The Quranic exegete and expositor of Wali Allahi thought, Mawlana Sufi ‘Abd al-Hamid Sawati, writes of Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanautwi (may Allah shower His mercy upon them): 

‘‘His worshipping Allah Most High was such that he would often recite the qur’an, alone, throughout the entire night, in supererogatory prayer (nawafil). One night, he recited twenty-seven parts of the Qur’an in one rak’ah.’’ 

Ajwibah-e-Arba’in, p. 21 (Gujranwala: Idara-e-Nashr wa Isha‘at Madrasah Nusratul Uloom, 3rd edition, December 2004)


The importance of studying under an ustadh (teacher)

By Mawlana Mohammed H Abasoomer 

Q.      Some people have stated that the ijazah system and the isnad of a scholar is essential whereas others say that one does not require isnad or ijazah to be a scholar and that knowledge can be obtained from books alone. Which is the correct opinion and is there any evidence to prove this point? 

A.      To acquire knowledge under the expertise and guidance of a fully qualified, Sunnah-conscious ‘alim of the Deen is absolutely essential. Failure to do so generally results in absolute misguidance. In fact, this has been the practice of the Anbiya (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon them all), as well as our pious predecessors. The following is substantiation of this. 

1. The Holy Qur’an was revealed by Almighty Allah as guidance and a means of knowledge for mankind. But without the explanation of the Messenger of Allah (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) the meanings would inevitably be misunderstood. Almighty Allah addresses his Messenger (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in the Qur’an:  

And we have revealed to you the Qur’an so that you may explain to the people what has been revealed to them. 

This is the strongest and most evident proof for our view. 

2.  Almighty Allah mentions in the Qur’an:

 Ask the people of knowledge if you do not know.

 3.  The Prophet Dawud (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is said to have benefited immensely from Luqman al-Hakim, before Dawud (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) received prophethood. (Tafsir al-Qurtubi)

 4.  Sayyiduna Musa’s (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) sojourn to Sayyiduna Khadhir  is well-known and enshrined in the Holy Qur’an.

 5. Furthermore, during the era of the Tabi’un, whenever anyone would claim to have any knowledge, he would be questioned as to whom he had acquired that bit of knowledge from. (Muslim)

 6.  Hafiz Khatib al-Baghdadi (may Allah have mercy upon him), the famous muhaddith of the fifth century, states in his book Taqyid al-Ilm (p.61):

 Many scholars of the classical times had, at the time of death, either destroyed their books themselves or instructed others to do so on their behalf. This was due to fear that it may end up in the hands of ignorant ones who would not understand its verdicts and would only take the apparent meanings therefrom.

 Thereafter he reported several such incidents from the lives of classical scholars. From among them were Imam Abidah al-Salmani, Imam Shu’bah ibn Hajjaj, Imam Abu Qilabah and Imam ‘Isa ibn Yunus (may Allah have mercy upon them all). (ibid, p.61-62)

 7.  Imams Muhammad ibn Sirin, Hakam ibn Atiyya and Waki’ ibn al-Jarrah (may Allah have mercy upon them all) have all said that the primary cause for the misguidance of Banu Isra’il was the books that they inherited from their forefathers. (Taqyid al-Ilm, p.61 and its footnotes)

 8.  Imam Awza’i (may Allah have mercy upon him)) says:

 Knowledge was sublime for as long as it was obtained from the mouths of learned men. But when it ended up in books, its nur (spiritual light) disappeared. (ibid, p.64)

 Note: The purpose of the previous three quotations is to prove that mere studying of books is incorrect and devoid of divine assistance. Ideally, one should study under the auspices of a learned teacher. Undermining the books of Shari’a is not intended here.

 9.  Imam Malik (may Allah have mercy upon him) was once asked if knowledge could be acquired from one who did not sit in the company of the ‘ulama and instead he sufficed with, and depended only on, books. He replied in the negative and said: “Knowledge should not be acquired except from one who has memorized, accompanied the scholars, practiced upon his knowledge and possesses piety.” (Adab al-Ikhtilaf, p.145)

 10. Shaykh Muhammad ‘Awwamah – a leading muhaddith of our times – mentions beautifully in his book Adab al-Ikhtilaf:

 [The ‘ulama] never used to pay attention to one who did not have an ustadh (teacher), neither would they consider such a person even worthy of being spoken to [in matters of knowledge] due to him being prone to mistakes.

