Hadrat Mawlana Shah Hakim Muhammad Akhtar: A Brief Life Sketch

Hadrat Mawlana Shah Hakim Muhammad Akhtar: A Brief Life Sketch

The lover and knower of Allah, the shaykh of shaykhs, the Rūmī of his time, Ḥakīm Muḥammad Akhtar was born in 1927 in a small village in India called Athiya, in the Uttar Pradesh District of Partabargh. He was the only son - accompanied by two sisters - of a hard-working father and dedicated mother. Even as a child, he showed a God-given affinity towards piety and righteousness. His earliest memories, even in his infancy, were of being carried by his older sister to the local Imām of his masjid, who would bless him and pray for him. Ḥaḍrat quite affectionately remembered the Imām’s beard and white, shining clothes. Even at that tender age, Ḥaḍrat felt drawn to and had a deep connection with the people of piety. 

At the age of twelve, Ḥaḍrat would come to know the name of this local Imām – Ḥāfiẓ Abul-Barakāt – and would learn that he was a murid (spiritual aspirant) and khalīfah (spiritual deputy) of Ḥakīm al-Ummah, Mawlānā Ashraf ʿAlī Thānwī. Upon realizing the qualifications and scholarly pedigree of his beloved Imām, he immediately requested initiation into the precise spiritual path that the Imām was engaged in, requesting that he personally grant him spiritual guidance. Ḥāfiẓ Abul-Barakat, however, respectfully declined both propositions. 

“Ḥakīm al-Ummah granted me khilāfah to guide and assist laypersons and the general public, not the elite,” the Imām explained. “You are not a layperson and you will soon be initiated by someone who is a very special servant of Allah.” 

While still a pre-teen, Ḥaḍrat had routinely frequented an abandoned masjid in the middle of the jungle in the city of Sulṭānpūr, where his family had resided briefly. There, he would offer the night prayers and cry out of adoration in the love of Allah Taʿāla until the break of dawn. He would return home only after performing the Fajr prayers. The villagers in close proximity to the masjid had for the most part left their religious obligation to pray; however, inspired by the constancy of this adolescent, they became encouraged and motivated to attend the prayers. 

Needless to say, the remote masjid became lively again after many years of heedlessness. 

Shortly after completing elementary school, Ḥaḍrat implored his father to allow him admission into Dār al-ʿUlūm Deoband, the premier madrasah of its time in India. His father promptly declined the request and, instead, enrolled him into secular middle school. Ḥaḍrat, dutifully – albeit with a solemn heart – fulfilled his father’s request. 

But his ardent desire to pursue the sacred sciences of Sharīʿah would not take a back seat forever. After completion of middle-school, he eagerly commenced his preliminary Islamic studies with the Imām and khaṭīb of Sulṭānpūr Jāmiʿ Masjid, Mawlānā Qārī Muḥammad Ṣiddīq. There, he studied Farsi and beginners’ books such as Karīmāh, Bostān, and Gulistān. However, his father interrupted his studies again and required of him to take admission into Tibbiyya College in Ilāhabād, to pursue the study of herbal medicine. This entreaty from his father came with the permission, however, that upon the completion of his herbal medicine course at Tibbiyya College, Ḥaḍrat would be free to seek enrollment into the madrasah of his choice. 

Tibbiyya College turned out to be a source of great benefit for the young man. It was at this point on his spiritual journey that he met a great lover of Allah, a Naqshbandī Shaykh and the khalīfah of Mawlānā Fazlur Raḥmān Ganj-Murādabādī, 

Ḥaḍrat Mawlānā Shāh Muḥammad Aḥmad Ṣāḥib. He studied with him for three years and benefited from him immensely. Moreover, he enthusiastically seized the opportunity to attend the daily dhikr gatherings of his Shaykh and was able to then quench his burning thirst for the love of Allah. 

Ḥaḍrat relates, “While my class-fellows, after college, would go to watch the Hindu women bathe at the Jamna River, I would go straight to the dhikr gatherings of Mawlānā Shāh Muḥammad Aḥmad Ṣāḥib...” From five o’clock in the late afternoon till eleven o’clock at night, Ḥaḍrat would remain in this blessed gathering that consisted of poetry in love of Allah, advice, and heartfelt admonitions for the seekers of Allah. 

