About the work “I’la al-Sunan” and its author
Shaykh Zafar Ahmad Uthmani (rahmatullahi alayhi) compiled the 20 volume masterpiece titled, “I’la al-Sunan” on the instruction of, and under the supervision of his teacher, Shaykh Ashraf Ali Thanwi (rahmatullahi alayhi). A brief idea of the scope, comprehensiveness, and background to this extraordinary work can be gathered from the following testimony by the great Arab scholar, Shaykh Abdul Fattah Abu Ghuddah:
“From the most important ways in which the pure Sunnah is served is by commenting on the hadiths of rulings and extracting what is found in them of jurisprudence (fiqh) and teaching, commands and prohibitions, the lawful and the unlawful. The aspirations of the juristic hadith-scholars vied with one another in every age and place to collect these hadiths in one platform so they become a simple reference-point and easily attainable for every student of jurisprudence and seeker of benefit.
From the best, nay the best, of what was compiled on this [subject] in this fourteenth century, and the most far-reaching of them in comprehensiveness, from the perspective of the Hanafi masters, is the book I‘la al-Sunan, a compilation by our teacher, the great scholar (‘allamah), the hadith-scholar (muhaddith), the jurist (faqih), the theoretician (usuli), the proficient researcher, Shaykh Zafar Ahmad al-‘Uthmani al-Thanawi (Allah Almighty have mercy on him)…
The reason for compiling this immense beneficial book is what occurred in the course of this century when a group of people in some cities of India arose, before the partition of Pakistan, calling themselves “Ahl al-Hadith,” claiming that the school of the Hanafi masters, which is the school of the majority of Muslims in those large and expansive lands, conflicts with the Prophetic hadiths in many issues, just as they claimed also that the Hanafi masters prefer analogy over the noble hadith, and just as they denied also taqlid of the four Imams (Allah be pleased with them) that are followed, and they lengthened their tongues with respect to Hanafi jurisprudence and more specifically with respect to the jurist of this nation Imam Abu Hanifah.
Outstanding scholars from those Indian lands arose to challenge these deviant beliefs and they falsified these claims through many well-researched hadith-related works. They explained in these [works] the reliance of the Hanafi masters in their jurisprudence and their school on the noble hadiths, and that they prefer the noble hadith and even weak hadith over analogy, and that analogy with its conditions is from the proofs which must be acted upon, and in drawing evidence from the Sunnah and relying upon it, the Hanafis are not less than other than them from the Imams, if not stronger than other than them in relying on hadith and narration. Rather, our teacher, the author of I‘la al-Sunan, Allah Almighty have mercy on him and increase his rewards, established in his hadith-related introduction Qawa‘id fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith p. 289 that the Hanafis prefer the statements of the Companions over analogy, due to their excessive adherence to reports, let alone the noble Prophetic hadiths.
And by this unique comprehensive and rare book I‘la al-Sunan and those hadith-related compilations similar to it which the scholars of India and Pakistan undertook – in those lands which have now carried from between the lands of the Muslims the burdens of the sciences of the Sunnah and its service and its propagation – those deviant claims against the Hanafis have been destroyed, and every arrogant deviant or shameless pretender of knowledge was silenced, and it became apparent to every possessor of two eyes that the Hanafis are from the greatest of people in reliance on hadith and narration while they are also people of reason and analogy.”
And from the testimony of Allamah Zahid al-Kawthari:
“Similarly, the inimitable great scholar, the unique ocean, the teacher of the scholars of the Indian lands, the great hadith-scholar, the knowledgeable critic, our master, the sage of the nation, Muhammad Ashraf ‘Ali al-Thanawi, the author of works, both small and large, numbering around five hundred, paid attention to this matter, and thus he wrote Jami‘ al-Athar on this subject. A description of this book is dispensable by the mention of the great name of its author. It was printed in India although getting hold of it has become somewhat difficult since its printed copies were depleted because of the great number of those interested in collecting the works of this lordly scholar, who is a blessing of the Indian lands, and he has a high standing amongst the scholars of India such that they call him “the sage of the nation” (hakim al-ummah).
“This magnificent scholar instructed his student and nephew, who completed his hadith studies with him, the critical hadith-scholar, the excellent jurist, Mawlana Zafar Ahmad al-Thanawi (may his achievements increase), to compile the proofs of the chapters of jurisprudence by gathering the hadiths of rulings, [arranging them] into chapters, from the sources which are difficult to obtain, while commenting on every hadith at the bottom of every page according to what is required in the science of hadith of strength and weakness and acceptance and rejection according to the different schools. This enthusiastic scholar occupied himself in this difficult task for around twenty years with the utmost devotion until he completed his work with the utmost brilliance with the accordance of Allah Glorified is He.
“Truth be told, I was astonished by this compilation and this exhaustion and by this extreme comprehensiveness in commenting on every hadith as is required in the science [of hadith], in relation to the text and chain, without there appearing the signs of affectation in support of his school, rather fairness was his principle when speaking about the opinions of the adherents of the [different] schools. Hence, I was pleased with it with the utmost happiness. This is how the aspirations of [real] men and the seriousness of [true] heroes are. If only some of the owners of the big printing presses in Egypt would attain the aforementioned book from its author, and print it with beautiful Egyptian letters, and if one of them were to do that he would have served knowledge a service that is appreciated, and he would fill a gap in this subject.”
What follows is a small extract regarding Raf’ al-Yadayn (raising the hands) from I’la al-Sunan: