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Ardor and eagerness
Ardor and eagerness, without which no real success is possible in any field, were deeply rooted in him. It was by sheer determination and earnestness that he accomplished what he did in spite of persistent ill-health. One day, during his last illness, Maulana Mohammad Ilyas related that "once I was so ill and feeling so weak that I could not go down the stairs. All of a sudden, I heard that Maulana Saharanpuri had come to Delhi and I was so excited that I left for Delhi immediately on foot and forgot all about my illness and exhaustion. It was in the way that I remembered I was sick.
Contact with other spiritual mentors
Regular contact with other spiritual mentors and disciples of Maulana Gangohi was maintained during those days. About Shah Abdur Rahim Raipuri and Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi he used to say that they abided in his heart. They, too, had a great regard and affection for him owing to his extraordinary qualities.
Spirit of Jehad
Together with Zikr, Saga (spiritual exercises and exertions) Nawafil and Ibadaat, Maulana Mohammad Ilyas was, also, infused with the spirit of Jehad. Throughout his life, he was never without it, and had, in fact, taken the pledge of Jehad at the hand of Maulana Mahmood Hasan for that very reason.
Estimation in the eyes of elders
From his early days, he was held in the highest esteem by the elders of the family as well as the spiritual leaders of the day. Maulana Mohammad Yahya was like a father to him, yet the former's attitude towards his younger brother was like that of the sacred Prophet towards Hazrat Usman Indifferent health prevented him from taking part in duties involving physical labor. He concentrated wholly on his studies, and on Zikr, and other forms of worship. Maulana Mohammad Yahya, on the contrary, was a very industrious person. He owned a bookshop which he managed with great care. It was not only his source of livelihood, but of his brothers as well. One day, the manager of the shop said that Maulana Mohammad Ilyas did not take any interest in the business which was not good for him, too, benefited from it. When Maulana Mohammad Yahya heard of it, he was very angry and remarked that "a Tradition has it that the sustenance that reaches you and the help you receive from the Lord is due to the blessedness of the weaker ones among you. I believe that I am receiving my sustenance owing to the good fortune of this child. Nothing should be said to him in future. If there is anything to say, it should be said to me.
Sometimes, Maulana Mohammad Ilyas was asked to lead the service in the presence of renowned theologians and spiritual leaders. Once Shah Abdur Rahim Raipuri, Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri and Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi happened to be in Kandhla. When the time for Salaat came and Maulana Mohammad Ilyas was asked to lead it, a senior member of the family, Molvi Badrul Hasan, humorously remarked that "such a small engine has been fastened to so many big carriages." "It depends on the power (not the size of the engine", replied one of them.
Career with a teacher in Mazaahirul Uloom
In 1910, a large number of men, including most of the senior teachers of the Madrassa of Mazaahirul Uloom, left for the Haj from Saharanpur. It necessitated the recruitment of new teachers for the Madrassa, Maulana Mohammad Ilyas being one of them. He was given the secondary books to teach. On the return of the senior teachers from the Pilgrimage, all the new entrants were relieved of their duties, but the services of Maulana Mohammad Ilyas were retained.
At Mazaahirul Uloom, the Maulana had to teach some books which he had not read himself as, in Maulana Mohammad Yahya's scheme of instruction, it was not customary to complete the books, and Maulana Mohammad Ilyas, further, had to miss some secondary books owing to ill-health. During his teaching days, he tried hard to make up for the deficiency and prepared his lectures carefully. For instance, for teaching Kinzul Daqa'iq, he studied Bahr-ur-Ra'iq, Shaami and Hadaya, and consulted even Hisami's notes and comments when he taught Nurul Anawaar.
The Maulana married the daughter of his maternal uncle, Maulana Rauful Hasans on Friday, October 17, 1912 was performed by Maulana Mohammad, and Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri, Shah Abdur Rahim Raipuri an Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi, all the three of them, attended the ceremony. Maulana Thanwi's celebrated sermon, Fuwayid us Suhbat, which has subsequently been published times without number, was delivered on that occasion.
