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A‘la Hadrat Mawlana al-Shah Ahmad Rida Khan [ra]
by Diya’ al-Ummat Justice Pir Muhammad Karam Shah al-Azhari [ra]


© Jamia Al-Karam | PDF Download a printer-friendly PDF of this article

Edited, translated and notes by Bakhtyar H. Pirzada al-Azhari.

Any individual who is familiar with the Indian subcontinent’s history of the near past will be well aware of the extent to which this period in time was full of abundant tumult and doomsday-like chaos. The decisive effects that contemporary circumstances have in the formation of a human being’s life and character are not unknown to the people of knowledge. It is totally another matter, of course, that some people are receptive to and affected by the state of affairs of their age, whilst others themselves influence and have an effect on the state of affairs of their age. Therefore, when examining an individual’s life, to ignore the circumstances surrounding the individual in that specific period of time is not at all commendable. For this reason, in order to fathom the personality attributed with laudable qualities of A‘la Hadrat, Azim al-Barkat, Imam-e Ahl-e Sunnat, Hadrat Mawlana al-Shah Ahmad Rida Khan [ra], it is of utmost importance to understand the character of his age and to review the historical factors that were of causal significance during that time.

Open your eyes of imagination for a moment, look towards the horizon of India and see that the Muslims’ sun of fortune, after remaining resplendent for up to one thousand years, is now beginning to set. The descendants of Babur -Aurangzeb have severed all relations with the sword and spear, and have by now become infatuated with song and music. Where martial calls were once recited to stimulate and enthuse the zeal and fervour of the youth, there chastity-selling dancing girls were now lulling the passion of dignity and honour to sleep with the mere jingle of their anklets. Where mothers would once raise their children by continuously narrating to them the legends of Khalid and Tariq , there lustful stories of love and beauty have now become the source of satisfaction for the individual and the cause of attention for the group assembly. The termite of luxury and pleasurable social life has eaten away at the pureness of spirits, the loftiness of ambitions and the firmness of resolves, rendering them hollow from within. By hearing the names of whose forefathers the hearts of the strangers would shiver and tremble, today the solid and firm walls of the Red Fort and its deep trenches can no longer grant them protection from the incursion of the enemies. Throughout the length and breadth of the entire country, everywhere the blaze of turmoil and corruption is burning fiercely. Anarchy and political disorder is holding sway. One country has split up into hundreds of smaller states. The barbarity of the Mahrattas has raised a hue and cry in some areas, whilst the brutality of the Sikhs has created a doomsday in other areas. Mughal rule has contracted from the vastness of Ras Kumari and Khyber Pass, and now finds itself besieged in the ‘Fort of Exalted Dignity’ (Qil‘a-e Mu‘alla).

By taking advantage of these internal distractions, the British are day by day bolstering their hold over India. One after the other, each and every province and each and every state is landing under their control. In the midst of these grievous circumstances, the Islamic honour was once again shaken. All of India suddenly echoed with the call to jihad (struggle) raised by Hadrat Mawlana Fadl-e Haqq Khayr’abadi. To confront this foreign colonisation, the scholars of truth came and stepped forward fearlessly, ready to die with all that they had. Every city of India worthy of mention turned into the field of battle, and the Muslims gave abundant sacrifices in order to keep the flame of freedom flickering. Due to the treachery, however, of status-seeking and benefit-pursuing rulers and the lack of a proper military leadership, this struggle of the selfless fighters of the country and nation did not bear fruit. The fire of revenge was inflamed among the British conquerors, and so the soldiers from the War of Independence were one by one picked up and put to the sword.

Due to the fact that those who were blowing the angelic trumpet of freedom, striking the first beat on the drum of jihad and roaring at falsehood and unbelief on the battlefield, were predominantly from among the scholars of the ahl al-sunnah wa’l-jama‘ah and their followers, so it is towards them that the flames of revenge flared. It is their peace and well-being that began to turn to ashes due to the fire of wrath and anger of the British. Everywhere military commissions and courts were set up to hand out punishments to these freedom fighters. Some oppressive and tyrannous individuals were given the authority to punish as they willed those free men who had refused to happily wear the shackles of slavery; and at once their cruel and harsh pen neglected all demands of justice and fairness. Esteemed intellectuals, the likes of whom are not born again and again, were subjected to the punishment of exile for life overseas; hundreds were banished from their homelands, and thousands of scholars were tied to the trunks of trees and shot dead.

Nature is very frugal; the blessing of a visionary eye and a penetrating mind is neither cheap nor common. After running about for years on end, does a wise man rise somewhere destined to adorn the gathering.

