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[Biography] – Shaykh Muhammad Isma’il as-Salafi (d.1387/1968)

Compiled, Annotated & Translated

Abu Khuzaimah Ansari


A Brief Biography of Shaykh Muhammad Isma’il as-Salafi[1]

His Birth

According to the most reliable reports he was born in 1314H corresponding to 1895CE in a place called Dhawnaki in Wazirabad. The Shaykh’s family had been seeking knowledge for a few generations and had learnt the Islamic sciences.[2] The Shaykh’s father, Shaykh Ibrahim was also a scholar and calligrapher. He wrote Tuhfatul Ahwadhi and the Quran translated by Mawlana Wahid uz-Zaman in his calligraphy published in Lahore. The old print of Tuhfatul Ahwadhi with Jam’i at-Tirmidhi that we see printed in the Arab countries and the subcontinent is with handwriting of Shaykh Ibrahim.[3]

Shaykh Muhammad Ishaq Bhatti said I saw Shaykh Ibrahim in the 1940’s and his grandson, Shaykh Muhammad would often be with him i.e. Shaykh Muhammad Isma’il as-Salafi’s eldest son. When Shaykh Muhammad Ghondalwi would deliver his lessons on Sahih al-Bukhari or on any other book of hadith, Shaykh Ibrahim would sit in his lesson and listen attentively.[4] Shaykh Ibrahim also studied with Shaykh Abdul Mannan Wazirabadi, he would sit with and learn the science of hadith.[5]

Shaykh Ibrahim did not have any children, so he requested the virtuous and pious scholar Shaykh Abdul Mannan Wazirabadi (d.1916) to supplicate to Allah for him and Allah accepted his du’a and Shaykh Muhammad Isma’il as-Salafi was born. When the son was born Shaykh Wazirabadi named him Isma’il and said to his father to let his son serve the Din.[6]

His early Education

He received his early education from his respected father in the beginning thereafter he was taken to study with the famous Muhaddith Shaykh Abdul Mannan Wazirabadi. At his madrassah he studied the beginner books of morphology and grammar with Shaykh Umar Din (d.1342H) and the later advanced books like Ibn Aqil, Sharh Jami, Alfiyah and Mir Qutbi with Shaykh Abdul Mannan Wazirabadi. He studied all the books of hadith with Shaykh Abdul Mannan, from the basic books to the Sahihayn. He also studied Nukhbatul Fikr and Tafisr Jalalayn with Shaykh Wazirabadi and the latter gave Shaykh as-Salafi sanad and ijazah in 1333H.[7]

He first travelled to Delhi and enrolled in Madrassah Naziriyyah, which was the madrassah set up by the formidable hadith scholar, Shaykh al-Kul Sayyid Nazir Hussain Dehlawi and studied with Shaykh Abdul Jabbar Amrpuri in Delhi. Later he travelled to Amritsar and studied with the Ghaznawi family and then with Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Hasan[8] and then with Shaykh Ibrahim Mir Sialkoti in Sialkot as his eager student.[9]

Around the age of 23-34 after learning the various sciences around 1921, upon the advice and recommendation of Shaykh Thanaullah Amritsari and Shaykh Ibrahim Mir Sialkoti he went to Gujranwala. Shaykh Ibrahim Mir Sialkoti gave his huge library to Shaykh as-Salafi.[10]

He also studied with Shaykh Abdul Ghafur Ghaznawi and Shaykh Abdur Rahim Ghaznawi.[11] He met the great orator and expert astute debater of the Ahl ul-Hadith, Shaykh Abdul Aziz Rahimabadi when he was around 10 years old for the first time and he was in awe of him.[12]

He remained in Gujranwala for approximately half a century, spreading the Quran and Hadith throughout the city. When he first arrived in Gujranwala there was only one masjid and the Jami’yyah Ahl ul-Hadith only consisted of only seven (7) individuals. However, when the Shaykh died in 1968, a few days before he set the foundation of the 54th masjid in the city. From 1921-1930 he focussed on debating and discoursing other religions and sects upon the instruction of Shaykh Thanaullah Amritsari but he abandoned this forever and focussed on other aspects of da’wah.[13]

