The teachers and students of Ḥadīth at Deoband: Method of teaching and learning

By Mawlānā ʻAbd Allāh Patel Kāpaudrī
Translated by Mawlānā Mahomed Mahomedy

Foreword: The following article is a section of a transcript of a speech delivered by the honourable Mawlānā ʻAbd Allāh Kāpaudrī at the Jāmi‛ah Riyād al-‛Ulūm, Leicester, on 5th April 2005, entitled: “The need to strive for acquiring knowledge”. Herein he mentions the method of teaching of the great hadith scholars of Dār al-‛Ulūm Deoband and how their teaching differed and changed over time as the calibre of learning of the students changed. At the end he provides pertinent advices to students which is extremely beneficial. With the introduction to these advices being the example of the pious and learned of the past we sincerely pray the Allah instills these qualities of studying and learning in us and every student of the sacred sciences ie. Qurʼān and Ḥadīth. Mawlānā Kāpaudrī begins by mentioning the manner of Shaykh al-Hind’s teaching:

Hadrat ‛Allāmah Balyāwī rahimahullāh said to me: “Maulwī Sāhib! Our Hadrat was not in the habit of lengthy explanations.” He then asked me: “Do you know who I am referring to when I say ‘Our Hadrat’?” I replied: “Hadrat, I do not know.” He said: “When I say ‘Our Hadrat’, I am referring to Hadrat Shaykh al-Hind rahimahullāh.” Hadrat ‛Allāmah Ibrāhīm Balyāwī rahimahullāh studied under Hadrat Shaykh al-Hind rahimahullāh. He continues: “Our Hadrat was not in the habit of lengthy explanations. He used to teach Tirmidhī Sharīf, Abū Dā’ūd Sharīf and Bukhārī Sharīf. He had very capable students, and they used to read the text (‛ibārat). Hadrat Shaykh al-Hind rahimahullāh will have the book in front of him and listen to the student reading. One two pages would be read. This is why it is called daurah – to turn, to repeat. At times, Hadrat would say: ‘Bhāi! Hold on a bit. There can be an objection to this Hadīth because it is against the Hanafīs. But here is the reply to it. A conflicting Hadīth is found in such and such book. You must refer to that book, and whatever is written there is our proof. Okay, let us proceed.’”

If you were to look at the taqrīr of Hadrat Shaykh al-Hind rahimahullāh which has been printed, you will find it to be very concise. When I first saw it, I could not understand why it was so concise. But when ‛Allāmah Balyāwī rahimahullāh related this to me, I understood the reason.

Hadrat Shāh Sāhib’s manner of teaching

When Hadrat Shāh Sāhib – ‛Allāmah Anwar Shāh Kashmīrī rahimahullāh – began teaching in Dār al-‛Ulūm Deoband, he made it a point to explain Ahādīth in detail in order to reconcile the madhāhib (plural of madh-hab), and to prove Hanafī fīqh through proofs. The main objection of the Ahl-e-Hadīth against the Hanafīs was that they do not have authentic Ahādīth, and the Hanafī madh-hab is weak. In order to repulse this accusation, Hadrat Shāh Sāhib rahimahullāh used to support the Hanafī madh-hab by quoting different Ahādīth, and saying: “Look, this Hadīth supports our view.” As a result of this manner of teaching, his lessons used to be lengthy. This is how Hadrat ‛Allāmah Balyāwī rahimahullāh explains the change in the style of teaching which came into Dār al-‛Ulūm Deoband.

Hadrat Shāh Sāhib’s sincerity

There came a time when Hadrat Shāh Sāhib rahimahullāh had some disputes with the authorities in Dār al-‛Ulūm. He became unhappy and left. Maulānā Ahmad Buzurg Sāhib rahimahullāh brought him to Dhābel. The question arose as to who would take Hadrat Shāh Sāhib’s place in Dār al-‛Ulūm. Look at his sincerity. People went to him and said: “All you have to do is start conducting your lessons in Jāmi‛ Musjid [Deoband], all these students will leave Dār al-‛Ulūm and come to you.”

They said this because there was no Muhaddith (Hadīth scholar) in the subcontinent who could compare with him in that era. He was a walking library. People used to refer to him as khātam almuhaddithīn (the seal of Hadīth scholars). But Shāh Sāhib rahimahullāh said: “It is not permissible for any Muhaddith to start an opposing class in a place where Hadīth is already being taught. I cannot do this. If I teach Hadīth, I will do somewhere far from here.”

This shows his sincerity. If it was any ‛ālim from our times, he would have sat down in the musjid opposite the road and said: “Come! I am going to see who is going to teach Hadīth in opposition to me.” But these traits were not in the elders of the past.

Together with knowledge, their hearts were very pure, and they were on the highest levels of taqwā.

Hadrat Shāh Sāhib’s striving in Dhābel

Anyway, Hadrat Shāh Sāhib rahimahullāh came to Dhābel, and in those days there were no comforts to be found. When Maulānā Buzurg Sāhib brought him, there was no solid building there. He housed in a house in Simlak. Hadrat Shāh Sāhib rahimahullāh would walk from Simlak to Dhābel to conduct his lessons. There were no solid roads. He used to walk in the mud, and there was an excess of mosquitoes. In short, it was a tough life, but Shāh Sāhib rahimahullāh still gave preference to remaining in Dhābel.