 He further writes:

 Qadi ‘Iyad (may Allah have mercy upon him) and others have narrated that when Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (may Allah have mercy upon him) was requested by the ruler of his time (al-Mu’tasim) to discuss a certain matter with Ibn Abi Du’ad, he (Imam Ahmad) turned his face away and said: “How can I converse with a person whom I have never seen at the door of any ‘alim?” (ibid, p.144)

 We hope that the above ten points are sufficient to prove that merely relying on the study of books without the supervision and mentoring of a fully qualified teacher is incorrect and has never been acceptable in the tradition of Islamic knowledge.

We conclude this brief article with the translation of a famous poem attributed to Imam Shafi’i (may Allah have mercy upon him):

 Oh my brother!
You will never acquire knowledge
Without the following six essentials:
Intelligence, desire, poverty,
Sojourn, tutelage of an ustadh

Accompanied by a long consistent period (of studying under him).  

 (ibid, p.142-143)

 Only Allah Most Magnificent Knows Best. 

Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar Nanautwi[1]

(1238-1302 /1823-1885) 


Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar ibn Lutf ‘Ali ibn Muhammad Hasan al-Siddiqi al-Hanafi Nanautwi—the righteous imam, ‘arif (knower of Allah) and mujahid—was amongst the leading scholars of fiqh, hadith, and tasawwuf in his time. 

A descendant of Sayyiduna Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (may Allah be pleased with him), he was born in Nanautah, a village in the district of Saharanpur (UP, India). He initially studied under his father with whom he completed the memorization of the Qur’an (hifz).  He then travelled to Delhi, where he studied under Mufti Sadr al-Din Dehlawi, Mawlana Rashid al-Din Khan, the teacher of many shaykhs Mawlana Mamluk al-‘Ali Nanautwi, Mawlana Ahmad ‘Ali Saharanpuri and Shah ‘Abd al-Ghani Dehlawi. He studied some books of hadith from the renowned scholar of hadith Shah Muhammad Ishaq Dehlawi, the great grandson of Shah Wali Allah Dehlawi and successor of Shah ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Dehlawi. 

After studying in Delhi, Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar Nanautwi occupied himself in correcting manuscripts (tas’hih) at the publishing house of Nawlkashur. Later he taught Islamic sciences at Ajmer College, and then at Agra College. 

The Battle of Shamli 

In 1273/1857, Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar fought against the British in the Battle of Shamli under the leadership of Haji Imdad Allah Muhajir Makki, alongside senior scholars such as Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, Mawlana Qasim Nanautwi, Hafiz Zamin Shahid, Mawlana Rahmat Allah Kiranwi and his own younger brother Mawlana Muhammad Munir Nanautwi. It was in this battle that he sustained serious wounds. 

Mufti Mahmud Hasan Gangohi relates: 

‘‘It was the habit of Mawlana Mazhar Nanautwi that he would often lick his upper lip. Someone once asked him the reason for this, but the respected Mawlana did not inform him. When this person insisted, Mawlana remarked, ‘When the battle against the British took place at Shamli, and the Muslims were being attacked, some of my comrades were dying and my leg was also hit by a bullet (due to which it became paralysed). In this state, I saw Hurs (damsels of Paradise) with glasses in their hands. The glasses were filled with a special type of drink that they were giving to those of my fallen comrades who were dying and had no chance of surviving. As this was happening, one of the damsels came towards me. She had just placed a glass against my mouth when another damsel took hold of her hands, pulled them away [from me] and said, ‘He is not among those who are to pass away.’ A very small amount of this drink fell on my upper lip, the [sweet] taste of which remains till today. This is why I have this habit [of licking my upper lip.]” [2] 

After the battle was over, Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar went into hiding at Bareilly. Once a general amnesty was declared, he emerged from hiding and thereafter began teaching at his home. 

Teaching the Islamic Sciences 

Many students studied fiqh, usul al-fiqh (principles of Islamic law), kalam (scholastic theology), mantiq (classical logic), Arabic grammar and other related sciences from him. 

