Past Luminaries

The Dars Nizami Curriculum and Past Luminaries

By Zulfqar H Pirzada al-Azhari 

Ghulam Ali al-Bilgrami (d. 1786) notes in his masterpiece on the scholastic history of the Indian subcontinent, Subhat al-Marjan (The Coral Rosary), that history bears witness to the fact that the vast majority of scholars who served and extensively contributed to the ‘transmitted sciences’ (al-‘ulum al-naqliyyah) and the ‘rational sciences’ (al-‘ulum al-‘aqliyyah) of Islam were in fact non-Arabs (al-‘ajam).

The Indian subcontinent produced some of the greatest masters and experts of Islamic sciences over the course of centuries. One of those masters whose scholarly brilliance surpassed excellence is Mulla Nizam al-Din of Sihali (d. 1747). Following the death of his father, Mulla Nizam al-Din and his family were offered a building known as the ‘Farangi Mahall’ in Lucknow by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb ‘Alamgir. This family produced some of the greatest scholars the Indian subcontinent has witnessed who are remembered as the ‘Farangi Mahallis’. It is worth mentioning that it was Aurangzeb ‘Alamgir who appointed three hundred jurists to compile the celebrated work Fatawa ‘Alamgiriyyah (also known as Fatawa Hindiyyah) which served as the basis of law and doctrine in the land. The Farangi Mahall in the eighteenth century became the centre of educational excellence in the Indian subcontinent that educated and trained judges and administrators of the state too. At this time, Mulla Nizam al-Din carefully formulated a syllabus for students that would enable them to master both the transmitted and rational sciences. This syllabus became known as the Dars Nizami. It gained widespread acceptance in scholarly circles and became a formal standard for producing scholars of great repute. It was quickly implemented in all educational institutions of the Indian subcontinent and later in numerous religious seminaries around the world.

Texts and Luminaries

The following are some biographical notes to the esteemed masters of Islamic sciences and disciplines who are authors of the various texts of the Dars Nizami curriculum. Their individual personalities and scholarly contributions are a guiding light for seekers and students and represent the vastness and deepness of the ocean of Islamic knowledge and realisation.

  1. Abu Bakr ‘Abd al-Qahir ibn ʿAbd al-Rahman al-Jurjani

He was born in 400 AH in Gorgan, Persia. He studied from the scholars of Gorgan and could not travel beyond his country due to financial hardships. His intense desire for knowledge led him to master the sciences relating to Arabic language and literature. He studied the great authoritative works of Sibawayh, al-Mubarrad, al-Jahiẓ, amongst others. Al-Jurjani is considered as one of the founding figures who established Arabic Rhetoric (al-Balaghah) as an independent science.  He wrote extensively explaining the three sciences of Arabic Rhetoric – Semantics (al-Maʿani), Eloquence (al-Bayan) and Rhetorical Embellishments (al-Badiʿ). He produced two major works on Arabic Rhetoric, Asrar al-Balaghah (The Secrets of Rhetoric) and Dalaʾil al-Iʿjaz (The Evidences of Inimitability), which are the magnum opus of linguistic literature. He became an extremely popular scholar of Arabic Linguistics in his time and students travelled from many long distances to master the Arabic language under his tutelage. He also produced works on other linguistic sciences such as Arabic Etymology and Syntax. Miat al-ʿAmil is his celebrated work in Arabic Syntax.  He died in the year 471 AH.

  1. Athir al-Din al-Mufaddal ibn ‘Umar al-Abhari

He is an eminent scholar of the seventh century who wrote influential texts in Philosophy, Logic, Mathematics and Astronomy. He is considered to be one of the most outstanding pupils of the distinguished theologian Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (d. 606 AH). Amongst his students were the notable historian Ibn Khallikan (d. 681 AH) and the great philosopher and logician Najm al-Din al-Qazwini al-Katibi (d. 675 AH) who is the author of al-Risalah al-Shamsiyyah, which is probably the most studied logic textbook of all time. Al-Abhari’s contributions to rational sciences became standard texts for instructing students of Philosophy. Two of his most influential works are Hidayat al-Hikmah (The Guidance to Philosophy) and Isaghuji fiʾl-Manṭiq (The Eisagoge in Arabic Logic). He died in the year 660 AH.

  1. Waliyy al-Din Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allah al-Khatib al-Tibrizi

He was an expert in the science of Hadith and a master of Arabic Rhetoric. His biographers describe him as someone who not only possessed vast knowledge but was also an embodiment of spiritual distinction. His major work was his compilation of Ahadith titled Mishkat al-Masabih (The Niche for Lamps) which is based on the collection Masabih al-Sunnah (The Lamps of the Sunnah) of Abu Muhammad al-Baghawi (d. 510 AH). Many scholars commented on Mishkat al-Masabih, the most famous commentary is Mirqat al-Mafatih written by ‘Alī ibn Muhammad al-Qari (d. 1014 AH).  Al-Khatib al-Tibrizi left this world in the year 741 AH.

