It is no exaggeration to say that, unlike other prophets and religious leaders, Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) lived in the full light of history. The quantity and quality of information about his life and teachings at our disposal has no parallel in the annals of human civilisation. A single work on the life of the Prophet, Subul al-Huda war-Rashad fi Sirah Khair al-Ibad by a 10th-century Syrian scholar Shams al-Din Muhammad ibn Yusuf al-Salihi runs into more than ten volumes and comprises over 5000 pages. Since Prophet Muhammad was the last of the prophets and Islam was destined to be a universal religion, it was necessary, for one thing, to preserve the text of the Qur’an and, for another, to leave an authentic and detailed record of the life and teachings of the Prophet. Although the Qur’an is a comprehensive book, it is essentially concerned with enunciating general principles and broad guidelines. The details of precepts and ritual practices were to be provided by the Prophet through his own example as well as his oral instructions. The Companions of the Prophet took great pains to narrate, preserve and disseminate what they saw and heard from the Prophet. This tradition continued uninterrupted during the successive periods of Islamic history. Out of the cumulative and sustained efforts of several generations of narrators and scholars emerged the corpus of Hadith.
Though himself unlettered, the Prophet was fully aware of the value of writing and put it to effective use on several occasions. After their migration to Madina, the Muslims of Makka laid the foundation of a city-state. The Prophet framed and promulgated a constitution, which has the distinction of being the first written constitution of any state in the history of the world. Scores of official documents, agreements and letters-patent were written at the instance of the Prophet.
Several Companions of the Prophet carefully recorded and preserved his sayings and conversations. These included ‘Abd-Allah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, Anas ibn Malik, ‘Amr ibn Hazm, ‘Aisha, Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Ali, Samurah ibn Jundub, Sa’d ibn ‘Ubadah, ‘Abd-Allah ibn ‘Abbas, ‘Abd-Allah ibn Mas’ud, Abu Hurayrah and Jabir ibn ‘Abd-Allah, among others. Thus the writing and compilation ofHadith began in the first century of the Islamic era. Unfortunately, most of the early manuscripts ofHadith, which were compiled during the early period, were lost due to the ravages of time. The greatest devastation in this respect was wrought by the Mongol invasion of Baghdad. However, some manuscripts of the early works of Hadith are still traceable in libraries and museums in various parts of the Islamic world. One such manuscript is the Sahifah of Abu Hurayrah, which was transmitted by his pupil Hammam ibn Munabbih (d. 120 A.H.). Copies of the original manuscript are found in Damascus, Cairo and Berlin. A critical edition of this priceless manuscript with an English translation and a comprehensive introduction was published by Professor Muhammad Hamidullah in 1380 A.H. Another early collection of Hadith is Kitab al-Sard wa’l-Fard by Abu’l-Khayr Al-Qazwini. The text of the manuscript, together with a fascimile reproduction and an English translation, has also been published by Professor Hamidullah.
In the period of the Tabi’un (those who followed the Companions of the Prophet), the compilation of Hadith gathered additional momentum. Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri (d.124 A.H.) is credited with having compiled the first systematic work of Hadith. The other pioneers include Ibn Jurayj (d.149 A.H.), Imam Malik (d.179 A.H.), al-Awza’i (d.157 A.H.), Sufyan Thawri (d.161 A.H.), Ma’mar ibn Rashid (d. 153 A.H.), ‘Abd-Allah ibn Mubarak (d.181 A.H.), and Sufyan ibn ‘Uyaynah (d.198 A.H.).
Contribution of Indian Scholars to Hadith Literature
The contribution of Muslim scholars of Indian origin is remarkable both in respect of quantity and quality. This contribution encompasses four inter-related domains: (a) teaching and dissemination of Hadith, (b) narration and transmission of Hadith, (c) publication of rare manuscripts of Hadith, (d) critical annotations and commentaries on Hadith works. Rabi ‘ibn Sabih al-Basari (d.160 A.H.), who lies buried in Bharuch (Gujarat), is described by some historians and chroniclers as a pioneer in the compilation of Hadith. Another notable scholar of Hadith, who was a contemporary of Rabi ‘ibn Sabih, was Abu Ma’shar Sindhi (d.170 A.H.). The tradition of preoccupation with Hadith literature was continued by scholars such as Raja Sindhi (d.321 A.H.), Radi al-Din Hasan Saghani (d.650 A.H.), ‘Ali Al-Muttaqi (d.975 A.H.), ‘Abd al-Wahhab Al-Muttaqi (d. 1001 A.H.), Tahir Patni (d.986 A.H.), Abu’l-Hasan Sindhi (d.1176 A.H.), ‘Abd al-Haqq Dihlavi (d.1052 A.H.), Waliy-Allah Dihlavi (d.1176 A.H.), ‘Abd al’Aziz Dihlavi (d.. 1239 A.H.) and ‘Abd al-Hayy of Firangi Mahal (d.1304 A.H.), among others.