In Shawwal 1283/February 1867, he was appointed headteacher at a madrasah founded in Saharanpur by Mawlana Sa‘adat ‘Ali Saharanpuri, the well-known jurist (faqih), who was a participant of the 1273/1857 jihad and a devoted follower of Shah Ahmad ibn ‘Irfan Barelwi—the martyr of Balakot.[3] When this madrasah progressed and an exclusive building was established for it, it was named Mazahir-e-‘Ulum in Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar’s honour. He exerted his efforts in teaching the Qur’an and Sunnah (hadith), and in disseminating knowledge and the Islamic sciences. He was also involved with the administration of Mazahir-e-‘Ulum at every level and taught there until the end of his life. During his nineteen years at Mazahir-e-‘Ulum he taught all the six canonical collections of hadith as well Mu’atta Imam Malik, Shama’il al-Tirmidhi and Sunan al-Darimi. He taught [from the] various renowned commentaries of the Qur’an as well as Durr al-Mukhtar and other famous works of Hanafi fiqh and usul al-Fiqh. He toiled hard to ensure that the madrasah maintained a high academic standard and he succeeded in doing so. This was acknowledged and appreciated by scholars associated with the madrasah, including Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi. It is testimony to the efforts and sincerity of Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar Nanautwi that after his death the consultative committee of Mazahir-e-‘Ulum were unable to find anyone of his calibre to replace him in his all-encompassing role at the madrasah

He had many outstanding students; most prominent amongst them was the eminent hadith scholar Mawlana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri.[4] Hujjat al-Islam Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanautwi, founder of the renowned Islamic seminary, Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband, also studied some primary books[5] under his tutelage. 

He also assisted in completing Ghayat al-Awtar, the Urdu translation of Imam ‘Ala’ al-Din al-Haskafi’s al-Durr al-Mukhtar, as stated in its introduction by Mawlana Muhammad Ahsan Nanautwi.[6] 

From the legacy of Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar Nanautwi’ is the continuous chain of exceptional hadith scholars that have graduated from Mazahir-e-‘Ulum, which include and is not limited to the likes of: 

  • Mawlana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri
  • ‘Allamah Zafar Ahmad ‘Uthmani
  • Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi
  • Mawlana ‘Abd al-Rahman Kamilpuri
  • Mawlana Muhammad Idris Kandhlawi
  • Mawlana Ashfaq al-Rahman Kandhlawi
  • Mawlana Muhammad Ayyub Saharanpuri
  • Mawlana Muhammad Yusuf Kandhlawi
  • Mawlana Badr-e-‘Alam Miruthi,
  • Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Yunus Jonpuri.

His Characteristics and the Spiritual Path 

He trod the path of tasawwuf under the guidance of Shaykh al-Sunnah Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, who granted him permission (ijazah) to initiate others into the path. This despite him being older than his beloved shaykh

Mawlana Qari Muhammad Tayyib Qasimi relates from his father, Mawlana Muhammad Ahmad Qasimi: 

‘‘Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar Nanautwi once saw Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and Mawlana Qasim Nanautwi in a dream, sitting on a throne. Mawlana (who was older than the two shaykhs) relayed the dream in a letter to Haji Imdad Allah in which he also requested him to accept his bay‘ah (pledge of spiritual purification). In reply, Haji Imdad Allah interpreted the dream by instructing him to give bay‘ah to either one of the two [shaykhs]. Therefore, Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar brought the letter to Mawlana Qasim Nanautwi and requested him to accept his bay‘ah. Embarrassed, Mawlana Qasim Nanautwi replied, ‘Accept my bay‘ah instead!’ Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar remarked, ‘Here, this is the letter [of Haji Imdad Allah] and this is the instruction.’ Mawlana Qasim Nanautwi then said, ‘Let me give you some sound advice. Proceed to Gangoh.’ Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar went there. At first, Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi also declined. He, however, later accepted bay‘ah.’’ [7]

Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi would express his embarrassment at the love, respect and veneration afforded him by Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar Nanautwi. Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar Nanautwi was a person of great insight (basirat). The respect he showed his shaykh due to his eminence and lofty rank, and the love he felt for him, was natural for him as a disciple. However, Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi was unable to disregard his disciple’s seniority in age and felt obliged to act according to the blessed words of the Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace), ‘‘He who does not have mercy on our young, and does not respect our elders is not of us.’’ (Tirmidhi

Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar Nanautwi was also granted ijazah in tasawwuf by Shaykh al-‘Ulama’ Haji Imdad Allah Muhajir Makki, in whose heart he held a special place, as indicated in his letters (maktubat).

Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar Nanautwi was from amongst the ascetic and righteous ‘ulama’; he would be referred to in matters of fiqh. He was an erudite scholar of the rational (ma‘qul), literary (lughawi), and Islamic sciences, who embodied Shari‘ah and Tariqah. He would habitually use perfume when reciting the Qur’an in tarawih prayers. He would refrain from affectation (takalluf) and was an awe-inspiring person; very few people would have the courage to speak in his presence. He was known for his simplicity, humbleness, piety, intelligence and wisdom.   

Mawlana Sayyid Abu ‘l-Hasan ‘Ali Nadwi wrote of him: 

‘‘He was a scholar of deep learning, who had mastery over the [Islamic] sciences. He gave bay‘ah to Imam Rashid Ahmad ibn Hidayat Ahmad Gangohi, who granted him ijazah. He would recite the Qur’an often, would be constantly engaged in the remembrance of Allah, and his tongue would remain moist with [the utterance of] Ism al-Dhat (Allah). He remained aloof from affectation, was an ascetic of an austere nature, dignified and was awe-inspiring.’’ [8]

 Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya writes in Tarikh-e-Mazahir-e-‘Ulum (History of Mazahir-e-‘Ulum):    

‘‘Mawlana Mazhar Nanautwi had very close relationships with Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanautwi and Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi. Despite being senior in age to Mawlana Gangohi, he was from amongst his deputies (khalifahs) and beloved servants.  In fact he was an ardent lover of Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and was extremely devoted to him. He had great understanding of fiqh and hadith. He was an Allah-fearing, pious, soft-natured and virtuous saint. ’’[9]

Journeys on Hajj 

His first Hajj, in which Mawlana Qasim Nanautwi and Mawlana Ya‘qub Nanautwi accompanied him, was performed in 1277/1861. He performed his second Hajj in 1294/1877 in the company of his shaykh Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, Mawlana Qasim Nanautwi, Mawlana Ya‘qub Nanautwi, Mawlana Shah Rafi‘ al-Din, Shaykh al-Hind Mawlana Mahmud al-Hasan and others.  

Famous Brothers 

He had two brothers, both younger than him, who were accomplished scholars. 

The elder of the two, Mawlana Muhammad Ahsan Nanautwi, was a prominent Hanafi jurist who translated a number of classical works in Urdu. In contrast to his brothers, elders and companions, Mawlana Muhammad Ahsan Nanautwi actively opposed the jihad of 1273/1857. Due to this, under duress of the local populace, he was forced to leave Bareilly, his town of residence. He returned later, after the battle had ended. There, aided by his two brothers, Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar and Mawlana Muhammad Munir, he established a publishing house called Matba‘-e-Siddiqiyyah.[10] A number of brilliant works were published from there, including: 

  • A critical edition of Qadi ‘Iyad al-Maliki’s Al-Shifa’
  • Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanautwi’s Tahdhir al-Nas
  • Various works of Hakim al-Islam Shah Wali Allah al-Dehlawi.  

Mawlana Muhammad Ahsan Nanautwi’s translations include: 

  • Imam Ghazali’s Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din
  • Imam Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah’s Ighathat al-Luhfan
  • Shah Wali Allah Dehlawi’s Al-Insaf fi Bayan Sabab al-Ikhtilaf and Al-‘Iqd al-Jid fi Ahkam al-Ijtihad wa ‘l-Taqlid.  

He translated and annotated: 

  • Imam al-Nasafi’s Kanz al-Daqa’iq
  • The latter part of ‘Allamah al-Haskafi’s Durr al-Mukhtar.  

 He also annotated the following works of Shah Wali Allah Dehlawi: 

  • Qurrat al-‘Aynayn fi Tafdil al-Shaykhayn
  • Izalat al-Khafa’ ‘an Khilafat al-Khulafa’
  • His Magnus opus Hujjat Allah al-Balighah.