In Ka‘bah and temple long, long years
The deep lament arose,
Till from Love’s banquet now appears
One Man who the Secret knows.

- Iqbal

The void created by the departure of one godly scholar is difficult to fill, but here hundreds of genius personalities of the world were mercilessly killed and murdered. As a result of their martyrdom and exile, it was only natural then that a dreadful and unfillable void was created. A nation is ever dependent upon the scholars for its intellectual growth and scholarly development, for protection of its cultural values and for safeguarding of its doctrines. As long as such free men are present within a nation, whose eyes are acquainted with reality and whose tongues are fearless in speaking the truth, then no fitnah (discord) can harm the nation. As soon as a fitnah emerges, suddenly their intellectual sword is unsheathed and then strikes as lightning, rendering the fitnah a pile of dust. But when the gathering of a nation becomes empty of such souls, then each person with an act of mimicry and disguise finds an opportunity for an open play. Through his clever dexterity, he is able to ensnare people into his deception. After failure in the War of Independence, the Muslim nation was faced with this kind of circumstances. This storm put out countless of these glowing lamps, from whom the light of guidance and direction was emanating. Everywhere the darkness of sorrow and despair had spread, which was becoming gloomier as time went on.

The people of insight should firmly place this notion in their minds that the power of the British over India was not only limited to the superiority of their military might; rather, accompanying them also were the embellished stories of their material advancement. Amazing modern discoveries of science were with them too as well as bewildering industrial and technical inventions. Additionally, they also brought an atheistic philosophy of life along with them. Every single one of these things was sufficient in itself to capture the hearts and minds of a conquered and dominated nation. The enemy had come here armed with very destructive weapons, and those here willing to accept its challenge and having the guts to turn its pride and arrogance to dust were either resting in their blessed graves or held captives in the prisons of oppression. The battlefield was empty.

After putting out the lamp of Islamic governance, the British had made a firm resolve to deprive them of the treasure of religion and faith too. Since the nation had already become deprived of a righteous and wise leadership, the British had very easily taken into their deception some of the youth, in whom the gravity of wisdom is less and the excitement of enthusiasm is more. Soon such a generation was prepared whose hearts and minds had become devoted to the adorning blandishments of the strangers. They began to openly vilify the Islamic teachings. Rejecting the principles of religion and the firmly authenticated matters of religion was no longer something at all significant to them. A wave of nausea swept over them regarding their own Islamic civilisation, and they began to loathe their own glorious past. They considered their respect and honour to lie in them breaking any connection they had with their noble predecessors. By becoming themselves chiefs of flattery-loving sycophants, they began to hurl accusations of flattery and sycophancy towards those embodiments of steadfastness and contentment whose lack of greed, satisfaction and independence even the angels can bear witness to.

In short, every such thing that was a reflection of the sanctity and spiritual grandeur of Islam, the attempt to reduce it, rendering it without honour and without prestige, was given the name of service to Islam. This service of making the greatness of Islam the target of taunt and slander was being carried out by those very youth who actually had the ability to become the centre of the nation’s hopes and the interpretation of its dreams. In order to uproot and destroy the tree of Islam, those very people were at the forefront whose forefathers had actually watered it with their very own pure blood.

O Ghani! Behold the darkened day
Kinan’s elder once knew,
That the light of his eyes to Zulaykhah’s eyes
Might bring the brightness of sight.

- Ghani

Why was the light of the eyes of Kinan’s elder now bringing the brightness of light to the eyes of Zulaykhah? Cutting away from one’s own, why was the intimacy of love now being extended towards the strangers? Why has his certainty in the necessities of religion and its firmly authenticated matters become shaken? Why has the audacity to unreasonably interpret, rather tamper and distort, the Qur’anic verses rooted itself within him? These questions are not so unimportant that a person evades them and moves on; rather, they invite every sincere Muslim to reflect and deliberate. To seriously contemplate and ponder over them is our primary obligation. In my view, there were many reasons for this: An inferiority complex following political downfall; the material might of the new conquering nation, its intellectual eminence and its philosophies and ideologies that were able to fascinate the hearts and minds; and the lack of such scholars who had the courage to stand unyieldingly firm as the Great Wall of China in the face of the coming spate and rampage of these causal factors. In addition to this, a movement which after having dimmed the marks of the greatness of the noble Prophet Muhammad [saw] from the hearts of the Muslims, now considered the endeavours to stain the munificent fountain of love for the Beloved of Allah, Prophet Muhammad [saw], to be proper service to the true religion. When the eyes are not marked with the antimony from the dust of Madinah and Najaf, then the glitters of Western scientific wisdom are able to very easily dazzle them. When the heart is not inebriated with the wine of love for the Beloved of the Lord of all the Worlds, Prophet Muhammad [saw], then the lustful desires of the self can very easily intoxicate it. When the hallmark of greatness of the Chosen One, Prophet Muhammad [saw], is not engraved in bold letters on the tablet of the mind, then on that tablet you can imprint a mark of any kind. When the devotional relationship of the believing servant with the Sovereign of this World and all the Worlds, Prophet Muhammad [saw], is broken, then every hunter becomes able enough to take him as a weak prey.

