Sheikh Ahmad ʿAlī Diwān Lājpūrī (1919-2011)
This obituary was inspired by Dr. Akram Nadwī’s speech at Masjid al-Falah (Leicester) on Saturday 12 March 2011, a day after the Sheikh’s funeral. His Urdu speech can be downloaded from here: http://bit.ly/k6S1am
[I relate to] Shaykh Aḥmed ʿAlī al-Lājpūrī as-Sūrtī – ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān al-Amrohī – Faḍl ar-Raḥmān ibn Ahl Allāh aṣ-Ṣiddīqī – ʿAbd al-ʿAziz ibn Aḥmed ibn ʿAbd ar-Rahīm ad-Dehlavī (a.k.a Shāh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz) – from his father: Shāh Walī Allāh – Abū Ṭāhir al-Kurdī – Muḥammad Ibrāhīm al-Kūrānī – Ṣafī ad-Dīn Aḥmad al-Qushāshī – Aḥmad ash-Shinnāwī – Shams ad-Dīn Muḥammad ar-Ramlī – Zakariyyā al-Anṣārī – Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī – al-Buhrān Abū Isḥāq Ibrāhīm at-Tannūkhī – Abū al- ʿAbbās Aḥmad Ibn Abī Ṭālib al-Ḥajjār – Abū ʿAbd Allah al-Ḥusayn ibn al-Mubārak az-Zabīdī – Abū al-Waqt ʿAbd al-Awwal ibn ʿIsā al-Harawī as-Sijzī – Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn al-Muẓaffar ad-Dāwūdī al-Būshanjī – Aḥmad ibn Ḥamūyah as-Sarakhsī – Muḥammad ibn Yūsuf ibn Maṭar al-Firabrī – Abū ʿAbdullāh Muḥammad ibn Ismāʿīl al-Bukhārī – Ismāʿīl ibn ‘Abī ‘Uways – Mālik ibn ‘Anas – Hishām ibn ʿUrwah – his father: ʿUrwat ibn az-Zubayr – ʿAbdullāh ibn ʿAmr ibn al-ʿĀṣ:
I heard the Prophet, peace and blessing be upon him, say: “Allah will not extract knowledge from His slaves but will expel knowledge by uplifting Scholars [from this world] until there will be none left, in which case people will take the ignorant as their leaders. People will consult these ignorant leaders and they will advise without proper knowledge. They are misguided and misguide others.”
—————————————- This is how the shortest and most elevated chain of our times reads.
It is a tremendous endorsement that Shaykh Aḥmad ʿAlī Lājpūrī’s name has now crystallized in the chain of transmitters linking us back to the Prophet, may Allah’s peace and blessing be upon him. Muslims should take heed and realise the blessing surrounding the Prophetic pronouncements. Ḥadīth students relating transmissions with chains will now invoke Mowlānā’s name and no doubt pray for his mercy.
Indeed there are many proficient Ḥadīth transmitters present today, however ‘elevation’ or ʿuluw, which is to pursue the highest chain with the least number of transmitters, has been much sought after by scholars and students alike. For, it means closeness to Allah and His Prophet amongst many things and this alone is one blessing enough. Imam Aḥmad promulgated ‘the pursuit of an elevated chain is a tradition of those bygone’ while Imam ʿAlī ibn al-Madīnī announced that ‘settling for less is a sign of misfortune’ (al-Nuzūl Shu’m). There is no shortage of examples from the Companion generation onwards of people travelling to hear reports from the mouths of the earliest or initial narrators. Shaykh Aḥmad ʿAlī was amongst the last, if not the last, surviving student to have studied under Mowlānā ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān Amrohī. He was in his final year of ʿālim class at Dabhel, an institution founded by the Deobandi prodigy Mowlānā ‘Anwar Shāh Kashmīrī, when its resident Shaykh al-Ḥadīth Mowlānā Shabbīr Aḥmad ʿUthmānī took sabbatical leave. The 30’s and 40’s were decades troubled with politics in the Subcontinent that proved decisive, it led to the notorious partition, and Mowlānā ʿUthmānī was in the thick of much of it. Unlike Deoband’s Shaykh al-Ḥadīth Mowlānā Ḥusayn Aḥmad Madani, Mowlānā ʿUthmānī did not support the Congress cause. Instead, his intuition led him to place faith in the call for a separate Muslim state which later became known as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.
