He was the authoritative scholar of the Islamic sciences, the Qur’anic exegete, Hadith expert, jurist, and Sufi, Zafar Ahmad ibn Latif ‘Uthmani al-Thanawi. He was born the 13th of Rabi’ al-Awwal, 1310 ah. His mother died when he was only three, so his grandmother raised him. She was a righteous woman who had performed the hajj. She raised him well, and he benefited from her rectitude and piety (taqwa).
At the age of five, he began studying and memorizing the Qur’an with the principal reciters. At age seven, he began studying Urdu and Persian, as well as mathematics, with the great scholar and author, Mawlana Muhammad Yasin, the father of Mawlana Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ ‘Uthmani. Later, he studied the various Islamic sciences with the foremost scholars of India under the direct guidance and supervision of his uncle, Imam Ashraf ‘Ali al-Thanawi. He gave particular emphasis to Sacred Law (fiqh) and hadith studies, became highly proficient in both, and distinguished above other students by his intellectual ability, and the benefit of his great uncle’s tutelage.
After gaining his authorization (ijaza) in the Islamic sciences, he moved to Saharanpur and attended the hadith classes of the knower of Allah, hadith master and jurist, Mawlana Khalil Ahmad al-Saharanpuri. Following a period of close study with this great scholar, Mawlana Zafar ‘Uthmani received the Certificate of Completion in Higher Studies in 1328 AH, when he was 18; a certificate only awarded the most brilliant students at such a young age.
Given Mawlana Zafar ‘Uthmani’s talent and intellectual skill, he was appointed teacher at the madrasa in Saharanpur. There he remained for seven years, teaching Sacred Law, fundamentals of jurisprudence (usul), logic, and philosophy. He then moved to Madrasa Imdad al-‘Ulum in Thana Bhawan, where he taught all the hadith works on the curriculum. He also taught Qur’anic exegesis. Being a gifted teacher, a vast number of distinguished scholars graduated under his guidance, and went on to spread sacred knowledge in the lands.
At this point, Imam Ashraf ‘Ali al-Thanawi commissioned him to write I’la’ al-Sunan, answer legal questions, and teach in his stead. It took Imam Zafar roughly twenty years to author the eighteen large volumes of the I‘la’ al-Sunan. He also wrote a two-volume preface and added a volume in which he compiled detailed biographies of Imam Abu Hanifa, his students, and the scholars of the Hanafi school, limiting himself to the jurists who were recognized hadith specialists.
He wrote many other great works, both in Arabic and Urdu. These include a large collection of legal verdicts (fatawa), Ahkam al-Qur’an, and a legal exegesis (tafsir) of the Qur’an in praise of which scholars and jurists said, “Reading it is a lasting blessing; authoring it is like a tremendous feat (fath).”
When the subcontinent gained independence and India was divided, he moved to Pakistan and became head-teacher at Dar al-‘Ulum, Hyderabad, Sind, benefiting students with his speech, spiritual state, and righteous works.
During the last years of his life, he remained constant in his remembrance and invocations, despite weak health and sickness. He performed all obligatory prayers in the mosque even though this required extreme physical exertion. In the month of Ramadan, 1394 AH, he fell very ill and doctors forbade him from fasting. He turned down their advice, saying, “Our master ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) did not leave fasting when he was ninety, and would undergo many hardships to be able to fast.” Allah took his soul that very year. May Allah be well pleased with him.