By Mufti Muhammad Taqi al-’Uthmani
Translated by Muzzammil Husayn
As for the biography of Mawlana Shaykh Zafar Ahmad al-‘Uthmani (Allah Almighty have mercy on him), we will suffice here with quoting what our teacher, the great and perceptive scholar, the verifier, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah (Allah preserve him), wrote in the introduction to his book Inha’ al-Sakan ila man Yutali‘u I‘la al-Sunan which the Shaykh published with the title Qawa‘id fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith. Mawlana Shaykh al-‘Uthmani (Allah have mercy on him) was alive at that time, so we will firstly quote the statement of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah (Allah preserve him), and then add to it a few lines:
He is the erudite scholar, verifier, researcher, scrutiniser, firm proof, exegete, hadith-master, proficient and skilled jurist and theoretician, historian, man of letters, scrupulous, ascetic and insightful Sufi, Zafar Ahmad ibn Latif al-‘Uthmani al-Thanawi, born on the 13th of Rabi‘ al-Awwal in the year 1310 H (October, 1892 CE), in the land of his forefathers near Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband, the greatest of the institutes of learning in the Indian lands. His mother died when he was three years old, so his grandmother brought him up with the most excellent upbringing. She was a pilgrim and righteous woman. Thus, he received her righteousness and her piety from her. When he was five years old, he began to recite the Noble Qur’an with its senior memorisers in Deoband, like Hafiz Namdar, a teacher at Dar al-‘Ulum, and his deputy, Hafiz Ghulam Rasul, and Mawlana Nadhir Ahmad, who was the brother of his grandmother. When he was seven years old, he began to read Urdu and Persian books and the textbooks of numeracy and mathematics with the magnificent scholar Mawlana Muhammad Yasin who was the father of the leading scholar of Pakistan today, our master, the great scholar, Shaykh Muhammad Shafi‘ al-Deobandi, the Grand Mufti at Karachi, and the founder of Dar al-‘Ulum al-Islamiyyah there (his lofty shadow be extended).
Then he moved from Deoband to Thana Bhawan to [join] the circle of his maternal uncle Mawlana Muhammad Ashraf ‘Ali al-Thanawi (Allah sanctify his secret), and he began to read Arabic books on morphology, syntax and literature with the able scholar Mawlana Muhammad ‘Abd Allah al-Gangohi, and he received from his uncle Hakim al-Ummah something of the science of Tajwid, and a selection of his al-Talkhisat al-‘Ashr and [some] volumes of al-Mathnawi by al-Jalal al-Rumi, and he read with his brother, Mawlana Sa‘id Ahmad, part of al-Talkhisat.
Then, when his uncle Hakim al-Ummah became occupied with compiling his immense work Bayan al-Qur’an in Urdu, he brought him to Kanpur and admitted him into the school called Jami‘ al-‘Ulum which Shaykh Hakim al-Ummah had founded when he resided in Kanpur, and he consigned its teaching to the most upright of his students, Mawlana Muhammad Ishaq al-Bardawani and Mawlana Muhammad Rashid al-Kanpuri. Thus, he read with them the books of hadith that have been set in the curriculum of those lands, which are: Sahih al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Sunan Abi Dawud, Sunan al-Nasa’i, Sunan al-Tirmidhi, Sunan Ibn Majah and Mishkat al-Masabih, along with what strengthens their study from the books of nomenclature and hadith principles. He also read with them the books of jurisprudence, exegesis and literature which are all part of the curriculum, and also some of the rational sciences.
When he attained the sanad in the Shari‘ah and rational sciences, and was distinguished from amongst the noble students by the talents he possessed, he moved to Saharanpur and sat in the school Mazahir al-‘Ulum and attended the lessons of hadith with the knower of Allah, the Imam, the hadith-scholar, the jurist, Mawlana Khalil Ahmad al-Saharanpuri, the author of Badhl al-Majhud fi Sharh Sunan Abi Dawud. After a period of close companionship with this gnostic, hadith scholar and Imam, he gave him authorisation (ijazah) in hadith and its sciences and in all the remaining rational and transmitted sciences, and he attained a sanad for the completion of higher studies in the year 1328. His age at this time was 18 years, which is a young age, none reaching the pinnacle of this level at such [a young age] except the most brilliant and exceptional [students]. In this period he also attended [lectures on] some texts of logic and engineering and higher mathematics with their instructors in the aforementioned school, from them was Mawlana ‘Abd al-Latif the administrator of the school, and Mawlana ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Punjabi.
In view of his superiority and his incredible intelligence and his brilliance, he was appointed as a teacher in the aforementioned school. He taught there for a period of seven years the sciences of jurisprudence, [jurisprudential and hadith] principles, logic, philosophy and other [subjects]. Then he moved to the school Imdad al-‘Ulum in Thana Bhawan and was occupied with teaching the books in the curriculum of the [final] year there, which are the seven books mentioned previously, and teaching jurisprudence and exegesis. Thus, he benefited and excelled, and a multitude of exceptional [scholars] graduated at his hands, and they propagated knowledge in those lands and they lit the paths of the Shari‘ah for people.
