Maulāna Muḥammad Sālim Qāsmi: Tracing the Legacy of His Theological Paradigms and Intellectual Dimensions
Muḥammadullah Khalīli Qāsmi
The Indian Subcontinent, which lies away from Arabia and where Islam spread much later by the non-Arabs conquerors, distinguishes itself for two major factors. First, for preserving the glory of Muslim rule and its splendid civilization that once dazzled the world from its cradles of Madinah, Damascus, Baghdad and al-Andalusia, as it coincided with Ottoman Caliphate which spread in the entire Arabia, Northern Africa and a good part of Eastern Europe. Second, for intellectual contributions to the Islamic literature and Muslim progressive thoughts which they made especially following the Fall of Baghdad and the devastation of Central Asia at the hands of the Mongols. And the harbinger of the second specialty of India was Quṭbuddīn Aḥmad ibn ‘Abd ar-Raḥīm al-Fārūqi al-Dehlawi (1703-1762), commonly known as Shāh Walīullāh Dehlawi, who was an outstanding Islamic scholar, muḥaddith, reformer, theologian, philosopher and historiographer.
Shāh Walīullāh Dehlawi was born at a juncture of history when on one hand the sun of Islamic dominion in India was steadily going to set and the centuries-old Eastern system was at the verge of total collapse, while on the other hand the Western countries rose from their long slumber dismantling the religious and traditional shackles, and powered by the scientific evolutions and machine revolution.
It is a great cause of pride for India that the son of Indian soil Shāh Walīullāh Dehlawi was the first personality of the Muslim World who comprehended the intellectual dangers and academic challenges that were harboured in the clouds of scientific revolutions. So, at one side, he addressed the internal issues of Muslim society and propounded the theory of ‘Fakku Kulli Nizām’ (reconstruction and revolutionization of old system) which aimed at striking a balance between different theological and religious thoughts (such as taking Shī’a and Sunni fractions close to each other and reconciliation between different sects originating due to differences in Fiqh and Taṣawwuf ) and purifying Muslim belief and practices from alien adulterations along with introducing the teachings of the Qur’an on wider scale Quran in the society and starting a comprehensive Islamic course that gave due place to the Quran, Hadith and Fiqh. While at the other side, he sensed the most imminent danger from outside which the Muslims were to face i.e. the scientific revolution that was going to render the religious traditions and thoughts as rotten, outdated rather beastly, and to give ‘reason’ top priority in all matters. So he embarked on an ambitious project of fortification of Islamic beliefs and practices that later appeared in the form of a rarest of rare masterpiece ‘Ḥujjat al-Allāh al-Bālighah’ (Conclusive Arguments from Allah).
Syed ‘Abul Ḥasan Ali Nadwi introduces this great work in the following words:
“The magnum opus of Shāh Walīullāh, Ḥujjat al-Allāh al-Bālighah, is a comprehensive and cogent work presenting a synthesis of the Islamic creed, devotions, transactions, morals, social philosophy, statecraft and spirituality. All these have been balanced and integrated in such a perfect manner that they appear to be jewels of the same necklace or links of the same golden chain. It also does not suffer from the usual weaknesses found in most of the old works, written apologetically or aggressively. This moderation and balance is the result of the Shah’s deep and wide knowledge of Ḥadīth and his bent of mind fostered by the study of the Prophet’s character as well as keeping company with pious and virtuous scholars. Few works can compare the compendious yet clear and cohesive exposition attempted in Ḥujjat al-Allāh al-Bālighah, which laid the foundation of a new dialectical theology for the modern age of reason. It is thus a work which can satisfy any truehearted man endowed with common sense, provided, of course, he can appreciate and ponder over the profound investigations of the Shāh. So far as we are aware there is no other work in any language known to us, written for the investigation of the truth of any religion on a rational basis or if it has been written, it has not come to light.”
Shāh Walīullāh Dehlawi not only extracted and explored the scientific and intellectual aspects of Sharī’ah issues, as this type of work was done by several scholars in the past, rather he laid down foundation stone of ‘Ilm Asrār al-Sharī‘ah (Rational Interpretation of Sharī‘ah), formulated its principles and introduced it as a branch of theology.