  1. Fadl-i Imam ibn Muhammad Arshad al-Khayrabadi

He was the father of the great scholar Fadl-i Haqq al-Khayrabadi Chishti. Fadl-i Imam al-Khayrabadi’s lineage is traced back to ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra). He mastered the transmitted and rational sciences under the tutelage of ‘Abd al-Wahid al-Kirmani al-Khayrabadi. He became a murid (disciple) of Shaykh Ṣalah al-Din al-Safawi from whom he gained spiritual guidance. He then travelled to Delhi where he began his teaching career. Amongst his famous students are his son Fadl-i Haqq al-Khayrabadi Chishti (d. 1278 AH) and Shah Ghawth ‘Ali Qalandar Panipati (d. 1297 AH). He authored many books and the most famous of his works is al-Mirqat (The Staircase) in Arabic Logic. He died in the year 1244 AH.

  1. Abu ‘Amr ‘Uthman ibn al-Hajib al-Maliki

He was born in Upper Egypt (Ṣa’id Misr) in the year 570 AH. He studied the Islamic Sciences from numerous scholars in Cairo. He was taught Qur’an Recitation (al-Qira’ah) directly from Imam al-Qasim ibn Firrawh al-Shatibi (d. 590 AH). He also mastered the Islamic Jurisprudence according to the Maliki School of Jurisprudence, and he was an influential Mufti and instructor of Islamic Law at various places including Cairo and Damascus. His contemporary, Ibn Khallikan (d. 681 AH), described him as ‘the brightest mind in the creation of God.’ Ibn al-Hajib authored numerous texts of which the most famous are al-Kafiyah in Arabic Syntax, al-Shafiyah in Arabic Etymology and Jami‘ al-Ummahat in Islamic Jurisprudence which served as the basic text in Maliki Jurisprudence until the emergence of al-Mukhtasar of Khalil (d. 767 AH). Ibn al-Hajib died in the year 646 AH in the city of Alexandria, Egypt.

  1. Shaykh Siraj al-Din ‘Uthman Chishti Nizami

He is more affectionately known as Akhi Siraj (Brother Siraj). He was a great Sufi saint of West Bengal who lived in the eighth century (AH). He was one of the spiritual successors (khulafa’) of Shaykh Nizam al-Din Awliya’. At a very young age Shaykh Siraj al-Din travelled to Delhi and entered the khanqah (place of spiritual training) of Shaykh Nizam al-Din Awliya’. Before his demise, Shaykh Nizam al-Din intended to send preachers of Islam to various areas of the Muslim world at that time. He desired to send Shaykh Siraj al-Din to Bengal but refrained from doing so, saying that he had not yet completed his acquisition of Islamic knowledge. Fakhr al-Din Zarradi, a scholar and senior disciple of Shaykh Nizam al-Din, was present and requested that the Shaykh give him six months in which he would transform Siraj al-Din into a scholar. Within this short period of time, Siraj al-Din studied major texts and mastered the Islamic Sciences to such an extent, that scholars were left in complete admiration and respect for him. After attaining the heights of scholarly expertise did Shaykh Nizam al-Din grant him the status of being his spiritual successor (khalifah). Consequently, Shaykh Siraj al-Din was sent to his homeland, Bengal, by his spiritual master Shaykh Nizam al-Din, to spread the knowledge and spirituality of Islam. He illuminated the entire region of Bengal with his scholarly and spiritual presence. He authored Hidayat al-Nahw (The Guidance of Syntax) in Arabic Syntax and Mizan al-Sarf (The Scale of Etymology) in Arabic Etymology. He departed from this world in 758 AH but through his works still continues to reside in the circles of scholars and students.

  1. Ahmad ibn Abi Sa‘id al-Siddiqi

He is more famously known as Mulla Jiwan. He was born in India in the year 1047 AH. His ancestors had come from Makkah and settled in the suburbs of Lucknow, India. His lineage it traced back to the first Caliph Abu Bakr al-Siḍḍiq (ra). Mulla Jiwan committed the glorious Qur’an to memory at a very young age and then proceeded to study the Islamic Sciences. He finally graduated from Korah, Fatehpur, and was awarded the license of completing his advanced religious studies by Mulla Lutf Allah Korawi. Soon after completing his studies he was invited into the royal court of the knowledge-loving Emperor Aurangzeb ‘Alamgir who welcomed him with great honour. The Emperor was amazed with Mulla Jiwan’s vast knowledge and hence studied under his tutelage. Mulla Jiwan was blessed with an astounding memory and could retain in his memory lengthy poems after just hearing them once. During his stay in the sacred city of Madinah ,he wrote his masterpiece Nur al-Anwar, on the Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence, within a short period of two months and seven days. He also wrote the first book in the Indian Subcontinent on the subject of Ahkam al-Qur’an (Rulings of the Qur’an) titled al-Tafsirat al-Ahmadiyyah fi Bayan al-Ayat al-Shar‘iyyah (The Highly Praised Exegeses in Elucidation of the Legal Verses). At the end of this work of genius he wrote: “I began this exegesis in the city of Amethi when I was studying al-Husami in the year 1064 AH. My age at that time was sixteen years. I completed it in the year 1069 AH when I am studying the commentary of Matali‘ al-Anwar and my age at this time is twenty-one years.” Mulla Jiwan also wrote books elaborating on other subjects such as Tasawwuf (Sufism).  He died in the city of his birth, Amethi, in the year 1130 AH.

  1. Abu’l-Husayn Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Quduri

He was born in 362 AH in the city of Baghdad. He was a Hanafi Jurist and highly skilled in the science of Hadith. The great historian and specialist in the field of Hadith, Ahmad ibn ‘Alī al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (d. 463 AH), author of Tarikh al-Baghdad (The History of Baghdad), gained the knowledge of Hadith from him and described him as Saduq (Truthful). Between him and Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani is a link of only five scholars. His biographers mention that he was accustomed to continuously reciting the glorious Qurʾān. He authored several books in Hanafi Jurisprudence and the most famous is his concise compendium called al-Mukhtasar. It contains approximately 12,000 issues relating to Hanafi Jurisprudence. Badr al-Din al-‘Ayni (d. 855 AH) mentions that after finishing writing the al-Mukhtasar, Imam al-Quduri took the book with him on his journey to Hajj. After finishing the tawaf he held the book and beseeched his Lord to make him aware of any mistake in the work. He then browsed through every page of the book and found five or six places where the writing had miraculously been erased. This is deemed one of Al-Quduri’s miracles. The Ottoman historian, Haji Khalifah (d. 1067 AH) mentions in Kashf al-Zunun: “The Hanafis would take blessings (barakah) by reciting the Mukhtasar al-Quduri at times of calamity and that is indeed a blessed book for its memorisation protects an individual from poverty. It is said that whosoever studies the book with a righteous teacher who then prays for blessings for the student upon its completion, he would come to own silver coins (dirham) equalling the number of issues elaborated upon in the text.” Imam al-Quduri died at the age of 66 in the year 428 AH.

  1. Burhan al-Din Abu’l-Hasan ‘Ali b. Abi Bakr al-Marghinani

He was born in Marghinan, a city in the Farghana district of Transoxiana (present day Uzbekistan), after the ‘Asr Prayer on Monday the 8th of Rajab in the year 511 AH. He was a descendent of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (ra) and he studied with the great masters of knowledge in his time. Amongst his famous teachers are Najm al-Din Abu Hafs ‘Umar al-Nasafi, the author of al-‘Aqa’id al-Nasafiyyah, as well as Diya’ al-Din Muhammad ibn al-Husayn al-Bandaniji, the student of ‘Ala’ al-Din al-Samarqandi who authored Tuhfat al-Fuqaha and was the teacher and father-in-law of Abu Bakr al-Kasani, the author of Bada’i‘ al-Sana’i‘. Al-Marghinani also studied with al-Sadr al-Shahid Husam al-Din ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-Aziz, who was the paternal uncle and teacher of Burhan al-Din ibn Maza, the author of al-Muhit al-Burhani fi’l-Fiqh al-Nu‘mani. Imam Fakhr al-Din Qadi Khan and other contemporaries held him in great esteem.

Al-Marghinani authored many books of which the most popular and greatest of his works being al-Hidayah (the Guidance) in Hanafi Jurisprudence. He began writing al-Hidayah on Wednesday after the Zuhr Prayer in the month of Dhu’l-Qa‘dah, 573 AH. It took him thirteen years to complete this great work. Throughout these years of hard work, the author remained in a state of sawm (fasting) and concealed his fasting state to such an extent that when the servant would bring his food during the day, al-Marghinani would offer his food to his students and not eat himself. When the servant would return and find the empty dish, he would take it assuming al-Marghinani to have consumed the food. The number of explanatory notes, glosses, commentaries and super-commentaries on al-Hidayah is over forty, the most famous of these include Fath al-Qadir by Kamal al-Din ibn al-Humam, al-Binayah by Badr al-Din al-‘Ayni and al-Inayah by Akmal al-Din al-Babarti. Imam al-Marghinani passed away in Samarqand in the year 593 AH.

  1. Mas‘ud ibn ‘Umar Sa‘d al-Din al-Taftazani

He was born in the village of Taftazan, Khorasan, Persia, in the year 712 AH. He studied from various masters of the religious sciences. Amongst the most notable of his teachers are al-Qadi ‘Adud al-Din al-Iji (d. 756 AH) and Qutb al-Din al-Razi (d. 766 AH).

It is mentioned in Shadharat al-Dhahab that in his early period of education, al-Taftazani was extremely unintelligent; in fact the most unintelligent amongst all the students of al-Qadi ‘Adud al-Din al-Iji, even though he exerted his utmost efforts in learning. Then one day an unknown visitor came to his private dwelling and invited him to go for a walk. He replied: “I have not been created for roaming and I am unable to understand texts even after much struggle, what will be my state if I begin going for walks?” The individual left and came back after a while with the same request; al-Taftazani gave the same vehement response. Then the individual said: “Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) has sent for you.” Immediately, al-Taftazani ran out without shoes and was led to a place outside the city beside some small trees, and there he miraculously saw the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) amongst his Companions. The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) smiled and said: “I called you time after time and you did not come.” He replied: “O Messenger of Allah! I knew not it was you who was calling me and you are most aware of my weak memory and unintelligence.” The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) asked al-Taftazani to open his mouth. then the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) put some of his own blessed saliva in al-Taftazani’s mouth, prayed for him, told him to return to his house and gave him the good news of success. He returned home enlightened beyond imagination. The following day, al-Taftazani attended the class of al-Qadi ‘Adud al-Din al-Iji. During the lesson, he posed such complex questions regarding the text being studied which fellow students thought were irrelevant; however, al-Qadi ‘Adud al-Din al-Iji was stunned and remarked with tears: “O Sa‘d! Today you are not the same person you were yesterday.”

Al-Taftazani mastered the Islamic sciences to such a level that Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (d. 852 AH) and al-Suyuti (d. 911 AH) were compelled to remark: “In the East the sciences ended with him.” He was held in high esteem by Emir Timur (d. 807 AH) due to his vast knowledge. He authored important works and significantly contributed to Arabic Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Scholastic Theology (al-Kalam), Islamic Jurisprudence, Hadith and Qur’an Exegesis. His first work was a commentary on Tasrif al-Zanjani which he wrote at the age of sixteen years. Amongst his popular texts are Tahdhib al-Mantiq (The Refinement of Logic) in Arabic Logic, Mukhtasar al-Ma‘ani and al-Mutawwal in Arabic Rhetoric, Sharh al-‘Aqa’id al-Nasafiyyah and Sharh al-Maqasid in Scholastic Theology. This ocean of knowledge departed from the physical world in 791 AH.

  1. Muhammad ibn Muhammad Qutb al-Din al-Razi al-Shafi‘i

He studied the transmitted sciences and specialised in the rational sciences. He studied with great scholars such as al-Qadi ‘Adud al-Din al-Iji (d. 756 AH) and his scholarly fame spread throughout the Muslim world even in his time.

Imam al-Subki mentions in his al-Tabaqat al-Kubra: “He (Qutb al-Din al-Razi) is an Imam and expert in the rational sciences. His name has become famous and his brilliance has spread to distant lands. In the year 763 AH, he travelled to Damascus and we had discourse with him and found him to be an Imam in Arabic Logic and Philosophy, and an erudite scholar in al-Tafsir, al-Ma‘ani, al-Bayan and al-Nahw.” Ibn Kathir stated: “He is one of the theologians and has profound knowledge of Logic and sciences of the predecessors.”

Qutb al-Din al-Razi authored a number of books and commentaries in Arabic Logic, Philosophy, al-Tafsir and al-Fiqh. His most celebrated work is his commentary on al-Katibi’s al-Risalah al-Shamsiyyah. For centuries, this commentary has remained as an advanced taught text used to train students in Arabic Logic. Many scholars have written glosses and super-commentaries on his commentary which illustrates the position it has always held in Arabic Logic studies. Qutb al-Din al-Razi passed away in the year 766 AH at the age of 74.

  1. 12. Abu Ja‘far Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Salamah al-Tahawi al-Hanafi

He was born in 239 AH. He grew up in the Taha region of Upper Egypt (Sa‘id Misr). Scholars throughout history have unanimously considered Imam al-Tahawi as one of the greatest experts of Hadith and al-Fiqh that ever lived. His first teacher was his maternal uncle, Abu Ibrahim Isma‘il ibn Yahya al-Muzani (d. 264 AH), a leading student of Imam Shafi‘i (d. 204 AH). After a few years of studying under the tutelage of al-Muzani, Imam al-Tahawi left the Shafi‘i Madhhab and embraced the Hanafi Madhhab. He travelled to Syria, Jerusalem and other lands to satiate his thirst for knowledge from the scholarly authorities of that era. He authored many great works with his magnum opus being Sharh Ma‘ani al-Athar which Badr al-Din al-‘Ayni (d. 855 AH) preferred to all other texts of the same genre saying: “If you desire Hadith then it (Sharh Ma‘ani al-Athar) resembles an ocean whose waves are in constant collision and if you desire al-Fiqh, then you will notice crowds proceeding towards it.” Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi (d. 748 AH) remarked: “He who looks into the works of this great Imam will recognise his status in scholarly knowledge and profound erudition.” Imam al-Tahawi died in the year 321 AH.

  1. Abu’l-Fadl ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti al-Shafi‘i

He was a Qur’anic Exegete, Hadith Master, Jurist, Historian, Arab Rhetorician, Litterateur, Philologist and Sufi. He authored books in almost every Islamic science and was known as Ibn al-Kutub (the son of books). Al-Suyuti was born in the month of Rajab 849 AH in Cairo, Egypt. He came from a scholarly and spiritual background and was the descendent of Shaykh Humam al-Din, who he remembered as one of the people of haqiqat (realisation) and guides of the spiritual path (min masha’ikh al-tariq).

