Dr. Mohammad Zia Urrahman Al-Azami (Banki Ram)
He is one of the most prominent scholars of the Prophetic Hadith: an erudite scholar and researcher. Large numbers of Medina’s university graduate students have benefited from his vast knowledge. His books have been scattered throughout the Arab libraries, a treasure to millions of Muslims.
Undoubtedly, many of us have known, read or heard about Dr. Al-Azami. However, most of us don’t know that he was one of those who reverted to Islam. Panke Ram (Al-Azami) was born in 1943 UP in India. His family was Hindu fanatic family. He grew up worshiping idols, and used to honor their gods whose numbers are known only to Allah.
Since childhood, Panke Ram has been indoctrinated with the worst evil about Muslims who have governed India for twelve centuries. Hindu historians and authors have claimed that Muslims have wronged Hindus and were unfair to them. Hindu generations evolved with deep-rooted hatred of Islam and Muslims. Ram’s hatred of Islam has been further enhanced, of the poverty and underdevelopment of these Muslims.
Panke Ram graduated from high school, and enrolled in Shipley’s College in the city of “Azam Gharrah," a city that he will carry its name later. For the first time he has been introduced to Islam, when his friend gifted a book written by Mawdudi. The book’s title was the “True Religion.” Avidly, he read the book few times; to this experience he said: “I felt I was lost into utter darkness that has started to lift gradually. I wanted to get more of this light.”
The young Hindu bought Mawdudi’s books, and began reading them in his free time between his college courses. His astonishment about the writer and the religion he’s calling grew.
However, his admiration of Mawdudi reached its zenith in 1953. A biased military court wrongly sentenced Mawdudi to death.
Mawdudi has shown a lot of patience and stamina, and above all his contentment with what Allah has decreed. He has exhibited an admirable strong faith, and refused to ask the court for clemency.
This attitude has deeply touched the young Panke Ram. He said: “I have always thought that those who faced destiny, and have resigned to their fate had all vanished into history’s books.”
Panke Ram took a step back, though; say if you want a step forward. He went backward to Hindu religious books called Vida. In them, he wanted to find a cure to his chest’s constriction. Therein, he has found them teeming with fairy tales enticing people to worship trees, rocks and animals. They don’t cause harm, nor confer favor or benefit. “After studying Vida, I felt like a man who runs from rain drops to stand under the gutter.” He said.
Alternatively, like the poet has said:
Seeking the help of a fair weather friend is Like one who seeks refuge from heat to searing fire.
How could the young educated Panke Ram believe in books that call for polytheism? For each aspect of nature around us, it will assign it a specific god. They claim that “Agni” is the god of fire; “Vayu” the god of air; “Indra” the god of thunder; “Surya” the god of the sun; “Varuna” god of the cosmic law; “Vishnu” god of sustenance. These books also claim that the creator “Washu” is similar to man. He has many eyes, arms and legs. He gets tired; in order to regain his strength, he has to eat sacrificial animals to restore his might that brings downpour and manages the universe.
How could the young educated Panke Ram believe their claim that the supreme god “Permishur” has created water from his own body, then threw a drop of semen in it? This concoction has become an egg, and Brahma came out who broke the egg in half. From one-half, he has created paradise and heavens and earth from the other half. Furthermore, the universe according to their belief will remain in existence as long as this presumed god stays awake. However, if he dozed off and sleeps, the Day of Judgment will come. Allah says in Sura Al-Furqan, verse 3: “Yet have they not taken, besides him, gods that can create nothing but are themselves created; that have no control of hurt or good to themselves; nor can they control death nor life nor resurrection.”
After embracing Islam, Al-Azami has quoted chapters of these books in order to shed some light of their weak argument and banal topics.
For example, in the books of (Rag Vida), the Angels will tell (Indra) the (god of rain): “O Indra! Vishnu (god of sustenance) is preparing a buffalo supper for you” the books also say: “Indra is with the worshipers cooking the plump ox.” Furthermore, the alleged god Indra says: “Cook me, fifteen oxen and I will eat it, and I will be fat.” One would ask how such sayings could convince Panke Ram or anyone else of a religion in such a state.
Panke Ram inched closer to Islam when he read the translation of the meaning of the Holy Qur'an by Khaawaja Hassan Nizami. His conviction about Islam has been further strengthened when he attended a lesson in Qur’an presented by his professor in Shipley College. The man has been on the verge of becoming Muslim. However, nothing is delaying gaining access to its realm, except the fears of his family’s reaction; they are fanatics who hate Islam.
By the mid 1960s, Panke Ram has overcome and vanquished his fears. His Quran professor was reading Allah’s words from Sura Al-Ankabut, verse 41: “The parable of those who take protectors other than Allah is that of the spider, who builds (to itself) a house; but truly, the flimsiest of houses is the spider's house; - if they but knew.” The professor went on to explain the parable of the spider’s house liking it to any human relationship not sanctioned by Allah. “And he said: "For you, ye have taken (for worship) idols besides Allah, out of mutual love and regard between yourselves in this life; but on the Day of Judgment ye shall disown each other and curse each other: and your abode will be the Fire, and ye shall have none to help.” Ibid, verse 25. The words shook the core of Panke Ram, and he declared his Islam on the spot. “Light penetrated my heart. I have felt relieved when I cast away the religion of my fathers. And I finally renounced this creed of ignorance and entered into Islam." I prostrated myself in humility thanking Allah for this gift. “The Religion before Allah is Islam (submission to His Will)” Sura Al-i-Imran, verse 19. Mohammad Zia Urrahman will be embarking on a new life. His will be a life of mixed feelings where belief intermingles with trials; and happiness will be mixed with fear.
