Tafazzul Hussain Khan
March 15, 2006
Khan-e-Allama Nawab Tafazzul Hussain Khan (1727-1800), a man who embraced and promoted modernity and the scientific outlook in the formative phase of British imperialism in the sub-continent. In his lifetime he was acknowledged as the harbinger of a new age and given the high accolade of Khan-e-Allama.
I have never heard of him before. And, in fact very few people seem to know him. (And before you set off to google, I should tell you that I’ve tried that already without much success.) What sparked my curiosity was his interests.
Tafazzul’s interests were in both modern and ancient literature, but his first love would always remain mathematics and astronomy. Reuben Burrows, the mathematician, writes: ‘ Tofuzzel Hussein continues translating the Principia of Newton (from Latin to Arabic) and I think we shall soon begin to print it here in Arabic….He has likewise translated Emerson’s Mechanics, and a treatise on algebra (that I wrote for him) in Arabic. He is now employed in translating Appollonius de Sectione Rationis. The fate of this work is singular; it was translated from Greek into Arabic, and the Greek original was lost; it was afterwards translated from Arabic into Latin, from an old manuscript in the Bodleian library; the Arabic of it is now totally lost in Asia. I translated the Latin version into English and from the English Tofuzzel Hussein is now rendering it into Arabic again.’
William Jones would write to a friend “….Tafazzul Hussain Khan is doing wonders in English and Mathematicks (sic).”
Apart from his work in the rational sciences he ‘contributed a number of discourses on works related to the Hadis, the tradition of the Holy Prophet and jurisprudence and on Islamic philosophy and sciences; these studies were so numerous and varied that something of their kind had rarely been attempted by other scholars.’
Learning also involved a process of un-learning and the new scientific verities were publicly discussed and debated. One recorded instance concerns Copernicus’s theory that the earth revolved around the sun instead of the earth being the centre of the universe. Tafazzul publicly stated that Copernicus was right, leading to the orthodoxy raising a hue and cry when their traditional beliefs were disputed. Tafazzul’s response was that the Prophet had said that you must seek knowledge even if you have to go to China. Such was his standing that the matter rested there.
Anybody out there who can tell me more ?