A Classical Initiative | Other Books

Book History

A Classical Initiative

Good tree books.

The three words fluently flew out of his mouth.

While having a scrummy breakfast at Paragon, dipping pieces of vellappam in steamy vegetable stew, Koyakka kept reminding us of how relevant the new idea was. Ever since he started Islamic Book Trust at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the Kannur born, self-taught, self-made man has to his credit a solid threshold of many such brilliant ideas. Brilliance in ideas as well as unflagging fidelity and love for written words still keeps Koyakka young even at these ordinarily enervating octogenarian days.

Good tree is a Quranic symbolism.

"Consider how God gives an example. Is not a good word like a good tree, whose root is firmly fixed and its branches high in the sky? It produces its fruit all the time, by permission of its Lord. And Allah presents examples for the people that perhaps they will be reminded. And the example of a bad word is like a bad tree, uprooted from the surface of the earth, not having any stability.”

Koyakka suggested Good Tree Books as a new imprint. The books to be brought out under the imprint - books that always bear fruit, whose root is firmly fixed (having strong foundation in our sciences) and whose branches spread out in the sky (extending towards the Master Signifier of all signifiers) are classical books.

In the Islamic word, ‘classical’ is radically different from what we mean by classical literature. Whereas, as for the latter, we mean works that can always be held on as a modal - Iliad, Odyssey, Crime and Punishment, Huckleberry Finn; works of immaculate style, impeccable language and everlasting significance; works traditionally considered as Latin and Hellenistic masterpieces, as for the former classical works are none approved by western canon, but works that seek a time prior to colonial era when, as per modern historians, the western canon, under the guise of orientalism, maligned, mutilated, appropriated and desecrated the pre-colonial, medieval literature that the Muslim world has produced.

Good Tree Books are meant to be classical Islamic books in Malayalam translation. Koyakka suggested two books as forerunners under the imprint-Imam Abu Hamid al Ghazzali’s al Munqid min al dalal (Deliverance from Error) and Abul Kalam Azad’s Basic Principles of the Quran (which is abridgement from the author’s Urdu commentary of the Quran titled Tarjumanul Quran done by his English translator Syed Abdul Latheef. Other Books took up the idea and went ahead with the initial projects. But we renamed Good Tree Books OB Classical Series, because Good Tree, translated into Malayalam, does not have the same eloquence and beauty that either its Arabic and English equivalence has.

Of all his contemporaries, Moulana Abul Kalam Azad was a typical Congress man. He does not open his mouth unless it is for eating or out of dire necessity. A Muslim version of India’s only turbaned Prime Minister so far. It is no wonder that his name is not cited in the Islamic world as often as those of Muhammad Iqbal or Abdul A’ala Maududi. But his exegesis and hermeneutical ideations of the Quran is deeper than the latter’s and his moorings in occidental, especially Indian, philosophy, theology and religious history are much broader than the former’s. He defines and analyses the terms and concepts of the Quran ever classically without many inflections by oriental notions and tropes.

We needed a translator who has the same sang-froid as Maulana Sahib and identifies with his ideas. That soft-spoken, erudite and Quran-enthusiastic Thafsal Iljaz has had to do the translation was not primarily the decision of Other Books. We believe that the Master Signifier makes not only nouns and phrases agree and collocate; He makes people and ideas come together. The translation was much beautiful, borne out by the need for a second edition in comparatively short period.

The first edition cover of the book was bland if not pedantic, positively. So we chose a portrait of Moulana Sahid in the second edition, which we hoped, not successfully albeit, would be neither bland nor pedantic.

Mahin Abdul Rahman and Arun Gokul helped us in several ways.