Alhamdulillah, a few weeks back, a friend of mine, Maulana Abu Zaynab very kindly offered to contribute articles to my blog from time to time. Below, is hopefully his first of many contributions. I pray that the article is beneficial to all.

Translated by Abu Zaynab

Translator’s Foreword:

In this era many young Deobandis, while claiming to love and follow the Akabir, are falling prey to participating in those actions that the elders of Deoband frowned upon and which are considered contrary to their minhaj.

The following is a short translation of a passage by Hakīm Al-Ummat Mawlānā Ashraf ‘Alī at-Thānwi (1863-1943), which was included in Tadhkirat al-Rashīd, the biography of Hadhrat Imām Rabbāni Mawlānā Rashīd Ahmed Gangohī (1829-1908 ) that was written after his demise. Subsequently, this was reproduced by Hadhrat Shaykh al-Hadīth Mawlānā Muhammad Zakariyyā al-Kāndhalwī (1898-1982) in his autobiography, Aap Beetī.

The piece contains the viewpoints of Hakīm al-Ummat and Mawlānā Gangohī with regards to the above-mentioned issues – this is the viewpoint of all the other elders of Deoband and those who claim to follow the akābir (elders). Its subsequent inclusion by Hadhrat Shaykh in his Aap Beeti is a clear attestation to the importance and authenticity of the subject matter by one of the leading hadīth scholars and sūfis of the last century. Hakīm Al-Ummat’s stance on the issue, therefore, is equally relevant to all who are connected to the Chishtī-Sābrī-Imdādī tarīqah – whether it is through Hakīm Al-Ummat or Imām Rabbānī.

Hadhrat Hakīm al-Ummat’s writings are extremely insightful, and regardless of whether one resides in the Orient or the Occident, they deal with issues that hold even more relevance in this day and age. Claims that the akābir’s rulings on issues are only relevant to a sub-continental context or milieu is something which even leading contemporary Deobandi ‘ulamā, who have been residing in the west for nearly 50 years now, do not accept.

It is particularly hoped that youngsters who align themselves with the elders of Deoband will find this interesting and, through it, be able to bring themselves closer to the ways of their elders.

May Allah the Almighty grant us the ability to tread in the footsteps of the elders in the way that they would have desired and wanted us to – a methodology derived from the Qur’ān, hadīth and principles of fiqh as understood by the jurists of the ummat before the elders. Āmīn.

Abu Zaynab (Translator)

Hakīm Al-Ummat (may Allāh have mercy on him) says:

The effect of the company of Hadhrat Mawlānā Rashīd Ahmed Gangohī was such that no matter how worried one may have been, or no matter how much anxiety (wasāwis) one may have been experiencing, as soon one entered his presence a special type of tranquillity and firmness in the heart could be felt, by which all types of cloudiness and ambiguity would disappear. It could also be noticed that in nearly all of his murīds a complete level of correct aqīdah, firmness in religion, and in particular, a sense of hubb fillāh and bughdh fillāh (love and dislike for the sake of Allāh) could be seen. All this was a result of the blessings of Hadhrat Mawlānā Gangohī’s company. There are numerous incidents that testify to these perfect qualities.

This lowly one (Hakīm Al-Ummat) was able to gain a little faidh (spiritual blessings) and goodness from each time I was in his company and through my correspondence with him. However, on the basis of the prophetic hadīth that whoever is not thankful to people has not thanked Allah, there were two particular good things that are worthy of mention.

The first is with regards to the ilm-e-zahiri (exoteric sciences) and the second is with regards to the ilm-e-batini (esoteric sciences). A brief explanation of the first is that, in spite of having the correct aqīdah, all praise to Allah, I remained mistaken with regards to those issues upon which the ahl al-haqq (people of the truth) and the ahl al-bid’ah (people of reprehensible innovation) differed upon.

This mistake was such that from it stemmed many of my views and actions. In other words, this related to certain ‘amal-e-rasmiya, like the gatherings commonly known as the mīlād sharīf and its like, which the muhaqqiq ‘ulamā, on account of certain corrupt influences, have unconditionally prevented the general lay public from participating in and likewise also prevented the elite (meaning the ‘ulamā) from taking part in.

I have always considered these corrupt influences (mafāsid) to be reprehensible and the one who carries them out to be blameworthy – this feeling that I had felt was on account of my correct aqīdah, and I would always draw the attention of the layman towards these corrupt influences. However, a concept was settling in my mind that the reason behind the ruling of impermissibility was those corrupt influences, and therefore where the reason was absent then the ruling would also not apply. Hence, I felt there was no reason to prevent the elite, who were free of corrupt influences, from participating in those gatherings.

Likewise, I felt that there was no need to unconditionally prevent the lay public from those activities; rather, I felt that the lay public should be granted permission, and that the corrupt influences should then be corrected. In fact, I used to feel that by granting people permission to participate in such ceremonies, there was a possibility and expediency (maslahat) of people’s aqīdah perhaps being rectified – the corruption of which is the primary cause of the impermissibility. I also felt that by completely preventing the general masses, the lay masses would not understand what the corrupt influences were and that their aqīdah would also not be rectified.

For some time I remained in this state and in spite of continually being involved in the studying and teaching of fiqh and hadīth etc. my mind did not feel inclined to the contrary. How can I thank Hadhrat (may Allah sanctify his secret), he himself, with great tenderness and kindness, expressed regret about me to Molwi Munawwar ‘Alī Darbhangwi regarding this.

