Visit to India (2021)
In the name of Allah, the Compassionate the Merciful
Covid-19 has changed the world. International travel has become increasingly difficult. Initially, the UK Government took a relaxed approach to travelling abroad, as we experienced during our journey to Turkey in August 2020. However, in this recent lockdown, the Government has placed severe restrictions on international travel and imposed specific rules prior to travelling and upon return. Likewise, other countries have placed restrictions on travellers from the UK due to the new strain found in the UK. Being British is no longer fashionable at the moment.
Since January, I have been planning to travel to India for some essential charity work. However, the Indian Government’s hotel quarantine rules deterred me from doing so. In February, the Indian Government announced that travellers from the UK will not be required to quarantine in hotels as long as one tests negative upon arrival in India. There are, however, many hurdles to cross:
First, there are limited flights to India. The current options are Qatar Airways, Air India, British Airways and Vistara. During this pandemic, it is strongly advised to choose a direct flight even if it is more expensive. Qatar at the moment is not on the red list of 33 countries which includes Dubai, however, it could be added at any point (It is now on the list from 19 March). From the three direct flight options, British Airways is the most appropriate. Its customer service and refund arrangements are much better than Air India and Vistara. British Airways currently has flights to Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad albeit not on a daily basis.
Second, a private PCR test is necessary 72 hours prior to departure with a negative result. The most cost-effective option in Blackburn is Premier Clinic which charges £99.
Third, the Indian Government requires airlines to submit passenger information prior to travelling. The airlines contact passengers to complete a form.
Fourth, the Indian Government requires international passengers to complete the Air Suvidha Self Declaration Form where the traveller’s passport copy and PCR test report must be submitted prior to travel. Strangely, the form requires the seat number and it is not possible to check in online. Thus, this must be completed at the airport once the seat number is known.
Once the form is completed, the system provides a link to book and pay for a PCR test upon arrival into India. It is advised to book this in advance, though it is not necessary to do so. The cost is 800 Indian Rupees (£8). Prior to travelling, it is important to keep on reviewing the rules as they keep on changing. (The UK Government now requires travellers to complete a declaration form for international travel before travelling, this came into effect on 8 March 2021).
Thus, in the name of Allah, I book my flights, take the PCR test and thereafter begin my journey on Wednesday 24 February 2021, travelling on the 1.25pm British Airways flight from Manchester to London Heathrow and thereafter on the 4.30pm onward flight from London Heathrow to Delhi. Both Manchester and London Heathrow Airports are deserted. Only passengers are permitted in the terminal. British Airways normally flies out from Terminal 3 in Manchester. However, Terminal 3 is closed and Terminal 1 is used.
Wearing a mask is necessary at the Airport and on the flight. Due to the new strain, it is also necessary to wear the face protector shield above the face mask throughout the London-Delhi flight. Another form is given to us to complete on the flight as per the Indian Government’s requirements.
The journey from London-Delhi is reasonably comfortable. A Muslim member of staff at the boarding gate in London gives me a free upgrade to Premium Economy which was unexpected. For most of the flight, I work on editing my Arabic treatise on serving the spouses (السراج الوهاج في خدمة الأزواج) which is to be published soon, Inshā Allah.
I have visited India approximately 10 times before. My first trip was in 1997 with my family wherein we toured many towns and cities across India including Agra, Delhi, Lucknow, Saharanpur, Allahabad, Jaipur, Mumbai and Ahmedabad. It was during this trip we met Shaykh Abū al-Ḥasan ʿAlī al-Nadwī (d. 1420/1999) in Lucknow, and travelled with our respected Shaykh al-Ḥadīth Mawlānā Muḥammad Yūnus Jownpūrī (d. 1438/2017) to Banda, UP and his ancestral village, Jaunpur. Subsequently, I visited India in 2004 and thereafter many times. Most recently, I travelled to India in December 2018 and also in December 2019. Brief travelogues of my 2014 visit and 2015 visit are also available online, and therefore, this travelogue will avoid repeating what is outlined in earlier travelogues.
Day 1 – Thursday 25 February 2021
From Blackburn to Deoband
Arrival into Delhi
The flight arrives into Delhi at 6am, half an hour ahead of schedule. All passengers are required to complete another form and a sample is taken to test for Covid-19. Until recently, travellers were required to wait at the airport for up to 9 hours to wait for the test result. However, this is no longer necessary and travellers can leave once the sample is taken. Thus, after performing Fajr Ṣalāh and going through immigration, I exit the Airport at 7.30am.
From Delhi to Deoband
Our respected Sayyid Mawlānā Arshad Madanī (b. 1360/1941) had arranged for Mawlānā ʿAbdul Qadīr from Jamiat Ulema Hind and Brother Ṣalāḥuddīn from the Madani Charitable Trust to receive me. We immediately depart for Deoband and stop at the Jamiat’s office in Delhi. Here, I meet with my friend Mawlānā Ḥakīmuddīn, who travels to the UK regularly on behalf of the other Jamiat.
We arrive in Deoband at 11.30am and are received by Sayyid Mawlānā Arshad Madanī at his new home. In 2014, I had visited him at his old home close to the Darul Uloom. My maternal grandfather was very close to him and his elder brother Mawlānā Asʿad Madanī (d. 1427/2006). Some fond memories are shared.
Madani Charitable Trust
We eat lunch together and thereafter visit some of the programmes run by the Madani Charitable Trust, including the BEd College, the neighbouring boys’ schools and the construction of a degree college which is underway. We also visit the Girls school run by the Trust. The Trust was established by Mawlānā Arshad Ṣāḥib some 20 years ago and runs 15 seminaries across UP, Punjab and Haryana along with several education institutions and other charitable programmes including supporting 126 widows with financial grants.
Mufti Abū al-Qāsim Nuʿmānī
Later in the day, we visit the Darul Uloom and meet with the current Shaykh al-Ḥadīth, Mufti Abū al-Qāsim Nuʿmānī (b. 1366/1947) who recently wrote a foreword to my book, al-ʿIqd al-Thamīn fī Ḥubb al-Nabī al-Amīn ﷺ. He is delivering a short speech and serves us tea thereafter.
I gift him my Arabic book on Black Muslims Tadhkirat al-Aʿlām al-Sūd. Mufti Ṣāḥib comments that he recently read an article which featured an image of a black student in USA who was sat in a row alone at the back during his graduation ceremony not so long ago. I also gift him my respected father Mufti Shabbir Ahmad’s (b. 1376/1957) 40 ḥadīth collection on Adhān. I also convey Ṣalām to him from my cousin, Mawlānā Khalīl ibn Mawlānā Hāshim, who like him is a disciple of Mufti Maḥmūd Ḥasan Gangohī (d. 1417/1996).
The Grand-Library of Darul Uloom Deoband
Thereafter, we visit the grand library of Darul Uloom which is in the final stages of construction. The deputy vice-chancellor, Mawlānā ʿAbdul Khāliq Madrāsī, who is a jolly person gives me a tour of all seven floors of the building. The interior and exterior are both impressive. The circular building is visible from the main highway. Along with the library, the Darul Hadith will be based here. It will also serve as a conference facility.
A family friend donated large sum to this project and requested me to visit it. There have been delays over the years due to several reasons. There were also some planning issues two years ago which resulted in negative media coverage. Contrary to media reports, Mawlānā ʿAbdul Khāliq confirms to me that there will be no helipad on the roof of the building. There will be a dome, he explains. Covid-19 has also contributed to the delays. It is hoped that the project will finish within 12-18 months. I jokingly say to Mawlānā that when I visit for the inauguration, I want him to be present!
Shaykh Niʿmat Allah al-Aʿzamī
After performing Maghrib Ṣalāh in Darul Uloom’s main mosque, Masjid al-Rashīd, we visit Shaykh Niʿmat Allah al-Aʿzamī at his residence, a small quarter which I understand belongs to Darul Uloom.
Shaykh Niʿmat Allah is a ḥadīth expert who has authored several books including an Urdu commentary on the Muqaddimah (preface) of Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim. He also kindly wrote a foreword to my book, al-ʿIqd al-Thamīn fī Ḥubb al-Nabī al-Amīn ﷺ. This is my first ever meeting with him. He requests me to convey Salām to my respected father and describes him as a simple person, explaining how they first met in the room of Shaykh al-Ḥadīth Mawlānā Muḥammad Yūnus Jownpūrī (d. 1438/2017) in Saharanpur a few years ago. I gift him the aforementioned two books and request him to make Duʿāʾ for my forthcoming work on the ḥadīths of Hidāyah. I also request him for ijāzah in al-Ḥadīth al-Musalsal bi al-Awwaliyyah. He politely declines and mentions that this is a tradition of Saharanpur.
On return to Mawlānā Arshad Madanī’s house, we visit Maktabah Ashrafiyyah to obtain some books, in particular, the first three volumes and the final volume of Hidayatul Quran by Mufti Saʿīd Aḥmad Pālanpūrī (d. 1441/2020) that were completed in the end by him. Mawlānā Muḥammad ʿUthmān Kāshif Ilāhī started this Urdu commentary and completed the Tafsīr of Juz 1-9 and 30, and these sections were authored by Mufti Ṣāḥib at the end. Thus, the Mufti Ṣāḥib has a full tafsīr to his name.
Mawlānā Sufyān ibn Mawlānā Sālim Qāsmī
After eating dinner with Mawlānā Arshad Ṣāḥib and performing ʿIshāʾ Ṣalāh, I visit Mawlānā Muḥammad Sufyān Qāsmī (b. 1374/1954) and his son, my dear friend Dr. Mawlānā Shakaib at their residence. Mawlānā Sufyān Ṣāḥib is the current rector of Darul Uloom Deoband (Waqf). He is grandson of Ḥakīm al-Islām Qārī Muḥammad Ṭayyib (d. 1403/1983), who is the grandson of Mawlānā Qāsim Nānowtwī (d. 1297/1880).
Mawlānā Sufyān Ṣāḥib and his son are both men of impeccable character and humility and are extremely hospitable. Whenever I visit India, they leave no stone unturned in welcoming me and making the journey comfortable. Due to shortage of time, I could not spend much time with them. Nevertheless, in the short time I was with them, they warmly welcome me and also supported me with PCR tests for my onward and return journey.
During the day, I also meet with Mufti Nuʿmān Sītāpūrī, a young Mufti at the Darul Uloom, who I had communicated with on several Covid-related matters.
It has been a long day and it is time to rest.
Day 2 – Friday 26 February 2021
Visit to Gangoh and Saharanpur
In the morning after Fajr Ṣalāh, I eat breakfast with Mawlānā Arshad Ṣāḥib who has gone out of his way once again in preparing special food for me.
We discuss the importance of Muslim schools to preserve the faith of Muslim children and in particular the girls. Mawlānā explains that co-education is acceptable at primary level, not at secondary level.
We also discuss the proposed changes to the education system which will make it mandatory upon all seminaries to provide school education up to a particular age. Mawlānā proposes running both education systems in parallel up to a particular age and thereafter providing different pathways. Running both education systems in parallel is the norm among Muslim seminaries in the UK.
On a separate note, my dear friend Mawlānā Khalil Kazi of Medina Academy Dewsbury had sent a letter with me requesting Mawlānā Arshad Ṣāḥib to write a foreword to his forthcoming Urdu book on the life of our respected Mawlānā Yusuf Motala Ṣāḥib Raḥimahullāh (d. 1441/2019). I briefed Mawlānā and without opening the letter, he recorded a few minutes for the foreword.
Sayyid Mawlānā Maḥmūd Madanī
At 8.15am, I meet my dear friend Mawlānā Sayyid Maḥmūd Madani (d. 1383/1964) at his residence in Deoband over a grand breakfast. Mawlānā is a visionary with excellent inter-personal skills. He is extremely hospitable. We discuss a range of political and religious issues including the challenges posed by Covid-19 and the organisational structure of Jamiat and improvements in governance. Mawlānā requests me to visit their education project in Masuri, in the outskirts of Delhi. He also shows me the small education institute ‘Jamiah Zaynab lil Banat’ established next to his residence.
We also visit the large library within his house complex that specializes in the books pertaining to deviant sects. They include the collection of his father Mawlānā Asʿad Madanī (d. 1427/2006) and grandfather Shaykh al-Islam Mawlānā Ḥusayn Aḥmad Madanī (d. 1377/1957).
Whilst with Mawlānā, I also meet his cousin, Mawlānā ʿAffān Manṣūrpūrī, the younger brother of Mufti Muḥammad Salmān Manṣūrpūrī (b. 1386/1967). Mawlānā ʿAffān is active in Amroha and the surrounding district.
Shaykh al-Hind Mawlānā Maḥmūd Ḥasan Deobandī’s family member
At 10am, Mawlānā Arshad Ṣāḥib’s son, Mawlānā Azhad takes me to visit Shaykh al-Hind Mawlānā Maḥmūd Ḥasan Deobandī’s (d. 1339/1920) maternal granddaughter’s paternal grandson who urgently requires a house. The construction has begun and additional funds are required for this. Shaykh al-Ḥind’s legacy and contribution is acknowledged by Muslims and non-Muslims, as outlined in my travelogues on Malta.
From Deoband to Gangoh
At 10.30am, I bid farewell to Mawlānā Arshad Ṣāḥib who gifts me several books. They include the first volume of Hadiyyat al-Aḥwadhī liman Yuṭāliʿ Tuḥfat al-Aḥwadhī wherein Mawlānā has attempted to defend the ḥanafī position and respond to Mawlānā ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Mubārakpūrī (d. 1353/1935). The first volume covers the book of purity.
Another book he gifts me is ʿAllāmah Ibn Wahbān’s (d. 768/1367) Manẓūmah’s commentary by ʿAllāmah Ibn al-Shiḥnah (d. 921/1515) which was published by him.
I leave Deoband with our family friend, Azim Bhai from Saharanpur, who was a close associate of our respected Shaykh Muḥammad Yūnus Jownpūrī. We travel to Gangoh which is an hour’s drive from Deoband. Our first stop is the grave of the great Muḥaddīth and Jurist, Mawlānā Rashīd Aḥmad Gangohī (d. 1323/1905) who is undoubtedly the intellectual founder and powerhouse of the Deobandi tradition. As Mawlānā Arshad Ṣāhib said to me earlier, “The foundation of our maslak (method/path) was laid by Mawlānā Rashīd Aḥmad Gangohī, not Mawlānā Qāsim Nānotwī.”
We offer our Salām at Mawlānā’s grave and at other graves in the complex.
There is a Masjid neighbouring these graves, and our local guide Mawlānā Munawwar Ḥasan informs us that this is where Mawlānā taught ḥadīth for many years.
It was here that Shaykh al-Ḥadīth Mawlānā Muḥammad Zakariyyā Kāndhelwī’s (d. 1402/1982) father Mawlānā Yaḥyā Ṣāḥib (d. 1334/1916) studied the Ṣiḥāḥ Sittah with him and wrote notes in Arabic. Lāmīʿ al-Dirārī and al-Kawkab al-Durrī feature these invaluable notes on Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī and Sunan al-Tirmidhī respectively. Our respected Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani (b. 1362/1943) correctly describes these notes as “daryā ba kūzah” (ocean within a cup), referring to their brevity and profound depth.
Our local guide informs us that after Mawlānā’s demise, ḥadīth durus (lessons) in Gangoh did not resume until several decades later. Today, in Gangoh, there is a large Madrasah, Jamia Ashraful Uloom Rasheedi which offers the full Dars Nizami syllabus. Prior to visiting this, we visit Madrasah Madniya Taleem-Ul-Quran neighbouring Mawlānā’s grave complex. This Madrasah was established by Mawlānā Arshad Madanī Ṣāḥib and offers Quran classes as well as the early years of the ʿĀlim course.
Thereafter, we visit Jamia Ashraful Uloom Rasheedi, where Mawlānā Munawwar Ḥusayn is also a teacher.
Most seminaries in UP were closed until recently due to the pandemic. Recently, the seminaries in Deoband and Saharanpur requested most students to return. However, many students have not yet returned; some have taken up employment in their localities whilst some parents are apprehensive. Looking ahead, this is a huge challenge facing the seminaries across India, where seminaries have remained closed since March 2020.
