[Biography] – The Allamah and Muhaddith of this Era, Shaykh Hafiz Muhammad Ghondalwi (d.1405H/1985) – Some Memories; Some Observations Part 1 – Shaykh Irshad ul-Haq al-Athari

Compiled, Translated and Annotated

Abu Khuzaimah Ansari

(This biography from is Maqalat Irshad ul-Haq al-Athari, 4:369-403, which I have very slightly adapted)

[tr. introduction: This a very brief biography of Shaykh Hafiz Muhammad Ghondalwi by his astute and perceptive student, Shaykh Irshad ul-Haq al-Athari. We find that the true people of knowledge have lofty, praiseworthy and beautiful character which is in accordance with the true teaching of Islam. Despite their vast knowledge, you will find them in them humility, modesty and taqwa. This should be a lesson for all aspiring students of knowledge. Seeking fame, status, and using titles which are not befitting for you, is not from the way of the Salaf, and is in fact a dangerous disease of the heart. Do not be amazed with the little knowledge Allah has given you, and never consider yourself above your brothers] 

If a person is born with the qualities of knowledge and acting upon it, insight, virtue, truthfulness, zuhd, taqwa, honesty, integrity, intelligence and other qualities then we say this is the likes of Hafiz Muhammad Ghondalwi who died in Ramadhan 1405H corresponding to 4th June 1985 on a Tuesday to meet his creator and left behind thousands grieving his loss.

The Shaykh was unwell for a while and it was during this period that I had the opportunity to meet him every so often. The last occasion was during the last days of Sha’ban (of that year) when his situation worsened and so I went to enquire regarding his health. He was unable to hear and all that remained was an acquaintance, and so I returned home in a state of sadness and grief. People would ask me concerning the Shaykh and I would say to them May Allah wish good for him as his health situation is bad and worrying. Thereafter, after a period of 4 months of illness the Shaykh passed away.

The writer of these words sought knowledge and benefitted from the Shaykh in 1968. Liyaqatpur was my native area and in 1963 I completed the beginner level books from the local deobandi madrassah Qasim al-Ulum. My teachers advised me to go to Jamia Rashidiyyah in Sahiwal or Khayr al-Madaris in Multan (the madrassah of Mawlana Khayr Muhammad Jalandhari) however Mawlana Mufti Abdur Rahman of Kehraurpaka advised me to go al-Jamia al-Salafiyyah in Faisalabad, this was not because he was an Ahl al-Hadith but rather because his friend Shaykh Sharifullah Khan was teaching there, who was considered an expert teacher of the Ma’qulat. So eventually with my father’s permission I enrolled at al-Jamia al-Salafiyyah. However, Shaykh Sharifullah Khan had left al-Jamia al-Salafiyyah in 1962, nonetheless he was replaced by his student, the teacher of the scholars, Shaykh Hafiz Muhammad Abdullah Budhiyamalwi.[1] After completing the middle level education I went to Gujranwala to Jamia Islamiyyah Chah Shahan in my last year and this is when I had the opportunity to attend the lessons of the Shaykh (Muhammad Ghonadalwi)

The Lessons

In my brief life I’ve had the opportunity to attend the lessons of various Shuyukh and teachers of the era but the prestige I experienced in Shaykh Muhammad Ghondalwi’s lessons I never experienced elsewhere. We had read about the special care and attention Imam Malik would undertake to deliver his lessons, while first performing Wudu, combing his hair, use Kohl and perfume himself, wear fine clothes and then teach, then our Shaykh would also do the same. He would always arrive on time. As soon as he would enter the masjid he would offer 2 rak’ahs for Tahayyatul Masjid and then focus on his lesson on hadith. One day there was torrential rain and the days were very cold, some us assumed that today the Shaykh won’t come and the lesson will be cancelled, however one our friends came running and told us while he was in a state of shock that the Shaykh is coming, so we all scurried and the Shaykh as per his norm, entered the Masjid and prayed his Tahayyah. Mawlana Muhammad Ali Muslim Chima mentioned to me that before the Shaykhs residence in Abadi Hakim Rayy he would travel from Ghondalwala every day by bicycle, we never ever saw him to be late, even once. One day the Shaykh generally mentioned that it has been five (5) years (in the teaching post) and it is Allah’s blessing that I have never been late for Madrassah, not even one day. Alas, where do we find people who fulfil their obligations with such responsibility nowadays.