It was also at this stage of his life that Ḥaḍrat sought a formal connection to a spiritual mentor and guide. He fell upon a transcribed lecture of Ḥakīm al-Ummah titled, “Contentment of the Hearts,” which evoked in his heart a strong desire to make bayʿah (oath of commitment) and take the spiritual path with Ḥakīm al-Ummah. He thus began correspondence with him, but, unfortunately, the great Shaykh was not able to continue replying to Ḥaḍrat’s letters due to an extreme illness and the physical frailty resulting from it. The Shaykh’s deputy, Mawlānā Shabbīr ʿAlī Thānwī, advised Ḥaḍrat to seek a spiritual mentor from among Ḥakīm al-Ummah's khalīfahs. This was when Ḥaḍrat chose to connect himself with Mawlānā Shāh ʿAbd al-Ghanī Phūlpūrī. 

He finally completed his course at Tibbiyya College and gained admission into the madrasah of his Shaykh, Madrasah Bayt al-ʿUlūm in Saray-Mīr, which was established by the consultation and supervision of Ḥakīm al-Ummah himself. 

His Shaykh, Mawlānā Shāh ʿAbd al-Ghanī Phūlpūrī, was a transcendental figure, a remnant of the past – of a glorious by-gone era of illustrious Shaykhs. His humble abode was situated in a jungle, many kilometers away from the madrasah where he served in the capacity of principal and teacher. There were no modern facilities associated with comfort nearby, such as lavatories, bathrooms, running water, or electricity. 

When the need for water would arise, whether in winter or summer, Shaykh’s loyal student and spiritual disciple (Ḥaḍrat) would walk one kilometer down an unpaved road to fetch water from a pond, which would completely dry up in the hot summer months. 

Along with being an ardent lover of Allah and annihilated in His devotion, Ḥaḍrat’s Shaykh, Shāh ʿAbd al-Ghanī, was a sturdy warrior of a man – having been duly trained in Greco-Roman wrestling and the Indian martial art of stick-fighting. His rigorous daily routine of worship would start at three in the morning; he would begin with the nightly vigil – with extended, prolonged rakāʿahs of tahajjud, recitation of the Quran, salutations on the Prophet – and continue up to ten in the morning. In intervals amidst his recitation of the Quran, he would uncontrollably cry out the name of Allah. Ḥaḍrat himself would say, “It seemed like if he did not let out Allah’s name, his chest would burst out of the pressure building up inside... like steam emitting from a locomotive.” 

All the while, Ḥaḍrat would sit at a distance in the masjid, so as to not disturb his Shaykh’s devotions. He would sit, observing him closely and connecting his own heart with the spirit of his mentor, being watchful of any need that may arise for him. When his mentor would leave the masjid to refresh his ablutions for the morning prayer, Ḥaḍrat would put the Shaykh’s sandals before his feet. 

The Shaykh customarily refrained from partaking of any breakfast or food until one o'clock. Likewise, his disciple, out of shame and adab, would also refrain from doing so – despite severe pangs of hunger. Even though Ḥaḍrat had been permitted by his Shaykh to eat, he could not find comfort in the thought of executing such an action if his mentor was not doing it. Thus, his youth was spent harvesting sustenance from spiritual food more so than provisions offered elsewhere. This not only sufficed him, but also nourished him and strengthened his soul for the work that he was destined for. 

Commensurate with the station of the elite scholars who are acquainted with spiritual realities and are keen on sacrificing for the love and enjoyment of their Lord, he continued to climb the ladder of the spiritual sciences in the auspicious company of his Shaykh. Ḥaḍrat also continued his studies of the sacred sciences of Sharīʿah at his Shaykh’s madrasah, even though he had the opportunity to study at the prestigious Dār al-ʿUlūm Deoband. Despite the censure and disapproval of his contemporaries, Ḥaḍrat gave precedence to the ṣuḥbah (company) of his Shaykh; yet, he was not deprived of the scholarship of great ʿulamā’. 

Some of the reputable scholars he studied under were: 

  • Mawlānā ʿAbd al-Qayyūm Ṣāḥib, who was a graduate of Deoband, under whom Ḥaḍrat studied the Mishkāt al-Maṣābīḥ, Tafsīr al-Jalalayn and other texts with. 

  • Mawlānā Muḥammad Muslim Ṣāḥib Jawnpūrī, under whom he studied the Saḥīḥ Muslim. 

