhrat Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad(ra) was born. Describing the characteristics of the ‘Promised Reformer’, the prophecy included the following:
‘He will be extremely intelligent and perceptive and will be meek of heart and will be filled with secular and spiritual knowledge.’
At the age of just twenty-five, Hadhrat Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad(ra) had thrust upon him the great honour and weight of Khilafat. It was also at this juncture in the history of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama‘at that many of the intellectual and affluent members of the community broke away and formed the Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha’at-e-Islam Lahore. Left with limited financial and intellectual resources, he consolidated what was left of the then ‘Silsilah-e-‘Aaliya-e-Ahmadiyya’ and looked forward to the future. These extreme and desperate circumstances were indeed a necessary part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s history as it formed the platform from which Hadhrat Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad(ra), the ‘Promised Reformer’, was propelled to fulfil the above portion of the ‘Grand Prophecy’ by becoming a beacon of knowledge.
The fruit of this prophecy was witnessed in the publication of his plus grand triomphe, a ten volume exegesis of the Holy Qur’an called Al-Tafsir al-Kabir (The Grand Exegesis). Originally written in Urdu, the first English edition was made available in 1947 with the publication of the opening nine chapters of the Qur’an in one volume, being the first of an intended three volumes. Volume one was later split into two volumes and a further three were added between 1947 and 1963. The initial full publication was printed in Pakistan from where it was shipped to various missions across Europe and America. It finally reached us in its current five-volume format in 1988 when it was published in England for the first time. The English translation, an abridgement of the full Urdu Exegesis, is some 3038 pages long, with extensive footnotes totalling 4875 entries, and draws from just short of 140 listed classical and modern sources. The English edition was completed over a number of years by an experienced and esteemed Editorial Board which included Maulawi Sher ‘Ali(ra), Mirza Bashir Ahmad(ra), Malik Ghulam Farid(ra), Ch. Abu’l Hashim Khan, Professor Muhammad Aslam and Sir Muhammad Zafrullah Khan(ra). The final manuscript also benefitted from the assistance of some external scholars such as the late Sir Thomas Adam’s Professor of Arabic at Cambridge University, Arthur John Arberry.
Al-Tafsir al-Kabir, as with similar conquests of exegesis and hermeneutics, is broad in range and multi-disciplinary in content. The Explanatory Notes delve into theology, legal theory, governance, historiography, anthropology, chronology, geography, sociology, poetry, lexicography, comparative studies and a number of other specialist disciplines. The source material and its deciphering offer us an insight into the author’s vast reading and acquired understanding of both hidden and temporal realities. This is no doubt a text which will form the basis of, and benefit from, a number of studies in the future; particular emphasis can be directed towards areas of the exegesis addressing theological and historical aspects of Christian belief, such as the doctrine of Trinity, movements of Jesus(as) in the latter part of his life, the concept of Atonement and the Hereafter.
Given the emphasis placed by the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as), on the importance of jihad (struggle and striving) of the pen, this work represents a key expression of the Ahmadi claim. And though it is rightly conceded in the ‘Publisher’s Note’ that, ‘…no commentary can ever claim to encompass the final interpretation of the Holy Qur’an’, this work does, nevertheless, stand as one of the most important secondary sources of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community; making it an indispensable text for anyone wishing to conduct a survey of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Its value becomes even clearer on reading the end of the author’s English ‘General Introduction’ wherein he states:
‘…I was a pupil of the late Maulawi Nur-ud-Din, Khalifatul Masih I(ra), a good deal of what I have acquired from him is reflected in the Explanatory Notes. Thus these Notes are, in fact, based upon the interpretation of the Qur’an by the Promised Messiah(as), the first Khalifa(ra) and myself.’
It is fitting, therefore, that on the one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of the ‘Grand Prophecy’ a few words should be offered in praise of this magnificent text and its highly accomplished author. Furthermore, that after being more than fifty years in print it has become clear that this text is an embodiment of the truth of a prophecy vouchsafed to Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as) a century and a quarter ago. All that is left is to give thanks to Almighty God and end with a prayer offered by Hadhrat Mirza Bashir-Ud-Din Mahmud Ahmad(ra) in support of his Al-Tafsir al-Kabir:
‘By means of it the blind shall see, the deaf shall hear, the dumb shall speak, the lame and the halt shall walk, and God’s angels shall so bless it that it shall succeed in fulfilling the object for which it is being published. Do Thou, O Lord, ordain that it be so!’
(Facts about Al-Tafsir al-Kabir, and all quotations, are taken from the General Introduction and Publisher’s Note of the five-volume Al-Tafsir al-Kabir)