It was more than half a century ago when I was a student at Darul Uloom Deoband that I heard of Maulana Ilyas. I heard that he was teaching the Kalima and Salat to the Muslims of Mewat, who were Muslims only in name, and establishing Madrasahs for the elementary religious education of their children.
Afterwards, I met him a couple of times during my visit to Delhi. At that time, I was not interested in knowing about Maulana Ilyas and his work. I remained ignorant of the peerless qualities of his mind and character, his glowing religious fervour and unparalleled struggle, in spite of those meetings.
Increasing fondness for Maulana Ilyas
Around 1940 however, I came to have some idea, through various sources, of the greatness, of the Maulana and the importance of his Tabligh movement. At about the same time, I had a close relationship with Maulana Syed Abul A’la Maududi whom I was very much impressed by his understanding and good judgement. He went to Nizamuddin (Delhi) to meet Maulana Ilyas and obtain first-hand knowledge of his work. He also undertook a tour of Mewat which was the main centre of Maulana’s activities. He, then, published an article in his journal, ‘Tarjuman ul-Quran’, giving his impressions of the journey and expressing a high opinion of the Tabligh endeavour. I was deeply influenced by that article. My friend, Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, the author of the present book (Life and Mission of Maulana Ilyas), was highly impressed and was seized with the desire to meet Maulana Ilyas and learn more about his mission. He thereupon visited Maulana Ilyas frequently.
In those days, I used to live in Bareillyand. I kept a regular correspondence with Maulana Nadwi. From his letters, I learnt how he was feeling drawn, more and more, towards Maulana Ilyas and the call of Tabligh. He also tried to convince me till a time came when I too started going to Nizamuddin. Often, both of us went together.
Key Observations on Maulana Ilyas
On observing Maulana Ilyas from close quarters, accompanying him on Tabligh tours and listening to his speeches, I arrived at two conclusions.
- Maulana Ilyas’ call was very far-reaching in its effects and based upon solid principles. It was not born out of an impulse, but the product of a deep study of the Quran, the Sunnah and the lives of the Sahaba and a profound awareness of the nature and spirit of the Faith. Maulana Ilyas had devised his course of action after careful thought and there was a definite, well-integrated plan in his mind which contained a full provision for the religious reform and advancement of all sections of Muslims. He aimed at making belief and conviction and the Islamic way of life and revival of Iman common in the Ummah.
- The other was concerning the personality of Maulana Ilyas. The more I knew Maulana Ilyas, the more was I impressed by him. Some of my friends endowed with spiritual light and insight agreed that the existence of the Maulana in present times was a sign of the Power and Authority of Allah SWT and a miracle of the message of the Holy Prophet SAW which is proof to the eternity of Islam. Such imparted to us some idea of the religious zeal of the Sahaba and a glimpse of the early decades of the glory days of Islam.
In Maulana Ilyas’ company, it also dawned upon me that however detailed the life accounts of the godly men may be that are found in the books, they bear no relation to their distinctive personal character and actual moral and spiritual excellence. The natural inclination of the writer or biographer, too, plays a part in the choice of events. During my stay with Living Masters, I have felt that though no one has displayed a greater regard for authenticity and thoroughness than the writers of the biography of the holy Prophet and the compilers of his Traditions, they, after all, have described only what the written word could convey. Still, what has been preserved by the chroniclers and biographers is definitely much more valuable and informative than the accounts that would have reached us simply through recollection and narration.
Hence, we find that today, very little is known about people with regard to whom no such arrangements were made. Led by these considerations, I had begun to note down the more important utterances of Maulana Ilyas. I also published them in Al-Furqan with his permission in his own lifetime. Later, a collection of these sayings was brought out in the form of a book, a part of which is included in the present volume as well.
Intention to Write Maulana Ilyas’ Biography
I thought of writing a biography of Maulana Ilyas but could not quite make up my mind. Maulana Ilyas was strictly opposed to the association of his call with himself. Towards the end of his life, he even did not like his name to be mentioned in that connection. Apart from sincerity and self-effacement, Maulana Ilyas’ care and caution stemmed from important religious considerations. But, we must confess our inability to abide wholly by Maulana Ilyas’ wishes. Sometimes, in the interests of the Movement, it became necessary to describe the spirit of dedication, religious ardour and solicitude for the Faith of its founder and to narrate his personal experiences while explaining its rules and principles or recounting the manifestations of its effect.
In view of all this, during my stay at Nizamuddin, it occurred to me again and again during Maulana Ilyas’ mortal illness, that his biography including a detailed account of the Tabligh movement, should be written. When I discussed it with Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi who was also staying there in those days, I found that he too was thinking along the same lines. He had even started preparing notes. Anyhow, on Maulana Ilyas’ death, it was decided to go ahead with the task.
Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi’s writing of Maulana Ilyas’ Biography
Almost all the old colleagues and relatives of Maulana Ilyas had collected at Nizamuddin at the time of Maulana Ilyas’ death. Maulana Nadwi took the opportunity to gather facts from them. The correspondence of Maulana Ilyas also was made available to him. Maulana Ilyas had perhaps written the most detailed letters concerning the aims and principles of the Movement to Maulana Nadwi himself. Some other friends sent to him Maulana Ilyas’ letters which were in their possession and furnished other valuable information when they came to know that he was writing the book. The help and cooperation extended by Sheikhul Hadees Maulana Zakaria proved most beneficial.
When the manuscript was ready, it was circulated among Maulana Ilyas’ trusted colleagues and close relatives for advice. It was also read out at different gatherings during Tabligh tours so that nothing was left to be desired by way of accuracy or detail.
Before concluding, I would like to stress that though the author has admirably succeeded in his effort, no one could have done greater justice to the subject. Whatever impression the readers who had not come into contact with Maulana Ilyas will form about him from these pages will be much short of what he actually was. My own case is that it was only during Maulana Ilyas’ last illness that I had the good fortune to observe him closely, and I can say without hesitation that every day I felt that he was much greater than what I had imagined the previous day.
About four months before Maulana Ilyas’ death, a godly man of the highest class remarked that “nowadays he (Maulana Ilyas) is travelling at the speed of thousands of miles per hour.” I could not grasp its significance then, but as I became more aware of Maulana Ilyas’ inner state, I realised what journey he had in mind.
Maulana Ilyas often said about his Movement that it was a jewel of the golden era (of Islam). About Maulana Ilyas himself, I can say without exaggeration that he was a pearl of the magnificent treasure-house of that time. We read much about the Salaf in books which seems hard to believe to our materialistic minds. However, on seeing those things with my own eyes in Maulana Ilyas, I gained such satisfaction as could not be possible with the help of a thousand arguments.
In this book (Life and Mission of Maulana Ilyas), readers will find statements regarding Maulana Ilyas and his ancestors which may appear incredible in the present-day world of bigotry and shallowness. The author however has fully verified them and included only the facts that came to his knowledge through reliable sources. In fact, most of the incidents related here concerning Maulana Ilyas took place in the author’s own presence either in a Tabligh journey or during his stay at Nizamuddin.
The book deals more with the call and mission of Maulana Ilyas than his life. But it was natural for the main object of the author to make the world acquainted with Maulana Ilyas’ unique endeavour for the revival and preservation of Faith.
MAULANA MANZOOR NOMANI, LUCKNOW DECEMBER 15, 1978