Biography of Hazrat Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi (RA)

Hakim al-Umma Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi

Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi, referred to by many South Asian Muslims as Hakim al-Umma (“Spiritual Physician of the Muslim Umma”) and Mujaddid al-Milla (“Reformer of the Nation”), is a towering figure of Islamic revival and reawakening of South Asia in the twentieth century. Mawlana Thanawi was the “most eminent religious figure of his time, a prolific author, and believed to be the greatest Sufi of modern India.”

“He led a very active life, teaching, preaching, writing, lecturing, and making occasional journeys” (Naeem 94). The distinguishing mark and guiding principle that led to the vast success of his message was a remarkable sense of balance and straightforwardness in his speeches and writings. Mawlana Thanawi was an exemplar of the Qur’anic verse “And thus have We made you a nation justly balanced, that you might be witnesses over mankind” (Qur’an 2:143). An astounding, comprehensive knowledge of all branches of Islamic learning was evident in his personality, explicated in his lectures, and recorded in his writings. The Indian jurist Qadi Mujahid al-Islam Qasimi said, “It is hard to think of an area of Islamic sciences left unattended by his writings” (Zayd 11).

His religious approach encompasses all aspects of the subject under discussion, and his viewpoints on different issues reflect a genuine, thorough examination of traditional Islamic thought. His acute intelligence, revolutionary method of training and teaching, love of Allah and His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace), organized management of time, broadmindedness, tolerance, and unique and fresh, yet conservative, understanding of religious disciplines has etched him a permanent place in Islamic history.

He will be remembered as a reformer of the masses, an exemplary spiritual guide (shaykh), a prolific author, a spiritual jurist, an intellectual sage, and a fortifier of Islamic tradition who, at a time when Muslims were physically and intellectually attacked by Western colonial powers, supplied them with literary and academic firepower in the form of his speeches, writings, legal verdicts (fatawa), and spiritual training (tarbiya) to battle all irreligious influences of the Modern Age. Describing the great religious services and endeavors of Mawlana Thanawi, Mufti Muhammad Taqi ‘Uthmani writes, “The likeness of his accomplishments is not found in many preceding centuries” (Hakim al-Ummat ke siyasi afkar 22).

Birth and Upbringing

Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi, named ‘Abd al-Ghani by his paternal family, was born in the village of Thana Bhawan (in the Muzaffarnagar district of the Uttar Pradesh province of India) on the fifth of Rabi‘ al-Awwal, 1280 ah (August 19, 1863 CE). He was named Ashraf ‘Ali by the renowned saint of the times Hafiz Ghulam Murtada Panipati, who was a maternal relative of Mawlana Thanawi.

His family was well-respected and held an eminent position in Thana Bhawan. His father, ‘Abd al-Haq, was a wealthy landowner, a devout Muslim, and a respected citizen of Thana Bhawan. ‘Abd al-Haq was well versed in the Persian language, and although he had not memorized the Qur’an, he knew the Holy Book so well that he would sometimes correct the recitation of the im a m during prayer. Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi’s lineage can be traced back to the second Caliph of Islam, ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, a glimpse of whose intelligence, wisdom, foresightedness, piety, and sincerity was certainly visible in Mawlana Thanawi.

As a young boy, he was zealous in offering the prayer (salat), and by age twelve, he was constant in offering the night vigil prayer ( Tahajjud). He attained his early Arabic and Persian education under his maternal uncle Wajid ‘Ali and Mawlana Fath Muhammad in Thana Bhawan and also memorized the Holy Qur’an at a very young age from Hafiz Husayn ‘Ali of Meerut.

Traditional Islamic Studies at Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband

In 1295 ah, Mawlana Thanawi enrolled at the prestigious Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband, from where he graduated in 1301 ah, after studying under some of the most erudite Islamic theologians of his time. Among his teachers were Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanotwi, Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, Mawlana Muhammad Ya‘qub Nanotwi, and Shaykh al-Hind Mawlana Mahmud al-Hasan. Mawlana Thanawi’s six years at Deoband were spent under the tutorship and guidance of God-fearing men, many of whom were the spiritual students of Haji Imdadullah Muhajir Makki.

The spiritually charged atmosphere of Dar al- ‘Ulum Deoband, coupled with brilliant teachers and Mawlana Thanawi’s own intelligence and piety, together contributed to the excellence of theory and practice that was manifested in his personality. His literary life began at Dar al- ‘Ulum Deoband, when he wrote Mathnawi zer-o bam in Persian at the age of eighteen. He possessed unmatched linguistic skills and mastered the Arabic, Persian, and Urdu languages by the same age.

Teacher of the Teachers

Mawlana Thanawi did not have many opportunities to study under the founder of Dar al- ‘Ulum Deoband, Mawlana Qasim Nanotwi, whose last year [of life] coincided with Mawlana Thanawi’s first year there. However, Mawlana Thanawi mentions that he would occasionally attend the lectures of Mawlana Qasim Nanotwi on Tafsir al-Jalalayn (a renowned exegesis of the Holy Qur’an by Jalal al-Din al-Mahalli and his famous student Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti). The two personalities from whom Mawlana Thanawi greatly benefited were Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and Mawlana Muhammad Ya‘qub Nanotwi.

Mawlana Thanawi said, “Among my teachers, I was spiritually attached to Mawlana Gangohi more than anybody else, with the exception of Haji Imdadullah Muhajir Makki. I have never witnessed such a unique personage, one in whom external and internal goodness merged so cohesively, like Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi” (Alwi 51). Mawlana Thanawi received much affection and spiritual training from Mawlana Gangohi as well. Upon the arrival of Mawlana Thanawi, Mawlana Gangohi would say, “When you arrive, I become alive” (Alwi 52). Once Mawlana Thanawi came to Gangoh to deliver a lecture. Mawlana Gangohi sent all his visitors to attend this lecture, saying to them, “What are you doing here? Go and listen to the lecture of a truthful scholar.” Mawlana Gangohi would also send some of his students to Thana Bhawan to benefit from the ocean of knowledge and spirituality that was Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi.