With political downfall, the conceptual and intellectual solidarity was also torn to pieces. That firm foundation was weakened, due to the support of which the piety of Islam would continue to confront the challenges of the age. This was to the extent that such things began to appear which could not have been imagined; from among them, then appeared an individual who even claimed prophethood! Treachery was openly committed against one objective of religion after another, and jihad was declared unlawful. Despite this level of audacity, it was still not too difficult to find backers and supporting partisans from this very same nation as well. The calamity that did not befall in the thirteen-century history of Islam, it suddenly occurred as soon as the hold and grasp of British rule became firm.

Under these circumstances and in the midst of this situation, one noble soul appeared within an honourable family in Bareilly [Uttar Pradesh, India], in whose destiny battling all these internal and religious fitnahs was written, as well as strengthening the bond of devotion and obedience of this nation with the embodiment of beauty and elegance, the origin of generosity and magnanimity, the fountainhead of grace and perfection, and the centre of love and devoutness, the Prophet Muhammad [saw]. With great benevolence, divine mercy had adorned this individual with unique and matchless qualities and abilities. Powerful memory, prestigious intellect, perspicacity in nature, dominance over the realm of eloquence and articulacy; these are such divine gifts that, never mind surpassing them, no one can even claim to be alike or equal to him. There was no such present or absent knowledge or skill in which his merit and superiority was not acknowledged. No one can utter a word regarding his unparalleled expertise in religious sciences of jurisprudence, prophetic tradition, scriptural exegesis, etc.; however, as regards other sciences of mathematics, carrying figures, astrology, etc., even the fundamentals of which are unknown to most intellectuals, his depth of proficiency in these sciences was such that senior mathematicians would turn their attention towards his abode in order to solve difficult and complex questions. Matters that they had declared to be insoluble, he would solve and unravel them by simple indications, leaving them lost in their amazement.

Former Vice-Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University, the late Dr Sir Ziauddin, was an established expert of mathematics during his time. Hadrat Mawlana Shah Sulayman Ashraf, who was a Professor of Theology at Aligarh Muslim University, wrote a letter to Imam Ahmad Rida Khan [ra] stating that the mentioned Dr Ziauddin is in deep study of some mathematical complexities and would like to meet in order to find a solution to them; if permission is granted, it would be an honour. Imam Ahmad Rida Khan [ra] granted permission with much happiness.

After a few days, Dr Ziauddin arrived at Bareilly. It was time for the mid-afternoon prayer (‘asr), and so the prayer was performed. After the prayer, Imam Ahmad Rida Khan [ra] took his seat and the conversation commenced. During the meeting, Imam Ahmad Rida Khan [ra] presented to Dr Ziauddin one of his written dissertations on which drawings and markings of triangles and circles were clearly visible. Seeing this dissertation, Dr Ziauddin immediately fell into amazement and admiration, and then said, “In order to gain this knowledge, I travelled many times to other countries, but I have not come across such a thing anywhere else. At this moment, I find myself sitting as a student in class. Tell me, who taught you this science?” Imam Ahmad Rida Khan [ra] replied, “I have no teacher. From my honourable father, I learnt a few rules regarding addition, subtraction, multiplication and division because these are required when dealing with legal matters of inheritance. When I started the Sharh al-Chaghmini [in Astronomy], my honourable father stated, ‘Why do you waste your time in this? From the company of the Chosen One, Prophet Muhammad [saw], these sciences will be themselves taught to you.’ So whatever you are seeing here today, sitting within the four walls of this house, I continue to pursue them by myself. This is all from the generosity of the Sovereign of Both Worlds, Prophet Muhammad [saw].” After this, the conversation turned towards discussing ‘recurring decimal fractions’. Dr Ziauddin commented, “Only up to the third power can a question be answered.” Upon this, Imam Ahmad Rida Khan [ra] pointed towards Sayyid Qana‘at ‘Ali and Sayyid Ayyub ‘Ali, and said, “I have taught these children some rules. So whichever power you want to question them about, in sha’ Allah, these two will solve the formula.” Absorbed in bewilderment, Dr Ziauddin began to look at the faces of the two children.