After the Tahayyatul Masjid he would sit in his position with great care composure and begin his lesson. The Shaykh had so much respect and reverence for hadith that even after one and a half hours he would remain sitting calmly in the same position and would at the very least just move his feet up and down, despite tiredness due to age, which is a natural affair. There was no possibility at all of him lying down on a pillow (due to the respect of hadith). During the lesson if he needed to scratch himself somewhere he would not stop saying the beloved words of Qala Qala Rasul Allah…. He would respond to the Salam and and say Walaykum Asalam to whoever was attending the lesson. He would turn to the guest as soon as he would finish his lesson, greeting them with a smile and then ask them how they were, thereafter address their reason for coming.

The Shaykh’s Qualities

With Allah’s infinite blessings, he had a remarkable memory and vast knowledge. Shaykh Muhammad Ishaq Bhatti wrote the truth when he said:

“His mind and memory were remarkable and without match. The affair of vast knowledge was as such that when he would talk about a matter, all the discussions and information pertaining to that matter would be put forth and nothing would be missed while his speech was articulate and continuous, there was no hesitancy or stuttering in his speech (when delivering ilm).”[2]

Many of his students have verified the veracity of his memory and presented ample testimonies which can be read in the special edition of al-Ei’tisam, vol.38, issues 1-2. In this regard you may read the testimony of Shaykh Muhammad Ashraf Sandhu, he writes:

“Shaykh Hafiz Abdullah Amritsari’s memory and recollection was such that he had complete mastery over all books of Ulum and Fiqh. We observed regarding very difficult issues that when he needed to open a book to refer to an issue, then he would be at the right place straight away. This was also the affair with Shaykh Hafiz Muhammad Ghondalwi, that whatever book he consulted, the themes and context would be completely preserved and accurate.”[3]

The result of this powerful memory was that when he would speak, it would be as if he was turning the pages and reading from the book and there was no feeling that he was slowing down or having difficulty in what he was teaching. He would teach the basics of Sahih al-Bukhari for example, the difference between the Quran and hadith, the difference between Sunnah and khabar, the authority of hadith, the preservation of hadith, the writing of hadith, the categorization of the books of hadith, a summary of the life and times of Imam al-Bukhari, the importance of Sahih al-Bukhari and its authority, likewise and similarly the authority khabar al-wahid, the specification of khabar al-wahid and issues of apparent contradiction which would last approximately 15-20 days.

He would talk about apparently conflicting narrations and then mention that according to the Shafi’yyah the first stage is reconciliation (Tatbiq/Jam’) and if that was not possible then declaring one to be nasikh and the other mansukh and again if this was not possible then they would try to show one as being rajih and the other marjuh (one has precedence over the other) and if all of this was not possible then the ruling from both reports would be dropped. With the Ahnaf the first stage was abrogation (naskh), then giving precedence to one report over the other and then the last stage of trying to reconcile between the two reports (Tatbiq/Jam’).

While mentioning this he would say that in one instance Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri says that doing tarjih has precedence over tatbiq because taking the rajih position is in line with the human natural disposition. However, at the same time he says and holds the view that it is permissible to specify the Qur’an (made takhsis of) by the Sunnah, whereas this is in reality from the angle of tatbiq and it is absolutely clear and manifest that the Quran is rajeh.

Likewise, according to the Hanafiyyah specifying the Sunnah with the Sunnah and specifying the Quran with Mutawatir hadith and vice versa is permissible and they do not look at the strength of the evidence in this regard. He further said, (i.e. Shaykh Ghondalwi said) that it is amazing that Mr Kashmiri in this discussion of Usul holds the position of the Hanafiyyah to be correct, in that tarjih is the first stage compared to tatbiq but the various statements of Imam Abu Hanifah contradict this view of the Hanafiyyah. He (Anwar Shah al-Kashmiri) said in Kitab al-Ghusl (in his explanation of Sahih al-Bukhari, Faydh al-Bari) that:

Know that different reports which have been transmitted from our Imam on a single issue (i.e. Abu Hanifah), then the general position of our Mashaykh is to give one report tarjih first and to take the manifest report and leave the rare or uncommon report but I do not take this view. This is especially the case when the rare or uncommon report is supported by hadith, then in such instances I take that report without caring that it is a rare or uncommon report. This is because any reports from our Imam, May Allah have mercy on him (despite being rare) it is not possible that he did not have evidence from the ahadith or anything else and so if we find the hadith agrees with his report, then we take it. Yes, and if there is disparity between the views of the Mashaykh, tarjih is a possibility due to differences between them and sometimes reconciliation between their statements may defy the purpose of the difference. This is because there is no option other than tarjih contrary to the differences that emanate from a single person, when reconciliation has precedence. This is because the principle is that there should not contradictions in the statement of a single individual and therefore reconciliation should take precedence before making tarjih. It is strange that when our people see apparently contradictory ahadith, they try to reconcile them but when they find differences in statements of the Imam they take up the position of tarjih first and leave the method of reconciliation. I like that the contradictory statements that have from our Imam to be first reconciled provided there is no evidence established against this.[4]

