Maulana Ilyas Kandhlawi


Maulana Ilyas Kandhlawi was the founder of Tablighi Jamaat. He was a man of extreme piety and intense worry and concern for Islam. He was born in 1885 and passed away in 1944 at the age of 59. He started the movement in 1926 after his return from his second Hajj. The following write-up is his biography extracted from the book ‘Life and Mission of Maulana Ilyas’ by Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi (Download here)


Click here to read the Foreword of the book by Maulana Manzoor Nomani.

Chapter 1: Early Days

On the outskirts of Delhi, near the tomb of Khwaja Nizamuddin, there lived a godly person in the house on top of the red gate of the historical building called Chaunsath Khamba. His name was Maulana Mohammad Ismail

Worship, Zikr, attending to the needs of the travellers, teaching the Quran and giving instruction in the Deen was his sole occupation in life. He used to take down the load from the heads of thirsty labourers who passed that way. He would then place it on the ground, draw water from the well and give it to them to drink. Then he would offer two Rakaat Salat expressing gratitude to Allah for allowing him to serve His bondsmen even though he did not deserve it. He had attained the state of Ihsan.

Maulana Mohammad Ismail established a connection with Mewat

The link with Mewat was established in Maulana Mohammad Ismail’s lifetime. It is related that once he went out in the hope of finding a Muslim whom he could bring to the mosque and offer Salat with him. On meeting some Muslim labourers, he enquired from them where they were going. “We are going in search of work”, they replied. “How much do you expect to earn?” asked Maulana Mohammad Ismail. The labourers thereupon told him about the daily wages they generally received. Maulana Mohammad Ismail then asked, “If I give you the same amount here, what is the use of going elsewhere?” The laborers agreed and Maulana Mohammad Ismail took them to the Masjid and began teaching them Salat and the Quran. 

He would then pay them their wages every day and keep them engaged in their lessons. In a few days, they developed the habit of offering Salat. Such was the beginning of the Madrasa at Bangle Wali Masjid. These labourers were its first scholars. After them, about ten Mewati students always remained in the Madrasa.

Maulana Mohammad Ismail’s Death

Maulana Mohammad Ismail died on 26th February 1898. Maulana Mohammad Ismail had three sons: Maulana Mohammad from the first wife, and Maulana Yahya and Maulana Ilyas from the second.

Maulana Ilyas’ Early Life

Maulana Ilyas was born in 1885. His childhood was spent in his maternal grandfather’s home in Kandhla and with his father at Nizamuddin

The pious legacy of the Kandhla Family

In those days, the Kandhla family was the cradle of godliness and piety so much so that reports of the high religiosity, nightly devotions, Zikr and Tilawat of its members, both male and female would seem imaginary and fictitious to the faint-hearted person of our time. 

The ladies used to recite the Quran themselves in Nafl Salat as well as listen to its recital in Taraweeh and other Nafl prayers standing behind the male relatives. The month of Ramadan, in particular, was the springtime for the Quran. It was read for long hours, almost in every home. The limit of absorption was that sometimes, the ladies forgot to pay attention to purdah and would not become aware of the coming of outsiders in the house at a time of urgent need.

The Quran with its translation and commentary in Urdu, and ‘Mazahir-e-Haq‘, ‘Mashoriq-ul-Anwar‘, and ‘Hisn-i-Haseen‘ formed the limit of the education of the ladies. Deeds and accomplishments of the families of Syed Ahmad Shaheed and Shah Abdul Aziz Dehlavi were the most popular themes of conversation, and facts regarding these illustrious men of God were on everybody’s lips. Instead of the stories of kings and fairies, ladies of the household would relate these events to the children.

The Piety of Maulana Ilyas’ Grandmother

Maulana Ilyas’ maternal grandmother, Amtus Salam, was the daughter of Maulana Muzaffar Hussain. She was known in the family as Ammi Bi and was a very pious lady. About her Salat, the Maulana, once, observed that “I saw the likeness of Ammi Bi’s Salat in the Salat of Maulana Gangohi

During the last phase of her life, Ammi Bi’s state was that she never asked for food and ate only when someone placed it before her. It was a large family and there was always so much to do. When the thought of having her meal did not occur to her amid domestic chores, she simply went hungry. Once, someone said to her, “You are so old and weak. How do you manage to go without food?”. “I draw sustenance from my Tasbihat”, she replied.

The Piety of Maulana Ilyas’ Mother

The mother of Maulana Ilyas, Bi Sofia, had learnt the Quran by heart and attained great distinction in it. It was a regular practice with her to recite the whole of the Quran and an additional ten Paras every day during Ramadan. She thus completed 40 recitals of the Quran in that month. She was so fluent in it that her household duties did not suffer on account of it. She generally kept herself engaged in some work while doing the recitation. Apart from the month of Ramadan, her daily routine of worship included: Durood Shareef 5,000 times, Isme-Zaat Allah 5,000 times, Bismillahirahmaan Nir Rahim 1,000 times, Ya Mughnee 1,000 times, La-ilaha illallah 1,200 times, Ya Haiyu Ya Qayyum 200 times, Hasbiallah wa Ni’mul Wakeel 500 times, Subhanallah 200 times, Alhamdlillah 200 times, Allah Akbar 200 times, Istighfar 500 times, Hasbunallahu Wa Ni’mal Wakeel 1,000 times, Las ilaaha Illa Anta Subhanakan Inni Kuntu Minas Zalimeeen 100 times. In addition, she recited Manzil of the Quran every day.

Maulana Ilyas’ Early Education

Like all other children in the family, the Maulana began his education in the Maktab and according to the family tradition, learnt the Quran by heart. The learning of the Quran was so common in the family, that in the one-and-a-half row of worshippers in the family mosque, there was not a single non-Hafiz except the Muazzin.

Maulana Ilyas was Ammi Bi’s favourite grandchild. She used to say to him, “Ilyas, I feel the aroma of the Sahaba in you”. Sometimes, placing her hand on his back, she would say, “How is it that I see figures resembling the Sahaba moving along with you?”

From his childhood, it was present in Maulana Ilyas, the touch of the religious ardour and fervent feeling of the Sahaba which had led Shaikhul Hind Maulana Mahmood Hasan to remark: “When I see (Maulana) Ilyas, I am reminded of the Sahaba.”

Eagerness and enthusiasm for Faith were ingrained in his nature. Even in his early days, he sometimes did things that were much above the common level of the children. Riazul Islam Kandhlawi, a class fellow of his in the Maktab, says that Maulana Ilyas once came with a stick and said, “Come, Riazul Islam, let us do Jihad against those who do not offer Salat”

Maulana Ilyas’ stay at Gangoh

In 1893, his elder brother, Maulana Yahya, went to live at Gangoh with Maulana Rasheed Ahmad Gangohi. Maulana Ilyas used to live with his father at Nizamuddin, and sometimes with his maternal grandfather’s family at Kandhla. At Nizamuddin, his education was being neglected owing to the over-fondness of his father and his excessive occupation with prayers. Maulana Yahya thus requested his father that as the education of Ilyas was suffering, he might be allowed to take him to Gangoh. The father agreed and Maulana Ilyas came to Gangoh in 1896 (or early 1897) where Maulana Yahya began to teach him regularly. Gangoh, in those days, was the seat of Sufi saints and savants, the benefit of whose company was constantly available to Maulana Ilyas. A greater part of his impressionable age was spent there. When he went to live at Gangoh, he was 10 or 11 years old. At the time of Maulana Rasheed Ahmed Gangohi’s death, in 1905, he was a young man of about 20 years old. Thus, he stayed with Maulana Gangohi for about 9 years. Maulana Yahya was an ideal teacher and benefactor. He wanted his brother to derive the utmost advantage from the society of those illustrious men. Maulana Ilyas used to say that when the Ulema who had been the favourite pupils or disciples of Maulana Gangohi came to Gangoh, his brother would often stop the lessons. He would then say that his education is in sitting with them and listening to their conversation. 

Maulana Ilyas took Bayat with Maulana Gangohi

Usually, Maulana Gangohi did not take Bayat from children and students. It was only when they had completed their education that he allowed them to take the pledge. But owing to the exceptional merit of Maulana Ilyas, he, at his request, permitted him to do Bayat at his hand. 

Maulana Ilyas’ affection to Maulana Gangohi

Maulana Ilyas had been born with a loving heart. Such a strong attachment did he develop for Maulana Gangohi that he felt no peace without him. He would often get up in the night, go and see the Maulana’s face, and return to his bed. Maulana Gangohi too had a great affection for him. Once, Maulana Mohammad Ilyas told his brother, Maulana Yahya, that if the Maulana consented, he would sit near him while studying. As Maulana Yahya conveyed the request to Maulana Gangohi, he remarked, “There is no harm in it. My privacy will not be disturbed by the presence of Ilyas, nor will it affect the peace of my mind”.

At the time of Zikr, Maulana Ilyas used to feel a sort of load on his heart. When he mentioned it to Maulana Gangohi, the Maulana shuddered. He said that “Maulana Mohammad Qasim had complained of a similar feeling to Haji Imdadullah, upon which Haji Saheb had observed that Allah was going to take some special service from him”

Maulana Ilyas’ problematic health

Maulana Ilyas’ health had never been good. At Gangoh, it deteriorated further and he began to have attacks of severe headaches after which he could not bend his head even to the extent of performing the Sajda on a pillow for months. Maulana Gangohi’s son, Hakim Masud Ahmad, who was his physician, had a peculiar method of treatment. In certain diseases, he forbade the use of water for a long time which was unbearable to most patients. But with the strength of mind that was so characteristic of him, Maulana Ilyas abided strictly by the advice of his physician and abstained from drinking water for a full 7 days, and, during the next five years, he drank it sparingly.

There was little hope that he would be able to resume his education after the discontinuation owing to illness. He was very keen to take it up again, but his well-wishers would not allow it. One day, as Maulana Yahya asked him what he would, in any case, do by studying, he retorted, “What will I do by living?”. Ultimately, he succeeded in resuming his studies. 

Maulana Gangohi’s Death

The death of Maulana Gangohi occurred in 1905. Maulana Ilyas who was at his bedside during the dying moments and reciting the Sura of Ya-Sin, was so deeply affected by it that he used, often, to say, “Two shocks have been most painful to me. One was the death of my father, and the other, of the death of Maulana Rasheed Ahmad Gangohi“.

Maulana Ilyas studies in Deoband

In 1908, Maulana Ilyas went to Deoband where he studied Tirmizi and Sahih Bukhari from Maulana Mahmood Hasan. The latter advised him to approach Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri for spiritual guidance and instruction since his mentor, Maulana Rasheed Ahmad Gangohi was no more. Thus, he completed the various stages of Sulook under Maulana Saharanpuri’s supervision.

Absorption in Prayers

During his stay at Gangoh, after the death of Maulana Gangohi, Maulana Ilyas, generally, remained silent and spent most of his time in meditation. Says Maulana Zakariyya, “We read elementary Persian from him in those days. His practice, then, was that he sat crossed-legged, and in utter silence, on a coarse mat behind the tomb of Shah Abdul Quddus. We presented ourselves for the lesson, opened the book, and placed it before him, indicating with the finger where we were to begin on that day. We would read aloud and translate the Persian verses. When we made a mistake, he would shut the book with a movement of the finger and the lesson came to an end. It meant that we were to go back, prepare the lesson thoroughly, and, then, come again. He used to offer Nafl Salat much and often at that time. From Maghrib till a little before Isha, he devoted himself exclusively to Nawafil. His age, then, was between 20 and 25 years.

Contact with other spiritual mentors

Regular contact with other spiritual mentors and disciples of Maulana Gangohi was maintained during those days. About Shah Abdul Rahim Raipuri and Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi, Maulana Ilyas used to say that they abided in his heart. They, too, had a great regard and affection for him for his extraordinary qualities.

Spirit of Jihad

Together with Zikr, Asghaal, Nawafil and Ibadah, Maulana Ilyas was also infused with the spirit of Jihad. Throughout his life, he was never without it and had taken the pledge of Jihad at the hand of Maulana Mahmood Hasan for that very reason.

Maulana Ilyas’ Estimation in the eyes of elders

From his early days, he was held in the highest esteem by the elders of the family as well as the spiritual leaders of the day. Maulana Yahya was like a father to him, yet the former’s attitude towards his younger brother was like that of the sacred Prophet towards Hazrat Usman.

Maulana Yahya’s high regards to Maulana Ilyas

Indifferent health prevented him from taking part in duties involving physical labour. He concentrated wholly on his studies, Zikr, and other forms of worship. Maulana Yahya, on the contrary, was a very industrious person. He owned a bookshop which he managed with great care. It was not only his source of livelihood but of his brothers as well. One day, the manager of the shop said that Maulana Ilyas did not take any interest in the business which was not good for he too benefited from it. Maulana Yahya heard it, he was very angry and remarked “A tradition has it that the sustenance that reaches you and the help you receive from Allah is due to the blessedness of the weaker ones among you”. I believe that I am receiving my sustenance owing to the good fortune of this child. Nothing should be said to him in the future. If there is anything to say, it should be said to me.

Maulana Ilyas was asked to lead Salat

Sometimes, Maulana Ilyas was asked to lead the Salat in the presence of renowned Ulema and spiritual leaders. Once Shah Abdur Rahim Raipuri, Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri and Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi happened to be in Kandhla. When the time for Salat came and Maulana Ilyas was asked to lead it, a senior member of the family, Maulana Badrul Hasan, humorously remarked that “Such a small engine has been fastened to so many big carriages”. “It depends on the power (not the size) of the engine”, replied one of them.