Some of the most important and rare books of Hadith were published for the first time in India. The Da’irat al-Ma’arif al’Uthmaniyah of Hyderabad has had the distinction of bringing out some of the most outstanding and rare works of Hadith and other Islamic disciplines. These include the Sunan of Bayhaqi in 10 volumes, the Musnad of Abu ‘Awanah in 5 volumes, the Musnad of Abu Dawud Tayalisi, Lisan al-Mizan of Ibn Hajar ‘Asqalani in 6 volume, Al-Isti’ab of Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Ta’rikh al-Kabir of Bukhari, Thiqat of Ibn Hibban in 9 volumes, al-Kifayah of Khatib al-Baghdadi, Mustadrak of Hakim and Tahdhib al-Tahdhib of Ibn Hajar.
Very few scholars are aware of the fact that the publication of the Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal for the first time in Egypt in 1313 A.H. was made possible by a generous grant from the then ruler of Hyderabad, Asaf Jah VI Mir Mahbub Ali Khan.
Another significant aspect of the Indian contribution to literature lies in the preparation of improvised versions of Hadith works, critical notes and commentaries on collections of Hadith and biographies of narrators and transmitters. Mention may be made of ‘Ali Al-Muttaqi’s Kanz al-‘Ummal in 22 volumes, Saghani’s Mashariq al-Anwar, Tahir Patni’s Majma ‘Bihar al-Anwar, al-Mughni and Tadhkirat al-Mawdu’at, Shah Waliy-Allah’s and Zakariya Saharanpuri’s commentaries on Imam Malik’s Muwatta, ‘Abd al-Haqq Dihlavi’s commentary on Mishkat al-Masabih, Abu’l-Hasan Sindhi’s notes on the Sahih of Bukhari, Abu Muhsin Sindhi’s commentaries on the Sunan of Nasa’i and on Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Hayat Sindhi’s commentary on the Sunan of Ibn Majah, Shams al-Haqq ‘Azimabadi’s and Khalil Ahmad Ambethvi’s commentaries on the Sunan of Abu Dawud, Shabbir Ahmad ‘Uthmani’s commentary on the Sahih of Muslim, Anwar Shah Kashmiri’s lectures on the Sahih of Bukhari, Rashid Ahmad Gangohi’s lectures and ‘Abd al-Rahman Mubarakpuri’s commentary on the Jami’ of Tirmidhi and Shah Fadl-Allah’s notes on Bukhari’s al-Adab al-Mufrad.
The celebrated Egyptian scholar Sayyid Rashid Rida had paid glowing tributes to Indian scholars for their multi-faceted contribution to Hadith literature and has remarked:
If not for the kind concern and dedication of Indian scholars, Hadith literature would have disappeared from the world. Interest in Hadith began to decline in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Hijaz from the 10th century of the Hijrah onwards till it touched a very low level of decline in the 14th century.
Mawlana Habib al-Rahman al-A’zami
Mawlana Habib al-Rahman al-A’zami was born in 1319 A.H. in the small town of Maunath Bhanjan in the Azamgarh district of what now constitutes the state of Uttar Pradesh in the Indian Union. His father Mawlana Muhammad Sabir (d.1365 A.H.) was a man of learning and piety. Mawlana Habib al-Rahman acquired his early education in his hometown. He showed signs of precosity from an early age. Mawlana Sabir took special interest in the education of his gifted child and put him under the care of a renowned local scholar, Mawlana ‘Abd al-Ghaffar (d.1341 A.H.), who was a pupil of the celebrated scholar Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (d.1323 A.H.). Young Habib al-Rahman spent a few years under his tutelage and accompanied him to Banaras and Gorakhpur in the course of his teaching itinerary. In 1919 he took admission in the famed Dar al’Ulum at Deoband. However, he had to discontinue his education due to ill-health. After recovery he did a brief teaching stint at Madrasah Mazhar al’Ulum in Banaras. His insatiable thirst for knowledge took him again to Deoband, where he had the good fortune of sitting at the feet of stalwarts like Anwar Shah Kashmiri (d. 1352 A.H.), Shabbir Ahmad ‘Uthmani (d. 1396 A.H.), and Mawlana Asghar Husain (d.1364A.H.). In the meantime, the Dar al -Ulum got caught up in the flurry of the nationalist movement and Mawlana Habib al-Rahman had to leave without formally completing his education. He completed the formal course in Mau in 1922 and took up a teaching assignment there. In 1343 A.H. he was invited to head Madrasah Mazhar al’Ulum at Banaras. In 1347 A.H.he returned to Mau as Shaykh al-Hadith and head of Madrasah Miftah al’Ulum. After two decades of distinguished and dedicated service he resigned of his own accord in 1369 A.H. and devoted himself full time to research.
