Memoirs of Sheikh Mufti Taha Karaan (Rahimahullah)

Assalaamu ‘Alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuhu

I am honoured to be given the opportunity to note down some of the experiences I had whilst living with Sheikh Tauha in Deoband.

After studying for five years in Dewsbury Markaz UK, I left for India via Umrah in 1989. I arrived in Deoband towards the end of May – Shawwal 1409. Ironically, 2021 is the full circle of the Islamic calendar. Sheikh Tauha arrived that same year, towards the end of Dhul Hijjah. He had made the Hajj journey that year with his parents from Cape Town SA. He journeyed to Deoband via flights to Karachi and then Lahore; by train across the Wagha border into Amritsar and then onto Deoband by taxi.

He initially applied for a place in the Qiraat class and everyday, after submitting his Qiraat lesson to Qari Abdul Ra’uf Sahib, he would attend the Mishkaat lesson. This was standard practice for many students wanting to focus on a specific discipline – they would attend their intended lessons and then seek admission in to other classes. This allowed them to stay within the Darul Uloom compound as registered students.

There are many memories but to avoid lengthening this paper, I will focus on a few traits of Sheikh that I feel reflect his character and will be of benefit to us.

Simplicity and detachment from worldly materials:

The first time I saw Shaikh Tauha, he was standing in the residence courtyard. Strange as it may sound, his first appearance did not strike me as a foreigner! In the sub-continent, especially the UP side, foreigners specifically, due to their clothing style, would usually stand out from the Indian/host residents, and students of Darul Ulooms are no different. Sheikh Tauha was different. Standing there in the foreigner courtyard of the Darul Uloom residence, he could easily be mistaken as an Indian student passing through. He had no interest in dressing up: it was always a simple white kurta (which faded as the year went by) and normal pyjama style wide trousers and criss-cross slider slippers. Many a time, a turban would also be added onto that simple attire, or a head scarf/shawl every now and then. There was no desire to portray himself a foreigner – which can result in privileges at times – nor did he have any interest in purchasing new clothes or changing or trying out the Deoband style ‘qaasmi/tayyabi’ headgear or sherwani.

The foreigners’ residence in Darul Uloom was in Ihata Baagh, a number of rooms around a small courtyard beneath the administration offices very close to the Darul Uloom masjid. Initailly, he shared a room with a fellow South African student, but when a single-person room became available Shaikh moved into it, even though it was the smallest room in that quarter. The room was just wide and long enough to lay down bedding of a similar width and length to the room, with a ceiling shelf along the length of the room for luggage. Walking past, we students would see him in the room through the low window, sitting on the bedding reading a book propped up on the window shelf, or writing with a simple desk on the bedding – there was no space in the room for a desk or seating of any type. Yet not once did he complain or feel undeserving. Even if a wider room became available, he would not rush to claim it for himself or even take it, if offered by the colleagues. It was never his
top priority. He was content with what little he had.

Money was always a novelty for foreigners, especially because of the exchange rate: it always felt like we had a ‘lot’ of money when we received it every now and then. But the Sheikh stamped his outlook on that front very quickly too. The reason was the following incident:

Within a month of arriving, he went to Delhi to see his parents off at the airport for their return to South Africa. His parents handed him expenditure money for the whole year – six thousand rupees – as they were leaving. After seeing them off, he made the return journey by bus to Deoband but soon realised he had been pickpocketed on the bus. If you are a new student in a foreign country and such an event occurs, it can easily break you; you are literally stuck with nowhere to turn. The Sheikh, whilst sad, was in no way going to let that make him feel lost. To him it was material that was not meant to be for him and he just accepted Allah’s decree and did not let this episode define his character or affect his focus.

Food was also never something he would fuss over. We had our own self-funded foreigners/Afriki mess set up in the Afriki manzil, but he never appeared for breakfast, and seeing him at lunch was also rare. Dinner, however, was somewhat regularly attended. Maybe it was the meal he had accustomed himself to, to keep himself going throughout the day. Even then, if a discussion arose in those times, or some matter from the day’s lesson issue was brought up, the food before him would be left untouched as he would wander off, talking on the matter or presenting his opinion or research or tahqeeq. Before we knew it, the azan for salaat would be heard and he would have to leave the food for the locally employed chef to enjoy, distribute or take home for the family. I don’t think this habit of his ever ceased: I recollect when the sheikh was here for the Khatma Bhukhari Jalsa in 2017: we once sat down to eat in Bait Muhammad, the ‘table spread’ was filled with varieties
of delicious food organised by the madresa. Whilst waiting for everyone to join, a member of the madresa came and asked, from what I recollect, about Islamic rulings and fatwas regrading Qaul-ejadeed and Qaul-a-Qadeem in the Shafi’i fiqh. The Sheikh started talking and I could see the food was getting left untouched as he explained and talked away in that same style we had seen in Deoband.

