Fatwa: # 38724
Category: Misc. Fiqh
Country: Bangladesh
Date: 26th October 2018


Authorship of Behishti Zewar (The Heavenly Ornament)



Assalāmu `alaikum Warahmatullāhi Wabarakatuh.
Muhtaram Brother,
From a source I came to know that "Behishti Zewar" is not actually compiled by Hazrath Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (RA).
Rather it was Maulana Ahmed Ali. But the name of Hazrath Moulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi (RA) became popular as the Compiler.
is that true ? Please clarify this matter.
Jazakallahu ~ Khayra,
Wassalamu alaykum.
Muhammad Shawkat Hasan






In the Name of Allaah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

As-salaamu ‘alaykum wa-rahmatullaahi wa-barakaatuh.

Brother in Islaam,

The book Behishti Zewar (The Heavenly Ornaments) is rightfully attributed to Shaykh Ashraf ‘Ali Ath-Thanwi (Rahimahullaah). You may refer to the following article for further details[1]:


Surrounding the Authorship of Bihishtī Zewar

By Zeeshan Chaudri

Having been asked on a number of occasions with regard to the authorship of Bihishtī Zewar, I decided to take some time out and look into the issue.  There is no doubt that it is the norm to attribute Bihishtī Zewar to Maulana Ashraf ‘Alī Thānawī (d.1943) as his name is found on the cover of every published edition, in the original Urdu, as well as the various languages it has been subsequently translated into. This is not some later attribution from later figures; rather it was common knowledge during his own lifetime and even shortly after his demise. Here follow some examples:

 ‘Abd al-Ḥay al-Ḥasanī (d.1923) (father of Abu al-Ḥasan Alī al-Nadwī) in his large biographical dictionary of Indian Muslim figures states that Maulana Thānawī had authored Bihishtī Zewar. Maulana Thānawī died in 1943 so the above ascription was actually during Maulana Thānawī’s lifetime [1]. 

 The earliest and most authoritative biography of Maulana Thānawī was written by Maulana Azīz al-Ḥasan Majzūb (its authoritative nature lies in its having been published during Maulana Thānawī’s lifetime - with the exception of the 4th volume) ascribes the Bihishtī Zewar to him [2].

Another early biography written by a close companion of Sayyid Sulaymān al-Nadwī (d.1953), Dr. Ghulām Muḥammad, states that the book was written in 10 parts by Ml Thānawī [3]. This book has a foreword by Mufti Shafī’ (a very close student of Maulana Thānawī) where he mentions that this biography can be seen as a shorter version of Ashraf al-Sawāniḥ [4]. 

An even clearer ascription of the book to him comes from Maulana Thānawī himself, found in his malfūzāt [5]. Maulana Thānawī mentions the fact that some individuals who, for some reason or another, would burn Bihishtī Zewar. To such an extent that the Nawāb of Pālanpūr was requested to ban the book. The Nawāb here is most likely referring to Sher Muhammad Khān. Maulana Thānawī does clarify that the Nawāb’s ban of the book was not from some personal enmity, but rather to appease the ignorant.

He goes onto to mention a few incidents, despite this negative propaganda, of people from far and wide benefiting from Bihishtī Zewar. Just to give one example, which is directly linked to the purpose of this piece, is of a female dancer who happened to meet Maulana Thānawī’s brother on a train. After asking Akbar ‘Alī (Maulana Thānawī’s brother) where he was from, he responded that he was from Thānā Bawan. She then inquiried about Maulana Thānawī due to her having read Bihishtī Zewar and him being the author. The incident then goes on to Akbar ‘Alī questioning her profession despite having read a book like Bihishtī Zewar.

The narrator of this incident is Maulana Thānawī himself, who affirms himself as being the author of this book. In regard to the opposition the book faced (which came in various forms), one example is mentioned by Francis Robinson in his study of the Ulamā’ of Farangī Maḥall. Some of the Farangī Maḥallīs, namely Maulana Sibghat Allah and Maulana Ināyat Allah, considered certain sections of Bihishtī Zewar to be problematic [6]. They directed their criticism at Maulana Thānawī, again because they knew him to be the author. This was published in the al-Nizāmiyya [8] journal from between 1916-17 (once again during the lifetime of Maulana Thānawī). 

Muftī Taqī Uthmānī (the son of the abovementioned Muftī Shafī’) attributes the book to him in his short biography of Maulana Thānawī found in the beginning of the latter’s Imdād al-Fatāwā [9]. 

The above is far from being exhaustive and is just a few examples which I came across in a short amount of time. 