In spite of his indifference to active politics he was persuaded by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to contest the assembly election. He won the election, without any canvassing, in 1952 and shifted his resident to Lucknow.
Taking advantage of his stay at Lucknow, the Rector of Dar al’Ulum Nadwat al’Ulama, Mawlana Abu’l-Hasan ‘Ali Nadavi, requested Mawlana Habib al-Rahman to lecture on Hadith at Nadawah. He acceded to the request and taught the Sahih of Bukhari for one year without any remuneration.
Though Mawlana Habib al-Rahman was well-versed in all branches of Islamic learning, he evinced a keen and special interest in Hadith literature. His interest in Hadith was initially kindled by his teacher Mawlana ‘Abd al Ghaffar. He learnt and narrated Hadith from him, whose narration is tracable, through two successive generations, to Shah Muhammad Ishaq Dihlavi. Mawlana Habib al-Rahman’s inclination towards Hadith literature received a further fillip under the affectionate guidance of Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri. His remarkable proficiency in Arabic language and literature, his phenomenal memory and his single-minded devotion to scholarly pursuits stood him in good stead in mastering Hadith and related disciplines and in making an enduring contribution in this field.
Mawlana Habib al-Rahman had a deep interest in rare manuscripts, especially those relating to collections of Hadith. During his extensive travels he would make it a point to visit libraries, institutes and museums in search of manuscripts. His scholarly career can be roughly divided into two phases. The first phase began during his twenties and lasted till he was about 60 years of age. During this formative phase he concentrated on assimilating and mastering the extensive and formidable literature on Hadith and the related disciplines. A keen and intense preoccupation withHadith literature during this period led to the sharpening of his discerning faculties and helped in the development of insight as well as critical acumen. This phase played a catalytic role in ushering in the most productive and creative phase in Mawlana Habib al-Rahman’s scholarly career which began after the age of sixty. Perhaps his most important contribution during the formative phase, which could be described as a forerunner of his mature scholarly output during the successive period, is in the form of critical comments and rejoinders on the Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal. The Musnad saw the light of day for the first time in 1313 A.H.. However, this edition was replete with printing and other errors. A renowned Egyptian scholar Shaykh Ahmad Muhammad Shakir took up a project on the publication of a corrected and critical edition of the Musnad. He compared and collated the available manuscripts, identified and corrected the errors, numbered the AHadith, prepared a glossary of difficult words as well as biographical notices on the narrators, and provided a classified index. The first volume of this edition was published in 1365 A.H. and the remaining 14 volumes were brought out subsequently. This critical edition of the Musnad received universal acclaim and admiration from Muslim scholars from across the world.
Being a sincere devotee of learning and scholarship, Shaykh Ahmad invited suggestions and comments from professional colleagues. However, he did not receive any rejoinders or suggestions from academic circles for almost a decade. Mawlana Habib al-Rahman chanced to see the published volumes after a lapse of several years. He avidly went through the volumes, identified the errors of omission and commission and sent his detailed comments to the editor. Shaykh Ahmad was amazed at the erudition and critical discernment reflected in the rejoinders of Mawlana Habib al-Rahman. He made an open and grateful acknowledgement of his submissions and published them in the 15th volume of the Musnad. He wrote:
All your rejoinders and critical comments are excellent and of high quality. I am sincerely grateful to you for this kindness. I hope you will continue to favour me with your suggestions, motivated as they are by a sense of service to Hadith. The impression that I have gathered from your present writing is that you are one of the greatest scholars of Hadith in this period.
The most productive and fruitful phase of Mawlana Habib al-Rahman’s scholarly career commenced after the age of 60 when he was afflicted with failing health and multiple ailments. During this phase, which spanned three decades, he brought out critical editions of over half a dozen rare manuscripts of Hadith. What is remarkable is that this formidable output, comprising 30 volumes and over 10,000 printed pages, was accomplished almost single-handedly and with extremely meagre resources.
It will be no exaggeration to say that Mawlana Habib al-Rahman individually accomplished what an institute or academy could have done with abundant resources. This remarkable feat bears testimony to his scholarship as well as to his devotion to the cherished memory of the Prophet.
Al-Matalib al-‘Aliyah of Ibn Hajar
Al-Matalib al-‘Aliyah by the celebrated scholar Ibn Hajar al’Asqalani (d. 752 A.H.) is a collection of zawa’id in the eight Musnad works of Abu Dawud Tayalisi, Humaydi, Ibn ‘Umar, Musaddad, Ibn Mani, Ibn Abi Shaybah, Ibn Hamid and Ibn Abi Usamah. The term zawa’id refers to those AHadithwhich are not found in the six canonical collections of Hadith (al-Sihah al-Sittah). Ibn Hajar has arranged the zawa’id in a thematic order. The manuscripts of this important work are found in Madinah, Istanbul and Hyderabad. Mawlana Habib al-Rahman edited the manuscript and published it in four volumes from Kuwait.
In addition to the above-mentioned works, Mawlana Habib al-Rahman edited and published a shorter and compact version of al-Targhib wat-Tarhib by Mundhiri (d. 656 A.H.). The original work was voluminous and the compiler had not been very careful about ascertaining the authenticity ofHadith. Ibn Hajar made a summary of this work and rectified its weaknesses. The manuscripts of Ibn Hajar’s work are found in Lucknow, Deoband and Bahraich. Mawlana Habib al-Rahman compared and collated the MSS and edited the text with critical notes and comments. Mawlana Habib al-Rahman also edited Nur al-Din Haythami’s Kashf al-Astar ‘an Zawa’id Musnad al-Bazzar, which was published in four volumes from Damascus in 1399. Two works of Tahir Patni, Majma’ Bihar al-Anwar, which is a monumental glossary of Hadith, and Khawatim Jami’al-Usul, which is a biographical inventory, also deserve mention. Mawlana Habib al-Rahman edited and published them in 1395 A.H. Ibn Shahin’s Kitab al-Thiqat, which has also been edited by Mawlana Habib al-Rahman, is still unpublished.
It is a pity that two of Mawlana Habib al-Rahman’s original works remain unpublished. One of them is al-Hawi li Rijal al-Tahawi, which contains biographical notices and researches on the narrators mentioned in Sharh Ma’ani al-Athar and Mushkilal-Athar of Imam abu Ja’far al-Tahawi (d. 321 A.H.). It is the first and only work of its kind in relation to the afore-mentioned books. The other original, albeit unpublished, work of Mawlana Habib al-Rahman is al-Ithaf al Saniyah bi Dhikr Muhaddithial-Hanafiyah, which deals with the biographies of Hanafi scholars of Hadith. Similarly, his lengthy introduction to the Musannaf of ‘Abd al-Razzaq as well as two volumes of Kashf al-Astar remain unpublished.
Among his polemical yet scholarly works, which are mostly in Urdu, mention may be made of Raka’at al-Tarawih, A’lam Marfu’ah and Shari’ Haqiqi. His Urdu book A’yan al-Hujjaj, in two volumes, provides crisp and insightful accounts of scholar-pilgrims. His last Urdu book Dastakar Ahl-i Sharaf (published in 1406 A.H.) deals with the biographies of men of eminence and distinction who were weavers by profession.
Mawlana Habib al-Rahman devoted over three decades to teaching. His students, who have spread far and wide, remember him with affection, reverence and gratitude. Though he was an exacting task-master, he had a genuine concern for the welfare of his students. He never hesitated in recommending intelligent and industrious students for jobs and promotions. Scores of scholars, many of them eminent in their own fields, took pride in sitting at his feet and learnt and relatedHadith from him. Mention may be made of Mawlana Manzur Nu’mani, Dr. Muhammad Mustafa al-A’zami, Mufti Zafir al-Din Miftahi and several others. A large number of scholars from the Arab world as well as from Africa, Afghanistan and Europe considered him as their teacher and relatedHadith from him. These include the late Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah of Syria, Shaykh Isma’il al-Ansari of Riyad, Shaykh Hammad al-Ansari of Madinah, Shaykh Subhi Samarrai of Baghdad, Dr. ‘Abd al-Sattar Abu Ghuddah of Kuwait, Dr. Bashshar ‘Awd Ma’ruf of Baghdad, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Halim Mahmud (former Rector of Azhar University in Cairo), Shaykh Bahjah al-Baytar, Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ibn Baz, Muhammad Amin al-Kutubi, Shaykh Amin al-Husayni of Palestine, Shaykh Sa’di Hashimi of Madinah, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz Abu ‘Uyun of Hims, Shaykh Zahir al-Shadish of Beirut, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Rahman of Yaman, Khayr al-Din Zarkali, Sa’id Afghani, Shaykh Muhammad Harkan and Shaykh Hasan Khalid, the Mufti of Lebanon.
Mawlana Habib al-Rahman’s works were enthusiastically received and appreciated by scholars ofHadith from all over the Islamic world. He was invited to deliver lectures and participate in conferences in various parts of the world. About twenty years ago while Mawlana Habib al-Rahman was in Makkah to perform Hajj, he was visited by Dr. ‘Abd al-Halim Mahmud, the then Rector of al-Azhar. Mawlana Abu’l-Hasan ‘Ali Nadavi and Mawlana Manzur Nu’mani as well as several other scholars were present on the occasion. Dr. Mahmud addressed the gathering and remarked that in his considered opinion Mawlana Habib al-Rahman was the greatest living authority on Hadith.
Some years later, Mawlana Habib al-Rahman again happened to be in Makkah. This time he was accompanied by Mawlana As’ad Madani, who wished to meet the famous Saudi scholar Shaykh ‘Abd-Allah ibn Baz. Everybody who would call on the Shaykh had to introduce himself since he was blind. When Mawlana Madani and Mawlana Habib al-Rahman called on him and the latter introduced himself according to custom, the Shaykh got up from his chair and apologised, saying that had he known about Mawlana Habib al-Rahman’s arrival in Makkah, he would have personally visited him. He then gave his own seat to Mawlana Habib al-Rahman.
Like the savants and scholars of the classical period, Mawlana Habib al-Rahman led a simple and unostentatious life. He was free from conceit, jealousy and petty-mindedness, which are often the bane of scholars. He was unassuming to the core. This was largely due to his selflessness as well as the influence of the Sufi tradition. Quite early in life he was formally initiated into the Chishtiyah order of Sufism by Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanavi, who also authorised him to initiate and enrol others into the fold.
Mawlana Habib al-Rahman’s life-long preoccupation with Hadith literature was motivated solely by a sincere devotion to the life and precepts of the Prophet Muhammad. Shah ‘Abd al’Aziz Dihlavi has written that a scholar’s preoccupation with Hadith produces in him qualities similar to those of the Companions of the Prophet. Mawlana Habib al-Rahman’s character and personality bear out the truth of this perceptive observation. He never sought any pecuniary benefits from his works. Several institutes and academies invited him to head centres for the study of Hadith on attractive remuneration, but he refused these offers. Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband invited him to serve as Chief Mufti. He declined the offer. About 35 years ago, he was invited to take charge as Rector of the newly-established Madinah University on a salary of 20,000 Saudi Riyals with accommodation and other facilities. He declined the offer without even consulting or informing his family members. As mentioned earlier, Mawlana Habib al-Rahman taught Hadith for one year at Nadwat al-‘Ulama in Lucknow in 1952. He had agreed to teach Hadith on condition that he would not accept any remuneration. Shortly after his membership of the assembly came to an end, he was faced with financial difficulties. The managing board of Nadwat al-‘Ulama came to know of it and decided to offer one year’s salary to him. The draft was sent to Mawlana Habib al-Rahman, but he declined to accept it, saying that he could not go back on his commitment.
Mawlana Habib al-Rahman breathed his last at the age of 91 on March 17, 1992, in his hometown. His funeral, which was taken out in the blazing heat of Ramadan, stretched over a mile and was attended by two hundred thousand people. It can be said without any fear of contradiction that the funeral of no other scholar in India has been attended by such a large number of people in the present century.
Discerning men for years will with their foreheads honour The spot that bears the imprint of thy foot.