Hujjat al-Islam Imam Muhammad Qasim Al-Nanawtawi

Founder, Darul Uloom Deoband (1832-1880)
Declaration: The major contents of this biography are derived from an unpublished research article of Dr. Atif Suhail Siddiqui.


Brief Introduction 
Imam Muhammad Qasim Al-Nanawtawi or Nanautvi (1831-1880 CE) was the most influential Islamic philosopher theologian in Indian subcontinent after Imam al-Hind Shah Wali Allah of Delhi. He was the last bearer of the intellectual legacy of Shah Wali Allah. Al-Nanawtawi is revered as a Mujaddid and having a title Hujjat al-Islam stands on the third step in the process of Islamic revivalism after Mujaddid Alf-Thani and Wali Allah of Delhi. Al-Nanawtawi the founder of the most influential Islamic intellectual revival movement at Deoband in the Indian subcontinent, studied under Abdul Ghani, the only intellectual successor of Wali Allah of Delhi in the 19th century. According to Fuad Shahid Naeem,

Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanautvi was a very important scholar, intellectual figure, and Sufi, of his time. He is the most famous for founding, along with Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, the influential madrasah at Deoband that has become one of the most important religious institutions of Sunni Islam, …Maulana Nanautvi is known in three capacities in which he wrote and taught: one, as a scholar of the religious sciences; two, as an intellectual figure who took upon himself the task of defending traditional Islam intellectually, largely through theology (kalam) and philosophy (falsafah or hikmah), against Muslim and Hindu modernism as well as Christian missionary work; three, as a Sufi master. (Fuad Shahid Naeem, The 'Ulama of the Indian Subcontinent at the Rise of the Modern Age: Maulana Ashraf 'Ali Thanvi and His Response to Modernism,) pp. 30-31.

Birth and Education
Al-Nanawtawi was born in 1831 in the environs of Saharanpur in Northern Indian province of Uttar Pradesh; there is an old village, Nanawta (Nanota), reputed for producing men of high caliber. Imam Muhammad Qasim Nanawtawi’s lineage can be traced back to the first Caliph of Islam Amir al-Mauminin Abu Bakr Siddiq (R. A.). Primary education he received at his native-place after which he was sent to Deoband where he read for some time in Maulawi Mahtab Ali's primary school. Then he went away to his ma­ternal grandfather at Saharanpur where the latter was practicing as a pleader. In Saharanpur he studied the elementary books of Arabic gra­mmar and syntax under the instruction of Maulawi Nawaz. At the end of 1259/1843, Maulana Mamlook Ali took him to Delhi.

Before entering Delhi College, he had read books of logic, philo­sophy and scholastic theology like Mir Zahid, Qazi Mubarak, Sadra, Shams-e- Bazigha under the instruction of Maulana Mamlook Ali at the latter's house. In the end, he joined that study-circle which then posse­ssed a central position in the whole of India with regard to the teaching of the sciences of the Quran and Hadith. Shah Abdul-Ghani Mujaddidi was then gracing the Seat of knowledge of Shah Wali Allah. From him he acquired the science of Hadith; during his student-days the fame of his acuteness, knowledge and learning, comprehension and discernment had become widespread.

Imam’s contemporary Syed Ahmad Khan, the Founder of Aligarh Muslim University sees acuteness, knowledge and learning, asceticism and piety, understanding and discernment in the persona of Imam al-Nanawtawi during student days, he writes,

"The people thought that after Maulawi Muhammad Ishaq no man like him in all those qualities was to be born, but Maulawi Muhammad Qasim has proved by his consummate righteousness, religiosity, piety, abstinence and humili1y that, through the education and training of this city of Delhi, Allah has created another man alike to Maulawi Muhammad Ishaq, rather superior to him in certain things.”

