Book Review: Islam in Victorian Liverpool

By Mawlana Ismaeel Nakhuda

A version of this review was earlier published in the Asian Image newspaper. Additional information has been added to the review for the and readership – Ismaeel.

The story of Islam in Britain as told nowadays would always be incomplete without mention of the so-called ‘Shaykh al-Islam of the British Isles’ Abdullah Quilliam (d. 1932), the Victorian-era solicitor who converted to Islam and founded and presided over the Liverpool Muslim Institute.

As Muslims began settling in the UK in large numbers following World War Two, there was a time when we knew very little if anything about Quilliam and the Liverpool Muslim community. This unknown history, however, began to unravel itself bit by bit as historians and academics began piecing together Quilliam’s life through archives, his personal papers and, more importantly, past issues of his periodical, The Crescent.

Aside from being the main source of what we know today about this fledgling community situated at the second most important port of the mightiest empire of the day, The Crescent was at that time Quilliam’s main vehicle for raising his profile and that of his community and institute. It made him famous and drew funds from across the globe. In addition to a readership in Britain, thousands of copies were regularly sent abroad to subscribers across the world, from the Americas to the Malay Archipelago and as far south as Cape Town.

As a result, Quilliam became well known throughout the Islamic world. Eccentric, flamboyant and peculiar is how he is perceived. Those who have studied his life and his congregation often mention that there is still much to discover about the Brit who converted to Islam in Morocco in the late 1800s. To, therefore, come across a Muslim account of Quilliam and his community written by someone who was Quilliam’s contemporary is surely a novelty.

Having heard of the community and Quilliam, Yusuf Samih Asmay (d.1942), an Ottoman intellectual, travel writer and journalist who lived in Cairo, spent over a month in Liverpool observing the institute and interviewing its leader and the people associated with it. On his return to Egypt, he corresponded with the people he met and wrote a unique and intriguing eyewitness account of Britain’s first mosque community in the Ottoman language. What makes Asmay’s account specifically stand out is that he presents Quilliam and his institute in a way that is at odds with the image depicted in The Crescent.

Asmay does not take any prisoners. He criticises both Quilliam and the Liverpool Muslim Institute. His main denunciations revolve around how religious services are unorthodox and at odds with Sunni Islam (there seems to be a mixing of Islamic practices with Anglican Christianity). According to Asmay, prayers were conducted not at the appointed hours or in the necessary Islamic format. Ablutions and prescribed purity rituals seem to be ignored or not performed in the proper way, and Asmay laments “if only the brothers and sisters-in-faith in Liverpool could study the Qur’an and … a concise manual of Islamic faith, worship and ethics under a religious scholar one evening a week at this school it would be of great benefit.” This was something that fell on deaf ears with Asmay suggesting this himself as did other well-intentioned people.

Asmay also criticises how anti-Christian polemics are often the topic of discussions at the institute, something that he considers unwise in a deeply Christian Victorian society. He further observes that the private Islamic school and museum at the Liverpool Muslim Institute are not as grand as one may be led to believe going by The Crescent.

In relation to the museum housed at the Liverpool Muslim Institute, he amusingly writes that “the contents of the room are no more than a few fish and cat skeletons, some stuffed birds and a few stones and ores of different minerals and suchlike. There are antique shops that sell similar items on Manchester Street in Liverpool and if you are familiar with the contents of a single display cabinet in these shops, then it would suffice to describe the objects in this room. To have the audacity to name a room that lacks historical or scientific objects a museum can only be explained by Quilliam being an attorney.” The reference to the cat skeletons really caught my eye. Though not mentioned by the editors, I would not be surprised if the cat skeletons that Asmay observed were one of the estimated 180,000 mummified Egyptian cats that were sold at auction at Liverpool docks in 1890. Almost all were crushed and used for manure, except for a few that were saved and are housed today at Liverpool’s World Museum.

Asmay also reproduces an Ottoman translation of an advertisement that is regularly printed in The Crescent about the Liverpool Muslim Institute and its activities. He then comments, “Muslims in general in Liverpool are not members of the elementary school that is named an institute, which in reality is a small room where Mr. Quilliam’s children study. The mosque is not open for visitors every day let alone for worship. Saying [we are holding] Friday prayers is only lip-service. A lecture room and library has not come into existence. The [desultory] state of the museum has been mentioned above. The day school is an embellishment as is the case with the Friday prayers.”

He then amusingly adds, “Writing that there are evening classes for Oriental languages is like putting one zero in front of another. Alas, how much do the events of our times suffer from the pens of English journalists and the speeches of their lawyers? They have the ability and power to make a grain as small as a speck appear as big as a ladle. With our brother Mr. Quilliam being both a lawyer and a journalist, is it hard to imagine what he might be capable of, if we give it a little consideration?”

The publicity that The Crescent generated attracted funds from across the Muslim world. In relation to this, Asmay alleges financial irregularities and calls for the need to improve governance to oversee the donations that poured in. He also stresses the need for regulating the institute as a waqf or Islamic endowment. In the context of the improper use of funds, Asmay provides a profile of Mawlana Barakatullah Bhopali [1] (d.1927), an Indian who Asmay says Quilliam employed as a secretary due to his proficiency in Arabic, Persian and Urdu to write letters to Muslim rulers seeking financial assistance. Asmay was clearly unimpressed by Bhopali and writes that “his additional job is to be introduced as the Mufti of Liverpool to Muslims from the Orient who come to visit the city.”

What is even more damning are the questions that Asmay raises around Quilliam’s character, providing details that I certainly have never come across before. He also dubs The Crescent as a tool for propaganda and interestingly mentions that Quilliam and the Liverpool Muslim Institute is a British imperial project with some sort of colonial goal in mind to undermine pan-Islamic solidarity. As the editors mention in their introduction, for some the Liverpool Muslim Institute was a “political attempt to undermine Islamic unity through propaganda about an English mosque with Muslim converts to buttress Britain’s imperial authority” and “to counter Islam as a unifying anti-colonial force and to assimilate Muslims as imperial subjects.”

Interestingly, the editors’ also mention that Quilliam’s “designation as ‘Sheikh-ul-Islam of the British Isles’ came about through nomination” and election at a Liverpool Muslim Institute meeting with “no hard evidence to date that the Ottomans ever formally recognised the title or that its officials ever used the title in connection to Quilliam.”

Asmay’s book caused great controversy among Liverpool’s Muslims and had the potential to severely damage Quilliam and his institute. For reasons that are unclear, the Ottomans banned the book in 1898 following a private audience between Quilliam and Sultan Abdul Hamid II. This clearly shows that Quilliam had reach into the highest echelons of power within the Sublime Port. It is normally assumed that he enjoyed these relations because of a sense of common Islamic brotherhood. Is this, however, the case or is there something else sinister such as Quilliam’s Freemason links?

Though not mentioned in Asmay’s book or the editors’ introduction, notes and appendixes, it is now widely understood that Quilliam was a Freemason and member of several lodges before and after his conversion. He also enjoyed close associations with the Grand Master and Mayor of Liverpool John Houlding who was even awarded the Order of the Imtiyaz on the instructions of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Several prominent Ottoman statesmen and dignitaries were masons who played crucial roles in palace politics, intrigue and kingmaking.

What the nature of Quilliam’s ties to Freemasonry in Constantinople was is unclear. What we do, however, know is that Quilliam suddenly left Liverpool in 1908 for Turkey and then returned to the UK under an alias in 1914. It is assumed that he was running away in advance of being struck off the Roll of Solicitors for unprofessional conduct as a solicitor. However, Quilliam’s arrival in Turkey coincided with the time when the Committee of Union and Progress (or the Young Turks), a secretive revolutionary organisation that had deep ties to Freemasonry, was forcing Abdul Hamid to reinstate the Young Turk constitution that eventually led to his deposition in 1909. Did Quilliam play a role in the political changes that took place in Turkey during that period and did his links to Freemasonry enable this? We know he assumed different aliases. Could it be that he assumed another identity to play a role in Constantinople and if so what was this role? Perhaps there is an Ottoman record chronicling this. These are questions that remain unanswered and hopefully as time passes, we can learn more.

Returning to Asmay’s book, this English translation has once more allowed this book to see the light of day. It includes a brilliantly written detailed introduction by the editors, followed by the actual book with meticulous notes and then an appendix consisting of brief biographies of key individuals mentioned within the text and other relevant information. Though it does not do any favours to Quilliam and the Liverpool Muslim Institute, it is an excellent contribution that enriches our understanding of the early days of Islam in Britain.

Book details
Title: Islam in Victorian Liverpool
Author: Yusuf Samih Asmay
Translated, notes and introduction: Yahya Birt, Riordan Macnamara and Münire Zeyneb Maksudoğlu
Publisher: Claritas Books


1It would seem Mawlana Barakatullah’s involvement with the Liverpool Muslim Institute was not one of his proudest moments. He is remembered today as a prominent Indian revolutionary, delivering fiery speeches and revolutionary writings in newspapers calling for India’s independence. While in Liverpool, Asmay reached out to the mawlana in relation to a host of problems at the institute from finance issues to lack of authentic Islamic instruction, something that might have struck a guilty note and prompted him to separate from the Liverpool Muslim Institute. Many years later, Mawlana Barakatullah appears in Afghanistan where he took on the role of Prime Minister of the first Provisional Government of India, which served as the Indian Government in exile during World War I and was presided over by Raja Mahendra Pratap Singh (d.1979). The government in exile was established by the Indian Independence Committee which was a broad coalition of Indian freedom fighters representing Muslims and non-Muslims of various shades and colours, including the then head lecturer at Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband, Shaykh al-Hind Mawlana Mahmud Hasan Deobandi (d.1920) and Mawlana Obaydullah Sindhi (d.1944). Mawlana Barakatullah died in San Francisco and was buried at Sacramento City Cemetery, California.

Taken from

Book Review: Maktūbat-i-Mashāyikh

By Mawlana Ismaeel Nakhuda

There are three genres of literature that are perhaps unique within the context of Islam in South Asia: malfuzattazkirahs and maktubat (aphorisms, hagiographies and letters). Often written in Urdu or Persian, all three are a delight to read, and overflow with wisdom and academic nuggets that really help us not only gain a better understanding of notable religious individuals and their temperaments, but also provide unique context of the social milieu people lived and operated in.

When it comes to the maktubat there are numerous famous collections of epistles written and received by luminaries from the Sub Continent. Perhaps one of the most famous being the Maktubat of Mujaddid Alf-i-Thani Shaykh Ahmed Sarhindi (d.1624) (may Allah enlighten his grave), which has been translated into various languages. Likewise, those connected to Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhalawi (d.1981) (may Allah have mercy on him) have also tirelessly produced compilations of his letters. Those connected to the silsilah are regularly advised to read them with the aim of gaining spiritual blessings (fayd) and an understanding of the way of our elders.

Within the UK, Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Yusuf Motala (d.2019) (may Allah have mercy on him) – one of Shaykh Zakariyya’s leading khalifahs – led the way on this with several compilations of Shaykh Zakariyya’s letters, including Makatib-i-Shaykh al-Hadith and Mahabbat Nameh, and a third compilation entitled ‘Inayat Nameh consisting of the letters he received from leading religious luminaries. Another lovely compilation of Shaykh Zakariyya’s letters was published by Shaykh Mawlana Hashim Patel, another one of Shaykh Zakariyya’s leading UK-based khalifahs, entitled Mereh Hadrat keh Khutut. (And as I write these words one of Mawlana Yusuf Motala’s khalifahs, Mawlana Ahmad ‘Ali Lunat has also published Jamal-i-Yusufi, a beautiful and heart touching collection of Shaykh Zakariyya’s letters to Mawlana Yusuf Motala that I hope to also write about soon.)

Maktubat-i-Mashayikh is a continuation of this Islamic tradition and consists of some eighty letters received by my teacher, the most erudite, hadith expert and accomplished lecturer in hadith, Shaykh al-Hadith Mufti Shabbir Ahmed Patel of Blackburn, UK. The letters span over 40 years and are from several leading scholars, particularly the late Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Yunus Jawnpuri (d.2017) and the late Shaykh al-Hadith Mawlana Yusuf Motala.

As a former student of Dar al-‘Ulum Bury, I saw Mufti Shabbir in his prime and had the honour of attending his classes and lectures in the final years of my time at the madrasah (1996-2001). His deep understanding, passion for imparting knowledge, wide reading, erudition and engaging style of lecturing was something that energised me then and the memories of sitting in his class still provide solace today, some 20 years later. His lessons were engaging and packed to the brim with wisdom and wit. Not only was he a conscientious lecturer, he was also diligent in covering the books he taught at a steady pace, ensuring the book would be comfortably completed by the end of the academic year without the need to rush due to lengthy discussions towards the beginning of the year. Later, I would read in Shaykh Zakariyya’s autobiography, Aap Biti, that this was also the habit of his father, Mawlana Muhammad Yahya Kandhalwi.

When Ramadan came, students at the Dar al-‘Ulum in those days would normally return home or go abroad to lead Tarawih. As someone who was not hafiz of the Qur’an and did not have the responsibility of leading the Tarawih prayers, it would happen that I would often spend several weeks during Ramadan at Dar al-‘Ulum Bury. This time would be spent either in khidmah of those sitting in seclusion (i‘tikaf) or in seclusion myself. It would also often be the case that Mufti Shabbir would be sat in seclusion and oversee the i‘tikaf programme himself. For a teenager from the back-to-back terrace streets of Lancashire, this was an opportunity to observe how the pious spent Ramadan and what I saw then still elicits a sweet taste in my mouth today. I saw a man who ate and slept little, just the bare minimum. Though he had a profound interest in the hadith sciences, Ramadan was dedicated to the Qur’an. He would spend his day constantly and consistently in its recitation from memory. How much he read was anyone’s guess, but I am sure it was no less than the entire Qur’an during the whole day if not more. His attachment to the Qur’an really stuck out. In those days, his children were young and he would often be flanked by them. He would recite his own Qur’an and then listen to his children’s hifz.

Mufti Shabbir had his own way of reciting. His voice was solemn, heart touching and emotional. Anyone who has had the fortune of listening to his recitation will testify to that. On the verses of punishment his voice would tremble and on the verses relating to Allah’s mercy and the bounties He has in store for the pious there would be a freshness in his voice that reflected the subject being recited. One would never bore of listening to his Qur’an and even now, decades later, I relish those invaluable moments.

He was always full of energy and I saw this increase during the holy month. I recall one Ramadan some 25 years ago, when it fell in winter and the nights were long. That year Mufti Shabbir’s daily routine was to lead a portion of the Tarawih at the Sajidin Mosque in Blackburn and then head to the Markaz al-‘Ulum madrasah (also in Blackburn) where the Tarawih began a little later. He would lead a number of rak‘ahs there and then midway head for Dar al-‘Ulum Bury (some 12 miles away) where the prayer began even later. He would join the Dar al-‘Ulum congregation in between their Tarawih and lead a large portion of the prayer and end with witr. His memory was excellent and recitation steady and flawless. I also observed that he would be reciting the Qur’an from memory while he travelled from one venue to another. In fact, every time I ever travelled with him by car, rather than frivolous talk, his time would be spent reciting the Qur’an in a quiet but audible voice.

Despite being a senior lecturer in hadith and a teacher of individuals who themselves are senior scholars and hadith lecturers, I often recall Mufti Shabbir during the i’tikaf helping us pick up the dastarkhwan and tidying up after the iftar meal. And as my years at Dar al-‘Ulum passed I often saw Mufti Shabbir spending long days and weekends supervising and organising the cleaning of the madrasah, especially in preparation for official visits or annual gatherings such as the graduation ceremony of the final year students studying Sahih al-Bukhari. He was not hands off but got in with the students, and using the art of coaxing and persuasion led from the front and commanded the respect of students to deliver what needed to be done.

On one occasion, I remember the Dar al-‘Ulum cook not being able to prepare lunch for some reason and so Mufti Shabbir himself rolled his sleeves up and, in between lessons, prepared lunch on that day for the madrasah’s 400 students and teaching staff. A mammoth task indeed. If my memory serves me right, he said he had cooked Lucknowi Biryani. As someone who has never tasted Lucknowi Biryani I’m unsure whether this was the case, but I can certify it was a tasty meal and I ate to my fill.

On graduation from Dar al-‘Ulum, I became busy with university and employment in Saudi Arabia and perhaps became distant from our respected teacher. Just a few days before last Ramadan, I was visiting my mother’s home and ventured outside to take a call due to poor reception when a car pulled up next to me. Engrossed in the conversation I initially failed to recognise who it was and then when the window came down realised it was Mufti Shabbir. We met and seeing him unexpectedly made me extremely happy. He then handed me a box of Madinah dates and said this is a gift for you for Ramadan and went on his way. That memory remains with me and I cherished every date in that box. It also then dawned on me that I had taken so much from Mufti Shabbir but given nothing in return.

Maktubat-i-Mashayikh is an interesting read. The letters from Shaykh Yunus Jawnpuri are particularly noteworthy and exemplify the attachment between the two. They also contain a wealth of information on the science of hadith and its commentary. Perhaps the most interesting letter in the collection is the one on page 171 in which Mawlana Yusuf Motala grants Mufti Shabbir khilafah in Tasawwuf and provides some unique and useful advice that would be relevant to any salik. We pray Allah Most High grants Mufti Shabbir a long life, that He accepts his services for the faith and enables us to value this gem who is still among us. Amin.

This review was written at the request of Mawlana Khalil Ahmed Kazi of Madina Academy, Dewsbury, UK.

Taken from

Book Review: al-Taḥqīq al-Bāhir Sharḥ al-Ashbāḥ wa ʾl-Naẓāʾir

Book review by Mawlana Abu Asim Badrul Islam

التحقيق الباهر شرح الأشباه والنظائر (للإمام ابن نجيم المصري – 926-970

للإمام العلامة هبة الله التاجي (1151-1224 هـ)

المؤلف : الإمام العلامة هبة الله التاجي

المحقق : د. الشيخ أسامة محمد شيخ

الموضوع : الأشباه والنظائر في المذهب الحنفي

الناشر : دار اللباب (إسطنبول ، دمشق ، بيروت)

سنة النشر : 1443 هـ _ 2021م

رقم الطبعة : 1

عدد المجلدات : 8

Title:  Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir Sharḥ Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir

Author:  Imām ῾Allāmah Hibat Allāh al-Tāji (1151-1224 AH)

Editor:  Mawlana Dr. Osama Muhammad Sheikh

Genre:  Ḥanafi legal maxims/legal analogy/jurisprudence

Publisher:  Dār al-Lubāb (Istanbul/Beirut)

Year of publication:  1443/2021 (1st edition)

Number of volumes:  8

Imām ῾Allāmah Ibn Nujaym’s (926-970 AH) Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir is a key work that is taught and studied by scholars of the ḥanafi legal school, who specialise in the issuing of legal rulings/edicts (fatwa). It is a work that has received much praise from jurists of the school throughout the centuries (Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir, 1:31-33). Until now, there has been no good print of a commentary on this book. Extending over eight large volumes, Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir is the only complete and detailed commentary on Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir – although, about 30 other works have been written on Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir, including several marginalia, most of which are incomplete, or do not include the entire text of Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir within the commentary and explanatory notes. Written by Imām ῾Allāmah Hibat Allāh al-Tāji (1151-1224 AH), Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir is the only work on Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir that has commentated on every part of the author’s text in a detailed yet clear and simple style. The importance of this cannot be overemphasised – especially, considering the challenging and often ambiguous nature of the text.

In bringing this publication to fruition, the researcher-editor, Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh[1] spent seven years working from manuscripts of the book. He mentions in his introduction (1:60-64) that he accessed four complete manuscripts of the work, of which he used two as the principal manuscripts. He also mentions two incomplete manuscripts (1:64-65), which he also used in this critical edition.

The author of Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir, Imām ῾Allāmah Hibat Allāh al-Tāji, has consulted tens of works of the ḥanafi masters in his work. These include principal texts (mutūn), commentaries (shurūḥ), fatāwā (legal rulings/edicts) and uṣūl (jurisprudence). However, when referencing or quoting other works, he often does so through the intermediary of secondary sources (1:57). In critically editing the work, Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh has endeavoured to visit the original published source of most of these references to verify the accuracy of the quotation. This proved to be a challenging and cumbersome task, as not all the references that the author mentions have been published, while some may not even be available anywhere in any format. In addition to this, Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh also used three commentaries of Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir in manuscript form. These are ῾Umdat al-Nāẓir, Tanwῑr al-Adhhāni wa ‘l-Ḍamā̕ ir, Kashf al-Khaṭā̕ir. During the course of his critical editing, Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh discovered that the author has often been casual in quoting from earlier works, not prioritising accuracy. This has in some places altered the meaning of what the author of the original source had intended. In addition to this problem, all the manuscripts of Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir are filled with errors by the copyists. This made it more important to visit the original source of each reference quoted by the author.

Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh has very helpfully added headings in square brackets to each section that discusses a new mas῾alah or issue. This enhances the reading experience and makes it much easier to search for discussions on different issues. 

Where deemed necessary, ḥarakāt and i῾rāb have been added throughout the book. For a final thorough proofreading before going to print, the publisher, Dār al-Lubāb (Istanbul/Beirut), employed a team of in-house proofreaders/researchers. However, despite this, the book contains a lot of errors, which could have been easily avoided. Errors are generally of the following categories: typographical errors, errors in i῾rāb, omitted letters or words, and some mistakes made by Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh himself.

Another shortcoming of this edition, in my view, is that the actual matn (text) of Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir has been omitted by Dār al-Lubāb. For such a work, one would normally expect the matn to be at the top of the page, demarcated from the commentary by a line. Instead, all eight volumes of this edition contain continuous, non-stop commentary with words and parts of sentences of Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir within brackets in red ink. I believe, this was done by Dār al-Lubāb in its desire to keep the number of volumes down. Had Dār al-Lubāb added the matn at the top of the pages, the book may have been in ten volumes and its beauty and usefulness would have been much enhanced.

I have no doubt that the book will, at some point in the future, undergo a revision and we shall see a better second edition. However, given the sheer size of the book and the finances involved, only Allāh Most High knows when that may be. Until then, the serious student of ḥanafi fiqh and the scholar of fatwa find themselves with a difficult decision to make – whether to purchase this first edition of this brilliant work or risk waiting many years for a better revised second edition, or, even worse, see the book go out of print. This is further compounded by the hefty price tag (currently, £130-£150 here in the United Kingdom).

Abu Asim Badrul Islam
Northampton, ENGLAND
22 Jumāda ‘l-Ūlā 1443/27 December 2021
Special thanks to Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh.

Front cover of Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir.
All eight volumes of Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir alongside my extremely poor edition of Al-Ashbāh wa ‘l-Naẓā̕ir by the infamous Dār al-Kutub al-῾Ilmiyyah (Beirut).
Sample pages of Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir. The headings in square brackets have been added by the editor, Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh.
Sample pages of Al-Taḥqῑq al-Bāhir.

[1] Mawlana Dr. Osama Sheikh completed his Dars-e-Niẓāmi (also known as Shahādat al-῾Ālimiyyah) course/master’s degree at Jāmi῾ah Fārūqiyyah, Karachi in 2007. He then completed a PhD degree at the Umm al-Qura University in Makkah Mukarramah.

Book Review: Al-Zubdah fī Sharḥ al-Burdah of ʿAlī al-Qārī

Al-Zubdah fī sharḥ al-Burdah. By al-Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī. Edited by Māhir Adīb Ḥabbūsh. Istanbul, Turkey: Dār al-Lubāb, 1438/2017. Pp 203. ISBN 9786058323865.

Reviewed by Mawlana Kamil Uddin, Darul Qasim

The mantle Burdah wears in Islamic literature is unparalleled. A glimpse of this is shown by ʿAbdullah Muḥammad al-Ḥabashī who lists out 48 pages of commentaries and marginalia for the Burdah in his encyclopedic bibliography, Jāmiʿ al-shurūḥ wal-ḥawāshī[1]. The actual title of this instrumental poem is al-Kawākib al-durriyyah fī madḥ khayr al-bariyyah (lit. The Radiant Planets in Praise of the Best of all Creation) written by the Sufi Poet of the Shādhilī order, Sharaf al-Dīn al-Būṣīrī (d. 697/1298). This commentary, titled al-Zubdah (The Choicest), selects from previous glosses and builds a direct bridge from poetry to prose for readers. A salient feature of al-Qārī’s (d. 1014/1606) writings is his ability to take complex topics and weave the thread of understanding through them; this work is no different. Ḥabbūsh edited this work using two manuscripts; the first was from King Saud University and the second from Waliyy al-Dīn Efendi Library in Istanbul which is an extension of Beyazıt Devlet Kütüphanesi (Beyazıt State Library).

In his 25 page introduction, Ḥabbūsh gives brief background information on al-Būṣīrī, his qaṣīdah, and the lasting effect this poem had on poetry that followed him. He also lists out 9 specific commentaries, 2 of which al-Qārī referenced often which are the commentaries of Jalāl al-Dīn al-Maḥallī (d. 864/1460) and ʿIṣām al-Dīn al-Isfarāyīniyy (d. 944/1538), as well as the commentary of Zayn al-Dīn Khālid al-Azharī (d. 905/1500) which was often quoted in the marginalia of the King Saud manuscript of al-Zubdah. Since the three aforementioned glosses have yet to be printed, the value of such a publication heightens. Ḥabbūsh also extracts what he considers controversial couplets that exaggerate the praise of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, listing them out in the following order; 80, 81, 135, 136, 149, 146, 75, 156, 43, and 154. He adds footnotes under some of these couplets explaining how they are problematic and critiquing al-Būṣīrī’s choice of words. However, he does not seem to adopt the reading al-Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī presents, one that is in line with Sunni creed and law. This is a problem because reading the sharḥ/ḥāshiyah genre requires one to be in sync with the previous research, which is why we see many authors writing glosses on their own texts (matn) because there is no commentator (shārīh) who could better rationalize that author (mātin).

Ḥabbūsh states that al-Qārī’s methodology of explaining contains three aspects. First he explains selected vocabulary (sharḥ mufradāt), followed by parsing (iʿrāb) unintuitive phrases, and concluding by giving a succinct, easy-to-read but eloquent understanding of the couplet. Sometimes al-Qārī switches the order but still touches on all three aspects. One of finest features of this commentary is al-Qārī’s ability to connect the poem to the Qurʾān and Hadith; this rhetorical concept is called iqtibās which literally means “the process of lighting one’s fire from that of another.” In the indexes listed at the end by the editor, I counted 122 ayahs from 52 surahs and 78 hadiths quoted by al-Qārī for a poem totaling 160 couplets. He was able to capture this light from other sources as well, for example he mentioned that couplet 58 was inspired by the eulogy of Fāṭimah, may Allah be pleased with her, for her father, the Prophet, peace be upon him. He also references the famous Majnūn in couplet 5 and al-Buḥturiyy (d. 284/897) in couplet 57, both of whom are famous for the art of panegyric in their own right. Al-Qārī also intertwines supplementary rhetorical and grammatical points along with theological and spiritual allusions (iīmāʾāt) throughout the commentary.

This edition also contains an 8 page bibliography (fihris al-maṣādir wal-marājiʿ) and an unfulfilling one page table of contents (fihris al-mawḍūʿāt). This text would have been enhanced for readers and researchers by including an index for the couplets, proper names and places, and a more expansive table of contents that gives an overview of the wide range of topics covered by both al-Qārī and al-Būṣīrī. One possible addition to the table of contents would be division of the poem into the ten sections (abwāb) mentioned on page 28. The editor ought to have included the full-length poem (qaṣīdah) in the beginning or end of the edition so that it can be read without pauses. It should be noted that the couplets are enumerated throughout the text and are in bold which make it easy to identify. Aside from the last two sentences at the end of the introduction and images of the first and last folios (lawḥah) there is no other information given about the manuscripts. Overall this is a welcome edition with accurate paragraphing, precise punctuation, and reliable referencing. Lastly, other editions of this work have been published since, one by Dār al-Imām al-Rāzī  in Cairo in 2018. Stamped on the title page is the claim Yuṭbaʿ li-awwal marrah alā arbaʿ nusakh khaṭṭīyah (Printed for the first time using 4 manuscripts).[2] Another one by Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah in 2019.[3] However, I have been unable to access these editions and thus cannot compare between them. The expectation is that they should be better but al-faḍl lil-mutaqaddim (special virtue is for the first).

[1] Al-Ḥabashī, A. Muḥammad, Jāmiʿ al-shurūḥ wal-ḥawāshī : muʿjam shāmil li-asmāʾ al-kutub al-mashrūḥah fī al-turāth al-Islāmī wa-bayan shurūḥihā, 5 vols. (Dār al-Minhāj, Jeddah, 2017), 1:659-707.

[2] Al-Qārī, M. ʻAlī and al-Khurāsānī, A. Muḥammad. al-Zubdah fī sharḥ al-Burdah. (Dār al-Imām al-Rāzī lil-nashr wal-tawzīʿ, Cairo, 2018).

[3] Al-Qārī, M. ʿAlī and Farḥāt, Ḥ. ʿAzīz. Sharḥ al-Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī ʿalā Burdat al-Būṣīrī. (Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmiyyah, Beirut, 2019).

Book Review: Mufti Rashīd Aḥmad Ludhyānwī’s Irshād al-Qārī ilā Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī

Mufti Rashid Ahmad Ludhianvi, Irshad al-Qari ila Sahih al-Bukhari, Karachi: Maktabat al-Khalij, pp.436

By Maulana Zeeshan Chaudri 

Mufti Rashid Ahmad Ludhianvi (d.2002) was one of the senior Muftis in Pakistan during his life. He was born in Ludhiana in the year 1922 into a scholarly family. Ludhiana had been the location of many ‘ulama, famously being the first group to declare Mirza Ghulam of Qadian a disbeliever[1] and penning the fatwa ‘Nusrat al-Abrar’ [2]. So it is not surprising that Ludhiana produced scholars of the calibre of Mufti Rashid Ahmad. He had initially taken Maulana Husayn Ahmad Madani (d.1957) as his spiritual guide, and after Maulana’s demise he had taken Mufti Muhammad Hasan and then Maulana ‘Abd al-Ghani Phulpuri as his spiritual guides. Via Maulana Madani, his connection to Hajji Imdadullah (d.1899) went via Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (d.1905). And from his other two Shaykhs via Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi (d.1943)[3]. 