One of the issues that stemmed from my mistake was that I had learnt particular zikr and ashgal (spiritual exercises) from certain dervishes, who exerted much effort to mould the shari’ah to fit their personal conditions, thinking that I should take what was praiseworthy from them and leave what was reprehensible.

In fact, I had the opportunity of frequenting and remaining in the company of these dervishes. Regarding the existence of the corrupt traits that were present in their gatherings, I felt that through me the aqīdah of the elite would be rectified and that this was not blameworthy. I also felt that simply informing the lay public about what was right and wrong was sufficient in allowing me to eradicate the corrupt traits. Hadhrat Gangohi expressed regret over this especially.

It is also important to remember that Hadhrat Gangohī’s extensive kindness was similar to what has been narrated in the hadīth regarding the Prophet (sallallāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam), that out of profound kindness and modesty, He (sallallāhu ‘alaihi wa sallam) would not rebuke anyone directly. Likewise, in spite of my presenting myself many times in his company, Hadhrat (may Allah sanctify his secret) would not directly raise an objection to me. He was kind to such an extent that if somebody was to protest against me, he would interpret (ta’wīl) my actions in a positive way and would leave the issue ambiguous.

A further aspect to my mistake was that Hadhrat Hājī Sāheb (Hājā Imdādullah al-Muhājir al-Makkī, may Allah have mercy on him) had once delivered a short speech on the impermissibility of bickering and about the differences that exist in those issues (‘amāl-e-rasmiya). Hadhrat Hājī Saheb had then asked me to write a detailed paper regarding this.

Due to the fact that these ideas about the ruling of impermissibility were deeply-rooted in my mind, I wrote a paper on them and read it aloud to Haji Sāheb in his presence. Because Hadhrat would constantly remain in solitude, mingled very little with the general public, entertained positive thoughts about people, and was not fully aware of the situation, ignorance and divergence (dhalālat) of the general masses, he thought positively of the paper and even made changes in certain places.

Also, due to the fact that Hājī Sāheb (may Allah have mercy on him) had asked for the book to be written on his behalf, and because he had set his signature and seal on it, he granted permission for it to be printed under his name. It was thus published under the title Faysla Haft Mas’ala. Some individuals who lacked intelligence considered it to support their bid’āt. How could it, when it contained discourses that clearly refuted the corrupt influences found in the amal-e-rasmiya (customary practices)?!

The book only mentioned the permissibility of those actions for those who had sound aqidah and sound understanding. The idea behind the book was: how could the corrupt influences that affect the general lay masses affect the elite (khawās)?

Returning to the point of discussion, Hadhrat Gangohī (may Allah sanctify his secret) mentioned all of this to Molwi Munawwar ‘Alī Saheb, upon which Molwi Saheb mentioned it to this lowly one (Hakīm Al-Ummat), and so from the strength of Hadhrat’s spiritual blessings (faidh) in a general way I was made aware of my mistake. However, for further details I felt it necessary to correspond with Hadhrat Gangohī and subsequently letters were exchanged many times between us, which have been published in part one of Tadhkirat Al-Rashīd.

In short, the outcome was such that through insight (basīrat) and analysis (tahqīq), I was – through the favour of Allah – made aware of my mistake. And through being made aware a great door of knowledge was opened to me, which had for quite some time remained locked and which in short was a realisation that the reason for the prohibition in reality was the divergence of aqīdah.

The corruption of aqīdah (that comes as a result of customary practices) is widespread, regardless of whether the person committing the action is the one whose aqīdah is corrupt or whether the person committing the action is the sabab (cause for the aqīdah of others to become corrupt). So, if the one committing the action is an ignorant layman, then his aqīdah will become corrupt and if the one committing the action is from the elite (khawās, including the ‘ulamā) then, even though he may be of sound aqīdah himself, on account of him the aqīdah of the masses will be made corrupt. It is clear that there is a prohibition in becoming the cause of the divergence of others.

Moreover, although by delivering a speech it is possible to admonish the public in relation to the corrupt traits, all of the masses, however, cannot be rectified, nor do all of them listen to the speeches delivered there (where these customs are practised). Hence, if an ordinary member of the public was to hear about the actions of an elite person participating in the amal-e-rasmiya but did not hear the discourse calling for the reformation of those actions from corrupt influences, then that individual would be the cause of the lay person diverging (dhalāl).

Clearly, it is reprehensible to be the cause of divergence for even a single individual, regardless of whether or not there exists some sort of expediency (maslahat) in participating. A well-known principle (of fiqh) states that in whichever action an expediency and corrupt trait gathers, and according to the shar’iah that action is not something that is required, then in such a situation the action will be abandoned. Hence, in line with this principle, one should not be concerned with the acquiring of those expediencies. Rather, one will abandon the action to save oneself from those corrupt influences.

It should be borne in mind that if corrupt traits are to appear in those actions that are necessary, then the compulsory actions will not be abandoned. Rather, one will endeavour to remove those corrupt traits. All these rulings and principles are found in the prophetic traditions and the (accepted) principles of fiqh.

It should be clear to the intelligent reader that all this has already been mentioned in my book Islah-e-Rusum (The Rectification of Customs). When my views regarding this issue were rectified, then all those issues that stemmed from them, by the grace of Allah, were also rectified. Hence, I was also rescued from remaining in the company of and meeting with dervishes whose actions were contrary to the shar’iah. I have also written and published an amendment to Faysla Haft Masala through which any doubts relating to a sense of negligence and excess in the matter were removed…

Aap Beeti (part 6 — Yaad-e-Ayyam 5, page 334-337)
Nazim Kutub Khana Yahyawi, Madressa Mazahir Al-Ulum, Saharanpur, India.