Lectures on the Qur’an

As soon as he arrived in Gujranwala, he began giving lectures on the Qur’an after Fajr, which continued for twenty-seven (27) years consecutively without fail. The attendees would number no less than almost 250 daily and this would exceed to 500 in the month of Ramadhan. In his lectures of the Qur’an and Friday sermons he had completed the Qur’an in a consecutive order and was on the 8th Juz of his second cycle.

His Sermons and Lectures

His sermons would be free from idle speech and irrelevant additions. His speech would be concise, clear with precision and free of stories. He would address every aspect of every subject in his sermons to such an extent listeners would fully understand. Shaykh Muhammad Yusuf Anwar mentions, 40-50 years ago, whenever we saw a poster for a conference, Shaykh Muhammad Isma’il as-Salafi’s name would often be first.[14]

His Works and Writings

After the explanation of the Qur’an the Shaykh liked the science of hadith, the authority and evidence of hadith, the compilation of hadith and the efforts of the scholars of hadith. It was on this basis the Shaykh liked and revered the scholars of hadith and the methodology of the Ahl ul-Hadith and this is evident from the Shaykhs writings and works. His writings were very clear and precise while choosing the correct and appropriate words to disseminate his point. Despite his busy schedule he was able to complete his works with a level of consistency and continuity without loss of the meaning or fervour.

Some of his works include,

  1. Islami Hukumat Ka Mukhtasar Hakah – A Summarised Outline of an Islamic Government
  2. Masalah Hayat un-Nabi – The Issue of the Living of the Prophet
  3. Jamat Islami Ka Nazriyyah Hadith – Jamat Islami’s View of Hadith (A Critical Analysis)
  4. Tehrikh Azadi Fikr Awr Hazrat Shah Waliullah Ki Tajdidi Masa’i – The Movement of Free Thinking and the Reform Efforts of Shaykh Shah Waliullah (In relation to blind partisanship, bigoted stagnant thinking in religious circles)
  5. Hadith Ki Tashri’i Ehmiyyat – The Legal Importance of Hadith
  6. Maqam Hadith Quran Ki Roshni Mein – The Status of Hadith According to the Qur’an
  7. Masala Ziyarat Qubur – The Issue of Visiting Graves
  8. Sab’a Mu’allaqah – Translation with annotations and an introduction
  9. Rusul Akram Ki Namaz – The Prayer of the Beloved Prophet
  10. Imam Bukhari Ka Maslak – The Methodology or School of Thought of Imam Bukhari
  11. Mishkat al-Masabih – translation of the first half of the book
  12. Fatawa Salafiyyah

Shaykh Abdur Rashid Iraqi mentioned two others[15],

  1. Hujjiyat Hadith – The Legal Authority of Hadith
  2. Waqia Ifak – The Incident of Ifak

And numerous articles and small treatises. Some books have been translated to Arabic.

His Teaching

As soon as the Shaykh arrived in Gujranwala, while delivering sermons, he also established Madrassah Muhammadiyyah next to Jam’i Masjid Ahl ul-Hadith he was also a teacher at the madrassah and students from all over the country would enrol.[16] Shaykh Muhammad Hanif Nadwi was from his batch of students and a plethora of other students benefitted. Shaykh Muhammad Ishaq Bhatti, the celebrated historian and biographer was also a student of Shaykh Muhammad Isma’il as-Salafi.[17]

He was asked to replace Shaykh al-Albani in Madinah University in the faculty of hadith by Shaykh Abdul Aziz b. Baz and he sent Shaykh Abdul Qadir Shaybatul Hamd as his representative but Shaykh Muhammad Isma’il as-Salafi declined and said his country and locality needed his efforts more.[18] He was constantly preoccupied in organizing the Jami’yyah in a structured and methodical way. In 1924 he organized the annual all India Ahl ul-Hadith Conference in Gujranwala. After 1924 when Shaykh Thanaullah Amritsari was chosen as the leader, Shaykh Isma’il as-Salafi visited him with his close friends. Later in 1349H (1930) when Shaykh Sayyid Muhammad Sharif Gharyalwi[19] was chosen as the leader and Tanzim Ahl ul-Hadith was formed, Shaykh Isma’il as-Salafi played an active and pivotal role.

