By Mufti Muhammad Saifur Rahman Nawhami
Ml. Mamluk al-Ali Nanautwi. 1204 – 1266 AH (1789 – 1851 CE). One of the great Alim of his time in Delhi and a renowned educator. He is known as ustad al-kull (teacher of all) and ustad al-ulama (teacher to the ulama) as he either directly or in some way taught the ulama who went on to influence the Islamic landscape in India the effect of which resonates to the present time globally. He is noted as a key influencer in the development of the Deoband movement which was founded by his students which includes Ml. Qasim Nanautwi, Mft. Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and his son Ml. Ya’qub Nanautwi.
He is Mamluk al-Ali b. Ahmad Ali b. Hakim Ghulam Ashraf b. Hakim Abd Allah b. Shaykh Ab al-Fath Siddiqi Nanautwi. Mamluk means servant. Ali is the name of a sahabi whilst al-Ali is a quality of Allah almighty which means ‘the most high’. His birth name was pronounced Mamluk Ali, however, he opted to write Mamluk al-Ali to mean the servant of (Allah) the most high.
He was born circa 1204 AH (1789 CE)1 in Nanauta which is in Uttar Pardesh (India); a place with many Muslims of Arab descent. He died2 on 11 Zul Hijjah 1266 AH3 (1851 CE) in Delhi4, aged 62 (May Allah almighty have mercy upon him).
His lineage reaches to the great sahabi, Abu Bakr Siddiq (may Allah be pleased with him)5, hence, the reference Siddiqi. Accordingly, Haji Imdad Allah Nanautwi (Makki)6 and Ml. Qasim Nanautwi7 are related to him through their common ancestry to Sh. Ab al-Fath. He is recorded to have three children. His son, Ml. Yaqub Nanautwi (1249-1302) was the dean of Darul Uloom Deoband and one of the core pillars of the Deoband movement. His daughters, Najib al-Nisa and Mubarak al-Nisa, were married to two brothers, Ml. Ansar Ali and Shah Majid Ali Ambetwi respectively. The dean of Mazahir al-Ulum, Ml. Khalil Ahmad Muhaddith Saharanpuri was his grandson through Mubarak al-Nisa. Also of note are Ml. Mazhar, Ml. Ahsan and Ml. Munir Nanautwi who are the sons of his first cousin Hf. Lutf Ali b. Hf. Muhammad Hasan b. Hakim Ghulam Ashraf. His family had a close association with the household of Shah Wali Muhaddith Dihlawi and supported their movement.
Ml. Mamluk al-Ali spent his early years in Nanauta. He visited Delhi in 1230 AH (1815 CE), however, whether he took up permanent residence at that time is unclear.8
In 1242 AH (1825 CE), Ml. Mamluk al-Ali was appointed a teacher and the associate dean for Arabic and Islamic studies under Ml. Rashid al-Din Ahmad Khan at the newly re-designated Delhi College. Prior to 1825, it was called ‘Madrasah Ghazi Uddin Khan’, an Islamic seminary, which the East India Company converted to an Anglo-Arabic college. Upon the demise of Ml. Rashid al-Din in 1243 AH (1827 CE), he became acting dean with the position becoming official in 23 Ramadan 1257 AH.9 During his tenure, there were four principals; J. H. Taylor (1825-41), Felix Boutros (1845-47), Aloys Sprenger (1848-50), and James Cargill (1850-54). He had a good working relationship with Sprenger. However, his relation with Taylor, who was also the superintendent, was strained.10 Nevertheless, due to his value to the college and standing amongst the community, he was retained and remained in position until his demise.