Mawlana Thanawi was also deeply inspired by Mawlana Muhammad Ya‘qub Nanotwi, a devout theologian and a divine mystic. Mawlana Ya‘qub had sensed that Ashraf ‘Ali was an unusual student, endowed with extraordinary traits. As a result, Mawlana Ya‘qub would make sure to include the most intricate discussions while teaching this bright student. Mawlana Thanawi, describing the lectures of Mawlana Ya‘qub, said, “His lectures were not ordinary lectures, but sessions in which one’s attention turned toward Allah. He would be teaching exegesis of the Holy Qur’an and tears would be flowing down his cheeks” (Alwi 51).

Graduation and Future Scope

Mawlana Thanawi graduated from Dar al- ‘Ulum Deoband in 1301 ah (1884 CE). When Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi arrived for the graduation ceremony, Shaykh al-Hind Mahmud al-Hasan informed him that on that day a very bright and intelligent student would be graduating. Mawlana Gangohi wished to test this bright student. Hence, before the actual ceremony, Mawlana Gangohi asked Mawlana Thanawi the most difficult questions he could think of. His answers amazed and pleased Mawlana Gangohi (Quraishi 14).

At the graduation, the turban-tying ceremony (Dastar bandi) was carried out by Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi. The graduation ceremony of that year stood out from the past and was celebrated with great enthusiasm and joy by the teachers of Deoband. At this occasion, Mawlana Thanawi, with some classmates, said to his teacher Mawlana Ya ‘qub, “We are not deserving of such a celebration and our graduation might bring derision to Dar al- ‘Ulum Deoband.” Upon hearing this concern from Mawlana Thanawi, Mawlana Ya ‘qub became incensed and said, “This thinking of yours is completely wrong! At Dar al- ‘Ulum Deoband, you perceive of your personality as very meek and insignificant because of your teachers, and in fact, this is how you should feel. But once you graduate and step out of this institution, you will realize your worth and importance. I swear by Allah, you will prevail and become dominant wherever you go; the field is open and empty [before you]” (Alwi 53). After graduating from Deoband, Mawlana Thanawi accompanied his father to the holy cities of Makka and Madina. After performing his first pilgrimage (hajj), Mawlana Thanawi mastered the art of Qur’anic recitation under Qari Muhammad ‘Abdullah Muhajir Makki. In Makka he also had the opportunity to stay in the companionship of Haji Imdadullah Muhajir Makki, whose spiritual attention, luminous personality, brilliant teachings, and excellent methodology of training prepared Mawlana Thanawi for the great reform movement he was destined to lead.

Spiritual Training under Haji Imdadullah

The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Make the company of ‘ulama’ compulsory upon yourselves and listen to the words of the wise, for Allah Most Exalted restores life to dead hearts by the light of wisdom just as He makes alive the dead earth by rain” (‘Asqalani 25). Companionship of a pious, God-fearing shaykh is necessary for each and every Muslim. Through the knowledge of books, one’s external self is reformed, and through the companionship of a shaykh, one’s internal condition is purified. Mawlana Thanawi was greatly concerned about focusing on his internal rectification. During his studies at Dar al- ‘Ulum Deoband, he asked that Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi train him in the spiritual sciences as well. However, Mawlana Gangohi advised him to wait until the completion of his traditional studies.

Mawlana Thanawi remained restless and sought a way to ask Haji Imda­dullah, the spiritual guide of Mawlana Gangohi, to recommend him to Mawlana Gangohi. When Mawlana Gangohi went on hajj, Mawlana Thanawi sent a letter with him to Haji Imdadullah, requesting the great mentor to persuade Mawlana Gangohi to initiate him in his spiritual order. Haji Imdadullah put in a good word for Mawlana Thanawi and then said, “All right, I shall initiate him myself,” and wrote to Mawlana Thanawi, “Do not worry. I have taken you under my own mentorship.” When Mawlana Thanawi read the letter his heart became full of joy. Mawlana Gangohi used to say to Mawlana Thanawi, “Brother, you have eaten of the ripe fruits of Haji Imdadullah, whereas we ate his unripe fruits” (Alwi 52). Fruits refer to knowledge. Mawlana Gangohi and his peers received the spiritual guidance of Haji Imdadullah when he was still in the Indian Subcontinent, and Mawlana Thanawi benefited from him in his last years. Hence, the training of Haji Imdadullah in the later years of his life is compared to ripe fruits and his earlier training to unripe fruits.

Mawlana Thanawi visited Haji Imdadullah during his first hajj in 1301 ah (1884 CE) but could not remain in his company for long. In 1310 ah (1893 CE), Mawlana Thanawi left for the pilgrimage a second time and, after performing the hajj, stayed with his shaykh for six months.

Strengthening Knowledge through Teaching

Fourteen years after graduation were spent teaching religious sciences in the city of Kanpur. Over a very short period of time, Mawlana Thanawi acquired a reputable position as a sound religious scholar. His teaching attracted many students, and his research and publications enhanced Islamic academia. In these fourteen years, he traveled to many cities and villages, delivering lectures in hope of reforming people. Printed versions of his lectures and discourses would usually become available shortly after these tours. Until then, very few scholars in the history of Islam had their lectures printed and widely circulated in their own lifetimes. The desire to reform the masses intensified in his heart during his stay at Kanpur.

Eventually, in 1315 ah, he retired from teaching and devoted himself to reestablishing the spiritual center (khanqah) of his shaykh in Thana Bhawan. Upon this transition, Haji Imdadullah remarked, “It is good that you came to Thana Bhawan. It is hoped that the masses will benefit from you spiritually and physically. You should engage yourself in revitalizing our school (madrasa) and spiritual center (khanqah) once more in Thana Bhawan. As for myself, I am always praying for you and attentive toward you” (Alwi 58).

