Islamic Studies

Revival, Reform, The Heart And Shar’iah: Sifting Lessons From The Teachings Of The Revivalist, The Muhaddith, The Sufi Imam Ashraf Thanwi (r)


Maulana Ashraf Thanwi (r), the well known scholar of hadith, and sufi from the Deobandi school of learning highlighted some root-causes in his treatise Adab al Muasharaat that serve to characterize why our communities have been overcome with disfunctionality i.e., why inter-personal relations have been infected by the quality of personal and social disintegration. He mentioned a principle in his treatise, which originally was written in Urdu and reached me by way of second grade English translation published by the Majlis al Ulama of South Africa but the communication was clear enough to comprehend and contextual in light of traditional tazkiyyah literature.  It is my hope that some day soon this work is re-translated from its original Urdumanuscripts and then critically edited, referenced and commented on so that it is presented in a form suitable for clarifying its contents and lessons to today’s English speaking audience.

For the most part this terse treatise outlines a series of etiquette that are guidelines in various scenarios of human interaction. On page 2 of the treatise we find two interesting, rich introductory paragraphs which serve and the basis for the tenor of the work. In a simple but revolutionary manner Maulana Thanwi (r) initiates the work aiming to make clear that there is a necessity to revive an aspect of the Shar’iah which has fallen into neglect because it is neglected the Ummah is suffering hardship and division. In fact, he says (r):

“no mention is made of this fifth branch of [Shar’iah]. …this branch has been suspended relegated to limbo and oblivion in that [we find no mention made of it] in theory [and we fail to see it] in practice.”

Maulana Thanwi (r) teaches us that a proper comprehension (theoretical understanding) and implementation (practical translation) of the Shar’iah entails a proper delineation of its branches –theoretically. So a practical revival of Deen implies a pedagological-reform, one in the way we conceptualize Shar’iah. A transformation of the conceptualizing of Shar’iah demands bringing to light the primitve scheme of the Shar’iah as -”5 branches of knowledge and practice Maulana Thanwi (r) teaches us that Shar’iah properly conceptualized results in theShar’iah being schematized into five branches.

The Five Branches of Shar’iah

1.) Aqaa’id (Creed)

2.) Ibadah (Carrying out the prayers, fasting, zakah and hajj)

3.) Muamalaah (Social and economic transactions)

4.) Tazkiyah (Purification of the heart and intention)

5.) Adab al Muasharaah (Refined Social Etiquette)

The fifth branch of Shar’iah, Maulana Thanwi (r) argues, has been neglected, untreated directly in Islamic scholarly discourse and absent from the scope and field of action. In this sense, implicit in Maulana Thanwi’s (r) teaching is the notion of reviving what has fallen into neglect and enjoining what has been left unpracticed. The neglected branch of Shar’iah is crucial to the architecture of Shar’iah and proper practice. The absence of refined social etiquette (Adab al Muasharaah) is directly related to the diseases of the hearts and the condition of the heart is directly affected by corrupt social etiquette. So Maulana Thanwi (r) is teaching us that bad social etiquette leaves an imprint on the hearts of others affecting inter-personal relationships this in turn incites bitterness and animosity and other negative qualities. Social and family life can not function optimally and wholly in the absence of refined social etiquette.

Maulana Thanwi (r) says:

” The primary cause for the dissipation of mutual love and affection [between the Muslims] rests with corrupt attitudes and corrupt social manners. As a result of such corruption, mutual resentment, and dislike for others has engulfed social relations, society. This state of affairs impedes tranquility from settling in the heart and eliminates it from the heart. A prerequisite of mutual love and a condition of its existence between members of a society is the presence of tranquility in the heart.”

Maulana Thanwi (r) teaches us essentially that the unity of the Muslims can only take place with a transformation of the comportment of the Muslims reform then is a matter of reforming the way we interact with each other. A more simple lesson is that in order for us to co-exist sanely and rightly there is a need for a change of heart and behavior. Here he educates us profoundly in a fundamental of “tazkiyyah” and that is that etiquette is intertwined with the states of the heart. There is no real transformation of the heart if we treat others without dignity, if we speak to others without looking to the consequence of our words, if we put our ego before principles of Islam. False consciousness and the false self prevent us coming completely into Islam and more exactly into the brotherhood of Islam. Herein, Maulana Thanwi (r) is showing us the deceptions embedded in learning where it is an obstacle to practice and revival and unity. His discourse on Shar’iah, its branches and the relation of social etiquette to the heart and revival of the Ummah illustrate why many held him to be a reviver of Islam (Mujadid). Social etiquette is part and parcel of the Shar’iah its cultivation is reviving the Shar’iah and the inner life and the path to exit the ills of the Ummah and enter into the brotherhood of Islam for unity is an obligation and not a super-rogatory act!