When I first went to recite Ḥadīth to Shaykh Aḥmad ʿAlī in 2005 with Imam Muṣṭafā ʿUmar (California), he shared his feelings about the political disagreement between the two personages. It was his sincere belief that both had the interests of fellow Muslims at heart and that he was not in a position to judge or fault either. This is an important principle which tends to find lesser acknowledgement today than ever before, especially in a culture where people are expected to hold a partisan opinion. Where posterity is not able to appreciate the context in which dissent is shaped, it should refrain from taking sides. In fact, posterity is advised to exercise caution when confronted with contentions of past contemporaries. For, ill-will and animosity is not uncommon and a lack of care can destroy the past, jeopardise the present and divide the future.
In any case, Mowlānā Shabbīr Aḥmad ʿUthmānī’s sabbatical left the institution in search of an appropriate substitute to take on the leading position of Shaykh al-Ḥadīth. The institution, unable to find a suitor, requested the then frail Mowlānā ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān Amrohī who was escorted from his hometown well over a thousand kilometres away. (Amroha is located in North India, the state of Uttar Pradesh)
This is significant.
Mowlānā Amrohī had many credentials attached to his name. He was the last student to have studied Sunan al-Tirmidhī from Mowlānā Qāsim Nānotwī and had accrued ijazāh from Muftī Rashīd Aḥmad Gangohī. He was also affiliated with Deoband’s spiritual leader, Ḥājī Imdād Allāh, who licensed him in the Chishti order. This meant that there was only one link between Shaykh Aḥmad ʿAlī and the founding fathers of Deoband.
Some thirty years ago, Qārī Ṭayyib, the former principle of Deoband visited Pakistan and during his address to the ʿUlamā’ there, prided over the particular link of Mowlānā ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Amrohī. For, it linked him to his grandfather, Mowlānā Qāsim, via one link only. Of late there was none who could claim such an honour 1, not even in the Deoband itself, and just when one feels that it stops here it does not.
Mowlānā Amrohi is also recorded to have studied with Shaykh Ḥusayn ibn Muḥsin al-Yamānī, a Yemeni scholar who set foot in India five years after the Mutiny of 1857 and is responsible for bringing certain strands of thought to the Indian landscape that were otherwise not readily accessible. Shaykh Ḥusayn’s formal studies were under various members of the mighty al-Ahdal family but he had also been blessed with the companionship of both the peerless al-Qaḍī al- Shawkānī and the unrivalled ‘salafī’-oriented Ḥadīth scholar, Shaykh Muḥammad ibn Nāṣir al- Ḥazimī. All conferred their licenses and showed much love and affection. Al-Shawkānī would say to him, ‘Your father is the student of my father, you are my son and student’.
His trip to India came shortly after he faced persecution at the hands of one of al-Ḥudaydah’s governors, a Turk by the name of Ahmed Pasha (al-Ḥudaydah was the Shaykh’s birthplace). This governor wanted to implement an unspecified tax upon pearl merchants, for which he invited scholars to approve his policy. Shaykh Ḥusayn strongly refused. He passionately defended the public, reasoning that there was no basis for it in the Qur’ān, ḥadīth or fiqh texts. This resulted in death/torture threats but he remained steadfast and handed in his resignation. Consequently, he was fettered out into the scorching sun without food or water. His features had changed and everyone who saw his situation condemned the governor. He was released shortly thereafter.
India was undergoing its fair share of political turmoil at the time. Shaykh Ḥusayn made a total of three trips to India, Bhopal in particular. It was his last trip, however, in which he decided to settle in India for good which proved most profitable. Bhopal, thanks to the exceptional Shāh Jehān Begum and her second husband, the Amīr Ahl al-Ḥadīth Fī al-Hind2, Nawāb Ṣiddīq Ḥasan Khān al- Qannowjī, became the capital of Ḥadīth studies and Shaykh Ḥusayn was its centre of attraction.3 Thousands of scholars flocked to study at his feet, Mowlānā Amrohī included, as he was by far one of the most celebrated Ḥadīth scholars of that period.