  • Mawlānā Shāh ʿAbd al-Ghanī Phūlpūrī, his Shaykh, under whom he studied the Saḥīḥ al-Bukhārī and the Mathnawī Sharīf of Mawlānā Rūmī.

He had attained such an in-depth knowledge of the Mathnawī that when he wrote his commentary on it, titled Maʿārif-e-Mathnawī, and sent a copy to illustrious scholars such as Mawlānā Yūsuf Binori and Shaykh al-Ḥadīth Mawlānā Muḥammad Zakariyyah, they praised the work tremendously. Mawlānā Binori said, “I see no difference between your Farsi poetry and Mawlānā Rūmī, and after reading your Maʿārif-e-Mathnawī, such a love and respect has come into my heart for you that I cannot express it in words.” 

For seventeen years Ḥaḍrat remained in the company of his Shaykh; until the Shaykh drew his last breath. He encountered and tolerated great hardships in his service. Ḥaḍrat would often recount that the hardships he underwent in the company and service of his spiritual mentor were so arduous that the students of today would not be able to endure a single day of such adversity: the burning envy and enmity of other students, death-threats, hunger, thirst, and poverty were just some of the obstacles he faced on his path. But these obstacles were no impediment for the one who had the sincere passion and thirst to attain the love of Allah, the one whose heart had been enlightened with the light of Allah’s love. Ḥaḍrat’s struggle, hardship, and sincere sacrifice rewarded him with great spiritual effulgence. He thus became a living example of what was uttered by the Knower of Allah, Imām Ibn ʿAṭā’illāh al-Iskandarī, who said, “Whoever does not have a burning beginning, will never have a shining end.” 

After the death of his first mentor, Ḥaḍrat connected himself to another illustrious khalīfah and shining star of Ḥakīm al-Ummah; in fact, the youngest deputy of Ḥaḍrat Thānwī, Mawlānā Shāh Abrār al-Ḥaqq Ṣāḥib Hardoi. He remained in his service and supervision for forty years and received ijāzah and khilāfah (permission to initiate and provide mentorship on the spiritual path) from him. The position of mashīkhah (spiritual-mentorship) was now officially taken up by Ḥaḍrat. This made it possible for thousands of seekers of Allah from various nationalities and all walks of life to garner benefit from him and quench their thirst for the love of Allah. 

A lover of Allah, erudite scholar, brilliant poet, prolific author, rector and principle of Jāmiʿah Ashraf al-Madāris in Karachi, founder and spiritual-caretaker of Khānqah Imdādiyyah Ashrafiyyah in Karachi, Shaykh of Shaykhs and spiritual guide, Ḥaḍrat continued to serve the dīn of Allah until he was overcome by a stroke in May of 2000. Though the stroke left the right side of his body paralyzed, it did not make him falter in serving the dīn and guiding Allah’s seekers. 

He continued to attend his majālis (spiritual gatherings). He would be present in the khānqah four to five times a day, despite his weakness and physical frailty. We can unequivocally say that he was a mountain of resolution and had complete reliance on and contentment in the decree of Allah. He refrained from complaining about his condition; rather, he was always seen smiling and attending to his students, showing them love – at times showing them more love than their own parents. One can say that this stage of his life was a time of great spirituality and tremendous descent of subtle blessings from Allah. Those who attended his gatherings during this time undoubtedly left spiritually rejuvenated, taking with them the fervor of guidance and motivation. 

In 2013, as his sickness intensified, he wished more than anything else to die on the same day as his beloved Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) did; this is what the burning heart of this lover yearned for. Regarding this, Ḥakīm al-Ummah once remarked, 

“Death on Friday is the death of the penitent, and death on Monday is the death of the lovers.” His beloved Lord granted him this wish and he finally set journey to the abode of the hereafter on the eve of Monday, 23rd of Rajab, 1434, corresponding to the 2nd of June, 2013. 

Ḥaḍrat’s funeral in Karachi was attended by thousands of people and, beyond that, he was equally mourned by thousands of scholars, lovers and seekers of Allah who were inspired by his knowledge, practice and embodiment of the teachings of the Quran and Sunnah. May Allah shower His choicest mercies upon him and elevate his rank in Paradise. May Allah grant us the ability to follow in his footsteps and may He unite us under His Glorious Throne on the Day of Judgment. Āmīn.

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