Mastership in Islamic Spirituality (Tasawwuf)

A master of Islamic spirituality, Mawlana Thanawi was “widely considered the preeminent Su f i of modern India” (Metcalf 157). His approach to tasawwuf was in complete harmony with the Qur’an and hadith. Accurately summarizing the approach of the scholars associated with Dar al- ‘Ulum Deoband, regarding Sufism, Kenneth W. Jones writes:

Deobandis conceived of Islam as having two points of focus, Shari ‘a (the law, based on scriptures and religious knowledge), and the Tariqa (path, derived from religious experience). Thus they accepted Sufism with its form of discipline and the role of the ‘ulama’ in interpreting the four schools of Islamic law. The Qur’an, the h adith, qiyas (analogical reasoning), and ijma‘ (consensus) provided the foundation of religious knowledge, but understanding them required the ‘ulama’ as guides. Uneducated Muslims could not make judgments on belief or practice. The Deobandis, while accepting Sufism, rejected numerous ceremonies and the authority of pirs who claimed sanctity by their descent rather than by their learning. Knowledge granted authority and not inheritance. Pilgrimages to saints’ tombs, and the annual death rites of a particular saint (the urs) also lay outside acceptable Islamic practice. Among the types of behavior seen as erroneous innovations was any social or religious practice that appeared to come from Hindu culture (Jones 60).

The scholars of Deoband purified Islamic mysticism in the Indian subcontinent from all un-Islamic elements and practiced a tasawwuf that earlier Muslims, such as Hasan al-Basri, Junayd al-Baghdadi, and ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani would advocate if they were living in the twentieth century. Pure, unadulterated Sufism is an important part of the Islamic faith. Dar al- ‘Ulum Deoband trained individuals to become rational scholars as well as sound practitioners of tasawwuf. Through the Deoband movement, Islamic history once more witnessed the combination of the jurist and the mystic into a well-rounded Islamic scholar. In choosing “Muftis and Shaykhs” as the title of a chapter in her well-researched monograph Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860–1900, Barbara Daly Metcalf emphasizes this beautiful combination.

Effectiveness of Spiritual Efforts

Imam Shafi ‘i said, “Knowledge is not what is memorized; knowledge is what benefits” (Nawawi 43). Mawlana Thanawi’s knowledge was such that it not only benefited its contemplator, but continues to benefit Muslims all over the world. The words of Mawlana Thanawi would flow into the ears of the attendants of his discourses and then would strike their hearts, scraping away their spiritual rust. Mufti Muhammad Shafi ‘, former head mufti of Dar al- ‘Ulum Deoband and later the Grand Mufti of Pakistan, after the partition of India, would sit in front of Mawlana Thanawi as a student of traditional Islamic studies sits before his teacher. “He would closely observe Mawlana Thanawi, and each move of his showed that he had left this world and whatever was in it while engaging in the study of his shaykh’s appearance. When Mawlana Thanawi would say something remarkable, Mufti Muhammad Shafi ‘, who seemed totally absorbed in his shaykh while unconscious of everything else, would leap forward in excitement” (‘Uthmani, Akabir-e Deoband kya the? 30).

Mufti Muhammad Taqi ‘Uthmani says,

Hakim al-Umma laid great stress on prescribing proper remedies for the spiritual ailments of people. This cure was not to give them some sort of medicinal syrup or to engage in some formulas (wazifas), but his prescribed remedy comprised action (Irshadat-e akabir 25).

Students and Disciples

Mawlana Thanawi’s students and disciples constitute a generation of leading scholars of South Asia. His disciples settled in all parts of South Asia and served humanity in many different ways. Among his famous disciples are Qari Muhammad Tayyib Qasimi (grandson of the founder of Dar al- ‘Ulum Deoband, Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanotwi, and head principal of Dar al- ‘Ulum Deoband for over fifty years, from the early 1930s to the early 1980s), Mawlana Muhammad Masihullah Khan (founder of Madrasa Miftah al- ‘Ulum in Jalalabad, India, and a leading spiritual figure of the past century), Mufti Muhammad Shafi ‘ (head mufti of Dar al- ‘Ulum Deoband before partition and, after migrating to Pakistan, founder of Dar al- ‘Ulum Karachi, one of the largest academies of religious sciences today in Pakistan, and, also the former Grand Mufti of Pakistan), Mufti Muhammad Hasan of Amritsar (founder of Jami ‘a Ashrafiyya, Lahore, Pakistan), Mawlana Khayr Muhammad Jalandhary (founder of Jami ‘a Khayr al-Madaris, Multan, Pakistan), Mawlana ‘Abd al-Bari Nadwi (renowned theologian and philosopher in India who taught modern philosophy at Osmania University in Hyderabad and translated the books of Western philosophers, such as Descartes, into Urdu and left behind many valuable literary tracts), Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi (great researcher and the outstanding student of Shibli Nu ‘mani who turned to Mawlana Thanawi for spiritual reformation), Mawlana Muhammad Ilyas (founder of the Tabligh Movement), Mawlana ‘Abd al-Majid Daryabadi, Mawlana Athar ‘Ali of Silhet, Mawlana Shams al-Haqq Faridpuri, Mawlana Muhammad ‘Abd al-Ghani Phulpuri, Mawlana Shah Muhammad Abrar al- Haqq of Hardoi, Khwaja ‘Aziz al-Hasan Majdhub (great poet and mystic, author of Ashraf al-sawanih, a four volume biography of Mawlana Thanawi), Mawlana Muhammad Idris Kandhlawi (author of Ma‘arif al-Qur’an, a commentary of the Qur’an, and Al-Ta‘liq al- sabih, a commentary of Tabrizi’s hadith collection Mishkat al-Masabih), Mawlana Zafar Ahmad ‘Uthmani (author of the twenty-two volume compendium in Hanafi Law, I‘la’ al-Sunan), Mufti Jamil Ahmad Thanawi, Mawlana Shabbir ‘Ali Thanawi, Dr. ‘Abd al- Hayy ‘Arifi, Mawlana Muhammad ‘Isa of Allahabad, Mawlana ‘Abd al-Hamid of North Waziristan, Mawlana ‘Abd al-Salam of Nawshehra, Mawlana Muhammad Sa ‘id of Madras, Mawlana Wasi’ullah of Fatehpur, Mawlana ‘Abd al-Rahman Kamilpuri, Mawlana Jalil Ahmad of Aligarh, Mawlana Murtada Hasan of Chandpur, Mawlana Asadullah of Rampur (head principal of Madrasa Mazahir ‘Ulum in Saharanpur for many years), Mawlana Faqir Muhammad of Peshawar, Mawlana Muhammad Yusuf Binnori (author of Ma‘arif al-Sunan, a commentary on the Sunan of Imam Tirmidhi), Mawlana Muhammad Na ‘im of Kabul, and Mufti ‘Abd al-Karim of Gamthla.

Literary Contributions

Mawlana Thanawi was a prolific author. His literary contributions “range from 800 to 1000 in the shape of sermons, discussions, discourses, treatises, and books of high standard and quality” (Khwaja vii). Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi said, “Mawlana Thanawi was a translator and exegete (mufassir) of the Qur’an. He explained its injunctions and wisdoms. He removed doubts and answered questions pertaining to the Qur’an. Mawlana Thanawi was a scholar of hadith (muhaddith) and expounded its intricacies and subtleties. He was a jurist (faqih) who issued thousands of legal rulings (fatawa). He solved many legal problems in contemporary issues in Islamic jurisprudence and answered them with the utmost caution and credible research. He was a moving orator (khatib) whose speech was infused with all skills of oration. He was an excellent admonisher (wa‘iz) and hundreds of his speeches have been published and widely circulated.

Mawlana Thanawi was a mystic (Sufi) who revealed the secrets and subtleties of Islamic mysticism. His personality put an end to the battle that had been going on for some time between Shari‘a and tasawwuf by unifying these two essential parts of Islam” (Alwi 293). His books answered the objections raised against Islam by Orientalists and Modernists. “[His] analysis and refutation of the principles of modernism is not a merely theoretical exercise, but is meant to remove the obstacles to intellectual and spiritual understanding and growth for the pious and practicing Muslim” (Naeem 81).

His Arabic writings include Sabq al-ghayat fi nasaq al-ayat, Anwar al-Wujud, Al-Tajalli wa ’l-azim, Hawashi Tafsir Bayan al-Qur’an, Taswir al-muqatta‘at, Al-Talkhisat al-‘ashar, Mi’at durus, Al-Khutab al-ma’thura, Wujuh al-Mathani, Ziyadat, Jami‘ al-Athar, and Ta’yid al- Haqiqa.

Among his Persian books are Mathnawi zer-o bam, Ta‘liqat-e Farsi, ‘Aqa’id baniy-e kalij.

The rest of his books were written in the Urdu language, the most famous of which is Behishti Zewar [Heavenly Ornaments], which has become a handbook for leading an Islamic life in the Muslim household. Although Mawlana Thanawi was the most prolific author of his times, he did not use any of his books as a source of income.

Qur’an: The Special Interest of Mawlana Thanawi

During his teaching career at Kanpur, Mawlana Thanawi is reported to have seen ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas—the cousin of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and the leading commentator on the Qur’an among the Companions—in a dream that indicated to him that Qur’anic exegesis should become his primary task (Alwi 297). Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi said, “He not only memorized the words of the Qur’an but also memorized the deeper significance of these words” (Alwi 297). He further said, “He was an exceptional reciter (qari) of the Qur’an who had mastered the art of recitation.… The uniqueness of Mawlana Thanawi’s recitation of the Qur’an was such that each letter was uttered from its proper place of pronunciation ( makhraj). There was no imitation or overly exertive effort to make his voice melodious. He would rather recite in his normal voice, which was full of inspiration and absorbed in reflection” (Alwi 297).

Mawlana Thanawi was also an expert in the various recitations of the Qur’an. In fact, he compiled the famous narrations of the different recitations in his book Wujuh al-Mathani and the rare narrations in his book Ziyadat ‘ Ala kutub al-riwayat. Mawlana Thanawi’s books on recitation of the Qur’an also included Jamal al-Qur’an, Tajwid al-Qur’an, Raf‘ al-khilaf fi hukm al-awqaf, Tanshit al-tab‘ fi ijra’ al-sab‘, Yadgar-e haqq-e Qur’an, Mutasha­bi­hat al-Qur’an li ’l-Tarawih , and Adab al-Qur’an. Mawlana Thanawi’s profound knowledge and insight in the Qur’an is reflected in his Urdu translation of the meanings of the Qur’an. His twelve volume exegesis, Bayan al-Qur’an, can only be appreciated by a scholar who studies it after having read more than twenty commentaries on the Qur’an (Alwi 323). Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi said, “His commentary relies heavily on Ruh al-Ma‘ani of ‘Allama Alusi al-Baghdadi, and because it was written in the mid-thirteenth century ah, it encompasses all previous explanations of the Qur’an” (Alwi 299).