This unrivalled understanding and intelligence, incomparable knowledge and intellect, and numerous capabilities; Allah Most High had indeed bestowed for the completion of some specific and special objective. Consequently, by the time he approached fourteen years of age, he had completed all the sciences and after that became occupied in fulfilling the obligations of teaching, writing and authoring, speaking and preaching, practice and spiritual elevation. Until his last breath, he remained engaged in defending Islam with great courage, strength and boldness. Whatever fitnah it may be, wherever it may have raised its head, the pen of Ahmad Rida [ra] would fall on it like a bolt of lightning, turning it into ashes. But the fierce winds of opposition too howled and the storms of accusations also erupted, but this fearless and bold soldier of Islam and this true lover of the Mercy to the World, Prophet Muhammad , stood firm without fear of taunt and slander. At no time was there any hesitation in him nor did his feet of steadfastness ever stagger. The whole life of Imam Ahmad Rida Khan [ra] was a reflection of this couplet from the Companion Hassan ibn Thabit [ra]:

Fa inna abi wa walidahu wa ‘irdi,
Li ‘irdi Muhammad minkum wiqa’.

(Verily my father, and his father, and my honour;
Are there to guard the honour of Prophet Muhammad [saw] from you.)

It is correct that the actual area of work of Imam Ahmad Rida Khan [ra] was service to religion and the sciences of religion, and his natural inclination was not towards politics. However, his faithful insight and spiritual discernment did not allow him to become subservient to the British like some people, nor could the wealthy deception of the Hindus entangle him in their grasp. The believing heart of Imam Ahmad Rida Khan [ra] had ascertained that the Islamic dignity could not tolerate this degradation that a believer begins begging for concessions and donations like mendicants from the non-Muslim government, nor could it accept that the Muslim nation becomes captivated in the duplicity and deceit of Lalaji placing its destiny in the hands of this petty-minded individual who is completely unaware of the honour and dignity of a human being. However, when the Muslim nation declared Pakistan to be its desired destination under the leadership of the Qua’id-e A‘zam, Muhammad ‘Ali Jinnah, then this is an undeniable fact that all scholars and masha’ikh, teachers and students, educational seminaries (madrasahs) and spiritual centres (khanqahs) that were associated with the school of thought of Imam Ahmad Rida Khan [ra], all of them without exception donated all of their energies and endeavours towards acquiring Pakistan. For this purpose, they did not shy away from making the greatest of great sacrifices. When uttering the name of Pakistan was equivalent to inviting thousands of difficulties upon oneself; when great experienced warriors of the political arena would shiver at the mere thought of Pakistan; when notable rulers and nawabs would consider uttering one word in support of Pakistan being equivalent to committing suicide; when the intellectuals from large religious seminaries believed the creation of Pakistan as being contrary to the spirit of Islam; at that time it was only one school of thought belonging to Imam Ahmad Rida Khan Baraylawi [ra] that had proclaimed the support for Pakistan from Chittagong to Peshawar, and from Sylhet to Karachi. Is there anyone that can deny that this was not the blessings and fruits resulting from the faithful discernment of Imam Ahmad Rida Khan [ra]? Certainly this was the blessing of his benevolent gaze; indeed this was the illumination of his visionary light, which slit through all the veils of doubt and conjecture, and hesitation and uncertainty.

These are a few years of the life of Imam Ahmad Rida Khan [ra]; every aspect of which is illumined with the light of knowledge and practice; every moment of which is filled with the remembrance of Allah Most High and the Chosen One, Prophet Muhammad [saw]; which is honoured with the authoring of two thousand written works; and which echoes the gatherings of counsel and guidance, and remembrance and instruction. When spread out far and wide, he rendered the breadth of the universe ashamed; and when wrapped up in seclusion, he simply became the essence of love for the Chosen One, Prophet Muhammad [saw]. This was his faith and belief that the Beloved of Allah, Prophet Muhammad [saw], is the essence and the spirit of this religion. He spent his whole life propagating this, and towards this, he devoted all his qualities, energies and capabilities.

The original Urdu of this essay first appeared in the Diya’-e Haram Monthly Magazine in December 1981.
It was later published in Maqalat (The Essays) of Justice Pir Muhammad Karam Shah al-Azhari [ra] in 1990.
The English translation with notes presented here by Bakhtyar H. Pirzada al-Azhari is dated December 2014.

[For footnotes and references please consult the PDF of this article]

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