Maulana Ilyas career in Mazahirul Uloom Saharanpur

In 1910, a large number of men, including most of the senior teachers of the Madrasa of Mazahirul Uloom, left for the Haj from Saharanpur. This necessitated the need to recruit temporary teachers for the Madrasa. Maulana Ilyas was selected as one of them. He was given secondary books to teach. On the return of the senior teachers from Hajj, all the new entrants were relieved of their duties, but the services of Maulana Ilyas were retained.

At Mazahirul Uloom, Maulana Ilyas had to teach some books which he had not read himself. Due to Maulana Yahya’s scheme of instructions, it was not customary to complete the books. Maulana Ilyas also had to miss some secondary books due to his ill health. During his teaching days, he tried to make up for his deficiency and prepared his lectures carefully. For instance, for teaching ‘Kanzul Daqaiq‘, he studied ‘Bahr-ur-Raiq‘, ‘Shaami’ and ‘Hadaya’, and consulted even Hisami’s notes and comments when he taught ‘Nurul Anwaar’.

Maulana Ilyas’ Marriage

The Maulana married the daughter of his maternal uncle, Maulana Rauful Hasan, on Friday, October 17, 1912. The Nikah was performed by Maulana Mohammad. Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri, Shah Abdur Rahim Raipuri and Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi attended the ceremony. Maulana Thanwi’s celebrated sermon, ‘Fuwayid-us-suhbat’, which has subsequently been published multiple times, was delivered on that occasion.

Maulana Ilyas’ First Hajj

In 1915, Maulana Ahmad Khalil Saharanpuri and Maulana Mahmood Hassan decided to go on the Hajj Pilgrimage. When Maulana Ilyas came to know of it, he was strongly seized with the desire to perform the Haj. He felt that it would become dark and gloomy in India with their departure and he would not be able to live in Saharanpur any more. However, Maulana Ilyas did not have the finances for this. His sister, the wife of Moulvi Ikramul Hassan, saw his distress and offered her ornaments to meet the expenses of the pilgrimage. Contrary to expectations, Maulana Ilyas’ mother gave him consent to which Maulana Yahya also agreed. Maulana Ilyas then wrote to Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharapuri asking for his permission. He explained that as far as the provisions for the journey were concerned, three options were available for him. He could take his sister’s ornament, or borrow the amount, or accept the offers of money made by certain relatives. Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri preferred the third course.

Maulana Ilyas was fortunate enough to travel by the same boat as Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri. He sailed in August 1911 and returned in February 1915 to resume his teaching at the Madrasa.

Chapter 2 – Stay at Nizamuddin

Maulana Yahya passed away on Wednesday 9th August 1915. Two years after the death of Maulana Yahya, the elder brother of Maulana Ilyas, Maulana Mohammad also passed away. He breathed his last while performing the Sajda in Salat-ul-Witr in 1917.

Maulana Ilyas had come to Delhi to look after his sick brother and was staying with him in the Nawan Wali Masjid of Qassab Para. It was there that Maulana Mohammad died and the burial took place at Nizamuddin. Thousands of men attended the funeral.

Maulana Ilyas was urged to replace his brother at Nizamuddin

After the burial, people urged Maulana Ilyas to take up residence at Nizamuddin to fill the void caused by the death of his father and brother. They also promised monthly donations for the Madrasa to which Maulana Ilyas agreed subject to certain conditions which he observed throughout his life.

Maulana Ilyas had made it clear that he would come to Nizamuddin and take charge of the Madrasa only if Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri approved. Upon it, several persons offered to go to Saharanpur to obtain permission but Maulana Ilyas checked them saying that it was not the way to do it. He would go himself, unaccompanied by anyone.

Maulana Ilyas thus went to Saharanpur and explained the whole thing to Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri. The latter gave his approval but added that in the first instance, only a year’s leave be taken from Mazaahirul Uloom and if the day at Nizamuddin proved useful and It was decided to settle down there permanently, he could resign at any time.

Maulana Ilyas’ moves to Nizamuddin

But before Maulana Ilyas could move to Nizamuddin, he was suddenly taken ill with pleurisy. He then went to Kandhla where his condition worsened. One night, his illness took such a grave turn that all hopes were lost. The pulse sank and the body became cold. However, Allah SWT had planned to take work from him. Thus, unexpectedly, he began to improve and in a few days, he was able to leave the bed.

On regaining health, Maulana Ilyas came to Nizamuddin from Kandhla. In those days, there was no habitation in the part of Nizamuddin, and adjoining the mosque, there was a thick growth of trees and underbrush. Maulana Ihtishamul Hasan who, in his childhood, had come to live for some time with Maulana Ilyas says, “I used to go out and stand in the hope of seeing a human coming. When anyone appeared, I felt so happy as if someone had given me a precious gift.”

The Living Conditions in Nizamuddin

A small Masjid made out of bricks, a shed, a living apartment, a small settlement of the attendants of the tomb to the south, and a few Mewatis and non-Mewati students; that was all that formed the world of the mosque and the Madrasa.

The resources of the Madrasa were so meagre that sometimes they had to starve. Maulana Ilyas however bore it all with a cheerful heart. Occasionally, he would say plainly that there was nothing to eat. Whoever wanted to stay might stay but whoever wanted to go might go and make his arrangements elsewhere. The moral and spiritual training the students were receiving, however, was such that none of them was willing to leave. Often, they would live on tail fruits. The scholars themselves brought wood from the forest to prepare Chapatis which they ate with chutney. The extreme poverty made no impression on Maulana Ilyas. What worried him was the prospect of abundance and prosperity which, he was sure, was going to open up as Allah SWT always does after a phase of trial and tribulations.

Maulana Ilyas was unconcerned with the living conditions in Nizamuddin

The outward appearance of the Madrasa held no interest for the Maulana. He was supremely unconcerned with it. Once during his absence, some residential quarters were built for its staff through the efforts of Haji Abdur Rahman, an old friend of his and an ex-student of the Madrasa. Maulana Ilyas got so angry with this that he did not speak to him for a long time. Maulana Ilyas remarked that the real thing was education, and, referring to a certain Madrasa, said that its buildings have become great, but the standard of education has gone down.

Once a prominent merchant of Delhi begged the Maulana to supplicate to Allah for him in a very important matter and presented him with some money. Maulana Ilyas agreed to pray on his behalf but declined to accept the money. Haji Abdur Rahman however, took it given the chronic financial difficulties of the Madrasa. Maulana Ilyas however had no peace until he had it returned. He used to stress upon Haji Abdur Rahman that the work of Iman was not carried out with money, otherwise, much wealth would have been granted to the holy Prophet SAW.

Maulana Ilyas’ Worshipfulness in Nizamuddin

Maulana Ilyas exclusively kept himself occupied with prayers and other spiritual exertions in those days. He had inherited the inclination for it from his ancestors which blossomed during his stay at Nizamuddin. He sought solitude and carried out vigorous exercises for the purification of the soul. According to Haji Abdur Rahman, Maulana Ilyas remained in seclusion for long hours at the gate of Arab Sara which was the favourite place of worship of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia. It was situated to the north of Humayun’s tomb, near the mausoleum of Abdur Rahim Khan Khalwa and the grave of Syed Nur Mohammad Badayuni, the spiritual mentor of Mirza Mazhar Jan-i-Janan. Usually, his midday meal was sent there while the evening meal was at home. He offered the five daily prayers in the congregation, Haji Abdur Rahman and his fellow students used to go to the gate to form the congregation and for their lessons, they sometimes went there and sometimes Maulana Ilyas himself came to Chukkar Wali Masjid. 

Maulana Ilyas performed the Wudu and offered two Raka’at Salat before commencing lessons of Hadiths. He remarked that the claim of the Hadith was even greater. He did not talk to anyone, however important while teaching Hadith. He never complained if the meal came late from Nizamuddin, nor found fault with the food.

Interest in Teaching

Maulana Ilyas took a keen interest in his pupils and personally taught all the subjects including the elementary as well as the advanced. Sometimes there were as many as eighty students directly under his instruction taking the class of ‘Mustadrak Hakeem‘ before Fajr. 

The main emphasis in his method of teaching was on the application of the mind. He wanted the students to come thoroughly prepared. Maulana Ilyas did not follow the general syllabus of the Madrasas in the selection of books. Many books that were not prescribed in other Madrasas were taught in Nizamuddin. He thought of new ways to stimulate the students and develop the faculties of imagination and understanding in them.

Chapter 3 – Beginning of the Movement and Religious Reforms in Mewat

For brevity, we have moved excerpts on the conditions of Mewatis on a separate page.

As mentioned before, contact with the Mewatis was established during the lifetime of Maulana Mohammad Ismail (the father of Maulana Ilyas). It was not by chance, but an act of destiny that Maulana Mohammad Ismail came to live in Basti Nizamuddin which was the gateway of Mewat. Thus, much before the arrival of Maulana Ilyas, seeds of loyalty and devotion to his family had been sown on its soil.

The followers of Maulana Mohammad Ismail and Maulana Mohammad came to know that their true successor, the son of Maulana Mohammad Ismail and the brother of Maulana Mohammad, had come to live at Nizamuddin. Since then, they again started coming to Nizamuddin. At times they would request Maulana Ilyas for a visit to Mewat so that they had an opportunity to renew the ties of fealty and spiritual allegiance.

Real Remedy

Maulana Ilyas felt that the only way to the religious reform and correction of the Mewatis was the promotion of religious knowledge and familiarization with the rules and principles of the Sharia. Maulana Mohammad Ismail, and, after him, Maulana Mohammad had adopted the same method. They used to keep the Mewati children with them and educate them in their Madrasa. They would then send them back to Mewat to carry on the work of reformation and guidance. What little religious awareness was found there was owing to the efforts of these pioneers. Maulana Ilyas went a step ahead and decided to establish Maktabs and Madrasas in Mewat itself so that the influence of Faith could spread to a wider area and the pace of change was accelerated.


Maulana Ilyas knew what was commonly meant by inviting a spiritual mentor to their place as his admirers. He was not willing to go to Mewat only to fulfil the formalities of attending a dinner given in his honour, delivering a few sermons and giving good counsel. He wanted to make sure before undertaking the trip, that some real advance would be made, as a result of his visit. He wanted to bring the Mewatis closer to Islam and improve their moral condition. During those days the setting up of Maktabs and Madrasas in Mewat appeared to him to be the most effective step in that direction. He had thus made it clear that he would accept the invitation only on the condition that they promised to establish Maktabs in their territory. 

For the Mewatis however, no undertaking could be harder to give. They considered the establishment of Maktabs next to impossible. The simple reason is that no one would want to send their children to Maktabs as this would deprive them of earning daily wages and contribute to the family income. The enthusiasm of those who came to invite quickly subsided as they heard of the condition that Maulana Ilyas put. In desperation, however, a Mewati finally made a promise leaving the rest to Allah SWT.

Establishment of Maktabs

Maulana Ilyas thus went to Mewat and demanded the fulfilment of the promise. After great persuasion, the first Maktabs were finally established.

Maulana Ilyas used to tell the Mewatis, “Give me students and I will provide you the money”. The Mewatis, who were mainly farmers, could not easily accept the idea that their children learn to read and write instead of working in the fields or looking after the cattle. It took a lot of tact and perseverance to bring them around to it.

Ten Maktabs were opened during that visit. Once the ice was broken, the progress was easy. Sometimes, several Maktabs were opened in a day. Within a few years, hundreds of such schools were functioning in Mewat.

Maulana Ilyas’ Dedication

Maulana Ilyas had undertaken this service of Deen as a personal initiative. He felt no hesitation in spending all he had on it. He believed that a person should take ownership of religious work and expend his time and money on it.

Once a person presented a purse to him with the request that he use it exclusively for his own needs. Maulana Ilyas replied, “If we do not regard Allah’s work as our own, how can we claim to be His bondsmen?”. With a sigh, he added, “Alas! We are not just appreciators of the sacred Prophet. We do not know its true worth.”

This was Maulana Ilyas’ rule of life. First, he would spend from his pocket on religious endeavours such as in Mewat before accepting help from others.

Chapter 4 – Mass Effort

Over time, Maulana Ilyas became dissatisfied with the progress that was being made through the Maktabs. He found that the Maktabs too were not free from the effects of the general environment of ignorance and irreligiousness. The students who passed out of them were incapable of rendering any real service to Faith.

There was no genuine attachment to Faith that could induce people to send their children to Maktabs. They also did not know the value of religious knowledge so that recognition could be given to those who acquired it. In such circumstances, the Maktabs exert little influence on the general pattern of living.

Moreover, all the arrangements were for children who had yet attained adulthood. They were thus exempted from the application of the commands and injunctions of Sharia on religious duties. There was however no provision for the reformation and correction of the grown-up adults. These adults were incurring the displeasure of Allah owing to their apathy and ignorance.

Maulana Ilyas’ dissatisfaction with the Maktabs

In any case, the necessary religious instruction could not be imparted to the whole community through the Maktabs and Madrasas regardless of how many there were. Not everyone could be brought to attend the Maktabs.

Once, during a tour, a young man was presented before Maulana Ilyas with the laudatory remark that he had completed the study of the Quran in such-and-such Maktab of Mewat. The Maulana was shocked to find that his beard was shaven and no one could know from his appearance or dress that he was a Muslim. The incident proved too much for his sensitive nature. This made him further lose his enthusiasm for the Maktabs.

