Thousands of students around the world are lamenting the loss of a teacher and one of the most gentle souls that God placed among us.
He was 87 and until the last conscious minute of his life he was inviting people to the Quran. His last travel for this purpose was in California and Georgia just ten days before he had three massive heart attacks in his hometown Chicago. He visited California and Georgia as if he had gone there to say good bye to those who were his disciples and students.
I had the honor to listen to him and learn from him immensely. Wherever I was with him he was always sharing his vision and dreams and his efforts to encourage people to connect with the word of God. He was a man of peace and justice. He lived in this world, yet every minute he was conscious of the world he has to move on to. Whenever he came to stay with me he would every day call his daughters and wife and inform them of the itinerary. He would share with them the details. On March 14, 2018 he visited the office of IslamiCity.org in Culver City, California. He spent the whole day there and accepted the requested of this largest Islamic portal in America to serialize his work and make it available to the world.
In one of his previous visits to IslamiCity he started his address to the some of the young people present, "In our cultures we have arranged marriages, which is fine and works most of the time, but true love marriage is better." After he gets the attention of the people who want to hear what this old traditional scholar has to say about love marriages. He continues, "This is the same relationship we should have with the Quran, a love relationship and not an arranged relationship."
He indeed was a sign from among the signs of Allah. He reminded people how the true life of a believer should be. He offered his life as an example of dedication and sacrifice to the ideals he was promoting. His main focus and life was the Quran. Everything he did revolved around the Quran.
He authored several books on the Quran among which are Reflections on the Quran, Exercise in Understanding the Quran and Insight into the Quran. He was in the process of writing another book on the methodology of understanding the Quran that others who benefited from his teachings will have to finish.
His main thesis was simple. The Quran comprises of 114 discourses and each discourse or surah (chapter) focuses on a few dominant themes and each ayah (verses) highlights an important issue. All ayahs are interconnected and all surahs are interconnected. The ayahs and surahs offer guidance to humanity as a whole to create a peaceful environment to explore the universe and serve humanity to reach a higher degree of consciousness. It was a methodology that a few great scholars of the Quran such as Maulana Hameeduddin Farahi and Abdullah Mubarakpuri had also focused on.
In his book Reflections on the Quran, Dr. Irfan explains, “Ummah’s revival is not possible without its people building up a direct relationship with the Divine Words. The Quran addresses every human being. It invites everyone to reflect over its ayah. But, every believer builds his/ her own direct and personal relationship with the Book. … The Quran views the believers as engaged in reﬂecting upon its ayah and thus receiving guidance and inspiration from them. … Building up a direct relationship With the Divine Words is all the more required of the Islamic scholars working in various disciplines of knowledge. In fact, for a true Islamic scholarship, maintaining a living relationship with the Book is essential.”
His scholarship did not prevent him from activism. Until he breathed his last, he was actively involved in interfaith dialogue In fact, during his visit to California, he attended the dialogue between Christians and Muslims on the theme Prophet Moses.
He was the president of the Association for Quranic Understanding. He was the founder of the revived Parliament of World Religions. He was the initiator of several interfaith dialogues in the world. More important than all this, he was the mentor and teacher of hundreds and thousands of young people in India and the USA. He did not run after fame. He did not seek position. He served the cause of peace and justice quietly and left a legacy that would continue to benefit people all over the world.
Dr. Irfan Ahmed Khan was born in the northern Indian state of Uttra Pradesh. He graduated in Islamic Sciences and Classical Arabic from Rampur and received his MA in Philosophy from Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) where he taught Western Philosophy, and Theology (1958 — 1973). In 1974, he moved to USA, where he obtained a PhD in Philosophy from University of Illinois at Chicago and taught Western and Islamic Philosophy at various institutions in USA.
He raised an honorable family of five daughters and two sons, and at the same time started a movement to remind people that Quran must be given due place in Muslim thoughts. His opinion that the Quran should be understood directly was often challenged by traditional scholars, yet he was firm in his opinion supported by the Quran. He is one of those few scholars of his time who earned a PhD from a prestigious university.
Dr. Irfan was active in Jamat e Islami movement in India. He organized several youth conferences while in India and offered them training in interfaith work and understanding the Quran. His life deserves to be studied closely and his work needs to be referred to by all those who are making efforts to understand the divine guidance. His book Reflections on the Quran: Understanding Surahs Al-Fatihah & Al-Baqarah is a monumental work on the Quran.
Indeed to God we all belong because from him we all come. But there are some who leave behind them imprints that remind people of the meaning of this life and the struggles that one goes through in it.
May God inspire all his students and family to continue the work of understanding and connecting with the word of God.