Unfortunately, we in the West sometimes remain aloof of the magnificent personalities who surround us and who hold together the fragile threads that bind our communities. The fact that this great scholar lived amongst us for so long in the U.S. and that people remained oblivious of his presence and stature, his merit and academic prowess, baffles the mind.
This was a man who had taught the highest level books of hadith at Darul Uloom Deoband for decades. He was named Shaykh al-Hadith by his own teacher and Ustadh of Bukhari at Darul Uloom Deoband, Mawlana Fakhrul Hasan al-Muradabadi (rh). His twelve-volume tafseer of the Qur’an, Anwar al-Qur’an, is unparalleled in the urdu language. His commentary on Tafseer al-Jalalayn, entitled al-Kamalayn, is a standard reference book for students of tafseer.
He was a close compatriot of Allamah Qari Muhammad Tayyib (rh) and a student of Shaykh al-Islam Husain Ahmad al-Madani (rh). He had a special connection and love for Allamah Shabbir Ahmad ‘Uthmani (rh), who he mentioned with so much respect and awe that you would think that all of his knowledge and piety had come through him.
And yet this man lived amongst us in his old age, retired from teaching due to illness and weak health, and no one really knew who he was. When I read his books in Pakistan and became lost in his marvelous tafseer of the Qur’an, I was shocked that this was the very same Abu Jee that I knew lived in Chicago amongst us. Strange, I thought. This man is a giant. How come I have come to know of him and his scholarship only now?!
Within hours of his death, calls from around the globe were received here informing us that the announcement of Hadrat’s death had already been made in Deoband, in Bihar, in Lucknow, etc… Not long after, Mufti Rafi ‘Uthmani called from Karachi to send his condolences and express his grief. Apparently, they were even distantly related and Mufti Rafi has studied alongside Hadrat’s son, Shaykhuna Mawlana Abdullah Saleem (db). Students of his students called in and sent their salams from all over the world.
It is sad that sometimes we don’t realize a man’s worth until he is separated from us. When I went to wash his body this morning, I couldn’t help but notice how much peace and tranquility surrounded him. I have seen many dead bodies and performed countless janazah prayers, and almost always I have felt a strong sense of wahsha, a discomfort and unease, due to the presence of the deceased. And yet this time, even as I handled the mayyit and helped wash his lifeless body, I couldn’t help but imagine that he was simply resting. Such was the state of peace that I saw in his face and in the faces of all those who washed him.
As people convened for the janazah prayers, we quickly realized that the building would not be able to handle the vast multitude of people that was flocking towards the masjid to attend the prayer. The parking lot was full, the lawn was covered with vehicles, even the streets were filled in both directions with cars.
After the janazah, a caravan of cars and pedestrians packed the street in their short march towards the graveyard. You could see a look of curious amazement in the eyes of so many non-Muslims who passed us by as they witnessed a spectacle they will probably never see again in their lives. What a scene! Hundreds of men clothed in the dress of their noble Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) marched towards the graveyard, braving the heat and scorching sun, to attend the burial of the greatest savant Chicago has ever known.
They say that Allah sends signs to people at the time of the death of a wali, as if to indicate the status of that man in the eyes of Allah. It was not five minutes after Hadrat was laid to rest, as we walked out the gates of the graveyard with an emptiness in our hearts, that Allah sent us a sign of acceptance. The heavens began to weep. The skies rumbled in furious complaint. The horizon darkened in sadness. Within a minute of our exit from the graveyard, a vicious storm had unleashed itself on the people of the Earth. Those of us who walked could barely stand in the face of the fierce winds and stinging rain. Most of us were picked up by passersby who saved us from the storm outside.
Everybody recognized the sign. It was as if the storm had waited for Hadrat to be laid to rest in his garden before it showered it with the gift of life, before it roared its reprimanding complaint to the people that with this man you have lost more than you can ever know because of your ignorance and neglect. For too long have you disregarded this valuable gem. Now we take him back to us!