(1863 – 1943)
A prominent Muslim scholar from the Indo-Pak Sub-continent. Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi graduated from the Darul Uloom Deoband in 1884. After his graduation, Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi taught religious sciences in Kanpur for fourteen years. Over a short period of time, he acquired a reputable position as a religious scholar, of Sufism among other subjects. His teaching attracted numerous students and his research and publications became well known in Islamic institutions. During these years, he traveled to various cities and villages, delivering lectures in the hope of reforming people. Printed versions of his lectures and discourses would usually become available shortly after these tours. Until then, few Islamic scholars had had their lectures printed and widely circulated in their own lifetimes. The desire to reform the masses intensified in him during his stay at Kanpur.
Eventually, Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi retired from teaching and devoted himself to reestablishing the spiritual centre (khānqāh) of his shaikh in Thāna Bhāwan. His students and disciples settled in all parts of South Asia.
Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi was a prolific author of sermons, discussions, discourses, treatises, and books. Syed Sulaiman Nadvi said that Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi "was a translator and exegete (mufassir) of the Quran; he explained its injunctions and wisdoms. He removed doubts and answered questions pertaining to it." Moulana Ashraf Ali Thānwī was a scholar of hadīth (muhaddith) as well, and expounded its intricacies and subtleties. He was a jurist (faqīh) who issued thousands of legal rulings (fatawa) and addressed numerous legal problems in contemporary issues in Islamic law (fiqh). He was described as a moving orator (khatib) and hundreds of his speeches have been published and widely circulated.
The propagation of Islam was an essential part of Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi’s life. He was highly organized and would plan his tours well in advance. Thousands of people would attend his lectures, which usually lasted between two and five hours. Once he visited Gajner, a village in the Kanpur district of Uttar Pradesh, when the Arya Samaj had started to preach Hinduism among the Muslims of that area. Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi was able to persuade the Muslims there to promise that they would not commit "apostasy" by converting. To prevent the spread of apostasy, he wrote the treatise, Al-Insidād li-Fitnat-il Irtidād ("Putting a Stop to the Temptation of Apostasy").
Views on politics
Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi debated, mainly using verses of the Quran, that political rule is only a means of instituting Islam in people's lives and not the purpose of life itself. All modern political notions that contradict the Quran and Hadith would have to be forsaken, and the pure political thought reflected in Quranic sources should guide Muslims in organizing and structuring their governments. He was the Murshid of Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani and Mufti Muhammad Shafi who supported Mohammad Ali Jinnah during Pakistan movement.
Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi passed away in Thāna Bhāwan on July 4, 1943. His funeral prayer was led by his nephew, Moulana Zafar Ahmad Uthmānī, and he was buried in the graveyard of 'Ishq-e-Bāzān.