You clearly see his words (i.e. Anwar Shah Kashmiri’s) and then in the introduction[5] he gives tarjih precedence over reconciliation but then on the other hand when there are differences in the views or statements of a person,  he holds that reconciliation has precedence over tarjih.

In summary Shaykh Muhammad Ghondalwi would deliver some introductory lessons for a number of days before teaching al-Bukhari. During his lessons he would not only suffice with explaining why the hadith was under the relevant chapter heading, clarification of the juristic points from the hadith, discussions on the controversial issues, a clarification and explanation of the difficult words, but he would also, while treading the path of the scholars of hadith, present brief biographies of the narrators in the chain.

For example, during the explanation of the first hadith in al-Bukhari, regarding the point of “Hadathana al-Humaydi” Imam al-Bukhari transmit the hadith from his famous teacher, Imam Abdullah bin al-Zubayr al-Humaydi al-Qurayshi al-Makki, who in turn was the student of Imam al-Shafi’i and of al-Qurayshi lineage. Imam al-Humaydi collated his narrations as a Musnad which has been printed in two volumes. Imam al-Bukhari, by transmitting from Imam al-Humaydi intended to show revelation began in Makkah and thus transmitted his first hadith from his Makki Shaykh. Likewise, and similarly, since Imam al-Humaydi was a Qurayshi and due to the Prophets Sallalahu Alayhi Wasallam’s words, “Begin with the Quraysh” he transmitted his hadith.

Since Imam al-Humaydi was Imam al-Shafi’is student, the student like his teacher was also critical of Ahl al-Rayy. Since Imam al-Bukhari had severely criticized Imam Abu Hanifah and some of the hanafi scholars said that Imam al-Bukhari’s criticism of Imam Abu Hanifah was due to the influence of Imam al-Humaydi and his other teacher, Nu’aym b. Hammad, whereas this is incorrect. Imam Muslim and Imam al-Nasa’i also criticized Imam Abu Hanifah, so were they also influenced by Imams al-Humaydi and Nu’aym b. Hammad? There is another al-Humaydi who is famous and he is Imam Abu Abdullah Muhammad b. Abi Nasr, who collated the (biographies) of the narrators of Sahih al-Bukhari and Sahih Muslim and he was the student of Imam Ibn Hazm.[6]

The second narrator in the chain is Sufyan and there are two famous scholars of hadith with this name. One is Sufyan al-Thawri and the other was Sufyan b. Uyaynah. They were the contemporaries of Imam Malik and from the most trustworthy scholars of hadith in Makkah. Imam al-Shafi’i said:

“If it were not for Malik and Ibn Uyaynah knowledge in Hijaz would have departed.”

Ibn Uyaynah like Imam Malik was from the Taba Tabi’in and I remember him vividly saying this part that he read the footnotes of Mawlana Ahmad Ali Saharanpuri (Hanafi) who referred to him as “Makki al-Tabi’i” and then said he made a mistake. So he would introduce the narrators comprehensively.

One of the characteristics of the scholars of hadith is that they also sought knowledge from people who were lower (in knowledge or younger) than them in status without any hesitation which led to a specific category in the science of hadith, ‘the narrations of the senior from the junior’. No matter how many amazing qualities a teacher has, he is still a human at the end of the day and who is free from error or mistakes? Imam Abdullah b. Mubarak said: “Who is safe from error.”[7] So if a teacher makes a mistake and then his student corrects him in the gathering then the Muhaddith wont feel any anger nor have animosity for the student because the fundamental aim is serve knowledge without any inkling for fame. Our Hafiz was also an example of these qualities. Hence, once during the lesson on Sahih al-Bukhari we were going over Kitab al-Manaqib and we got to the hadith of Anas RadiAllahu Anhu pertaining to the mi’raj. Sharik b. Abdullah narrates from Anas RadiAllahu Anhu and while discussing the hadith, Shaykh Hafiz Muhammad Ghondalwi said:

“Sharik b. Abdullah made a mistake in this hadith, he was unable to preserve the wording of the narration due to his weak memory. When he became the Qadi of Kufah his memory deteriorated and changed. Other than changing the chronology of the explanation and the details he presented for, ‘thumma Haddathana Fatadli’ the scholars of hadith have criticized this.”