A few years after birth, al-Suyuti was carried for spiritual blessings to a saintly man, Shaykh Muhammad al-Majzub, who was amongst the Friends of Allah and lived beside the mausoleum of Sayyidah Nafisah, the great-granddaughter of Imam Hasan b. ‘Ali (ra) in Cairo. His father passed away when he was only five years old. Before death, his father left him entrusted to a number of great scholars amongst them was the great Hanafi Jurist, Kamal al-Din ibn al-Humam, who took great care of him in his early education. With the special attention and spiritual blessings of Ibn al-Humam, al-Suyuti memorised the entire Qur’an before the age of eight years and then went on to memorise complete works relating to al-Fiqh, Arabic Grammar and Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence.

Al-Suyuti then devoted himself to mastering the religious sciences and studied with one hundred and fifty teachers. Amongst his famous teachers is Shaykh Siraj al-Din al-Bulqini with whom he studied al-Fiqh and remained with him until his death. After his death, he studied with his teacher’s son until he also passed away. He then went to Sharaf al-Din al-Munawi and studied Hadith and Qur’an Exegeses under his tutelage. Twice a week for one entire year, he attended the educational gatherings of Jalal al-Din Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Mahalli (d. 864 AH), whose exegesis he later completed. Al-Suyuti then spent four years studying Hadith and Arabic Linguistic Sciences with Taqiyy al-Din al-Shibli al-Hanafi, who also wrote a prologue to two of al-Suyuti’s books. He spent fourteen years studying al-Tafsir, Arabic Grammar, Arabic Rhetoric and other sciences with Muhy al-Din al-Kafayji. He studied Sahih Muslim, Alfiyyat Ibn Malik, Sharh al-‘Aqa’id al-Nasafiyyah and other texts with Shams al-Din al-Sayra’i. Amongst the many texts he studied with Shams al-Din al-Marzubani al-Hanafi are al-Kafiyah in Arabic Syntax and Isaghuji in Arabic Logic.

In the pursuit of knowledge, al-Suyuti travelled to West Africa, Syria, Hijaz (Arabia), Yemen, India and Morroco. He mentions in Husn al-Muhadarah: “When I travelled to perform the pilgrimage of Hajj, I drank the water of Zamzam for several reasons. Amongst the prayers was that in al-Fiqh I reach the rank of Siraj al-Din al-Bulqini and in Hadith the rank of al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar.” He also speaks about his insights into religious sciences saying, “Allah, the Most High, has made me an ocean of knowledge in seven sciences; al-Tafsir, Hadith, al-Fiqh, al-Nahw, al-Ma‘ani, al-Bayan and al-Badi‘. And I say this not with ostentatious pride but as an expression of God’s mercy on me.”

Al-Suyuti belonged to the Shadhili Tariqah and strongly defended the people of Tasawwuf. When one of his teachers, Burhan al-Din al-Biqa‘i, confronted Ibn al-‘Arabi in his book Tanbih al-Ghabi ila Takfir Ibn al-‘Arabi (Warning to the ignorant about the apostasy of Ibn al-‘Arabi), al-Suyuti countered the attack with his book, Tanbih al-Ghabi fi Takhti’at Ibn al-‘Arabi (Warning to the ignorant about faulting Ibn al-‘Arabi). Al-Suyuti considered Ibn al-‘Arabi as a Friend of Allah whose books should only be studied by those who are familiar with Sufi nomenclature.

Al-Suyuti’s biographers note that many miracles occurred at his hands, which illustrate his spiritual distinction alongside his profound scholarly knowledge. His student al-Dawudi remarked: “I witnessed with my own eyes that my Shaykh (al-Suyuti) wrote three entire works in one day which he authored and proof-read himself.” At the age of forty, al-Suyuti gave up teaching and issuing religious verdicts (al-ifta’) and went into solitary worship next to the Nile River. During this time, he began authoring books and extensively contributing in writing to the religious sciences. He remained doing this until his death in the year 911 AH.

  1. Abu’l-Fadl Shihab al-Din Ahmad ibn ‘Ali ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani al-Shafi‘i

He was born in Egypt in the year 773 AH. He grew up as an orphan as his father had died before he had reached the age of four years. His father before dying left him entrusted to Zakiyy al-Din al-Kharubi, a wealthy tradesman, and al-Shams b. al-Qattan. Al-Kharubi took great care of him in his early upbringing. Ibn Hajar had memorised the entire Qur’an when he was nine years old after which he went on to memorise and study important texts relating to religious sciences. Great scholars in his time testified to his astounding ability to memorise. It is recorded that at the age of five years, he managed to memorise the entire Surat Maryam in one day.

In the year 784 AH, Ibn Hajar travelled with al-Kharubi to perform the pilgrimage of Hajj. After performing Hajj, Ibn Hajar remained in the city of Makkah to study with the great teachers of the Holy Land. He travelled to Syria, Hijaz (Arabia), Yemen, Egypt and Palestine to quench his thirst for knowledge and studied with over four hundred teachers. He studied al-Fiqh and al-Ifta’ with Shaykh Siraj al-Din al-Bulqini as well as Arabic, al-Fiqh, Usul al-Fiqh and Arithmetic with al-Shams ibn al-Qattan.

