By Misbahuddin Abdullah
Iqbal Manzil in Sialkot. Courtesy of Irfan Mirza
Mawlana Muhammad Ali al-Siddiqi al-Kandhalawi was born on the 1st of Rabi‘ al-Awwal 1328H (12 March 1910), in Kandhala, India. His father, Mawlana Hakim Ahmad was a student and khalifah of Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (Allah be pleased with him). Mawlana Hakim Ahmad was also a physician, a profession he had adopted on the will of Mawlana Gangohi (Allah be pleased with him). Mawlana Muhammad Ali Siddiqi received his initial education from his mother, after which he later joined the renowned Dar al-‘Ulum in Deoband at the age of 19. His nikah was performed by Mawlana Shabbir Ahmad al-‘Uthmani (Allah be pleased with him).
In 1929, he was still in Deoband when the Jami‘at ‘Ulama Hind decided to initiate Civil disobedience along with Congress against the British imperialist government. At this stage, he decided to join the movement. After delivering a speech against the British government in Delhi in 1930, he was sent to prison for a year and a half. He was released in March 1931. He again delivered 12 speeches in large public gatherings in Sialkot in November and was again sent to prison for a year. It was then that he met the scholars of Sialkot and came to know more of the city. In 1934, he came to Sialkot and remained there till his death. He initiated a madrasah (Islamic seminary), Dar al-‘Ulum al-Shihabiyyah, in 1936 and started to serve the people of Sialkot through it.
In 1953, while in Sialkot, his speeches again led him to jail. One day, two of his students came to see him in jail and asked him how many years he had been at Dar al-‘Ulum al-Shihabiyyah. He replied: “18 years”. They then remarked, “Last night, we saw Imam A‘zam Abu Hanifah (Allah be pleased with him) in our dreams. He was sitting in Dar al-‘Ulum al-Shihabiyyah. We asked him for how long he had been there at the Dar al-‘Ulum? He said, ‘18 years’.”
This created anxiety in the Mawlana. Two days later, Mawlana Muhammad Ali Siddiqi saw Sayyidatuna ‘A’ishah (may Allah Exalted be pleased with her) and Sayyiduna ‘Umar al-Faruq (may Allah Exalted be pleased with him) in his dream. He immediately understood the message, because at the time wickedness against Imam A‘zam Abu Hanifah (Allah be pleased with him) was on the surge in Sialkot and every layman felt it his prerogative to criticize the great Imam despite their shallow research and limited knowledge.
Mawlana Muhammad Ali Siddiqi knew that there existed countless books which established Imam Abu Hanifah’s firm grip on the science of Hadith and declared him to be an extremely credible narrator, even from the earliest times. Imam Muhammad (Allah be pleased with him), student of Imam A‘zam Abu Hanifah (Allah be pleased with him) and teacher of Imam Shafi‘i, (Allah be pleased with him), had written a book as early as 175 A.H. to answer such arguments. However, all these books were in Arabic, Persian, or Turkish. The limited availability of resources thus allowed miscreants to create propaganda against Imam A‘zam (Allah be pleased with him) in the Indo-Pak subcontinent where the common man couldn’t access any of those languages. Mawlana Muhammad Ali Siddiqi decided to write a book in Urdu to counter such arguments. However, writing on the topic demanded a considerable amount of time which he didn’t have as he was busy fulfilling his teaching duties at the madrasah. He wouldn’t find an opportunity to write the book for the next 12 years.
On the 6th September 1965, India attacked Pakistan from several fronts. Sialkot was one of them and the city was subjected to carnage. An intense battle erupted which caused the madrasah to be shut down. Mawlana Muhammad Ali Siddiqi immediately availed of the opportunity and started to write the much awaited book, Imam A‘zam aur ‘Ilm al-Hadith (tr. The Grand Imam and the Science of Hadith). He quickly utilized the vast amount of books he had in his library plus the wit and wisdom he learnt at Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband. Amazingly, in those 17 days when the entire nation was in turmoil, he completed the entire book of 744 pages.
When the book was sent for review to Mufti Muhammad Shafi‘ (may Allah shower him with His mercy), he called it a “marvel” (karamah) and remarked that he had also wanted to write on the same topic but that this book had made his dream come true. He lauded that the book had been written at a time when the people of Sialkot were the target of bombings. Writing a book of such intellectual depth at such a time of unrest was truly wondrous.
While Pakistani armed forces were busy defending the borders of our beloved country, Mawlana Muhammad ‘Ali Siddiqi was busy defending the ideological borders of Pakistan. The book is written in simple Urdu yet contains the technicalities a research masterpiece. It showers enormous light on all aspects of hadith, starting from the Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) down to the first three centuries of the preservation of hadith. It devotes 100 pages to describe the teachers of Imam A‘zam (Allah be pleased with him), 33 pages to the history of preservation of hadith, 40 pages to his hadith compilation, Kitab al-Athar (Aathaar) etc…
The language is simple and sweet. Mawlana Muhammad ‘Ali Siddiqi gave due importance to preserve the authenticity of his work. He mentions neither a single hadith nor the statement of a scholar without complete citation. The first time he quotes a hadith/saying, he cites the book page number and the next time the same book is referred to he gives a brief biography of the author. He truly answers all the arguments made against Imam A‘zam (Allah be pleased with him) and his knowledge of hadith.
Mawlana Muhammad Ali Siddiqi passed away on the 12th of December 1992. Despite the fact that he lived in Sialkot for 57 years, he left no property, possession, or house. May Allah shower His bounties on him and his family and honor him with His pleasure.