Before the Creation of Pakistan

After 1947 when the chaos and carnage subsided, Shaykh as-Salafi went to Shaykh Dawud Ghaznawi and convinced him to take a central rolw in the Tanzim Ah ul-Hadith. He happily obliged and continued to assume the role until 1963, fulfilling the academic and active perspectives. In 1963 Shaykh Dawud Ghaznawi died and Shaykh as-Salafi was appointed as the president of Markazi Jami’yyah Ahl ul-Hadith and remained in this post until he died in 1968.[20]

In 1949 a meeting was held in the hall of Dar ul-Ulum Taqwiyatul Islam to establish Markazi Jami’yyah Ahl ul-Hadith. Shaykh Dawud Ghaznawi was elected as the president, Professor Abdul Qayyum the Secretary General. He later resigned due to his work commitments and Shaykh Ata’ullah Hanif filled the role for a short period. Thereafter Shaykh Isma’il as-Salafi took the role of secretary general of Markazi Jami’yyah Ahl ul-Hadith. He also remained the editor of al-I’tisam magazine from the beginning until the end. Shaykh Dawud Ghaznawi and Shaykh as-Salafi travelled around the country and asked scholars to work with them.[21]


In 1921 the political situation of the subcontinent was critical and at a crossroad; the whole region was up in arms protesting the illegal occupation of the British colonial imperialists. Shaykh Muhammad Isma’il as-Salafi had spent a significant portion of his early life in Wazirabad; which was a nucleus for anti-colonial imperialism. This shaped his thoughts and ideas of resisting the British colonialist and so when Shaykh Abul Kalam Azad visited Lahore to gain support and encourage resistance movement. Shaykh as-Salafi pledged his allegiance to him through his group, Hizbullah. Furthermore, during this period around 1921 he was involved and worked with other organisations that were active in dispelling the imperialists from their lands. In 1953, he was also very active in the movement against the Mirzai’s or commonly known as Qadiyanis and this was with and under the umbrella of Jami’yyah Ahl ul-Hadith West Pakistan.

His Personality

He was of medium height with frown lines on his forehead due to years of thought and reflection. He was smart and articulate with insightful eyes. He was friendly and pleasant while adorning simple clothes. He had a simple walk but filled with awe. He was rich from the heart and humble in his personality.

The Shaykh was very humble and modest with a happy attitude. He would always take an Arabic book with him on journeys and read it sometimes. He would eat little and when offered food he would often say let me remain independent when it comes to my stomach. If he was informed that someone spoke ill of him, he would say, Allah made them from those who wash my clothes i.e. cleaning his sins by giving their good deeds to him.[22]

His Manners and Habits

Despite his extremely busy schedule and engagements he remained in one place and continue to spread the Quran and Hadith for over 50 years in a single area. He was even invited to teach in Madinah University, but he declined the offer saying his country and locality needed him more. He traversed great financial difficulties in the beginning of his da’wah but despite such setbacks he lived a simple life of humility and modesty.

