Great people achieve greatness because they adopt the qualities and character-traits of the greatest man ever: our Messenger Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). One such example - at least for me - is my dear and beloved Shaykh Mawlana Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani (hafizahullah).
I have known the Shaykh since my study days at Darul Uloom in Karachi (Pakistan) around 1998/99. Since then, I have attempted to keep in contact with him and be in his company whenever possible. During the last five or six years, by the grace of Allah, I have managed to spend more time in his company - especially during his travels to the UK, as well as some other counties like Denmark, Abu Dhabi and recently Bosnia. He possesses many great qualities such as the breadth of his knowledge and piety, but from what I’ve observed whilst being in his company, six traits really stand out in terms of his nature and character. These character-traits are all traits of our beloved Messenger (Allah bless him & give him peace), and I believe they are what really make Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani (hafizahullah) an amazing human being and a top calibre scholar (alim) - one who is respected and loved by many the world over.
1) Cheerful countenance (talaqat al-wajh)
The smile emanating from the Shaykh’s face each time you see him brings happiness and positivity to the heart. Despite being on his travels - and the tiredness and difficulties that come with traveling - I have yet to see him not smile when someone greets him. His greeting is always accompanied with love, a wide smile and cheerful expression - the Sunna of Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him & grant him peace). Jarir ibn AbdAllah al-Bajali (Allah be pleased with him) says, “Since I accepted Islam, Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) never kept a barrier between myself and him, and never looked at me except with a smile” (Muslim).
Smiling at others and bringing happiness to them is a source of much reward - if done for the sake of earning Allah’s pleasure. In one hadith, Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) says, “Do not consider any good act insignificant, even if it is that you meet your brother with a cheerful countenance” (Muslim). It also makes others love you and want to be in your company. The innocent and loving smile on the face of Shaykhuna Muhammad Taqi Usmani makes a person fall in love with him. His smile is evidently genuine that has no motive other than seeking the pleasure of Allah Most High.
2) Making others feel important
Anyone who comes into contact with the Shaykh feels he has a special relationship with him. He gives attention to everyone and makes them feel important. I have observed this trait in the Shaykh repeatedly. On numerous occasions, the way he conversed with me and showed an interest in my personal affairs made me feel that I was very close to him. I then saw him doing the same with many others Al-hamdulillah.
At the same time, no one can feel they have an exclusive relationship with him; he is close to everyone, yet not exclusively attached to anyone. This balance is rare and difficult to create.
Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be on him) would give attention to his companions and make them feel loved and important. Sayyiduna Amr ibn al-Ass (Allah be pleased with him) says, “I asked the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), ‘Who is the most beloved to you from the people?’ He replied, ‘A’isha’. I said, ‘from amongst the men, O Messenger of Allah?’ He replied, ‘her father’. I said, ‘then who?’ He replied, ‘Umar’. I asked, ‘then who?’ He replied, ‘Uthman’. I asked, ‘then who?’ He replied, ‘Ali’. Thereafter I remained silent for the fear that he may not mention me; I used to think I was the most beloved to him, because of how well he treated me.” (Tirmidhi)
3) Treating everyone with Respect
This - I believe - is one of Shaykh’s distinctive and defining trait. He treats everyone with ultimate respect, and never looks down upon anyone regardless of who they are. His respect for fellow scholars (ulama) and peers is well known, but the amazing thing is that he shows respect and appreciation to even his students and juniors. I have always heard him address his students with expressions of respect. A teacher normally addresses his students with expressions that indicate a teacher-student relationship (and there is nothing wrong with that), but Mufti Taqi does not even describe them as his students, and when addressing them he uses words of respect; for example ‘aap’ in the Urdu language.
I was reading a biography of one of the greatest scholars produced by this Umma, Imam Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (Allah have mercy on him). His student, Imam Sakhawi, states that he was so humble he would always refer to his students - even if young - as my companion so-and-so.
I have seen this same practice in Shaykh Taqi, referring to his juniors and students - even those the same age of his grandchildren - as "my brother so and so" or "my colleague so and so." In around 2003, I compiled a short booklet titled 'Simplified Rules of Zakat.' I requested him to write a few words as endorsement for the book, which he did. However, to my amazement, he called me 'his brother' despite me being his student and much much younger! I then saw this habit of his on many different occasions with various others.
Moreover, his respect for non scholars is also unique. He has always enjoyed a good relationship with professionals and academics in other fields such as doctors and barristers. I have not seen an alim who respects non Ulama the way he does. Scholars can sometimes subconsciously disregard non-scholars, thinking they are ignorant (juhhal) and laypeople (awam). However, the way Shaykh Taqi (hafizahullah) treats non Ulama is Subhan Allah something we can all learn from. If he is sitting and someone comes to greet him, he will stand up to greet them, or at the least make some sort of movement of acknowledgement towards them. He does not remain seated reclining and acting like a big Shaykh who is superior to the one greeting him.
It is worth noting here that respect breads respect, and this is why we see others respect him. Sometimes ulama complain that the general public don’t respect them, but they fail to see if they have given respect back to the people?! As such, a scholar of Islam should respect and appreciate others, and by doing so, others will respect them too.
Treating others with respect, dignity and courtesy is a Prophethic trait. The books of Hadith have a special chapter titled ‘manaqib’ dedicated to hadiths in which the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) praised various companions and mentioned their merits. When his beloved daughter Sayyida Fatima (Allah be pleased with her) would visit him, he would stand up for her, honour her and make her sit on his place (Abu Dawud). It is reported in some narrations that once when Jarir ibn AbdAllah al-Bajali (Allah be pleased with him) visited Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be on him), the latter took off his sheet/cloak and placed it on the ground and asked Jarir (Allah be be pleased with him) to sit on it, and said, “When a noble person of a tribe comes to you, honour him.” Jarir ibn Abdullah placed the sheet over his eyes, kissed it and said to him, “May Allah honour you the way you have honoured me” (Tabarani, al-Bazzar and others).
Despite being the Shaykh al-Islam and one of the greatest scholars of our time, Mufti Taqi Usmani (hafizahullah) is very humorous, jovial and lighthearted when amongst people. He does not try to create an artificial sense of seriousness so that people respect him. He will happily join in humorous conversations and laugh with others - as the Messenger of Allah (Peace and blessings be upon him) “would laugh when they [the companions] laughed, and express amazement to something when they expressed amazement.”
There are far too many examples for me to cite in this regard; however, one particular incident comes to mind. I once called a close friend regarding a matter, and he - at the time - was driving and escorting the Shaykh to a particular destination, but I was unaware of this. The brother received my call and after exchanging salam said, “I've put you on speaker; someone wants to talk to you.” Thereafter, that ‘someone’ said Assalamu alaykum. In an extremely casual and informal manner I asked "who is this?" repeating it in English, Arabic and Urdu. My driver friend intervened saying, “haven't you recognised him?”, to which I replied in the negative. He continued, “Well, If you really love him then you should be able to recognise him.” I replied saying his voice was not clear, so could he speak again. I could hear the mysterious person laughing lightly in the background, and he then said again "Assalamu alaykum warahmatullahi wa barakatuh, recognise me?" In absolute astonishment and somewhat embarrassment, I realised it was non other than Mufti Taqi Usmani! I exclaimed, "Hazrat Mufti Sahib??” and then apologised for my informal behaviour. He laughed it off and then blessed me with a good ten minute conversation Al-hamdulillah.
This incident reminded me of the Companion Zahir (Allah be pleased with him) who was trading in the market when Allah's Messenger (Allah bless him & give him peace) came behind him quietly and locked him with his arms, as to say "guess who this is?" The Companion quickly realised that it was the best of creation.... until the end of the story (al-Shama’il al-Muhammadiyya).
Imagine, this is the leader of all the Prophets who was sent as a Messenger and guide for the whole of humanity; yet he had time to share a joke with one of his devotees. Sadly, some of us think that it does not behove a righteous and respectable person to be jovial and joke around with others; this is far from the truth. Whose life can be more serious and meaningful than the life of Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him)?! Indeed, one must not transgress the limits set by Shari’a such as using vulgar language or making fun of someone. Having fun with someone is fine, but making fun out of someone is not permitted, and Allah knows best.
5) Humility (tawadu’) and Simplicity
If you ask anyone who has spent even some time in the company of Shaykhuna Mufti Taqi Usmani (hafizahullah) to describe one quality of his that stands out, I believe most people would point to his simplicity and humility. He is the embodiment of humility (tawadu’), and it seems that his success and greatness is because of it - as per the Hadith, “Whosoever adopts humility for Allah’s sake, Allah elevates him” (Tabarani).
Despite being one of the great scholars of the world, and revered and adored by many all over the world, he is far away from the celebrity culture we see these days. There is no glitz, glamour or entourage! He doesn’t have hundreds of people lining up at the airport when he arrives, and neither an army of devotees giving him a send off when departing. He probably travels more than anyone else all over the world, but we don’t see him updating his social media accounts with details and pictures of where he’s been and what he has been up to. When you sit with him, you see an innocent human being with a clean and pure (taqi) heart; one who has no clue or idea of his status. It seems that despite being everything he thinks of himself as nothing, whilst some of us despite being nothing think we are everything! His name on most of his books simply reads “Muhammad Taqi Usmani”, without inflated titles. He normally writes “servant [of Allah]” before his name, and you can tell he actually means it. For me, the way he sits, walks, eats, drinks and converses with people, slave-hood (ubudiyya) emanates from him.
This is in accordance with the Sunna of Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) - who despite being the best of creation always considered himself to be a slave of Allah. He (peace and blessings be upon him) says, “I am indeed a slave [of Allah]; I eat as a slave eats, and I sit as a slave sits” (Abu Ya'la & others). When he was with his Companions, the Prophet of Allah would act as one of them. He disliked that people stand for him, and you would never see an entourage behind him. In the beginning, he did not even have a designated seat such that a newcomer would need to ask, “Which one of you is Muhammad?” He (Allah bless him & give him peace) was given a choice between being a Prophet with kingdom and a Prophet who is a slave; he chose the latter. On many occasions, such as on group journeys, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) would join in with his Companions in doing some work or task. Once the Companions planned on slaughtering a lamb, and they divided the various tasks of slaughtering, skinning, cooking amongst themselves. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said, “I shall collect firewood for the cooking.” They said to him that he should not discomfort himself and that they would be honoured to do this on their own. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) replied, “I know that you are eager to do it on your own, but I do not want to distinguish myself from the group. Allah is not pleased with the slave who distinguishes himself from his companions”, and thereafter he went and gathered wood and brought it to the group. (Khasa’il al-Nabawi)
This was the humility of the leader of mankind and best of creation. And it is in his footsteps great people like our Shaykh are also humble and non pretentious. May Allah allow us to follow in their footsteps, Ameen.
6) Caring for others
It goes without saying that caring for the creation of Allah and having a concern for them in the heart is an important component of being connected to the Creator. Whosever loves Allah will have compassion for His creation, and Shaykh Mufti Taqi Usmani is no different. Time and time again, I have witnessed this in him. I will just recall three examples that I witnessed during our recent trip to Bosnia.
A young brother, whom the Shaykh was not acquainted with previously, also traveled with our group. Unfortunately, he has a disability which restricts his mobility, and thus he moved around with us on a wheelchair. The young brother himself says that nearly everyday when the Shaykh saw him, he would ask him how he was feeling, if he slept well, etc etc. On another occasion, when the group was exiting the mini bus, a brother slipped slightly and fell down. The Shaykh was already outside the bus, and as soon as he saw him slip he was the first person to rush towards him and ask whether he was okay or hurt. The brother reassured him that he was fine. On a third occasion, our mini bus had to leave from somewhere but a brother and his family and a few others could not join us for some reason - it was arranged that they would come in a taxi. However, as our bus was leaving, the Shaykh wanted to be assured that alternative plans were made for those we were leaving behind and only allowed for our bus to depart once he was reassured.
This care and concern for humanity was the hallmark of not just our Prophet but all the Prophets of Allah (peace be upon them). They cared for the well-being of others, both the well-being of this life and the hereafter. The whole life of Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) was dedicated to caring for others, and he said, “He who alleviates the suffering of a believer from the sufferings of the world, Allah will alleviate his suffering from the sufferings of the Hereafter; and he who finds ease for one who is hard-pressed, Allah will make things easy for him in this world and the Hereafter... and Allah is in the help of his slave until the slave is in the help of his brother” (Muslim).
Although the Shaykh has many more qualities, but I felt the above six really stand out. It is not within the scope of each and every one of us to become an expert in Qur’anic sciences, hadith, fiqh, Islamic finance, etc like him, but we can definitely try and adopt these character-traits, whether scholars, professionals or laymen. Not only because they are his traits; but also because they are the traits of all the great people that have passed and the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him). May Allah allow us to follow in their footsteps, Ameen.