Book Review: Life and Mission of Maulana Mohammad Ilyas

Life and Mission of Maulana Muhammad Ilyas

Title: Life and Mission of Maulana Mohammad Ilyas
Author: Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi
Translator: Mohammad Asif Kidwai
Publisher: Haji Arfeen Academy Karachi (2nd Edition 1983, 3rd Edition 1993)

Shaykh Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi (1914-1999 AD) wrote the original book in Urdu and the reviewed book was translated into English by Mohammad Asif Kidwai. Maulana Nadvi’s brief biography in the inside jacket is as follows:

Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi is one of the most reputed scholars and an eminent leader of Muslim India. He is held in high esteem throughout the world of Islam. He has written about fifty books in Arabic and Urdu on subjects related to Islamic faith, literature and history, and on problems confronting the Muslims in the present times. A number of his books have also been translated into English, French, Turkish, Persian and other languages.

A full biography can be found here:

Maulana Mohammad Ilyas (1885-1944 AD), the subject of this book, was the founder of the tabligh movement. He was born when Darul Uloom Deoband was only 19 years old, and India was under British colonial rule. As a scholar, he was imbued with a concern for the common Muslim and their attachment to the religion. While the educational system established by Darul Uloom Deoband, and similar seminaries, were gaining a foothold in the country, Maulana Ilyas was pained to see the common Muslim detached from the religion, especially those in isolated parts of the country and who had recently converted to Islam. It was this fundamental concern that led to a revival in the field of organized Islamic propagation at the grassroots level in the form of the tabligh movement.

Mohammad Manzoor Nomani writes in the foreword:

I, also, thought of writing a biography of the Maulana but could not quite make up my mind as the Maulana was strictly opposed to the association of his call with himself, and towards the end of his life, he even did not like his name to be mentioned in that connection. Apart from sincerity and self-effacement, the Maulana’s care and caution stemmed from important religious considerations. But we must confess our inability to abide wholly by the Maulana’s wishes. Sometimes in the interests of the movement it became necessary to describe the spirit of dedication, religious ardour and solicitude for the faith of its founder and to narrate his personal experiences while explaining its rules and principles or recounting the manifesting of its effect.

In view of all this, it occurred to me, again and again, during Maulana’s mortal illness, when my stay was mostly at Nizamuddin, that his biography, including a detailed account of the Tabligh movement, should be written. When I discussed it with Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, who was also staying there in those days, I found that he too was thinking on the same lines, and had even started preparing notes. Upon Maulana’s passing, it was decided to go ahead with the task.

Almost all the old colleagues and relatives of the Maulana had collected at Nizamuddin at that time and Maulana Nadwi took the opportunity to gather facts from them. The correspondence of the Maulana, also, was made available to him. The Maulana had, perhaps, written the most detailed letters concerning the aims and principles of the movement to Maulana Nadwi himself. Some other friends, too, sent to him the Maulana’s letters which were in their possession and furnished other valuable information when they came to know that he was writing the book. The help and cooperation extended by Shaykh ul Hadith Maulana Muhammad Zakariya proved most beneficial.

When the manuscript was ready, it was circulated among the Maulana’s trusted colleagues and close relatives for advice, and was also read out at different gatherings during the tabligh tours so that nothing was left to be desired by the way of accuracy or detail.

Before concluding, I would like to stress that though the author has admirably succeeded in his effort and no one would have done greater justice to the subject, whatever impression the readers, who had not come into contact with the Maulana, will form about him from these pages will be much short of what he actually was. My own case is that it was only during the Maulana’s last illness that I had the good fortune to observe him closely, and I can say without hesitation that everyday I felt that he was much greater than what I had imagined the previous day.

The book contains the following chapters: Early Days, Stay at Nizamuddin, Beginnings of Religious Reform in Mewat, Mass Effort, Stabilization of the Movement in Mewat and its Expansion, Journey’s End, Distinctive Qualities, Intellectual Background of the Tabligh Movement. The book starts by describing Maulana Ilyas’s family in the milieu of northern India, descriptions of his educational studies and his religious concern for the Muslims living in Mewat. Maulana Nadvi writes regarding the Meos (Muslims in Mewat):

Owning to the negligence of the Muslim religious teachers, the moral and religious condition of the Mewaties had sunk so low that there was little to distinguish between their beliefs and practices and wholesale apostasy. Even non-Muslim historians have commented at length on their estrangement with Islam, as the following extract from the Alwar Gazetteer of 1878, written by Major Powlett, will show:

All the Meos are, now, Muslims, but only in name. Their village deities are the same as those of the Hindu landlords, and they celebrate several Hindu festivals.

The interesting aspect of the book is that includes details of how Maulana Ilyas tried to educate the Meos, as he first established maktabs and madarassas (schools of learning) to teach them the basics of Islam. He however became discontent with its effects and Maulana Nadvi writes:

With the passage of time, Maulana Muhammad Ilyas became dissatisfied with the progress that was being made, on the individual plane, through the maktabs. He found that the maktabs, too, were not free from the effects of the general environment of ignorance and irreligiousness, and the students who passed out of them were incapable of rendering any real service to the faith.

There was no genuine attachment to faith which could induce people to send their children to maktabs, nor did they know the worth and value of religious knowledge so that recognition could be granted in society to those who acquired it. In such circumstances, the maktabs could exert little influence on the general patterns of living.

Moreover, all the arrangements were for children who had not yet attained the age of majority, and thus, were exempted from the application of the commands and injunctions of the Shariat appertaining to religious duties, while there was no provision for the reform and correction of grown up people who were incurring the displeasure of the Lord owning to their apathy and ignorance.

The book continues to describe the efforts of Maulana Ilyas to revive the religion in the lives of the Meos and then eventually reaching out to Muslims all over India. The book includes fascinating observations and reflections of Maulana Ilyas regarding ‘city-dwellers’, the ‘educated’ class and his desire to have scholars involved with the tabligh work.

It behooves anyone involved with the tabligh effort to read and study this book, as it includes the sentiments, challenges and personal thoughts of Maulana Ilyas. It is imperative for one involved with the tabligh effort to understand its place in history and its grassroots objectives and intended goals. Although this book was translated from Urdu and published in Pakistan, I personally found the English translation to be lucid and clear.

May Allah bless those who were involved with publishing this book and guide us all onto the straight path. Ameen.

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