One of the greatest authorities on tasawwuf of his times, Mawlana Muhammad Masihullah Khan was among the senior representatives (khalifas) of Hakim al-Umma Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi. He hailed from the renowned and distinguished Sherwani family of Pathans, who are descendents of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace).
Mawlana Masihullah was born in 1329 or 1330 ah at Sara’i Barla, in the district of Aligarh, India. From early childhood, he had a unique desire to sit in the company of the scholars and pious servants of Allah. In particular, he enjoyed the close companionship of Mawlana Muhammad Ilyas, the spiritual representative (khalifa) of Shaykh al-Hind Mahmud al-Hasan. Through this relationship, Mawlana Masihullah was introduced to Hakim al-Umma Mawlana Thanawi, whom he came to love and strove to emulate.
With such great people in his midst at such an early age, he displayed a penchant for worship unlike many other youngsters his age. He spent a great deal of his time in the remembrance of Allah and supererogatory acts of worship. He was a paragon of piety and other noble qualities. His virtue, simplicity, and dignity were acknowledged by many who came into contact with him as a youth and as an adult. Modesty and kindheartedness dominated his personality.
His character was so excellent that he even gained the heartfelt respect of his own teachers, who themselves were renowned scholars. One of his teachers, Mufti Sa‘id Ahmad Lucknawi, a great jurist and hadith scholar, witnessed his life from early childhood. He said, “Since childhood, he has been a shining example of modesty, dignity, respect, forbearance, sincerity, intelligence, and other admirable attributes.” Mufti Sa‘id Ahmad had mastered many branches of the Islamic sciences and was Mawlana Masihullah’s teacher in these fields. Yet when Mawlana Thanawi passed away, he went to Mawlana Masihullah as a student of tasawwuf. This act of Mufti Sa‘id Ahmad only gives further credence to the spiritual nobility and status of Mawlana Masihullah.
Education, Teaching, and Death
After completing his early education in his hometown, Mawlana Masihullah enrolled into the famous Islamic institute of learning, Dar al-‘Ulum Deoband, from where he would later graduate. While at Deoband, he passed many of his days in solitude, totally engrossed in his acquisition of knowledge. He had the invaluable opportunity to study under Mawlana Husayn Ahmad Madani, I‘zaz ‘Ali, Asghar Husayn, and ‘Allama Balyawi, among others. His training under Mawlana Thanawi gave him exceptional spiritual strength, which quickly earned him a position of honor and respect among students and scholars alike. The year when Mawlana Masihullah completed his Islamic studies at Deoband, Mawlana Thanawi awarded him authorization to teach the science of tasawwuf. Mawlana Masihullah became a spiritual representative (khalifa) of Mawlana Thanawi at the age of 21, an astoundingly early age to receive such an honor. Despite his youth, Mawlana Thanawi listed him among eleven of his most eminent spiritual representatives. Mawlana Thanawi was very confident in his methods of spiritual training and would often refer students to him for such training.
Mawlana Thanawi assigned him to operate a small school in the village of Jalalabad, which in a few years became a thriving Islamic institution called Madrasa Miftah al-‘Ulum. Students would come from far and wide to attend this school, in order to benefit from Shaykh Masihullah’s knowledge and wisdom.
Mawlana Masihullah would spend the entire day in the service of Islam. After Fajr, he would take a light breakfast and not eat anything thereafter until Maghrib time. For the entire day, he would sit in the sitting posture of salat and teach patiently. His teaching style was simple and effective, and he would constantly say, “I am only presenting this through the benevolence and mercy of Allah.” He followed the Sunna in every aspect of his life.
He passed away on 16 Jumada al-Ula 1413 ah (12 November 1992 CE) with the remembrance of Allah on his lips. Mufti Muhammad ‘Inayatullah performed his funeral prayer, and he was buried in Jalalabad.