Gone from my sight, that is all – Mufti Abu Zafar

‘The good die first, and they whose hearts are dry as summer dust, burn to the socket.’ (Wordsworth)

Dressed in a Saharanpuri kurta pajama, clad in an Aligarh style sherwani, topped by a five-pointed long hat of an earlier Thana Bawan style, a young man in his mid-thirties, with a scholarly face and spectacles on nose sat on the raised cushion. Two students were sitting on the floor facing him. It was 1994. The teacher was Mufti Abu Zafar, and I was one of the students.  Before him was Ibn Hājib’s al-Kāfiya fi al-Naḥw.

He began his explanation of the opening words:

الكلمة لفظ وضع لمعنى مفردًا…

He examined the words in the sentence sufficiently enough to break it down into its various clauses. Then, taking the clauses one at a time, he broke down each clause, and examined more closely the individual words in it and, in the case of nouns, pronouns, adjectives and verbs, their word forms. He explained alternate grammatical possibilities and the implication this had on the various purport of the meanings. All this was done faithfully, efficiently and speedily, coupled with a humorous interaction with the students. This was my first lesson.

As I look back to the time spent with him, I recollect how his presence was spiritually uplifting, and, quite simply, enjoyable. He didn’t teach; he infused. He didn’t bombard us with information; he imbibed a thirst for knowledge, a zeal for learning and a development of character. His lessons forced us to concentrate and focus; to exhaust the use of memory; to analyse, deduce and problem-solve; to draw the powers of attention to detail, of diligence and perseverance, of observation, of imagination, of judgement and of taste.

Many people knew him as a Mufti, and in this regard, they sought his expertise in matters of fiqh. But to me, he was much more. He imbibed me with a love of Arabic literature, grammar and rhetoric; an appreciation of kalam theology, Aristotelian logic and scholastic philosophy.

He taught me various texts, which include:

ʿIlm al-Ṣīghah

Al-Kāfiyah

Uṣūl al-Shashī

Nafḥat al-ʿArab

Lāmiyat al-Muʿjizāt

Mirqāt fī al-Mantiq

Al-Ḥusāmī

Al-Qudūrī

Al-Ashbāh wa al-Naẓāir

He saw my passion for the scholastic writing of Qasim Nanotwi and would steer my reading and encourage me to read works of classical kalām and logic. He told me to read the works of Baḥrul Ulūm, especially his commentary of Muhibbullah Bihari’s Sullam; ʿAḍudīn al-īji’s al-Mawāqif with its various commentaries and supra-commentaries. He told me to read and re-read Marghināni’s al-Hidāyah and Kasāni’s al-Badāiʿ wa al-Ṣanāiʿ; to develop further my appreciation of Arabic literature he told me to frequently revisit the Sabʿa Muʿallaqāt and the poetry of Mutanabbi. He was of the opinion that Quran translation should only be taught after one has grasped the appreciation and taste of classical Arabic literature: pre-Islamic, Umayyad and Abbasid styles of writing. He believed that the beauty of the Quranic miracle can only be realised once this has been achieved.   

He rarely spoke about himself, but I did manage to quiz him about his formative years, and, at times, he would succumb to my strategic interrogation.

He was of mixed race – his father was from Chittagong (Bangladesh) and his mother from Saharanpur (India). His father lived over a hundred years and was a student, disciple and khalifah of Maulana Asghar Husain – a khalifah of Haji Imdadullah.

Initially, Mufti Abu Zafar himself was spiritually connected to his teacher and the former rector of Deoband, Qari Tayyib sahib. Thereafter, he formed a spiritual alliance with Maulana Abrarul Haq of Hardoi; and finally, he was connected to Maulana Ahmad Shafi of Hathazar in Bangladesh.

He has left an indelible mark upon me, that I now see myself, as a ‘side-effect’ of his teaching, appreciating history, geography, law, religion and culture.

The Prophet Muhammad, Allah bless him and give him peace, stated that two people who love each other for sake of Allah shall be under His shade. It is this love for him – for Allah’s sake – that I believe will carry me through life and a means of salvation in the hereafter.

‘Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds,

Nor bends with the remover to remove.

Oh no! It is an ever-fixed mark

that looks on tempests and is never shaken.’

As I paid my final respects at his funeral, the sky rent asunder. At first it rained, and then, gradually it turned to hail. And despite a few impatient brethren troubled by the rain, the funeral was serene, sombre and tranquil. He is no longer with us, but his memory, students and teaching lives on. May Allah have mercy on his soul.      

Advertisement

3 Comments

  1. Simply an amazing man, my first ever teacher in my whole life from the age of 4 upwards whom we used to address as ‘Baby Musahib’. I still regarded him as my teacher up until his passing as I learnt a lot from his life. Sitting down with him, talking to him, being invited to his lovely little house to listen to what he had to utter from that wise mind of his. I just have the regret of not spending enough time with him when I could have because we both lived in Kings Heath and I still am. Wallahi he was a true gem of this Ummah, a heart of gold. A month before he went into hospital he sat me down in front of my own father who also contracted the same variant of Covid the very week Mufti Sahib went into hospital. He asked me first very calmly and with a beautiful smile on his face, ‘What year are you in now?’ I replied, ‘Year 3’. He then asked, ‘What books are you studying?’ whereby I said, ‘Hidayatun Nahw, Nafhatul Arab, Mukhtasar Al Qudoori. He paused, looked towards the floor with an uncannily radiant smile. I peered closely to hear what he had to say. A couple of seconds later, he slowly lifted his head and said, ‘Make sure you study Fiqh into its depths for it is needed in today’s era. All these other books are important too but they all build up to Fiqh. Many people are in discourse and depression so hold onto Fiqh and aim to become the best in it’. I’ve always had a love for subjects like Nahwa and Sarf over others. But after his passing, this incident kept on coming to my mind and only now do I realise as I progress through the Alim course, that Fiqh is mandatory to get by in the world; both as a citizen of this country as well as a worshipper of Allah and inviter towards Him. May Allah widen my ‘Baby Musahib’s’ grave beyond where the eye can reach and make him a neighbour of our beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) in the afterlife.

    Reply

Leave a Reply to Mr Husain A Khan Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.