In this series, Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed of South Africa will take us on a journey through the lives and biographies of some of the most celebrated and well known scholars of the twentieth and twenty – first century. These historical accounts will provide us with refreshing insights and lessons, and motivate us to follow in the footsteps of our pious predecessors.
In this twelfth episode of the The Trodden Path series, Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed writes on the life of Shaykh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi of India.
Shaykh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi (1333-1420=1915-1999)
Shaykh Abul Hasan, the great scholar, thinker and author of many books was born on the 5th December 1913 (1333) in a family of scholars and people who had a long history of serving Islam. The family lineage may be traced to the Sahabi Ali ibn Abi Talib. Also, one of the ancestors of this family was the nephew of Shaykh Abdul Qadir Al-Jaylani who lived in Delhi, India. The family moved from Madinah via Baghdad to India.
His father, Shaykh Abdul Hakim Hay (d. 1923) was a scholar, who wrote an eight volume biographical work of about 500 scholars of India. When Abul Hasan was ten, his father passed away and his brother took care of him. His mother was a righteous woman who had memorized the Quran and supplicated to Allah for her son. Once his brother, Abdul Ali (who combined knowledge of Islam with his knowledge of medicine) had completed his medical studies, he took personal care of Shaykh Abul Hasan’s education.
He received his early education at home. In 1924, his brother entrusted him to Shaykh Khalil ibn Muhammad Al-Yamani, who taught him Arabic. At the age of thirteen, he could speak Arabic fluently. This was achieved under his brother’s supervision. He then joined the Nadawatul Ulama and completed the course in 1927. From 1927-1930 he studied the Urdu Language and its literature after which he began studying English His mother sent him a letter wherein she convinced him and impressed upon him about the importance of Arabic over and above English.
He began his Arabic studies under the guidance and supervision of Shaykh Khalil ibn Muhammad Al-Ansari Al-Bahufali and his uncle, Shaykh Talha ibn Muhammad Al-Toki. He entered a literature program and after successfully completing the examination in 1929, he entered the Hadith program for a year.
His paternal aunt invited him to Lahore, where her husband was an Arabic teacher. During this period, he met many scholars and poets. He attended lessons in Hadith conducted by Shaykh Haidar Hasan Al-Yaghistani Al-Afghani (a student of Shaykh Husain ibn Hasan Al-Ansaari) and Shaykh Nazhir Husain Al-Bihari. He stayed with him for about two years during which he read Sahih Al–Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abi Dawud and Sunan Al–Tirmidhi as well as a portion of Tafseer Al–Baydawi and some lessons in logic.
Then he accompanied Shaykh Muhammad Taqi Al-Din Al-Hilali. He travelled to Lahore in 1930, to benefit from his teacher, Shaykh Ahmad Ali Al-Lahori. He read Surah Al-Baqarah to him. He was very impressed with his Shaykh’s lessons, so he returned in 1931. During this trip, he attended lessons in Hujatullahi Al–Baaligha by Shah Wali Allah Al-Dehlawi. He visited Lahore again in 1932, after which he was a registered student at Madrasah Qasim Al-Uloom where he passed and received a certificate at the hands of Shaykh Husain Ahmad Madani. In the same year, he went to Deoband and attended lessons in Sahih Al–Bukhari and Sunan Al–Tirmidhi by his teacher, Shaykh Husain Ahmad Madani. He received Ijazah from Shaykh Abdur Rahim Al-Mubarakfuri. Shaykh Abdul Qadir Raipur honoured him with successorship. He studied some Fiqh with Shaykh I’zaz Ali. He also benefited greatly from his paternal aunts husband, Shaykh Muhammad Talhat Al-Hasani, in Lahore who took him to accompany prominent personalities. He also met the famous poet and writer, Muhammad Iqbal.
In 1934, Shaykh Abul Hasan began his academic career as a teacher of Arabic and Tafsir, but later expanded to included history, Hadith and other subjects. Initially, the advice he received from his friend, Shaykh Masud Al-Nadwi helped him in becoming a better teacher. He began teaching in the Dar Al-Uloom affiliated to Nadwatul Ulama in Lucknow. He formulated syllabi for teaching Arabic and he wrote Qasas Al–Nabiyeen, Al–Qiraat Al–Raashidah and Mukhtaaraat min Adab Al–Arabi. In many ways he revolutionized the way Arabic was taught. He compiled a book of Arabic prose Mukhtaraat min Adab Al-Arab which was commended by Shaykh Ali Al-Tantawi and Shaykh Muhammad Bahjat Al-Baytar. Under his supervision, Shaykh Muhammad Al-Rabi’ Al-Hasani Al-Nadwi authored a book in Arabic Literature that was taught at the Dar Al-Uloom. He continued writing and he wrote his amazing book, Mazha Khasira Al–Aalam bi Inhitaat Al–Muslimin between the years 1943-1974. He left teaching in 1944 but remained connected to the institute until he was appointed as the dean of educational affairs in 1953 and then the Head of Nadwatul Ulama in 1961.
