Shaykh al-Hadith Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi [1315 – 1402 A.H.]
He was born in the village of Kandhla (in Uttar Pradesh, India) on Ramadan 10, 1315 ah (February 12, 1898 CE). His full name was Muhammad Zakariyya ibn Muhammad Yahya ibn Muhammad Isma‘il, and his lineage continues all the way back to Abu Bakr (R.A.), the great Companion of the Messenger (pbuh).
Shaykh Abu ’l-Hasan Nadwi said about him, “Shaykh Muhammad Zakariyya was born into a household rooted in knowledge and passion for Islam. His immediate family and his predecessors were distinguished by firm resolve, perseverance, steadfastness, and adherence to religion…. His family included many notable scholars … and his grandmother memorized the entire Qur’an while nursing her son [Shaykh Zakariyya’s father].”
His father, Shaykh Muhammad Yahya, was among the great scholars of India in both the Related (manqulat) and Logical sciences (ma‘qulat). His primary teacher in hadith was Shaykh Rashid Ahmad Gangohi. Under him he studied Sahih al-Bukhari, Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi, Ibn Maja and others of the six famous authentic books of hadith (Sihah sitta). Shaykh Yahya went on to teach at Madrasa Mazahir ‘Ulum, in the district of Saharanpur, but did not accept any payment for his services. He instead made his living through his own book-publishing business.
As a young boy, Shaykh Zakariyya moved with his father to the village of Gangoh, in the district of Saharanpur. Since his father and Shaykh Gangohi had a close relationship, Shaykh Zakariyya quickly earned the affection of his father’s teacher.
Growing up in this virtuous environment, he began learning how to read with Hakim ‘Abd al-Rahman of Muzaffarnagar. He memorized the Qur’an with his father and also studied books in Persian and the introductory Arabic books with his uncle Shaykh Muhammad Ilyas (founder of the Tabligh movement). He stayed with his father in the company of Shaykh Gangohi until age eight, when the shaykh passed away. Shaykh Abu al-Hasan Nadwi says, “He was brought up in the best of environments in this era; the most adhering to the conduct and the sunna and the furthest from the corruption that had begun to spread in the world.
At the age of twelve, Shaykh Zakariyya traveled with his father to Mazahir ‘Ulum. Shaykh Muhammad ibn Yahya [his father] bathed and performed two rak’ats of prayer and began teaching Mishkat al-Masabih. He then made a lengthy prayer for himself and his son. From that day on, hadith became the main focus and goal of Shaykh Zakariyya’s life. There, under his father, he advanced his study of Arabic, tackling many classical texts on Arabic morphology, grammar, literature, and also logic. But by the time he was seventeen, hadith became the main focus of his life. He studied five of the six authentic books of hadith with his father, and then he studied Sahih al-Bukhari and Sunan al-Tirmidhi (for a second time) with the honorable Shaykh Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri. Out of his immense respect for h adith, Shaykh Zakariyya was extremely particular about always studying the hadith narrations with wudu’.
On Dhu ’l-Qa‘da 10, 1334 ah, when Shaykh Zakariyya was just nineteen, his dear father passed away. This event was extremely traumatic for Shaykh Zakariyya, as he lost not only a father but also a teacher and mentor. His deep sorrow remained with him for the rest of his life.
Shaykh Zakariyya was blessed to live and learn in an era considered by many to be one of great achievements in Islamic knowledge by scholars in the Indian subcontinent. He studied with few but select teachers who reached the highest levels of learning, research, authorship, and piety. One of his most influential teachers was his own father, Shaykh Muhammad Yahya, born in 1287 ah. Shaykh Zakariyya memorized the Qur’an at the age of seven, then as per his father’s instruction he would recite the whole Qur’an each morning. In addition to his father and uncle (Shaykh Muhammad Ilyas), he studied under the hadith scholar Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri, author of the Badhl al-Majhud, a commentary on Sunan Abi Dawud. Shaykh Zakariyya acquired a hadith authorization from him and remained his student until Shaykh Khalil’s death in Madina Munawwara in 1346 ah.
Before his death, Shaykh Khalil A h mad expressed his desire to write Badhl al-Majhud, and he sought Shaykh Zakariyya’s assistance as his right-hand man. This was the beginning of his good fortune and the route to his excellence. His work earned him a special position with his Shaykh. The shaykh would direct him towards the possible texts and religious sources from which he could take the subject matter. Shaykh Muhammad Zakariyya would collect the information and present them to his Shaykh, who would then select from the collection whatever he required. Thereafter he would dictate it to Shaykh Muhammad Zakariyya who would write it down. This is how the completion of Badhl al-Majhud fi hall Abi Dawud took place. This experience revealed Shaykh Zakariyya’s gift of penmanship and, furthermore, expanded his insight in the science of hadith. He worked hard on the project, He undertook the task of publishing his shayk’s work in the Indian press and devoted his attention to its correction, publishing it with complete sincerity. He attained the pleasure and trust of his shaykh, He became a successor (khalifa) and representative (na’ib) of his shaykh and was even mentioned by name in the commentary.