Then Mawlana Hakim al-Ummah delegated to him the compilation of the book I‘la al-Sunan along with issuing fatwa and teaching, so he did all of this in the most excellent way. He remained compiling I‘la al-Sunan for around 20 years. He compiled it in 18 parts, rather volumes, and he further compiled for it two introductions in two volumes, so this amazing book was completed in 20 volumes, and he added to it another book called Inja’ al-Watan ‘an al-Izdira’ bi Imam al-Zaman in which he wrote brilliant and extensive biographies of Imam Abu Hanifah and his students and their students and so forth, restricting [himself] therein to the jurists and hadith-scholars. The first part of this book was published in Karachi in the year 1387.
Then Mawlana Hakim al-Ummah instructed him to write Dala’il al-Qur’an ‘ala Masa’il al-Nu‘man in the style of Ahkam al-Qur’an by al-Jassas, and he compiled two large volumes of it ending at Surah al-Nisa’. It is a book that is fitting to be said of it in the language of the jurists and scholars: “Studying it is a lasting bliss, and attaining the like of it is a great victory.”
He wrote a number of books in Urdu when he stayed in Thana Bhawan. From them is al-Qawl al-Matin fi al-Ikhfa bi Amin and Shaqq al-Ghayn ‘an Haqq Raf‘ al-Yadayn and Rahmat al-Quddus fi Tarjamati Bahjat al-Nufus and Fatihat al-Kalam fi al-Qira’ati Khalf al-Imam in which he verified that it is not obligatory to recite behind the imam in all prayers especially the audible ones, and as far as the silent ones are concerned, it is permissible as is a narration from Imam Abu Hanifah as well. I said to the Shaykh (Allah Almighty preserve him) during my visit to him, when he mentioned this to me: “It is also the opinion of Imam Muhammad,” and he said: “Yes, even if al-Kamal ibn al-Humam denied it!” He has Kashf al-Duja in Arabic, printed independently and as part of al-Fatawa al-Imdadiyyah in which he would answer the questions of fatwa-seekers which reached his uncle Hakim al-Ummah, of that which relates to jurisprudence and other [subjects], until it became seven large volumes. Shaykh Hakim al-Ummah called it: Imdad al-Ahkam fi Masa’il al-Halal wa al-Haram.
Then he moved to Madrasah Muhammadiyyah in Rangoon, Burma, and was occupied there with propagation and admonition and lecturing for a period of two years. Later, he returned to Thana Bhawan and carried on writing Dala’il al-Qur’an along with issuing fatwa and educating people. Then he travelled to Dacca in East Pakistan [now Bangladesh] before the existence of Pakistan, and he was appointed at its university as a teacher of hadith, jurisprudence and [jurisprudential and hadith] principles. Subsequently, he was appointed as the head teacher in Madrasah ‘Aliyah of Dacca, and he remained so for 8 years. There, he founded al-Qur’aniyyat al-‘Arabiyya University which is now the highest quality school in East Pakistan for learning the sciences of Qur’an, hadith, jurisprudence etc.
Afterwards, he moved to West Pakistan where he now lives in Ashrafabad of Hyderabad, Sind, to Dar al-‘Ulum al-Islamiyyah, as the head teacher there, teaching hadith and assuming responsibility of issuing fatwa to questioners and fatwa-seekers, and benefiting by his state, his speech and his good deeds students and seekers of benefit. May Allah extend his noble life and bless his good deeds and his sciences, and perfect upon him the garment of safety so his benefit multiplies and his achievements are complete and he attains the great pleasure of Allah.
End quote from our teacher ‘Allamah Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah (Allah preserve him) from the introduction to his edition of the book Qawa‘id fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith.
Mawlana Shaykh Zafar Ahmad al-‘Uthmani (Allah have mercy on him) was alive when his book Qawa‘id fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith was published in the edition of our teacher, ‘Allamah ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah (Allah preserve him), when he was the primary teacher of hadith at Dar al-‘Ulum al-Islamiyyah in Ashrafabad, in which he taught Sahih al-Bukhari, despite his old age and his ongoing illnesses and his decreased strength. He once said to me: “Whenever I feel an increase in my illness, I intensify my teaching of Sahih al-Bukhari, and Allah Almighty makes it a [means to] cure my illness.”
Despite his weakness and illness, he would be constant in dhikr and optional prayers. He attended all the prayers in the mosque and would endure great suffering because of this. Towards the end of his life, his tongue was moist with the remembrance of Allah in most times. In the month of Ramadan of the year 1394 H, the doctors forbade him to fast due to his ongoing illnesses, however he did not agree to this and said: “‘Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) did not stop fasting when he was ninety years old, and he faced hardship and suffering due to fasting, such that he would sit in a container of water, and he was not happy with [paying] compensation (fidya), so how can I be happy with [paying] compensation?” This is how he lived, Allah have mercy on him, until Allah Almighty took his [soul] in Dhu al-Qa‘dah of the year 1394 H (1974 CE), may Allah Almighty give him rest in the safety of His mercy and pleasure. His son extracted the date of his death from [the numerical value of]: Verily, he is in “comfort and fragrance and a garden of bliss” (Qur’an, 56:89).
Introduction to I’la al-Sunan