Like Jassas and other scholars, Mawlana Thanawi also wished to collect legal rulings from the Qur’an in support of the Hanafi school. However, his increasingly frail health in the last years of his life did not allow for him to directly author this work, which he wished to name Dala’il al-Qur’an ‘ala madhhab al-Nu‘man. Instead, this academic desire of Mawlana Thanawi was fulfilled by three of his outstanding students and disciples who noted down his explanations of legal rulings and their extractions from the Qur’an. This Arabic work of Qur’anic jurisprudence, entitled Ahkam al-Qur’an li ’l-Thanawi, is available in five volumes and is co-authored by Mufti Muhammad Shafi‘, Mawlana Muhammad Idris Kandhlawi, and Mawlana Zafar Ahmad ‘Uthmani. Mawlana ‘Abd al-Bari Nadwi said,

When Mawlana Thanawi extracted Hanafi legal matters from the Qur’an, we would be astonished that this point was always in this verse but our knowledge could not grasp it. His explanations would remove the clouds [of confusion], allowing us to fully benefit from the brilliant rays [of knowledge]” (Alwi 303).

Mawlana Thanawi: A Caller to Allah

Preaching Islam and calling people to the way of Allah Almighty was an essential part of Mawlana Thanawi’s life. He would be highly organized and plan his lecture tours well in advance. Thousands used to attend these lectures, which usually lasted two to three hours and some even up to five hours. Mawlana Thanawi also undertook a visit to the area of Mewat, where Muslims were at the verge of disbelief. His first visit to this area was in 1922, when he visited Alwar. Mawlana Thanawi also paid a visit to Gajner, a village in the Kanpur district (U.P.), when the Arya Samaj started to preach Hinduism among the Muslims of that area. Using wisdom and tolerance, Mawlana Thanawi was able to take a pledge from the people there “that they would not commit apostasy” (Masud lv). To prevent the spread of apostasy, he wrote the treatise Al-Insidad li fitnat al-irtidad [The eradication of the evils of apostasy] (Masud liv).

Rooting Out Irreligious Practices

Every true Islamic reformer roots out the irreligious practices people perform in the name of religion. Through his speeches and writings, Mawlana Thanawi battled against all evil innovations in religion and presented Islam as it stood in light of the Qur’an and h ad i th. Mawlana Thanawi was deeply concerned about the ignorance of those Muslims who performed many unnecessary acts perceiving them to be righteous acts of religion. Hence, he wrote many books that dealt with this subject. His book Hifz al-iman clearly explains the evils in acts such as grave worshipping, beseeching other than Allah, believing in the omnipresence of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) and pious people, and so on. Another work entitled Aghlat al-‘awam is an earnest effort to root out all un-Islamic rituals prevalent among people. Innovations in belief, worship, and transactions are condemned in this book. Mawlana Thanawi’s balanced approach places all religious injunctions in their proper place without excess ifrat) or shortcoming (tafrit).

Embodiment of Humility and Simplicity

Mufti Muhammad Taqi ‘Uthmani says that Hakim al-Umma Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi used to say, “I consider myself inferior to every Muslim at the present time and possibly inferior to every non-Muslim with respect to the future” (Irshadate akabir 25). He meant that at this time, I am inferior to every Muslim, and inferior to every non-Muslim with respect to the future, because a non-Muslim may accept Islam in the future and become more advanced than myself. Mawlana Thanawi was more concerned with rectifying his own self than correcting others. Once, when he had to deliver many lectures, he said, “Whenever I find the need of reforming myself, I speak on that specific shortcoming of mine. This method is very beneficial. My speech entitled Ghadab (Anger) is an example of this” (Alwi 131). Once, after praising Allah, Mawlana Thanawi said, “I am never unmindful of reckoning with my own self. Whenever I admonish a disciple of mine, I also inspect my own self and continuously seek Allah’s protection from His reckoning” (Alwi 131).

Mawlana Thanawi and Politics

Mawlana Thanawi was not a politician, Mufti Muhammad Taqi ‘Uthmani explains, “nor was politics his subject of interest” (Hakim al-Ummat ke siyasi afkar 22). However, Islam is a lifestyle that encompasses all human activities and provides clear and complete guidelines for all aspects of life. Thus, at appropriate places in his speeches and writings, Mawlana Thanawi does comment on politics and provides his useful explanation in that field. While battling secularism, many contemporary Muslims perceived Islam as a branch of government and politics. Mawlana Thanawi proved, mainly using Qur’anic verses, that political rule is only a means of instituting Islam in our lives and not the purpose of life itself. All modern political notions in contradiction with the Qur’an and Hadith would have to be forsaken, and the pure, untainted political thought reflected in the Qur’an and Hadith should guide the Muslims in organizing and structuring their governments (see Hakim al-Ummat ke siyasi afkar).

Death of a Great Sage

Mawlana Thanawi toiled to reform the masses and trained a large number of disciples who spread all over the South Asian Subcontinent. None can deny that his efforts brought a large number of Muslims back to the true teachings of Islam. Mawlana Thanawi passed away in his hometown of Thana Bhawan on Rajab 2, 1362 ah (July 4, 1943 CE). His funeral prayer was led by his nephew, the great scholar of hadith Mawlana Zafar Ahmad ‘Uthmani, and he was buried in the ‘Ishq-e Bazan graveyard. Mawlana Thanawi will be remembered for his inspiring, lucid, and rational writing, balanced approach, and reformative teachings. These still serve many Muslims today in helping them understand the Qur’an and the Sunna.

Books Cited in Biography

Alwi, Mas‘ud Ahsan. Ma‘athir-e Hakim al-Ummat. Lahore: Idara Islamiyyat, 1986.

al-‘Asqalani, Ibn Hajar. Al-Isti‘dad li Yawm al-Ma‘ad. Cairo: Dar al-Bashir, 1986.

Jones, Kenneth W. Socio-Religious Reform Movements in British India. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1989.

Khawaja, Ahmed Ali. Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi: His Views on Moral Philosophy and Tasawwuf. Delhi: Adam Publishers, 2002.

Metcalf, Barbara Daly. Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860-1900. Princeton: Princeton University, 1982.

Masud, Muhammad Khalid, ed. Travellers in Faith: Studies of the Tablighi Jama‘at as a Transnational Islamic Movement for Faith Renewal. Leiden: Brill, 2000.

Naeem, Fuad S. “A Traditional Islamic Response to the Rise of Modernism.” Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betrayal of Tradition: Essays by Western Muslim Scholars. Ed. Joseph E.B. Lumbard. Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2004. 79–120.

Nawawi, Abu Zakariyya Muhyi ’l-Din ibn Sharaf. Tr. Aisha Bewley. Bustan al-‘Arifin: The Garden of the Gnostics. Leicester: Al-Faruq, 2001.

Qurayshi, Muhammad Iqbal. Ma‘arif-e Gangohi. Lahore: Idara Islamiyyat, 1976.

‘Uthmani, Mufti Muhammad Taqi. Akabir-e Deoband kya the? (Who were the Elders of Deoband?). Karachi: Idarat al-Ma‘arif, 2000.

———. Hakim al-Ummat ke siyasi afkar (The political views of Hakim al-Ummat) in Islam awr Siyasat. Multan: Idara Ta’lifat-e Ashrafiyya.

———. Irshadat-e Akabir (Sayings of the Saintly Elders). Multan: Idara Ta’lifat-e Ashrafiyya, 1998.

Zayd, Muhammad. Dini da‘wat-o tabligh ke usul-o ahkam. Multan : Idara Ta’lifat-e Ashrafiyya, 1994.

-Taken from

103 Comments on “Biography of Hazrat Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi (RA)”

  1. Mohammad Zakir Says:

    Assalamo Alikum Wa Rahmatullah.
    I remember my parents in Guyana, South America, used to study his book “Behishti Zewar” [Heavenly Ornaments], about 70 years ago, in the 1950s 1960s. Did any of his students visit or migrate to Guyana before then? (It was called then British Guiana). If so who?
    How many children did he have, who were they?

  2. kamranakbar86 Says:

    Jazak Allah khair, Inspired!

  3. noman farooqui Says:

    Is there anyway to trace the family tree of Maulana Ashraf Ali thanvi???

  4. koraie1997 Says:

    i want to put this article to my blog , can i have your permission ? please give your answer on comment on any post , note; this article is not for .ga site its for other islamic site , jazakallah

    • servant Says:

      All praises to Allah ta’ala for giving us a Hakim And Mujaddid like Hazrat Hafiz Maulana Shah Ashraf Ali Thanawi (nawwarallahu marqadahu)…

  5. M Zaman Says:

    Very informative

  6. zunn Says:


  7. banti Says:

    kya bath mulana sahib ki………….

  8. dilshad iqbal Says:

    Alhumd u lellah kya hasti hn mlana ashraf ali thanvi sb r.h

  9. altaf khan Says:

    AssSalamuAliekum ,
    Dua karen ki ALLAH RABUL IZZAT hum sab ko siratal mustaqeem par chalne ku tofiq de aur apne waqt par kamil iman ke sath khatma nasib farmaye.


  10. Muhammad Zaid Azam Says:

    i am looking for a hamd by thanvi sb . yaa rab main hoon yar tera … can anyone please send me the written copy. or any link . thank you

  11. Wajih Says:

    SubhanAllah. It is a very nice heart touching post of Hazrat Wala Maulana Ashruf Ali Thanvi (rehmatullah alay)
    Jaza KAllah

  12. Imtiaz Says:

    How many books written by molana Ashraf Ali thanvi

  13. Moshahid Hasan Says:

    Nice post: i am realy thankful to you

  14. Rehan Ahmed Says:

    Salam Alaikum.
    I believe, the writer has forgotten to mention Molana Abdul Majid darya Abadi among Hadhrut Molana Ashraf Ali Thanvee’s students and diciples.

    Jazak Allah

  15. Hazath Maulana Thanwi rehmthulla alaih s life was unique in urdu we say yeh Allah ki nashaniyon mein se ek nishani

  16. suhail nabi magray Says:

    JazakALLAH Khair really spritual and almi centre of gravity of Islam of modern times

  17. sohail musa Says:

    This is a nice history of hazrat ali i realy like it and i have great intrest with hazrat life

  18. Aslam Says:

    Salam pls giv me information abt death ob hazrat thanvi

  19. shafqat ali nawab Says:

    i have to apply at Dubai driving lisence pls dua for final road test i already pass the assesment test can you pls Dua and prayer me for the final road test is 24-10-2011 on monday
    God hepl me sucess to get a lisence

    best regards,
    shafqat ali nawab

  20. Waseem Khan Says:

    Assalamo alekum..I am from India, can you pls tell me from where i can buy the book of day to day teachings of thanvi named as ” Al ifadat al yaumia, also called as malfuzat hakim al ummah”. If possible pls give me the link so that I can also but the book online. Kindly reply me via the mail address provided.

  21. sharib salam Says:

    i m very much inspired by reading this biography. plz send me the name of there email address is

  22. jawad Says:

    plz any one tell me.from which website i can catch live tarjuma.


  24. rashidul Says:

    No. Mawlana Ilyas Rah. was not a khalifah of Hazrat Thanvi Rah.

  25. Syed Anas Kashif Says:

    assalamualy kum please send me weblink of all book of hadeeth tafseer according to deoband school of thought in english in pdf format

    • Nabeel Khan Says:

      Bismihi Ta’ala,
      Wa ‘Alaykum Assalaam,

      Unfortunately, I do not have the time and resources to do what you have asked…My sincerest apologies.


  26. Obed Ashraf Says:

    Hello Brother,

    What is diffrence between sunni and tablique…
    which is right and which is wrong and why?

    • Nabeel Khan Says:

      Bismihi Ta’ala,

      This site is not meant for polemics. I suggest you contact senior scholars of each group and get clarification directly from them. I do not have their contact information.


  27. masood abdullah Says:

    Assalamualaikum bhai, from where can i download the book called marif e masnavi(MOULANA RUUM)in urdu language by moulana hakeem akhtar sab (DB)

  28. Md Azad Alam Says:

    Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh.

    Jis ghar me Behishti Zewar hai, samjhain us ghar main alim hai.

    • Arshad Farooqui Says:

      Christian, Jews, Hindu, Sikhs and other non muslim do not like Islamic Books.

    • Aftab Says:

      What about the Quran and Hadith….plz reply

      • Bismihi Ta’ala,

        The reply to this would be that Behishti Zewar, or any other book of fiqh for that matter, is in fact derived from the Qur’an and Ahadith. To think otherwise, or to think that any layperson can go about extracting commandments directly from the primary sources, is nothing but absolute ignorance.

        May Allah Ta’ala grant us all the correct understanding of his Deen.


  29. subhan Says:

    Assalamalaikum WARH Wabrk

    All i want to say that entire ummah love Moulana Ashraf Ali thanvi RAH and in the whole world atleast 160 countries people are agree and ready to obey moulana Ashraf Sahab…………………May Allah bless his Grave with its noor now only 60 years passed after his death infact these people so distinctive and choosed by Allah in the town like forests that surely umaah will never forget him even after ten thousands of his death

  30. suhel ashfaq Says:

    asslamualaikum w.w. jazakumullah khair

  31. sameenuz zafar siddiqui Says:

    as /w
    molana ashraf ali thanwi ru sea bait huea yaa unke khlifon kea naam
    plzz list sand

  32. Ahmed Says:

    Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh

    Shukria Jazakallah for the inspiring and informative biography above.Some inaccuracies need to be corrected.Hazrat Mufti Shafi Saheb RahmatullahiAlayh,father of Mufti Taqi Uthmani Saheb was infact the author of Ma’ariful Qu’raan,which has been translated into an 8 volume english translation.A reliable english translation of Behishti Zewar and Munajaat-e-Maqbool has also been translated in South Africa and is printed in and distributed in the sub-continant and available in many countries around the world.Should anyone require assistance in obtaining a copy of these,Madressa Arabia Islamia,based in Azaadville,South Africa would be able to assist InshaAllah.



  33. Zeeshan Says:

    my e-mail adress is e-mail me or reply me here

  34. Zeeshan Says:

    Assalamalaikum my brothers and sister,
    I really admire moulana ashraf ali thanvi sahib. on the internet I saw very bad opinions about him.Like for example he is a deobandi and his said so many shirk thing.So my brothers please help me to make my mind clear about him. I know he is a great and right scolar.but I want to know exact thing about if someone would say anything bad about him so then I have good points defend him by my knownledge.Allah may give us all hidayah, ameen.
    Zeeshan Malik

  35. Saquib Zafar,from Kolkata Says:

    I need the history of the death of Maulana AA and email or some website links to download his books

  36. Fahad Says:


    I want to buy Bayan al-Qur’an of Hazrat Thanvi RA.

    Where I can have it islamabad / Rawalpindi?


  37. md qaisar Says:

    assalam o alaikum
    dear brother
    can u tell me the link from where i can download books
    of thanvi(RA), shah ismail shaheed (RA),shah ahmed shaheed
    or list of all books of above author

  38. Danish Says:

    very nice history about Hakeemul ummat

  39. Abdul Waheed Khan Says:

    Maulana thanvi was a very great scholar and is now also remembered and insha allah taala will be remembered by all true muslims rill the day of resurrection

  40. ATHER NAVEED Says:


  41. ATHER NAVEED Says:

    maulana A A thanvi was a great servant of ALLAH and ashiqe RASOOL(SAW) i would advise all muslims to study his writings in order to bring about renaissance in muslim ummah

  42. عبدالناصرسليم Says:

    thanvi (r.a) was a great scholar.

  43. masroor khan Says:

    attention Mr. SYED NOMIR UDDIN SAID…

    i saw ur comment and came to know about ur desire to get KHUTBATUN NABI of MOLANA THANWI…i live in Peshawar city, Pakistan

    i would search in KISSA KHAWANI BAZAR and some other places as well.
    will let u know if i get it

  44. syed nomir uddin Says:

    asalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,
    i would very much appreciate it if anybody could inform me as to where i can obtain ‘khutbatun nabi’ with the english translation authoured by maulana ashraf ali thanwi (RA).

    jazakumullah khayran

    • masroor khan Says:

      attention Mr. SYED NOMIR UDDIN ..

      i saw ur comment and came to know about ur desire to get KHUTBATUN NABI of MOLANA THANWI…i live in Peshawar city, Pakistan

      i would search in KISSA KHAWANI BAZAR and some other places as well.
      will let u know if i get it

  45. khurram Says:

    Aslam o Alekum
    Brothers is there any one who may tell me about the site from where I can get books of Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and Allama Ibn e Jozi and books of Ibrahim bin adham and Junaid Bagdadi Peace be with all of these noble people

  46. Mukhtar Says:

    Assalamualaikum va rehmatullahi va barakatuhu
    Thanks alot you are doing agood job, Moulana Ashraf Thanvi Rehmatulla AH
    he was a good scholar he writes so many books,any one get 300 yrs to read his books

  47. Mukhtar Says:

    Please get me also your article by mail

  48. Maulana Abdul Samad Says:


    Its’ great to know people are inclined to learn about our elders, specially the revered ulema. I studied near Thana Bahwan, where Hazrat Maulana Asharf Ali Thanvi is buried, and indeed he was truly a great saint, and Alim of this era. If you look at the life of his Khalifas, they had the same qualities as their sheik. These are the people who changed the lives of many, and inspired them to become better Muslims. May Allah reward them tremdously, and may he give all of us the ability to follow in their shadows.

  49. aziz Says:

    Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (R.A) is above all the scholars,muftis,ulemas,qarain,muhadeseen e.t.c .No Scholar or any person of his time can reach his status of knowledge . I can bet upon it

  50. Muhammad Taimoor Tahir Says:

    Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (R.A) is above all the scholars,muftis,ulemas,qarain,muhadeseen e.t.c .No Scholar or any person of his time can reach his status of knowledge . I can bet upon it

  51. Muhammad Taimoor Tahir Says:

    There is no doubt that no one can have such knowledge as Mawlana Ashraf Sahab in the present world.He was a true Lover of Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W)

  52. khurram Says:

    asalam o alekum
    please tell me about the site or sites form where i can download books written by Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (RA) and from other ulma e deoband thanks

  53. khurram Says:

    Assalam o Alekum
    your work is great. i was in searching of books written by Moulana Asharaf Ali Thanvi for free download if you may help me in this connection to find a site from where i can download books written by Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi and other ulma e deoband I will be very thankful to you.

  54. Banda-e-Khuda Says:

    Can you also share how and where did AA Thanvi Saaheb died in the biography you have shared?

  55. masroor khan Says:

    asalam o alikum
    dear friends its good to see that atleast someone is doing something on this topic. keep up all the good work. may Allah bless us all with success.

  56. Saghar Ayyaz Says:

    Aslam o Alikum,

    I am looking for a book “Ashraf’s Blessings of Marriage” written by Molana Ashraf Ali Thanvi. Can any one give me some link to download this book?


    • Nabeel Khan Says:


      The book you are looking for is not authored by Hazrat Thanwi (RA). It more of a compilation of sayings of our elders on the topic of the book. You may purchase it from any online bookstore.

      nabeel khan

  57. Muhammad Seedat Says:

    I have seen one version of Munajaat e Maqbool which also contained explanatory notes by Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi. I saw it in a mosque quite a distance from where i live. I have been looking for this book and trying to find out who has published it. Can anyone help me here?


  58. zakeera Says:


    can anyone please help me find an english pdf copy of Beshti Zewar. I homeschool my children and would love to use it in my teaching of life skills.


  59. sadiq Says:

    dear shaykh: jazakAllahukhairun for posting this article…very, very inspiring.

  60. shahbaz ali Says:

    this web site is most important to get the information of all kind of ullma and others.

  61. shahbaz ali Says:

    this is very good web site to get the information.

  62. abdul wajid Says:

    salam u alaikum i m a great fan of deoband ulema they all on right path,played a dominant role to teach truth;

  63. Muhammad Mujtaba -- Canada Says:

    Thanks for this article. What a great reformer he was who left what gem scholars after him and i took bait on Qari Tayyab sb hand who is one of them

  64. H Qidwai Says:


    A few years ago i sat and typed down the English words in my Munajat-e-maqbool and have the whole book (english) only in its entirety as a Word document. If you are interested in receiving it, please email me and I will be happy to email it to you as an attachment.


  65. yasser khalil Says:

    i am also looking for a english munjaate maqbool for download…if it is possible oh humble brothers can you please provide me a link to a pdf inshallah.

    contact me bak with email.


  66. raja Says:

    Hakim al-Umma Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi was great scholar of islamic history.i like him.deobandi is the best

  67. Hafiz M. Zia-ur-Rehman Naqshbandi Mujaddadi Says:


    if someone knows about Munajaat-e-Maqbool free download PDf then please inform on my email.



  68. Farrukh Says:

    I like and appreciate all activities and struggle of Moulana Sahab..

  69. Burhan uddin mutalib Says:

    as Salam alikum o rahmatulla
    May Allah keep our shair in pious persons
    duwa like Moulana Hakeem ul ummat Ashrafali
    Thanwi (RA). Amern.

  70. amathulla Says:

    jazakallahu khairan katheera!!!
    may ALLAH help us to truly follow the swaleheens…

  71. Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    Please let me know if Bayaanul Quraan of Hazrat Thanwi RA is available in Pdf FORMAT on web. Are there any lectures available of Hazrat’s Khulafa.

    • Pearl Says:

      Bismihi Ta’ala
      Wa Alaykum Assalam Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakatuhu,

      As far as I know it does not exist in PDF format on the web.

      There are lectures of Hazrat Thanwi’s khulafa available on the web. A simple search should get you to them.


  72. Abu Yahya Says:

    Maulana Ilyas was mureed and Khalifah of Hazrat Qutbul Aalam, Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (rahmatullahi alaihi) but I do believe Maulana Ilyas and Hazrat Thanwi did have some correspondency.

  73. Ahmed Ebrahim Says:

    Jazaakallah for the article. I would like to know if Molana Ilyas (Rah) was the mureed of Molana Ashraf Ali Thanwi (Rah).


    Assalamu Aliykum,

    Any one who wants urdu pdf e-books u can download free
    from web site there is manny bayan and books of Hadrat Hakeem Akhtare DB which are free to download.


    Assalamo aliykum,

    PDF format e-book, Books written by Ashraf Ali Thanvi R.A. if available with u or name the web site whare i can download it. ( in urdu and or english language ).

    Mohd. Hanif

    • Abu Abdur Rahmaan Says:

      Assalamualaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh

      If you type in the following “Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi,ebooks” into the search engine you are using,InshaAllah a number of links to sites where these can be downloaded (many are free) will appear.


  76. Kindly tell us whether Maulana Thanwi (RA) sab assiciated to oldest Madarsa Mamba Ul Uloom of TOWN GULAOTHI (BULANDSHAHR).


  77. Every muslim is very well known to Maulana A.A.Thanawi Sahib (R.A.). I suggest that a passport size photograph must be pasted at the top right side of Biography and some photographs of maulana’s related things like his house etc.

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