Defending Shaykh Qasim Nanotwi

April 20, 2011

Thanks to brother Muzammil from SF. Barelwis have been lying against the scholars of Deoband for more than 100 years, especially against the founder of Dar al-Ulum Deoband, Mawlana Qasim Nanotwi.

One of the accusations against this great scholar, was that he supposedly did not believe in the finalty of the Prophet! This seems very far-fetched since the Deobandi scholars have always been seen refuting the Qadiyani’s for this claim. Below is a partial summary of Tahzir al-nas, the book that Ahmad Raza Khan quoted in order to prove his claim:

[The page numbers shown in brackets below are taken from this edition of Tahzirun Nas]

Tahzirun Nas is a treatise in the form of a legal response (fatwa) from Mawlana Qasim Nanotwi to a question posed regarding the belief that the athar of Ibn ‘Abbas, which confirms the existence of prophets like the prophets on this earth on six other earths, is authentic, and how this impacts on the Prophet (peace be upon him) being the last and final prophet. (p. 40)

He begins his answer by saying that before answering the question, the term Khatam al-Nabiyyin (Seal of the Prophets) must be fully understood, and then he presents an exegetical dilemma on the interpretation of this phrase in the context of the verse. (p. 41)

In the understanding of the common people, this simply means the last of a series of prophets. However, coming before or after in this chronological sense, does not in and of itself confer excellence, so for example, the Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon him) is superior to many prophets who came after him. (p. 41)

However, the term “Khatam al-Nabiyyin” must be a term of merit and praise for two reasons:

First, things which are not praiseworthy in relation to his prophethood, like shape, colour, lineage, etc. are not mentioned, so mentioning something without merit would be imagined to be an “excess” in His speech, as there would be no difference between mentioning it and not mentioning it. Second, with respect to the people of perfection, like prophets and saints, titles used for them are for the purpose of adorning them with praise and merit, as is clear from historical writings, so the assumption that it is not praise may lead to lessening the greatness of the Prophet (upon him be peace). (p. 42)

The Istidrak in 33:40 Implies the Term “Khatam al-Nabiyyin” Affirms Spiritual Fatherhood

One objection to this reasoning is that “Khatam al-Nabiyyin” with this meaning is not devoid of purpose and benefit as Islam, being the final religion, must negate the legitimacy of any false future claimants to prophethood who may be the cause of the misguidance of many; hence, with this meaning of Khatam al-Nabiyyin, this door leading to misguidance is closed. (p. 42)

The answer to this is that even then, with the lone meaning of “last chronological prophet” for the phrase “Seal of Prophets,” the exegete is not free of difficulties, and this is because the verse reads: “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of Prophets” (33:40). The word “but” (lakin) is a conjunction (‘atf) used for istidrak (correction), that is, to correct a doubt (shubh) or wrong assumption that may be created from the previous sentence. Hence, the sentence that he is “the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of Prophets,” must be correcting a misconception that may arise from the sentence, “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men.” (p. 42)

While the verse clearly negates physical (jismani) fatherhood, the doubt may arise that he does not deserve the respect a father deserves, or that he is not the spiritual (ma‘nawi) father of anyone also, and this is corrected by the sentence, “[he is] the Messenger of Allah and the Seal of Prophets.” Thus, by this latter sentence, the doubt that he is not the father in any sense is corrected. The explanation of this is as follows: (p. 57)

The term “Messenger” implies he is the spiritual father of the ummah. Mawlana Nanotwi explains this at length in conjunction with the verse of the Qur’an which states, “The Prophet is closer to the believers than themselves” (33:6). Because our belief is a consequence of his deliverance of the message from Allah, he is our spiritual father. Mawlana Nanotwi writes extensively on this point but there is no need to elaborate here. (pp. 58-64)

Essential Sealship and its Proofs

In the same way the term “Messenger of Allah” implies he is the spiritual father of his nation, the term “Seal of Prophets,” which is also part of the “correction” (istidrak), implies he is the spiritual father of the previous prophets. (pp. 57-58)

This is because the prophethood of the Prophet is essential in that it was not gained from any other prophet but was given to him directly by Allah upon his creation, while the prophethood of all other prophets is accidental and derived from his prophethood. Thus, their prophethood and all the perfections of their prophethood come to an end upon his prophethood and are in fact derived from his prophethood, and in this sense he is the “Seal of the Prophets.” (p. 43)

Mawlana Nanotwi gives three detailed proofs for this:

First, verse 3:81 of the Qur’an which states: “[Remember] when We took the covenant of the prophets: Indeed, that which I have given to you of book and wisdom, then a Messenger confirming what is with you comes to you, you must believe in him and you must help him.” This shows the Prophet is the “Prophets’ Prophet” (nabi al-anbiya) as they are commanded to believe in him and help him if he were to appear in their time, hence their prophethood is subject to his essential prophethood. This is also indicated by the hadith in which it states that “if Musa was living, he would have no option but to follow me,” and it is also indicated by the fact that upon ‘Isa’s return he will be a follower of the Prophet (peace be upon him) as his prophethood is subject to his. In this way, the prophethood of all other prophets ends and comes to a stop at the prophethood of the Prophet, as his prophethood is not an effusion (fayd) or secondary (bi wasitah) to any other prophethood, while theirs is an effusion of his. The hadith “I was the Seal of Prophets with Allah while Adam was mixed with clay,” can be understood in this way, that his prophethood was the source of all prophets’ prophethood. (p. 44)

Second, there are two types of perfections: knowledge and deeds. Four categories of people are praised in the Qur’an: Prophets, saints (siddiqin), martyrs (shuhada) and pious (salihin) (4:69). The first two have perfections in knowledge and the second two in deeds. Prophets are the source of perfection in knowledge and saints their repositories and martyrs are the source of perfection in deeds and the pious their repositories. The word “nabi” comes from naba’a which means to inform, and “siddiq” from “saddaqa” which means to assent, so the Prophets are the fountainheads of knowledge and the siddiqin its repositories i.e. those who assent to that knowledge. This is also corroborated by the hadith, “Whatever Allah poured into my chest I poured into the chest of Abu Bakr,” and Abu Bakr is known as “the greatest siddiq.” Here, Mawlana Nanotwi also makes the point that because prophethood is perfection in knowledge and not deeds, apparently (bizahir) a follower’s deeds may become equal to or exceed the deeds of the Prophet (peace be upon him). The reason he mentions “apparently,” is because this is in terms of “quantity” and not the quality of deeds, while his knowledge is both quantitatively and qualitatively superior. Although, this statement led to many people attacking Mawlana Nanotwi, the same point was articulated by Imam al-Razi under verse 2:34 of the Qur’an, in which he said, “We do indeed find in the community (ummah) those who have a longer life and strive more rigorously than the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.” This statement of fact, that sometimes outwardly a follower performs more good deeds than the Prophet (peace be upon him) was used by al-Razi as a premise in his argument just as it was by Mawlana Nanotwi. (pp. 44-48)

Mawlana Nanotwi also explains how martyrdom and piety are perfections in deeds and not knowledge, but there is no need to elaborate here. (pp. 48-49)

The Prophet’s knowledge was complete and perfect, while the knowledge of other Prophets was not as complete and perfect as his. Hence, he said, “I was taught/given (‘ullimtu/utitu) the knowledge of the first and the last,” i.e. my knowledge encompasses the spiritual knowledge of all peoples. This is because he is the true knower (‘alim haqiqi) while all other knowers’ knowledge is derived from him. In just the same way our knowledge from our sense faculties combine in our rational soul (nafs natiqah) and the senses do not themselves “perceive,” knowledge of the divine and otherworldly realities combine in the Prophet (peace be upon him) and originate in him, while for everyone else before and after him, it is derived from him. Verse 3:81 quoted above describes the Prophet as “confirming all that is with you,” where the word “ma” is general (‘am) so includes all the knowledge in the books of the Prophets before. Hence, his essential knowledge – essential in the sense that is not derived from any other, not that it is intrinsic to him or he gained it without Allah giving it to him – is a corollary of his essential prophethood, while the knowledge of other prophets and their prophethood is derived from his. Another proof of this is that the Prophet’s main miracle as mentioned in a hadith is the Qur’an, and the Qur’an is a book of knowledge, as it is described as “an explanation of all things” (16:89). (pp. 44-50)

Third, the hadith, “I was a Prophet while Adam was between body and spirit,” as it proves his prophethood was pre-eternal while Adam’s prophethood and by extension the prophethood of all other prophets is temporal. (p. 50)

In conclusion, the Prophet’s prophethood is essential, that is, not derived from any other prophet, while that of other prophets is accidental and derived from his, and with this meaning “Khatam al-Nabiyyin” in the sense of the spiritual paternity of prophets fulfils the condition of the istidrak in the verse.

Chronological Prophetic Sealship (khatm nubuwwat zamani) is a Necessary Consequence of Essential Prophetic Sealship (khatm nubuwwat zati)

Essential Sealship as described above also necessarily implies that he is the last of all Prophets chronologically. This is because the hypothetical new prophet will either bring a new shari‘ah, or will not, and in both cases, the Essential Sealship of the Prophet prevents this from happening:

If the hypothetical prophet that came after had a different shari‘ah, this would mean a lesser prophet abrogated the shari‘ah of a greater prophet, which is contrary to the rule established in verse 2:106 of the Qur’an which states: “We do not abrogate any revelation, or cause it to be forgotten, except we bring better than it or the like of it.” (p. 52)

And if he were to bring the same shari‘ah, this prophethood would hold no meaning as prophethood is a perfection in knowledge and all knowledge has culminated in the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his perfect knowledge kept in the Book that is an “explanation of all things” is preserved (Qur’an 15:9). So the bringer of the same shari‘ah cannot have any new perfection in knowledge. (pp. 52-53)

Therefore, no new prophet can emerge after the Seal of Prophets, with or without a new shari‘ah. Hence, chronological finality (ta’akkhur zamani) is a necessary consequence of essential finality.

The Multiple Meanings of Final

Coming first or last (taqaddum/ta’akhkhur) is a generic attribute (jins) which manifests in three different ways: chronological (zamani), spatial (makani) and in terms of rank (rutbi). Seal (khatam) implies finality which also contains these three possibilities. If however only one of these three meanings are meant in the statement “Seal of Prophets” there must be a word in the middle missing, i.e. it is either “khatam zaman al-nabiyyin” (seal of the time of the prophets), “khatam rutbat al-nabiyyin” (seal of the rank of the prophets) or “khatam makan al-nabiyyin,” (seal of the place of the prophets) but in such general words, if all meanings can be taken, that is the best option, and this is the preferred view. Hence, the preferred view according to Mawlana Nanotwi is that the complete signification (dalala mutabiqi) – which is a term of logic that describes the total meaning for which a word was coined – of “Seal of Prophets” is finality in terms of chronology, place and rank. (p. 53-55)

This is akin to the verse “wine, gambling, [sacrificing to] stones and [divining] arrows, are only filth (rijs),” where “filth” is a general (‘am) word including external and internal filth as wine is externally filthy and the rest internally. In the same way “rijs” is general for a number of categories of items with differing qualities included under its meaning, “khatam” is general for a number of categories of items included under its general meaning. Finality in merit was explained as essential sealship described earlier and chronological finality which was explained as a necessary consequence of it is simple and easy to understand; while spatial finality entails prophethood manifesting in the highest of all earths, and this is explained in other hadiths which show this earth that we inhabit is the highest of all earths and the six remaining earths also have prophets as confirmed in the athar of ibn ‘Abbas – Mawlana Nanotwi spends the bulk of his treatise explaining this point. (p. 65 onwards) However, if only one of these is chosen then it would be finality in rank (i.e. essential sealship) due to its suitability in the context of the verse and the demand of the istidrak within it, and even then chronological finality is a necessary consequence as explained earlier. (p. 56)

Hence, there are two options: If the general meaning is accepted, which is the preferred view, then the complete signification (dalala mutabiqi) of “Seal of Prophets” is to chronological, spatial and spiritual finality. However, if only one meaning is accepted, and that is finality in merit, then although chronological finality is not established by the complete signification of the title “Seal of Prophets,” it is established by the implicative signification (dalala iltizami) as explained earlier; and it is also established by the mutawatir (mass-narrated) meaning of the hadith “There is no prophet after me,” and the consensus of the ummah. Hence the denier of chronological sealship is a disbeliever just like the denier of the number of rak‘ats of salah or Witr is a disbeliever as these are also established by hadiths mutawatir in meaning and consensus (jeysa unka munkir kafir hey eysa hi is ka munkir bhi kafir hoga). (p. 56)

Mawlana Nanotwi affirms that the Prophet (peace be upon him) is the “Seal” of all prophets, on this or on any other earth. (p. 93) Hence, all the meanings of “Seal” that he affirms including chronological finality (either as part of its complete signification or its implicative signification) also apply to those prophets.


The benefit of this interpretation, Mawlana Nanotwi insists, is that it solves the istidrak present in the verse, it explains what khatam means in the best possible way, while not compromising on the chronological finality of the Prophet (peace be upon him). He writes: “Now you can see that if this view is accepted, the conjunction between the two sentences, the correction and exception, will become clear, and sealship is established in the best possible way, and chronological sealship is also not lost from one’s hand (aur khatamiyyat zamani bhi hath sey nehi jati).” (p. 57)

This is a clear proof that he does not anywhere deny chronological sealship, but as explained earlier, this is either part of the complete signification of the term, or is an implicative signification of essential sealship. Besides this, he also adduced the mutawatir-in-meaning hadith and the consensus of the ummah as proof for chronological finality. He also affirms that the denier of chronological finality is a disbeliever. His new explanation of “khatam,” therefore, in no way compromises chronological finality as he himself mentioned in Tahzirun Nas that “[by this explanation,] chronological sealship is also not lost from one’s hand.”

Therefore, although Mawlana Nanotwi does not exclude chronological finality from the meaning and signification of “Khatam al-Nabiyyin,” he does add to its meaning in the ways described above. Hence, the claim that he denied chronological finality is inconsistent with what he originally wrote in Tahzirun Nas. Besides this, his statements written in other treatises like Munazarah Ajeebah are unequivocal that there is no possibility of anybody receiving prophethood after the Prophet (peace be upon him).