Maulana Ilyas settles disputes in Mewat

During his visits to Mewat, apart from setting up Maktabs, Maulana Ilyas would also try to settle local disputes and family quarrels which were very common in Mewat. By his tactfulness and high spirituality, he achieved remarkable success. The Mewatis used to say “This man is so lean and thin and yet he finds a solution to whatever problem he takes in hand and somehow, even the most strong-headed and obstinate persons submit to his decision without argument.”

Other Ulemas also tried to reform Mewat

Some other Ulema also took up the task of religious reform in Mewat. The Muslim theologians would address certain widely prevalent un-Islamic practices. Maulana Ilyas however felt that the condition of Iman at that time was like that of a flock of sheep; If the herdsman tried to herd the sheep from one side, some of them would wander away from the other side. It would, thus, be futile to attend to the details of every un-Islamic practice. What is lacking in the hearts is the awareness of Iman itself.

Repeated experience had convinced him that the real remedy to the malaise did not lie in individual correction or in confining the approach to the upper classes of society. As a simple Mewati had once said, “Nothing can be done until Iman is brought into the masses.”

Maulana Ilyas’ second Hajj and new direction

Maulana Ilyas left for his second Haj in April 1925, in the company of Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri. When the period of stay in Medina drew to a close, the companions of Maulana Ilyas were ready to leave. However, they noticed a peculiar restlessness in him. He did not want to depart. After a few days, the companions reported this to Maulana Khalil Ahmad. He advised them not to insist upon Maulana Ilyas to leave but to wait until he has decided to return with them. Or else, they could depart and let the Maulana remain behind as long as he wants. The companions decided to stay.

Maulana Ilyas used to say:

“During the stay at Medina, I was commanded to this work and it was said to me that Allah SWT shall take the work from you. For a few days, I was very worried. I did not know what a weak and helpless man like me could do. I then related it to a pious person who remarked that there was no need to be anxious. What I had been told was not to carry out the task but that the task would be taken from me. If Allah was the one to take the service, He would ensure it is done whatever way he pleases” 

Maulana Ilyas felt very much relieved at the reply and left Medina for home. He stayed for about five months in the holy cities of Mecca and Medina and returned to Kandhla in September 1925.

Note: There is a discrepancy between the dates of when Maulana Ilyas started the work of Tabligh. Here, the date mentioned is 1925 which is based on the book ‘Life and Mission of Maulana Ilyas’ by Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi. Our position is, however, 1926, following the book ‘Sawanih Hadrathji Tsalits’ (Page 31) by Maulana Shahed Saharanpuri. Since most of our sources are from his writing, we wanted to be consistent with his stand. It is also our opinion that Maulana Shahed was more sensitive with dates as his book presented more dates for various events.

Start of Early Tabligh Tours

On coming back from the Haj, Maulana Ilyas began the Tabligh tours and called upon others also to come forward and propagate the fundamental tenets of Islam, like Kalima and Salat, directly among the masses. People, on the whole, were unfamiliar with such a thing. They had never heard of it before and were reluctant to respond to the call. With great difficulty, a few persons were persuaded to join the Movement.

At a public meeting, Maulana Ilyas explained his call and urged people to organize themselves in Jamaats and go out in the countryside to spread the teachings of Islam. They were asked to spend a month in Jamaat. A Jamaat was then formed. The villages they were to visit during the first eight days were decided upon and it was agreed that they would offer the next Friday prayers at Sohna in the Gurgaon district where the programme for the next week would be decided. 

The Jamaat hence offered congregational prayers on the first Friday at Sohna. Maulana Ilyas also came and the programme for the next week was settled. The Jamaat again set out on the tour and the next Friday service was celebrated at Tauroo and the third at Nagina in the Tehsil of Ferozepur. Maulana Ilyas joined the Jamaat at each place. Next week’s plan was drawn up in consultation with him. 

For several years the effort of Tabligh work was done along those lines in Mewat. Appeals were made for the Ulamas by the Jamaats to extend their active cooperation.

Maulana Ilyas’ Third Hajj

Maulana Ilyas performed his third Hajj in 1932. Having sighted the Ramadan moon at Nizamuddin, the party offered Taraweeh prayers at the Delhi Railway Station and boarded the train for Karachi. Writing from Mecca, Maulana Ihtishamul Hasan, who had accompanied Maulana Ilyas on the Pilgrimage, said in a letter to Sheikhul Hadith Maulana Zakaria: 

“Most of Maulana Ilyas’ time was spent in the Harem. Tabligh meetings and discussions were frequently held, and the Maulana Ilyas made it a point to say something about his endeavour everywhere!’ 

Maulana Ilyas returned to India with renewed enthusiasm and a greater faith in his mission. He accelerated the pace of the work and undertook two tours of Mewat with a large body of companions. At least a hundred people remained with him throughout the tours. In some places, the crowd was much larger. The first tour lasted for a month while the other, a few days less. During the tours, Jamaats were formed and villages were allotted to them for doing the rounds and Da’wa.

Encouraging visits to Religious Centers

Maulana Ilyas had realized that it was very difficult for the poor Mewati peasants to spare time for religious education, nor could one expect their lives to be transformed in the little time they could devote. It was also unreasonable to hope that all of them would join the Maktabs and Madrasas. Yet they had to be brought out of the life of ignorance and make some time for Islam. The only way to do so in Maulana Ilyas’ view was to persuade them to go in Jamaats to the religious centres and spend some time there preaching the Kalima and Salat to the common people. This will make perfect the knowledge they had acquired of Iman. They would also sit in the company of the Ulamas and spiritual mentors of the place, listen to their conversation and observe their deportment and behaviour. In that manner, Islam is learnt through direct methods and in a natural way. Besides, during these tours, they will have more undisturbed time which they can concentrate on reading the Quran, learning the commands of the Sharia and listening to the lives of the Sahaba. They would then return home in a much-improved state.

Maulana Ilyas’ task was difficult

Maulana Ilyas’ task was the most difficult and delicate. No religious leader or spiritual guide had made such a demand from his followers. To make people leave their homes and their jobs, even temporarily, was not easy, particularly when they had only recently acquired the awareness of Iman. Another difficulty was that one could not be sure how the peasant preachers were to be received at those places. Would their ignorance, simplicity and coarseness of language and manners be treated with indulgence or scorned? 

Maulana Ilyas considered the western part of the United Provinces (now known as Uttar Pradesh which consists of Muzaffarnagar and Saharanpur, which he sometimes described as Doaba as the wellspring of Iman and the seat of godly men. No other place could be more suitable for seeking the company of the virtuous and venerable servants of the Lord and acquiring the knowledge of faith directly through the eye and the ears.

Maulana Ilyas’ Conviction on his task

He was convinced that ignorance, lack of direction and emotional instability were the root of the trouble. The most practical method to counteract them was that the Mewatis went to the religious centres of Western UP for instruction and inspiration.

In a letter to a friend, Maulana Ilyas wrote: 

“Ignorance and lack of direction in the sphere of religious endeavour will be a source of Fitna. Only Allah SWT knows how many evils you will see taking rise from people remaining at that deplorable moral and religious level. They will not be able to do anything about it. To overcome the evils that are already there and close the door for future evils, you have no other option but to prevail upon the people to go to the United Provinces and act according to the Tarteeb (Plan) that has been set into operation in your region.”

Maulana Ilyas’ hope for the Ulema

Maulana Ilyas hoped that his movement would thus come under the benign shadow of the Ulema and godly men of those areas. They would get an opportunity to obtain first-hand knowledge of the pathetic state of the poor and isolated Muslims of Mewat. It might strike a sympathetic chord in their hearts and make them favourably inclined towards them. The patronage of pious souls was essential according to Maulana Ilyas. Without it, Tabligh endeavours would not bear fruit.

Kandhla – The First Choice

Maulana Ilyas’ choice for the first place to be visited fell upon Kandhla. It was his hometown. Thus the people with whom the Tabligh men would come into contact were his kinsmen. Moreover, it was a well-known religious and educational centre of the Muslims.

In the month of Ramadan, Maulana Ilyas told his colleagues to prepare men for going to Kandhla. It seemed unbelievable for the rustics of Mewat to go for Tabligh to a place like Kandhla which, above all, was the home of Maulana Ilyas’ teachers. The response was therefore very discouraging. Even a sincere adherent like Haji Abdur Rahman expressed his inability to make the trip as it was the village of his teacher, Maulana Mohammad

However, it was not Maulana Ilyas’ habit to say anything without giving serious consideration to it. He put the whole force of his personality behind the problem at hand. His friends and associates could not easily decline to do what he wanted.

A party of ten Mewatis at last left Delhi for Kandhla. The appointed Ameer was Hafiz Maqbool Hasan.

Jamaat to Raipur 

Within a few days of it, Maulana Ilyas decided to take another party to Raipur which too was a safe place and a religious and spiritual centre. Raipur was like a second home for him because of his close association with Maulana Abdul Qadir, the successor of Shah Abdur Rahim Raipuri.

An incident worth recalling here is that the child of Qari Dawood, who was to be one of the members of the Jamaat died on the day of departure. Qari Saheb buried the child and started on the tour directly from the graveyard, without caring to go home and console his family.

Organized Tours of Mewat

Maulana Ilyas had maps prepared for all the Tehsils of Mewat and the district of Gurgaon. He chalked all the routes for the Tabligh Jamaats and instructed them to maintain a daily record of their activities. The community-wise population of every village visited and the distance between one village and another was also noted down as well.

At a meeting at Chitaura, in the district of Ferozepur, 16 parties were organized, each with an Amir and an Amirul Umara, who was to be in charge of 4 Amirs. These parties were to undertake the tour of the entire territory of Mewat with the arrangement that four of them were to tour the hilly areas, four of the villages situated between the main road and the hills, four of the villages between the roads leading from Howdal and Alwar to Delhi, and four of the villages lying between the Jumna river and the road leading from Delhi to Howdal. At each halting-place, someone came from Nizamuddin to collect the news and address the meeting. All the sixteen Tablighi jamaats gathered at Faridabad for a meeting where Maulana Ilyas also came. At Faridabad, the sixteen parties were merged into four which came to Jama Masjid, Delhi by different routes. After a meeting there, they would then proceed to Panipat, Sonepat, etc.

Efforts at persuading the people to set out of their homes to learn Iman continued in Mewat. It had now become the passion of Maulana Ilyas’ life. Numerous tours of Mewat were made and public meetings were organized. Everywhere, he put forward the same idea in different ways and with different inducements and urged the people to dedicate their lives to Tabligh. It alone held the key to their religious and worldly advancement. Their extremely difficult task began to look less and less frightening.

More and more Jamaats were formed for Tabligh tours within and outside Mewat. Stress was laid on making the Tabligh movement as popular as any other movement in the country. Rallies and meetings were organized at suitable places. On all such occasions, a few new Jamaats were formed which set out for various destinations. People began to give time to Tabligh. Donations of money were common in the world. However,  a new trend was set in Mewat; that is the donation of time; weeks and months for the effort of Iman.

Maulana Ilyas aimed to create the spirit of dedication and sacrifice for Islam. He wanted Tabligh workers to attain a stage where they could suffer the loss in trade or agriculture willingly. It was after much hard work that such a trend was started in Mewat, where material interests were subordinated to the higher aims and ideals of religious endeavour.

Popular Upsurge

The tremendous change that came over Mewat as a result of the untiring efforts of Tabligh workers who moved from village to village, carrying their luggage on their backs is perhaps without any parallel in recent times. Within a few years, the whole region emerged from darkness into light. Had a Government, with all its resources in men and material tried to do the same, it would not have achieved so much in such a short time.

Resemblance to the Struggles of the Salaf 

The ideal method of preaching and propagation of Iman indeed was what was witnessed during the earliest phase of Islam. Muslim crusaders brought their own provisions and fought solely out of love for martyrdom and eagerness to earn the pleasure of Allah. The preachers and other functionaries of the State too discharged their duties not for the sake of remuneration but as the servants of Allah. 

In the Tabligh endeavour of Mewat, one could see a glimpse of those marvellous times. Tabligh parties of Mewat were seen travelling on foot with blankets thrown over their shoulders. Siparas were tucked under their arms. Parched grain or bread tied in a corner of the mantle. Their tongues were engaged in Zikr. Their eyes show the signs of nightly vigil and the mark of Sajda can be seen on their foreheads. All this would remind people of the illustrious Sahaba.

Maulana Ilyas’ understanding of the correct approach

According to Maulana Ilyas, the correct approach was to rekindle the spark of Iman in the hearts and engender a genuine urge for Islam. This is done by giving the awareness of its importance. This could persuade the people to give their lives and property in this world for the sake of the reward in the Hereafter. Through this, the inclination and ability to follow the Islamic way of life and abide by the rules of Sharia would be produced automatically.

The unbelievable change in Mewat

The gains of religiousness began to appear in Mewat which would not have otherwise been possible even after long years of struggle. Thousands of mosques were built. Innumerable Maktabs and Arabic Madrasas were established. The number of Huffaz increased to over a hundred and so did that of qualified Alims. A dislike for Hindu garments was created and people began to dress themselves according to the specifications of the Sharia. Bracelets were removed from the arms and rings from the ears of men. Beards were grown freely and without compulsion. Polytheistic ceremonies that had become a part of marriage began to be discarded. Usury lost its hold, drinking almost came to an end and crimes became less frequent. Religious indifference and innovations and lewd and profane habits and customs started to wither away in the new climate of faith and piety.

