The Mauritanian Ulama on Deoband
Several months ago, Pearls of the Elders received an email from a Mauritanian student of the Sacred Sciences who expressed admiration and love for the ‘ulama of Deoband. In a subsequent email, he sent a fascinating account of how the erudite ‘ulama of Mauritania had come to know of the ‘ulama of Deoband and how they had benefited from them, especially their books.
The student, who asked his name not be published, became acquainted with the writings of the blessed scholars of India and Pakistan through the effort of tabligh. With his permission, Pearls would like to share this email with our readers and hope it will be a means of kindling the love of, and respect for, the ‘ulama of Deoband.
The email has been edited to make it suitable for a wider readership. Translations of Arabic words, relevant footnotes and subheadings have also been added.
Brother Abu Unaysah, wa ‘alaykum salaam wa rahmatullah,
I wanted to take some time out to write this because it is an important subject.
I was first introduced to the Deobandi ‘ulama through the effort of tabligh when I was in the USA. I lived there from 1996 to 2004. Obviously, I benefited greatly from the elders of tabligh. From an academic perspective though, it was from Hadhrat Shaykh Zakariyya Kandhlawi’s writings that I benefited the most. These include the books of fadha’il, the English translation of his commentary of Shama’il al-Tirmidhi and his autobiography, Aap Beti, which I have read several times and greatly benefited from.
I often tell my close friends that people who have children — as well as people who wish to understand how important it is to be associated with the mashayikh of tasawwuf — must read Aap Beti.
Sometimes our brothers fail to realise how much Mawlana Ilyas Kandhlawi (rahimahullah) and Mawlana Yusuf Kandhlawi (rahimahullah) relied on Hadhrat Shaykh Zakariyya (rahimahullah) to advance the effort of tabligh. Understanding this would help the brothers associate themselves more assiduously to the ‘ulama; our elders still insist on this in their lectures. We ask Allah for tawfeeq.
Studying in Mauritania
Mauritania is a very poor country and the ‘ulama here, for the most part, have remained in the country. A few have had the opportunity to travel and bring books back from countries such as Egypt and Morocco.
Of course, a couple of hundred years ago, printing did not exist so certain books were copied on manuscripts etc. The teaching style in Mauritania is very different from other parts of the world. Generally it is based on memorising a matn (text) on a subject in the form of a nadhm (rhyming verses). The explanations and details of the texts are taken from the shaykh and his competent students.
For example, in nahw (Arabic grammar), the Alfiyyah of Ibn Malik (rahimahullah) is taught. In usul (principles of fiqh) it is the Kawkab of Imam Al-Suyuti (rahimahullah),or the Maraqi al-Sud of the Mauritanian scholar, Al-’Alawi (rahimahullah). Classical books and their commentaries on different subjects were brought to the country by those ‘ulama who travelled abroad.
Deobandi Books in Mauritania
Books written by Deobandi ‘ulama were introduced to our native Mauritanian ‘ulamavery recently; I would say, in the past 20 to 30 years. The ‘ulama who have travelled abroad during the period when the works of some prominent Deobandi ‘ulama had been published did get access to them and benefited from them, as is evident by some of them quoting from their works.
One example is Shaykh Muhammad Habibullah al-Mayyaba (rahimahullah) who passed away in 1944. He was a great ‘alim and hafidh of hadith. It is said that he had memorised the six mutun (texts) of hadith with their sanad (chains of narration). He also wrote a nadhm on the importance of the Mu’atta [of Imam Malik] and a short commentary on it in which he repeatedly quotes from Shah Waliullah Dehlawi (rahimahullah).
Another interesting point is that Mawlana Yusuf Binnori (rahimahullah) has taken from him and was greatly impressed by him. In his introduction to Awjaz al-Masaalik, Mawlana Yusuf Binnori (rahimahullah), when quoting Shaykh Muhammad Habibullah (rahimahullah), writes: قال شيخنا بالإجازة (“Our shaykh in ijazah said…”)
I intend to further question some of our ‘ulama on how our elders have benefited from Indo-Pak ‘ulama and vice versa.
As you know, Al-Haramayan al-Sharifayn used to be a place where ‘ulama would meet and take from each other. For instance, Mawlana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri (rahimahullah) had an ijazah in hadith from Ibn Dahlan (rahimahullah), who resided in Makkah al-Mukarramah.
Awjaz al-Masalik in Mauritania
As far as contemporary Mauritanian ‘ulama are concerned, the ones I know here have benefited from Awjaz al-Masalik in ways that cannot be described. Hadhrat Shaykh’s (rahimahullah) work can be most greatly appreciated by one who has studied fiqh, usul and Arabic in-depth; and alhamdulillah, these subjects are studied and mastered by the Mauritanian ‘ulama, hence their appreciation of the book to its fullest.
I have, alhamdulillah, gifted the book to five different ‘ulama — two of whom are considered among the most qualified fuqaha (jurists) here — and the comments I have received have been the same each time: “The person who wrote this is a real ‘alim,”or, “The book is greatly beneficial.”
This book is more so beneficial given that writings on hadith from our ‘ulama are very rare. Shaykh Muhammad Habibullah (rahimahullah) has written a commentary of Bukhari and Muslim (Zad al-Muslim fi ma Ittafaqa ‘alayhi al-Bukhari wa Muslim). His brother has also written a commentary of Bukhari, and al-’Alawi (rahimahullah) has compiled a nadhm on the terminology of hadith (mustalah al-hadith), which is a summary of the Alfiyya al-’Iraqi.
Hadith is studied in Mauritania on an individual basis. After a student has studied fiqh, nahw, mustalah of hadith, and balaghah and bayan (rhetoric), they have enough knowledge to study hadith through their own reading of the commentaries.
An Interesting Note on Hadhrat Shaykh Zakariyya’s Awjaz al-Masalik
One interesting thing to note is that Hadhrat Shaykh (rahimahullah) has quoted from the mu’tamad (relied upon) books of the different madhhabs in Awjaz al-Masalik and relied on them for giving the mashhur (well-known) opinion on a given madhhab.
This means that when a Maliki ‘alim reads Awjaz al-Masalik, he sees the evidences for the Maliki madhhab as he knows it from his long years of study as well as being able to benefit from Hadhrat Shaykh’s (rahimahullah) commentary on other aspects of the hadith.
Hadhrat Mawlana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri’s (rahimahullah) Badhl al-Majhud.
Another more recent and more obvious example of the benefit derived from the mashayikh of Deoband is Mawlana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri (rahimahullah)’s Badhl al-Majhud.
I gifted the book to Shaykh Muhammad Hasan Ibn Ahmad al-Khadim a year ago. He is an ‘allamah who has written on almost all subjects. The Shaykh is in his early 70s. He is without doubt among the five most knowledgeable ‘ulama in the country. Anyone who reads his writings can appreciate the depth of his knowledge. When I asked him a couple of months later if he had time to look into Badhl al-Majhud (he is busy teaching and writing all day; he teaches from 11am to Maghrib time with a break at Dhuhr time), he told me: “I have not had much time yet to look into it but I have benefited from it. There was a mas’alah (juristic problem) that had been unclear to me for a long while and I found the answer to it in there.”
For us who know Shaykh Muhammad Hassan, this means a thousand words. At the time when I gifted him the book and told him about Mawlana Khalil Ahmad, he said: “The ‘ulama of India are ‘ajeeb (wonderful), they are very strong Sunnis in their ‘aqidah (creed)”.
Sorry, I’m making this email long, but the subject deserves it. Insha-Allah I hope we can exchange correspondence in the future.
We have several books written by our ‘ulama here that may be of interest to your ‘ulama, and we’ll be happy to send copies. I can give you a list of the books and the subjects they deal with, or if there is a specific subject some are interested in you can send me that and I will tell you what we have available.
May Allah Almighty accept your efforts and please remember us in your du’a. Also, we’ll be happy to receive you as a guest for a short visit. There are three to four places here that are really worth visiting to meet the ‘ulama.
 Hadhrat Shaykh Zakariyya’s brilliant books of fadha’il — originally written in Urdu, and translated into several languages, including English, French, Persian, Gujarati and Bengali — consist of selected verses of the Qur’an, hadiths, their commentary and other material. The books are read globally and consist of: Stories of the Sahabah, Virtues of Salah, Virtues of the Qur’an, Virtues of Remembering Allah, Virtues of the Holy Month of Ramadan, Virtues of Invitation and Preaching, Virtues of Sending Salutations, Virtues of Charity and Virtues of Haj.
 Awjaz al-Masaalik is a multi-voluminous commentary of Imam Malik’s Mu’atta, authored by Hadhrat Shaykh. It has recently been researched under the supervision of Shaykh Taqiuddin Nadwi, a student of Hadhrat Shaykh, and republished in 18 large volumes by Dar al-Qalam in Damascus.
 Badhl al-Majhud is also a multi-voluminous commentary of Imam Abu Dawud’s Sunan; it was also recently researched and republished in 14 large volumes by Shaykh Taqiuddin and published by Dar al-Basha’ir al-Islamiyyah in Beirut.
Shaykh Muhammad al-Hasan ibn Ahmad al-Khadim is one of the most senior ‘ulama of Mauritania. Extremely pious and humble, the shaykh is a master in every field of the Islamic sciences, without exception. He is also the only Mauritanian scholar who has so many published works to his name (over 30), having written books on fiqh, usul al-fiqh, usul al-hadith and tasawwuf. Among his published works is a commentary on the Alfiyyah of Imam Suyuti (rahimahullah) in usul al-hadith, a commentary on the Nadhm of Jam’ al-Jawami’ of Imam Suyuti (rahimahullah) in usul al-fiqh, a commentary on the Nadhm of Imam al-Kafaf (rahimahullah) in Maliki fiqh and numerous books on tasawwuf.
He is also a senior Sufi shaykh of the Tijani tariqah and very strict in following the Sunnah and wary of bid’ah (innovation). The Shaykh also has great love for the ‘ulama of India and has great admiration for their service to hadith as can be noted from the above.