Most important of all, however, was Mowlānā Amrohī’s affiliation and later license from Mowlānā Faḍl ar-Raḥmān Ganj Murādābādī, a magnificent personage not only well-versed in scripture but also the greatest Sufi authority of his time. It should suffice in noting the famous historian and prodigy, Ḥakīm ʿAbd al-Ḥayy al-Ḥasanī, who was also one of his disciples. He comments that his karāmāt had reached the point of certainty to all, second only to those known of Shaykh ʿAbd al- Qādir al-Jīlānī. Notables from all walks of life flocked to him, including those now considered from various Sunni denominations: Mowlānā Thānvī, Aḥmad Rīḍā Khān and Nawāb Ṣiddīq Ḥasan Khān4 — – all had sought his companionship. Amongst many things, Mowlānā Faḍl ar-Raḥmān is known for his attachment to the ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī. He would have at least two readings of it daily at his khānqāh, which mesmerised all that were present. Mowlānā Faḍl ar-Raḥmān was amongst the last students of Shāh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, the eldest son of Shāh Walī Allāh and Mowlānā Amrohī is considered his last student. This is what made Shaykh Aḥmad’s chain so strong. It’s the most elevated link to India’s polymath and Ḥadīth revivalist, Shāh Walī Allāh.
The majority of senior Deobandi scholars today are students of Mowlānā Ḥusayn Aḥmad Madanī. Mowlānā Madanī’s chain goes via his teacher Mowlānā Maḥmūd al-Ḥasan, “Shaykh al-Hind”. It will read along the following lines:
2. Mowlānā Madanī
3. Maḥmūd al-Ḥasan/Qāsim Nānotwī/Rashīd Gangohī
4. ʿAbd al-Ghanī ibn Abī Saʿīd
5. Shāh Muḥammad Isḥāq
6. Shāh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz
7. Shāh Walī Allāh
Britain’s senior ʿUlamā’ are students of Shaykh Zakariyyā Kandhelvī, former Shaykh al-Ḥadīth of the Mazāhir al-ʿUlūm (Saharanpur) seminary and author of the famous Faḍā’il al-Aʿmāl. His chain is as follows:
1. Zakariyyā al-Kandhelvī
2. Khalīl Aḥmad Sahāranpūrī
3. ʿAbd al-Ghanī ibn Abī Saʿīd/ʿAbd al-Qayyūm Badhānvī
4. Shāh Muḥammad Isḥāq
5. Shāh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz
6. Shāh Walī Allāh
By contrast and bearing in mind that Moulanā Madanī died in 1957 and Shaykh Zakariyyā in 1982, Shaykh Aḥmad ʿAlī’s is as follows:
3. Faḍl ar-Raḥmān Ganj Murādābādī
4. Shāh ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz
That is an impressive 250 years between three links. —————————
Shaykh Aḥmad was born in 1919, almost a century ago, in the wake of a series of political events that would change the course of history: the Great War and the Second World War, the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate, the partition of India Pakistan etc. His hometown Lājpūr is renowned for its piety and sayyids. Shah Sufi Sulaymān, author of bāgh-e-ʿĀrif, Mufti ʿAbd ar-Raḥīm Lājpūrī, author of the voluminous fatāwā-e-Raḥīmiyyah, Mufti Marghūb ar-Raḥmān Lājpūrī and Mowlānā Ismāʿīl Wādī, an old sage currently residing in Blackburn, are some of the proud sons of this village.
He received his initial education at home and later pursued formal studies at the Jāmʿiah Taʿlīm ad- Dīn seminary at Dabhel. After graduation, he taught there for some years. In 1950 he was invited to serve as Imam in South Africa. Travelling then was accomplished via sea and took months. By the time he had reached South Africa, the mosque committee that invited him had changed and the vacancy filled. The Shaykh then decided to retreat to his teaching post in Dabhel when others suggested neighbouring Mozambique was desperately in need of an Imam. Mozambique too, by the time he had reached there, had found someone. However, his arrival in Mozambique had coincided with an individual from Malawi who was in search of an Imam.
