It is the Sunnah of Allah that He executes His will through some natural means, which only serves to strengthen the faith of those who examine these signs and ponder over them. History reveals that in Islam’s darkest times, this religion was safeguarded through beacons of light in the form of righteous individuals who upheld the true Islam. Adhering to the Sunnah of Muhammad (SAW), they opposed injustice. They stood as pillars with their qualities of sacrifice, unflinching faith, morality, spiritual excellence, and intellect. We find that despite the attacks Muslims have faced, the Ummah always persevered and continued. By the will of Allah, it will continue to do so, as long as individuals hold fast to their Deen and follow the examples of those who suffered and triumphed before. The following article seeks to highlight the great scholar of the Indian Subcontinent, Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RH).
Islam in the Subcontinent
Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RH) hails from a rich history of Islam in the Indian Subcontinent. Islam reached the Subcontinent through exposure by Muslim merchants in the Indian Ocean Trade. It gained a strong foothold after the Umayyad General Muhammad bin Qasim conquered areas of the Sindh Province in approximately 711 AD. The population was very receptive to Islam’s simplicity and its indiscrimination toward social classes. Islamic rule in the Subcontinent evolved from the Umayyad Dynasty, to the Ghaznavi Dynasty, to the Ghurid Kingdom, to the Delhi Sultanate, and lastly the Mughal Empire. After the passing of the last, effective ruler of the Mughal Empire, Aurangzeb, the British Empire colonized India and subjected the Muslims to intense scrutiny through disenfranchisement and religio-cultural appropriation. By the mid-19th century, the disenfranchisement of Muslim-Indians and their dwindling connection to Islam was so severe that it spurred multiple rebellions across the Subcontinent against the British. Most notable were the campaigns led by Sayyid Ahmad Shahid (RH) on the northern frontier where he was tragically martyred at the Battle of Balakot and the Mutiny of 1857 where ulama led violent yet unsuccessful rebellions against British rule.
The failed rebellions gave the British legitimacy to escalate from disenfranchisement to the persecution, imprisonment, torture, and execution of ulama. Thus, the ulama of the Subcontinent altered their strategy from direct rebellion to bolstering their Islamic educational efforts. They set out to establish Islamic schools and universities that would attract students and continue the practice of Islam in a society whose governance was trying to eradicate it. Some of these institutions were Dar ul-Uloom Deoband and Dar ul-Uloom Nadwat ul-Ulama.
Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RH) was born in Kashmir in November 1875 in a village called Dudwan. From the ages of 5 to 7, he learned the recitation of the Quran, Farsi, Arabic grammar, Islamic jurisprudence, and the principles of jurisprudence under the mentorship of his father and Mawlana Ghulam Muhammad Rasunipura (RH). Mawlana Anwar said, “After the age of 7, I have not touched any book of religious knowledge except that I was in a state of wudhu”.
At the age of 13, he moved to Hazarah, a district in northwestern Pakistan. Maulana Shah (RH) studied in Hazarah for three years there but decided to increase his studies at the relatively new Islamic seminary Dar ul-Uloom Deoband in the Uttar Pradesh province of India. In Deoband, Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RH) became one of the primary of students of Mawlana Mahmud al-Hasan (RH), more commonly known as Shaykh ul-Hind (RH). Mawlana Mahmud al-Hasan (RH) was the first graduate of the seminary and the prize student of the founders of Deoband, Mawlana Qasim Nanotvi (RH) and Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (RH). Muhaddith Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri (RH), Mawlana Ishaq Amratsari (RH), and Mawlana Ghulam Rasul (RH) were some of his other teachers. In 1894, he studied the classical texts of Hadith such as Sahih Bukhari and Sunan al-Tirmidhi. After completing his studies in Deoband, Mawlana Anwar (RH) moved to Gangoh, India where he practiced the spiritual sciences of Islam under the training of Mawlana Rasheed Ahmed Gangohi (RH).
Teaching and Shaykh ul-Hadith
In 1908, after spending some time back in Kashmir, Mawlana Anwar (RH) met with Shaykh al-Hind (RH) in Deoband in order to gain his teacher’s permission to emigrate to the Hijaz. Shaykh al-Hind (RH) persuaded his student to take up a teaching position in Dar ul-Uloom Deoband instead. Due to his proficiency in Hadith literature, Mawlana Anwar (RH) was tasked with teaching three of the core Hadith texts in the traditional Islamic studies curriculum; the Sahih of Imam Muslim, the Sunan of Imam al-Nasai, and the Sunan of Imam Ibn Majah.
At the time, Shaykh al-Hind (RH) became heavily involved in attaining the political independence of India from the British. He departed to the Hijaz in order to gain external support. Prior to his departure, he appointed Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RH) as the Sadar Mudarris (Head Lecturer or Head of Staff) of Dar ul-Uloom Deoband. Mawlana Anwar (RH) was additionally appointed as Shaykh ul-Hadith (Hadith expert) and took up teaching Sahih Bukhari and Sunan al-Tirmidhi.
This gave Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RH) the opportunity to craft his own innovative approach to teaching Hadith studies. According to Dr. Yunoos Osman’s doctoral dissertation Life and Works of ‘Allamah Muhammad Anwar Shah Kashmiri,
In the study and teaching of Hadith literature, Shah Sahib made a concerted effort to: explain the headings in the Hadith compilation of Imam al-Bukhari (i.e. tarjumat ai-abwaab), analyze each Hadith thoroughly so as to unravel its legal implication, identify the ruwaat (narrators) for the benefit of his students, [and] discuss the import of the Hadith.
Many of his students went on to become illustrious scholars themselves such as Mufti Muhammad Shafi Uthmani (RH), Mawlana Idris Kandhlawi (RH), Mawlana Muhammad Yusuf Binori (RH), Qari Muhammad Tayyib (RH), and more.
There are a variety of primary sources on the character and qualities of Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RH).
Mawalana Ata al-Allah Shah Bukhari (RH) remarked that the caravan of the Companions of the Prophet was passing by and Mawlana Anwar was left behind. This illustrated Mawlana Anwar’s scholastic caliber and piety.
Mawalana Ashraf Ali Thanwi (RH) mentioned that after had listened to one of Mawlana Anwar Shah (RH) Kashmiri’s discourses there was no doubt in his mind that books could be compiled on every sentence Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RH) uttered.
Mawlana Shabbir Ahmad Uthmani (RH) once said that if anyone were to ask him if he had seen ‘Allamah Taqi al-Din Ibn Daqiq al-Din (RH) or if he had met Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (RH) that he would reply in the affirmative because having seen and met Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RH) was the same as having seen and met those two illustrious personalities.
Malwana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RH) was said to have a photographic memory. Malwana Anzar Shah Kashmiri (RH) had related that,
His father [Malwana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RH)] studied Imam ibn al-Humam’s Fath al-Qadir, published in eight volumes and comprising thousands of pages, in twenty days. He did not study it again during his lifetime. Despite this, it is well known he would be able to quote lengthy passages from it, verbatim, decades later. He also studied the Musnad of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, reading an average of two hundred pages daily. Despite this rapid pace, he would read with concentration, contemplation and comprehension, deriving evidences in favour of the Hanafi School as he studied.
Mawlana Anwar La’ilpuri (RH), a prominent student of Malwana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RH), relates:
After reaching Deoband, my father led me to the residence of Shaykh al-Hind (RH). It was the summer season and the Zuhr prayer had just ended. There was a crowd of people seated in Hadrat’s [Shaykh al-Hind] parlour, surrounding him from all directions. A person – whose illuminated face gave view to a combined state of light and innocence and academic (‘ilmi) grandeur and glory – was operating the fans which were hanging from the ceiling, whilst quietly urging people to move back so that Hadrat would not be caused discomfort. My father whispered in my ear, ‘‘the person operating the fans is Mawlana Anwar Shah (RH), the head teacher of Dar al-‘Ulum.’’ After hearing this my feet fell beneath me [in amazement] at how this blessed person – whose academic fame was echoing around the world, and who despite having his own students in this gathering – was busy in the service of his teacher with such devotion and reverence (ihtiram).’’
Hadith Studies and Mirza Ghulam Ahmad
Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri’s (RH) main speciality in the Islamic sciences was the field of Hadith. Along with studying the standard collections of Hadith, he would go on to read most other compilations along with several hundred commentaries. It was Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri’s (RH) perspective that the life of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and its teachings were meant to be disseminated to the public for their benefit. He would aggressively write and lecture to the masses on the Prophet’s (SAW) life.
One of the reasons why Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RH) was a Savior of Islam was not only his commitment to studying the Islamic sciences, but it was stepping up to the plate to defend the honor and legacy of the Prophet (SAW), especially as a scholar of Hadith. While attempting to enlighten the masses on the life of the Prophet (SAW), many Muslim-Indians were attracted to the message propagated by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in the early 20th century. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a self-proclaimed reviver of Islam. However, he claimed to be the Messiah prophesied to arrive at the end of times and that Isa (AS) died a natural death. In addition, Ahmad was supported by the British who sought to ideologically divide the Muslim-Indian community. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s teachings contradicted the basic tenets of Islamic belief and Mawlana Anwar (RH) took on the responsibility of refuting the movement. He did so in order to protect the belief of many vulnerable Muslims in India and to protect the message of his dearly beloved Prophet (SAW). Mawlana Anwar (RH) published several texts publically clarifying the positions of Sunni Islam in reference to Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s claims and contributed heavily in preventing the spread of Ahmad’s teachings.
Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RH) would teach at Dar ul-Uloom Deoband for eighteen years. After some internal strife at the seminary, he relocated to Dabhel, Gujarat, India and taught at the Dar ul-Uloom there. Many ulama joined him in their own right and students flocked to learn at his feet. After five years in Dabhel, he relocated back to Deoband due to illnesses. Mufti Mahmud Hasan Gangohi (RH) said:
Hadhrat ‘Allamah Anwar Shah Kashmiri’s (RH) abundant studying was such that when he had lost the ability to move his hands during his final illness, he would lie down on his side and an open book would be placed standing on a chair in front of him. When he would finish studying a full page, he would motion to someone to turn the page and someone would turn it. Hadhrat would then begin studying [the next page.]
Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RH) passed away in May 1933. He is buried in an orchard on the outskirts of Deoband.
We ask Allah (SWT) to make us people who even in the modern era commit to studying the sciences of Islam. We ask Allah (SWT) to make us people who love the Prophet (SAW). We ask Allah (SWT) to make us protectors of Islam. We ask Allah (SWT) to make us knowledgeable enough so we can teach and help others. We ask you to elevate us to the caliber of people like Mawlana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (RH).
A special thanks to Dr. Yunoos Osman’s Life and Works of ‘Allamah Muhammad Anwar Shah Kashmiri. His 2001 biographical dissertation on the esteemed Shaykh was extremely helpful to this article.