Mawlāna Idrīs Kandhalwi’s Sīrah al-Mustafā: Views of Some Modern Scholars
Javeed Ahmad Malik
Thousands of books have been written on the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and God knows how many more can be written in this field in the future, but it is quite obvious that justice can never be done to his blessed biography in a single work.
Nevertheless, the last quarter of the 19th century CE and the entire 20th century is regarded as the Golden Era of Urdu Sīrah writing. Among the many comprehensive books on Sīrah that have been written in the last century CE, Sīrah al-Musatafā by Mawlāna Idrīs Kandhalwi occupies an eminent position in the Sīrah literature.
Mawlāna Idrīs kandhalwi (d. 1974 CE) and Academic Career
Mawlāna Kandhalwi apart from Madhāhir al- ‘Ulūm Saharanpur UP, also graduated from Dar al- ‘Ulūm Deoband, where he got the honour of becoming a prominent student of Allāmah Anwar Shah Kashmiri (d.1933). Mawlāna Kandhalwi was an imminent pedagogue as well as a commendable author, who produced marvellous works in every field of science like Tafsīr (Exegesis of Qur’ān), Hadīth (Prophetic Traditions), ‘Ilm al-Kalām (Scholasticism), Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence) and Sīrah (Biography of Prophet Muhammad [PBUH]), etc. His notable works include Ma’ārif al-Qur’ān (Interpretation of Holy Qur’ān), ‘Ijāz al-Qur’ān, Al-Talīq al-Sabīh Sharah Mishkāh al-Masabīh, Khilafat-i-Rashidah Talkhīs Izālah al-Khifā, ‘Aqā’id-i-Islam and many others.
Anwar Shah Kashmiri said that Mawlāna Kandhalwi extracts the gist and gem of the book after reading it and this gets manifested when someone studies his written works. Not only scholars of Indo-Pak Sub-Continent, but even Arab scholars also eulogized his magnum opus, Al- Talīq al-Sabīh (Commentary of Mishkah al-Masābīh). One of his renowned books is Sīrah al Mustafā, a detailed biography of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in three voluminous volumes.
Mawlāna Ashraf Ali Thanwi (d. 1943) after listening to numerous portions of the very book, commented upon it as:
“The author (of Sīrah al-Mustafā) certainly discharged all the vital aspects and necessary dues involved in the compilation of Sīrah. May Almighty God reward him abundantly. This humble servant (Thanwi) offered the author some advice at some points of the compilation, which he enthusiastically accepted. This is a stark indication of his sincerity. A person who has a basic knowledge of Urdu should not deprive himself of either teaching or studying this book”.²
Review of Literature
Dr. Anwar Mahmud Khalid’s Assessments
Dr. Anwar Mahmud Khalid has written a book on Urdu Sīrah writing titled, Urdu Nathar Mei Sīrat-i-Rasūl (Pakistan: Iqbal Academy Lahore, 1989 CE), in which he writes about Sīrah al-Mustafā that it is written in a classical style like primary Arabic basic sources of Sīrah and contains the pioneering meaning of Qur’ānic Āyāt (Verses) and Ahādīth (Prophetic Traditions). He further adds that it is like the crux and gist of all Arabic Sīrah literature is embodied in one single book. The same author while comparing Sīrah al-Mustafā with Hakīm ‘Abd l-Ra’ūf Danapūri’s Asah al-Siyar, avers:
“Sirah al-Mustafā in its technique, style of speech, and approach bears adequate resemblance with Abd l-Ra’ūf Danapūri’s ‘Asah al-Siyar’. But the former is more voluminous than the later. Both the authors have given importance to Ghazwāt al-Nabawi (Prophetic Campaigns) and have discussed ‘Ām al-Wufūd (Year of Deputation) in detail. Both have shown enthusiasm in jurisprudential issues and have based their works on the Ahādīth (Traditions) of the Prophet. Both profess that they have followed the path of the predecessors. Both have criticized Shibli Nu’mani and have shown no interest in the confused western minds. However, Mawlāna Idrīs Kandhlwi’s command and approach to the basic sources are more evident than the other”.³
The author further commented that Sīrah al-Mustafā undoubtedly, due to its valuable content is a book that occupies an important and shining place in the world of knowledge.
Dr. Anwar further added that although written in scholarly language, Sīrah al-Mustafā is neither abstruse nor so much easy that makes it vulgar. Further, he continues with the remark that this book is a treasure of knowledge for those who want to acquire vast knowledge of Arabic sources in Urdu, however, readers with modern taste may not find much interest in its long debates, subtle language, and way of argumentation.