He was relatively wealthy. He received a government wage from the college which was significantly higher than what he would have got in the average madrasah.11 As associate dean he received 50 rupees monthly and thereafter upon his official appointment as the dean, he received 100 rupees per month.12
According to Ml. Yaqub Nanautwi, he took paid leave and travelled to the Hijaz for hajj in Rajab 1258 AH (Dec, 1843 CE).13 He returned to Delhi the following year on Rajab 1259 (1844 CE). Ml. Ahmad Ali Saharanpuri who was with him in the journey states, ‘As memory recalls the journey of hajj was on 26 Rajab 1259 AH from Delhi’. In any event, it is established that their journey was one year after Shah Muhammad Ishaq left for Makkah.
Ml. Mamluk Ali was considered an upright scholar and counted amongst the senior ulama of the era in the Indian subcontinent. The ulama when writing about him, do so with high esteem with none questioning his piety or morality.
He commanded respect from Muslims and non-Muslims alike who attested to his skill and considered him a man devoted to Islam. He very much saw himself a traditionalist scholar and supported the movement of Shah Wali Allah Dihlawi. Despite being in the employ of the government, he privately supported the cause of Shah Isma’il Shahid (d. 1831). He did not take pride from his association to the colonialists as is apparent from his disgust at meeting William Muir, the famed orientalist and governor of the North-West Provinces at the time.14 However, he remained at the college for it gave him greater opportunity to benefit from the inside as well as curtail its effect on the native students. Hence, there were no cases of apostasy within the college whilst he was in office.15
Ml. Mamluk al-Ali was very considerate16 and tried his best to ensure that he did not cause anyone any grief. He would make provisions from his own time and money to accommodate others especially if they were students.
He was deeply perceptive, highly intelligent, and broadly read. His concern for the challenges faced by the ummah is evident through his tireless effort to educate the elite and aid in the dissemination of knowledge.
Ml. Mamluk Ali studied under Mufti Ilahi Bakhsh Kahndalwi17 and Ml Sayyid Muhammad Qalandar Jalalabadi (d. 1245/1829) near his hometown. The subjects covered are not known. Thereafter, he travelled to Dehli. He studied in short stints with numerous teachers including Shah Abd al-Aziz (d.1239/1824) with whom he had a lesson of Hidayat al-Nahw.18 He also briefly studied under Ml. Abdullah Khan Dihlawi. The teacher with whom he spent a long time and studied nearly all his higher books is Ml. Rashid al-Din Ahmad Khan Kashmiri (d. 1243). They were close and it is likely that he studied or had ijazah for the kutub sittah from him also. Ml. Rashid al-Din Ahmad Khan was one of the most able student of Shah Rafi al-Din Dihlawi (the son of Shah Wali Allah Dihlawi).
Ml. Mamluk al-Ali was renowned as a scholar and more so as an educator. He was a consummate teacher. He taught at Delhi College for 26 years. During which time, he also held classes at his home outside of college hours. Due to his popularity it was difficult to make arrangement for new classes.19 Additionally, this left little time for public sermons or regular attendance of other gatherings.
At the college, he taught both religious and common subjects. In terms of the religious subjects, he taught fiqh books such as Hidaya, Sharh Wiqayah and Durr al-Mukhtar. He also taught usul fiqh, tafsir and hadith20. In terms of the common subjects, he was rather adept in Mathematics and was a skilled linguist as such he taught Iqlidas, Hamasah, Tarikh Yamini amongst other subjects such as Arabic syntax, grammar and logic. There is no comprehensive list of what he taught in his house. Suffice it to say that Ml. Ashiq Ilahi Bulandshehri writes, ‘Other than the kutub sittah, Mufti Rashid Ahmad Gangohi pretty much studied most of the books under Ml. Mamluk Ali’. It is unspecified if he taught the kutub sittah to any as most opted to present their sanad via Shah Muhammad Ishaq or Shah Abdul Ghani Dihlawi who specialised in hadith and were devoted to it exclusively.
His lessons were outstanding and his success rates were high. He himself would say, “No student can go on with me without understanding”21 and in fact this was the case.22 He could determine if a student had learned by simply listening to the way they read. Mufti Rashid Ahmad Gangohi23 states:
In that era there were many good teachers. However, teachers who had complete grasp of the subject and could explain through differentiated means for a student to easily understand were (1) our teacher Ml. Mamluk al-Ali and (2) our teacher Mft. Sadr al-Din (may Allah almighty have mercy upon them both).
The exact number of his students are unknown but it is commonly understood that majority of the ulama in the northern regions, if not throughout India, were his students, student’s student or in some way affiliated to him. Hence, he was called Ustad al-Ulama or Ustad al-Kull which meant the ‘teacher of the ulama’or ‘the teacher of all’ respectively. Nur al-Hasan Rashid Kandhalwi, in his book Mamluk al-Ali, presents a sample list of 51 of his students with annotated biographies.24
Ml. Mamluk al-Ali’s student base was broad and his credentials held sway in all circles. His students held posts in the civil service and government colleges throughout the country particularly in Delhi and Calcutta such as Ml. Nazir Ahmad Bijnori, Ml. Subhan Bakhsh, Ml. Karim al-Din Panipatti amongst others. However, not all of his students shared his traditional values such as the brothers Akbar Ali and Asghar Ali Sonipatti who were shi’ites or Munshi Zaka’ullah who adopted orientalism. It is uncertain whether Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the founder of Aligahr University and champion of the Western model, studied under Ml. Mamluk al-Ali. However, he was the student of Ml. Nur al-Hasan Kandhalwi who in turn was the student of Ml. Mamluk al-Ali. Nevertheless, government officials preferred these individuals and would often promote them and downplay the contribution of the traditionalists. Hence, Ml. Mamluk received little public recognition from officials compared to others and nor did he seek their approval. Nevertheless he was kept in office due to his invaluable expertise and appeal to traditionalist students.
The key legacy of Ml. Mamluk al-Ali are through his traditionalist students especially those who went on to study under Shah Muhammad Ishaq, Shah Abd al-Ghani or Mufti Sadr al-Din Azurda. From an education standpoint his students utilised two means; the establishment of printing presses and foundation of independent institutes. The printing press of his student, Ml. Ahmad Ali Saharanpuri, is of particular note as its editions are still used as standard text in madrasahs today. In terms of independent institutes, the most famous is Dar al-Ulum Deoband followed by its affiliate institutes in Saharapur (Mazahir al-Ulum) and Gangoh amongst others.
Arguably, his three most prominent students were Ml. Qasim Nanautwi, Mufti Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and his son Ml. Yaqub Nanautwi (d. 1302/1885) all of whom were classmates. These along with his other students Ml. Zulfiqar Ali25 (d. 1322/1905), Ml. Fazl al-Rahman Usmani26 (d. 1325/1907), Ml. Rafi al-Din (d. 1308/1890) were the founding members and the driving force of Darul Uloom Deoband. The seventh member is Haji Muhammad Abid Hussain (d. 1331/1912) who although not an Alim studied in Delhi, however, it is unclear if it was under Ml. Mamluk al-Ali. His nephews Ml. Mazhar, Ml. Ahsan and Ml. Munir Nanautwi also studied under him and were proponents of this movement. Ml. Munir served as principle of Deoband whilst Ml. Mazhar was the dean at its sister institute, Mazahirul Uloom. Ml. Ahmad Ali and Ml. Khalil Saharanpuri were also teachers of Hadith at Mazahirul Uloom. Also of note is Ml. Shaykh Muhammad Thanwi, the muhaddith in Thana Bhawan.
Darul Uloom Deoband and its affiliates were representative of Ml. Mamluk Ali’s true vision of an institute which was free of the restrictions and squabbles he faced in the college and focused on action and ihsan along with attaining academic depth. This is reflected in the founding principles set out by Ml. Qasim Nanautwi.27
Two further people are of particular note; Haji Imdadullah Nanautwi (Makki) and Ml. Muzaffar Hussayn Kahndalwi. Neither of them are formally recorded as his student, however, he guided them in their formative years.28 He formed a close bond with them and despite his seniority and a significant age gap, he treated them as equal if not higher.