His desire to spread Islam brought him into contact with the Jamat Islami. He was in contact with Abul Ala Al-Maududi and some of his books, although he did not approve of some of his views. He was disappointed so he disassociated himself from it.
In 1940, he went to Nizamudeen where he spent time with Mawlana Ilyas. During his stay there he met Shaykh Muhammad Zakariya. In 1947, he performed Haj and stayed in the Hijaz for six months, where he was involved in various Islamic activities and he met the ulama. He performed Haj again in 1950. He travelled to Egypt and other countries in the East in 1952, during which he met many prominent Muslim personalities and he delivered some talks. In Egypt, he was accompanied by Shaykh Muhammad Al-Ghazali and was even invited by Shaykh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi (a student at the Al-Azhar at the time) to deliver talks in his village.
He was hoping to meet Imam Hasan Al-Banna, but he had already been assassinated. Instead, he met his father, Shaykh Ahmad Abdur Rahman Al-Banna. In 1956, he travelled to Damascus, Syria in response to an invitation from Shaykh Mustafa Sibaaie and the Faculty of Shariah. He was received with a warm welcome from many including Shaykh Mustafa Zarqa. He remained in Damascus for about three months and delivered a few lectures that were later published in a book entitled Rijaal Al–Fikr wa Al–Dawah fi Al–Islam.
He traveled to Turkey via Aleppo. Dr. Saeed Ramadaan (Hasan Al-Banna’s son-in- law) organized a conference on Palestine in Damascus. Shaykh Abul Hasan returned from Turkey to Damascus to participate along with many prominent scholars that included Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ of Pakistan. He loved Syria and visited it again in 1964 and 1973.
In 1960, he went to Burma where he stayed for a month delivering lectures. In 1962, he travelled to some countries in Europe including Spain. There he met some of the orientalists. This followed with other travels to America, Morocco and the Gulf. His visit to Europe was in 1963 as per invitation from the Islamic Centre in Geneva. During subsequent visits to Britain, the Oxford Islamic Centre was established in 1983 and he was appointed as its head. He visited America and Canada in 1977 and followed it with other visits, the last was in 1993.
He presented his message in an excellent manner that was relevant to people of all walks of life. He was well aware of the different challenges and ideas within Muslim communities all over the world.
His writing gained tremendous popularity amongst the scholars, not only in India, but also amongst the Arabs who took a special interest in his writings as well. This was mainly because he selected Arabic more than Urdu.
He was invited to deliver lectures on various topics in Makkah and Madinah.
He proved through his writing, that the material and spiritual prosperity of any system hinged on its concept of following divine guidance and amongst other issues through text and rational evidence as well as the finality of Prophethood. Sayid Qutb praised his book ‘Islam and the World’.
He was well versed in many fields of Islam. One of his greatest contributions was in the field of history and cultural studies in Islam. His book, ‘Saviours of the Islamic Spirit’ in four volumes deals with separate individuals who were portrayed as revivers and restorers of Islam. He wrote a number of other books totaling to about thirty-one in number. Many have been translated into many different languages. Some are:
- Al-Sira’ bayn Al-Fikrat Al-Islamiyah wa Al-Fikrat Al-Gharbiyah fi Al-Aqtar Al-Islamiyah. He studied and analyzed western thought and the dangers it posed for the Muslim community.
- Al-Arkan Al-Arba’ fi Daw Al-Kitab wa Al-Sunnah, Al-Salaat, Al-Zakat, Al-Sowm wa Al-Haj – one of his best books in which he explains the objectives of the four pillars of Islam in a very appealing and encouraging way. He also compares the acts of worship practised by the Jews, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists.
- Al-Sirah Al-Nabawiyah. This was one of his most loved books.
- Al-Nubuwat wa Al-Anbiya fi Daw Al-Quran. A series of lectures that he delivered in 1963 at the Islamic University in Madinah where he highlighted the role of Prophets and prophet-hood in guiding humanity.
- Al-Tariq ila Al-Madinah.
- Al-Aqidah wa Al-Ibadah wa Al-Suluk.
- Nahwa Al-Tarbiyah Al-Islamiyah Al-Hurrah fi Al-Hukumat wa Al-Bilad Al-Islamiyah. He spoke about the need to educate and properly train and nurture the youth.
- Rabaniyah Laa Rahbaniyah –Here he emphasizes on the need for genuine spirituality in all spheres of life.
- Al-Arab wa Al-Islam.
- He has other books wherein he described his travels to various countries and cities and his message to the people there. These include books like; Ismaie Ya Misr, Ismaie Ya Suriyah, Usbuaan fi Al-Maghrib Al-Aqsa, Min Nahr Kabul ila Nahr Yarmuk etc.
- Ila Al-Islam min Jadid. The book discusses the need to return to the pristine teaching of Islam and the need for people to carry out this great responsibility.
- Al-Madkhal ila Al-Dirasat Al-Quraniyah.
- Al-Sira’ bayn Al-Iman wa Al-Madiyah. He discusses the four stories in Surah Al-Kahf in relation to the struggle between Imaan and materialism.
- Sirah Amir Al-Muminin Ali ibn Abi Talib.
- Al-Islam Atharuhu fi Al-Hadarah wa Fadluhu ala Al-Insaniyah.
- Al-Muslimun wa Qadiyat Falastin. He was concerned about Palestinian problem from as early as the thirties. Here he discusses various issues related to Palestine.
- Al-Muslimun fi Al-Hind.
- Izha Habat Rih Al-Iman.
- In addition, he wrote hundreds of articles that were published in magazines and newspapers, as well as talks that he delivered at conferences and other occasions.
He was always at the forefront in combating all kinds of trials and tribulations (Fitnah). Many times this resulted in confrontation between him and the government. He strongly opposed the move to make the national anthem compulsory in UP schools. The anthem contains lines that are clear examples of Shirk. He also opposed the government’s attempt to include Hindu Mythology in the school syllabus.
He participated in many organizations internationally and many recognized and acknowledged his excellence as a scholar. Some of his activities and affiliations were:
- In India, he was the founder member and the first rector of Nadwatul Ulama and the Head of the affiliated Dar Al-Uloom.
- He was also the President of the Academy for Islamic Research.
- He was the Head of the Council of Religious Education for the Northern Province of India and Head of the Muslim Personal Law Board in India.
- Shaykh Abul Hasan was also a member of the Administrative Council of Dar Al-Uloom Deoband.
- Shaykh Abul Hasan was one of the founder members of the Muslim World League (Rabita).
- He was a member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
- He was a member of the World Supreme Council of Mosques.
- He was even a member of the International Fiqh Academy.
- He was a member of the Advisory Council of the Islamic University in Madinah in 1962.
- He was a member of the Arabic Academy in Damascus (Syria), Cairo (Egypt) and Jordan and a member of the International Higher Assembly for Islamic Propagation in Cairo.
- He was a member of the Administrative Council of the International Islamic University in Islamabad, Pakistan.
- He was a member of the league of Islamic Universities in Rabat, Morocco.
- He also served as a member of the Royal Academy for Research of Islamic Civilization in Jordan.
- He was appointed as the head of the International Arabic Literature Council in 1981.
- In 1980, he was awarded the King Faisal Award for serving Islam and the Sultan Hasan Bolkhaih International Prize.
- He received an Islamic Scholarship plaque from the Oxford University in 1999.
Among the great honours granted to him by Allah in this world, was the occasion when the door-keeper of the Ka’ba placed the keys of the Ka’ba in his hand. Then, in the presence of many scholars Shaykh Abul Hasan opened the door and on the request of the prince made Dua inside.
Around about March 1999 he was afflicted with semi-paralysis and he was treated in a small hospital and he sensed that his death was near. Shaykh Muhammad Ijtiba Al-Nadwi visited him before Ramadan and asked him about the contemporary personalities that impressed him. He replied and said that he was impressed with Hasan Al-Banna, Shaykh Mustafa Sibaaie, Muhammad Al-Mubarak, Dr. Saeed Ramadan, Shaykh Ali Al-Tantawi, Shaykh Abdul Aziz ibn Baz, Shaykh Ahmad Ali Lahori, Shaykh Husain Ahmad Madani, Shaykh Abdul Qadir Raipuri and Shaykh Muhammad Zakariya Khandelwi.
On the 20th Ramadan, he went to the village (Takih Kalan).
He passed away on the 31st December 1999 (23 Ramadan 1420) after preparing for the Jumuah Salat and after he sat down ready to recite Surah Kahf. But he began with Surah Yasin instead and after reading a few verses, he passed away.
Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed is a well respected South African Islamic scholar who lives in Pretoria, South Africa. He studied at the King Saud University in Riyadh and the faculty of Shariah at the Islamic University of Madina. He has attained a M.A. in Islamic Studies from the University of South Africa. Through his extensive travels he has met and benefited from many senior scholars from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, India, Turkey etc. He has received numerous Ijazahs from the various scholars that he has met, studied with and served. He is currently a senior educator at the al – Ghazzali College in Pretoria.
He has authored two books:
Muslim Scholars of the 20th Century.
Muslim Scholars of the 21st Century.
He was one of the translators of Shaykh Sayyid Muhammad Alawi al – Maliki’s work: The Way of the True Salaf.