Mawlana Ahmad ‘Ali ibn Lutf Allah al-Hanafi al-Maturidi al-Saharanpuri
By Abu Unaysah
Mawlana Ahmad ‘Ali ibn Lutf Allah al-Hanafi al-Maturidi al-Saharanpuri was among the special students of the great hadith scholar of Delhi, Shah Muhammad Ishaq ibn Muhammad Afdal al-Dehlawi al-Muhajir al-Makki, who was the great-grandson of Shah Wali Allah al-Dehlawi. In fact, Mawlana was celebrated as one of the great Hanafi jurists and leading hadith scholars of his time, penning a well acclaimed commentary on Imam al-Bukhari’s Sahih, which till today is published around the main text of the Indo-Pak print of Sahih al-Bukhari.
Mawlana was born and raised in Saharanpur (UP, India). After initial studies in Saharanpur, he went to Delhi and studied under Mawlana Mamluk ‘Ali and received ijaza (permission) in hadith from Shaykh Wajih al-Din al-Saharanpuri, who narrated from Shaykh ‘Abd al-Hayy ibn Hibat Allah al-Burhanwi, who took from Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir ibn Wali Allah al-Dehlawi.
He then travelled to the blessed city of Makka and performed Hajj. There, he studied the Sihah Sittah (the six authentic collections of hadith) under Shah Muhammad Ishaq al-Dehlawi and received ijaza from him. He then went to Madina and attained the blessings of residing in the city of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace ).
Upon returning to India, Mawlana Ahmad ‘Ali devoted his life to serving and teaching hadith, the lessons of which he conducted with extreme diligence. In 1291 AH, he was appointed vice-principal of the famous seat of learning, Mazahir al-‘Ulum in Saharanpur. Thereafter, in 1294 AH, he was appointed head teacher there.
He occupied himself with business while continuing to teach. He owned his own publishing house, named Matba’ Ahmadi, and compiled various marginal footnotes on several books of hadith, most famously Imam al-Bukhari’s Sahih, which he was the first do in India. These footnotes were thereafter completed by his student, Mawlana Muhammad Qasim al-Nanautwi, the founder of Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband. He also spent many years in correcting it (tashih) and then published it with a magnificent forward written by himself.
He also compiled marginal footnotes on the Jami’ of Imam Tirmidhi and on the famous hadith collection, Mishkat al-Masabih, which he then published. He is also known to be the first to have published the Sahih of Imam Muslim together with its commentary by Imam Nawawi. Even to this day, those who study various hadith collections in the madrasas of the sub-continent and elsewhere use copies which contain the footnotes of Mawlana Ahmad ‘Ali al-Saharanpuri.
As a great jurist and scholar of hadith, he was a beacon of truth, trust, piety and purity. Despite being a person of wealth, he was known for his humbleness and considered himself worthless. Due to these lofty qualities of his, the hearts of the elders of Deoband were full of love and respect for him. Accordingly, he was invited to lay the foundation of Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband’s first building, which is known as Nawdarah.
He received ijaza in tasawwuf in the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi tariqa from the famous hadith scholar, Shah ‘Abd al-Ghani al-Mujaddidi al-Dehlawi (may Allah have mercy on him). Among his students were Mawlana Qasim al-Nanautwi (founder of Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband), Mawlana Y‘aqub al-Nanautwi, Mawlana Ahsan Hasan al-Nanautwi, Mawlana Muhammad ‘Ali al-Mongeri (founder of Nadwat al-‘Ulama in Lucknow) and Mawlana Nur Muhammad al-Haqqani (author of the immensely popular Nurani Qa‘ida).
Mawlana Ahmad ‘Ali was struck with paralysis towards the end of his life and left this mortal abode on the 6th of Jamadi al-Awwal 1297 AH. May Allah shower him, his students and teachers with his mercy and grant them the highest stations in Paradise.
(Adapted from Nuzhat al-Khawatir, Al-Deobandiyyah, and a biographical footnote in Tadhkirah ‘Abd al-‘Ali.)