Maulana Ahmad Ali Saharanpuri – A pioneer !
Maulana Ahmad Ali Saharanpuri (1810-80) (1225-1297 Hijri) was a scholar from Saharanpur India whose contributions towards dissemination of Hadith literature in the subcontinent is immense and unforgettable. A student of Shah Muhammad Ishaq Dehalvi, he has the honour of bringing the first print version of Sahih Al Bukhari in the world studded with his highly praised footnotes that offer a synopsis of the renowned earlier commentaries. His marginalia حواشي on مشكوة المصابيح and صحيح_البخاري is still considered a monumental work which took him more than 10 years, creating ease for both teachers and students till today.
Born into a well to do Arab Ansari family of Saharanpur, his genealogy goes this way Ahmad Ali Bin Lutfullah bin Muhammad Jameel bin Shaikh Ahmad Bin Shaikh Muhammad Bin Shaikh Badruddin Bin Sadruddin bin Shaikh Abu Saeed Jauhar Ansari. Shaikh Jauhar Ansari was a Khalifa of Shaikh Abdul Quddus Gangohi.
He was initially tutored by Maulana Saadat Ali , Mufti Ilahi Bakhsh Kandhalvi and Shaikh Wajihuddin Siddiqui Saharanpuri thereafter he travelled to Delhi to study at the feet of Maulana Mamlook Ali Nanutavi. He received Ijazah for Bukhari Shareef first from Shaikh Wajihuddin Siddiqui Saharanpuri but due to his urge to have Ijazat from Shah Ishaq , he travelled to Hijaz and stayed there for two years only to study at the feet of and acquire Ijazah from the great Muhaddith Shah Muhammad Ishaq Dehalvi who had by then migrated to Makkah. Shah Muhammad Ishaq ( 1778-1875 ) was the successor and daughter’s son of the great scholar and Muhaddith Shah Abdul Aziz Dehalvi ( 1746-1824 ).
Upon his return from Hijaz in 1846 , after sometime he acquired a press named Matba-i-Ahmadi at Delhi and from there published the print editions of various books of Ahadeeth , from 1848 to 1857 but after the destruction in the wake of war of independence in 1857 , printing press was destoryed and had to be shifted to Meerut where he had taken up employment with the contractor Shaikh Ilahi Bakhsh. As per the requirement of his employment he had to shift to Calcutta where he continued his work on Ahadeeth including the regular Dars at the local mosque for the ten long years of his stay at Calcutta.
Matba-i-Ahmadi and its publications
He holds an esteemed rank amongst the Hadith scholars of the Indian Subcontinent. He spent more than 10 years in compiling his invaluable footnotes on Sahih al-Bukhari itself. He added marginalia, annotations and footnotes on Bukhari, Tirmizi , Mishkat Al Masabeeh and published Sahih Muslim with the commentary of Imam Nawawi along with a lot of other works of Hadith literature . Even after the initial publications, he constantly reviewed the book and added notes over the footnotes and after the first and second editions; he made corrections and added notes in the third editions of these prints. His efforts in bringing to print the canonical Hadeeth texts have benefitted hundreds of thousands students for the past 150 years. The editions of Sahīh Bukhārī, Jami Tirmidhī, and Mishkāt al-Masābīh available in the Indian subcontinent are adorned with the marginalia of Ahmad Ali Sahāranpūrī.
The first books published by him was Sunan Tirmizi in 1265 Hijri and Bukhari in 1267 (1851) and the first print editions of Bukhari in the world, although few parts of Bukhari had been published somewhere from Europe but the complete set of Bukhari and other books were first printed by Maulana Ahmad Ali Saharanpuri from Delhi.
However during his second Hajj, he was advised by his student and then a great spiritual master Haji Imdadullah Muhajir Makki to leave the employment and indulge in teaching the Hadeeth. Accordingly he returned to Saharanpur in 1874 and started Dars at his residence but shifted to Mazahir ul Uloom. It is noteworthy that Haji Imdadullah studied Gulistan under the tutelage of Maulana Ahmad Ali when he was studying with Maulana Mamlook Ali at Delhi.
Maulana Ahmad Ali received khilafat in the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi tariqa from the famous Scholar Shah Abdul Ghani al-Mujaddidi al-Dehlawi
He wrote an Arabic treatise on the issue of reciting Fatiha behind the Imam titled “Al daleel al Qawi Ala Tark Qirat al Muqtadi” published in 1854 and its urdu edition in 1878.
Since 1865 till 1897, he continued his Dars wherever he stayed, Delhi, Saharanpur, Meerut, Calcutta and back again in Saharanpur. Hundreds of students learnt and benefitted from him.
Among his famous students were Maulana Qasim Nanautwi, Maulana Wasi Ahmad Muhaddis Surati, Maulana Yaqub Nanautwi, Maulana Ahsan Nanautwi, Maulana Muhammad Ali Mungeri ,Maulana Nur Muhammad al-Haqqani (author of the immensely popular Nurani Qa‘ida) , Shibli Nomani and Peer Mehr Ali Shah of Golra, Maulana Deedar Ali Alwari , to name a few.
Maulana Ahmad ‘Ali was struck with paralysis towards the end of his life and left this mortal abode on the 6th of Jamadi al-Awwal 1297 AH.
May Allah shower him, his students and teachers with his mercy !
- Nuzhat al Khawatir Vol VIII Abdul Hayy Hasani
- Tazkirah-i-Muhaddis Surati-Khwaja Razi Haidar
- Tazkirah Mashāhīr-e-Hind: Karwān-e-Rafta- Asir Adrawi
- Islamic Revival in British India: Deoband, 1860-1900
- By Barbara D. MetcalfSyed Mehboob Rizwi. Sawaneh Ulama. 1. p. 243.