Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi
(Following is the summary of Maulana Thanwi’s address to students at M.A.O. College Aligarh delivered in November 1909)
[Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:]
وَاتَّبِعْ سَبِيلَ مَنْ أَنَابَ إِلَيَّ …
“Follow the way of him who has turned to me …” (Qur’an 31:15)
Today we do not propose to speak on a particular theme, but to make a brief survey of the causes which have not so far allowed you to profit from the sermons of the ‘ulema (scholars), and which, if not indicated and remedied now, would render such sermons unprofitable in future too. The causes spring from certain deficiencies in you yourselves.
The first of these deficiencies is that although religious doubts are spiritual ailments, yet you do not regard them as ailments. That is why you never dealt with them in the manner you deal with physical ailments. May Allah protect you from all harm, but whenever it so happens that you fall ill, you never wait for the official physician of the college to come down to your room for himself in order to examine you and to treat you. When you were ill, you must rather have gone to his residence yourself and spoken to him about your illness. And if his treatment did you no good, you must have gone beyond the boundary of the college to the town, and seen the civil surgeon at the hospital.
And, in case even his treatment did no prove effective, you must have left even the town and made a journey to other cities, and must have spent quite a good sum of money in bearing the expenses of the journey, in paying the doctors and in buying medicines. In short, you had no peace of body or mind until you had fully regained your health. This being so, how is it that when you are affected with religious doubts, you just expect that the ‘ulema themselves should attend you? Why do you not turn to them yourselves? And if, during this quest, one ‘alim (scholar) fails to restore your health (either because his answer is not sufficient, or because it not to your taste), why do you not seek other ‘ulema? Why do you jump to the conclusion that your problem is insoluble? You should at least have made a thorough search for its solutions. The expense it entails is almost nothing in comparison with what you spent on a physical cure. What could be simpler than to send a reply-paid post card to any religious scholar you choose, and to ask him whatever you like?
The second deficiency is that you too often have an absolute confidence in your own opinion and judgment, and assume that nothing can be wrong with your way of thinking. This is another reason why you never turn to any religious scholar (‘alim). This is itself a great error, if you seek a verification of your opinion from the ‘ulema, you would soon be aware of the errors you commit.
The third deficiency is that, in religious matters, you are habitually reluctant to follow anyone. That is why you do not accept the authority of any expert in any religious matters, but always pry into explanations, reasons and arguments of everything, while the truth is that one who is not an expert cannot at all do without accepting the authority of an expert. This does not mean that scholars of the shariah do not possess any reasons or arguments. They do possess all that. But many things are beyond your understanding. Just as it is very difficult to explain a theorem of Euclid to a man who is ignorant of the first principles, definitions and other preliminaries necessary for a proper study of geometry in the same way there are certain sciences which serve as instruments and elementary principles for a study of the injunctions of the shariah. Anyone who wishes to understand them fully must necessarily acquire knowledge of these sciences to begin with. But the man who has not the time or the inclination to do so, cannot help accepting the authority of someone else.
I would, therefore, advise you to adopt this method. Whenever you have a doubt with regard to any religious matter, you should continue to put it before different ‘ulema until it has been finally removed, and should in no case rely on your own judgment. If there is something which you are unable to understand perfectly, you had better admit your own short-coming, and then trust and follow those ‘ulema who are experts in their own field. If you adopt this procedure, I do hope that Allah will help you, and you will soon be able to correct your errors.
– Thanwi, Ashraf Ali , Answer to Modernism, Translated by Prof. Hassan Askari, (Karachi: Maktaba Darul Uloom, 1992) 6-8
 M.A.O. College was a boarding institute.
Published : April 30, 2014