Struggle of seminaries and Ulama
It follows from this that seminaries across India are struggling to make ends meet. Many seminaries have had to make staff redundant whilst others simply cannot afford their salaries. Some have resorted to halving the salaries which were already low. I met a full time Tajwīd teacher in my ancestral village of Jogvad later in the journey whose 6000 rupees (£60) monthly salary was halved to 3000 rupees (£30), this is £1 a day.
Established seminaries and those with international connections have found some means of sustaining themselves. However, smaller seminaries and those without any connections are struggling as they were unable to raise any funds in other regions of India and elsewhere. Al-Ḥamdulillāh, many organisations in the UK are raising funds for the affected scholars and seminaries, and I also distributed £11,000 to seven seminaries on behalf of some colleagues in the UK.
From Gangoh to Saharanpur
We leave Gangoh after midday and head to Saharanpur which is an hour’s drive. We perform Jumuʿah Ṣalāh at a local Masjid and thereafter eat lunch at Azim Bhai’s house where we are joined by Mawlānā Javid Nadwi who has travelled from Ambala to meet me.
Mawlānā runs the Jamia Darus Salam in Ambala and has a unique project of liberating Masjids and repairing them in the Punjab region. These are Masjids that were abandoned during partition and taken over by non-Muslim migrants. According to research conducted by the Punjab Waqf Board in 2011, there are approximately 20,000 Masjids that were abandoned in this manner. A lot of work is required in relation to these mosques.
Kacha Ghar – Khanqah
At 2.30pm, I head to Kacha Ghar with Azim Bhai on his motorbike. This is the former residence of Shaykh al-Ḥadīth Mawlānā Muḥammad Zakariyyā Kāndhelwī and thereafter his son, Mawlānā Talha Ṣāḥib (d. 1440/2019) who also led the Khanqah from here. After his demise, Sayyid Mawlānā Muḥammad Salmān Maẓāhirī (d. 1441/2020) was appointed the head of Khanqah, and after his demise, his son Mawlānā ʿUthmān was appointed its head. I meet with Mawlānā ʿUthmān and his younger brother Mawlānā Thawbān and offer my condolences on the demise of his father.
Thereafter, I proceed to the residence of Mawlānā Muḥammad, the younger brother of Mawlānā Salmān Ṣāḥib. Mawlānā Muḥammad visited us many times for donation collections for Mazahirul Uloom Saharanpur. He welcomes me to his home and feeds us lunch. We sit for an hour discussing a range of issues.
Mazahirul Uloom Saharanpur and Maktabah Shaykh Muḥammad Yūnus Jownpūrī
At 4pm, I head to Mazahirul Uloom Saharanpur and visit Maktabah Shaykh Muḥammad Yūnus Jownpūrī.
This is where Shaykh spent some thirty years of his life. After Shaykh’s demise, Mawlānā Salmān Ṣāḥib and my respected father among others decided to convert the quarter into a library featuring all of Shaykh’s books. The library is now complete, and most of the books are indexed. Mawlānā Salmān Ṣāḥib’s son, Mawlānā Thawbān Ṣāḥib is responsible for the library, he explains that the indexing work will be complete soon. He gives me access to Shaykh’s Sunan al-Nasāī of which I require some photocopies.
Shaykh’s personal collection has many books with his invaluable footnotes. I outlined the names of some of these books in my Urdu article on Shaykh’s footnotes on Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim and his other works. May Allah Almighty give tawfīq to students of knowledge to work on and publish these works.
Mawlānā Mukarram Ḥusayn, Sansarpur and Muzaffarabad
At 5pm, we head to the village of Sansarpur, which is a 30-minute drive from Saharanpur city. Here, we meet 88-year-old Mawlānā Sayyid Mukarram Ḥusayn (b. 1352/1933) who is the one of the two remaining disciples of Mawlānā Shāh ʿAbd al-Qādir Rāipūrī (d. 1382/1962), the other is Mufti ʿAbdul Ganī of Raipur.
The meeting with Mawlānā Mukarram Ḥusayn was kindly arranged by his disciple, our dear Mawlānā Masʿūd ʿAzīzī Nadwī who meets us at the Masjid in Sansarpur. A Nikāḥ gathering is taking place. We meet with Mawlānā Mukarram Ṣāḥib and thereafter head to Mawlānā Masʿūd’s village, Muzaffarbad, which is at a ten minutes distance.
We first stop at a construction site, where Mawlānā Masʿūd is building a medical college and a hospital.
After making duʿāʾ, we perform Maghrib Ṣalāh in the Masjid neighbouring the Madrasah which Mawlānā runs. However, due to shortage of time, we are unable to visit the Madrasah.
Return to Delhi
Immediately after Maghrib Ṣalāh, we return to Saharanpur and head to the train station. I board the 8pm Shatabdi Express train and arrive into Delhi after 11pm. I check into The Park Hotel and rest for the evening. Hotels are cheap at the moment due to low demand.
Day 3 – Saturday 27 February 2021
From Delhi to Calcutta
Visitors from Mewat
The morning begins with meeting Mawlānā Jābir and his father who runs the Madrasah Darul Uloom Zakariya in Mewat. Mawlānā Jābir studied under our respected Shaykh al-Ḥadīth Mawlānā Muḥammad Yūnus Jownpūrī in Saharanpur and has done extensive work on some of the recent publications of Shaykh al-Ḥadīth Mawlānā Muḥammad Zakariyyā Kāndhelwī. Both father and son have travelled along with some of their colleagues to my hotel to meet me. They kindly gift me some honey. Along with Kashmir, Mewat is famous for its honey.
Jamiat Housing Programme
At 11.30am, I leave the hotel with Mufti ʿAbdur Rāziq Ṣāḥib from Mawlānā Arshad Ṣāḥib’s Jamiat who takes me to the Khajuri area of Delhi where Jamiat has built houses for families affected in the riots of 2019. During my previous visit to India in December 2019, we visited a hospital near the Jamia Millia Islamia University and neighbouring areas that were affected by the riots. The Khajuri area was also affected. We meet with families whose houses were burnt down. The Jamiat along with other NGOs played a significant role in supporting the affected families.
Masuri Education Complex
At 12.15pm, Mawlānā Ghayyūr from Mawlānā Maḥmūd Ṣāḥib’s Jamiat collects me from Khajūrī and we head to Masuri, which is over an hour’s drive in the direction of Moradabad. Masuri is located in the Ghaziabad district of Uttar Pradesh. On route, we pass a prison where many hundreds of Tabligh Jamat members were wrongly imprisoned last year during the beginning of the pandemic. Jamiat Ulema supported them with food and other items at the time.
In Masuri, Mawlānā Maḥmūd Ṣāḥib along with Dr Muhammad Muqaddam has constructed a beautiful boarding school by the name of Zaytun International Academy.
There is also construction underway for a large academic block which will train people on a range of Civil Service roles.
There are also plans to construct a Masjid within this complex. I suggest that the Masjid should have segregated facilities for the female students who will be residing in the female hostel nearby and studying in the academic block.
Vasant Vihar Madrasah
We leave Masuri after 2pm and return back to Delhi. Some interesting jurisprudential discussions are held with Mawlānā Ghayyūr Ṣāḥib. The importance of understanding the rationale and wisdom behind jurisprudential rulings and appreciating the context of each era cannot be ignored. As an example, the issue of Jumuʿah Ṣalāh in the homes during the pandemic was subject to discussion. I suggest that the notion of keeping the door of the house open to fulfil the Idhn ʿĀm (general permission) condition was somewhat superficial. Either recommend Dhuhr Ṣalāh which was our preferred view, or say that the condition of Idhn ʿĀm is removed due to need. We also discuss the importance of Jumuʿah Ṣalāh in prisons and its impact in the UK. I request Mawlānā to consider establishing a network of Imams and liaising with the prison authorities in this regard.
At 3.45pm, we arrive at Madrasah Abdul Mannan Al-Islamia and Shahi Masjid in Moradabad Pahari, Vasant Vihar, which is very close to the Airport. This is a heritage site, with its roots traced to back to the Tughlaq era, wherein a saint by name of Syed Murad Ali Baba Shah settled in the Aravali Forest. After him this area got named Moradabad Ki Pahari.
Today, it is home to a Madrasah which was established by Mawlānā Faḍl al-Raḥmān ibn Mawlānā ʿAbdul Mannān Ṣāḥib in order to preserve the historic site. Mawlānā Faḍl al-Raḥmān Ṣāḥib was known for his poetry. The Madrasah is currently managed by his son, my dear friend Mawlānā Saʿd Ṣāḥib. During my first visit to India in 1997, we stayed here. My father was very close to Mawlānā Faḍl al-Raḥmān Ṣāḥib and makes every effort to support the Madrasah. Currently, there is some extension work ongoing for student hostels.
From Delhi to Calcutta
Immediately after lunch and performing Dhuhr and ʿAṣr Ṣalāh, I proceed to the Airport and travel on the 6.40pm Indigo flight to Calcutta, which arrives after 9pm. Mawlānā Abū Ṣāliḥ receives me, we eat dinner at a local restaurant and I rest at the ITC.
Day 4 – Sunday 28 February 2021
Meeting Scholars in Haroa
After resting in the morning, we travel to Haroa which is an hour’s drive from Calcutta city. We arrive at Millat Girls’ School at 3.30pm. I have visited this school previously on three different journeys. The purpose of today’s visit is to meet with some scholars who have received an e-rickshaw or diesel engine van from Ummah Welfare Trust enabling them to stand up on their own feet. This economic empowerment programme for scholars and the poor is vital. Imams in this region do not generally earn more than 5000 INR (£50) per month. Maktab teachers earn much less. In fact, some Maktab teachers do not receive any salary. Providing them with an e-rickshaw that costs £1600 or a diesel engine van that cost £1000 enables them to earn an average of £120-£150 per month. This provides a reliable and dignified form of income.
Two weeks ago, the charity distributed 20 e-rickshaws and 10 diesel engine vans to 30 scholars and needy people. Both vehicles have their advantages and disadvantages. Of the 30 beneficiaries, 25 have come today from different parts of West Bengal to share their experiences. I meet an 80-year-old who served as a Muazzin for 12 years without any salary. He has a cycle rickshaw which provides him an average of 1000 rupees (£10) per month. The charity decided to give an e-rickshaw to his son so that the father and the entire family is supported.
I interview many of the scholars and learn that their income has increased substantially due to this programme. The importance of them continuing with the work of Dīn is emphasised and they all commit to this. In addition, they are requested not to sell the vehicles for any short-term gain.
I return to Calcutta and rest for the evening.
Day 5 – Monday 1 March 2021
Distribution of rickshaws
In the morning, we return to Millat Girls’ School in Haroa and distribute 22 e-rickshaws and 8 diesel engine vans to 30 Imams, scholars and the poor. We also meet with the manufacturers of both types of vehicles to gain a better understanding.
Interestingly, some of the beneficiaries include Imams who have all had to seek consent from the management committees of their mosques to partake in this project. They are committed to continue with their Imam roles, which is very important.
At 1pm, I meet with Mawlānā ʿAbdus Salām at the Darul Uloom Al-Jamia al-Islamia in Kalikapur. He the main person responsible for the charity’s work here. He is also a Board (Shūrā) member of Darul Uloom Deoband. We discuss several governance and project related matters.
Whilst in Haroa, we also visit the Tahiria Hospital run by Mawlānā ʿAbdul Salām. We also visit Al-Hashim International Academy run by Mawlānā Anwar, a graduate of Darul Uloom Jogwad. Neighbouring this is Khayrunnisa Academy for Girls which is currently under construction.
Kantakhali, Hingalganj, Hasnabad
Our next stop is Kantakhali, Hingalganj in Hasanabad. This is a 90-minute drive from Haroa and 2.5 hours from Calcutta. We arrive at 4.45pm. This region bordering Bangladesh is from among the poorest regions of West Bengal. When I visited this region previously, we had to travel via boat to cross the river. A bridge has been built since.
The purpose of visiting this region today is that my respected teacher Qārī Zakir Husayn messaged me two days ago to distribute £500 to some of the neediest people in the region. I therefore decided to visit this village and distribute 1000 INR (£10) to 50 widows and poor women who were carefully selected in advance by the local scholars. Naturally, many other people gathered and I distributed some additional money. When standing on the river bank, Bangladesh is visible on the other side. The poverty here is such that many families live in mud houses and dwellings made of straw.
We perform ʿAṣr Ṣalāh at the local Masjid that was built by Ummah Welfare Trust via the donations of Haji Sharif Usman Nargoliwala and Hajiyani Matina Ahmed Usman and their families. A Maktab class is also ongoing. May Allah make it a means of perpetual reward for them.
We return to Calcutta which is 2.5 hours from this village. At our hotel, I meet with Mufti Shahid Ṣāḥib who runs a small Quran institute near Calcutta Airport.
Day 6 – Tuesday 1 March 2021
From West Bengal to Gujarat
Morning flight to Surat
Initially, I had planned to travel to Surat in the afternoon. However, there are only two morning flights to Surat due to Covid-19. I therefore travel on the 8.55am SpiceJet flight and arrive into Surat at 11.15am. My dear friend Mawlānā Yūsuf Ṣāḥib, a close confident and neighbour of my dear friend Mufti Maḥmūd Bardolī in Dabhel, receives me at the Airport. He is also involved in Noorani Makatib, an organisation founded by Mufti Maḥmūd Ṣāḥib which runs several hundred Maktabs across Gujarat.
Mobile Funeral Vehicle
Our first stop on route to Dabhel is Un where we inspect a unique mobile funeral vehicle which is used to bathe and shroud the deceased. This is an invaluable project setup by Noorani Makatib because there are no communal bathing facilities in Gujarat, and many poor people struggle to bathe the deceased in their small dwellings. During the Covid-19 crisis, the vehicle was used daily at least once.
Noorani Makatib has also purchased another vehicle which serves as a mobile ambulance and medical clinic. However, it has a dual purpose and can also be used to bathe and shroud the deceased.
The cost of purchasing a vehicle and converting it into a mobile funeral van with bathing facilities is £20,000. At the moment, the vehicle is only serving the Surat region. However, there is a need to expand this in Ahmedabad and other regions.
Mosque and Maktab Container, Sachin
Our next step is Sachin which is home to hundreds of families who live in makeshift houses and tents. Many of these families are from Bihar and Rajasthan who moved here to earn a better income. However, there is no provision for the education of their children. With this in mind, Noorani Makatib has setup a £2000 container which serves as the Masjid and Maktab. The reason for not building a permanent structure here is that the land does not belong to these people and they could be evicted at any point. Thus, if they are evicted, the mobile container can move with them.
Some people assume that there is no poverty within the Surat region. This is evidently wrong. Sometimes grand structures of seminaries and bungalows conceal the grassroot realities not too far away.
Mufti Aḥmad Khānpūrī Ṣāḥib
We arrive into Dabhel after 1pm and perform Dhuhr Ṣalāh at Maḥmūdnagar. After Ṣalāh, our respected Mufti Aḥmad Khānpūrī Ṣāḥib (b. 1365/1946) invites me to his residence for lunch. We discuss Covid-19 related issues and how many people are focused on keeping people away from the Masjids. I mention to him how a Muslim Council officer in Blackburn wrote to a mosque advising them not to allow people to use the Quran as this would result in them spending more time in the mosque! We also discuss the salary of scholars in the UK and India.
Mufti Ṣāḥib gifts me a whole bag of his books including his recently published Urdu commentary of Shamāil, Maḥmūd al-Khaṣāil fī Sharḥ al-Shamāil.
Mufti Maḥmūd Bardolī Ṣāḥib
At 2.15pm, I meet with my dear friend Mufti Maḥmūd Bardolī Ṣāḥib. Mufti Ṣāḥib is a senior lecturer of Tafsīr at the Dabhel seminary and is also the founder of Noorani Makatib. The charity works closely with Ummah Welfare Trust and we discuss the various programmes including Makatib and support for scholars affected by Covid-19. It has already been mentioned above that scholars are struggling a lot at the moment across India.
Many scholars have also passed away in the pandemic and it is a sad reality that once they pass away, the employers do not look after their widows and family. Mufti Ṣāḥib explains that most Darul Uloom teachers live in residences provided by the Darul Ulooms, and once they pass away, the families are requested to leave. Many have nowhere to stay. I request Mufti Ṣāḥib to undertake a survey of such widows and promise to support them, with the help of Allah Almighty.
Mufti Ṣāḥib also gifts me some of his books, including copies of volume 5 of Deykhī Huwī Dunyā which features the travelogues of Malta and Cyprus. The book is also available online on the following link: https://nooranimakatib.com/kitab/urdu-kitab/.
Some other meetings
At 4pm, I meet with Sikandar Bhai and his son of Surat. They are doing some good charity work in Punjab and other regions.
At 5pm, I meet with Ayaz Bhai who has travelled all the way from Jamnagar in North Gujarat. He is also doing some good charity work in his area.
After ʿAṣr Ṣalāh, I meet with the Muhtamim (rector) of the Dabhel seminary, Mawlānā Aḥmad Buzurg Ṣāḥib at his residence.
Mawlānā Ṣāliḥ Ṣāḥib
After Maghrib Ṣalāh, we head to Darul Uloom Kafleta to meet Mawlānā Ṣāliḥ Ṣāḥib, who is a senior ḥadīth lecturer at the seminary there and a student of Shaykh al-Ḥadīth Mawlānā Muḥammad Yūnus Jownpūrī. Mawlānā is also my father’s half-sister’s brother, and my mother in law’s maternal uncle.
After spending some time here, Mawlānā Yūsuf Ṣāḥib takes us to the nearby Dawat Restaurant, the leg of the lamb will remain a memory.
After dinner, we travel to Navsari to meet my father’s uncle, Haji Abdul Qadir who is originally a resident of Canada and from the early Muslims there. Our respected Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani (b. 1362/1943) has also mentioned him in his Jahāne Dīdah. He is extremely hospitable and always welcoming and becomes very emotional when departing from him. He insists I spend the night with him.
We leave Navsari and head to my ancestral village Jogwad. On route, we stop at Nagdhara to meet my wife’s paternal aunty and her family. We arrive at Darul Uloom Jogwad at 11.30pm and I rest for the night here. The mosquitoes are starting to bite!
Day 7 – Wednesday 2 March 2021
From Gujarat to Mumbai
In the morning, I tour Darul Uloom Zakariya which was setup by our respected teacher, Mawlānā Hāshīm Ṣāḥib (b. 1363/1944), as outlined in a previous travelogue. Currently, most students are at home, only the final year students have been recalled.
I spend the rest of the morning visiting relatives and the elders in Jogwad and neighbouring village of Bhoriya with Mawlānā Ilyās Ṣāḥib, the Muhtamim (rector) of the Darul Uloom. I also visit the Aisha Siddiqa school run by brother Muhammad Ali. When I visited the school in 2015, it had 300 pupils between the ages of 3 and 13. Today, it has more than 450 students until college age. I remind them to start a part time ʿĀlim and ʿĀlimah class and use the staff from the Darul Uloom and Banat Madrasah for this. This will also provide additional income to the teachers. This is necessary because the vast majority of the local children are now attending the school.
In the afternoon, I eat lunch at my father’s uncle, Ḥājī Kamāluddīn’s residence. A few months ago, he passed away from Covid-19 and was buried in the village’s general graveyard. We also visit the graveyard. He was extremely punctual on his Ṣalāh. May Allah Almighty grant him an abode in Jannatul Firdaws.
Later in the afternoon, Mawlānā Yūsuf collects me and we head to Vapi. I take the 6.55pm Shatabdi Express train from Vapi and arrive into Mumbai at 9.20pm. As Covid-19 is on the rise in Maharashtra, Covid-19 tests are being conducted at the station. I inform them that I had a negative test earlier and therefore do not need another test. They allow me to go. I check into the ITC and rest for the evening.
Day 8 – Thursday 3 March 2021
Nathani Charitable Trust, Mumbai
Today, I spend several hours with the CEO of Nathani Charitable Trust and its founder Mr. Hamid Nathani at their offices near Central Mumbai Train Station. The Trust’s focus is providing education scholarships from primary all the way to Higher Education, and thousands of students have been supported over the years. Some detailed discussions take place in this regard.
Day 9 – Friday 4 March 2021
Final day in India
Juma (Jame) Masjid, Mumbai
This is one of the highlights of this journey and my first visit to the Juma (Jame) Masjid of Mumbai. This historic Masjid is located in the Kalbadevi area, near the Crawford Market in South Mumbai. Its construction begun in 1775 and the first phase was completed in 1808. The first Jumuʿah Ṣalāh took place in 1802. One of the Imams of this Masjid is my dear friend, Mufti Muḥammad Ashfāq Qāḍī Ṣāḥib who visited us in the UK 2-3 years ago and shared some information about some manuscripts that he had restored in the Masjid. Ever since, I had a desire to visit him in Mumbai. It so happened that a few days ago, I met him in Sansarpur and thereafter in Muzaffarabad and agreed to meet him in Mumbai.
I arrive at this historic Masjid at 11.30am and am guided to Mufti Ṣāḥib’s room on the first floor. Mufti Ṣāḥib welcomes me and shares with me a brief history of the Masjid and the library therein. The library has over a thousand Arabic, Persian and Urdu manuscripts along with published books. In 1835, Madrasah Muḥammadiyyah was established at the Masjid which perhaps explains the origins of the library. The Madrasah ceased to exist several decades ago and was replaced by a school. Since then, the manuscripts were not paid attention to and become disorganised. When Mufti Ṣāḥib was appointed Imam here and he started to look into the history of the Masjid and the manuscripts, he commenced work on this and after several years of painstaking work, all the manuscripts were catalogued, preserved and scanned. Further details on the history of the mosque, the Madrasah and the library are available in Jāmiʿ Masjid Bambay – Tārīkh key Āyney mey, a short Urdu treatise authored by Mufti Ṣāḥib himself.
A detailed catalogue of all the manuscripts and published books in the library is also published and available.
Mufti Ṣāḥib shares his personal journey with me and the achievements are self-evident. His efforts in preserving these manuscripts whilst carefully navigating the organisational and financial challenges and obstacles deserve recognition.
We discuss a number of jurisprudential issues including the Covid-19 vaccines. I noticed throughout my journey that there is a lot of scepticism about the vaccines. Interestingly, the Jame Masjid is Shāfiʿī and Mufti Ṣāḥib himself is a Shāfiʿī. This relates to the roots of the Masjid and the early inhabitants of Mumbai who were from Kokan. This notwithstanding the fact that most of the Muṣallīs now are Ḥanafī.
We perform Jumuʿah Ṣalāh behind another Imam. The Khuṭbah is delivered in Arabic followed by Ṣalāh. After the post-Jumuʿah nafl Ṣalāh, the Imam delivers the Urdu translation of the Arabic Khuṭbah and most people remain seated. It is interesting to learn that taṣallub (rigidity) is not confined to some of our Ḥanafīs. Some Shāfiʿī Masjids do not have Jumuʿah Ṣalāh even today. I inform Mufti Ṣāḥib of a Masjid in the UK that forces the Shāfiʿī Imam to lead Ṣalāh in the ḥanafī manner, thus he is not allowed to read the Tasmiyah aloud.
We also discuss the issue of whether a business partner can take a salary which is currently subject to discussion at the Indian Fiqh Academy. I share with Mufti Ṣāḥib our old Fatwa in this regard wherein we have granted permission subject to some conditions. It is important to understand the rationale behind some rulings mentioned by jurists and take into account the changing nature of business and corporations.
After Jumuʿah Ṣalāh, we eat lunch and visit the manuscripts library. After quickly scanning through the catalogue, I request to see a commentary of Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, by the name of Al-Khayr al-Jārī fī Sharḥ al-Bukhārī authored by Shaykh Abu Yūsuf Muḥammad Yaʿqūb Lāhorī (d. 1098/1686-7) who passed away in Delhi. The indexing is good and the book is easily accessed. The manuscript here only has volume 2 which begins from the chapter of performing nafl Ṣalāh on the donkey and ends on the chapter of the names of the companions who participated in the battle of Badr. It thus appears that volumes 1 and 3 are missing. The complete manuscript is available in other libraries. This commentary is unpublished as far as I know.
Mufti Ṣāḥib is also responsible for the Darul Ifta at the Masjid here and is involved with the various Fiqh Academies across India.
Mufti ʿAbdur Raḥmān Ajmal
Later in the evening, my dear friend Mufti ʿAbdurraḥmān Ajmal arranges to collect me from the hotel and we meet at his office and discuss the various political challenges faced by Muslims in Assam and generally in India.
We also discuss the various charitable programmes of the Ajmal Foundation and in particular the challenges faced by scholars. It is extremely sad to learn of the story of a scholar who committed suicide due to struggling with finances and not receiving a salary. On the point of suicide, there is currently a media spotlight on the case of a 23-year-old Ayesha Banu from Ahmedabad who committed suicide after the husband made unreasonable and unlawful demands of Jahez, a cultural practice wherein the wife gives money to the husband.
From here, we head to Mufti ʿAbdurraḥmān’s residence for dinner. The Singaporean prawn rice dish is mouth-watering. I speak to Mawlānā Badruddin Ajmal over the phone who is currently in Assam due to the forthcoming state elections.
It is now midnight as the return journey to the UK begins. I have my PCR test report and earlier in the day I completed the Passenger Locator Form and also paid £210 for the two homes tests that are necessary upon return to the UK during day 2 and day 8 of the home quarantine. Thankfully, India is not on the red list of 33 countries, otherwise it would be necessary to quarantine in a hotel at a cost of £1700.
The 2.20am British Airways flight from Mumbai arrives into London Heathrow at 7am. Sunrise in London is approximately 6.45am so I perform Fajr Ṣalāh on the plane. Interestingly, Fajr Ṣalāh time remained for approximately 4 hours prior to landing as we travelled west.
Immigration at London Heathrow takes more than two hours. The UK Border Agency is severely understaffed and the various checks on the PCR certificate, the Passenger Locator Form and the £210 invoice for the home tests takes more time. My onward flight at 10.30am is slightly delayed and I arrive into Manchester at midday.
India’s political situation is at a crossroads. Islamophobia is on the rise and there is a concerted attempt to delegitimise the rights of minorities. The condition of Muslims is worsening on a daily basis. Muslims from all backgrounds must look at the bigger picture and unite to protect their rights. Remaining confined within one’s comfort zone or being content with one’s seminary and position is no longer sustainable. Internal differences of opinions must be put to one side and attention must be focused on preserving Islam and uniting Muslims.
Since March 2020, Covid-19 has brought about other challenges. Seminaries and scholars in general are struggling a lot. The long term must involve empowering scholars to stand up on their own feet and become self-reliant. Dependency on aid has proven to be susceptible.
May Allah Almighty preserve the faith, honour, dignity and wealth of every Muslim and unite the Ummah.
25 Rajab 1442 / 9 March 2021
Note: To read earlier travelogues, visit the following link: