It goes without saying that Mawlānā Thanawī's sermons, in both their oral and written forms, have benefited the Muslim community immensely. These have been a source of guidance to this day. They cover most of the aspects of faith and have had a transformative effect on their audiences.
He once had a lecture scheduled in Jaunpūr. A large crowd of Barelwis turned up to the lecture. He was given a note which stated: "You are a weaver. You are an ignorant person. You are a disbeliever. You should be careful about what you say n your lecture."
Before beginning his lecture, Mawlānā Thanawī read out the contents of the note to the audience, and then said:
As for the assertion about my being a weaver, there is nothing wrong with that. I am not here to negotiate a matrimonial alliance. I have merely travelled here in order to convey Allah's guidance. This has nothing to do with my profession. Moreover, this is not something that one determines by choice: Allah decides the circumstances of one's birth and class however He wills. All people are created by Him, and if their conduct is sincere, they will do well. This is my reply in principle. As to the truth of it, there is hardly any need to state it in the light of the above clarification. However, for anyone who is very keen on finding out about my family tree, I leave behind here the names and addresses of some of the leading people of Jaunpūr. They will inform you as to whether or not I am a weaver. However, let me clarify here and now that I am not a weaver.
As to the next assertion that I am an ignorant person, I readily affirm this. Rather, I am the most ignorant person of all. However, I will keep on quoting what I have heard from my elders and what I have learnt from books. If anyone is in doubt about anything which I convey, they need not follow it.
As far as the charge of being a disbeliever, I do not have to say much. I recite publicly before all of you: 'I testify that there is no god beside Allah; and I testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.' Had I been, God forbid, a disbeliever before this moment, in view of my testimony I am no longer such.
Finally, I am asked to be careful in what I say. Let me tell you that delivering sermons is not my profession. I say only what I know. Also, I only deliver such sermons when people that I should lecture. If you prefer, I will not even say a word. As to the advice about being careful, I do not provoke anyone. Never do I intentionally say anything which may offend or cause discord. However, if I have to mention something that refutes innovative practices while elucidating the principles of the Shari’ah, I feel no need to hesitate in this regard. Otherwise it would be tantamount to being dishonest in matters of belief. Now, let me know your decision in the light of the above. If during my sermon I say anything that may offend anyone, I should be stopped immediately, and I promise on receiving any indication to do so, I will stop and retire to my seat. In fact, it would be better still if the author of the note were to stop me. If he cannot gather the courage to do so, he should ask someone else to do it.
Upon hearing all of this, A Mawlawī who himself subscribed to the adversaries' viewpoint, and was an influential person in the locality, roared, "Some wicked person must have written that note. Go ahead with your sermon! Are you not a Fārūqī [a descendant of Caliph ‘Umar Fārūq]?" To this the Mawlānā replied, "I am Fārūqī yet the people of this place call us weavers."
When the entire audience in the mosque, especially the aforementioned Mawlawī, took to condemning the sender of that note, the Mawlānā dissuaded him from uttering profanities in view of the sanctity of the location. Eventually, he delivered his sermon, which was a huge success. Unintentionally, during that lecture, he mentioned something about innovations in belief. Although he had granted people the permission to stop him from saying anything further, no one could muster the courage to disrupt his lecture.
A rationalist Mawlawī initially praised the Mawlānā's lecture, repeatedly exclaiming, "ṣubḥān Allāh", while the lecture covered sufism. However, as the Mawlānā took up the refutation of innovations in belief, he became quiet and listened patiently, which was by Allah's special favour, because he was in the habit of disturbing public lectures which were not to his liking. However, when the lecture was over and eeryone was about to disperse, he asked the Mawlānā, "Why did you take up these issues of innovation"? At this point a Mawlawī of the opposing school tried to vindicate the Mawlānā. However, the Mawlānā said, "He has addressed me, so let me respond to him. You need not interfere." Then he turned to the questioner , telling him, "Had you cautioned me earlier, I would have been more careful. I discussed only what I considered to be important. The only way to resolve it, since the audience is still her, is that you announce that I should not ave discussed those issues. I will not contest it. This will vindicate your position." Upon hearing this everyone laughed and the Mawlawī went away. After he had left, people took to criticising him, but when this became excessive, the Mawlānā intervened, "Do not abandon the resident ‘ulamā’ in favour of a travelling one. I am leaving today for Machhlīshahr. I urge the person who sent me the note to refute my stance. People will then be free to put an end to this mischief." Then the other adversary present there declared, "Brothers, you that I practise innovations in matters of belief. However, the truth is that Mawlānā Thanawī's stance, which he presented just now, is correct."
[Herewith ends the extract from The Great Scholars of the Deoband Islamic Seminary]
The Great Scholars of the Deoband Islamic Seminary. London: Turath Publishing. 129-134.