Dr. Mahmūd Ahmad Ghāzi (d. 2010 CE) and his View
After providing a detailed account of Danapūri’s Asah al-Siyar, in his Muhāzrāt-i-Sīrat (New-Delhi: Areeb Publications, 2011 CE), Dr. Mahmūd Ahmad Ghāzi, a renowned modern scholar, commented upon Kandhalwi’s Sirah al-Mustafā as:
“Another book written in the traditional genre is Mawlāna Idrīs Kandhalwi’s ‘Sīrah al-Mustafā’. This book is the crux and gist of almost all classical Sīrah literature. Mawlāna has re-joined modern Sīrah writers, wherever they have fallen in errors and has emphasized miracles and Bashārāt (glad tidings given by previous Prophets about Prophet Muhammad [PBUH]). But Mawlāna has not noticed Orientalists and seems that he has no concern in their debates. Neither he discussed nor answered, nor did he probably possessed knowledge of fault findings of Orientalists”. ⁴
Prof. Yasīn Mazhar Siddīqī (d. 2020) and his Analysis
Prof. Yasīn Mazhar Siddīqī has compiled a praiseworthy work in two voluminous volumes on the Masādir (Sources) of Sīrah, titled as Masādir-i-Sīrat-i-Nabawi,(New-Delhi: Institute of Objective Studies, 2016) in which he has discussed in detail 49 Sīrah writers. The last chapter of his work is based on the life and academic career of Mawlāna Idrīs Kandhalwi and his book i.e. Sīrah al-Mustafā. The author regarded Kandhalwi as among the critics of Allāmah Shibli Nu’māni (d.1914) and professed that the former wrote his book in response to Shibli’s Sīrah al-Nabi. While commenting upon Mawlāna Kandhalwi’s Sirah al-Mustafā, the author has highlighted its different features. At one place he said that Mawlāna Kandhalwi has tried to dispel disagreements between Traditionalists (Muhaddithūn) and Biographers (Ahl al-Siyar) by applying the principle of Tatbīq (Interrelate), as he has done in the mention of Ghazwah Muraysī’.
Prof. Siddīqī highlighted a distinctive feature of Sīrah al-Mustafā that although it represents a specific school of thought, however, it is worthy to be enumerated in the list of most important books of Sīrah in Urdu.
Besides it, the author also professed that there seems to be an adequate impact of Shibli’s Sīrah al-Nabi on Kandhalwi, even if the latter has made strong criticism on Shibli at many places. Although the author has confessed the extensive command of Kandhalwi on Hadīth and primary Sīrah literature, yet he claims that at some places (Like narration of the inheritance of ‘Abd al-Muttalib) Mawlāna Kandhalwi proceeded without giving any reference from the sources.
The author also highlighted that unlike other common and specific Sīrah writers, the author of Sīrah al-Mustafā possessed significant distinction i.e. he has endorsed and ratified Muhammad bin Umar al-Waqidi (d. 823 CE) though he has abstained from narrating any tradition from him. Similarly, Prof. Siddiqī highlighted that:
“The author (of Sirah al-Mustafā) has tried to make the character and Sīrah of the Prophet as a role model by finding out lessons from almost all the events of the Sīrah……….Mawlāna Idrīs at almost every place has deduced jurisprudential matters and has intercepted in many jurisprudential ideas and judgments”.⁵
Nevertheless, at the same time, while highlighting the weaknesses of the very book, Prof. Siddīqī avouches:
“One of the weak aspects of this book is that it leaves the basic theme and related debates aside and gets stuck into irrelevant debates”.⁶
However, Prof. Siddīqī seems to be highly influenced by ‘Allāmah Shibli’s Sīrah al-Nabi, which has led him to ignore many significant and praiseworthy aspects of Mawlāna Kandhalwi’s Sīrah al-Mustafā, while comparing it with the former book.
Sīrah al-Mustafā stands out like a shining star, is the masterpiece of all literary works of the author, and enjoys acceptance from all of his writings. It occupies an exalted position when it comes to the depth of research and having the primary and authentic sources as its foundation. It is a comprehensive work-based principally and predominantly on authentic narrations as far as, the science of Sīrah and Maghāzi is concerned, unaffected by the objections of Orientalists. The book has also been translated into English in three volumes by the Scholars of Madrasah Arabia, Azaadville, South Africa.
The author is a Ph.D. Scholar, Islamic Studies, Islamic University of Science & Technology (IUST), Awantipora, Kashmir, India.
¹ Prof. Yāsīn Mazhar Siddīqui, Masādir-i-Sīrat-i-Nabawi (New-Delhi: Institute of Objective Studies, 2016), II/644.
² Mawlāna Idrīs Kandhalwi, Sīrah al-Mustafā (Deoband: Kutub Khana A’zāziyah), I/25-26.
³ Dr. Anwar Mahmood Khalid, Urdu Nathar Mein Seerat e Rasool. (Lahore: Iqbal Academy Pakistan, 1989), 648
⁴ Dr. Mahmood Ahmad Ghazi, Muhazirat e Seerat (New Delhi, Areeb Publication, 2011) 618.
⁵ Siddiqui, Masadir e Seerat e Nabawi (11/650)