A Dialogue of Profound Significance
By Dr Basheer Ahmed Khan
Garden Grove, CA
As I was writing about Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanavi RA in my article on Maulana Maseehullah Khan, a dialogue between Thanavi RA and his contemporary Shaikh ul Hind Maulana Mahmood ul Hassan which I had read in my early life in an Urdu periodical surfaced on my memory which is very relevant to understand the true teachings of Islam and how we have swerved from true Islam by abandoning it.
By the side of my house where I spent my early life there was a public reading room which used to get lot of newspapers and periodicals and also had a nice little garden and a huge Gold Moher. The chirping birds that were not pushed out of human societies by the electronic signals of modern day communication gadgets had their nests on this tree and would wake me up from my sleep to face the beauty of another day with a happy face. The red flowers on the tree in spring would enthrall any connoisseur of beauty.
The library and the garden were taken care of by an old employee whose name was Qasim Sab. He would create yearly files of the periodicals and archieve them. In summer he used to make and sell cold and sweet wood apple juice. Qasim sab as any old person was cranky and grumpy. I used to call him Nana (maternal grandfather). I used to go and help him in all his work and he liked me for it. I caught the bug of reading as a collateral benefit. With no TV, internet, social media and cable news channels, few new movie releases, and rare cases of intermixing of sexes, this reading was a great pastime for me. That was a memorable period of my life which lasted for a decade from 1959 to 1969 when I had to leave Mysore to continue my medical education. I used to read not just the current magazines but also the old files. Some of the periodicals that I still remember reading are the Madina of Bijnor, Al-Jamiath of Delhi, Shaoor of Hyderabad, Tarjumaan of Aligarh, Sidq e Jadeed, etc. In one of those periodicals I had read about a conversation which took place between Ashraf Ali Thanavi RA and Sh Mahmood ul Hassan RA.
Ashraf Ali RA was a Sufi scholar and a representative of Imdadullah Makki RA who, resenting the colonial British Raj, migrated to Mecca from India. To understand Ashraf Ali RA this incident in his life is important. When he was visiting a town, the people complained that Muslims of the town are astray because they mourn the death of Hussain RA, grandson of Nabi SA, by bringing out Alams in the month of Muharram. He said: Their love of Hussain RA will one day bring them to the love of Muhamamd SA, and you keep working on them to stress the importance of the worship of One God and good deeds.
Shaikh Mahmood ul Hassan RA was the first graduate of Deoband. He was exiled to Malta with his associates by British Raj for organizing resistance to British rule and was released when he was terminally ill. After returning to India Sh Mahmood ul Hassan RA gave the gist of his thinking in exile thus: Disunity, infighting and our ignoring the teachings of the Qur’an are at the root of our problems. He suggested that to come out of the morass plaguing the Muslims, they should unite under Maulana Azad who was a great scholar of exegesis of Qur’an and understood the vicissitudes of modern times. But this proposal was turned down by his followers in Jamiath because Maulana Azad was an unconventional scholar and did not belong to the established order of Arabic Schools. Thus the investiture ceremony to make Maulana Azad, as Imam ul Hind (leader of Muslims in India), never took place (Shaikhul Hind by Dr Israr Ahmed). Maulana Azad’s rejection was a lossfor Muslims and a gain for Congress which made him their leader. He became the first Education Minister of Independent India in which position he remained till his death in 1958.
Shaikh Mahmoodul Hassan and Ashraf Ali RA had a difference in understanding the true meaning of a verse and the subsequent application of it in the daily life. Sh Mahmood ul Hassan told Ashraf Ali RA that according to the rules of Arabic grammar and syntax this is its correct meaning and its correct application. Ashraf Ali RA replied to him: Mahmood, if Qur’an was to be understood, based upon language and grammar alone, then Abu Jahal and Abu Lahab (uncles of Nabi SA) would be Muslims; What is needed for understanding the Qur’an is not just language but a clean heart and an unbiased mind, he said. It was not mentioned in that article the verse on which they had this argument. We see an example of this in the complaint which a companion launched with Nabi SA about the wrong recitation of a verse by Umar RA. When Nabi SA heard this verse from both, Nabi SA said that both were correct and he SA said: The Qur’an is revealed and recited in seven styles. I have not come across the verse on which the companion disputed with Umar RA even though Maulana Jalaluddin Sayuthi RA has discussed these seven styles in detail in his book Ithqan.
Words assume different meaning under different connotations and contexts depending upon who said them and under what situation. As Umar RA and the companion were both sincere Muslims, Nabi SA accepted both recitations. Therefore, sincerity is paramount. A person’s claim to sincerity is meaningless if his actions deny his claim. Nabi SA knew that the one who has true faith in the Omnipresent, Omniscient and Omnipotent God is unlikely to do wrong with his heart filled with piety and mind permeated with this God consciousness. To such a person Nabi SA said that when faced with a dilemma in understanding an issue, ask your heart. The tragedy of mankind has been that those with rusted hearts occupied with lust and greed think that this permission of Nabi SA is applicable to them too because of their position on the altar.
When Nabi SA was called to decide about an argument which two companions had about their actions contradicting each other, he SA said both were right because of their intentions. One of them had left the peg which he had dug to tie his horse in a camping ground so that the next traveler could use it to tie his horse. While the other companion removed the peg as he was afraid that someone would trip over it. That is why Nabi SA said that the intention of a true believer is better than his action as action may fall short because of the resources available to him but one has all control over his intentions. A true believer knows that his intention is not known just to him but also to Him Who has given him his existence and consciousness (Ch3 V29).
Nabi SA build a peaceful and progressive society in Medina by appointing the cop of God consciousness on the hearts and minds of his companions who guarded their words and their actions. The crumbling order around it rushed to embrace it. When the established religious orders and the dishonest politicians saw a threat to them in this group of people they challenged them into many wars to invite their own destruction. The poorly trained people who entered into the fold of Islam from the conquered lands for the spoils of wars with the decaying societies in the neighborhood did not maintain the decency and decorum of Islam because they did not get the required training to improve their faith and develop the required standard of piety and character. As a result, the change that was taking place in the world in the name of Islam was not the one which was desired by Islam. This had its toll in martyrdom of Umar, Usman, Ali, the tree Califs and thousands of others.
To control the ensuing chaos and maintain order in the land of conquest rulers like Marwan and Hajjaj had to use an iron fist laying the foundation of dictatorial tendencies into the religion with the ethos of consultative spirit. Their descendants gave the Islamic face to their dictatorial tendencies and made the religion of reformation and service into a religion of administration by their profound interpretation of few basic rules which God had given to Nabi SA (Tareekh e Dawath, Vol 1). What is being applied in the name of Islamic State in the Muslim world is not the Islam of Abraham and Muhammad and all the prophets in between (Peace be upon all of them), but the religion of Hajjaj and Marwan and their descendants who have unleashed mayhem on Muslim masses and discredited Islam and Muslims. Others are only participating in it to make their own hay while the sun is shining.
Allah swt says that the religion of Islam is like rain. If it falls on good land with good seeds it produces useful things, if it falls on bad land it produces nothing useful, but only bushes (Ch 7 V57-58). Hearts with piety are benefited by the Qur’an and the minds of grammar and logic make it an instrument of quibbling. The dialogue between Ashraf Ali Thanvi RA and Sh Mahmood ul Hassan therefore has a profound significance as it emphasizes the importance of piety in understanding the text and context of revealed texts correctly.