In 1915, Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri and Maulana Mahmood Hasan, decided lo go on the Haj Pilgrimage. When Maulana Mohammad Ilyas came to know of it, he was strongly seized with the desire to perform the Haj. He felt that it would become dark and gloomy in India with their departure and he would not be able to live in Saharanpur any more. But there was the question of permission. As his sister, the wife of Molvi Ikrarnul Hasan, saw his distress, she offered her ornaments to meet the expenses of the Pilgrimage. Contrary to expectations, the Maulana's mother gave her consent. after which Maulana Mohammad Yahya, also, agreed. The Maulana, then, wrote to Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri asking for his permission, and explained that as far as she wherewithal for the journey was concerned, three courses were open to him. He could take his sister's ornaments or borrow the amount or accept the offers of money made by certain relatives. Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri preferred the third course. Maulana Mohammad Ilyas was fortunate enough to travel by the same boat as Maulana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri. He sailed in August, 1914 , and returned in February, 1915, to resume the teaching at the Madrassa.
Death of Maulana Mohammad Yahya
The death of Maulana Mohammad Yahya, on Wednesday, the 9th of August, 1915, was an extremely sad and frustrating event for the Maulana. In addition to being a most affectionate brother, he was, also, his teacher and benefactor. He could not get over the shock till the end of his days. He used to get lost in thought and a peculiar kind of abstraction took possession of him when he talked about his brother.
Stay at Nizamuddin
Two years after the death of Maulana Mohammad Yahya, the eldest brother of Maulana Mohamad Ilyas, Maulana Mohammad, also, passed away. He was a man of angelic disposition and an embodiment of affection, piety and humility. He loved solitude and cared little for worldly comforts. He lived in Bangle Wali Masjid, at Nizamuddin, in the place of his late father. There was a Madrassa in the mosque which had been founded by Maulana Mohammad Ismail. Only primary education was imparted in it, and, among its pupils were mostly the children from Mewat. It had no regular source of income and reliance was placed solely upon God for meeting its needs.
Many people of Delhi and Mewat were devoted to Maulana Mohammad and had benefited from his guidance. His face had the radiance of spirituality. He, often, gave the sermon, but in an informal, conversational way. He remained seated during it, and, generally, read out the Traditions on good morals and Zuhd, ( Islamic asceticism ) and explained their meaning in a simple language.
Once Maulana Mohammad developed a boil under an eye which had to be opened seven times. The doctors insisted on administering the anesthetic but he refused to take it and lay motionless throughout the operation. The surgeon, afterwards, said, that he had not seen the like of it in his life.
Maulana Mohammad spent most of his time in prayer and meditation. During the 16 years before his death, he did not miss the Tahajjud( before dawn prayer ) prayers even once, and breathed his last while performing the Sajda in the Namaz of Witr.
Maulana Mohammad Ilyas had route to Delhi to look after his sick brother and was staying with him in the Nawab Wali Masjid of Qassab Pura. It was there that Maulana Mohammad died and the burial took place at Nizamuddin. Thousands of men attended the funeral.
After the burial, people urged upon Maulana Muhammad Ilyas to take up residence at Nizamuddin in order to fill the void caused by the death of his father and brother. They, also, promised monthly donations for the Madrassa to which the Maulana agreed subject to certain conditions which he observed throughout his life.
Maulana Mohammad Ilyas had made it clear that he would come to Nizamuddin and take charge of the Madrassa only if Maulana Khaiil Ahmad Saharanpuri approved. Upon it, several persons offered to go to Saharanpur to obtain the permission, but Maulana Mohammad Ilyas checked them saying that it was not the way to do it. He would go himself, unaccompanied by anyone.
The Maulana, thus, went to Saharanpur and explained the whole thing to Maulana Khalil Ahmad. The latter gave his approval, but added that, in the first instance, only a year’s Ieave be taken from Mazaahirul Uloom and if the stay at Nizamuddin proved useful and it was decided to settle down there permanently, he could resign at any time.
But before Maulana. Muhammad Ilyas could move to Nizamuddin, he was suddenly taken ill with pleurisy and went to Kandhla where his condition worsened. One night his illness took such a grave turn that all hope was lost. The pulse sank and the body became cold, but God had to take some work from him. unexpectedly, he began to improve, and, in a few days, was able to leave the bed.