Darul Uloom holds an annual prize-giving ceremony for students achieving distinguished marks in the previous year. It is held a few months into the new year and distinguished students that have left/graduated are invited back to receive the prizes. These are published books donated by many of the local booksellers in Deoband, and sometimes, newly authored books donated by the authors themselves, to be gifted to the students. Shaikh Tauha was one such student receiving prizes during the Jalsa after he graduated. However, he had already returned to South Africa, got married and left for Cairo for further studies. He posted a letter to us – his fellow foreign students – to hand in to the office. Within it, he had requested his prize be collected by the foreign students on his behalf. Mufti Saeed Saheb (Rahmatullahi alihi) was in charge of the event that year and he was handed the letter. The students chose me to receive the books on his behalf. The number and type of books received during the prize-giving was dependent on the examinations within which one received high marks. Books are given individually for each subject and exam. As you will now know, Shaikh had achieved full marks, with distinction (51/50) during both midterm and end-of-year examinations. I was therefore called up to the stage on his behalf many times. I remember Mufti Saheb jokingly saying to me as I got up for the umpteenth time ‘Ghaday lekar ayay ho?’ (Have you brought a donkey along?) – to carry the books!

Shaikh Tauha requested that the prized mountain of new books, a treasure for any student, be inventoried so he would know which ones they were, and then for the entire collection to be donated to the Afriki Anjuman library that was set up in the Darul Uloom.

Simplicity and detachment from worldly trappings and material was still his outlook even after becoming a sought after Aalim worldwide. His personally owned cars would usually be simple runarounds. No fancy high class models, even though he would travel hundreds of miles to attend seminars or conferences within South Africa, driving himself around many times. Furthermore, if he was anywhere near the Jo’burgh or Durban area, he would decline all 5-star hotels and arrangements and go and stay at his best friend’s (and my class fellow’s) home – that of Molana Afzal. He possessed no airs and graces and never demanded or expected any privileges or preferential treatment. The rise in fame and popularity had no effect on him and he remained an easy-going person who was jovial and who just appreciated the simple things in life.

Zeal and passion for Knowledge and in-depth studying:

His dedication to studying was a wonder. He could immerse himself into a book and finish it in a few hours or a few continuous sittings, and then be able to relate many aspects from memory. Often, after submitting his qiraat lesson, he would be gone and we would then come to know at evening dinner or the next morning, that he had spent the whole morning and afternoon in the Darul Uloom library. He had gone in to search for a book, found it and then sat in the library and read the book in its entirety, or recorded the information that he required.

As a follower of the Shafi’i Madh’hab, Shaikh was very conscious of the fact that he was within a predominantly Hanafi populated madresa. Many times, a student returning from a lesson would relate some aspect of the lesson to Shaikh. Shaikh was still not a ‘dora’ student, and yet, he would suddenly, as if in a trance, start relating quotes and dalail of imam Shafi’i and would leave us in amazement.

Once I asked him how was he so informed in these matters in so much depth. He replied, ‘Kola, (that was his nickname for me, even on our recent WhatsApp group), I have been in Hanafi madresas all my life, (he had studied Hifz and the Aalim course at Mia’s Farm in Jo’burgh) and whenever a ruling or masala is discussed, the Hanafi point of view is always defended and promoted. I listened for a while and eventually realised I had to find the Shafi’i point of view and dala’il and made it a point to always study that everyday and, where possible, present it in class or use it when debating it with other students.’

No wonder he was later on given the title ‘The Junior Al-Shafi’i’ – immortalised as such on Wikipedia.

As you will no doubt now know, Shaikh received top marks and came first with distinction. I do remember once asking him, ‘How do you answer the questions in the exam paper that usually ask for the Hanafi point of view and their dala’ils?’ He replied,

‘I write the whole answer down as asked, but then I do finish it off with the Shafi’i point of view from another angle or a further point, not usually mentioned in the lessons or the book and leave it that.’

During my time there, during Shaikh’s ‘dhora’ year, he was the point of reference for many Shafi’i students who would approach him with a question on the Shafi’i point of view in a certain ruling and was known for his detailed answer, with references, and leaving the students satisfied.

During his tenure as student at Deoband, Skaikh took advantage of the proximity to numerous Ulama and institutes of knowledge, making a point to visit as and when possible.
There were two Maliki students, brothers from Sudan, who he travelled with to many places, especially with the older of the two, in search of sanads and to sit in the company of the pious and learned.

He attended the majlis of Sheikh Yunus at Saharanpur on many Thursday evenings. It is also purported that Shaikh visited Molana Ahmed Partapghari in his Khan’qah in Partapgarh – Allahu A’lam.

He also travelled to Mau, Azamghar, where the great Muhaddith, ‘Abul-Maathir’ Hazrat Molana Habibur Rahman (rahmatullahi alaih) was residing and sat in his company and took ijazah and sanad from him. He was very fortunate, as Hazrat was very old and very soon after, within a year or two, passed away.

One aspect of the journey to Mau, which etched in his mind was our own Ustaad, teacher of Muslim Shareef at that time and still a senior teacher in Deoband, Molana N’imatullah Saheb, was also visiting but he was serving the guests and making khidmat. Sheikh Tauha was profoundly affected by this selfless character of a senior Hadeeth teacher.

He once set off and visited the Raza Library in Rampur. It is one of the biggest libraries in the world and is a treasure house of Indo-Islamic materials, set up at the end of the 18th Century by the then nawab, and continuously extended by subsequent nawabs. It is full of rare books as well as original manuscripts of unpublished and published books. He went and stayed a few days in the city and visited the library every day. He spent his time requesting rare books that were possible to read, reading them or taking down many notes and then returned to Darul Uloom thereafter.

Shaikh was appreciative of the relationship and link between teacher and student made possible at Darul Uloom Deoband.

As an unwritten rule and part of the tradition of Deoband, the asatiza of Darul Uloom had an opendoor policy, allowing students to visit their homes or living quarters between Asr and Magrib and to sit in their company. Many students took advantage of this and would go and visit the asatiza, it allowed students to create bonds with the teachers and speak to them directly outside of lessons. Communication like this during lesson times was difficult, especially during the dora year, due to the sheer number of students in the class.

Sheikh Tauha established a special bond with Mufti Saeed Palanpuri Saheb (Rahmatullahi alaih) and would often spend the time between Asr and Magrib in his company The bond and connection became special, and he would from time to time, be invited to breakfast at Mufti Saheb’s residence. This was a sign that Mufti saheb had taken a special interest in him and that in itself, was a testimony of Sheikh’s character and ability.

Shaikh Tauha also studied Shi’ism in Cairo. The course was so comprehensive that he was able to have meaningful and productive debates and discussion with the Shi’a community in South Africa, after he returned. His subject knowledge was so in-depth and he used to present his points with evidence, instead of responding with the takfeeri confrontative approach void of any productive criticism that is often usual on the part of some Ahle-Sunnah wal Jamaa’ah Ulama. As a result, the Shi’a community, too, used to be in awe of him and reluctantly acknowledge his repertoire.

Other notable interests and traits: Calligraphy and Poetry

Out of the many notable gifts he had, he possessed the gift of beautiful writing and calligraphy. He had captivating writing skills in English, Arabic and Urdu. He came to Darul Uloom with a diary, which he had started when he left Cape town for Hajj, and continued during his journey to Pakistan and then to Darul Uloom. Thereafter, despite his best intentions, the diary became a notebook and a doodle book, much treasured by its claimant. It contains many things, including poetry he had copied, Masail, rulings he wanted to pen down and many pages of practised calligraphy. The beautiful specimens of writing in there are amazing to see.

He had this skill from a young age, when he was a student in Mia’s Farm, Jo’burgh. He not only proofread the famed South African new Quran they were hoping to print; the publisher’s name – Al-Ma’hadul Al-Islami bi Waterfal (- )بواترفال اإلسالمي المهد in Arabic calligraphy inside the front cover was his own hand-written contribution to it too.

Hashim Mohammad Al-Khattati Al Baghdadi (d. 1973), called the ‘Imam of (Arabic) Calligraphy, gifted the people of Jo’burg a copy of his own العربي الخط قواعد) Principles of Arabic Calligraphy). Sheikh Tauha had a copy he brought along to Deoband, which he gifted to me with his own Arabic writing on the cover page. That writing is a sight to behold. I think he was hoping that, amongst other things, he could inspire some interest in calligraphy in me. One of his constant pieces of advice to me was to only read Arabic shuroohaats. It is a shame I wasn’t a better student.

The letter he sent about the books he was to receive as prizes was also written in beautiful Arabic writing.

Creating poetry is a gift given by Allah, not something one can learn. Ironically, just as Imam Shaf’i was a great poet, Shaikh Tauha was also endowed with that skill. His poetry in Arabic and English, beautified by his unbelievable comprehensive command of the Arabic and English languages, in reading, understanding, speaking and writing, is a testimony of his immense expertise in this field. He wrote many poems on various topics: recently his nasheed elegy for his brother Professor Hafiz Abdus Salaam Mohammad Karaan and his defence of Mufti Taqi saheb are worth listening to/reading. This aspect is also another reason for his title as ‘Junior Imam Shaf’I’

His knowledge of traditional books was also beyond belief. Whilst in the UK in 2017, he had a discussion with Mufti Shabbir Saheb (damat barakatuhum) at his residence after dinner. The discussion of two great minds on the matter of traditional books etc. was a worthwhile moment. On that trip he was invited over by Hazrat Molana Yusuf Motala Saheb (rahmatullahi alaihi) to his home too. Hazrat asked about South Africa and presented Shaikh with many of his own publications as a parting gift. Mufti Abdul Hamid of Tauheedul School also invited him over and they had a lengthy discussion on Islamic schools and the challenges facing our community. He had a brief visit of a few hours to Leicester at the Shafi’i masjid, Masjid-a-Aisha. He gave a small speech and then, during the gathering, after one attendee requested the ijaza of the Ar-Rahimoon hadeeth, the sheikh, without
hesitation, conveyed not only the hadeeth but also whole sanad from memory. In just the same way, he related the entire Sanads of Muslim and Bhukhari during the Bhukhari Jalsa.

These treasured moments and meetings with great luminaries and people of influence is an
indication of how they also valued the Sheikh just as much as he did them.

Upholding Deen and Shafi’i Madhhab:

He was never scared or hesitated to express anything he felt needed to be said in deeni matters. Once, whilst in Deoband we received a widely read foreign journal written by a high ranking alim, within which there was a question/answer page. There was one answer, which, while Shaikh agreed with technically, he felt that the style and manner of the prose impacted negatively on the Shafi’i mazhab. He did not hesitate to express his thoughts and immediately wrote back. This remained his approach throughout his life.

His recent rulings in the Covid-19 pandemic, I.e., closing the masjids and adhering to the social distancing and sanitizing regulations was a ruling that resulted with a vicious backlash from certain fraternities within South Africa, with some rhetoric even questioning his faith, but that did not deter him from remaining steadfast. Rather, he very eloquently responded with the incident of Hazrat Umar and his intended travel to Shaam. During this incident, Hadhrat Umar was travelling to Syria, when he received word of a pandemic in his intended destination. Following mashwera, he decided to return. Abu Ubaidah bin Jarrah subsequently objected, to which Hadhrat Umar responded (nafirru min qadrillah ila qadrillah). Shaikh Tauha quoted this very line in response to those objecting to his fatawaa.

At this time, Shaikh also responded with poetry in defense of Mufti Taqi saheb (damat
barakatuhum). He epitomized the reflection of (.)الئم لومة هللا في واليخافون He felt sadness at the
onslaught he received on Facebook and other social media outlets, and expressed this on our WhatsApp group. People close to Allah are subjected to this type of onslaught right up until their demise and even beyond. Unfortunately, there was also a derogatory remark made about the Shaikh with regards to his Covid-19 ruling during the Friday lecture following Shaikh’s demise!

There are so many other episodes of his life I could relate, but it is fitting that we end it here on the following note. The Sheikh recently organized, covered and attended the Maqra of Musnad-aAhmed, one of the largest hadeeth collections of approximately 26-27,000 Ahadeeth. Whilst reciting, he commented in relation to a hadeeth, and following the teaching of the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu alaihi wasallam), he asked everyone to witness that he had forgiven everybody from this point onwards, including the one person he had never forgiven so far, for the sake of Allah and in anticipation of the intercession and shafa’at of the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wassallam)

This, in short is the teaching of the Prophet (Sallalahu alaihi wasallam). It is easy to forgive as a formality, but when criticism and taunts are constantly aimed at you and on a personal level, it takes a special person, one emulating the Prophet (sallallahu alihi wasallam) and one close to Allah, to really forgive from the heart. In my humble opinion, Sheikh Tauha was one of those people.

The shaikh’s family have had significant losses since 2014. His sister passed into Allah’s favour in 2014, followed by his beloved father, Mufti Yusuf Karaan in 2015, and then, a few months ago in January 2021, his older brother, Professor Hafiz Abdus Salaam. The shaikh is now survived by his dear mother, wife and 8 children.

May the Almighty shower his forgiveness on the Sheikh; elevate his status; preserve his legacy; grant all his family sabr and reward, and grant us replacements who are true reflections of the luminaries of the past.

Finally, let me thank Bait Muhammad for giving me this opportunity to not only recall these
memories of Shaikh Tauha, but also for the fact that they invited him over in 2017, which allowed me to reconnect with my madresa colleague after 27 years. Had they not invited him over, we all would not have had the opportunity to experience this personality. Indeed, we did not appreciate him in his lifetime, but we can compensate that by reviving and spreading his work and legacy of supporting the Shafi’i effort ongoing here, and around the country, and praying that Allah Almighty keep us on the straight path and accept our efforts.


Maulana Zubair Kola,
Leicester, UK