By Sayyid Mahbub Rizwi
Translated by Prof. Murtaz Husayn F. Qurayshi
Hafiz Muhammad Ahmad was Mawlana Muhammad Qasim al-Nanautwi’s well-guided son. He was born at Nanautah (dist. Saharanpur) in 1279 H/1862 C. After his memorising the Qur’an, his august father sent him to Gulaothi (dist. Bulandshahr) for his primary education in Madrasah Manbe al-‘Ulum, which Mawlana al-Nanautwi himself had established there. Mawlana ‘Abdullah Anbahtawi was a teacher in that madrasah. Thereafter, for further studies, he went to Madrasah Shahi of Muradabad where Mawlana al-Nanautwi’s well guided disciple, Mawlana Ahmad Hasan al-Amrohi used to teach. After having studied different books of religious arts and sciences, he came to Deoband and became a pupil of Shaykh al-Hind Mawlana Mahmud Hasan al-Deobandi. He read some lessons of Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi under the instruction of Maulana Muhammad Yaqub al-Nanautwi. Reaching Gangoh he completed the Dawra Hadith in Mawlana Rashid Ahmad al-Gangohi’s circle of teaching and studied Tafsir al-Jalalayn and Tafsir al-Baydawi also there.
In 1303 H/1885 C, he was appointed as a teacher in the Dar al-‘Ulum at Deoband and thus he got a chance of teaching different arts and sciences In 1310 H/1892 C when Haji Muhammad ‘Abid resigned from the post of vice-chancellorship, two incumbents (Haji Fazl al-Haq al-Deobandi and Mawlana Muhammad Munir al-Nanautwi) succeeded each other but could not run the management for more than a year each. As this yearly change was deranging the administration, in 1313 H/1895 C, Mawlana Gangohi selected Hafiz Muhammad Ahmad for this post. Being a very good administrator, influential and dignified, he very soon brought the administration under control and proved exceptionally worthy of all the hopes that had been cherished of him at the time of the appointment. Shaykh al-Hind who was principal, in spite of being his teacher, used to give more importance to Hafiz Ahmad for being his own teacher’s son.
During the vice-chancellorship of Hafiz Ahmad the Dar al-‘Ulum made extraordinary progress At the time he took the reins of administration into his hands, the average income was only five to six thousand rupees per annum; during his tenure of office this average reached ninety thousand per annum. Similarly the average role of students went upto nearly nine hundred. The number of books at that time was five thousand; it rose to forty thousand. In 1313 H/1895 C the cost of the buildings of the Dar al-‘Ulum was thirty-six thousand rupees, during his regime It spiralled to nearly four lakhs (four hundred thousand).
In short, during the period of his vice-chancellorship, the Dar al-‘Ulum made unprecedented progress, both internally and externally. Before his administration there was no clean and regular set-up of departments and offices and though the Dar al-‘Ulum had essentially developed into a “Dar al-‘Ulum” (university), in respect of Its buildings and outward shape and form it changed from a madrasah into a university during his regime only Different departments and offices were organized and made systematic, and there was an unusual increase in the scale of influence as well. In short, the Dar al-‘Ulum kept advancing towards progress from day to day. As such, his tenure of vice-chancellorship is considered a very brilliant and golden chapter in the history of the Dar al-‘Ulum
The magnificent building of the Dar al-Hadith, which is the first of its kind in India, was raised during his administration The beginning of the construction of the new hostel, which is known as Jadid Dar al-Iqama, and the buildings of the mosque and the library too are the monuments of his time. The memory of that great convocation, held (during his regime) in 1328 H/1910 C, in which more than ore thousand graduates were awarded the “turban of proficiency”, is still fresh in the mind of the people.
In connection with the development of the Dar al-‘Ulum, Hafiz Ahmad toured several cities in the country and got fixed many permanent donations for the Dar al-‘Ulum; his journeys to the former Bhopal, Bhawalpur and Hyderabad states particularly will always remain memorable The amount of monthly help from Hyderabad was fixed at 100 rupees per month. Hafiz Ahmad went to Hyderabad and through his influence got it raised to 250 rupees per month, in the second journey of his it was made at 500 rupees, and in the third it went up to 1,000 rupees, which continued till the merger of the state.