On regaining health, Maulana came to Nizamuddin from Kandhla. In those days, there was no habitation in that part of Nizamuddin, and, adjoining the mosque, there was a thick growth of trees and underbrush. Maulana Ihtishamul Hasan who, in his childhood, had come to live, for sometime, with Maulana Mohammad Ilyas tells that “I used to go out and stand in the hope of seeing ‘a human face. When anyone appeared, I felt so happy as if someone had given me a precious gift.”
A small pucca (built of bricks) mosque, a shed, a living apartment, a small settlement of the attendants of the tomb to the south of it, and a few Mewati and non-Mewati students that as all that formed the world of the mosque and the Madrassa.
The resources of the Madrassa were so meager that, some times, they had to starve, but. the Maulana bore it all with a cheerful heart. Occasionally, be would say plainly, that there was nothing to eat. Whoever wanted to stay’ might stay and whoever wanted to go might go and make his arrangement elsewhere. The moral and spiritual training the students were receiving, however, was such that none of them. was willing to leave. Often, they would live on wild fruits. The scholars themselves brought wood from the forest to prepare the chappati (flat bread) which they ate with chutney (pickle) The extreme poverty made no impression on the Maulana. What worried him was the prospect of abundance and prosperity which, he was sure, was going to open up, according to the practice of the Lord, after the phase of trial and tribulation.
The outward appearance of the Madrassa held no interest for the Maulana. He was supremely unconcerned with it. Once, during his absence, some residential quarters were built for its staff through the efforts of Haji Abdur Rahman, an old friend of his and an ex-student of the Madrassa, which made the Maulana so angry that he did not speak to him for a long time. The Maulana remarked that the real thing was education, and, referring to a certain Madrassa, said that its building had become pucca, but the standard of education had gone down.
Once a prominent merchant of Delhi begged the Maulana to supplicate to the Lord for him in a very important matter, and presented him a purse. The Maulana agreed to pray on his behalf, but declined to accept the’ money. Haji Abdur Rahman, however, took it in view of the chronic financial difficulties of the Madrassa, but the Maulana had no peace until he had it returned. He used to impress upon Haji Abdur Rahrnan that the work of faith was not carried out with motley, otherwise much wealth would have been granted to the holy Prophet
Maulana Mohamrnad Ilyas, exclusively, kept himself occupied with prayers and other spiritual exertions in those days. He had inherited the inclination for it from his ancestors which blossomed up during the stay at Nizamuddin. He sought solitude and carried out vigorous exercises for the purification of the soul. According to Haji Abdur Rahman, the Maulana remained in seclusion for long hours at the gate of Arab Sara which was the favorite place of worship of Hazrat Nizmuddin Aulia, and was situated to he north of Humayun’s tomb. near the mausoleum of Abdur Rahim Khan Khana and the grave of Syed Nur Mohammad Badaynni, the spiritual mentor of Mazhar jan-i-Janan. Usually, his mid-day meal was sent there while the evening meal he took at home, He offered the five daily prayers in congregation. Haji Abdur Rahman and his fellow students used to go to the gate to form the congregation, and for their lessons, they, sometimes, went there, and, some times, the Maulana himself came to Chukkar Wali Masjid.
The Maulana performed the Wuzu (abulation) and offered two Rak’ats of Namaz before commencing the lesson of the Traditions, and remarked that the claim of the Traditions was even greater. He did not talk to anyone, however important, while teaching the Traditions, nor ever complained if the meal came late from Nizamuddin, nor found fault with food.
Interest in teaching
The Maulana took keen interest in his pupils and personally taught all the subjects, elementary as well as advanced. Sometimes, he had as many as eighty students directly under his instruction, and took the class of Mustadrak_i_Haakim before Fajr.
The main emphasis in his method of teaching was on the application of mind. He wanted the students to come thoroughly prepared. The Maulana did not follow the general syllabus of the Madrassas in the selection of books and many books that were but prescribed in the other Madrassas were taught at Nizamuddin He thought of new ways to stimulate the students and develop the faculties of imagination and understanding in them.
Beginnings of the movement of Religious Reform in Meewat
The area to the south of Delhi where the Meos have been settled from the olden days is called Mewat, Presently, it includes the Gurgaon district of the Punjab, the native states of Alwar and Bharatpur and the district of Mathura of the United Provinces. Like all other regions, its boundaries, too, have been changing from time to time and the dimensions of the old Mewat must have been different from what they are now.
The English historians hold that the Meos do not come from the Aryan stock, but are related to the non-Aryan races of ancient India. Their history, thus, dates far back than that of the Rajput families of Aryan blood. According to them, the Khanzadas (lowest order of Mughal nobility) of Mewat, however, belong to the same ethnic group as the Rajputs, and, in the Persian history books, wherever the word ‘Mewati’ occurs, it denotes the very Khanzadas. We, further, learn from Ain-i-Akbari that the Jatau Rajputs came to be known as Mewatis on embracing Islam.
In the annals of Firoz Shahi dynasty, Mewat is mentioned, for the first time, in the memoirs of Shamsuddin Al-timash. The Mewatis had become very troublesome during the early days of the Muslim Kingdom of Delhi. Aided by the long range of thick forests that extended up to Delhi, they used to raid it frequently and had become such a terror that the gates of the capital were shut at sunset. Still, they managed to enter the town in the night in search of plunder. Ghayasuddin Balban, thereupon, dispatched a strong military force against the Mewatis, killing a large number of them. Outposts manned by the Afghan soldiers were set up in Delhi, the surrounding forests were cut down and the land was brought under cultivation. Mewat, thereafter, remained in oblivion for about a hundred years
After the long lull, the Mewati adventuress, again, became active and started harassing the people of Delhi which forced the authorities to take punitive action against them from time to time. The names of Bahadur Nahir and his successors are, particularly, mentioned in the chronicles in this connection. They succeeded in establishing the Kingdom of Mewat which was, later, reduced to a Jagir (a feudal estate) by the rulers of Delhi.
Another prominent Mewatis was Lakhan Pal who brought the whole of Mewat and its outlying territory under his domination. He embraced Islam during die reign of Firoz Shah.
Moral and religious condition
Owing to the negligence of the Muslims religious teachers, the moral arid religious condition of the Mewatis had sunk so low that there was little to distinguish between their beliefs and practices and wholesale apostasy. Even non-Muslim historians have commented at length on their estrangement with Islam, as the following extract from the Alwar Gazetteer of 1878, written by Major Powlett, will show:
“All the Meos are, now, Muslims, but only in name. Their village deities are the same as those of the Hindu landlords, and they celebrate several Hindu festivals. Holi is a season of special rejoicing among the Mewatis and they observe it like their own festivals, such as, Moharrum, ‘Id and Shab-i-Barat. The same is the case with Janam Ashtami, Dussehra and Diwali, The Meos engage the services of the Brahmins to fix the dates of marriages. They have Hindu names, with the exception of the word ‘Ram’, and their last name, often, is ‘Singh’, though not as frequently as ‘Khan’. Like Ahirs and Gujars, the Mewatis, too, observe Amawas as a holiday on which they abstain from work. When they build a well, they begin with the construction of a parapet in the name of Beeriyi or Hanuman, but when it comes to pillage, they do not show much reverence to the Hindu temples and other places of religious significance. If, on such an occasion, their attention is drawn to the sanctity of these establishments, they, unhesitatingly, says, ‘You are "Does" and we are "Meos".’ Meos are, largely, ignorant of their faith, i. e., Islam. Very few of them know the Kalima,’ and fewer still observe Namaz regularly. About the hours and rules of namaz, their ignorance is complete. This is the state of the Meos of Alwar. In the British territory of Gurgaon, the position is a little better because of the Madrassas. In some parts of Alwar, also, where the mosques have been built, the religious duties are observed to some extent. A few of them know the Kalima and offer up namaz and an attachment for the Madrassas, also, is found among them. As we have seen earlier, the initial ceremonies of marriage are performed by the Brahmins, but the real ceremony (of nikah) is performed by the Qazi. Men wear dhoti and loin-cloth. The pajamas are not worn at all. Their dress, thus, is wholly Hinduised. Even ornaments of gold are worn by men.”
At another place, Major Powlett writes:
“The Meos are half-Hindu by their habits. Mosques are rarely to be seen in their villages. There are only eight mosques in the fifty villages of the tehsil of Tijarah. Leaving aside the temples, the places of worship of the Meos are very much similar to those of their Hindu neighbors. These are known, for instance as Paanch Peera, Bhaisa and Chahand Chahand or Khera Deo is consecrated to the service of Maha Davi where animals are offered as a sacrifice. In Shah-i-Barat, the banner of Syed Salar Masud Ghazi is worishipped in all Meo villages.”
Similarly, ii the Gazetteer of Gtrgaon (1910), it is stated that ‘‘the Meos, still, are a very loose and careless type of Muslims. They share most of tile customs of the neighboring community specially those which possess an element of fun and merriment . Their basic rule seems to be to observe the religious celebrations of both the communities and disregard the religious duties of either. Lately, some religious teachers have appeared in Mewat and a few Meos have started to keep the fasts of Ramzan and to build mosques in their villages and observe namaz. Their women, too, have taken to wearing Pyjamas instead of the Hindu Chagras. All these are the signs of religious awakening.”
The Gazetteer of Bharatpur, again, says:
“The customs of Meos are a mixture of Hindu and Muslim customs. They observe circumcision, perform nikah and bury their dead. They make a pilgrimage to the tomb of Syed Salar Masud Giiazj at Bahraich, and attach a great importance to the vow taken under his banner, and consider it a religious duty to fulfill it. They, also, visit the other shrines of India, but do not perform the Hajj. Among the Hindu festivals, they celebrate Holi antI Diwali. They do not marry in the family or in their own branch or subdivision of the clan, girls do not have a share in ancestral property, and they give mixed Hindu and Muslim names to their children. They are, wholly, illiterate and have a fair number of bards and minstrels among them whom they pay liberally. Many quatrains on the themes of agriculture and rural life are popular which they love to recite. Their speech is rough arid coarse, and the manner of addressing both men and women is the same. Intoxicants are widely in use. They are extremely weak of faith and highly superstitious, and believe in omens and auguries. Both male and female dresses are Hinduised. In the olden days, infanticide was prevalent, but now it has been given up. Highway robbery and pillage had been’ their traditional profession, but they have been reformed lately. They. however, are still notorious ifor cattle-ifting.’
All the same, the Meos are distinguished for some excellent moral qualities and their vices and weaknesses are in the nature of the evil ways and practices that become a part of the moral and social pattern of brave and adventurous races as a result of want of education, isolation from the civilized world and indifference towards religion. These were rampant even among the Arabs during the Age of Ignorance. Natural talents and capabilities had taken a wrong turn owing to the perversity of the environment. Chivalry had degenerated into banditry, manliness had found expression in mutual warfare and bloodshed, sense of pride and self-respect, with no better purpose to serve, had sought fulfillment in the defense of imaginary standards of honor and renown, and high mindedness, for its display, had adopted the path of pomp and flourish on petty occasions in the family or clan. In brief, God-given gifts of mind and character were being put to unworthy use, otherwise there was no dearth of virtue and merit among the Meos,
Rugged simplicity, hardihood and firmness of purpose were the chief characteristics of the Mewatis in which they were far superior to the urban Muslim population. It was on account of these qualities that in spite of having drifted so far away from Islam, the floodtide of Apostasy could not submerge the territory of Mewat even in the darkest period of its history.
For centuries the Maos had been living within the shell of their ignorance keeping by themselves and isolated from the outside world. A parallel can scarcely he found in the Indian history of a community so large and living in such a close proximity to the central seat of power and yet remaining so obscure and isolated. An advantage of it, however, was that the energies of the Mewatis, on the whole, remained conserved, the soil remained virgin while the deplorable habits and customs and superstitious belief and practices were, so to speak, like the weeds and scrubs growing on an uncultivated land. The Meos, in the 20th Century, were very much like the Arabs in the Age of Perversion
As we have seen, contact with the Mewatis was established during the lifetime of Maulana Mohammad lsmail. It was not a chance occurrence, but an act of destiny that Maulana Mohammad Ismail came to live in Basti Nizamuddin which was the gateway of Mewat, and much before the arrival of Maulana Mohammad Ilyas, seeds of loyalty and devotion of his. family had been sown on its soil.