Ḥujjat al-Islām al-Imām Muḥammad Qāsim Nānotawi
The legacy of Shāh Walīullāh was transferred through his family and pupils until it transformed into a dynamic movement under the leadership of Ḥujjat al-Islām al-Imām Muḥammad Qāsim Nānotawi (1833-1880) at Deoband. Maulāna Nānotawi established Dārul Uloom and promoted the Walīullāhi mission. Though there are several groups in the Subcontinent that claim to have inherited the legacy of Shāh Walīullāh, but it is Deoband School of Thought which assimilated and accommodated nearly all aspects of Walīullāhi thoughts and transmitted it as per the mode and requirement of the time.
Shāh Walīullāh lived at time when scientific revolution was taking place in Europe and it was yet to reach the East, but Sheikh Nānotawi was born at the peak of scientific age when the world was roaring with scientific advancements and the atheistic rather anti-religious theories were dominating the intellectual world. The West rejected religion and considered it an obstacle in the way of development; since it was a fierce reaction to the Church which unleashed a series of unprecedented cruelty and barbarism against those who talked of the Science. The bloody tussle between the Church and the modernists divided Christianity into two major sects (Catholic and Orthodox) and as a result the religion was driven out from the society and politics. The West accorded all regard to ‘matter’ and kicked out ‘spirituality’ from social and political arena. All issues of human life were tested on the touchstone of ‘reason’ and those not fitting within its frame were rejected and labelled as conservatism and regress.
When the Science got introduced in the East it came with the same mentality of negating religion and weighing everything on of parameters of ‘reason’, even some great personalities fell prey to the Newton’s law of universal gravitation and started redefining even many of the established Islamic faiths and concepts which according to them were super-natural and metaphysical. So they in fact dared to deny beliefs about the likes of angels, waḥy, Jannat, Jahannam, mu’jizāt (miracles) etc.
This was a strange situation which was described by Mirza Asadullāh Khān Ghālib (1797-1869), the legendary Urdu poet, in a verse:
ĪmāN mujhe roke hai, jo khīnche hai mujhe kufr
Ka’bah mere pīchce hai, Kalīsa mere āge
The Faith restrains me, while disbelief pulls me hard
Behind me stands Ka’bah, and the Church is in front of me
A situation where the eastern religions and culture were caught between to either chose their past and remain subordinate or accept the new thoughts and lose their identity.
It was a highly alarming condition in the Muslim world as the Western Powers were fast galloping the Muslim lands and occupying their resources while the Muslims were losing power as well as courage in the face of the western political and intellectual onslaught. Out of inferiority complex, many Muslim intelligentsia and modern-educated individuals fell prey to the Western propaganda that now religion has become useless and irrelevant and only the Science has the remedy of all human problems. Such thoughts were fast spreading among the common people and they were beginning to get fed up of the religious traditions and tending to embrace atheism and materialism.
Had these thoughts had spread among the common people and got acceptance in the society, God forbid, the majority of Muslims would have lost their faith and turned infidels. But Allah Almighty, as per His promise of preserving the Religion, raised Muslim theologians who presented logical interpretations to Islamic terms and thoughts and restored the faith of Muslims in the original Islamic beliefs and teachings. The leader of the this movement was Ḥujjat al-Islām Maulāna Muḥammad Qāsim Nānotawi whose scholarly and precious theological contributions very successfully subdued the raging tides of atheism and naturalism. This is part of evolution and renovation process which Allah Almighty has bestowed Islam with, being a global and eternal religion for human being, it will need renovations in style and expression with the passage of time in order to suit the demands of time as well as to discard the rusts of time and space, so that it remains afresh and attracts the human intelligence as ever.
The most salient feature of Maulāna Nānotawi’s philosophical thoughts and theological contributions was that he elucidated them with living examples and promoted it to the contemporary scientific standards. He established the Islamic beliefs of tawḥīd, risālat, qiyāmat, jannat, jahannam etc as well as the Islamic teachings with irrefutable rational logics and conclusive arguments. His writings of on Islamic beliefs and teachings dispel the objections and doubts raised by the atheists, naturalists, Hindus and Christians alike.
The second most important feature is his moderate attitude towards different Schools of Thoughts among the Muslims. He wrote extensively on issues pertaining to Shī’aism, Taqlīd and many other issues that were disputed among Muslims, but he confined himself to academic discussions in sympathetic way and avoided adopting any harsh attitude. All his books dealing with disputed issued among Muslims very clearly indicate towards his moderate thinking and his respect even to opponents and adversaries. Rather he very openly advocated unity between Muslims and lamented at their dissents.
Haḍrat Nānotawi, on the other hand, established Darul Uloom Deoband and started a madrasa movement which met unprecedented success in Islamic history and brought about one of the greatest Islamic revolutions especially in the Indian Subcontinent and generally in the world over. As per the Walīullāhi mission, these madrasas focused on teaching the Qur’ānic sciences and Hadith literature with utmost attention. Haḍrat Nānotawi himself taught select disciples and produced a matchless team of scholars like Shaikh al-Hind Maulāna Maḥmūd Ḥasan, Maulāna Aḥmad Ḥasan Amrohwi and several others.
Ḥakīm al-Islām Qāri Muḥammad Ṭayyib Qāsmi (1897-1983)
There are several scholars who inherited the theological and intellectual legacy of Haḍrat Nānotawi and dispensed it as per the demand of their time, but the most prominent among them are Ḥakīm al-Ummah Maulāna Ashraf ‘Ali Thānwi (1863-1943), Shaykh al-Islām ‘Allāmah Shabbīr Aḥmad Uthmāni (1887-1949) and Ḥakīm al-Islām Maulāna Qāri Muḥammad Ṭayyib who was also his grandson.
Ḥakīm al-Islām Maulāna Qāri Muḥammad Ṭayyib, the former rector of Darul Uloom Deoband, was gifted with unique and multidimensional qualities of scholarship. He was a spokesperson of the Deoband School and a great interpreter of Qāsmi thoughts. He travelled widely across continents and transmitted the message of Islam to the world in the appealing and rationale style of Haḍrat Nānotawi. The modern educated class particularly enjoyed his academic and philosophical style of discourses and lectures.
He wrote extensively and contributed more than two dozen books on various Islamic topics. He had special mastery in discoursing the rational aspects of the Sharī'ah and in making the subjects concise and comprehensive. All his books are characterised by the interpretation of Islamic beliefs and practices in a rational style along with references from the Quran and Ḥadīth.
Khaṭīb al-Islām Maulāna Muḥammad Sālim Qāsmi (1926-2018)
Maulāna Muḥammad Sālim Qāsmi, the son of Ḥakīm al-Islām Maulāna Qāri Muḥammad Ṭayyib and great grandson of Ḥujjat al-Islām Maulāna Muḥammad Qāsim Nānotawi, not only had blood relations with his ancestors rather he inherited their intellectual legacy as well. He was a celebrated scholar of Islam, a great muḥaddith, theologian and proficient orator. He dedicated his entire life to the mission of his father and great-grandfather and was duly considered their interpreter and a spokesperson of Deoband School of Thought.
He inherited the characteristics of his noble ancestors that make up the overall identity of the Deoband School. He spent his life in teaching the Quran, Ḥadīth and Islamic theology. Theology was the subject of his special expertise and students flocked to his class in order to benefit from his lectures.
He contributed in the establishment of Darul Uloom Waqf in 1982, headed it in turbulent circumstances and managed to make it popular educational destination that attracts students from across the country. In 1996, he embarked upon a unique educational project ‘Jamia Deeniyat Deoband’ which offered Islamic education to students of schools and colleges through correspondence. This great project has a potential to bring about a revolution in the Muslim community.
He was an outstanding orator who travelled extensively across the country and even outside to deliver high profile lectures on various Islamic topics. He was duly called Khaṭīb al-Islām (the orator of Islam). His lectures were lucid, coherent and logical. He used short sentences and limited his lecture to only necessary details explaining the main points and avoiding unnecessary and irrelevant aspects. He used to speak from such intellectual height that only educated class could have grasp of the essence of his speech.
Interpretation of Islam in Rational Style
Maulāna Muḥammad Sālim Qāsmi was bestowed great in-depth scholarship and versatility. He enjoyed broad study, wisdom and insight. His lectures, speeches and writings reflect a unique style of interpreting Islam in a rational style and in line with the thoughts of Shāh Walīullāh and Maulāna Muḥammad Qāsim Nānotawi. This is the reason that he was called an interpreter of their thoughts and mission.
Due to busy teaching life in his early career and owing to extensive travels for lectures in later parts of his life he got little time to leave any academic contribution except some papers which he presented in seminars and conferences. Similarly some of his select speeches were published in two volumes. These academic contributions are indicative of his expertise in Islamic theology, rationality and prudence.
Maulāna Muḥammad Sālim Qāsmi was conferred with ‘Shāh Walīullāh Award’ by the prestigious Muslim think-tank Islamic Objective Studies. Similarly, he was given ‘Maulāna Muḥammad Qāsim Nānotawi Award’ in Turkey for his unmatched contribution in the field of theology and Islamic philosophy.
I’tidāl and Moderation
The second most prominent aspect of his personality was that he stuck to i’tidāl (moderation) even in extreme situations. Not only in his personal life, rather in other social and religious issues too, he maintained equilibrium between two extremes and avoided stands that could harm the social and religious fabric of the Ummah. This was the reason that he was popular among all sections of Muslims and enjoyed their trust. He served as Vice-President of All India Personal Law Board, President of Majlis Mushāwarat and Head of Islamic Fiqh Academy.
Maulāna Qāsmi observed that the abundance of schools of thoughts is not a worrisome issue, since schools of thoughts are born in communities that have abundance of knowledge and mental capacity to think. The Judaism and Christianity have only few branches and derivations through their thousands years of history. But Islam has many schools of thoughts as it enjoys treasures of the Quran and Sunnah which are a treasure of knowledge. This is the reason that there were schools of thoughts from the very beginning till near past, and we shall witness this phenomenon occurring in future too. But the important thing is to verify these schools of thoughts which are of two kinds. Some of them are openly wrong and they will be opposed with true arguments and evidences. But there are many others which can either be true or false. If you think it wrong you have to produce your evidences and refute their arguments; if the other party is convinced then OK, otherwise your duty to convey the truth is fulfilled. This was mentioned in Hadith that a mujtahid shall get double rewards if he reaches the truth, and even if he commits mistake and does not reach the truth, then also he will get single reward. (Hadith) Therefore, such differences among the Ummah should not cause disputes and malice among one another. This is the reason that difference of opinion was termed as mercy for the Ummah as it opens the doors of options and scopes for them.
The second key point that Maulāna Muḥammad Sālim Qāsmi (ra) presented is that Dīn (religion) is that which was revealed by Allah and which is free from the interference of human mind and which is free from differences; therefore only religion needs to be propagated and preached. The later things like Fiqhi madhāhib and schools of thoughts are products of human mind, so they will necessarily have differences of opinions and therefore they can be preferable but will not be preached and propagated like Religion. Only religion is madār-e-najāt (cause of deliverance in the hereafter), fiqhi schools and schools of thoughts are not madār-e-najāt. This is must to place each thing in its right position; otherwise there will be chaos and disturbance.
It is painful that the Ummah does not differentiate between these things and falls prey to disunity and disputes. If this principle is held with firm resolution, the Ummah can overcome its most dangerous disease of disunity.
At a time when Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1726) was laying the foundations for classical mechanics, explaining the law of gravity and the laws of motion which was going to herald an era of scientific revolution, Shāh Walīullāh (1703-1762) was laying the foundations of interpreting Islam in a rational style. He fortified the fort of Islam with necessary academic arsenals even before Charles Darwin (1809–1882) came and dominated the world with his theory of evolution against a backdrop of disbelief and scepticism.
Maulāna Muḥammad Qāsim Nānotawi was born at a critical time when owing to the modern scientific theories atheism and materialism ruled over the academic world and Europe was roaring with scientific revolution while the East was conquered by European explorers and invaders. So he embarked upon the high task of elucidating and consolidating the Walīullāhi mission. Later this Walīullāhi and Qāsmi mission was forwarded and expanded by a group of Ulama, especially Ḥakīm al-Islām Qāri Muḥammad Ṭayyib Qāsmi (1897-1983). Then the most prominent scholar of the next generation, Maulāna Muḥammad Sālim Qāsmi upheld this movement and continued to foster it with his pen and tongue.
