Book Review: A Sufi Study of Hadith by Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanwi
‘A Sufi Study of Hadith’ is a translation of a Persian work ‘Haqiqa at-Tariqa min as-Sunna al-Aniqa’ by the famous Indian scholar Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanwi. What the texts presents is a series of ahadith that act as evidence for certain Sufi practices that existed in the Sub-Continent and other parts of the Muslim world during the Mawlana’s lifetime, many of which are still prevalent today. So in this text one will see evidences provided for group dhikr, using beads, giving allegiance to a Shaykh, serving a Shaykh and so on. Mawlana Thanwi also presents hadith that act as evidence against illegitimate practices that were being done in his time in the name of Sufism.
The work is an excellent reference for those who are confused about certain things one may hear about amongst certain circles and are unsure about the nature of tasawwuf. It is also shows that many of the ‘ulema of Deoband cannot be classed into the same group as Salafis (As many people would like to claim), as many of the ahadith and comments made by the author clearly contradict Salafi ideas and ideology and show clear support of tasawwuf.
On the other hand myself being quite conservative, I found I disagreed with some of the things Mawlana Thanwi mentions in his book. For example he cites ahadith that showed the respect the Sahaba had for the Prophet (SAWS) possessions, he states that this is evidence to show that one may hold items his Shaykh once owned with great reverence. I would argue those ahadith are with regards to the Prophet’s (SAWS) items and cannot necessarily be transferred to Shuykh or the Awliya. One will find this many times in his work, where he supports ideas with regards to how a murid should be with his Shaykh by citing hadith on how the Sahaba were with the Prophet (SAWS). One will also find certain hadith, although very few, which are weak or have no source, but the translator who has spent many years on this work will mention these when appropriate. One thing I found quite irksome was Mawlana Thanwi’s statement in his commentary for Hadith 41: “…the Prophet (SAWS) being only human and not possessing knowledge over all things…”, while there is an opinion that there were five things the Prophet (SAWS) was not given knowledge of, the hadith being discussed is with regards to when ‘Aisha (May Allah be pleased with her) was exonerated by Allah about the accusation made against her, it does not include one of the five subjects people may choose to believe the Prophet (SAWS) was not given knowledge over, and in any case the ‘ulema agree that as the Prophet (SAWS) progressed in his life, so did his knowledge and spiritual station, so it may be this incident occurred before Allah gave the Prophet (SAWS) the vast knowledge he had by the end of his life. What’s ironic is the hadith that contradicts the belief that the Prophet’s (SAWS) knowledge was limited is mentioned by Mawlana Thanwi later on in his work, albeit without the latter part of it which mentions: “And lo, everything was revealed to me, and I knew” and in another narration of the same hadith: “I knew everything between the East and West”. This is a perfect example one of the few things that bug me with regards to some of the teachings of Deoband, but each to his own.
All in all, a good piece of work and highly needed in our time. The Arabic for each hadith is given, so for students of Arabic such as myself it’s also very handy in that regard.
And to Him is our return.