Sheikh Muhammad Ziya al-Rahman al-A'zami

Sh. Al-A’zami Passes Away: From Hinduism to Hadith Scholarship

Sheikh Muhammad Ziya al-Rahman al-A’zami, outstanding Hadith scholar and author of the famous “Hadith Encyclopedia” (amongst many other works on Hadith and related sciences), passed away in Madinah Munawwarah on July 31 at the age of 77 and was buried in Jannatul Baqi.

The sad news of his demise was conveyed to me through his lifelong friend and author of the renowned Madinah Arabic Book Series, Shaikh V. Abdul Raheem.

To Allah, we belong, and to Him, we must return. I extend heartfelt condolences to his family, friends, and hundreds of students worldwide.

I pray that Allah grants him a high place in Jannah in the company of the Prophet (peace be upon him) whom he cherished so dearly – a love he expressed throughout his many works.

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Great Loss

When I began writing about Shaikh Azami, the words of Hasan al-Basari came to mind:

“They (pious elders) used to say: The death of a scholar leaves a vacuum, which is hard to fill.”

(Reported by Darimi)

This statement is certainly true of Shaikh Azami, whose contributions to Hadith sciences are momentous.

Azami was a colleague of mine at the Islamic University of Madinah Munawwarah. He was two years my senior, graduating two years ahead of me.

Shaikh Azami was married to the sister of one of my close friends. Originally from Madras (now Chennai), this friend was also a colleague of mine at the Islamic University of Madinah Munawwarah.

After graduation from the college of Hadith, Shaikh Azami obtained his Master’s at the University of Umm al-Qura in Makkah; hewent on to obtain a doctorate from al-Azhar.

His life-long research into the sciences of Hadith earned him prominence as a Hadith scholar. He served as a dean of the college of Hadith at the Islamic University of Madinah.

Journey to Islam

His life story is an inspiration for all seekers of knowledge and conscientious Muslims.

He was born into a Brahmin Hindu family in Uttar Pradesh, India. He could easily have lived and died a Hindu. Born into the Hindu hierarchical system’s highest caste, he would have enjoyed great privilege in the extremely status-conscious Indian society. Allah, however, had another plan for him.

{God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is a niche, wherein is a lamp. The lamp is in a glass. The glass is as a shining star kindled from a blessed olive tree, neither of the East nor of the West. Its oil would well-nigh shine forth, even if no fire had touched it. Light upon Light. God guides unto His Light whomsoever He will, and God sets forth parables for mankind, and God is Knower of all things.” (An-Nur 24:35).

As we learn from his narration of his journey to Islam, he was 16 when he embraced Islam.

It all began with his exposure to a book entitled, “Islam, the religion of truth” where he came across the Quranic verse,

{Verily, the religion with Allah is Islam.} (Aal-`Imran 3:19)

This statement intrigued him. As a devoted Hindu proud of his ancestral faith, he set out to study Hinduism deeply with the intent of refuting Islam. His search for the truth led him to many pundits and scholars; ultimately, he became convinced of the truth of Islam.

📚 Read Also: My Journey to Islam Stories

Search for Safety

When news of his conversion spread, his family became hostile. He received threats to his life from his family and community and had to flee. He drifted from village to village for over a year and a half as at the time, conversion from Hinduism to Islam was unthinkable.

His search for safety led him to Southern India, which was relatively safe for people who had chosen Islam or other religions.

He joined the famous Islamic Institution, Jamia Darussalam of Umarabad. (Some of Shaikh Azami’s biographers have incorrectly reported that he went to Pakistan and joined the institution of Mawlana Maududi).

Shaikh Azami himself confirmed that he studied at Omarabad, graduating after five years. Then in 1966, he went to the Islamic University of Al-Madinah Al-Munawarrah.

Contributions to Hadith Sciences

After graduating from the Islamic University of Al-Madinah Al-Munawarrah, he went to Umm al-Qura University, where he chose to specialize in Hadith.

His first work was on Abu Hurayrah – the topic of his Master’s thesis was a defense of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him).

Orientalists and Islamophobes often targeted Abu Hurayrah, which negatively influenced some Muslim scholars. Shaikh Azami performed an in-depth study of all narrations attributed to Abu Hurayrah. One of the main points of Abu Hurayrah’s detractors was that he had been a relatively new convert to Islam and yet was the most prolific transmitter of traditions from the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).

Azami scrutinized the reports from Abu Hurayrah; he concluded that the traditions Abu Hurayrah narrated did not exceed more than a few hundred without chains, which worked out to studying merely two hadiths a day. His record of transmission is not surprising then, given that he spent all of his waking hours in the company of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).  This was indeed an insightful observation by Shaikh Azami.

Great Works

Shaikh Azami’s passion for research on Hadith did not end there – he went on to produce several brilliant works on Hadith and ultimately set his mind to compiling a comprehensive encyclopedia of the Prophet’s authentic traditions.

After retiring from the post of the Dean of the college of Hadith, he devoted some 15 years to this task, producing the Encyclopedia entitled al-Jami al-Kamil fi al-Hadith al-Sahih al-Shamil (12 volumes).

Encyclopedia of Authentic Hadiths (al-Jami al-Kamil fi al-Hadith al-Sahih al-Shamil)
Encyclopedia of Authentic Hadiths (al-Jami al-Kamil fi al-Hadith al-Sahih al-Shamil)

His other works include:

  • Studies on Judaism, Christianity and the Religions of India
  • A dictionary of the terms of the science of Hadith, known as Mu’jam Mustalahaat al-Hadith
  • A commentary on al-Sunan al-Sughra among others

Shaikh Azami was an extremely humble person, admired by his friends and students alike for his simplicity and ascetic lifestyle. The words of Dhahabi befit him:

Whoever seeks knowledge for the hereafter, his knowledge would help break his pride, make his hearts experience reverence for Allah, set his soul at ease, and continue to exercise vigilance lest Satan the treacherous snatch his faith.”

I pray to Allah to shower him with mercy and honour him with the company of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and the righteous.

About Sheikh Ahmad Kutty
Sheikh Ahmad Kutty is a Senior Lecturer and an Islamic Scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada