Muhammad Fazal Khan Changwi

Maulawi Muhammad Fazal Khan Changawi (1868–1938) was an erudite writer of numerous learned books on Islam, and a celebrated translator of Futuhat Makkiya by Ibn Arabi and some of his other works. His most important original contribution to the Muslim literature is his book Asrar-i Shari'at (The secrets of the Muslim creed).


Early life

Changawi was a native of Changa Bangial in Rawalpindi district (Pakistan). He was a scion of a respectable Rajput petty landowner family with no particular academic traditions. His preceptor and religious guide was his maternal uncle Maulavi Muhammad Umar Bakhsh (died 1887), a naqshbandi-mujaddadi Sufi of repute and an author of numerous books on religious subjects, under whose guidance Changawi completed the traditional course of Dars- i Nizami. By the age of 17 he had a fair knowledge of the religious sciences and a good command of Arabic, Persian and Urdu. His desire to acquire also modern education was fulfilled when he was admitted in 1885, at a rather late age, to the Mission School in Rawalpindi. He completed his academic courses within the short span of three years acquiring thereby good working knowledge of the English language. He later published numerous treatises in English. It was during this period that he was exposed to the natural sciences as well as confronted with the Christian mission.

After leaving school he took the job of a private preceptor with the former royal family of Afghanistan, parts of which were residing in Rawalpindi. He was in intimate contact with the Sufi circles of the town and in fact took the oath of allegiance (bai'a) at the hand of Khwaja Faqir Muhammad Tirahi, who happened to make a stop over in Rawalpindi shortly before or in 1887.


The Ahmadiyya has throughout faced the dilemma of not being joined by the divines in any significant numbers. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was himself not tutored to be a divine, something he had in common with many of the outstanding personalities of Indian Islam, such as Abu'l Kalam Azad, Muhmmad Iqbal and Abu'l A'la Maududi. In fact an amateurish kind of scholarship still prevails in the Ahmadiyya, which has retained its antagonistic attitude towards traditional learning. Ahmadi authors hardly ever venture to write on subjects which lay outside the purview of the writings of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Changawi was an exception to this rule.

On the one hand he compiled the Ahmadiyya Fiqh already during the life-time of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, whose pronouncements (Fatwas) pertaining to the rituals and later on also those of his successors were compiled by him initially in Fatawa Ahmadiyya in two volumes. This compendium was later on expanded into a many-volume book on the same subject. Changawi also pursued his studies of Sufi literature, the culmination of which was his translation of the Futuhat Makkiya by Ibn Arabi. Unfortunately only two volumes could be published. Lately, in 1999 a new edition of this work has appeared in one volume from Lahore. (Futuhat Makkiya. Tarjuma wa tashri': Maulavi Muhammad Fazal Khan. Lahore: Tasawwuf Foundation. 1999). In fact Changawi had announced that he had compiled and translated another book about the experiences of Ibn Arabi, which was to be published under the title of Mushahadat-i Ibn Arabi. But the book does not seem to have been printed.

Asrar-i Shari'at

Changawis major work Asrar-i Shari'at, which kept him busy for over two decades, was published in or just after 1909. The first volume was published in Arabic in 1923 on the lower part of Nahj al-Musalli, another book of the author which comprises on the Fiqh of the Ahmadiyya concerning the prayers (salat).

Volume I

The first volume of Asrar-i Shari'at comprises on three parts: 1) kitab al-tahara (The book of ritual washings), 2) kitab al-salat (The book of prayers), 3) kitab al-zakat (The book of Zakat). In each case important aspects of the respective subject matters are discussed with reference to the wisdom of the specific rulings. For example in the case of wudu (ritual washings) the prevalent sequence of washing (face, hands, head and feet) is defended "being the most natural", as the author puts it. The eyes behold and inform the heart, which in its turn alarms the brain, where the deliberation takes place. The face has a kind of natural preference over other parts of the body. The feelings are expressed by the face and then comes the turn of the hands to carry out the orders of the brain. The washing of the feet in the end is not to belittle their importance.

The author very often refers to medical findings as well as to general human experience. Why, for example, a cloth should be washed thoroughly if it is wetted by the urine of a girl, but may be cleaned locally, when wetted by the urine of a boy? The reason, he thinks, lies in the difference of the composition of urine of the male and the female infants. Why women have been ordained to substitute the fast of Ramadan, if it falls during their menstruation period, but the substitution of the daily prayers has been waived? The reason, he states, is that the Ramadan commences only once in a year and moreover the substitution of a limited number of fasts does not constitute any particular burden. The prayers are performed daily and may therefore be foregone. Why the mourning period has been limited for women to three days in the case of the death of their parents, but has been extended to four months and ten days in the case of their spouses? As a general rule, said the author, Islam abhors the observation of extended mourning periods. But in the case of the death of a husband, it is important to wait for the prescribed period to ascertain, whether or not the woman was pregnant of her deceased spouse. Only after this period she may remarry.

These and a host of other questions - some times they are pertinent and at times of marginal value - are raised in the book. The answers are at times convincing, even according to our today's standards. But occasionally the reader is left wondering about the logic of the argument. In the chapter of azan (call for prayer) the author discusses the reason for calling azan in one ear and iqama in the other of the newly born baby. After recounting three reasons: a) the first voice leaves a permanent impression on the mind of the infant; b) the call for prayer belongs to the distinctive features of Islam, therefore the child of a Muslim must be acquainted with it right from birth; c) Satan has a horror of the azan and along with him also the Jinnis ran away, he surprisingly also mentions that the infant is immunized through azan against infant mortality. Unconvincing is likewise his discussion about zakat (wealth tax) on camels, which is levied on five camels, whereas any number of horses, asses and mules are exempted from it. He argues that they are devilish animals and the act of paying zakat purifies them. Horses and other beasts of burden are utilized for jihad (war) and are dedicated to the cause of God. Therefore they are exempted from zakat.

Volume II

The second volume of Asrar-i Shari’t consists on: a) kitab al-saum (The book of fasting), b) kitab al-hajj (The book of pilgrimage), c) kitab al-nikah (The book of matrimony), d) kitab al-riqq (The book of slavery), e) kitab al-buyu’ (The book of trading), f) kitab at-akl wa'l-shurb (The book of eating and drinking), g) kitab al-janayat wa'1-hudud (The book of personal code), h) kitab al-fara’id (The book of inheritance), i) and kitab falsfat al-islam (The book of the philosophy of Islam).

In this volume there is one interesting ijtihad of the author, to which special attention must be drawn. It is about dispensation from fasting for people living on the north and south poles, where the days and nights extend up to six months. The author notes that the Muslims have been ordained to observe the fasting month, when they are witness to the month of Ramadan. On the poles the situation is abnormal, as the year is divided into a day and a night, both extending to six months each. In such a case a Muslim can neither observe the five daily prayers, as they are tied to different stages of the sun in a day, nor can there be any fasting, which also needs shorter division of days and nights, as well as the division of the year into months. Where there is no month of Ramadan, there can be no fasting either. This argumentation in a bit strange in the presence of time measuring devices, such as watches, which are being very well utilized on both poles for everyday life. Also months are counted there in the same manner as anywhere else in the world.

Volume III

The third volume is entirely devoted to dogmatic theology. Therefore, this volume is methodologically completely different. In this part, for example, questions pertaining to revelation are discussed and whether God still addresses human beings. After giving a long discourse about divine revelation, the author concludes that God still blesses human beings with divine revelations (ilham, wahi). Inevitably the next question was, whether the prophethood had come to an end with Muhammad, whom the Qur'an had addressed as the last of the prophets (khatam al-nabiyyin). The author thinks that Islam was the culmination of divine law and Muhammad was the last law-giving prophet, after whom there was no place for a new prophet and a new divine law.

Being a follower of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who had claimed a minor prophethood (zilli nabi) for himself, Changawi adopted an interesting device of introducing the claims and explanations of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad regarding his position in this and other matters by quoting him verbatim. Also the arguments of his adversaries were given adequate attention and were quoted extensively in order to present their respective view-points. In this way disputed subject-matters between the Ahmadiyya and their adversaries were discussed without showing bias to one or the other side. For example questions pertaining to the life and death of Jesus Christ and his advent along with the Mahdi and whether they will be two distinct persons or, as Mirza Ghulam Ahmad had claimed, a single person was duly discussed.

Then he goes on to discuss the nature of the angels and whether it was God's design to misguide humanity by creating Satan. Very interesting are his discourses about the nature of the Jinnis and the mystery of Dajjal. The author is perhaps at his best when he ventures to answer questions pertaining to death, the bridge sirat, which everybody must cross to reach his/her ultimate destination, heaven or hell. And finally the day of judgement is devoted a lengthy discourse.

On the whole the Asrar-i Shari’at is an interesting book both theologically as well as historically. Its theological importance lies in its bold attempt to interpret Islamic teachings from rationalistic view-point in a period of the Muslim history, when Islam seemed to be on the defensive every where in the world.

Other works

Changawi's other books include a treatise about Islam's response to Christian missions (A'ina-i 'isai'yat) and a book about Islamic teachings regarding matrimonial relations between husband and wife (Hadayat al-Zaujain). The last mentioned book could not be published during the life-time of the author, who had finished the manuscript, but was perhaps too busy during his later years with pamphleteering.

In fact shortly before his death in 1938 Changawi left the Ahmadiyya after an association of almost 40 years. He had to pay for his convictions dearly which affected his reputation as a scholar. His books could not get that kind of popularity which they indeed deserved. And the Ahmadiyya community behaved in its usual manner by deleting his name from its annals, when he finally left its fold.

External links

  • [1]Muniruddin Ahmed: Maulavi Muhammad Fazal Khan - aik aalam-e rabbani ki sawaanih hayat. 2000.
  • [2] Maulavi Muhammad Fazal Khan: Asrar-e Shari'at. Part One. Kummerfeld (Germany), 4th ed. 2011. 296 p.
  • [3] Maulavi Muhammad Fazal Khan: Asrar-e Shari'at. Part Two. Kummerfeld (Germany), 4th ed. 2011. 432 p.

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