Ml. Mamluk Ali contributed and advised on many works. However, despite his expertise, he penned very few works himself. His duties at the college and extracurricular lessons at home left him with little time for writing. This was further expounded by the fact that he passed away before retirement.29
He translated books I-IV of Iqlidas (Elucid) which is on mathematics. It was published in 1844 and was included in the curriculum. Nur al-Hasan Khandalwi asserts that Ml. Mamluk Ali also translated Sunan Tirmidhi based on Ml. Abdul Haq’s report that the college lists it as one of its publication.30 It is probable that he did write. However, the work was never published and it is also possible that it was a plan which was never completed.
These works were part of the Delhi College Vernacular Translation Society of which he was a member. The society’s objective was to translate ‘useful’ knowledge to Urdu.31 The directive of the society was that before publication all works from Arabic or related to Islam be reviewed by the head of the Arabic department which was Ml. Mamluk al-Ali. The society was considered a success, however, suffered setbacks due to the hostility created against non-English works as a result of Macaulay’s Minute on Education (1935) which proposed that funding be halted.
Ml. Mamluk al-Ali frequently collaborated with Aloys Sprenger. They worked together to edit Mas’udi’s Kitab al-Mukhtar fi Akhbar wa Athar. It was published in 1262 AH (1847 CE) with him and Sprenger stated as co-editors.32 Sprenger in his collection had an annotated edition of Tarikh Yamini of Abu Nasr al-‘Atibi. Chagutai, who is an expert on Sprenger, attributes the work to Ml. Mamluk al-Ali which according to the inscription was completed on 1263 AH (1847 CE).33 This work was part of the Delhi college curriculum.
Beyond the college, Ml. Mamluk al-Ali focused on literary works relating primarily to Islam. He reviewed the first edition of Sunan Tirmidhi published by Ml. Ahmad Ali Saharanpuri.34 This is the classical edition prevalent in the madrasahs of the subcontinent. Furthermore, to tackle the rise and influence of Shi’ism and Christianity, he wrote to relevant experts to take action. Ml. Rashid al-Din wrote Sawlat Ghafnafriyyah amongst others in response to Ml Mamluk al-Ali’s direct request to tackle Shi’ism.35 Similarly, Ml. Rahmatullah Kayranwi, the author of Izhar Haq, fast tracked the publication of Izalat al-Awham in response to Ml. Mamluk Ali’s request to publish it in order to combat the spread of Christianity.
Muhammad Saifur Rahman Nawhami
20 Sha’ban 1436
8 June 2015
- 1. See Kahndalwi, Nur al-Hasan Rashid. (1430/2009). Ustad al-Kull Hadrat Mawlana Mamluk al-Ali Nanautwi. Muzaffar Nagar, India; Mufti Ilahi Bakhsh Academy. p. 75
- 2. The cause of death is suggested to be liver failure (See Nuzhat al-Khawatir)
- 3. That is October, 1851. A headstone was found on 1350 AH which stated the dated the date of death as 1266, however, that is an error.
- 4. Mamluk al-Ali p. 302
- 5. Mamluk al-Ali p.70-72. The following full lineage in mentioned in the footnote of Sawanih Qasim. Abal-Fath b. Sh. Muhaammad Mufti b. Sh. Abd al-Sami’ b. Ml. Muhammad Hashim b. Shah Muhammad b. Qadi Taha b. Mufti Mubarak b. Aman Allah b. Jamal al-Din b. Qadi Miran Bare b. Qadi Mazhar al-Din b. Najm al-Din b. Nur al-Din b. Husam al-Din b. Diya al-Din b. Nur al-Din b. Rukn al-Din b. Rafi’ al-Din b. Diya al-Din b. Shihab al-Din b. Khwaja Yusuf, Sh. Jalil b. Sadr al-Din b. Rukn al-Din Samarqandi b. Sadr al-Din Haji b. Isma’il Shahid b. Nur al-Din b. Sh Mahmud b. Sh. Baha al-Din b. ‘Abd Allah b. Zakariyyah b. Sh. Nur b. Siraj al-Din b. Hasib al-in b. Mas’ud b. Abd al-Razzaq b. Qasim b. Muhammad Abu Bakr b. Abu Quhafa
- 6. Imdad Allah b. Bibi Husna bt. Sh. Ali Muhammad b. Muhammad Aqil b. Sh. Ab al-Fath
- 7. Muhammad Qasim b. Sh. Asad Ali b. Ghulam Shah b. Muhammad Bakhsh b. Sh. Ala al-Din b. Sh. Ab al-Fath.