Ibn Hajar also studied various religious sciences with al-‘Iz ibn Jama‘ah, who was known for having knowledge of numerous sciences to such an extent that he would say: “I can teach fifteen sciences whose names the scholars of my era are unaware of.” He studied Arabic language from the great lexicographer Majd al-Din al-Fayruzabadi, author of al-Qamus al-Muhit and al-Qira’ah (readings of the Qur’an) from Burhan al-Din al-Tanukhi. All his teachers were experts in the sciences he studied with them; hence he gained profound insights into all religious sciences.

Ibn Hajar mastered Arabic linguistic sciences and Arabic poetry to such an extent that if anybody recited a couplet of poetry, he would know the source. He himself wrote many poems in praise of Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace). The study of Hadith became very beloved to him and from 796 AH till the end of his life, he devoted himself completely to mastering the sciences related to Hadith.

Ibn Hajar further studied Hadith with the great Hadith master, Zayn al-Din al-Iraqi, and remained with him for ten years specialising in Hadith texts. This period of his life, he called the ‘Lifting of the Veil’ (Raf‘ al-Hijab) and the ‘Opening of the Gate’ (Fath al-Bab). Imam al-Suyuti writes: “He (Ibn Hajar) drank the water of Zamzam with the intention that he reaches the rank of al-Dhahabi in memorisation, he surpassed al-Dhahabi.” When al-Iraqi was about to die someone asked him, “Who is the heir (of your knowledge)?” To this, al-Iraqi replied, “Ibn Hajar”. Ibn Hajar taught at numerous locations in Egypt including Jami‘ al-Azhar (Al-Azhar Mosque). Students and scholars travelled from distant lands to study under his tutelage. Amongst his notable students are Shams al-Din al-Sakhawi and Zakariyya al-Ansari.

Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani authored over one hundred and fifty books in Qur’anic Sciences, Principles of Hadith, Hadith Commentaries, Biographical Dictionaries of Hadith Narrators, al-Fiqh and History. His two most famous works are his commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari, Fath al-Bari, and a concise commentary on a book he previously authored on Principles of Hadith and its Nomenclature entitled Nuzhat al-Nazar fi Tawdih Nukhbat al-Fikar fi Mustalah Ahl al-Athar (The Pure Gaze in Elucidating the Chosen Thoughts on the Nomenclature of Hadith Specialists). This remarkable scholar and master of Hadith sciences died in Cairo, Egypt, in the year 852 AH.

  1. Imam Ahmad Rida ibn Naqiyy ‘Ali Khan al-Hanafi

He is more commonly known as A‘la Hazrat in the subcontinent community, was born in Bareilly, in the United Provinces, India, in 1272 AH (1856). Imam Ahmad Rida Khan was blessed with a spiritual environment from birth. His father, Mawlana Naqiyy ‘Ali Khan (d. 1297 AH), was a prolific writer and an erudite scholar of the religious sciences. His grandfather, Mawlana Rida ‘Ali Khan (d. 1282 AH) was a master of the religious sciences and was well-known for miracles (karamat) and spiritual unveiling (kashf). His forefathers had migrated from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to Lahore and thereafter settled in Bareilly.

Imam Ahmad Rida’s most important teacher was his father with whom he completed the entire Dars Nizami syllabus at the age of fourteen years. His father then entrusted him the responsibility of writing fatawa (religious edicts) due to his scholarly insights and astounding memory. At the age of twenty one years, Imam Ahmad Rida became a disciple of Shah Al-e Rasul (d. 1297 AH) of Marehra, India, and entered the spiritual path of the Qadiri Tariqah. During his life, he also benefited from the teachings of Ahmad b. Zayni al-Dahlan who was the Shafi‘i Mufti of Makkah, ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Makki, Husayn ibn Salih al-Makki and Shah Abu’l-Husayn Ahmad al-Nuri.

There are many exemplary stories concerning Imam Ahmad Rida and some incidents that have been mentioned by his biographers, occurred when he was very young. One such incident transpired when Imam Ahmad Rida was learning the Arabic alphabet from his grandfather, he instinctively understood the deeper significance of the letter ‘la’ with which the shahadah begins. He understood its outward meaning that related to the Oneness of God, and instantly grasped its esoteric mystical knowledge communicated to him by his grandfather. Such narratives explain why he later not only became a great intellectual but a Sufi mystic also. Another incident occurred during the pilgrimage of Hajj when the Shafi‘i Imam, Husayn ibn Salih al-Makki, one day took him aside after the evening prayer and said that he saw the light of Almighty Allah shine in his forehead. He then gave him a certificate (sanad) in the six Hadith collections as well as one in the Qadiri Tariqah signing it with his own hands. One of the scholars of Makkah, namely Sayyid Isma‘il b. Sayyid Khalil Afandi, after reading a book written by Imam Ahmad Rida proclaimed: “By Allah! I tell you the truth! Had Abu Hanifah al-Nu‘man seen this, his eyes would be cooled and he would include the author of this book amongst his students.” The Hijazi scholars who met him or read his works held him in high esteem and through his writing and pilgrimages, he managed to link the Indian Subcontinent with Hijaz (Arabia) in a way no one in his time was able to do.

Imam Ahmad Rida had encyclopaedic knowledge of religious texts especially Hanafi Jurisprudence and his fatawa, al-‘Ataya al-Nabawiyyah fi’l-Fatawa al-Ridawiyyah, is a work of brilliance compiled in thirty volumes of approximately 22,000 pages, containing thousands of fatawa and over two hundred written reports detailing particular subjects.

‘Abd al-Hayy al-Lakhnawi stated: “In his time it is rare to find someone similar to him (Imam Ahmad Rida) in terms of profound knowledge of Hanafi Jurisprudence and its particulars. His collection of fatawa is sufficient evidence for this.” The poet-philosopher ‘Allamah Dr Muhammad Iqbal called him a genius and profound Jurist. Imam Ahmad Rida also wrote an Arabic super-commentary on Ibn ‘Abidin’s Radd al-Muhtar. During his pilgrimage to Makkah, some scholars of Makkah requested his opinion concerning the status of paper money, an issue which had troubled even the brightest minds of Makkah. In response, Imam Ahmad Rida wrote an entire book entitled Kifl al-Faqih al-Fahim fi Ahkam Qirtas al-Darahim (Share of the Discerning Jurist on Judgements relating to Paper Money). He wrote this from his astounding memory, whilst on a journey, without any books at hand and left the scholars of Makkah filled with awe and respect.

Imam Ahmad Rida realised that in his time the Persian language in the Indian Subcontinent was rapidly being replaced with the Urdu language thus he authored most of his work in Urdu even though he was proficient in Persian and Arabic. In 1330 AH, he translated the Qur’an into Urdu entitled Kanz al-Iman fi Tarjamat al-Qur’an (Treasure of Faith relating to Translation of the Qur’an). His two works in al-Ifta’ Methodology are masterpieces in the science of issuing religious verdicts according to Hanafi Jurisprudence; al-Fadl al-Mawhibi fi Ma‘na idha Sahha’l-Hadith fahuwa Madhhabi (Gifted Favour in the meaning of ‘When the Hadith is Sound It Is My Madhhab’) and Ajla al-I‘lam anna al-Fatwa Mutlaqan ‘ala Qawl al-Imam (The Most Manifest Information that the Fatwa is Absolutely According to the Teaching of The Imam). Imam Ahmad Rida authored approximately seven hundred books in al-Tafsir, Usul al-Hadith, Takhrij al-Hadith, Asma’ al-Rijal, al-Fiqh, Usul al-Fiqh, al-Ifta’, al-Tajwid, ‘Ilm al-Kalam and Tasawwuf.

Imam Ahmad Rida lived in India at a time when Indian poets and litterateurs were seen as cultural heroes and they significantly contributed to the shift from Persian to Urdu. Poets like Mirza Ghalib (d. 1285 AH) and Nawab Mirza Khan, more famously known as ‘Daagh Dehlvi’ (d. 1322 AH), had gained much fame throughout India. During that era, poets used their talent at times for material gains from the rich. However, Imam Ahmad Rida mastered the art of poetry and used his talent to defend and praise the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) with great love and devotion. He gave himself the name ‘Abd al-Mustafa (Servant of the Chosen One). The soul of Imam Ahmad Rida departed from his body on Friday 25th Safar 1340/Friday 28th October 1921 at the exact time when the mu’adhdhin calling people for the Friday Prayer was saying ‘hayya ‘ala’l-falah’. 

  1. Mulla Nur al-Din ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Ahmad Jami

He was a descendent of Imam Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani, the disciple of Imam Abu Hanifah. Mulla Jami was an astounding scholar of the Arabic language, a Sufi mystic, Persian poet, exegete of the Qur’an, Hadith commentator, Jurist and historian.

Mulla Jami was born in Khorasan in the year 817 AH. He began his education with his father, Shaykh Ahmad, studying significant texts relating to the sciences of al-Nahw and al-Sarf. He also studied with other great scholars of his time like Mawlana Shihab al-Din Jajurmi, the student of Sa‘d al-Din al-Taftazani, as well as Khwaja ‘Ali al-Samarqandi, the student of Mir Sayyid al-Sharif al-Jurjani.

After mastering the religious sciences, Mulla Jami went on to benefit from the spiritual blessings of the Sufi saints of his time including Shaykh Sa‘d al-Din Kashghari and Khwaja ‘Ubayd Allah al-Ahrar. He was a follower of the Naqshbandi Tariqah. Mulla Jami extensively wrote Sufi poems which today are considered as the pinnacle of Persian literature. His love for the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) was immense as his poetry illustrates and his poems in praise of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him pace) are recited melodiously throughout the Indian subcontinent and Persian lands.

Ibn ‘Abidin writes in Radd al-Muhtar: “Mulla Jami visited the grave of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and separated his intention from performing the pilgrimage of Hajj so that his journey was solely for visiting the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace).” He did this in order to act on the accepted prophetic tradition: “Whoever visits me without any avowed purpose other than my visit, it is incumbent upon me to be his intercessor on the Day of Resurrection.” [al-Tabarani]

Mulla Jami authored fifty four Arabic and Persian books in al-Tafsir, Hadith, al-Nahw, Tasawwuf, Arabic Logic, Astronomy and Poetry. His magnum opus is his commentary on Ibn al-Hajib’s al-Kafiyah which is considered by scholars as one of the most important taught texts in Arabic syntax. Scholars for centuries have preferred Mulla Jami’s commentary over numerous other commentaries of al-Kafiyah. Mulla Jami died in Herat on Friday 18th Muharram 898/ Friday 9th November 1492.

  1. Muhammad Amin ibn ‘Umar ibn ‘Abidin

He was born in Damascus in 1198 AH. Ibn ‘Abidin memorised the Qur’an at a young age. His father was a tradesman and made him sit in his store to gain experience of business transactions. One day, he was reciting the Qur’an in the store when a righteous man walked from nearby saying: “You should not recite the Qur’an for two reasons; firstly you are not familiar with the rules of recitation, and secondly the people in the market are distracted from listening to the Qur’an, hence they are sinning due to not listening and you are sinning as you are the cause for them sinning.” Ibn ‘Abidin immediately left the store and went in search of the best Qur’an reciter. He was directed to Shaykh Sa‘id al-Hamawi with whom he studied and memorised the al-Maydaniyyah, al-Jazariyyah and al-Shatibiyyah. He then studied al-Nahw, al-Sarf and Shafi‘i Jurisprudence under his tutelage. He studied al-Tafsir, Hadith and Arabic Logic with Shaykh Shakir al-Aqad who directed him to the study of Hanafi Jurisprudence. He then studied all the major Hanafi works with him.

Shaykh Shakir always held Ibn ‘Abidin in high respect especially after the incident with Shaykh ‘Abd al-Nabi. Shaykh ‘Abd al-Nabi was one of the great scholars and spiritual sages of India who visited Damascus. Ibn ‘Abidin went with his teacher Shaykh Shakir to visit him. As they entered, Shaykh Shakir sat down and Ibn ‘Abidin remained standing out of respect for his teacher. Shaykh ‘Abd al-Nabi requested Shaykh Shakir to ask Ibn ‘Abidin to sit down saying: “I cannot sit until this child sits for I smell the fragrance of Ahl al-Bayt from him. Soon his hands will be kissed out of respect and his erudition will become apparent and people will greatly benefit from him.” Shaykh Shakir asked Ibn ‘Abidin to sit and he obeyed.

Ibn ‘Abidin was also a talented poet. He wrote a lengthy poem in praise of the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and offered it to the Muslim pilgrims to be recited at the Prophet’s grave in Madinah. He authored many books in al-Tafsir, Hanafi Jurisprudence and Arabic Rhetoric. His most famous works are his commentary on al-Durr al-Mukhtar called Radd al-Muhtar and his commentary on his poem about al-Ifta’ Methodology called Sharh ‘Uqud Rasm al-Mufti (Commentary of ‘The Chaplets on the Jurist’s Task’). Ibn ‘Abidin alongside being a great scholar of religious sciences was also a very pious, spiritual and God-fearing individual. He died in Damascus in the year 1252 AH.

  1. Shams al-Haqq ‘Abd al-Rashid al-Jaunpuri

Shams al-Haqq ‘Abd al-Rashid al-Jaunpuri was born in the city of Jaunpur, India, in 1000 AH. He was a reputable scholar of religious sciences and amongst the great spiritual saints of India. His formal religious learning began at a very young age. He studied authoritative texts relating to Arabic Grammar, Arabic Literature and Linguistics, Hadith, al-Fiqh, Usul al-Fiqh, al-Tafsir, Arabic Logic and Scholastic Theology from great teachers of his time. After mastering the religious sciences, al-Jaunpuri began teaching and continued educating students for a large part of his life.

In the latter part of his life, al-Jaunpuri devoted himself completely to an ascetic lifestyle of solitary worship. During this phase of his life, he paid great attention to the texts relating to the spiritual sciences (Kutub al-Haqa’iq) and especially the works of Muhy al-Din Ibn al-‘Arabi (d. 638 AH). He explained and clarified many apparently problematic statements of Ibn al-‘Arabi. He authored books relating to Arabic Logic, Philosophy, Sufism, Scholastic Theology, Arabic Syntax, Dialectics and Poetry. His commentary on al-Sayyid al-Sharif ‘Ali b. Muhammad al-Jurjani’s concise treatise on Dialectical Disputation, al-Sharifiyyah fi Fann al-Munazarah, is a taught text in the Dars Nizami syllabus.

Azad Bilgrami (d. 1200 AH) writes that when the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (d. 1076 AH) heard of ‘Abd al-Rashid al-Jaunpuri’s distinguished and spiritually elevated personality, he sent an extremely courteous worker with an order to respectfully request a meeting with the eminent Shaykh. The Shaykh declined to step out of his dwelling and meet the king. He was one of many saints in history who declined to entertain kings. On Friday 9th Ramadan 1083/Friday 30th December 1672, ‘Abd al-Rashid al-Jaunpuri prayed the two sunnah units of the Fajr Prayer and then performed the takbir for commencing the two fard units, when his soul departed.