His most famed work is the collection of his fatwas entitled ‘Ahsan al-Fatawa’ which is published in multiple volumes which demonstrate his mastery of the Hanafi school. His other works touch on a range of topics from aspects of spirituality to theology. The current work is Mufti Ludhianvi’s contribution to the study of the most authentic book after the Qur’an, Sahih al-Bukhari. The book only being a single volume does not go through the whole of Sahih al-Bukhari, rather the first few chapters. He provides an introduction to the book which tackles the position of those who question the authority of Hadith.  

Ghulam Ahmed Parvez (d.1985) was a controversial figure who wrote extensively in Urdu. The Quran was meant to be the focus with the Hadith not being considered an independent source of authority. Although he claimed to not completely do away with Hadith as he would accept and reject them based on its ‘agreement’ to the Quran[4], doing away with the independent authoritative nature of Hadith would radically change the way Islam is understood. Also it brushes to the side the extensive work done for the preservation of the Prophet’s life, without having any expertise in the field himself.    

There has been a common trait among many reformers of the 20th century in minimizing the role of Hadith, either through claiming that the Quran is sufficient or via using (and many a time abusing) classical principles which allow one to do away with many Ahadith[5]. Mufti Rashid Ahmad sensing this scepticism over the authoritative nature of Hadith dedicates a detailed introduction in defence.

An example of one of his evidences is the following verse of the Quran where Allah reminds the Sahabah that he had helped them in the battle of Badr. The Quran states ‘Recall when you said to the believers; does it not suffice you that your Lord will help you by sending down three thousand angels’ (al ‘Imran 124). Here the Quran refers to the Prophet informing the Sahabah about Allah promising to send angels, despite this not being mentioned in the Quran. This demonstrates that the Prophet reporting something from Allah which is not in the Quran is yet a source of authority (p.15). Other evidences are provided. 

In explaining the Hadith of Bukhari he inherits the method of his teachers in defending Hanafi positions. For example, the early dispute between the ‘ulama’ in reference to the definition of Iman. Imam Abu Hanifah (and others) had taken the position that actions (‘amal) are not part of Iman while the other ‘ulama’ considered actions as part and parcel of Iman, hence with the increase of good deeds the Iman also increases. Imam al-Bukhari was amongst the many ‘ulama’ who argued that actions are part of Iman and attempts to demonstrate this in the beginning of his Hadith collection. One of the evidences used by Imam al-Bukhari is the verse in the Qur’an where Ibrahim (as) asks Allah to show him how the dead would be brought to life. Allah responds with a question ‘have you not believed’, to which Ibrahim says ‘yes but for my heart to have itmi’nan’ (Surah Baqarah 260). 

Imam al-Bukhari utilizes this verse to demonstrate that iman increases. In response to this Mufti Ludhianvi explains that the term itmi’nan means to be at ease (sukun). So it was not that Ibrahim (as) intended for his iman to increase (as the Hanafis argue that iman is only tasdiq), but rather he had this desire inside him to see this spectacle. So to ease his desire and passion, he requested this from Allah (p.157).

This is just a snippet from the book and there are many other interesting passages for the student to benefit from insha’allah. 


[1] In the 1880s some notable ’ulama from Ludhiana had gone to Deoband to acquire the signatures of Maulana Ya’qub Nanotawi (cousin of Maulana Qasim Nanotawi) and Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi. There was an initial reluctance due to the severity of doing takfir, but they accepted it later, see Diya’ al-Husayn al-Ludhianvi (2017) Fatawa Qadiriyyah, Faisalabad: Islami Ta’limi Idarah

[2] This fatwa, penned in 1888, was a harsh refutation of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan and argued for the permissibility of joining the Indian National Congress. It was oft-cited in later debates in regards to joining the Congress and the Muslim League, Ludianva, ‘Abd al-‘Aziz (1888) Nusrat al-Abrar, Lahore: Matba’at Sahafi

[3] Asia’abadi, Ihtisham al-Haqq (1981) Anwar al-Rashid, Karachi: H. M. Sa’id, p.85

[4] Parvez, Firqah Ahl-e Qur’an, Lahore: Tulu’ al-Islam, June 1975, p.59-60

[5] See for example (last access 12/7/2017)

[Review taken from