- 8. Muhammad Ikram Chaghtai in Mamluk al-Ali p. 95
- 9. Mamluk al-Ali, p. 143. 8 November 1841
- 10. Chagutai. Ek Nadir Majmua in Mamluk al-Ali p. 147-148
- 11. The average wage of a teacher was 5-15 rupees monthly whist the dean of education may have received 20-30 rupees monthly.
- 12. Tabqat Shu’ara in Mamluk al-Ali
- 13. HalatTayyib Mawlana Muhammad Qasim in Mamluk al-Ali p. 235
- 14. Mirza Farhatullah Baig. Delhi ki Akhri Shama’ in Mamluk al-Ali p. 211
- 15. Mamluk al-Ali
- 16. A person once gifted him clothing which was lower in quality than his usual attire. He wore it without any qualms in order to make the giver happy. See Thanwi in Mamluk al-Ali p. 226.
- 17. See Mamluk al-Ali p. 86
- 18. Arwah Thalatha in Mamluk al-Ali p. 98
- 19. Tazkirat al-Rashid
- 20. Most likely Mishkat at first, however, after the reorganisation of Sprenger the book was dropped in favour a series of lectures.
- 21. Halat al-Tayyib in Mamluk al-Ali p. 172
- 22. Halat al-Tayyib in Mamluk al-Ali p. 173
- 23. Tazikrat al-Rashid p. 30
- 24. Mamluk al-Ali p. 355
- 25. The father of Shaykh al-Hind Ml. Mahmud al-Hasan Deobandi
- 26. The father of the first grand Mufti of Deoband Mft. Azizur Rahman, Allm. Shabbir Ahmad (the author of Fath al-Mulhim) and Ml. Atiq al-Rahman Usmani.
- 27. See “Octet principle for Islamic foundation” Islamic Studies Bulletin (DIBAJ), Number 1. Available at http://uloom.com/dibaj/article/120313501
- 28. Ml. Mamluk al-Ali personally took Haji Imdadullah to Delhi for his education he was nine. He transferred him other notable figures perhaps due to him a teacher of higher education. As for Ml. Muzaffar Hussain, he graduated whilst Ml. Mamluk al-Ali was a teacher. He took special interest in his well-being especially so as he was the son of his teacher Mufti Ilahi Bakhsh.
- 29. Panipatti, Karim al-Din (1847) Tazkirah Fara’id al-Dahr. In Mamluk Ali. p. 237
- 30. Marhum Delhi College. Number 114 on the list publication.
- 31. T B Macaulay in his Minute criticises refers to these form of projects when he declares any non-English work as useless and as such argues that it should not be funded by the government.
- 32. Chagutai, I. Qadim Delhi College.
- 33. Chagutai, I. Nadir Majmu’a Makatib in Mamluk al-Ali p. 244
- 34. Mamluk al-Ali. p. 241
- 35. Mamluk al-Ali p. 284
Nawhami, Muhammad Saifur Rahman. (2015). Nanautwi, Mamluk al-Ali – d. 1266. Islamic Studies Bulletin (DIBAJ). Issue 104. Available at http://uloom.com/dibaj/article/150620501