Reliving his unique experience, he commented: “I felt like I have come out from total darkness to glittering light. It was like I have floated from a deep hole to the highest summit. For the first time, I knew the purpose of life. However, most of all I have realized the blatant contrast between Islam and Muslims.”
When we ask ourselves for the reasons that led Al-Azami to Islam, he readily answers.
“These are the elements that obliged me to enter Islam. Islam is not a religion inherited from parents; it is a religion which welcomes those who open their hearts to it. There are no racial disparities in Islam or biased intolerance.” Allah says in Sura Al-Hujurat, verse 13: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).”
This unique trait among many in Islam will be only appreciated by Al-Azami and others that have endured abhorrent racism. You see; The Hindus divide society into four social classes (casts). The Brahmins are at the top, they claim to have been created from the mouth of the god. These are the intellectuals and spiritual leaders and priests. The second social group is the Satyriasis; the protectors of society, they are the politicians, the police, and the military. They claim to be born from the arms of the god. The third cast is the Vaisyas; these have been born from the thighs of the god. They are the craftsman, artisans and farmers. However, the fourth social grade is the downtrodden class or the untouchables.
According to the sacred Hindu books, the Shudras have been born from the feet of the god; they are to serve other casts and perform menial jobs. To this cast belong Al-Azami and most Indians.
Al-Azami has said: “They have made Shudras the lowest of mankind’s classes. They have denuded them from all human qualities; they are like animals, even worse. Shudras class has been hurt and degraded while cows have been worshiped and venerated. By God, it is injustice and aggression committed against human kind. The only way to save this group of people is to invite them to the tolerance of Islam, a religion that makes piety a barometer for honor and kindness. “Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you.” In Sura Al-Hujurat, verse 13.”
Needless to say, that this unjust system has encouraged tens of thousands of the Shudras to embrace Islam. The Hindu religious bodies panicked and started reviewing and improving their religious laws.
We return to the story of Al-Azami to when the news of his embracing Islam leaked to his family. Pressure stated to build up against him.
As a starter, he has been subjected to the Hindu priests for exorcism sessions. They wanted to relieve him of the evil spirits that have gotten hold of him. Then, he has been deprived of food and drink, and has been beaten with sticks and shoes. Finally, his mother and sisters have resorted to crying and shedding tears and hunger strike to return him back to kufr and idolatry that he has fled like a plague. They wanted Mohammad to transmute again to (Panke Ram) and follow his ancestors’ religion.
Neither has the young Muslim’s stance softened, nor has he hesitated in asserting his faith. In contrary, he has shown great resolve to stick to his religion. He has matched his family’s cunning to dissuade him leaving his faith with a strong conviction to keep it.
Lastly, a bright idea has come to their minds; they decided to invite hermits to dialogue him.
They have thought that, perhaps; with good argument, they will beat him. Fifteen long days Al-Azami kept debating them toe to toe. Fiery questions and harsh answers have been exchanged during ensuing sessions. The priests have found themselves against a staunch opponent who fought ferociously for what he believed. They have decided then to strike a bargain with him. If he insisted on leaving the Hindu faith, he should become a Christian instead of Muslim. The Christians are rich, and the others are poor. Perhaps he will gain a lot from the former. They have questioned his choice of Islam. The Muslims, after all, are disunited, poor and technologically backward. His reply stunned them: “I have chosen Islam as a faith, not the Muslims.” He further asked them to bring one single flaw that impugns his pure religion.”
The Hindu family was at its wit’s end; they didn’t know what to do with their rebellious son. His father decided to hand him over to an extremist Hindu organization. The latter has been known for its cruelty, and specializes in the torture of the sons of Hindu who convert to Islam. He escaped their clutch living in utter poverty; the gang was chasing him from one city to another. Finally, he settled in the city of Madras in the south of India. He has lived there for six years enrolled in a religious school called (Darussalam University). There he has mastered the Arabic and Urdu languages in addition to a fair share of Islamic science. From there he went to the University of Medina to study the Hadith of the Prophet.
He got his master’s degree from King Abdul-Aziz University, and the PhD from Al-Azhar University in Cairo.
After getting his last degree, Sheikh Al-Azami returned to Medina to teach at the university level. He also started writing; he has authored several useful books. Among the books, to name only few, are the following: “Studies in Judaism, Christianity and India’s religions.” He has also written a book about the Prophet’s Sunna entitled: “the Great Favor, Explanation and Classification of Lesser Sunna.” In addition, he penned another in the “Studies in Contest and Modification”; “Introduction to Greater Sunna of Al-Baihaqi" and finally, the “Glossary of the Terms of Hadith.”
Sheikh Al-Azami is still living in Medina giving lectures. We entreat Allah to grant him steadfastness and keep him firm on the faith.