When the followers of Maulana Mohammad Ismail and Maulana Mohammad came to know that their true successor, the son of Maulana Mohammad Ismail and the brother of Maulana Mohammad had come to live at Nizamuddin they, again, started coming to it and requested Maulana Mohammad Ilyas for a visit so that the old suppliants of his family had an opportunity to renew the ties of fealty and spiritual allegiance.
Maulana Mohammad Ilyas felt that the only Way to the religious reform and correction of the Mewatis was promotion of religious knowledge and familiarization with the rules and principles of the Shariat.
Maulana Mohammad ismail, and, after him, Maulana Mohammad had adopted the same method. They used to keep the Mewati children with them and educate them in their Madrassa, and, then, send them back to Mewat to carry on the work of reform and guidance, and what little religious awareness was found there was owing to the efforts of these pioneers.
Maulana Mohammad Ilyas went a step ahead and decided to establish Maktabs and Madrassas in Mewat itself so that the influence of Faith could spread to a wider area and the pace of change was accelerated.
The Maulana knew what was, commonly, meant by inviting a spirtua! mentor or his successor to their place by his disciples and admirers, and he was not willing to go to Mewat only to fulfill the formalities of attending the dinner given in his honor delivering a few sermons and giving good counsel. He wanted to make sure before undertaking the trip, that some real advance would be made, as a result of his visit, towards bringing the Meos closer to Islam and improving their moral condition, arid, during those days, the setting up of Maktabs and Madrassas in Mewat appeared to him to be the most effective step in that direction. H had, thus, made it clear that he would accept the invitation only on the condition that they promised to establish Maktabs in their territory.
For the Mewatis, however, no undertaking could be harder to give. They considered the establishment of Maktabs next to impossible for the simple reason that no one would be sending his children to them, and, thus, depriving himself of their contribution to the family income as daily wage-earners. The enthusiasm of those who came to invite quickly subsided as they heard of the stipulation. In desperation, however, a Mewati, finally, made the promise, leaving the rest to God
Establishment of Maktabs
Maulana Mohammad Ilyas, accordingly, went to Mewat and demanded the fulfillment of the promise. After great persuasion, the beginning was made and the first Maktab was established.
The Maulana used to tell the Mawatis, “Give me the pupils, I will provide the money.” The Meos who were, mainly, farmers, could not easily reconcile themselves to the position that their children applied themselves to reading and writing and stopped working in the fields or looking after the cattle. It took a lot of tact and perseverance to bring them round to it.
Ten Maktabs were opened during that visit. Once the ice was broken, the progress was easy. Sometimes, several Maktabs were opened in a day till, within a few years, hundreds of such schools were functioning in Mewat.
The Maulana had not undertaken the service of Faith as a “national cause”, the burden of providing the funds for which fell wholly upon the nation or the community, but as a personal affair and felt no hesitation in spending all he had on it. He believed that a person should perform a religious task as his own and expend his time and money freely in its way.
Once a person presented a purse to him with the request that he used it, exclusively, for his own needs. The Maulana replied, “If we do not regard Allah’s work our own, how can we claim to be His bondmen ?“ With a sigh, he added, “Alas! We are not the just appreciators of the sacred Prophet. We do not know his true worth.”
This was the Maulana’s rule of life. First of all, he spent from his own pocket on the religious endeavor he had launched in Mewat, and, then, alone, would accept help from others.
Due to Maulana Mohammad Ilyas (RA)'s sincerity and hard work the work of Tableegh began to spread and Jamaats started to visit all parts of the sub-continent within his life time. Hazrat Maulana Syed Suleiman Nadwi (RA) remarks, " Hazrat Maulana Mohammad Ilyas (RA) with his simplicity and dedication to the correct principles of Dawat (invitation) quietly turned the Mewatees into sincere and pious Muslims over a twenty five years and made them the envy of even the Muslims belonging to traditional religious families.
His hard word bore fruit in his life and he raised thousands of dedicated Muslims who continued on the path of Dawat even after his passing away.
Finally the humble, physically weak and thin Maulana passed away in 1324 Hijra leaving behind not one or two but thousands to take up his cause and continue on the path of reformation.