If we look back at series of events in the religious and spiritual world, the sun of Islam faced eclipses during these crucial times, but by virtue of the intellectual efforts it came out dazzling brighter. There is a strong affinity between these events and the movement of Ahmad al-Fārūqī al-Sirhindī (1564–1624) known as Mujaddid Alf Thāni by virtue of whose efforts the Dīn-e-Akbari, the deadliest fitnah of the millennium led by Mughal Emperor Jalāluddīn Muḥammad Akbar (1542-1605), was reverted and later the Mughal throne was inherited by pious rulers like Jahāngīr (reign 1605 – 1627), Shāhjahān (reign 1628 – 1658) and Aurangzeb Ālamgīr (reign 1658 – 1707). In the same way, the modern science first gave Islam a tough challenge and promoted atheisms and materialism with its fullest strength, but with the passage of time and due to its inherent nature of change it lost vigour and attraction and fell upside down. The theories of Newton and Darwin collapsed totally and new theories replaced them slowly. Now the modern science is not only going smoothly with Islam rather it is supporting Islamic beliefs and practices. Thanks to the insightful leadership of great Ulama who defended Islam in the best possible manner and safeguarded the Muslim faith. This is the reason that the Deoband School, which is the centre of Walīullāhi Movement, left its impact throughout the world and now it is one the strongest, rather the strongest movement of the Muslim World.
 For Shia-Sunni issues, please refer to his book Izālat al-Khifa fi Khilāfat al-Khulafa.
 His two outstanding works Inṣāf fi Bayān Sabab al-Ikhtilāf and Al-‘Iqd al-Jīd fi Aḥkām al-Ijtihād wa al-Taqlīd deal with the issues of taqlīd and different branches of Fiqh in which he tried to bring two extremist groups closer. Similarly, in several books, especially Maktūb-e-Madani he reconciled between the two groups of Taṣawwuf who contended each other over the theories of waḥdat al-wujūd and waḥdat al-shuhūd, while in his book al-Tafhīmāt al-Ilāhiyah he discussed Taṣawwuf issues in great detail.
 Syed Abul Ḥasan Ali Nadwi, Saviours of Islamic Spirit, (Academy of Islamic Research & Publications, Lucknow) Vol. IV, PP 156-157
 For details see: Tafsīr al-Qurab by Sir Syed Aḥmad Khān; an analytical survey of Sir Syed‘s views can be seen in Taṣfiyat al-‘Aqāyid by Haḍrat Maulāna Muḥammad Qāsim Nānotawi; Ulūm al-Qurān by Mufti Muḥammad Taqi Uthmāni (Deoband, 2002) pp 372-388 and Afkār-e-‘Ālam by Asīr Adrawi (Darul Uloom Deoband, 2008) vol. 1 pp 294-298.
 Among the works of Haḍrat Nānotwai, Taqrīr Dilpadhīr, Ḥujjat al-Islām, Intiṣār al-Islām, Qibla Numa and Taḥdhīr al-Nās deal with subjects related to Islamic beliefs and teachings, while Barahīin Qāsmiya, Rūdād Melakhuda Shanāsi, Tuḥfa Laḥmiya etc refute the Christian and Hindu beliefs and practices.
 His books Hidāyat al-Shī’ah and Fuyūḍ-e-Qāismiya contain discourses on issues related to Shī’aism, Bid’āt, while Laṭāyif Qāsmi, Tauthīq al-Kalām, al-Ḥaq al-Ṣarīḥ deal with issues related to Ghair Muqallids and Taṣfiyat al-Aqāyid contains the answers of some beliefs of Sir Sayed Aḥmad Khān.
 Some of his most valuable contributions are: al-Tashabbuh fi al-Islām, Science awr Islām, Aṭyab al-Thamar fi Mas’alat al-Qaḍa wa al-Qadr, Falsafa-e-Namāz, Kalimāt-e-Ṭayyibāt, Maqāmāt-e-Muqaddasa , Dīn-o-Siyāsat, Islāmi Musāwāt, Khāt al-Nabiyyīn, Islām awr Masīḥi Aqwām, al-Ijtihād wa al-Taqliīd, Uṣūl-e-Da’wat-e-Islām, Fiṭri Ḥukūmat, Naẓriya-e-Do-Qur’ān per Aik Naẓar, Islām mein Akhlāq ka Niẓām, Ulamā-e-Deoband ka Dīni Rukh awr Maslaki Mizāj etc.
 Opening Address, 17th Fiqhi Seminar of Islamic Fiqh Academy India, Burhānpūr on 5 April 2008, p 26
 Ibid, pp 26-28