When an elderly Mewati known by the name of Qari Dawood was asked what was happening in his land, he replied: “All that I know is that things for which great efforts were made in the past are now taking place automatically; and things to which great efforts were made to stop, which even battles were fought in the past, are now disappearing by themselves.”

Maulana Ilyas’ Recipe

All this in Maulana Ilyas’ view was the direct outcome of setting out in the path of Iman. Particularly, making regular visits to the religious centres of Western UP. In a letter to a Mewati, he wrote: 

”Such are the effects of the visits by the Jamaats to UP. This is despite only a small number of men doing so. The figure has not yet reached the mark of two hundred. The time spent there is very little compared to what is spent at home. People have begun to talk of the Great Revolution in this brief period and the unholy sentiments of the people of your region who were steeped in ignorance have begun to change into the noble sentiments of spreading Iman”.

Nevertheless, he understood that if the Mewatis did not continue making the Tabligh tours as a way of life and ceased to make an earnest endeavour for Iman, they would slip back not only into the former condition but even worse. Owing to the religious awakening, the eyes of the world were turned towards Mewat, but there were also many mischievous eyes. The need for vigilance was greater now that the work of Tabligh is being widely known. 

In one letter, Maulana Ilyas said: 

“Unless you devote yourself whole-heartedly to persuade others to travel from one place to another continuously and as many as four months for Tabligh, the community will not have a real taste of Iman and Islam. What has been achieved so far is purely transitory and if you give up the work, the condition of the community will become even worse than what it was before. The work has been hidden so far. However, people are beginning to notice the work of Tabligh and those with wicked intentions will react more strongly to the progress made”

Traditional Paid Preachers

Maulana Ilyas had engaged some paid preachers in Delhi and a few other places to carry out the work of Tabligh. He had this for about two and a half years. However, Maulana Ilyas was dissatisfied with the progress they were making. He felt that the goal he had set before himself could not be attained like that. The Tabligh workers of Mewat had a sense of movement generated through selflessness. Such a revolutionary approach was not possible in the slow and lifeless mode of paid preachers. Maulana Ilyas decided to do away with paid workers.

Maulana Ilyas’ Last Hajj

It was an ardent desire of Maulana Ilyas to go with some of his close associates to the citadel of Islam, i.e. Arabia after the movement had acquired solidity in India. He wanted to give the Call of Tabligh in the land from where Islam had sprung up and sent forth blossoms all over the world. He used to ask, “Don’t the people of Arabia deserve more than anyone else the priceless gift that was given to them?”. This desire grew over time. 

Thus so in 1938, Maulana Ilyas again left for Haj with a large party of trusted colleagues including Maulana Ihtishamul Hasan, Maulana Yusuf, Maulana Inaamul Hasan and Haji Abdur Rahman. On the ship, Maulana Ilyas devoted himself to Tabligh and the teaching of the rites and ceremonies of Hajj. During the journey from Jeddah to Mecca, he addressed a gathering of noblemen from Bahra. As the days of Hajj drew near and boarding and lodging arrangements also had to be made in Mina, Maulana Ilyas started calling for Tabligh in Mina. He frequently met the pilgrims coming from different countries and had prolonged discussions with them. He also addressed a public meeting. 

Maulana Ilyas’ desire to introduce Tabligh to Arabia

On the completion of the Haj, Maulana Ilyas consulted some leading Indian pilgrims about extending the Tabligh movement to Arabia, but they stoutly opposed it because the conditions in Arabia at that time did not warrant it. He then sought advice from Maulana Shafiuddin who enthusiastically supported the idea and said that he felt sure help would come from Allah.

Maulana Ilyas held lengthy discussions with a party of pilgrims from Bahrain. They promised to take up the work of Tabligh on their return. He also had long talks with some prominent Muslim merchants who had settled in Arabia. At first, they took an alarming view of the proposal, but after a few meetings, their attitude softened and they agreed to cooperate. They, however, suggested that the permission of King Ibn Saud (founder of modern-day Saudi Arabia) should first be obtained. It was decided that the aims and objects of the work of Tabligh were to be written in Arabic and presented to the King.

Maulana Ilyas’ meeting with King Ibn Saud

On March 14, 1938, Maulana Ilyas was called upon by King Ibn Saud (founder of modern-day Saudi Arabia). He came together with Haji Abdullah Dehlavi, Abdur Rahman Mazhar and Maulana Ihtishamul Hasan. King Ibn Saud stepped down from his pulpit to receive them and for forty minutes gave a learned discourse on Tawheed, the Quran and the Sunnah, and on the need to follow Sharia. When they were ready to leave, King Ibn Saud again came down from his throne to bid them farewell. On the next day, the King left for Riad.

A memorandum prepared by Maulaua Ihtishamul Hasan in Arabic was sent to Raisul-Quzzat (Chief Justice) Abdullah bin Hasan. Then after Maulana Ilyas saw him personally. The Raisul-Quzzat too received him with great honor and agreed with his proposal. He however said that permission could only be given to Amir Feisel (the viceroy of King Ibn Saud).

Maulana Ilyas’ stay in Mecca

Throughout Maulana Ilyas and his group’s stay in Mecca, a Jamaat went out daily both in the morning and the evening on Tabligh mission. They made direct personal contact with the people. A few meetings also were held at which Maulana Mohammad Idris and Maulana Nur Mohammad spoke in Urdu. The ground was thus prepared for going forward with the task.

Maulana Ilyas had given an impression to his companions in the Haj that at that time and place, Da’wa was more important than Umrah or any other act of worship.

Maulana Ilyas’ meets a Peculiar Stranger

It is related by Maulana Ilyas’ son, Maulana Yusuf:

“Once we were sitting in our apartment near Bab Ul Umra. My father was saying something and we were listening. A stranger came and stood in front of the door. He said, ‘Go on with the work you are doing. The reward on it is so great that if it was revealed to you, you would die of joy.’ He then went away and we do not know who he was. Maulana Ilyas kept on talking and took no notice of the incident.”

Maulana Ilyas’ stay in Medina

On arriving at Medina from Mecca, Maulana Ilyas learnt that the Governor of Medina was not empowered to grant permission for the Tabligh movement. He would forward the papers to Mecca and await the instructions.

Discussions continued with different people and Maulana Ilyas twice visited Masjid Quba where he also addressed a public meeting. A few people offered their services. He went twice to Uhud where Maulana Nur Mohammad and Maulana Yusuf spoke at a meeting in Arabic which was heard with interest. Bedouins too were contacted. Children were asked to pronounce the Kalima and frequent visits were paid to Caravans. 

As for the main objective of Tabligh, the prospects sometimes appeared bright and sometimes gloomy. However, one thing was certain: There, was a greater need for Tabligh in Arabia than in India

Return to India

While on the Hajj journey, Maulana Ilyas remained constantly in touch with the progress of the Movement in Mewat and Delhi. Letters giving details of the work were regularly received from India. He would then send back the necessary replies.

On the advice of friends, Maulana Ilyas decided to return to India after a fortnight’s stay in Medina. He wrote to a well-wisher in Mecca explaining his decision, 

“The reason for coming back (to India) was that after a fortnight’s stay in Medina, I came to a realization. One morning, as much as I wanted to progress the movement with full force (in Arabia), all my friends who were known for their soundness of judgment positively told me that for it, at least a two-year stay was needed. I agreed with them. However, it was also hard for me to remain away from India for such a long time. If I did so, what had been achieved in India would be lost. Therefore I have decided that I need to put the work of Tabligh in India on such lines that I can devote myself single-mindedly to the task in Arabia. I have thus decided to go back with the intention of a temporary stay. If you are interested in the preservation of Islam and Islam of Muhammad SAW is more valuable to you than other engagements, and my approach also is correct in your sight then strengthen your Iman through an earnest and wholehearted dedication to the work of Tabligh”

Chapter 5: Stabilization of the Movement in Mewat and Its Expansion

On returning to India, Maulana Ilyas intensified Tabligh activities in Mewat. A large number of tours were carried out, door-to-door campaigns were launched and public meetings were organized. Once again, Tabligh parties began to arrive at Basti Nizamuddin and groups of Mewatis started visiting the districts of Western UP. Approach was also made to the urban classes of Muslims, and the Movement was extended to Delhi as well on the same lines as in Mewat. Tablighi Jamaats were formed in mohallas and the weekly rounds were 



Maulana Ilyas had drawn the following conclusions from what he had seen and experienced in the urban areas:

  1. There did exist religiousness in the towns, but its frontiers were shrinking. It had disappeared from among the masses at first and then receded further till only a few persons remained who acted upon the tenets of Iman and observed piety as a duty. Now, religiousness had ceased to be a social force and was found only on the individual level and the number of such individuals, too, was dwindling day by day. In some cases, of course, it was present in a high degree which was very pleasing. This makes one feel grateful that even in these times such wonderful specimens of righteousness and good-doing were to be seen. However, they were becoming scarce and it was feared that with the passing away of these warmly devoted servants of Allah, religiousness would disappear from the world altogether.

Maulana Ilyas had witnessed a pitiable decline in his lifetime. Families and towns which were the cradles of guidance and where the lamps of learning had been burning for centuries were presenting a spectacle of degeneration. There was no one to take the place of the pious who died. Maulana Ilyas was personally aware of the moral and spiritual decay that had set in and around Muzaffarnagar, Saharanpur and Delhi. This made him sad. In a letter of condolence, he wrote: “Alas, those who take delight in the Name of Allah are no longer born, and those who have attained some heights in the blessed company of the devout are departing from this world without leaving anyone to take their place”. Maulana Ilyas had only one remedy to offer: the taking of Imaan to the masses. Then only could the environment be generated that gave rise to men of exceptional virtue and spirituality. In the past and in the present times as well, no progress could be made without it.

  1. Muslims who lived in the cities and led a busy life had presumed that there was a great deal of hardship in religion. They believed that Faith meant withdrawal from the world which was not practicable. Having despaired of religion, they had plunged headlong into worldly affairs and resigned themselves to a wholly materialistic and un-Islamic way of life.

Things indeed had gone so far that when the attention of Muslims was drawn to their religious responsibilities, they unashamedly said, “We are worldly people. We are the slaves of the stomach and the dogs of the world”. It was a woeful misconception. Iman meant nothing to them. The goal in life was to pursue one’s worldly objectives. As long as it is within the walls of Sharia, that is all that matters. Deen should be kept minimal only to small reminders. The misunderstanding must be removed. We want Muslims to march towards addressing irreligiousness.

In a letter, Maulana Ilyas wrote: 

“The general understanding of life in this World has been highly distorted. The worldly life does not denote a pursuit of a means of livelihood. Allah SWT has cursed this world. Therefore, it is impossible to think that Allah SWT would enjoin or command this curse. The correct understanding of Iman is to pursue the commandments of Allah SWT while realizing them as the commandments of Allah and paying heed to what is permissible and impermissible. Worldliness is to ignore the commandments of Allah and think that one’s own need is more important than it.”

Maulana Ilyas sometimes likened Faith to the saliva without which no food could be digested or tasted. Everyone possessed a sufficient quantity of it. In the same way, every Muslim possessed a sufficient quantity of Iman. He had to simply mix it with his worldly engagements and the world too for him would become a means to Iman.

  1. It had come to be believed that religious education could only be acquired through books and in Arabic Madrasas. As everyone could not study in a Madrasa for 8 or 10 years, the common Muslims had concluded that they were not fated to acquire religious knowledge. They thus resigned themselves to spending their lives in ignorance. 

True as it was that religious knowledge was acquired in Arabic Madrasas, it implied the advanced grade of it which was neither necessary nor possible for all Muslims. Every Muslim however could obtain the requisite knowledge amidst his worldly preoccupations.

The Sahaba, except for a small group of Ahlus Suffa, had their families and jobs to look after. They were traders, peasants and artisans and had their worries and problems. There was no Arabic theological Madrasa in the modern sense in Medina. Even if there was one they could not spend 8 or 10 years in it. Yet, as everyone knew, they possessed the necessary knowledge of Iman and were not unaware of its essential teachings. How then had they learnt it all? By keeping in the company of the Prophet, sitting with those who knew, observing their actions, going along with them in journeys/jihad and inquiring from them about Deen when a need arose. 

An opportunity of that class or standard was not available now but something comparable to it to some degree could certainly be done. Thus the idea that Muslims who led a busy life and were engrossed in their trades or professions including city-dwellers, set aside some of their time to gain knowledge of Iman. They should be urged to come out of their toxic environment in which no change could be brought about in their lives, nor even a rudimentary knowledge of Iman can be obtained despite the desire. One still was at the same level of ignorance that one was twenty or twenty-five years ago. If the Salat of a person was defective, it would have remained like that for years. This is even though they would have listened to hundreds of sermons, lived in the neighbourhood of Ulama and been exposed to thousands of religious books. Even though it might be logically possible for a man to reform himself in those surroundings, in reality, it did not happen. 

It was therefore essential that people were brought out of the static and irreligious environment and dwell in an entirely different environment away from the affairs and interests of everyday life

  1. The true design and structure of a Muslim’s life demanded of him to take an active part in the service of Imaan or that he aided those who were engaged in it and at the same time aspired to participate directly in such activities though, for the time being, he was unable to do so for one reason or the other. The city life which Maulana Ilyas described as a life of ease as compared to that of struggle and exertion in the path of Allah was aimless and unrelated to the ideals of Islam, It was a soulless existence that was confined to earning and spending. 

