Some biographical notes on Mawlānā Qāsim Nānautawī

Compiled by ‘Abd Allah al-Afriqi

When I had undertaken to compile a short biographical introduction on Mawlānā Muḥammad Qāsim Nānautawī, the founder of Dār al-Ulūm Deoband, I had intended to include anecdotes from his life as mentioned in various books and by various authors. Although, the compilation on Mawlānā Nānautawī’s life was published I had continued searching for anecdotes on his life wishing to include these in a future edition. I am not sure if and when I will have time to release a new edition of the original hence the notes that I compiled I have decided to share with the readers here. These have been extracted from Mawlānā Muḥammad Zakariyyā Kāndhlawī’s autobiography, Āp Bītī. I acknowledge that there are many errors in these notes and I hope to find time to edit these at some stage. If someone is willing to do this then it would be greatly appreciated.

In Sawanih Qasmi Mawlana Ya’qub speaks about Mawlana Nanautwi’s mujahadat:

I was staying at my home in Kucha Chaylan and Mawlana also came to stay there. He used to bake his own roti and then eat from it for a couple of days. I used to have a man  at home to bake my roti. I told him that whenever Maulvi sahib went to eat, he should supply him with some curry, however, he could never supply it in time and MAwlana generally ate the bread dry only.

One year after the death of my father, I stayed in Delhi for a year and therafeter I accepted a post in Ajmer, as a result I was separated from him. Maulvy sahib remained living in this house and then moved to the printing house.

Although I did not experience the following myself, ihave heard it from reliable sources that in that same house there were also a few others. They all left in different directions except Mawlana who stayed there all alone. At night he carried the gate inside and closed it (as a door) and in the morning he placed it oused once more. This went one for a few month while he stayed in the ‘Haw” house.

During the time Mawlana stayed with me, he had the outward appearance of a majzub. His hair was long and disheveled, neither being combed nor oil ever being applied to it nor it ever being washed. Allah had cast such an awe-inspiring appearance to him, that no one dared to speak in his presence even though he was a man of a very pleasant personality and excellent bearing. Therefore I could not say anything. I passed a message onto him through another friend and only then did he have his hair cut, washed and attended to. This saved him from having lice.

He was a man who loved solitude. From the earliest days of his life he loved to remain silent and thus few people had the courage to speak to him in spite of his pleasant manners. He always gave the impression of being sad and depressed  and no one could deduce whether he was in a fine state or worried. Even when he was not well, it was not clear to others and he hardly ever used medicine.

Sawinih Umry Mawlana Muhammad Qasim, p . 30

In his commentary on this, mawlana Manazir Ahsan Gilana writes:

Perhaps ‘haw’ is the name of the well known story which I had heard directly from Mawlana Habib al-Rahim, muhtamim of Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband. Mawlana Qari Muhammad Tayyib also related that he had heard it directly from Mawlana Madani. It is said that Mawlana Nanautwi was once busy inhis room making zikr. Together with every ‘dharb’ those n the outside heard the sound of a thump of something striking the ground. They became worried. They removed the door in order to get inside as the door was locked from the inside. There they saw a snake sitting in from of Hazrat. Whenever Hazrat performed a dharb, the snake struck its head against the floor and when Hazrat lifted his head up, the snake also raised its head. They struck the snake, killed it and took it out of the room, but Hazrat was completely unaware of  what went on around him.

Qari Tayyib says: “I have heard this from Amir Shah Khan as well as various other people.”

Sawanih Qasmi, vol 1 p 306

It is known about Mawlana Nanautwi that he memorized the entire Qur’an on the boat wile going for haj. By day he memorized one parah which he recited at night. This was written in Arwah Thalatah on p 267. But Mawlana Ya’qub quote Mawlana Nanautwi as saying: “in two years, I memorized the Qur’an, in two Ramadans.”

He says Mawlana left for hajj in Jumad l’-Thani 1277 and arrived in Makkah in the later days of Zul Qa’dah. After hajj he left for Madinah and from Madinah, he left in Safar to arraive back in Bombay in the last days of Rabi’ al-Awwal. By Jumad ‘-Thani he was back home. En route to hajj they departed by sea from Karachi. As soon as the new moon was sighted on the boat Mawlana started memorizing the Qur’an and recited it in tarawih on the boat.

After ‘Id they reached Mukalla. Where he bought some Muscati halwa and distributed it on the boat.

It was not known that he had memorized the Qur’an. Only afterward did he announce that he had memorized it in the Ramadans of two years. Initially he memorized only one and quarter parahs which he recited profusely thereafter he even recited 27 parahs in one rak’ah. If anyone followed him in salah (nafl), he would terminate his salah at the next salam and prohibit that person from following him, and then continue reciting the rest of the night.”

Sawinih Umry Mawlana Muhammad Qasim, p . 38

The most well known of this story is that Mawlana memorized the Qur’an  in one year. The reconciliation is quite easy.

It is possible that he had memorized som e part of the Qur’an the previous year while the major portion was memorized while en rote to the Mubarak places. That was the year when he first performed tarawih with the Qur’an and afterward distributed Muscati halwa.

Aap Beti, vol 6 p. 134-7 (The effects of the elders in ilm and suluk)

Shah Wali Allah, tree of Tooba

Khan Saheb says: “I have heard this story directly from Hazrat Nanotwi.” Hazrat Thanwy says: “The fact that in spite of being a kamil alim, Mawlana was prepared to be benefited by others, which is a sign of his humility and his great desire for acquiring knowledge.”

The idea of calling Shah Wali Allah, ‘Tooba’ on page 207 of Arwah Thalathah is correct. As far as I can remember, during my initial years of hadith teaching, I sent over 40 reply-paid card to all the various madrasahs in India, even the Ahl al-Hadith, the Ahl al-Bid’ah or any other sect, asking them for their sanad of hadith reporting, and among those madrasahs of undivided India, I could not find one Shaykh al-Hadith whose sanad did not pass through Shah Wali Allah. There were many who had more that one sanad, some of which did not pass

through Shah Saheb. For example my own Shaykh had many sanads as is noted in Awjaz. So too did Shah Abd al-Ghani have various sanads as is noted in al-Yani’ al-Jani. But in undivided India, there was not a single person whose some sanad did not contain Shah Wali Allah’s name.

Aap Beti, vol 6 p 56-7

(The spiritual training of students and its importance)

It is mentioned in Sawanih Qasimi: Nawab Sadr Yar Jang, the head of the Aa-sifiyyah government, enoyed himself very much when he used to tell the following story. Allah alone knows best how many times he had already told this story in my presence. The story is as follows: “the capital of Nawab’s Sahebs state – Habib Ganj – is situated in the district of Aligarh, which at the time was named Kol.

There a certain rich man, Maulwi Isma’il Saheb lived. He had a great yearning to study hadith. However, being so occupied with state affairs, he could hardly find any time to proceed beyond his home to learn.”

Nawab Saheb further related: “Maulwi Isma’il sent a letter to Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanautw, asking him to send some reliable alim to Aligarh, from whom he could study hadith.” In reply Mawlana Qasim wrote: “ Where will another alim find the time to leave all his duties and to travel all the way there to teach you? However, this poor humble soul is prepared to come, if you should so desire.”

Maulwi Isma’il, on hearing this good news, was beside himself that Hazrat himself was coming, which was far beyond his expectations.

Mawlana came to Aligarh, staying there to teach Maulwi Isma’il those kitabs which he wanted to study. Nawab Saheb also mentions the story about his salary. When the issue of the salary came up, Maulwi Isma’il wanted to know what it would be, saying: “Whatever Hazrat asks, I will give that to you.”

Mawlana replied, “For as long as I am to remain here, I want you to give me  rupees monthly which I can send home.”

On hearing this meager amount, Maulwi Isma’il became ashamed but as he had already agreed, there was nothing he could do. For quite a number of months fifteen rupees were sent. Then one day when Maulwi Isma’il sat down to study, HAzrat told him, “Mia Isma’il, it has now become necessary for us to review the amoun given to me monthly as remuneration for my services.”

This pleased Maulwi Isma’il, as he was under the impression that now there could be some definite increase. MAwlana said to him, “OF the fifteen rupees which you have given me every month, I sent ten to my household and five to my mother. Yesterday, I received a letter informing me that my mother had passed away. The five rupees which I used to send to her is now no longer necessary. So, from now onwards just give me ten rupees.”

Maulwi Isma’il was quite surprised. He said, “Hazrat, it is no burden upon me to continue paying fifteen rupees.”

Hazrat Nanautwi replied, “No, give me only ten, why should I take upon myself the burden of those unnecessary rupees?”

In the end it was fixed that ten would be given.

(Qari Muhammad Tayyib, who had heard this story directly from Nawab Sadr Yar Jang Saheb, has told me that he has doubts about the authenticity and correctness of the last part of this story concerning the money. He said that for various reasons, it seems as if Nawab Saheb had erred in relating the part dealing with salary because it is unanimously agreed among the ‘ulama of Deoband that Mawlana Nanautwi never accepted any salary for teaching.)

Sawanih Qasmi, vol 1 p. 428

Aap Beti vol 6 p. 104-6 (The attitude of the elders regarding remuneration for their services

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