In an Urdu article entitled “Three Points for the New Generation of Nadwa (Nadwa ki Jadeed Nasl se Teen Baateinh)”, Dr Akram Nadwi offers three pieces of advice to new graduates of Nadwat al-Ulama, Lucknow, to ensure their first steps after graduation lead them in the right direction and they truly establish themselves as assets for their alma mater.
However, a fair number of points in Dr Akram’s article seem to contradict his own practices, and more strangely, they come across as entirely incongruent with other points in the very same article.
The best person to explain this conundrum is Dr Akram Nadwi himself, and if this article was written in good faith as he stated, he will hopefully clarify some of the queries we have regarding his advice. The questions may not follow any sensible or perceivable order, but in all honesty, that is most likely due to reflecting the disorientation caused by the article itself.
Dr Akram Nadwi says in his third and final piece of advice:
Understand the general rules and principles of this religion, and only focus on understanding them, and teaching, propagating and explaining them. Strictly refrain from getting entangled in peripheral and tributary issues. This is the true disposition of this religion and this is the way of the prophets.
Read the Quran and Hadith from the perspective of a believer. Do not read it through the lens of a narrow-minded mufti or jurist.
Engage in an in-depth study of the books of Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn al-Qayyim, Imam Shatibi, Shah Waliyullah Dihlawi and other great thinkers of this Ummah.
When you see people relating the miracles and extraordinary feats of the saintly, remind them of the sunnah practices of the prophets and examples from the pure lifes of the pious predecessors. When people are relating the virtues of their own denomination and methodology, explain the true form of Allah’s religion and the Abrahamic way. When people are breaking this Ummah into seventy-two sects, call towards the collectivity of the Ummah.
You will see many unknowledgable muftis teaching people there are fifty-one sunnah acts in salah; turn away from them, and focus on and teach them humbleness and tranquility in salah. When you see some people issuing fatwa that putting oil in the ear or having an injection breaks the fast, tell people that lying, backbiting and deceiving in Ramadan is more harmful than eating and drinking, and refrain from talking about these peripheral issues which some consider their pride and joy.
You will see some people who say writing inshaAllah altogether is incorrect; salah becomes invalid by reading ‘an’amtu alayhim’; and it is only permissible to read the Quran in seven readings as they are mass-transmitted. Steer clear of the useless points of all such people and instead talk about the topic of contemplating and reflecting on the Qur’an. Try to disseminate the teachings of the Qur’an. Focus on bringing people close to their Sustainer. Tell people to stay away from those who have made the Quran a means of entertainment.
In short, bear in mind the importance of being firm in principles and objectives, and open-minded in peripheral matters and means.
What distinguishes the reading of a believer from that of a narrow-minded mufti or jurist? Please explain.
Also, why do you tell Nadwa graduates to turn away from scholars who enumerate the sunnahs of salah? How do you approach the fiqh primers and larger texts of all four schools of jurisprudence, in which peripheral rulings are listed? Are they to be discarded also? Why is enumerating the sunnahs of salah, or by the same measure, the fardh, wajib, makruh, naqid actions, the mark of a quasi-knowledgeable scholar? Will hundreds of fuqaha from all four schools not be deserving of this label?
Dr Akram Nadwi, why is stating what breaks the fast a problem? They are not antipodal to lying, backbiting, deceiving and so forth; why the need to suggest they cannot coexist in the same discussion? And how do we interpret the fact that you have also discussed these in your own work, Al-Fiqh al-Islami, where on page 120 you state on the authority of Kasani’s Badaa’i that putting oil into the ears will break the fast if it reaches the throat, and on page 121 you state that injections don’t break the fast? Was it not better for you not to mention any of these invalidators, and instead focus on lying, backbiting and other sins which affect the fast? Will you be taking this section out of any subsequent editions? Don’t your published Hanafi fiqh primers, along with your annotated edition of Usul al-Shashi, also classify you among those for whom talking about peripheral issues is a matter of pride and enjoy? Please remove our confusion.
Also, are you aware that Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyya, whose books you advised Nadwa graduates to study thoroughly, clearly states that reading outside of the seven mass-transmitted (mutawatir) readings is not permissible according to most people of knowledge? Was Shaykh al-Islam guilty of wasting his own and other’s time? What about the giants in the science of tajwid, past and present, who differentiated between the mutawatir, mash-hur and shadh readings, in the same manner as Shaykh al-Islam; did they all engage in a pointless discussion?
Also, under point two you said:
After leaving the environment of Nadwa, you will see that what you consider indisputable are wrong or doubtful in the eyes of others. In such situations, there is no need to get angry or argue with others. Instead, try to earnestly understand the perspective and evidences of others…do not refute others for no reason. But if you are convinced that the thoughts of others are harmful for religion and life in general, explain your stance in an academically sound manner. It is not befitting your scholarly status to be harsh in your speech and writing, nor is making others a target of ridicule appropriate for your dignity.
Dr Akram Nadwi, have you not blatantly defied this on many occasions, especially in your most recent piece in which you said to those claiming the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) was affected by magic, which is the stance of the overwhelming majority of Islamic scholarship:
If only you had fornicated, committed every despised indecency, horrible crime and major sin besides shirk…
You also said the devil has played with the mind of such people and made them say this.
Is this not at total loggerheads with what you told the new graduates to adhere to? Surely there was a better way to address the issue than with such abrasive language. Should graduates give precedence to your literary style, or excuse you with dignity and stick to your advice?
Dr Akram Nadwi, you advocate the need to be open-minded and “earnestly understand the viewpoint of others and their evidences; perhaps their thoughts are more correct.” But why are you seen to be so dismissive and over-critical of people or opinions which you do not agree with? Is this approach not unscholarly, or in the least, in contrast to the open-mindedness and moldability you aspire to see in the up-and-coming Nadwa scholars?
Dr Sahib, you underscore the need for young graduates to always increase their knowledge and benefit from people of knowledge, without allowing the prejudicial barriers of methodology or denomination to hinder them in this regard, but you passionately warn against muftis who teach people fifty-one sunnahs in salah. Is this not a clear contradiction? What if some benefit can be taken from such “unknowledgable” muftis, whilst steering clear of their fifty-one sunnah abomination? And who are these people who have made the Quran a means of entertainment and should be warned against?
Dr Akram Nadwi, you have stressed on many occasions, and no differently in this article, the importance of collectivity, and you shun argumentation, debates and all such matters which eat at the heart of the unity of Muslims. You have warned against polemical discussions, because they divert from Allah’s remembrance, and sow the seeds of animosity and hatred.
But why do we see you bring up topics which inevitably stir up the very sentiments you claim to be at the forefront of opposing?
You say each of the three polemical groups in India have mastered the art of lying against each other. You say Maulana Ahmad Riza Khan was the one who started all of this lying. You talk about why Barelwis hate Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi. You have, on more than one occasion, branded British madrasahs as museums from the stone age.
Do you not think talking in this petulant tone exacerbates the tensions which already exist? Is it possible to achieve unity in the Ummah by arbitrarily criticising in this manner? Does naseeha not need to be flavoured with more love, softness of tone and propriety? Why not focus on the commonalities everyone can unite on, instead of such harsh and divisive statements? Are these really issues that should be discussed in the last ten days of Ramadan?
Also, you allude towards the hadith of seventy-three sects, but have classified it as weak and unsuitable as proof elsewhere. Can you explain this discrepancy?