Alahazrat Imām Aĥmad Riđā Khān al-Baraylawī (rahimahullah) was born in 1272 (1856) in a family of scholars of Bareilly, a city in North India. His father Mawlānā Naqī Áli Khān and grandfather Riđā Álī Khān were prominent scholars of Ahl as-Sunnah in their time. Imām Aĥmad Riđā began his Islamic studies in the tutelage of his erudite father and became a Mufti at a very young age. He was a master of many sciences, and especially in Ĥanafī fiqh, he was peerless among his contemporaries. Even his adversaries have acknowledged his expertise in this discipline.
He has many ijāzahs or degrees of authorisation in Ĥanafī fiqh, and the most important among them is from the Muftī of Makkah, Shaykh Ábd arRaĥmān as-Sirāj ibn Ábdullāh as-Sirāj. This chain of transmission reaches Imām Abū Ĥanifah through twenty-seven links and in further four to the Master of all creation, Muĥammad RasūlAllāh ﷺ. He has an authorisation of ĥadīth transmission from the great Meccan scholar, Malik al-Úlamā, Sayyid Aĥmed Zaynī Daĥlān al-Shāfiýī. Imām Aĥmed Riđā is widely known for his refutation of Wahābīs, innovators and libertarian religion-reformers of the early 20th century CE.
Alahazrat, meaning the ‘Grand Master,’ was a common title of respect in the 13th/14th century Hijri. Imām Aĥmad Riđā was called as Alahazrat by his followers as he was the major force against innovators and the leader of Sunni scholars of his time. This title became so famous, that it has become a synonym for Imām Aĥmad Riđā Khān. Upon his second and eventful visit to Arabia in 1324 AH, the scholars of the two sanctuaries – Makkah and Madinah – were so impressed by his erudition and his efforts to safeguard Ahl as-Sunnah, that prominent ones among them hailed him as the Reviver of the Religion. Major scholars in (pre-partition) India agreed that all the qualities required in a Reviver were found in him and thus he is the Mujaddid of the 14th century after the Prophet’s ﷺ migration.
Imām Aĥmad Riđā referred to himself as ‘the slave of the Prophet’ ﷺ or Ábd al-Muşţafā in Arabic. His skill as a jurist outshone all his other abilities; in fact, the main corpus of his work is the collection of his fatāwā. Many lengthy books that he has written are usually as a response to questions, and hence are fatāwā. Many of his rulings (and more than 150 fatāwā as monographs) were collected, indexed and ordered by the Imām himself, which he named Al-Áţāyā an-Nabawiyyah fi’l Fatāwā ar-Riđāwiyyah, popularly known in the subcontinent as Fatāwā e Razawiyyah and has been recently published in Pakistan in 30 volumes.
He took the Qādirī path and was initiated in that Sūfī order by Sayyid Aāl e Rasūl al-Aĥmadī of Mārahra in 1294. Alahazrat was an ardent lover of the Prophet ﷺ which is evident from his works.
He was also a great poet and has written sublime verse in Arabic, Persian and Urdu. His verse in Urdu and Persian is published in two parts named: Ĥadāyiq e Bakh’shish meaning ‘Gardens of Salvation’. Many of his eulogies and odes are recited, and in particular, the Ode of Salutation or the Salām has achieved unparalleled fame and acceptance among Muslims from the subcontinent. The Imām passed away at the age of 68 in 1340 (1921). May Allah táālā have mercy on him and be well pleased with him.