Shaykh Yusuf Anwar said once I sent the Shaykh 15 rupees for a journey from Gujranwala from Faisalabad to attend a conference. However, the actual amount was 4 rupees, so the Shaykh returned the money and said, “I am not in a habit of receiving travel money and if my health is good and I am alive, I will attend.[23]

The Praise of the Scholars

Shaykh Muhammad Ata’ullah Hanif Bhojiyani addressed him with the following words in a lengthy article documenting his works and efforts

The outstanding, learned and most intelligent Shaykh Muhammad Ismai’il as-Salafi…[24]

Shaykh Ihsan Ilahi Zahir said,

He was from the Salaf that passed, a righteous person with whom the Da’wah spread after spending half a century in one city.[25]

Once he was with a group who were setting off for Hajj and it was prayer time. The Shaykh moved forward to lead prayer when an elderly man said, “My prayer is not valid behind you.” The Shaykh picked his handkerchief from floor and moved back and said to the elderly man, my prayer is valid behind you, so you may lead the prayer. The old man was embarrassed and apologised profusely and then fervently requested the Shaykh to lead the prayer.[26]

Shaykh Muhammad, the Shaykh’s son said,

The Shaykh was suffering from a sort of nerve problems and the situation was not serious, however on the 25th of Dhul Qa’dah 1387H corresponding to 20th February 1968 on a Tuesday after Salatul Asr the Shaykh’s health deteriorated dramatically, and he passed away.[27]

Shaykh Muhammad Yusuf Ghakarwi led his funeral prayer and a whole multitude of people from different walks of life attended.[28]


[1] Sa’diya Arshad, Makhdum al-Ulama Mawlana Muhammad Isma’il Salafi, 11-14. I have used this brief biography as the main source and then added passages and statements from different parts of the book and other biographical works. 

[2] Muhammad Ishaq Bhatti, Nuqush Azmat Rafta, 157;

[3] Nuqush Azmat Rafta, 158

[4] Nuqush Azmat Rafta, 158

[5] Makhdum al-Ulama Mawlana Muhammad Isma’il Salafi, 24

[6] Makhdum al-Ulama Mawlana Muhammad Isma’il Salafi, 24-25, Nuqush Azmat Rafta, 159; Abdur Rahman Saqib, Tazkirrah Akabirin Ahl ul-Hadith, 123

[7] Makhdum al-Ulama Mawlana Muhammad Isma’il Salafi, 26, Tazkirrah Akabirin Ahl ul-Hadith, 123

[8] Makhdum al-Ulama Mawlana Muhammad Isma’il Salafi, 26-27

[9] Makhdum al-Ulama Mawlana Muhammad Isma’il Salafi, 27

[10] Makhdum al-Ulama Mawlana Muhammad Isma’il Salafi, 27; Tazkirrah Akabirin Ahl ul-Hadith, 124

[11] Makhdum al-Ulama Mawlana Muhammad Isma’il Salafi, 26; Tazkirrah Akabirin Ahl ul-Hadith, 124

[12] Nuqush Azmat Rafta, 159

[13] Makhdum al-Ulama Mawlana Muhammad Isma’il Salafi, 30

[14] Hamareh Aslaf, 75 

[15] See his Ulama’i Ahl ul-Hadith Ki Khidmat

[16] Tazkirrah Akabirin Ahl ul-Hadith, 125

[17] Nuqush Azmat Rafta, 156

[18] Tazkirrah Akabirin Ahl ul-Hadith, 125

[19] Tazkirrah Akabirin Ahl ul-Hadith, 127 

[20] Tazkirrah Akabirin Ahl ul-Hadith, 127

[21] Hamareh Aslaf, 76

[22] Hamareh Aslaf, 83-84

[23] Hamareh Aslaf, 84

[24] Makhdum al-Ulama Mawlana Muhammad Isma’il Salafi, 42 cited from al-I’tisam, 1st March 1968

[25] Makhdum al-Ulama Mawlana Muhammad Isma’il Salafi, 44 cited from al-I’tisam, 1st March 1968

[26] Makhdum al-Ulama Mawlana Muhammad Isma’il Salafi, 32 which cited it from Hafat Roza Qawmi Dlair, 1st March 1968

[27] Makhdum al-Ulama Mawlana Muhammad Isma’il Salafi, 33 cited from Mujallah Mehak Gujranwala, 435

[28] Tazkirrah Akabirin Ahl ul-Hadith, 132

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