Shaykh Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri mentions in the introduction of Badhl al-Majhud, “I was helped by some of my friends, notable amongst whom is my relative and the coolness of my eyes and heart, Hajj Hafiz Molwi Muhammad Zakariyya ibn Mawlana Hafiz Molwi Muhammad Yahya Kandhlawi (may Allah have mercy on him). I was incapable of writing or pursuing it (without his help), due to the shaking of my hand and due to weakness in mind and vision. I would dictate to him and he would write. He would search for the difficult subject matter from the sources, thus facilitating the dictation for me. I thank Allah for his effort and ask Him to grant him the best reward for whatever he spent of his effort. Allah has gifted him with intrinsic and apparent knowledge, beneficial in this world and in the hereafter, and with accepted, illuminated, good deeds.”
This indeed opened the door to Shaykh Zakariyya’s authoring many literary works and treatises over the course of his life.
In Muharram 1335 ah he was appointed as a teacher at Madrasa Mazahir ‘Ulum, where he was assigned to teach books on Arabic grammar, morphology, and literature, as well as a number of primary texts of Islamic jurisprudence. In 1341 ah he was assigned to teach three sections of Sahih al-Bukhari upon the insistence of Shaykh Khalil Ahmad. He also taught Mishkat al-Masabih until 1344 ah. Shaykh Abu al-Hasan Nadwi said, “Although he was one of the youngest teachers at the school, he was selected to teach works generally not assigned to those of his age, nor to anyone in the early stages of his teaching career. Nevertheless, he showed that he was not only an able, but an exceptional teacher.”
In 1345 ah he traveled to Madina Munawwara, the city of Allah’s Messenger (upon him be peace) where he resided for one year. There he taught Sunan Abi Dawud at Madrasa al-‘Ulum al-Shar‘iyya. While in Madina, he began working on Awjaz al-Masalik ila Muwatta’ Imam Malik, a commentary on Imam Malik’s Muwatta’. He was twenty-nine at the time.
When he returned to India, he resumed teaching at Mazahir ‘Ulum. He began teaching Sunan Abi Dawud, Sunan al-Nasa‘i, the Muwatta’ of Imam Muhammad, and the second half of Sahih al-Bukhari. The school’s principle taught the first half of Sahih al-Bukhari, and after his death, Shaykh Zakariyya was given the honor of teaching the entire work.
In all, he taught the first half of Sahih al-Bukhari twenty-five times, the complete Sahih al-Bukhari sixteen times, and Sunan Abi Dawud thirty times. He did not just teach hadith as a matter of routine; the work of hadith had become his passion, and he put his heart and soul into it. Shaykh Zakariyya taught until 1388 ah, when he was forced to give up teaching after developing eye cataracts.
Sincere Love for Allah and the Prophet
Shaykh Muhammad Zakariyya inherited piety, honesty, and good character from his father (may Allah be pleased with him). He aspired to follow the Qur’an and Sunna in all matters, big and small, with a passion not found in many scholars. He had extreme love for the Prophet (upon him be peace) and the blessed city of Madina. His students have related that whenever the death of the Messenger (upon him be peace) was mentioned during a lecture on Sunan Abi Dawud or Sahih al-Bukhari, his eyes would well up with tears, his voice would choke up, and he would be overcome with crying. So evocative were his tears that his students could do nothing but weep with raised voices.
He was often tested with regard to his sincerity. He was offered many teaching jobs at two or three times the salary that was customarily given at Mazahir ‘Ulum, but he always graciously declined the offers. For most of his teaching career, Shaykh Zakariyya never accepted any money for his services at Mazahir ‘Ulum; he did the work voluntarily, seeking Allah’s pleasure. Although he did accept a small salary at the beginning of his career, he later totaled up the amount and paid it back in its entirety.
Shaykh Zakariyya organized his time meticulously. He would rise an hour before dawn and occupy himself in tahajjud and recitation of Qur’an before performing the Fajr prayer in the masjid. After Fajr, he would read his morning supplications and litany until sunrise. Thereafter he would go to meet with some people and drink tea (but never ate anything with it). He would then return to his quarters to read. During this time he would also research and compile his literary works, and, with few exceptions, no one was allowed to visit him at this time. When it was time for lunch he would come out and sit with his guests, who were from all walks of life; he would respect and treat them well, irrespective of who they were. After Zuhr prayer, he would take a siesta and then spend some time listening to his correspondence (which amounted to around forty or fifty letters daily from different places) and dictating replies. He also taught for two hours before ‘Asr. After ‘Asr, he would sit with a large group of people, offering them tea. After performing Maghrib, he would remain devoted in solitude to optional prayer and to supplication. He did not take an evening meal except to entertain an important guest.
He had always hoped to meet Allah while in the city of the Messenger (upon him be peace); Allah granted his wish. He died there on Monday Sha‘ban 1, 1402 ah (May 24, 1982 CE) and was buried in Jannat al-Baqi‘, in the company of the Companions and the noble family members of the Messenger (upon him be peace). His funeral procession was followed by a large number of people and he was buried in the Baqi‘ graveyard next to his teacher Shaykh Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri. May Allah forgive him, grant mercy, and elevate his status. Amin.
The source of this extracted information and more details of Shaykhs works, students, teachers and his status amongst scholars can be found at:Shaykh al-Hadith Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi provided by White Thread Press publications.
Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi
Maulana Abdul Hayy Lucknawi
Shaykh Ahmed Deedat