The Wise Healer of the Ummah: Life and Works of Mawlana Ashraf ʿAli Thanwi

The Wise Healer of the Ummah: Life and Works of Mawlana Ashraf ʿAli Thanwi

Mawlana Ashraf ʿAli Thanwi was born in Thanabhawan, in the Muzaffarnagar District of UP, India. His blessed birth took place on Wednesday, the 5th of Rabi`ul-Awwal. 1280AH/1863CE. His forefathers were highly honored and revered amongst the people of their village. His father, Munshi Abd al-Haq Sahib, was a wealthy, honored, and esteemed landowner who was known for his righteous character and saintly heart.

Mawlana ’s ancestral lineage reached back to the illustrious companion of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ, Sayyiduna Umar al-Faruq (may Allah be pleased with him). He adhered to the Hanafi school of fiqh, and belonged to the Imdadiyya Sabiriyya Chishtiyya spiritual order wherein he was entrusted with the responsibility of initiating and instructing aspirants upon the spiritual path.

Mawlana spent his youth in his hometown learning basic Arabic and memorizing the Quran. Thereafter he commenced his preliminary study of Arabic and Persian grammar. In 1290 AH, he enrolled in Dar al-Ulum Deoband to complete his higher education in Islamic studies, greatly benefiting from the erudite scholars at the institution. At the turn of the 14th century, in 1301 AH as Mawlana Thanwi graduated from the seminary, he who was to be the reviver of the Ummah was slowly emerging. 

It was a great blessing and grace from Allah that Mawlana studied and graduated from the world-renowned seat of learning, Dar al-Ulum Deoband, at a time when it was a center for the pious and righteous. Most of these blessed personalities were connected to the spiritual order (silsilah) of the great Shaykh, Haji Imdadullah Muhajir Makki; some were even spiritual representatives of the Shaykh and would instruct spiritual aspirants in his place.  It was in this spiritual nest that Mawlana was nurtured in the auspicious hands of luminaries whose stature the whole Muslim world would readily bear witness to. 

Though Mawlana had the good fortune to be under the care and concern of many saintly personalities, he was particularly honored with the love and attention of two of the senior most scholars of the sub-continent, Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi and Mawlana Ya`qub Nanotwi. In return, Mawlana also had a special connection and love for these two saints, and for this reason he would remember these two mentors with great sentiment and emotion.

Mawlana Thanwi’s Relationship with Mawlana Gangohi

When Mawlana Thanwi was first admitted into Dar al-Ulum Deoband, he did not have the opportunity to benefit from the blessed company of the founder of the seminary, Mawlana Qasim Nanotwi, because one year after enrolling, Mawlana Qasim passed away. However, as a result, his heartfelt connection with the two previously mentioned saints only increased. He would often say:

I had such a spiritual compatibility and love for Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi that, after Haji Sahib, I did not feel such a connection with anyone else. I have never witnessed a man quite like him, who was so perfected both internally and externally. In most cases, my regard for people is based on external signs and traits found within them; however, for Mawlana my esteem was so heartfelt and spiritual that it needed no proof.

“I requested Mawlana [Gangohi] to accept my bay`ah in my early days of study. However, Mawlana Gangohi excused himself, because he used to consider bay`ah a distraction for students and an obstacle in the initial acquisition of external religious knowledge. Regardless of his refusal, I still considered Mawlana Gangohi to be my Shaykh and would always consult with him on important matters. Mawlana Gangohi in return would give me special consideration and attention. When I would present myself to be at his service he would lovingly say, ‘My brother, when you arrive… I come to life!’”

 “When he would speak of Haji Imdadullah, he would say with great zeal and enthusiasm, ‘My brother, you ate from Haji Sahib’s spiritual fruit after it had ripened, whereas we only ate from it when it was still raw…’ In other words, he (Mawlana Gangohi) had attained the blessing of Haji Sahib’s company early in his life and we benefited from Haji Sahib later on in his life.” 

One time, Mawlana Gangohi was giving a lecture in Gangoh and whenever someone would sit he would say, “My brother, there is an Alim-e-Haqqani’s lecture going on elsewhere, go there and listen to him. What are you doing over here?!” Mawlana Gangohi would often send some of the seekers who would come to him to Mawlana Thanwi for the sake of spiritual nurturing.

Mawlana Thanwi’s Relationship with Mawlana Yaqub Nanotwi

Mawlana Muhammad Ya`qub Sahib Nanotwi (may Allah sanctify his secret) was one of the first teachers of Dar al-Ulum Deoband. Teaching and learning the external Islamic sciences was his daily occupation but at the same time he was a very saintly man through whom many miracles and realities manifested. 

Mawlana Thanwi was extremely attached to him and had an ardent love for him; in exchange Mawlana Nanotwi also looked upon him with the consideration of a nurturer and spiritual-guide. He intuitively knew that this promising, bright, young student would have a radiant future.


هوشمندی بالای سرش

می تافت ستاریٔ بلندی

The sign of brightness that shined from his brow

Gave an indication to the loftiness of his future


Due to Mawlana Thanwi’s presence in his class, Mawlana Nanotwi would intentionally mention intricate points of knowledge and wisdom found in the shariʿah. Mawlana Thanwi would recall Mawlana Nanotwi’s words of wisdom with great ardor saying, “His lessons were not simply circles of learning, rather they were gatherings of complete devotion to Allah… As he would be explaining the commentary of the Quran, tears would flow from his eyes…” 

The Dastarbandi graduation ceremony—wherein a senior scholar would adorn the graduating students with a turban—took place at the blessed hands of Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi in 1301 AH (1883 CE). That year, Deoband held an exceptionally grand graduation. In the midst of the ceremony, Mawlana Thanwi came before Mawlana Nanotwi with some of his classmates seeking to excuse himself from the ceremony out of humility saying, “We are neither worthy nor do we have the future potential that would warrant such an honor being bestowed upon us… We fear that we will dishonor our institute because of this unworthiness…” 

Hearing this, Mawlana Nanotwi passionately responded, “Your notion is completely wrong. You do not recognize your own worth and value since your teachers are currently present in front of you—and that is how it should be. However, when you go out into the world, then you will truly recognize your significance and importance amongst the people. By Allah, I swear that wherever you go it will be you and nothing but you; the whole field will be cleared out for you.” And that is exactly what happened.


گفتۓ او گفتۓ الله بود

گرچه از حلقوم عبد الله بود

His utterance is the utterance of Allah,

Even if it comes from the throat of the slave of Allah.

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