The title of Shams al-‘Ulama had been awarded to him by the then British government, but on account of the liberty-loving tack of the Dar al-‘Ulum he did not approve of being a titled person of the (alien) government and therefore returned the said title after some time. This is also a peculiarity of his tenure of office that the governors of the United Provinces came to visit the Dar al-‘Ulum twice. At the proposed site of the Dar al-Hadith there used to flow a sewer of the town which was rot only obstructing the construction of the Dar al-Hadith but was also, by its proximity, polluting the climate of the Dar al-‘Ulum. In spite of the constant efforts of the elders of the Dar al-‘Ulum the local petty officials were not willing to remove this sewer. By inviting the governor Hafiz Ahmad brought about a solution of this difficulty and the sad sewer was removed from the site at government expense. It was Hafiz Ahmad’s greatest characteristic quality that he used to solve the most difficult task of the Dar al-‘Ulum easily.
While he kept an eye on the minutest particulars of the students and kept them under check and control with warning and admonition, he was also equally extremely kind and affectionate to them. Patronisingly looking after the students ordinary needs, he used to pay special attention to the treatment of sick students. His awe over the teachers and the taught was proverbial. His dinner cloth was very wide: with extreme large-mindedness he used to bear the burden of the guests of the Dar al-‘Ulum personally.
His preoccupation with teaching did not cease even during his functioning as vice-chancellor; he used to teach Mishkat al-Masabih, Tafsir al-Jalalayn, Sahih Muslim, Sunan Ibn Majah, Mukhtasar al-Ma’ani, Risalah Mir Zahid, etc. very zestfully. His lectures used to be very clear, coherent and uncomplicated. He had great mastery over his august father’s sciences and subjects.
The Nizam of the Deccan had appointed Hafiz Ahmad on the post of Chief Mufti in the Hyderabad state. On this highest religious post of the Asafyah state he worked from 1341 H/1922 C to 1344 H/1925 C. During the course of his stay in Hyderabad he had invited the Nizam to pay a visit to the Dar al-‘Ulum and this invitation had been accepted The programme was such that when the Nizam went to Delhi, he would also visit the Dar al-‘Ulum. He was expected to come to Delhi in 1347 H/1928 C. So Hafiz Ahmad went to Hyderabad to remind the Nizam of his promise. At the time he was intending to go to Hyderabad he was indisposed; the weakness of old age and chronic illness had made him very weak, but not caring for his own health in the interest of the Dar al-‘Ulum, he started for Hyderabad. On reaching there he became more ill. At first it was awaited that if there was some relief he should meet the Nizam but when the illness continued to increase day by day, the adherents and companions of the dourney decided to take him back to Deoband. So they started from Hyderabad with the intention of returning but while the train was still within the outskirts of Hyderabad, Hafiz Ahmad breathed his last at the Nizamabad railway station and entered the circle of those martyrs who die in journey (lit., “He who died in journey is a martyr”). This incident occurred on the 3rd of Jumada ‘l-Ula 1347 H/1928 C. Before death his tongue was reciting Allah’s name, the fingers had been folded on the figure of 29 when the soul left the body.
The dead body was taken out of the train at the Nizamabad railway station and the bier was prepared. Relatives and the Nizam were informed telegraphically. In his reply the Nizam asked the bier to be taken to Hyderabad. Funeral services were held a number of times in NIzamabad and Hyderabad. Next day, on 4th Jumada ‘l-Ula, at government expense, he was laid to rest in a special graveyard which is known as Khitta Sawlihin (the Yard of the Pious) The Nizam, while giving condolences, mournfully uttered this effective sentence: “He had come to take me, but, alas! he himself remained here”.
In view of the valuable services Hafiz Ahmad rendered to Islam and the Muslims through the Dar al-‘Ulum, his demise was considered a stupendous loss of the Dar al-‘Ulum and the Muslims, and throughout the length and breadth of India innumerable condolence meetings and concelebrations for remitting recompense to his departed soul were held among both Deobandi and non-Deobandi groups of Muslims.
Hafiz Muhammad Ahmad served the Dar al-Ulum for 45 years, the initial 10 years in teaching and 35 years in functioning as vice-chancellor.
Rizvi, Sayyid Mahboob (1981). History of the Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband, Volume 2. Deoband: Idara-e Ihtemam. p. 170-3.