Refuting Barelwi Takfir of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi: Explaining the Passage from Hifz al-Iman


Barelwis writing online have been repeating the charge of Kufr against Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi.

The charge Barelwis make is that Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi equated the knowledge of Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) to the knowledge of madmen, animals and children. To prove this, they quote a passage from his Hifz al-Iman. The passage is as follows:

Further, if according to the statement of Zaid it is correct to apply the ruling of ‘ilm al-ghayb on the blessed person [of Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam), based on which he will be called “‘Alim al-Ghayb”], then he will be asked: Is the intent of this ghayb some ghayb or all ghayb? If some unseen knowledges are intended what then is the distinction of the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) in this? Such knowledge of ghayb [i.e. some ghayb as opposed to all ghayb] is acquired by Zaid, Amr, indeed every child and madman, and indeed all animals and beasts, since each individual knows something or another that is hidden to someone else. Thus, everyone should be called ‘Alim al-Ghayb!

This passage does not equate the knowledge of Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) to the knowledge of madmen etc. To equate the knowledge of Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) to the knowledge of madmen etc. is Kufr even according to Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi as stated in his subsequent clarification, Bast al-Banan.

Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi is here talking about using the term “‘Alim al-Ghayb” to describe Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam), as evident from this passage itself, as it says: “Thus, everyone should be called ‘Alim al-Ghayb.” This is also evident from the question found in Hifz al-Iman to which this is a response:

In his response, first (before the above passage) Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi explains that ‘Alim al-Ghayb (or even ‘ilm al-ghayb) is a term applied exclusively to a being who has knowledge of ghayb independently. Hence, to use the term for those who have knowledge of ghayb via a means is a misuse and misapplication. Then, he says, as found in the above passage, that even with the false interpretation of ‘ilm al-ghayb as knowledge of ghayb acquired via a means, when applied to Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam), is all ghayb intended or some? Of course no one means all ghayb, and having knowledge of some ghayb is not restricted to Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam). In fact, all creatures have knowledge of some ghayb. (E.g. they all know about Allah, and Allah is from the ghayb). Thus, if based on some ghayb an individual is called this, then everyone should be called ‘Alim al-Ghayb, and that is of course nonsensical. This is Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi’s basic argument.

Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi’s argument applies to all terms that are exclusive to Allah. Maulana Manzur Numani gives the example of the term “Rabb al-Alamin” (sustainer of creatures). A silly person could claim that a certain king who takes care of his subjects is “rabb al-alamin”! The answer to this is that Rabb al-‘Alamin is the one who sustains the creatures independently, not via means. In this meaning, it is exclusive to Allah, and to use it for those who sustain via a means is a misuse of the term. Further, it will be argued, does this king sustain all creatures or only some? Of course, he does not sustain all creatures, while sustaining some creatures is not exclusive to him; even a father does so, and in fact animals do so – so should all have the right to be called “rabb al-‘alamin”? This is identical to the form of argument Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi used in the above passage. (Futuhat Numaniah)

As one can see, there is no disrespect in this to the hypothetical king in reference. Similarly, there is no disrespect to Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) in the argument of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi. It is only presented to demonstrate the silliness of the person making this claim (that such terms as “‘Alim al-Ghayb”, which are exclusive to Allah, can be used for other than Allah). It is not presented to denigrate Rasulullah (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) or to equate his knowledge or status to that of others.

A final point to bear in mind is that the meaning of the passage from Hifz al-Iman was paraphrased, with no substantive difference between the original passage and the paraphrase, and was presented to scholars of the Arab world, in al-Muhannad ‘ala ‘l-Mufannad. The scholars who saw this paraphrased passage saw no problem with it and did not consider it blasphemous. The paraphrased passage translates as follows:

This usage [of referring to another as ‘Alim al-Ghayb] is not permissible even if it was with a [particular] interpretation, because it is suggestive of shirk, just as the usage of their statement ra’ina was prohibited in the Qur’an (2:104) and their statement “my male slave” (‘abdi) and “my female slave” (amati) [was prohibited] in the hadith, as transmitted by Muslim in his Sahih (Kitab al-Alfaz min al-Adab wa Ghayriha); since the general [usage of the term] ghayb in the legal usages is that for which no proof was erected and there is no means or path to its perception. [Based] on this, Allah (Exalted is He) said, “Say: None in the heavens or on earth, except Allah, knows the ghayb” (27:65), “Had I knowledge of the ghayb, I should have abundance of wealth” (7:188) and other verses. If this were allowed by interpretation, it would entail that it would be correct to use khaliq (Creator), raziq (Sustainer), malik (Master), ma’bud (Deity) and other attributes of Allah (Exalted is He), exclusive to His (Exalted is He) Essence, for the creation by an interpretation. It would also imply that by another interpretation the use of the term ‘alim al ghayb would be negated from Allah (Exalted is He), since He (Exalted is He) is not the knower of ghayb by means of a medium or by accident, so would any sane religious person allow its negation [from Him]? Far be it, of course not.

Moreover, if this usage were correct for his holy essence (Allah bless him and grant him peace) according to the statement of a questioner, we will ask for clarification from him: what does he mean by this ghayb? Does he mean every particular from the particulars of ghayb or a part of it, whichever part it may be? If he intended a part of the ghayb, there is no speciality in this for the Chief of Messengers (Allah bless him and grant him peace), since the knowledge of some ghayb, even if it is little, is attainable by Zayd and ‘Amr, rather every child and madman, rather all animals and beasts, because every one of them knows something another does not know and [something that is] hidden from him. Hence, if the questioner permits the usage [of the term] ‘alim al ghayb for one because of his knowledge of a part of the ghayb, it would be necessary for him to allow its usage for all those mentioned, and if that was the case, it would not then be from the perfections of prophethood because they all share in it; and if it is not the case, he will be asked for a distinction, and will find no path to it. [Here] ends the statement of Shaykh al-Thanawi.

Barelwis who insist on the charge of Kufr against Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi must answer the following:

  1. Is the meaning of the passage of Hifz al-Iman as presented in al-Muhannad insulting? If you answer “yes”, then you are disagreeing with great Arab Ulama of that time, who did not regard it to be problematic.
  2. If you answer “no”, then what is the substantive difference between this and the original passage of Hifz al-Iman?

Note, Barelwis must present a substantive difference, a difference that shows the meaning in the two passages is different and thus rendering one Kufr and not the other.

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