There has been some confusion surrounding the ascription of this book to Maulana Thānawī in recent times due to a comment made by Maulana Thānawī within his original Urdu introduction to the book. He states:

تالیف اسکی برائے نام اس ناکاره وناچیز کی طرف منسوب هے اور واقع میں اسکے گل سرسبد جیبی عزیزی مولوی سید احمد علی صاحب فتحپوری سلمه الله تعالی بالافادات والافاضات هیں

Metcalf translates this passage as:

The book has been attributed to this worthless person, but in truth its ‘’finest flower’’ is my beloved relative Maulawi Sayyid Ahmad ‘Ali Fatahpuri, may the peace of Almighty God be upon him with instructions and benefactions….[10] (emphasis not added)

It does appear Metcalf mistranslated this section, as bi al-ifādāt wa al-ifāḍāt as part of the supplication, whereas it was in fact referring to the instructions and benefactions that Fataḥpūrī gave in the writing of the book. 

Here it seems that Maulana Thānawī is taking credit away from himself for actually writing this book. To understand this passage, two things have to be noted. First, when the above was written, and second, the nature of the writing of Bihishtī Zewar.

The above was written by Maulana Thānawī shortly after 1902, the rest of the introduction mentions the fact that the book was still being written and that he is not aware of how long the book will be. He also mentions that the book is being written in sections (or small volumes), the benefit of which is that the reader can choose which section to read, rather than having to go through the whole book at once.

As for the ascription to Maulana Sayyid Aḥmad ‘Alī Fataḥpūrī (d.1940), then the passage can be interpreted to mean that Maulana Thānawī benefited from Maulana Sayyid. Maulana ‘Abd al-Ḥay al-Ḥasanī clarifies the matter in his entry on Maulana Sayyid in Nuzhat al-Khawāṭir.

He states that Maulana Sayyid was one of the close disciples of Maulana Thānawī who actually passed away before his Shaykh. He was also not just a spiritual disciple but even studied under Maulana Thānawī for a number of years, until he began to teach in his madrasa. Maulana ‘Abd al-Ḥay then mentions: ‘He (Maulana Sayyid) had a strong affinity for jurisprudence. His authoring of the first five sections of Bihishtī Zewar is indicative of that’. [11]

This should now clarify the matter and show why both the statement of Maulana Thānawī in the Muqaddima of Bihishtī Zewar and the ascription of the book to him as a whole are accurate. It is important to note that this discussion does not really have much in the way of implications as Maulana Thānawī was closely part of the whole project anyway but...

على سبيل الإيضاح

Note: There is still much in the way of the mulfūzāt, biographies and actual works of Maulana Thānawī to explore, so it is possible I have missed information which could add to or even change my conclusion. 

[1] Al-Ḥasanī, ‘Abd al-Ḥay (1999) ‘Nuzhat al-Khawāṭir’, Beirut: Dār ibn Ḥazm, (8 vols.), 8/1188
[2] Majzūb, ‘Azīz al-Raḥmān (2006) ‘Ashraf al-Sawāniḥ’, Multan: Idārāt al-Ashrafiyya (4 vols.), 3/83
[3] Muḥammad, Ghulām (n.d.) ‘Ḥayāt-e Ashraf’, Karachi: Makatabat Thānawī, p.107
[4] Ibid, p.10

 [5] For the following discussion, see Thānawī, Ashraf ‘Alī (2012) ‘al-Ifāḍāt al-Yawmiyya’, Multan: Idārat Ta’līfāt-e Ashrafiyya, 8/78-80 
[6] Robinson, Francis (2001) ‘The ‘Ulama of Farangi Mahall and Islamic Culture in South Asia’, London: C. Hurst & Co. p.136-138
[7] I have been unable to locate this journal beyond the knowledge that it is currently in the Farangī Maḥall archive in Karachi.
[8] Uthmānī, Taqī (2010) ‘Imdād al-Fatāwā’, Karachi: Maktabat Dār al-‘Ulūm Karāchī (6 vols.) 1/49) 
[9] This is taken from the following online link (p.23) ia800301.us.archive.org/31/items/BahishtiZewarUrduCompletedeobandi--Www.momeen.blogspot.com/BahishtiZewarUrduCompletedeobandi--Www.momeen.blogspot.com.pdf
[10] Metcalf, Barbara (1990) ‘Perfecting Women: Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi’s Bihishti Zewar, A Partial Translation with Commentary’, Berkeley: University of California, p.49. Metcalf also does mention that she heard from Maulana Thānawī’s grandson that Maulana Thānawī would say that he hoped that he would be granted salvation through this book of his. 
11) Al-Ḥasanī, ‘Nuzhat al-Khawāṭir’, 8/1183, this section has been translated into Urdu, see al-Raḥmān, Qārī Fuyūḍ (1997) ‘Ḥakīm al-Ummat Mawlānā Ashraf ‘Alī Thānawī awr unke Khulafā’e Kirām’, Karachi: Majlis-e Nashriyāt-e Islam. P.61

And Allaah Ta’aala Knows Best.

Muajul I. Chowdhury

Student, Darul Iftaa

Astoria, New York, USA


Checked and Approved by,
Mufti Ebrahim Desai.


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