When he finished speaking I gathered my courage and said, Shaykh this is not Sharik b. Abdullah al-Nakha’i al-Qadi but in fact it is Sharik b. Abdullah ibn Abi Nimr because Imam al-Bukhari did not take any narrations from Sharik Qadi.[8] However Shaykh Muhammad Ghondalwi disagreed and said the individual was Sharik Qadi. However, I still gathered courage and expressed the same view and then the Shaykh stayed quiet.

The next day as per usual the Shaykh after reciting the khutbah addressed me and said:

“What you were saying yesterday is correct the narrator is not Sharik Qadi but rather it is Sharik b. Abdullah bin Abi Nimr, who is truthful but he made mistakes and the scholars of hadith have criticised some of the wordings of this narration.”

One can learn the open mindedness of the Shaykh from this example and an expansive readiness to accept the truth.

While explaining the ahadith under the “Bab Halwatul Iman” (The Chapter on the sweetness of Iman” he said the reality of Iman and its sweetness is something physical and something that one can also feel when one has hatred and dislike for sins, his soul is refreshed (tr. This means he feels his Iman increasing) which causes nur to flourish on the individual due to righteous actions on a truthful believer and therefore sometimes he smells something foul on evil sins and something fragrant due to good deeds. The Shaykh went on to present numerous evidences for this and also mentioned the narration of Jabir b. Abdullah RadhiAllahu Anhu that he was with the Messenger of Allah Sallalahu Alayhi Wasallam when a foul smell arose so the Messenger of Allah Sallalahu Alayhi Wasallam said:

“Do you know what this foul stench is? This is the smell from the mouth of the people who backbite the Muslims”

Likewise, the hadith:

“When a person lies the angels due to his lying, move away from him.”

So I asked the Shaykh is it possible that can happen even now, i.e. being able to smell the fragrance or a foul smell due to deeds. The Shaykh replied the Companions would also experience this which was due to the favours and blessings of Allah upon them. So, if a person maintains a strong powerful link with Allah he would perhaps also experience this.

Another incident is what is mentioned by Muhammad Rafiq, when I saw him I told him that I was studying with Shaykh Hafiz Muhammad Ghondalwi and upon hearing his name he was pleasantly surprised. So I asked him if he knew him and he replied very well. Then he mentions that he used to live in Sheikhpura and during the night he would hear a sound in the drains which would increase day by day. We called many people to recite but nothing worked. Then someone advised us to get Shaykh Muhammad Ghondalwi to do ruqyah, so we bought him to our house and he stayed the night and then when leaving in the morning he advised us to disperse some water throughout the house on which he had recited. This not only helped with the problem but we also smelt roses on the house for three days, so he is indeed a great scholar and sitting with him is an indispensable treasure.

Another incident which the Shaykh narrated to us was something that occurred during his teaching spell in the Islamic University of Madinah. There was a person who would have severe pain in his back which would start suddenly. The Shaykh instructed him to come to him when the pain arose. So one day he came and the Shaykh put his hand on the pain and informed the person the pain was due to the effect of magic. So the Shaykh did ruqyah on him for a few days and Allah cured him. So I asked the Shaykh how did he know magic was done on him. The Shaykh replied that when I put my hand on his back I could smell a foul stench and I realized this was due to the effect of magic.


[1] According to Fadhilatush Shaykh Muhammad Ataullah Hanif (Bhojiyani), Shaykh Muhammad Abdullah was from the foremost students of Shaykh Muhammad Ghondalwi and during the lessons he would refer to Shaykh Muhammad Abdullah as Sibawayh, the Shaykh died on the 8th of May 1987 at the age of 80, Rahimahullah)

[2] al-Ei’tisam, 16th December 1949, vol.1, issue 12, page 4.

[3] Nata’ij Taqlid, 22, 2nd edition.

[4] Faydh al-Bari, 1:357.

[5] Faydh al-Bari, 1:52

[6] (tr.) He also authored a magnificent history of al-Andalus titled, ‘Jadhwah al-muqtabis fī dhikr wulāt al-andalus.’

[7] Lisan al-Mizan, 1:17.

[8] The same mistake was made by Mawlana Zafar Ahmad Thanwi, he writes concerning this narration of Anas Radhiallahu Anhu, “It is like this in the narration of Sharikh al-Qadi and Sharikh was weak in memory.” (Inha al-Sakan, 118)

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