He also collated the juridical edicts (fatwas) of Shah ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Dehlawi. 

Mawlana Muhammad Ahsan was wrongly and unjustly declared an unbeliever by some ‘ulama of Bareilly[11] when he attested to a verdict of the famed scholar ‘Allamah ‘Abd al-Hayy Lucknowi, in which the latter had authenticated the narration of Sayyiduna ‘Abd Allah Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) regarding the creation of seven Earths and the existence of Prophets on each of them.[12] 

His teachers included Mawlana Mamluk al-‘Ali Nanautwi, Mawlana Ahmad ‘Ali Saharanpuri and the renowned hadith scholar Shah ‘Abd al-Ghani Dehlawi, from whom he also received ijazah in tasawwuf. Luminaries with whom he enjoyed close relationships included: 

  • Shah ‘Abd al-Ghani Dehlawi
  • Haji Imdad Allah Muhajir Makki
  • Mawlana Ahmad ‘Ali Saharanpuri
  • Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi
  • Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanautwi
  • Mawlana Nur al-Hasan Kandhlawi
  • ‘Allamah ‘Abd al-Hayy Lucknowi
  • Mawlana Muhammad Husayn Muradabadi
  • Shaykh Nihal Ahmad Deobandi
  • Mawlana Fayd al-Hasan Saharanpuri.


He lies buried in the Qasimi cemetery in Deoband alongside Mawlana Dhu ‘l-Fiqar ‘Ali, father of Shaykh al-Hind Mawlana Mahmud Hasan Deobandi. 

The youngest brother, Mawlana Muhammad Munir Nanautwi, was a student of Mawlana Mamluk al-‘Ali Nanautwi, Mufti Sadr al-Din Dehlawi and Shah ‘Abd al-Ghani Dehlawi. He served as a principal of Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband for a short period upon the request of Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi. He also actively fought alongside senior ‘ulama’ in the battle of Shamli in 1273/1857. He was heavily involved with Mawlana Muhammad Ahsan’s publishing house, Matba‘-e-Siddiqiyyah. His academic works include an Urdu translation of Imam Ghazali’s Minhaj al-‘Abidin. He had a very close relationship with Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanautwi and was particularly known for his knowledge, piety, honesty and integrity. 

Final Illness and Death  

Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar Nanautwi endured pain in his kidneys for a number of years and passed away at the age of sixty-four (Islamic years) after Maghrib prayers on the evening of Monday 24th Dhu ‘l-Hijjah 1302/October 1885. During his final illness, he would often touch his forehead searching for traces of sweat, as according to the Prophetic hadith it is a sign of a believer’s death. When his death was near and he began sweating from his forehead, his face lit up with joy. He was not survived by any children. 

May Allah enlighten his resting place. May Allah shower His mercy upon him and grant him, his teachers and students the highest stations in Paradise. Amin.

[1]               Adapted from Al-I‘lam bi man fi Tarikh al-Hind min al-A‘lam (also known as Nuzhat al-Khawatir), Akabir ‘Ulama’-e-Deoband, Hadrat Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi awr unke Khulafa’, Awjaz al-Masalik ila Mu’atta al-Imam Malik, Tadhkirat al-Rashid, Tarikh-e-Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband and other sources.   

[2]               Malfuzat-e-Faqih al-Ummat (Karachi: Dar al-Huda, September 2005 ed.) Vol 3, p. 264-265 by Mufti Muhammad Faruq Mirathi.

[3]               One of the greatest spiritual guides of the Indian sub-continent in the last few centuries. He is popularly known as Sayyid Ahmad Shahid.

[4]               Mawlana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri’s love for his teacher can be gauged from the fact that when he became extremely ill in 1340/1922, he wrote in his will, ‘Bury me beside my teacher Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar Nanautwi.’ (See Sawanih ‘Ulama’-e-Deoband (Deoband: Nawaz Publications, Jan 2000 ed.), Vol 1, p. 502-503)

[5]               Mawlana Anwar al-Hasan Sherkoti writes in Anwar-e-Qasimi that Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanautwi studied Sharh Mi’ah ‘Amil, Hidayat al-Nahw, ‘Ilm al-Sighah and other books from Mawlana Muhammad Mazhar Nanautwi. (See Sawanih ‘Ulama’-e-Deoband (Deoband: Nawaz Publications) Vol 1, p. 501)

[6]              See Ghayat al-Awtar (Karachi: H M Sa‘eed Company, 1398 AH ed.) Vol 1, p.10

[7]               Arwah-e-Thalathah, also known as Hikayat-e-Awliya’ (Karachi: Darul Isha‘at, December 2001 ed.) p. 227-228.

[8]               Al-I‘lam bi man fi Tarikh al-Hind min al-A‘lam also known as Nuzhat al-Khawatir (Idara Ta’lifat-e-Ashrafia, 1413/1993) Vol 7, p. 480 by Mawlana ‘Abd al-Hayy al-Hasani Nadwi and Mawlana Abu ‘l-Hasan ‘Ali Nadwi.

[9]               Akabir ‘Ulama’-e-Deoband (Lahore: Idara Islamiat, Ramadhan 1419/January 1999 ed.) p.37-38 by Hafiz Sayyid Muhammad Akbar Shah Bukhari.

[10]             See footnote in ‘Ulama’-e-Hind ka Shandar Madi (Karachi: Maktabah Rashidia, 1406/1986 ed.) p.306 by Mawlana Sayyid Muhammad Miyan.

[11]             Mawlana Naqi ‘Ali Khan, father of Mawlana Ahmad Ridha Khan, in particular.

[12]             See Sawanih ‘Ulama’-e-Deoband (Deoband: Nawaz Publications, Jan 2000 ed.), Vol 1, p. 529-534 for details.

Mawlana ‘Ubayd Allah Sindhi (may Allah shower His mercy upon him) writes: 

‘‘Shaykh al-Islam Abu Mas‘ud Rashid Ahmad Gangohi is the son of Hidayat Allah Ansari. He was born in 1244 AH, and learnt from Mawlana Mamluk ‘Ali [Nanautwi], Mawlana ‘Abd al-Ghani [Dehlawi], Mawlana Ahmad Sa‘id [Dehlawi], and Mawlana Imdad Allah [Muhajir Makki] etc. I personally studied a large portion of Sunan Abi Dawud from him. Allah granted me immense benefit through it. It is the effect of Mawlana Rashid Ahmad’s company that I followed his maslak in such a way that I never even contemplated moving away from it. Through him, the Wali Allahi approach to fiqh and hadith became manifest to me, and through his blessings I became well versed in the fundamentals as well as advanced rational discourse in the sciences of fiqh, suluk & ma‘rifah, Arabic and the Qur’an & Sunnah. I found Mawlana Rashid Ahmad to be a well-versed imam and mujtahid of the Hanafi School. He conformed strictly to the school of thought of his teacher, Mawlana ‘Abd al-Ghani, and was as unshakeable as a mountain in this regard. He closely resembled Mawlana Muhammad Ishaq [Dehlawi][1] in the Wali Allahi maslak. I understood the reality of sunnah and bid’ah from his book, Barahin-e-Qati‘ah. He had authored this book in support of Shah Isma‘il Shahid’s work, Idah al-Haq. Mawlana Rashid Ahmad became the Imam of the Deobandi group after Amir Imdad Allah and Mawlana Qasim [Nanautwi][2]. In excess of three thousand shaykhs attained religious knowledge from him. His year of passing is 1323 AH.’’ 

Shah Wali Allah awr unki Siyasi Tehrik, p. 197 (Sindh Sagar Academy, 2008 ed. by Mawlana ‘Ubayd Allah Sindhi)

[1] Grandson and successor of Shah ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Dehlawi (may Allah shower His mercy upon him)

[2] Please refer to the work this paragraph is being quoted from for details.

Below is a page from the manuscript of Ma’arif al-Qur’an, Mufti Muhammad Shafi‘ Usmani’s (may Allah sanctify his secret) ever-popular exegesis of the Qur’an. It is, of course, in the handwriting of Mufti Muhammad Shafi‘ Usmani himself.