Maulana Ilyas wanted the city dwellers to adopt the life of “Hijra and Nusrah” i.e. of toil and sacrifice for the sake of Iman. He did not believe in the separation between those working for the cause of Deen and looking after their worldly affairs. It was altogether wrong and foolish to rest content with giving financial help to those who strove in the path of Allah, and that the propagation and preservation of Islam was the duty of the Ulema alone. Maulana Ilyas used to say that just as the division of the functions of life was not possible, such as it is wrong to say that only some people ate, the others drank and the third clothed themselves. In the same way, it was essential for everyone to observe the duties of Iman, gain a requisite knowledge of its rules and doctrines, and make some effort for the supremacy of the Word of God along with looking after his economic and otherworldly interests.

Stay of Mewatis in Delhi

Maulana Ilyas regarded the Tabligh movement as highly important for the city-dwelling Muslims. Due to this, he wanted to give the call to them with all the strength at his command. According to him, to deliver a sermon or to write a book is not enough. He thought that it would be harmful without solid work and a reliable life example. In a letter, he wrote: 

“Unless there is a practical example before the people, speeches from the pulpit cannot arouse them to action. If a plan of work did not follow the speeches, the people will not take the speeches seriously”

Maulana Ilyas began to send parties of Mewatis to Delhi and other important centres where they stayed for a long time. At first, they had to face enormous difficulties. They were not allowed to spend the nights in the Masjids. If they somehow managed to stay in a Masjid, various impediments were placed in their way. For example, they could not use the toilets, threats were hurled at them and they were abused. 

Gradually things changed as people were convinced of the sincerity and selflessness of the Mewatis. They thus began to treat them with kindness.

Educated Classes

Maulana Ilyas felt that the active cooperation of the religious and educated classes was essential to the success of the Movement. He did not want only their vocal support through sermons and speeches, but to join the effort and go from door to door in the manner of the pious precursors. In a letter to Sheikhul Hadith Maulana Zakaria, he remarked: 

“I have long been of the view that unless people of knowledge go from town to town and village to village like ordinary men, the movement would not be successful. The learned and forceful discourses of the Ulema would have a far greater effect than the participation of the masses. This, as you will be aware, is evident from the lives of our pious predecessors.”

Often it was said that if teachers and students of Madrasas associated themselves with the Tabligh movement their work would suffer. However, Maulana Ilyas disagreed and thought that it would instead improve their mental and educational advancement. He once wrote:

“Iman can progress only in proportion to and under the shadow of educational advancement. It would be a great loss to me if education suffered in the least owing to the Tabligh movement. I do not at all want to discourage or do harm to those who are gaining knowledge by studying. They must on the other hand make much greater progress for the extent to which they are making the progress now is most unsatisfactory.” 

What he desired was that in the Tabligh movement, the students learn under the supervision of their teachers, to do justice to their education and serve mankind through it. This is so that their education was beneficial to others as well. He says, “Students should correctly learn how to enjoin good and forbid evil under the guidance of their teacher. Only then can their education be effectively beneficial and not be wasted. Without it, Ignorance and Perversion can continue to grow unchecked.”


Maulana Ilyas sent parties of Mewatis to Deoband, Saharanpur, Raipur and Thana Bhawan with definite instructions to abstain from talking about Tabligh in the assemblies of religious and spiritual mentors. They were to make a tour of the adjoining villages in groups of 50 or 60 and return to town on the 8th day. They would then again fan out into the villages. If the religious leaders enquired from them about their activities, they were to tell them, otherwise not.

Dispelling of Fears and Misgivings

Fears and misgivings of some Ulema and spiritual leaders as regards the Tabligh movement were dispelled owing to strict compliance with these principles.

Take for instance the case of Thana Bhawan. The Jamaats toured its neighbouring areas and made direct contact with the common people. As visitors from those places came to Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi, they told him about the good work Tabligh workers were doing. In the beginning, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi was sceptical. He thought about what could illiterate Mewatis do when the Ulema who had studied in Madrasas for 8 to 10 years failed to make headway such that evils were still rising. He was afraid that Maulana Ilyas’ style of Tabligh would lead to a disaster. However, his fears were removed when the reports of the progress the Mewatis were making poured in. He felt the favourable effects of their endeavours. Thus, when Maulana Ilyas wanted to discuss his plan of work with him, Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi said: 

“It is needless to argue. Reasons can be given for or against anything. I have been convinced by the actual work that is being done. No further proof or discussion is needed. You have turned despair into hope.”

Indifferences of the Educated Classes

Maulana Ilyas’ faith in his mission was boundless. It made him sad that some of the Ulema class did not take a genuine interest in it. Day by day, the conviction had grown in him that the religious endeavour he had begun held the real answer to the ills and evils that were plaguing the Muslim masses. Whenever a new mischief cropped up, his ardour and enthusiasm reasserted themselves with a greater force. Once he wrote to the head of a prestigious Ulema Institution:

“I do not know with what intensity to explain, with what tongue to speak, and above all, with what force to fix in my mind. How do I make a known thing unknown, and an unknown thing known…. I am positive that there is no other way to build the wall of Iskandar Zulkarnain against the high tide of these vices and mischiefs than to associate energetically and wholeheartedly with the Movement I have started. The emergence of the Movement from nowhere shows that it is the remedy. Is it not the practice of Allah SWT that He produces the cure when an epidemic has broken out? It never does well to disregard a boon or remedy sent by Allah.” 

In another letter, he wrote:

“I do not know how to express the agony with which I am writing this letter. My friend, clearly and intensely I have seen the closeness, pleasure and help of Allah SWT to those who have joined this Movement. Vice versa, I fear that failure to show proper warmth and respect to such a distinguished help from Above might lead to infliction and misfortune”


Some of the causes of the indifference and inattention were: 

  1. Those were the days of agitations and upheavals. People were mostly interested in them. In such conditions, it was difficult for Tabligh’s quiet and constructive endeavour to evoke an enthusiastic response. Moreover, the experience of similar Da’wa movements had not been very encouraging. 
  2. Very little was known about the nature of Maulana Ilyas’ work. Apart from those who were closely associated with it, few people among the educated classes, especially the distantly placed ones had an idea of it. Maulana Ilyas avoided publicity.
  3. The term ‘Tabligh’ by which the Movement was popularly known also proved a handicap. People were inclined to dismiss it as superficial and fanciful.
  4. Maulana Ilyas himself was its sole advocate before the Ulema. The difficulty with him was that, often, his speech became confused owing to the originality of ideas and the intensity of feeling. Maulana Ilyas also had a habit of stuttering in his speech. Furthermore, the idea was so sublime that they were not to be found in the standard books. Due to this the Ulema generally did not feel drawn towards the Movement.
  5. The Ulama were not expected to form a very high opinion of Maulana Ilyas unlike the village Mewatis.

Inner Burning

Nevertheless, the inner burning of Maulana Ilyas was now eager to spread out. The time had come for the Movement to forge ahead. The pre-occupation of Maulana Ilyas with the Tabligh call had been growing steadily; newer aspects of it were being revealed to him and their sources were discovered in the Quran and Sunnah and the lives of the holy Prophet and the Sahaba. On the other hand, listening to those profound truths was mostly the simple-minded Mewatis who were not even conversant with the literary language of Maulana Ilyas or the technical terms of the Sharia and Tasawwuf.

Spiritually, however, the Mewatis were very much suited to the task. They were far more physically vigilant and energetic than the Ulema and the city-dwellers. They were the products of 20 years of unceasing struggle. They thus formed the backbone of the Movement. Maulana Ilyas acknowledged it freely as the following extract from a letter to Mewati friends would show: 

“I have spent my energy on you and I can do nothing but to sacrifice you even further. Join hands with me.”

Similarly, on another occasion, he said; 

“There are many to devote themselves to worldly pursuits, but at present, Allah SWT has decreed it only for the Mewatis to set out of their homes for the movement of Iman

In and around Saharanpur

The Ulema of Mazahirul Uloom Saharanpur were closest to Maulana Ilyas. Maulana Zakaria and the secretary of its Managing Committee, Maulana Hafiz Abdul Latif, and other members of its staff frequently attended the Tabligh meetings in Mewat and would come to Nizamuddin whenever Maulana Ilyas wanted. However, Maulana Ilyas was not satisfied with it. He desired much greater involvement and with that end in view, turned the attention of Tabligh parties towards Saharanpur. He undertook tours of the adjoining villages such as Behat, Mirzapur and Salempur with the teachers of Mazahirul Uloom.

In 1940, it was decided that the chain of Tabligh parties to Saharanpur should not be broken. When one Jamaat was to return, another should go there to take its place. For a year, they used to stay in the building of the Madrasa. Then, a house was taken on rent, but it had to be vacated after a few months. It went on like that for 4 years. The illiterate Mewatis were sometimes treated with little to no respect. How could they discharge the duty of religious instruction and reform when they needed it themselves? Maulana Ilyas warned against this misconception. He said, 

“Do not regard these people (the Mewatis) the reformers. Learn only this thing from them; The leaving of one’s home to learn Iman. In all other matters, consider them to be dependent on you. You criticize them because you presume they are trying to reform others (whereas they are trying to reform themselves)”

Beyond Delhi and Mewat

Gradually, the Tabligh movement began to be talked about outside Mewat and Delhi. A few articles on it also appeared in reputed journals. People who cherished a vague desire to serve the Faith were encouraged by the report. They met Maulana Ilyas and went to Mewat as well to obtain first-hand knowledge of the work. Among them were some teachers of Nadwatul Ulema Lucknow. On their return, they related their experiences. It came as a pleasant surprise to many. Some of them even called it a ‘discovery’ and were surprised how a thing like that could remain in obscurity for such a long time.

Maulana Ilyas welcomed the visitors with open arms. The number of visitors grew over time. Interest in the aims and efforts of the Tablighi Jamaat was no longer confined to Mewat.

Plan of Work in Delhi

Maulana Ilyas made Hafiz Maqbool Hasan the Amir of Tabligh Jamaat of Delhi due to his keenness and sincere devotion. His method and coordination were brought about in the functioning of the Jamaats.

It was arranged that Tabligh workers were to stay at Nizamuddin every Friday night. All Jamaats were also to assemble in the Jama Masjid on the last Wednesday of each month for Mashwara. Maulana Ilyas made it a point to be present at the monthly gatherings at the Jama Masjid and wanted the Ulema also to come. Whoever spent a few Friday nights at Nizamuddin became inclined towards the Movement. Often, they would all dine together. Before and after the meal, Maulana Ilyas would speak on the subject that was so dear to his heart. Sometimes, he spoke with great fervour and with such absorption that the sense of time was lost and Isha Salat had to be delayed. After Fajr Salat, Maulana Ilyas would again address the gathering or ask someone else to speak on his behalf. Some persons who had not stayed for the night too participated in the morning service. Respectable people from New Delhi and modern-educated Muslims and teachers of Jamia Millia, including Dr. Zakir Husain (who soon became the president of India), would often join the Fajr prayers and return after Maulana Ilyas’ speech.

Merchants of Delhi

The businessmen of Delhi were generally attached to Maulana Ilyas. The elderly people among them had been coming to Nizamuddin from the time of Maulana Mohammad Ismail and Maulana Mohammad. After the Mewatis, it was the merchants of Delhi who held Maulana Ilyas in the highest esteem. They visited Nizamuddin regularly, particularly on Friday nights, often spending the whole night there. When an important meeting was held in Mewat, they went to attend it in hired buses, taking food with them which was prepared in Delhi. They also did the rounds of the neighbouring villages with Jamaats of Mewatis

Maulana Ilyas also attended various functions at their houses and took advantage of such occasions to deliver his message. He treated their children as his own, sharing with them their joys and sorrows, and finding ways of making them interested in his life’s mission. With the elders, especially the friends of his father and brother, Maulana Ilyas behaved with utmost respect. 

Owing to regular contact with Maulana Ilyas and as a result of going out on Tabligh tours along with the Ulema and other men of Faith, the traders of Delhi gained religious awareness and a welcomed change was noticed in their social conduct, moral conduct, and monetary dealings. As a rule, Maulana Ilyas did not touch upon the details. His method was to produce a general inclination towards Iman which, in due course, led to the realization of its worth and significance and engendering respect for the commands of the Sharia. By and by, the businessmen who did not like to employ bearded men at their shops began to grow a beard themselves. Those who thought that an employee who observed Salat regularly would be a liability would themselves be observing Salat regularly and going out on Tabligh rounds during their busiest hours. They now felt no disgrace in walking on foot or moving about in the marketplaces with their luggage on their backs or sleeping on the floor. In short, with the change in environment, the lives of thousands of men were transformed.

Monetary Assistance

Impressed by the growing popularity of the Movement and seeing the huge expenditure it entailed, the merchants and other benevolent and well-meaning people of Delhi and some other places came up with offers of monetary aid. Maulana Ilyas however had a fixed principle about it. He did not consider the donation of money as a substitute for active participation. He told such people that he needed them and not their wealth. He accepted monetary help only from those who took an active part in Tabligh. During the most glorious days of Islam too, that was the general principle. We find that the names of those who spent freely in the cause of Islam also occur on the top of the list of truthful Believers. They were at the forefront of the struggle.

Maulana Ilyas willingly accepted money from those who joined hands with him in the work of Tabligh and in whose sincerity he had full faith. Notable among them were Haji Nasim Button-Waley (of Sadar Bazar, Delhi) and Mohammad Shafi Quraishi.


Generally, a public meeting was held every month at some place in Mewat, and, once a year, in the Madrasa of Nooh in which apart from the Jamaats, Muslim traders of Delhi, Nizamuddin Mukeems, Ulema, teachers of Mazahirul Uloom, Nadwatul Ulema and Madrasa of Fatehpuri also participated. Maulana Ilyas came with a party of co-workers, preaching his message all the way. Fellow travellers in the bus or railway compartment who generally used to be associated with the Movement profited from the discourse. Thus, as one would say, it was a mobile conference that started with the commencement of the journey from Nizamuddin. 

On hearing of Maulana Ilyas’ arrival, people of the town or village in which the meeting was to be held came out in large numbers to greet him. Maulana Ilyas would shake hands with them. He was then taken into the town amidst scenes of affection and enthusiasm. During the days of the conference, Maulana Ilyas lived mostly among the poor Mewatis and rested for the night in the Masjid. He felt refreshed and reinvigorated as soon as he reached Mewat. Streams of religious knowledge and transcendental truths seemed to flow from him. Maulana Ilyas hardly took any rest while in Mewat.

The religious atmosphere of the meetings

A unique religious and spiritual atmosphere used to pervade the whole place on such occasions. The Masjids were overflowed with devotees and reverberated with Zikr. Rows of worshippers had to be formed on the streets. The spectacle at the last quarter of the night was particularly heart-lifting. Hardy Mewatis were seen lying on cold, wintry nights in the courtyards of the Masjid or under a tree. They were covered only with a Cotton sheet or blanket. When it rained in winter, they would sit patiently under leaking canopies or dripping trees and listen for hours to the speeches of the Ulema.

Discourses and sermons constituted only a subsidiary part of the congregation. The real emphasis was on forming new Jamaats and sending them out. The success of a meeting was assessed in terms of Jamaats offering to go out of their region. How many people denoted how much time? That was the question. It was Maulana Ilyas’ sole demand. He asked for no other favour. He supervised the work of the conferences from that point of view. Aside from that, experienced Mewatis and the preachers of Nizamuddin worked among the prominent people and Ulema to enlist their support in the formation of Jamaats. There was no peace for Maulana Ilyas until he had obtained satisfaction that some solid work had been done. Without it, it was very difficult for him to return to Nizamuddin, but once he was assured that progress had been made, no entreaty or consideration of comfort could make him delay his departure by a day or even a few hours.

Sometimes, the Mewatis and preachers of Nizamuddin would go in advance to prepare the ground for the meeting. They sought to produce the inclination and ability among the masses to profit from the preachers and the Ulema and often stayed back after the conference to familiarize the newcomers with the aims and principles of the Movement and guide their willingness along the right lines.

Many Mewatis would do Bayat (pledge of allegiance) at Maulana Ilyas’ hand during his stay. While taking the Bayanat Maulana Ilyas would speak at length on Tabligh, and take from them the pledge to work for the cause.

At Nooh – The First ever Ijtema

A magnificent gathering (Ijtema) was held at Nooh, in Gurgaon on the 28th, 29th and 30th of November 1941. Such a large gathering had never been seen in Mewat. About 25,000 persons attended the gathering, many of whom had covered the distance of 40 or 50 miles on foot carrying their provisions on their shoulders.

Maulana Husin Ahmad Madani led the Friday congregation under the spacious planes of the gathering. The service was also held in the Jama Masjid and all the other mosques in the town. So large was the concourse that people were seen offering prayers on the house-tops and in the streets.

The gathering began after the Friday service and for the next two days, it continued to be in session with brief intervals from morning till evening. There was no Chairman, no reception committee and no volunteer corps; yet the whole event went off in a most orderly and dignified manner.

Giving his impressions of the gathering, Mufti Kifayatullah said: 

“I have been attending different political and religious conferences for the last 35 years, but I have yet to see a more impressive gathering than this!’

*Mufti Kifaytullah was the greatest Alim (theologian) and Mufti (legist) of India of his time. He was the President of Jamiat Ulema-i-Hind for many years.  

In addition to the regular sessions, Maulana Ilyas spoke after each prayer service as well.


Parties of Mewatis, merchants of Delhi and students of the Madrasas began to visit UP and Punjab. Tours were undertaken at Khurja, Aligarh, Agra, Bulandshahr, Meerut Panipat, Sonepat, Kamal and Rohtak. At some of these places, Jamaats were also formed and people came regularly from there to Nizamuddin.

At the request of Haji Abdul Jabbar and Haji Abdus Sattar, a Jamaat went to Karachi in February 1943, and another in April of the same year under the leadership of Syed Raza Husain.

Maulana Ilyas wanted the movement to spread along the Western coast in the hope that from there it might reach the coastline of Arabia and penetrate the rural areas. Many Arabs and other West Asian Muslims lived in the port towns of Bombay and Karachi. Maulana Ilyas thought that if the Movement became popular among them they might take it back to their countries.

Trip to Lucknow

The teachers and pupils of Nadwatul Ulema had been working along Maulana Ilyas since 1940 in the suburbs of Lucknow. They were also visiting Nizamuddin regularly during vacations, etc. Maulana Ilyas too, had developed a liking for the ]amaat of Nadwa.

In 1943, Maulana Ilyas agreed to come to Lucknow. Before him, a party of about 40 Mewatis and traders of Delhi arrived to prepare the ground for the visit.

Every day the party used to leave Nadwa after Asr Salat for doing the rounds of a few districts which included speeches on the aims and principles of Tabligh. They returned after 10 pm.

In the morning, after Fajr prayers, the members of the Jamaat would meet for teaching and learning which formed an important part of the Tabligh tour. A part of the time was devoted to the correction in the recitation of the Quran, a part to the learning about the rules and principles of Sharia and part to the Seerah and lives of the Sahaba. Lastly, they were taught the principles and methods of Tabligh which included practical training. The midday meal was, then, served, and, after a little rest, the Jamaat would go out to fulfil its evening routine after Asr prayers.

On July 18, Maulana Ilyas arrived with Hafiz Fakhruddin, Maulana Ihtishamul Hasan, Mohammad Shafi Qureshi, and Haji Nasim. On his way from the Railway Station to Nadwa, he offered Nafl prayers on the grassy plot near the Moti Mahal Bridge and supplicated to Allah for a long time. At Nadwa, Maulana Ilyas first of all went to the mosque where the Jamaats were sitting in groups and receiving instructions from their leaders. Despite intense desire and devotion, no one rose from his place to greet the Maulana. Maulana Ilyas cast an affectionate glance at all of them and shook hands with the Amir, Hafiz Maqbool Hasan.

Maulana Syed Sulaiman Nadwi had come a day earlier. On the next day, Sheikhul Hadith Maulana Zakariyya, Maulana Manzoor Nomani, Maulana Abdul Haq Madani and some teachers of Mazahirul Uloom also arrived.

Besides formal gatherings in various parts of the town, Maulana Ilyas spoke about his mission to the visitors who came to see him daily in large numbers. He hardly missed an opportunity to propagate the cause to which he had dedicated his life. He also called on Maulana Abdul Shakoor Farooqi and Maulana Qutub Mian Firangi Mahli and went to Idara-i-Talimat-i-Islam.

The last day of his stay, which happened to be a Friday, was a day of exceptional activity. In the morning, Maulana Ilyas attended a function of Jamiatul Islah which was the name of the Student’s Union of Nadwa. Then, he visited the Amirud Daula Islamia College where a large crowd had gathered to receive him. He offered Friday prayers at the Masjid of Mamoon Bhanjey Ki Qabr. After the service was over, Maulana Ilyas made a fervent appeal to the people to go to Kanpur with the Jamaat from Delhi. However, there was no response. It hurt him very much, and in a highly agitated state, he went and shut the gate of the Masjid and posted guards at it. Standing under the middle arch he began to exhort the people. He asked some of them to stand up and tell what excuse they had to offer. If they could travel for a worldly need, why could they not do so for the sake of Deen? What was there to prevent them from setting out in the path of Allah? Addressing Haji Wali Mohammad, who had been ill for some time, Maulana Ilyas said, “Why do you not go?” “I am dying”, he replied. “If you must die,” retorted the Maulana, “Go and die in Kanpur”. At last, Haji Wali Mohammad agreed and the journey was accomplished by him safely. Eight or ten people also went along with him. Some of whom proved very useful for the cause.

Maulana Ilyas left for Raebareli by the night train, reaching Takia at about 3 am.

Chapter 6: Journey’s End

The health of Maulana Ilyas had never been good. Ceaseless work and worry, constant travelling, irregular hours and complete disregard for medical advice could only aggravate the abdominal complaint that had been his constant companion since childhood.

In November 1943, he had a severe attack of dysentery (a gastrointestinal disease) from which he was never to recover. Whoever came from Delhi in those days brought the news that Maulana Ilyas’ illness was continuing. He was growing weaker day by day. Amazingly, there was no relaxation in his efforts. If anything, his fervour increased. 

Maulana’s friend Abdul Jabbar Saheb of Gonda wrote from Delhi in January 1944:

“By the grace of God, Maulana is improving. However, he is still very weak. He insists on giving talks despite being advised against it by his physicians. He says that he would prefer to die from talking for the work of Tabligh than regaining health by observing silence. In his view, the real cause of his illness was the indifference of the Ulema towards the work of Tabligh. They should come forward because they possess the knowledge and understanding of Deen. If they had to borrow money for it, they should not worry. Allah SWT will grant an increase in their sustenance. His illness was a blessing. People ought to come, at least, on hearing of it, but they don’t. He was seeing clear proof of the effects of his illness. While Maulana Ilyas was saying it, especially the last sentence, his condition was such that I have no words to describe it.”

Maulana Ilyas’ concern with the Ulema

In the same month, a jamaat including Maulana Hafiz Imran Khan of Nadwa and Hakim Qasim Husain went from Lucknow to Delhi. Maulana Ilyas had become very weak. However, he could still walk unaided and lead the Salat but needed support to get up from his seat. The disease had advanced considerably and it was apparent that the end was not far away. Mirwaiz Maulana Mohammad Yusuf of Kashmir was staying at Nizamuddin at that time. When the party from Lucknow arrived, they found Maulana Ilyas explaining to him why it was essential for the Ulema to take an active part in the Tabligh movement. It was the main worry of Maulana Ilyas during those days and the sole topic of his conversation. He strongly felt that men who could know and understand remained with him, listening to what he said and acquiring a full understanding of the rules and principles of the Movement. He wanted to impress upon the Ulema that the Tabligh call was only worthy of them and they alone were worthy of it. It will easily prosper to greater heights if they take up the work. His similitude was that of a man who saw a house on fire and called out people to come and put it out. His duty was to warn; it was for others to extinguish the fire.

Maulana Ilyas urged upon the Delhi merchants and Muballighin the need to enlist the services of the Ulema. Several meetings were organized for that purpose which were addressed by distinguished Ulema like Mufti Kifayatullah, Maulana Abdul Hannan, and Maulana Imran Khan. Maulana Ilyas waited eagerly for the report of these meetings and would not go to bed until he received a first-hand account from different people. Sometimes, people returned late from the meetings, but there was no sleep for Maulana Ilyas until he had spoken to them. Maulana Ilyas generally spoke after breakfast and dinner. Often, he would go on for hours and leave him thoroughly exhausted.

Contact with the Ulema

A major objective of Maulana Ilyas’ endeavour was to build bridges between the different groups and classes of the Muslim Ummah and to rekindle the sentiments of trust and goodwill among them. This is so that they could cooperate in the service of Deen. He did not want to ignore even the religiously backward sections. He considered the mutual quarrels and prejudices of the Muslims a grievous misfortune of the time and a danger to the future of Islam. Maulana Ilyas believed that through the Tabligh movement, it would be possible to bring the Ulema and the common people closer to each other. Encouraging signs of which had already begun to appear.

While addressing a meeting of the Ulema at Ghatmika, in compliance with Maulana Yusuf’s orders, Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi had tried to emphasize that if the Ulema did not improve their contacts with the Muslim masses through the Tabligh movement, they would be isolated from the community. Maulana Ilyas showed much pleasure when a summary of the speech was given to him by Maulana Yusuf.

Maulana Ilyas on the one hand, asked the Ulema to feel sympathetic to the masses and keep directly in touch with them. On the other hand, Maulana Ilyas exhorted the masses to show proper respect to the Ulema and visit them regularly. To the Tabligh workers, he taught the ways of associating the Ulema with the Movement. He sent them to spend some time with the Ulema and upon their return, enquired from them in detail about what they had seen and felt. If they expressed any criticism, Maulana Ilyas would address them.

Maulana Ilyas thus brought about a rapport between the Ulema and the common people, the likes of which had not been seen before since the Khilafat agitation.


A great deal of animosity and mistrust existed among the various groups of Ahlu Sunnah which stemmed mostly from differences over minor issues and had been accentuated by the practice of living in water-tight compartments. Every group sought security by keeping itself to itself and shutting its eyes to what was good in others.

Dialectical combats and polemical disputations had been supposed to be the most suitable means of resolving the differences. However, as experience had shown, these exercises only lent fuel to the fire. What Maulana Ilyas wanted was for the knots of the minds to be loosened through politeness, good understanding and personal contact. Once the different groups came to know each other more intimately, the suspicions and misgivings among them would disappear. By working together in the cause of Deen in a constructive way and along the right lines, the differences would lose their intensity and it would be possible to keep them within reasonable limits.