Fair for God-Consciousness at Shahjahanpur
A dangerous conspiracy hatched by the English government was to provoke the Hindus against the Muslims. The Muslims had once had Political importance and supremacy in India. The English now, under their policy, pushed up the Hindus and brought down the Muslims. When the Hindus advanced in the economic and political fields, the English prompted them towards the path of religious superiority and prepared them to break lance with the Muslims, and provided the opportuni­ties for this that the Hindus pole Mize with the Muslims openly.

Then, on May 8, 1876, a "Fair for God-Consciousness" was held at Chandapur village, near Shahjahanpur (U.P.), under the auspices of the local Zamindar, Piyare Lal Kabir-panthi, under the management of Padre Knowles, and with the support and permission of the collector of Shahjahanpur, Mr. Robert George. Representatives of all the three religions, Christian, Hindu and Muslim, were invited through posters to attend and prove the truthfulness of their respective religions. At the suggestion of Mawlana Muhammad Munir Nanawtawi and Ilahi Bakhsh Rangin Bareillwi, Al-Imam Nanautawi, accompanied by his disciple Mawlana Mahmood Hasan, Mawlana Raheemullah Bijnori and Mawlana Fakhrul-Hasan, reached the fair. Besides Al-Imam Nanawtawi, Mawlana Abul Mansoor Dehlawi, Mirza Mujid Jullunduri, Ahmed Ali Dehlawi, Mir Haider Dehlawi, Nau'man bin Luqman and Rangin Bareillwi also parti­cipated. All these Ulama delivered speeches at this fair, causing the desired effect. In repudiation of the Doctrine of Trinity and Polytheism, and on affirmation of Divine Unity (Monotheism), Al-Nanawtawi spoke so well that the audience, both those who were against and those who were for him, were convinced.

The famous lectures Al-Nanawtawi delivered during the Fair of God Conciousness held in Shahjahanpur were published later under the title Taqrīr Dil Padhīr and Mubahithah-e Shahjahanpur. His opponents have praised his method of polemical discussion and his command on Islamic religious philosophy and theology. For Instance, Priest Frank has written,

“I will not say, whether he (Al-Nānawtawī) has said truth, but if the faith was metter of lectures, then we would have professed faith of Islam based on his lectures.” WāqiÑah Maylah Khudā Shanāsī (Events of Fair of God Concisousness), (Meerut: MaÏbaÑ ÖiyāÒī, 1876), p. 41. 

One newspaper writes: ­
"In the gathering of 8th May of the current year (1876), Muhammad Qasim gave a lecture and stated the merits of Islam. The Padre Sahib explained the Trinity in a strange manner, saying that in a line are found three attributes: length, breadth and depth, and thus Trinity is proven in every way. The said Maulawi Sahib confuted it promptly. Then, while the Padre Sahib and the Maulawi Sahib were debating regarding the speech, the meeting broke up, and in the vicinity and on all sides arose the outcry that the Muslims had won. Wherever a religious divine of Islam stood, thousands of men would gather around him. In the meeting of the first day the Christians did not reply to the objections raised by the followers of Islam, while the Muslims replied the Christians word by word and won”

Next year this "fair" was held again in March, 1877. This time Munshi Indraman Moradabodi and Pandit Dayanand (d. 1882/1301), the founder of the Arya Samaj, also participated. Dayanandji spoke in San­skritized Hindi. Padre Knowles had called one Padre Scot also. Al-Imam Nanawtawi's speeches were delivered on Theism, Monotheism, and inter­polation in Religion and he proved claim of Islam very successfully.
Al-Imam Nanawtawi, participating both the years in the said fair, frustrated the Christians conspiracy. On this occasion, Prof. Muhammad Ayyub Qadiri, writing in Mawlana Ahmed Hasan Nanawtawi's biography, says that:

"One thing specially deserves deliberation here that the fair for God consciousness at Shahjahanpur was held consecutively for two years with announcement and publicity, throwing in a way. A challenge to the religion of Islam and yet one does not find a clue to any interest the Ulama of Bareilly and Badaun, the two districts so near, almost conti­guous to Shahjahanpur, may have evinced in this fair."

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