La Ilaha Illa Allah Huwa al-Haqq Tabaraka Wa Ta’alla

Adapted and Commenting on by: Abul-Hussein

Produced by:

Date: 1430 Rabi al-Awaal  18th

2009 March 15

Location: Dearborn, Michigan (North America)

About the author

Yusuf Rios (Abul Hussein)

Yusuf Rios (Abul Hussein)

Yusuf Rios was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While becoming a Catholic priest, Yusuf discovered the path to Islam. He studied Islamic sciences for a period of seven years, studying with scholars in Cleveland, Ohio before receiving a work-study contract with the Islamic American University. At the Islamic American University, he read Arabic and a limited number of Islamic sciences intensively for one year. He then traveled to Cairo, Egypt where he resided for five years. There, he attended a number of intensive courses at Arabic learning centers. After these courses, he joined various scholarly circles, reading Islamic sciences with a host of scholars of diverse expertise and orientations. Yusuf takes particular pride in having studied intimately with a number of scholars from al-Azhar University. Likewise, he has great love and attachment to Egypt and especially al-Azhar Mosque where he studied for the major portion of his residence in Egypt. Yusuf has a Bachelors in Western Philosophy and Sociology and is working on a Masters in Education. He serves as an instructor in Islamic Sciences with Islamic American University and in local mosques in Dearborn, Michigan and Cleveland, Ohio. His four main research areas in Islamic sciences are in the areas of Usul al-Fiqh, Maqasid ash Shar’ia, Hadith Sciences, and Fiqh.

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  • Assalamu Alaykum

    Is there anything special about the order of the branches of the Shariah?

    Assalamu alaykum

  • I agree with the Shaykh's assessment of the deen and ideas needed to reform but Abul Hussein 's writing is the definition of verbiage!

    Maulana Thanwi (r) teaches us that a proper comprehension (theoretical understanding) and implementation (practical translation) of the Shar’iah entails a proper delineation of its branches -theoretically. So a practical revival of Deen implies a pedagological-reform, one in the way we conceptualize Shar’iah. A transformation of the conceptualizing of Shar’iah demands bringing to light the primitve scheme of the Shar’iah

    I can read and write in three languages and English is my first language but even I had reread that several types to understand it.

    “a proper delineation” (a proper explanation)

    “pedagological-reform” (a new way of teaching and explaining)

    “the primitve scheme of the Shar’iah ” I believe Abul Husssein lives in the UK because in US English that phrase is troubling. Primitive is equal to saying something is inferior and scheme is mostly used as a negative use of word plan. for example:

    “I plan to go to university”
    “they schemed to rob a bank”.

    This piece demonstrates something I talked with people before about . Taking the complex and making it simple not taking the simple and making it complicated. Like El Hajj/Malcom stated “make it plain.”

    Either way May Allah reward Abul Hussein for bringing Shaykh Thanwi's ideas forward. I believe if the Shaykh's ideas were implemented Islam can reform very quickly from it's present slumbering state.

  • I would say yes because they conceptually build on each other.

    (1) is the foundation. Without it (2) would be pointless and (3)(4)(5) would be none existent.

    (1) explains what & why
    (2) and (3) demonstrates how (1) is applied
    (4) and (5) reinforces (1) and (2) and (3).

    Well that's my quick assessment as least.

  • As-Salamu alaikum Hamza 1,

    Shaikh abul-Hussein is a teacher from Islamic American University in Dearborn, MI. He is a convert from a Puerto Rican family from philly. He has a bachelors in Philosophy from a western university and spent 6 years in Egypt studying traditionally. He is an accomplished student of knowledge who, based on his knowledge, would be considered by many an American scholar of the Islamic sciences. He is trying to expand our vocabulary and speak from a deep insight which is often understood. If you knew him (or not) you would not make such criticism as it isn't proper etiquette. Maybe you should read this article again 🙂

    Jazakallahu khairan

  • LOL @ Hamza and Abu Majeed. It might be a good idea to have cliff notes for these. I know some brothers who write in the style of Abul Hussein and their friends always ask them for a translation lol.

    Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanwi's ideas are, realistically pretty simple, but not easy to bring forth. Akhlaaq and how we treat each other makes up the bulk of what fiqh is about–fiqh isn't just about prayer and wudhu, but just the subtleties with which we behave.

    This is the real fine point of our deen- I consider it to be like the choicest piece of food on one's menu. In behavioral practical terms, I believe, Mujadid Ashraf Ali Thanwi is thinking of the social psychology of the Saliheen. This is easier to understand with examples:

    -When the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam would ask them a question, they would respond, “Allah and His Rasul know best!”
    -When the Sahabas would be amazed, they would say, “May my father and mother be sacrificed for you Rasulullah!” (salallahu alayhi wasalam)
    -When Mu'awiya would ask about Ali–the description of Ali would move Mu'awiya to tears (even though their was politics in those days)!!
    -When a man would be flogged for drinking wouldn't Rasulullah salallahu alayhi wasalam tell the Sahabas to not mock him, “Because he loves Allah and His Rasul”

    Now, imagine us talking like this today. How odd would that be and yet, how much more full of chivalry and sincerity would it be? You would remember this person with so much love, even if you didn't even know his name! Saying those small things, or making gestures to brothers and sisters, you may not even know so well like sharing food with them or complimenting them with duas that show sincerity (and telling them you DO make dua for them) or to honor them, is what I believe the righteous and blessed Maulana (rahimmullah) is discussing.

    I'm reminded now of a brother who kept prying to me about a secret that I had sworn a brother not to tell regarding a sin of his. This brother kept pestering me, to tell what it was and who this was–and at length I kept refusing. This brother who had been trying to get the secret out of me said, “Good, you haven't told me. Now, I know you can be trusted with my secret so let me tell it to you and promise not to tell anyone.” And I kept both those secrets as they came to me asking for nasiha.

  • Salaams..
    I think the Shaykhs writing provide food for thought..May Allah bless him and Protect him

    Keep them comin bro..
    Hope you and your family are doin well 🙂

  • AS
    Hamza 21, I send my salaam to you and the other brothers who have commented. Thank you for your criticism it is well taken. Maybe I was wrong for trying to bring out conceptual points from Maulana Thanwi's work and perhaps my style or person is not suitable to that aim. In any event, we are caught between two poles on the one hand we have not began to communicate Islam in a manner which allows University students to think about it at high levels and on the other hand we have speak clearly so everyone comprehends regardless of their background.

    Style is important as is tone and word choice when communicating.

    My skills are still crude and I will take your advice and that of others and work on them but please remember that sometimes to write a post in its utmost form can take quite a bit of time and that may not be available. So please read with the principle of charity in mind.

    Shukran Lakum

    -Yo! Im outta he-er

  • Hamza 21

    “the primitve scheme of the Shar’iah ” I believe Abul Husssein lives in the UK because in US English that phrase is troubling.

    UK – England – Land of the English Language
    US- United States of America – Land of George Bush

    Case closed 😉

  • too funny. The reason i wrote is because I've seen people who learned UK English use the word scheme is some weird ways so I assumed Abul Hussein may have been British. Besides in the UK they still call people of color “colored people”. That phrase can get somebody hurt in the US. lol

  • AS

    Hamza21, hope your well. Here are some definitions for the words you pointed out they have a variety of senses. American Heritage: College Dictionary says: (unfortunately it is not Webster or Oxford,Oxford being the superior lexicon of the two but will do. My love, the trustee abridged Oxford dictionary which my English teacher introduced me in its multi-volume form is in Egypt ) says:

    Scheme n.
    1. A systematic plan of action
    2. A secret or devious plan; a plot
    3. An orderly combination of related parts
    4. A chart, diagram, or outline of a system or object
    (Lat. schema, figure < Gk. skema)

    The dominant meanings of the word i.e., meanings 1,3,and 4 are in sync with the way it was used in the post

    The word primitive also has a series of meanings but how I used it is as follows:

    Primitive; 1. not derived from something else; “primary”
    -Primary; 1. first or highest in rank, quality, or importance; principal
    6. Serving as an essential component in a system; basic
    (Lat. chief)

    =(chief and primary schema)


    Thanks bro because of you I will look to see if the Oxford dictionary is online I never thought to look but will now and I hope Allah rewards you for giving me the idea to look online. Ameen


  • Abul-Hussein: baby!!

    In the words of my prof, “It's a miracle they got the entire damn thing onto the internet! It's one of the crown works of human achievement to produce such a piece of work!”

  • I understand what definitions of words are but akhi truthfully how many times have you in your lifetime ever heard someone use the words primitive or scheme in the english language in a positive way?

    If someone told you they had a “scheme” to make some money would take that as a positive or negative statement? If you heard someone refer to something as “primitive” would take as a positive or negative?

    I understand in academic circles they may use the words more frequently and positively but most people wouldn't think to do so. Just something to consider.

    Walaykum As Salaam

  • Brother,

    One of the benefits some of us gained in spending time with the jamaat tableegh was developing this fifth point. I will be surprised if you do not know of this. This fifth point was indeed integrated into the lives of the sahaba in a practical wa and not on an academic level the ongoing discussion seems to be on. Allah knows best


  • “There is no real transformation of the heart if we treat others without dignity, if we speak to others without looking to the consequence of our words, if we put our ego before principles of Islam. False consciousness and the false self prevent us coming completely into Islam and more exactly into the brotherhood of Islam”.

    When i read this statement i thought to myself, wow! if only every1 remembered this when they dealt with their fellow brothers and sisters, the muslim community would be in such a beautiful state.

    I pray that I am able to remember this when dealing with others.

    barakallahu fik brother.

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