A Page From The Manuscript of Ma'arif al-Qur'an

A Page From The Manuscript of Ma'arif al-Qur'an


Image taken from : Al-Balagh Monthly, Special Mufti Muhammad Shafi‘ Issue (Karachi: Maktabah Ma’arif al-Qur’an, Jumada ‘l-Ula 1426 / July 2005), Vol 1

Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanautwi On Qur’anic Eloquence

Translated by Mawlana Ibrahim Amin al-Kuwaiti 

Since the issue of rhetorical grandeur in the Qur’an has in recent times captivated the intrigue of many a critic, it seems appropriate to elaborate on the actual import of Qur’anic eloquence here. Imam Muhammad Qasim Nanautwi (may Allah shower His mercy upon him) writes on this point in Barahin Qasimiyyah

Balaghah (eloquence) is different from fasahah (articulacy).  The former constitutes excellence in congruity and the latter excellence in itself. To elaborate, words are but garments for the meanings they contain, and garments differ in that sometimes they suit the wearer and sometimes they do not. Some of them are made from fine fabric and others from inferior material. Some garments are lavishly decorated and embroidered while others are lacking in such supplementary embellishments. 

In the above analogy, appropriateness of words with their underlying meanings is what is meant by excellence in congruity, the refined choice of words used in articulacy by excellence in itself and the embroidery and embellishment that is additionally applied on the garment for decorative purposes should be classified as badi’ (innovativeness). 

Based on this, anyone with sound reason can appreciate that fashioning speech and structuring its content are things different to and other than actual balaghah and fasahah, as an eloquent and articulate speech is not merely a name for its theme and structure. Similarly, grammatically correct sentence structures too are not sufficient to qualify as eloquent and articulate. First, consideration needs to be given to the afore-mentioned congruity. If it is found to be excellent, then balaghah (eloquence) is at its peak. Similarly, if the right choice of words has been made with discernment, then only will fasahah (articulacy) be believed to have reached its pinnacle. 

Furthermore, this ‘congruity’ is nothing more than the name for the relationship between words and their meanings. And, as is known, relationships are always more subtle than their objects. Inevitably then, the knowledge of this relationship is more arcane than knowledge of words and meanings. And in cases where meanings themselves are subtle and only very finely distinguishable, this relationship naturally increases in intricacy and complexity. For this reason, the mind sometimes tends to accept two words as meaning the same thing, and hence as synonymous, whereas the reality is on the contrary. 

As an example, let us take the words husn and jamal (both roughly meaning beauty). People generally assume they carry the same meaning, whereas the truth is that jamal is an objective quality found in the person attributed with it. The root of the word, j-m-l, guides us to this conclusion as another component of this root is jumlah (sentence), which is speech amalgamated from various components, and hence, jamal is a quality created by the orderly arrangement of various organs and their features. On the other hand, husn is a subjective quality given to the person associated with it by the beholder, depending upon the capacity in which the viewer is able to perceive it. Hence, husn is dependant upon the appreciation of others. 

It follows from this that they are not synonymous words and, in fact, husn is actually the appreciation of jamal. If the eyes of the beholder are blemished or his nature perverse, it is not unlikely that they will not be able to appreciate the husn despite the presence of jamal or, to the contrary, will see husn where jamal does not exist. 

Even those rhetoricians and experts in literature who have acquired distinction and fame in the subjects of their proficiency and have even earned praise from their critics, use the two words interchangeably without apprehension and treat them as wholly synonymous. 

In summary, the majority of notable poets, rhetoricians and literary experts have failed to reach the apogee and essence of balaghah (eloquence), and if a few of them have managed to distinguish between few words, they can never claim to have complete knowledge of the essential congruity and cannot, therefore, know with certainty the occasions of their proper use. This is so because this science cannot be mastered but by one who possesses the following: 

  1. His knowledge should transcend all reality.
  2. He should have complete command over and the ability to summon up all the words of at least one language.
  3. The reality and essence of all things are as manifest to him as tangible objects are to human eyes.
  4. He is fully aware of the universal and the specific qualifications as well as the general and the detailed.
    By the knowledge of the universal and general is meant that one has a complete and absolute knowledge of, as a principle, the various properties of letters of the alphabet as well as of the various kind of relations and connections that exist in meanings and in the import of words, to convey the essence of which the speaker designates a particular word.
    And by the knowledge of the specific and the detailed qualifications is meant knowing the exact inherent properties and import of each individual letter of the alphabet and to have an understanding of its relationship to meaning.” 

(This last point appears to be alluding to the Science of the Properties of Letters, commonly referred to as ‘Ilm Asrar al-Huruf or ‘Ilm al-Abjad. It is one of the higher disciplines in the esoteric study of language. Classical contributors to this field include Imam al-Ghazali, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Sina, Ibn Hayyan etc. Shah Wali Allah has also succinctly written in this field in al-Khayr al-Kathir, a summary of which has been quoted in the footnote on his exposition of the Huruf Muqatta’at

This science postulates that each letter of the alphabet carries unique intrinsic properties and meanings. Similarly, the combination of letters that creates a semantic value also signifies the amalgamation of the unique properties of its root letters, and hence, carries a deeper esoteric meaning.) (Mawlana Ibrahim Amin)

Source: Barahin Qasimiyyah (Jawab Turki ba Turki), pg. 117-123 – as quoted in footnote on page 237-239 – Al-‘Awn al-Kabir Sharh al-Fawz al-Kabir – Mufti Sa’id Ahmad Palanpuri – Maktabah Hijaz, Deoband – Date unknown.

Mawlana Muhammad Ihtisham al-Hasan Kandhlawi writes:


‘‘Hadrat Mawlana Muzaffar Husayn Kandhlawi[1] would divide the night into three parts. In the first part of the night he would teach the translation of the Qur’an to his second wife, who had previously been widowed. In the second part of the night, he would teach his daughters the translation of the Qur’an. The third part of the night was reserved for his wife from Kirana at whose house he would offer tahajjud prayer.’’[2]

[1] Mawlana Muzaffar Husayn Kandhlawi [1220-1283] was a wali of Allah who was renowned for his simplicity, humility, piety, ascetism, abundant worship, fear of and love for Allah, and adherence to the sunnah. His teachers and shaykhs include his uncle Mufti Ilahi Bakhsh Kandhlawi, Mawlana Shah Kamal al-Din and the beloved grandsons of Shah ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Dehlawi — Shah Muhammad Ishaq Dehlawi and Shah Muhammad Ya‘qub Dehlawi. He was also blessed with the company (suhbah) of Sayyid Ahmad Shahid, from whom he benefited greatly.


His shaykh Shah Muhammad Ya‘qub Dehlawi once said that whoever desires to see the conduct, clothing, appearance and lifestyle of the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) should observe Mawlana Muzaffar Husayn. His speeches were simple, yet heart-penetrating; they would remove doubts and cleanse hearts. It would seem as if the mercy of Allah was descending like rain from the heavens, causing dead hearts to flourish. He strove hard throughout his life to revive the sunnah. He was among those scholars who strongly advocated the marrying of widows, something that was taboo owing to local Hindu culture. Many people from all over India would come to him for spiritual guidance. His disciples were known for their love of and adherence to the Qur’an and sunnah. Hafiz Muhammad Yusuf, the maternal grandfather of Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya, and his brother Hafiz Muhammad Yunus would say that one of the miracles and blessings of Mawlana Muzaffar Husayn was that his disciples would never miss their tahajjud prayer.


Senior scholars such as Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, Mawlana Qasim Nanautwi and Mawlana Ya‘qub Nanautwi loved and revered him, and considered him their senior. In fact, it was under Mawlana Muzaffar Husayn Kandhlawi’s guidance and encouragement that Mawlana Qasim Nanautwi delivered his first public speech.


He performed Hajj on foot on several occasions. At the end of his life, upon his shaykh’s instruction, he migrated to the Hijaz and passed away on reaching the illuminated city of Madinah on 10 Muharram 1283/25 May 1866. He lays buried in Jannat al-Baqi‘ near the resting place of Sayyiduna ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan (may Allah be pleased with him).


May Allah enlighten his resting place, shower His mercy on him and grant him, his teachers, students, and all those mentioned above the highest stations in Paradise. Amin.  (Adapted by the translator from Nuzhat al-Khawatir and an article by Mawlana Muhammad Ihtisham al-Hasan Kandhlawi).


[2] Sawanih ‘Ulama’-e-Deoband (Deoband: Nawaz publications) Vol. 1, p. 238, compiled by Dr. Nawaz Deobandi.

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