From 1950 onwards, for 12-14 years, Shaykh Aḥmad ʿAlī served as full-time Imam and teacher at the town of Dedza. Thereafter he retired with a shop in Namadzi, a trading post which connected the North and Central Malawi with the South, in particular to the country’s former capital Zomba. His shop was strategically situated across the town’s mosque. Namadzi, located on a famous travelers route, functioned as a pit-stop where travelers would stop to pray, snack and catch up with news. When the Malawi dictatorship, like many of its African counterparts, took up the Africanisation policy which put non-natives at a disadvantage, the Shaykh, along with the rest of the commonwealth Africans of Asian heritage, migrated to England, Leicester to be precise, which is home, till date, to the largest population of African Asian migrants. He arrived here in 1970.
Throughout my visits I realised he was essentially a man of that past era. He embodied all the charm and warmth of our immediate predecessors, which is fast becoming extinct with the departure of this first generation of migrants. Their ‘values’ are alien to the third/fourth generation of British Muslims today.
Following the sunnah was beyond question, he adhered to the configurations of the Deobandi school passionately. In it, he found his comfort and conviction. On a Ramadhan visit to an Arab country, he related how Arab students had decided to read 8-12 rakʿats of the tarāwīh prayer. The Shaykh, with all humility and indifference, told them that while they were free to pray however many they wished, he would pray the full twenty. He was very respectful and mindful in this which brought about a great sense of admiration, even to those who did not hold similar positions.
Last year, thanks to Shaykh Haytham al-Ḥaddād and Dr. Akram Nadwī’s efforts, Britain witnessed its first ever public reading of the ṣaḥīḥ al-bukhārī. Over a period of 5 weekend sittings and in the presence of Britain’s leading Ḥadīth experts, students – both male and female – recited the entire ṣaḥīḥ al-bukhārī to the Shaykh. It was a historic event and the elders of Masjid al-Falāḥ should be commended for allowing the programme to materialise. It was not merely the recitation itself or the quick Ḥadīth comments in between recitation that made it a memorable experience, the post session interaction and the Masjid sleepovers generated fruitful exchanges and dialogue which would not have been possible otherwise. They will no doubt form cherished memories for those that were present.
The Bukhārī recitation instigated further interest. Shaykh Aḥmad was invited to London on behalf of Buruj Press where Yaḥyā ibn Yaḥyā al-Laythī’s recension of the muwaṭṭā’ was read over a weekend. I had planned to visit but poverty, and nothing else, had prevented me from attending. Students shortly thereafter were contemplating on a recitation of ṣaḥīḥ muslim but Allah had other plans.
His recognition and high isnād attracted Ḥadīth students from all across the globe. Students, from the Middle East in particular, flocked to sit at his feet in Leicester. The grandson of the Saudi luminary Shaykh Nāṣir al-ʿAqīl, ‘Anas al-ʿAqīl related how his friends and students at Makkah were amazed when he told them he was travelling to England to recite Ḥadīth and obtain a very special isnād. “ENGLAND?!” they exclaimed with shock and horror.
There is much political discourse surrounding the failure of multiculturalism but seldom will it highlight the rich exchanges that are surfacing within Muslims themselves as a result of figures like these.5 The prospect of various Muslim orientations and students travelling from foreign lands would have not been possible otherwise.6
In May 2010, the Kuwaiti Islamic cultural bureau had organised a recital of ṣaḥīḥ al-bukhārī in front of six leading authorities, Shaykh Aḥmad ʿAlī was amongst them. During his annual visits to the Ḥaramayn, he would be surrounded by an army of students eager to recite Ḥadīth to him and connect with his chain.
My last visit to the Shaykh was in mid January when news had reached me of his critical health, a fever that was potentially to cost him his life. Many rushed to see him the following morning. By the grace of Allah he had recovered, rather promisingly, before our return. It was during this visit he told us he had two wishes left in life: to make ʿUmrah and to visit his parents graves in India. Of those, he was granted the first. He returned on Sunday 6 March, four days after which he breathed his last. In shā’ Allah, his wish to be reunited with his parents was answered in the form of his death. He can be forever at peace with them, knowing that his name is now formidably attached to a long list of luminaries which ends with our beloved Prophet (SAW). He will be remembered for his piety and wisdom.
Details about his ʿUmrah trip and his death are given by his only son, Shamshul Haque. His statement is repeated here in its entirety:
“My father was 92 years old when he passed away and I was fortunate to accompany him on his last ʿUmrah trip. Prior to going for ‘Umrah on 20 February 2011 my respected father’s health was not good. He was weak but he had this burning desire to visit Makkah and Medīnah with his family.
So on Sunday 20 February 2011 myself, my four sisters and his son in law, nephew and niece left for Makkah. On arrival in Makkah his health improved considerably and the respected Shaykh performed ʿUmrah with ease and with tears rolling kissed the ḥajar-e-‘aswad, or black stone.
Word had spread that the respected Shaykh was in Makkah and lots of people came to the hotel to meet him and read Ḥadīth. At the end of each session the respected Shaykh emphasised the importance of reading Ḥadīth and, more importantly, putting in to practice the sunnah our beloved Prophet (SAW) in our daily life. The respected Shaykh always requested duʿās to die with īmān and was very concerned with the state of the ummah. The respected Shaykh prayed for the welfare of the entire ʿummah.
After seven days in Makkah we departed to Med īnah. On reaching Medīnah the respected Shaykh was very quiet and with humility went to the grave of Rasūl (SAW) and again with tears flowing presented himself. Again in Madīnah word had spread and many Shaykhs came to visit him. Here in Madīnah a complete reading of the muwaṭṭā’ was made in six days. When the time came to leave Madīnah the respected Shaykh went very quiet. There was also reading on his way to the airport. Throughout the journey back home, the respected Shaykh was very quiet and in deep meditation.
The Respected Shaykh passed away on Thursday 10 March at time between ʿasr and maghrib prayers. The family was with him, the Shaykh had come from Masjid al-Falah along with family members, he read chapter 36, surah yāsīn, and passed away looking up smiling and reciting the kalimah, ‘lā ilāha ‘illa Allāh, Muḥammad Rasūl Allāh’, there is no God but Allah and Muḥammad is his Messenger.
May Allah (SWT) elevate His status in Jannah and give him a lofty place in the Firdaws.
I have indeed lost a wonderful father.”
The Shaykh leaves behind four caring daughters and a son. All of them married and reside in England. One can only pray that Allah give them solace and the strength to overcome the immeasurable loss.
His funeral saw the attendance of some of Britain’s leading scholars, all of whom recognised the loss of this otherwise unknown towering figure whose name gave British Muslim scholarship a face and much recognition in the field of Ḥadīth.
As the teacher of teachers, the Shāh Wajīh ad-Dīn al-ʿAlawī of our time, Mufti Shabbīr Aḥmad rightly lamented, paraphrasing the ḥadīth of Umm Ayman: “I weep not because the Prophet has died but because the communication from the above has now been severed.”7 By this, he was referring to the tradition of public Ḥadīth readings.
1 Dr. Akram in his address makes note of Mowlānā Sarfaraz Khān Ṣafdar as an exception. He was a student of Mowlānā Madanī, who died in May 5 2009 at the age of 98. The additional links that are to follow, however, forms part of Sheikh Aḥmad ʿAlī’s legacy only.
2 Literally, the leader of the ahl-e-ḥadīth in India
3 For a wonderful and recent presentation on the Begum, see the prodigious Barbara Metcalf’s Jan 2011 presidential address at the 125th annual American Historical Association meeting. Her presentation is titled, “Islam and Power in Colonial India: The Making and Unmaking of a Muslim Prince(ss)”. It can be viewed here: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0B_AjI_FRw)
4 The Nawāb did not meet him in person but kept correspondence and sent his sons to keep in his company.
5 I understand it is beyond the political remit to acknowledge this phenomenon, nonetheless other perspectives reading into multiculturalism should not ignore it either.
6 I am grateful to none other than my diligent and ecumenical friend, Shaykh Andrew Booso, for bringing this point to the attention of others. See his article here: (http://bit.ly/hv3ZOk)
7 The ḥadīth is narrated in several Ḥadīth collections. The following is a translation from ṣaḥīḥ muslim:
Abū bakr said to ʿUmar, Allah be pleased with them both, after the Prophet’s demise, “let us go visit Umm Ayman, Allah be pleased with her, like the Prophet used to visit her”. When we got to her she started crying. Both Abū Bakr and ʿUmar said, “What causes you to cry? Don’t you know what is with Allah is better for the Messenger of Allah?” She replied, “I do not cry for that reason, for I am fully aware what Allah has is better for the Messenger of Allah but I weep because the revelation has now stopped descending from the sky.” Thus, she provoked them [in crying] and they started crying with her.