Hadrat Madanī’s style of teaching

In the meantime, Dār al-‛Ulūm Deoband started looking for a Muhaddith to take Hadrat Shāh Sāhib’s place. Hadrat Shaykh al-Hind rahimahullāh had another student by the name of Hadrat Maulānā Husayn Ahmad Madanī rahimahullāh who was teaching in Calcutta at the time. So he was brought. He had taught Bukhārī Sharīf in Musjid-e-Nabawī for ten years. While conducting his lessons there, he used to point towards the blessed grave of Rasūlullāh sallallāhu ‛alayhi wa sallam and say:
قال صاحب هذا القبر هكذا…
“The inhabitant of this grave said…”

Many people from the Arab countries became students of Hadrat Madanī rahimahullāh. Hadrat was very fluent in Arabic, and possessed excellent capabilities. When he came to Deoband and had to take the place of Hadrat Shāh Sāhib rahimahullāh, he had no alternative but to go into lengthy explanations as well. Hadrat Madanī rahimahullāh used to place all the Sihāh Sittah (the six most authentic collections of Hadīth) on the desk in front of him. I saw this with my own eyes. I was in the early years of my study at the time, but we would occasionally pass the Dār al-Hadīth, and we used to see an entire pile of books in front of Hadrat Madanī rahimahullāh. He used to conduct his lesson by constantly showing proofs from the different books. [For example, he would say] “Here is this narration. This is what Abū Dā’ūd has to say about it.” In this way, the lessons used to be very lengthy.

Then came the era of Hadrat Maulānā Fakhr ad-Dīn Sāhib rahimahullāh. He used to speak in idiomatic language and had a very strong memory. He used to conduct a very powerful Bukhārī lesson. He used to teach Bukhārī daily for five hours at a time. Anyway, because of the differences in the capabilities of students, the ‛ulamā’ began lengthening their explanations and lessons. Previously, students would come fully prepared to class. These days, they merely walk in without any preparation whatsoever.

Once I was sitting with Qādī Sajjād Husayn Sāhib in Fatahpūrī Musjid in Delhi. He was teaching Bukhārī Sharīf. I saw a few students of Daurah Hadīth sitting in front of him. He said to me: “Maulānā! Look at how times have changed. You have to first teach these students to read the text correctly, then teach them to translate it, and then explain the meaning and sense to them. I have to do all this myself. And these are residents of Delhi – they merely eat and drink, and come and sit down here.” He himself was from Delhi and so he spoke in that special way of those who live there. The same is happening today – students do not strive at all.

What must our students do?

If you spend the night going through your books, looking at the marginal notes and commentaries; then when you go to class the next morning, all you have to do is pay attention to solve whatever problems you encountered at night. If you then look at the book one more time, it will settle in your mind. If we want a solid foundation and capability, we will have to work very hard with absolute focus and concentration. Focus is essential for the acquisition of knowledge. This focus is no more found in us. We have started to read too many other side issues, and move around here and there in the holidays.

The fruit of hard work

Our elders of the past were not like this. They used to study in small rooms. Allāh ta‛ālā conferred a very high rank to Hadrat Maulānā Yūnus Sāhib Jaunpūrī dāmat barakātuhum. He did not receive this position just like that. Rather, what we see is the result of his hard work. During his student days, he never left Sahāranpūr to go home. He remained there in Hadrat Shaykh’s rahimahullāh service.Consequently, when he qualified, Hadrat Shaykh rahimahullāh said: “Give Yūnus to teach Bukhārī.” He said this although many old and senior teachers of Mazāhir al-‛Ulūm were available. But Hadrat Shaykh rahimahullāh said: “No. Yūnus will teach.” This is because Hadrat saw how Maulānā Yūnus Sāhib made himself free [for knowledge]. And so, he deserved this honour.

I want you to try this and see it for yourself. When you get holidays, do not go home. Remain in the madrasah and continue going through your books. Do this for a few years and see how your knowledge will progress from one level to the next. Any student can try this and see for himself. When a person remains focussed on one particular line of action, he acquires perfection in it.

The need to remain focussed

What I am trying to tell you is that if you want to acquire firmness in knowledge and to progress in it, you must remain focussed. This is essential. You must become so engrossed with your books that you have nothing to do with anything besides your books. Read a single book several times. When we were studying in Dār al-‛Ulūm Deoband, we had a Kashmiri student with us. He studied the books of each subject three times. The teachers used to ask him: “For how long are you going to remain in Dār al-‛Ulūm [if you are going to study each subject three times]?” He would reply: “Hadrat! I will not stop studying until I am fully satisfied. Consequently, when he completed studying all the subjects, the Majlis-e-Shūrā of Dār al-‛Ulūm Deoband decided to appoint him as a teacher from the following Shawwāl. The members of the Shūrā felt they will not find a better teacher than him. Unfortunately, he was not destined for this because he passed away soon thereafter. He used to live in a musjid where he used to call out the adhān, and for which he used to receive his meals.

We saw a few students in Dār al-‛Ulūm Deoband having just one set of clothes. Every Friday we would see some students walking around with only a lungī (sarong type loin cloth which covers the lower half of the body). I asked someone one day: “I see that one student from Peshawar like this every Friday. What is the reason for this?” The person said to me: “He has just one set of clothes which he washes on Fridays, dries them, and then wears them.” You will not see him drinking tea. The moment the fajr salāh is performed, he would carry his books and proceed directly to his classroom. He would then sit and study long before the arrival of the teacher. All the students were in the habit of going for tea after fajr salāh, but these poor students would not have any tea. So we saw students of this nature as well. Their academic capabilities used to become solid because they directed their entire minds towards knowledge. They would neither go to Sahāranpūr nor to the shops. A person can only go to the shops if he has money. Because we have money in our pockets, we will go out of the madrasah, walk around in the bazaars and shopping places. Our students in India have become very desirous of moving about and walking around. This has destroyed knowledge. And no sooner they complete Daurah Hadīth (the final year of the ‛ālim course), they make demands on their parents to get them married. Once the wife comes, they go out shopping and visiting places together.

An echo from the heart, Vol. 3, p. 270-8

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