Advance Stage of Illness

By March 1944, Maulana Ilyas’ illness had advanced so much that he could no longer lead the Salat. He had to take the support of two men to come to attend the service and join it in the sitting posture. He often said that it was his last illness and one should not despair of the mercy of Allah. In those days, Maulana Ilyas delivered two memorable speeches in which he indicated that his end was near but in it too, there lay a profound design and plan of Allah.

Arrival of the Ulema

Maulana Hafiz Hashim Jan Mujaddidi had learnt about the Tabligh movement from Jamaats that went to Sindh and had formed a very high opinion of Maulana Ilyas. He came to Delhi in March which made Maulana Ilyas very happy. Maulana Ilyas even took a personal interest in the arrangements for his stay. The participation of men of learning and character whose ancestors also had rendered a valuable service to Deen was an unfailing source of joy to him. Maulana Hafiz Hashim Jan Mujaddidi was a descendant of Hazrat Mujaddid Alf-Sani. His coming possessed great significance for Maulana Ilyas. 

A few days later, Dr. Syed Abdul Ali, who was the elder brother of Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, also came from Lucknow. Maulana Ilyas embraced him while lying in bed. He expressed pleasure at his coming and said that it had made him feel better. It was not uncommon for Maulana Ilyas to show a sudden improvement in his health when a good and encouraging thing happened in connection with the Movement.

Maulana Ilyas wanted to utilize the services of the religious and spiritual leaders in the circles in which they were known. He did not let their visit remain a personal affair but insisted upon his colleagues to turn it to good account by taking from them the work that was worthy of their high station.

Maulana Ilyas told Dr Syed Abdul Ali to spend some time with the old and experienced Mewatis. He did not like his putting up in the room at the rear of the Masjid, and once remarked that he who resided outside the Masjid should not be considered to have come. Upon hearing this, Dr. Syed Abdul Ali started spending most of his time in the Masjid. He admitted that he felt a distinct gain in remaining with the Mewatis and the Muballighs. 

The teachers and administrators of the Islamic Madrassas met to consider what their institutions could do for the Movement. Among those who took part in the deliberations Were Maulana Mohammad Tayyab, Mufti Kifayatullah, Molvi Mohammad Shan, Maulana Hafiz Abdul Latif, Maulana Izaz Ali and Sheikhul Hadith Maulana Zakaria. 

Maulana Abdul Qadir Raipuri too came to Nizamuddin which added to the lustre of the place. 

Third Jamaat to Sindh

At the beginning of April, a party of about 60 persons left for Sindh under the leadership of Hafiz Maqbool Hasan. They made a brief halt at Lahore where some of them called on Hazrat Nurul Mashaikh of Kabul who happened to be there during those days.

Jamaat from Peshawar

Some friends of Peshawar wrote to Maulana Ilyas expressing their desire to come to Delhi in April. In their letter, they also said that Maulana’s life and well-being were “The property of Islam”, “A most precious possession of the Muslims” and Maulana should pray for his long life and good health. 

Maulana Ilyas replied:

“May Allah bless your arrival in April. However, it seems more appropriate that before coming, you work amongst your people for some time following the rules and properties of the Tabligh movement. Then only will your visit be most beneficial. I am praying for my health with the condition that I can spend my time in conformity with the Effort and no part of it is spent without purpose. In my present condition, I should only do what cannot be done without me. Otherwise, Jamaats must take responsibility for everything else. I have learnt this lesson from my illness.”

After making a few Tabligh rounds and doing some fieldwork, a small Jamaat consisting of Arshad Saheb, Maulana Ihsanullah, Mistri Abdul Quddus and two children arrived from Peshawar and stayed at Nizamuddin from the 10th to the 14th of April. Arshad Saheb maintained a daily record of his activities and personal observations from which we can obtain an idea of life at Nizamuddin. 

Peshawar Jamaat’s First-Hand Experience in Nizamuddin

Arshad Saheb from the Peshawar Jamaat wrote in his diary regarding their experience in Nizamuddin between April 11 to April 14, 1944. 

See Peshawar Jamaat’s first-hand experience with Maulana Ilyas.

Total Absorption 

A few incidents related by Maulana Manzoor Nomani demonstrated how overpowering Maulana Ilyas’ worry and concern for the work of Tabligh despite being critically ill.

Maulana Nomani writes:

Maulana Syed Ata Ullah Shah Bukhari came to visit Maulana Ilyas in the last week of April. Two days earlier, Maulana Ilyas suffered a severe attack that had left him so weak that he could hardly talk for two or three minutes continuously. On hearing the arrival of Shah Sahib, he summoned me and said, “I have some important things to discuss with Maulana Ataullah Shah Bukhari and the manner of it will be that you will keep your ear close to my mouth and listen attentively and tell him what I say’. Thus, when Shah Saheb was called in, Maulana Ilyas began the conversation with him through me. After a few minutes, he regained enough strength to speak to him directly and went on talking continually for about half an hour.

The day on which Maulana Ilyas had the attack, he remained unconscious for nearly two hours. He then suddenly opened his eyes and said: 

“Truth is High! Truth is High! Truth is High!”

After that, in a state of ecstasy, he recited the following verse thrice in a slightly melodious voice which was rather unusual of him: 

“To help the believers is incumbent upon us. (Quran 30:47)”

Maulana Nomani writes further:

I was in the courtyard of the Masjid when Maulana Ilyas recited the verse. On hearing it, I went and stood at the door of his room. At the same time, Maulana Ilyas enquired about me, so I went in. Maulana Ilyas said to me, 

“Molvi Saheb! Allah promises that this work will be done, and by His Help, it will be carried to completion. However, it is essential that with utmost faith in His promise, you seek His Help, and strive as hard as you can and not slacken your efforts.”

He then again closed his eyes and remained silent for some time, after which he remarked,

“Allah SWT will ensure that the Ulema will take charge of the Movement when I depart (from this world)”

Maulana Ilyas Vigor despite worsening condition

Strangely enough, Maulana Ilyas’ solicitude for the Work of Da’wa increased as his condition worsened. For months he lingered in a state of exhaustion, but during all that time, Maulana Ilyas was found concerned with the progress of the Movement, beseeching Allah to grant sincerity and steadfastness to those who were associated with it. Even with physicians, he would first talk about his mission and only then would allow them to examine him. Once when Mufti Kifayatullah brought a leading doctor of Delhi to treat him, he spoke to him thus:

“Doctor Saheb! You possess an art and people derive benefit from it. Prophet Isa AS was sent down with some miracles like healing the blind and reviving the dead. His inner knowledge was superior to those miracles. What I want to tell you is that the verses and commandments that were revealed to our Prophet SAW, the Last of the Prophets, repealed and abrogated the verses and commandments sent down to Prophet Isa AS. Thus, imagine what a great loss it is if we fail to appreciate and neglect the transcendental verses and commandments revealed to the holy Prophet SAW. We must tell people to be grateful to Allah for this bounty. Otherwise, they will be at a great loss.”

Maulana Ilyas was not willing to speak or listen to anything aside from his favorite theme which was the regeneration of Islam. Often, he would promptly sidetrack anyone who began to talk of other things in his presence. If an attendant enquired about his health, he would say, 

“Brother, illness and health are a part of life. What is ‘Good Condition’ and ‘Bad Conditions’? Good conditions mean that we do the tasks for which we have been sent and the soul of the blessed Prophet rests in peace. Even a minor alteration in the state in which the Prophet had left the Sahaba was considered detrimental to them”

Haji Abdul Rahman relates that some relatives of Maulana Ilyas came from Kandhla to see him.

“What brings You here?”, asked Maulana Ilyas.

“To enquire about your welfare” they replied. 

Maulana Ilyas then said, “You have come from Kandhla to enquire about a person’s welfare who has been born to perish. You should care more about the Deen which was meant to be eternal but is currently dying.”

On a Friday, Maulana Yusuf led Fajr Salat in which he recited Qunoot Nazila. After the prayers, all attendants informed Maulana Yusuf that Maulana Ilyas wanted to see him. When he went to see Maulana Ilyas, Maulana Ilyas said to him, 

“In Qunoot Nazila, formulate the intention concerning the non-Muslim religious hermits and the Infidels. They employ the power of their evil hearts to destroy Islam. He then recalled how in a religious debate at Saharanpur, a Hindu hermit was directing his evil energy against the Muslim debater and the Muslim debater was having difficulty expressing his ideas. Maulana Khalil Ahmad who was present at the debate drew his attention to it and concentrated. The hermit got scared and left the meeting in haste. After that, the Muslim debater began to speak freely”

It was customary for Maulana Ilyas to address the gathering on Friday nights when people came not only from the different localities of Delhi but also from other towns. During Maulana Ilyas’ illness, the number of visitors grew even more. Maulana Ilyas could hardly speak due to his illness, though he did not want those who came to Nizamuddin solely for the sake of Deen to be anxious about his health, etc.

On a Friday night, people were told to collect on the roof of the mosque and it was assigned to me to address them. The start was delayed by a few minutes during which Maulana Ilyas sent the message thrice to hasten as every minute was telling upon his nerves.

Last Month

Maulana Ilyas’ condition was deteriorating day by day. It was no longer possible for him to offer Salat standing. His bed was placed at the end of the row to enable him to join the Salat congregation.

In those days, Maulana Zafar Ahmad was looking after Maulana Ilyas’ needs. Sheikhul Hadees Maulana Zakaria also came on June 21 (1944). A few days later, the annual meeting of Madarasa-i-Moinul Islam of Nuh was to be held. This perhaps was going to be the first meeting without Maulana Ilyas. The party from Nizamuddin left for Nuh in a lorry on the morning of June 23, under the leadership of Maulana Yusuf. The journey was taken up with Zikr and religious discourses. The meeting began soon after they arrived at 2 pm. The garden that was laid by Maulana Ilyas was spread on all sides. It was in full bloom, yet the gardener was not there. 

As the evening session was in progress the boarding house of the English High School of Nuh caught fire. On return, the incident was mentioned to him. He remarked, 

“Due to the slackening in Zikr, Shaitaan took his opportunity.”

As it was an English School, one of them showed pleasure at the destruction of its building. Maulana Ilyas remained quiet at that time. The expression of joy at the loss of anything associated with the Muslims hurt him deeply. On a suitable occasion, he made known his feelings and said that it was not a laughing matter.

Maulana Ilyas enquired from Maulana Yusuf if he had given instructions to the Jamaat departing to Maulana Zafar Ahmad. When he replied in the negative, Maulana Ilyas remarked that he should have done so as it would give them an idea of how the deputations of Muslims went out during the time of the Prophet SAW.

As the hour of death approached 

Maulana Ilyas knew well that death was near. Sometimes, he would give an expression to it to infuse a sense of urgency among his colleagues. When Maulana Zafar Ahmad came to see him, he said, “You promised to lend me your time, but you have not done so”. Maulana Zafar Ahmad replied that it was too hot and he would come during the Ramadan vacation and spend some time with him. Maulana Ilyas remarked, “You are talking of Ramadan yet I have a feeling that I won’t  be alive even in Shaban”

One day, Maulana Ilyas told Chowdhri Nawaz Khan not to go. “It is now only a matter of twenty days, a little more or less,” he said. 

Maulana Ilyas passed away exactly on the twentieth day. He had told Maulana Nomani many times that he had no hope of recovery though Allah had control over all things and could bring him back to health if he liked. Occasionally, he would say something that revived the hopes of the attendants to make them cheerful. 

From the beginning, Maulana Ilyas had been under the treatment of Hakim Karim Bakhsh of Paharganj. Later, he was put under Biochemic treatment on the advice of Maulana Zafar Ahmad. In the end, Dr Abdul Latif, a leading allopath of Delhi was called in. Dr Shaukatullah Ansari had declared quite early that Maulana Ilyas was suffering from abdominal tuberculosis. In those days, it was incurable. Dr Abdul Latif disagreed and diagnosed the ailment as chronic dysentery and since it was a less serious condition, it was decided to give him a chance. However, there was no improvement in Maulana Ilyas’ health.

Displeasure at mere Personal Attention

Maulana Ilyas was displeased when he felt anyone feeling attached to him but not to the Effort. Once Mewati was massaging his head. On recognising him, Maulana Ilyas angrily said, “You never take part in Tabligh. I am not going to take any service from you. Leave me.” 

In the same way, about an aged gentleman who seemed to be very earnest in caring for him, he said to Maulana Manzoor Nomani

“He has a great affection for me, but he does not accept what I have to offer. He has not responded to my call of Tabligh. Take him aside and tell him to associate himself actively with the Movement. Without it, it is very painful for me to let him look after my comfort.” 

Maulana Manzoor Nomani thereupon spoke to him to which he replied, 

“I have come now with the firm intention of joining the Tabligh movement.

Maulana Ilyas felt highly pleased when Maulana Manzoor Nomani reported it back to him and kissed his hands.

New Areas

Letters coming from outside Delhi and Mewat showed that the Movement was making remarkable progress in those areas. Much enthusiasm was being witnessed and facilities had unexpectedly been created in towns which till then had presented a gloomy picture. A large Jamaat was sent to Bhopal at the request of Molvi Abdul Rasheed Miskeen and two Jamaats were sent to Jaipur at the request of Molvi Abdur Rasheed Nomani and Prof. Abdul Mughni. At the forefront of the new regions of expansion was Moradabad from where the most encouraging reports came.

Maulana Ilyas lay dying, but his enthusiasm for the work was undiminished. The nearer the appointed hour approached, the greater his fervour for Tabligh grew. He supervised the activities at Nizamuddin from the sick bed and issued instructions at all hours of the day and night.

So sensitive had he grown that anything that was not directly related to his life mission irked him. Once, during a session of study and instruction, some began to discuss historical facts and started to criticize Muslim Kings. The word reached Maulana Ilyas who, at once, sent the message through Molvi Moinullah that the topic had to be changed. 

Regarding public speeches, Maulana Ilyas’ standing orders were to keep them short and to the point. The emotional state of the speaker should be the same as that of the Prophet SAW when delivering a sermon. It is related that when the Prophet SAW gave a sermon, it appeared from his condition that he was giving a warning that an enemy was advancing and an attack was imminent. Maulana Ilyas did not like the speeches to be embellished with anecdotes or verses. He felt uneasy when a speaker began to indulge in rhetoric or seemed to be carried away by the force of his eloquence and told him to return to the main subject or stop talking.

On a Friday morning, there was a large gathering and Maulana Manzoor Nomani was told to address it. Maulana Nomani began in the traditional style of an orator which was too much for Maulana Ilyas. Soon, the word was sent to him not to digress from the subject. Maulana Ilyas’ bed was taken back to his room and Maulana Nomani finished the speech after stating barely what was to be said.

The congregation used to be fairly large and Maulana Ilyas’ message was read to them. On that Friday, Maulana Ilyas could not give a message as he was in a state of coma. Maulana Zakaria told Maulana Nomani to speak instead. He replied, “What can I do? My speech will be out of place and I have nothing to say”. When Maulana Ilyas regained consciousness, he enquired why the time had been wasted and no speech was delivered. “You had not given any instructions about it”, he was told. “Why was I not asked?” He said. On being informed that he was running a high fever and it was decided not to give him the trouble in that condition, he observed, “Why did you attach greater importance to my convenience than that of Deen?”

Exceptional Care and Solicitude

Among the things on which Maulana Ilyas was laying the greatest stress in those days were Ilm and Zikr. What he feared was that Tabligh missions degenerated into materialistic efforts and became a soulless collection of rules and regulations like other contemporary movements. He said that Ilm and Zikr were the two wheels of Tabligh. Ilm was necessary for Zikr, and Zikr was necessary for Ilm. Without Zikr, knowledge was mere darkness, and without Ilm, Zikr was pure mischief. Thus, the Tabligh movement without either was downright materialism. 

Secondly, there was a love for the illiterate and downtrodden sections of the Muslims and an earnest anxiety for their religious reform. He established for them a Maktab by the roadside, near the Masjid, and another a little further, near the crossing, where he also made the arrangements for drinking water and a lounge. The Moballighs of Delhi and Mewat were instructed to go and sit there and invite the Muslim passers politely and with affection. They were to entertain them at the lounge with water, ask them to recite the Kalima, and promote in them the desire to gain knowledge of Deen. Maulana Ilyas kept himself closely in touch with the affairs of those Maktabs.

The Urs of Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti was being held at Ajmer at that time, and a large number of poor Muslims used to come to the tomb of Nizamuddin Aulia from the neighbouring districts. On the way, when they saw the inviting shades of trees and the lounges with fresh water, they would sit down to rest for a while. This gave the Moballighs a chance to take full advantage to give Da’wa. 

Hundreds of uneducated Muslims were thus made familiar with the principal tenets of Islam. These “open-air Maktabs” became a source of guidance in a natural, effortless manner. Sometimes, Maulana Ilyas would send the Ulema before Fajr Salat to Mathura Road to carry out Tabligh among the cartmen and camel drivers.

Exhortations towards Zakat

The teaching of the correct way and properties of the payment of Zakat was another thing that mattered to Maulana Ilyas during the last days of his life. Merchants and other well-to-do persons used to be with him all the time. He took the opportunity to stress again and again and had it explained by others also that a person should fulfil the duty of Zakat with the same care and attention as was demanded by any act of worship. He ought to seek out the deserving parties himself and pay the Zakat to them with a feeling of gratitude.


Maulana Ilyas had grown very particular with the letters he received. He insisted that Tabligh letters should be read out every morning after the Fajr Salat to those present to seek their advice. Before presenting a letter, it was explained why the letters were being placed before them. This is so that they may reflect on the issues contained in them. This cultivates the Fikr of Deen, so their mental faculties can be employed for the object and aim of Deen. Until then, it was only employed on worldly matters. The letters were generally regarding things which the workers of Mewat and Delhi needed advice upon. Replies were sent through mutual consultation. Maulana Ilyas was thus preparing his colleagues for the responsibility that was going to fall on their shoulders after his death.


The number of visitors was increasing every day. Two to three hundred people used to be present at all hours of day and night at Nizamuddin. They took their meals and also slept there. There was no place in the Masjid and the boarding house was left unoccupied. There was an air of activity and intentness everywhere. At the time of Salat, rows of worshippers were formed both in the covered and uncovered parts of the Masjid. Anyone a little late could not get a place in the congregation and if a person was late he had to go without a sleeping space at night. 

Sheikhul Hadith Maulana Zakaria had gone to Saharanpur for a few days to look after his Madrasa. When he returned, Maulana Abdul Qadir Raipuri also came with him. This made Maulana Ilyas very happy. He thanked Sheikhul Hadith profusely and blessed him for being the cause of Maulana Raipuri’s visit.


The people of Delhi were aware of the seriousness of Maulana Ilyas’ condition. Many of them visited him every day. When those who had stayed for the night returned in the morning, their friends and relatives enquired anxiously about Maulana Ilyas’ condition from them. One day, the rumour of his death spread like wildfire in town and people began arriving by every mode of transportation to Nizamuddin. They came by cars, buses and tongas in an unending stream. Innumerable telephone calls were received. The news was promptly contradicted, but it took time to have an effect. On this occasion, a Sunnah of the Prophet of Allah was also fulfilled. Maulana Manzoor Nomani gave a powerful speech about how the Prophet SAW was only a Prophet of Allah and there have been many Prophets before him. He said that this is a warning for the people of Delhi. Those who had not paid heed to Maulana Ilyas’ call due to their worldly preoccupations could still do so. Even though the news at that time was false, it would be true one day or another.

Last Days

It was raining two or three days before Maulana Ilyas’ death. There was a nip in the air. Maulana Ilyas’ bed, at his insistence, used to be placed in the open for long hours as he felt a burning sensation all over his body. As a consequence of this, he caught a chill which soon developed into Pneumonia. Unfortunately, it could not be detected in time.

On the 8th of July 1944, at about midnight, Maulana Nomani went out for a stroll. On his return, he was told that Maulana Ilyas wanted to see him. He at once went to see him and placed his ears close to his lips. For the first time, he felt his voice tremulous. He lapsed into unconsciousness frequently and had to utter every word twice or thrice before he could express himself. Maulana Nomani could not make up what he said exactly, but it was an exhortation about Zikr and about sitting in the company of Maulana Raipuri.

At about 9 o’clock the next night, Maulana Nomani happened to pass by Maulana Ilyas’ room and saw him awake while some attendants were doing something. He went into the room and sat down. After remaining unconscious for some time, Maulana Ilyas asked him to go to a person in his hometown and call him towards the work of TablighMaulana Nomani replied that InshaAllah, he would. To add more to Maulana Ilyas’ satisfaction Maulana Nomani also said that he was very influential there and his word would carry much weight. Maulana Ilyas remarked, “Yes, men of Allah possess the power to affect others.”. He again slipped into a stupor. After some time, on opening his eyes, he said, “It will be very good if a meeting can be held at Baghpat with the help of Molvi Tayyab (of Rampur Maniharan), Molvi Zahirul Hasan (of Kandhla), and Hafiz Usman Khan (of Islamia College, Peshawar)”

On the evening of July 10, 1944, Maulana Ilyas urged the Ulema to take part in the Tabligh movement that was worthy of their position. 

On the morning of July 10, 1944, while drinking the water of Zamzam, he recited the famous prayer of Hazrat Umar RA: “O Allah! Grant me martyrdom in thy path and ordain death for me in the town of thy Prophet (i.e. Medina)”.

On the same day, on seeing a gentleman, he said, “Ask him if he has conveyed the message of Tabligh to his community and what is he doing about it.”

A physician who was in attendance told me that all the vital organs of Maulana Ilyas had stopped functioning. It was only the strength of his heart that was keeping him alive. He also said that we should not judge his condition by medical standards. What we were seeing was not physical but spiritual vitality.

On July 12, 1944, Maulana Ilyas’ sent the message to Sheikhul Hadith Maulana Zakaria, Maulana Abdul Qadir Raipuri and Maulana Zafar Ahmad that among his men, he placed the greatest reliance upon Hafiz Maqbool Hasan, Qazi Dawood, Maulana Ihtishamul Hasan, Maulana Yusuf, Maulana Inamul Hasan and Maulana Syed Raza Hasan. People who want to do bay’ah should perform at the hands of any one of them as they are all considered the most suitable. These gentlemen, thereupon, held consultations among themselves and informed Maulana Ilyas that they were in favour of Maulana Yusuf as he fulfilled all the conditions laid down by Shah Waliullah in Al-Qaulul-Jamil. He was well-versed in Islamic sciences, a man of piety, and kept steadily in touch with religious knowledge. Maulana Ilyas replied that if such was their choice, Allah SWT would bless it. He added, “I was greatly worried and had my misgivings but now, I am satisfied. InshaAllah, the work will go on after me.”

With the approach of the night, Maulana Ilyas was ready for his last journey. He enquired if the next day was a Thursday. On being told that it was, he asked the attendants to see if there was any trace of impurity on his clothes. He was happy to learn that the clothes were clean. He then expressed the desire to get down from the bed and offer Salat with Wudhu but was advised against it. Maulana Ilyas began the Isha Salat with the congregation but had to abandon it due to a sudden call of nature. He then performed it with another congregation in his room.

He wanted profusion in Du’a and Dam in the night and said that only those staying with him could distinguish between the effects of the Shayateen and the angels. He then asked Maulana Inamul Hasan how was the prayer, “Allahumma inna maghfiratika….”. Maulana Inamul Hasan helped him to recall it in his mind: “Allahumma inna maghfiratika ao sa’o min Zunoobi wa rahmataka arja indi min amali (Oh God! Thy forgiveness is more extensive than my inequities and I have better hope in thy mercy than in my deeds)”. It remained on his lips constantly thereafter. He said he wished the attendants to bathe him and take him down from the bed. He wanted to offer two Raka’ats of Salat and see the fruits it bore. 

At about midnight, Maulana Ilyas had an attack of restlessness. The doctor was summoned and administered some medicines to him. Sounds of “Allah-o-Akbar, Allah-o-Akbar” were heard rising from his throat. Towards the morning, he sent for Maulana Yusuf and Maulana Inamul Hasan. When they came, he said to the former, “Come. Let me embrace you. I am going.” The end came a little before the morning Athan. 

The tired and weary traveller had, at last, arrived at his journey’s end.

The succession ceremony of Maulana Yusuf was performed in the morning. Amid tears, Maulana Ilyas’ Turban was tied to Maulana Yusuf’s head.

Bathing of the dead body, shrouding and burial 

The bathing of the body began soon after. It was done with their own hands, by the theologians and legists. When perfume was being applied to the limbs of prostration, Haji Abdur Rahman remarked that it should be done liberally on the forehead which had remained in the ground for Sajda for long periods.

Within minutes the news of Maulana Ilyas’ death had reached Delhi and people had started pouring in from all sides. A large crowd had gathered. Maulana Zakaria and Maulana Yusuf said that people should be told to gather in the open space below and someone should speak to them. What better theme could there be for the speech other than “Muhammad is only a Prophet of Allah, and there have been many Prophets before him.” Maulana Zafar Ahmad and Mufti Kifayatullah spoke in the same vein and counselled fortitude and steadfastness.

By Zuhr Salat, the crowd had exceeded all limits. There were so many people performing wudhu that the water level of the tank fell. Not an inch of vacant space was to be found in the Masjid, both on the ground and upper floors. When the bier was brought out for the funeral prayers, the crowd became unmanageable. Poles had to be attached to it to enable the people to lend a shoulder. With much difficulty, the bier was taken to the grave. Sheikhul Hadith Maulana Zakaria led the prayer. The bier was then taken back to the Masjid for burial. It was extremely difficult to make one’s way into the Masjid. People were even scaling the walls with ropes. The grave had been dug in the eastern corner of the Masjid next to the graves of Maulana Ilyas’ father (Maulana Mohammad Ismail) and brother (Maulana Mohammad). The dead body was finally lowered into the grave. By the end of the day, the sun that had illuminated the hearts of millions and spread the warmth of Iman in all directions had disappeared from the earth.


Maulana Ilyas left behind only one daughter who was married to his nephew and favourite pupil, Sheikhul Hadith Maulana Zakaria. 


Maulana Ilyas’ complexion was wheatish. He was short-statured and his body was frail. He was however full of energy and had an enormous capacity for work. He was never idle. His beard was thick and dark with a few gray hairs which could be seen only when one looked closely. He had a thoughtful look and his face bore the marks of life-long abstinence, moral, spiritual discipline and worshipfulness. His forehead indicated high-mindedness and magnanimity. He used to stammer a little, but his voice was powerful. His manner of speaking was forceful and impassioned.

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