Shaykh 'Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah, the great hadith scholar from the last century, wrote the following taqriz (commendation) of I'la al-Sunan when Mufti Taqi 'Uthmani was editing the first few volumes. He states it is the best book on the subject, and reproduces 'Allamah al-Kawthari's praise of the book:
All praise to Allah Lord of the Worlds, and blessings and peace upon our leader and our master Muhammad, and upon his family and all his companions.
From the most important ways in which the pure Sunnah is served is by commenting on the hadiths of rulings and extracting what is found in them of jurisprudence (fiqh) and teaching, commands and prohibitions, the lawful and the unlawful. The aspirations of the juristic hadith-scholars vied with one another in every age and place to collect these hadiths in one platform so they become a simple reference-point and easily attainable for every student of jurisprudence and seeker of benefit.
From the best, nay the best, of what was compiled on this [subject] in this fourteenth century, and the most far-reaching of them in comprehensiveness, from the perspective of the Hanafi masters, is the book I‘la al-Sunan, a compilation by our teacher, the great scholar (‘allamah), the hadith-scholar (muhaddith), the jurist (faqih), the theoretician (usuli), the proficient researcher, Shaykh Zafar Ahmad al-‘Uthmani al-Thanawi (Allah Almighty have mercy on him) which was first printed in India using [old] lithographic print in the year 1341 (1923 CE) and [later volumes continued to be printed] from then on, and most of it was printed there. Then its printing was completed in Karachi in Pakistan, and it appeared in twenty volumes*. From them were two volumes written as an introduction to the book, one of them a hadith-related introduction** and another on juristic principles, in consideration of what the book contained of noble hadiths in the main text (matn) and the juristic rulings extracted from them in the commentary (sharh), so the book by means of this comprehensiveness and meticulousness came to be at the peak of what was compiled on its subject-matter.
The reason for compiling this immense beneficial book is what occurred in the course of this century when a group of people in some cities of India arose, before the partition of Pakistan, calling themselves “Ahl al-Hadith,” claiming that the school of the Hanafi masters, which is the school of the majority of Muslims in those large and expansive lands, conflicts with the Prophetic hadiths in many issues, just as they claimed also that the Hanafi masters prefer analogy over the noble hadith, and just as they denied also taqlid of the four Imams (Allah be pleased with them) that are followed, and they lengthened their tongues with respect to Hanafi jurisprudence and more specifically with respect to the jurist of this nation Imam Abu Hanifah.
Outstanding scholars from those Indian lands arose to challenge these deviant beliefs and they falsified these claims through many well-researched hadith-related works. They explained in these [works] the reliance of the Hanafi masters in their jurisprudence and their school on the noble hadiths, and that they prefer the noble hadith and even weak hadith over analogy, and that analogy with its conditions is from the proofs which must be acted upon, and in drawing evidence from the Sunnah and relying upon it, the Hanafis are not less than other than them from the Imams, if not stronger than other than them in relying on hadith and narration. Rather, our teacher, the author of I‘la al-Sunan, Allah Almighty have mercy on him and increase his rewards, established in his hadith-related introduction Qawa‘id fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith p. 289 that the Hanafis prefer the statements of the Companions over analogy, due to their excessive adherence to reports, let alone the noble Prophetic hadiths.
And by this unique comprehensive and rare book I‘la al-Sunan and those hadith-related compilations similar to it which the scholars of India and Pakistan undertook - in those lands which have now carried from between the lands of the Muslims the burdens of the sciences of the Sunnah and its service and its propagation - those deviant claims against the Hanafis have been destroyed, and every arrogant deviant or shameless pretender of knowledge was silenced, and it became apparent to every possessor of two eyes that the Hanafis are from the greatest of people in reliance on hadith and narration while they are also people of reason and analogy.
‘Allamah al-Thanawi, Allah give him abundant reward and raise his position and his mention with Him, exhausted in his book I‘la al-Sunan the proofs of all the chapters of jurisprudence from the chapter of purification to the last chapters of jurisprudence with an excellent effort and in a rigorous hadith and fiqh-related method. Gazes turned to this book so the hands of the scholars from the time of its publication hastily seized it, and acquiring a copy of it came to be from the great hopes in the hearts of the scholars who knew about this book from [other] books or heard about it.
It is a sufficient testimony for you to [know] the lofty position of this book that you see the like of our teacher, Imam al-Kawthari (Allah Almighty have mercy on him) praise it with the most wonderful praise in his book Maqalat al-Kawthari p. 75 in an article of his in which he spoke about the different lands taking turns in carrying the burdens of the sciences of the Sunnah, so after referring to the efforts of the scholars of India and Pakistan and their achievements in the field of the pure Sunnah in the latter centuries, and their undertaking of the burdens of the sciences of the Sunnah since the tenth century till now, he said:
“Some of their scholars also have specific compilations on the hadiths of rulings in a novel original manner, which is to exhaust the rulings from their sources and collect them in one platform [arranged] into chapters, and to comment on every hadith from them with criticism and accreditation and strength and weakness.”
And after Imam al-Kawthari loftily praised the book Athar al-Sunan written for the same purpose by the great scholar, the hadith-scholar, the knowledgeable jurist, the critic, Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Ali known as Zahir Ahsan al-Nimawi (Allah Almighty have mercy on him), he said, the summary of which is:
“Similarly, the inimitable great scholar, the unique ocean, the teacher of the scholars of the Indian lands, the great hadith-scholar, the knowledgeable critic, our master, the sage of the nation, Muhammad Ashraf ‘Ali al-Thanawi, the author of works, both small and large, numbering around five hundred, paid attention to this matter, and thus he wrote Jami‘ al-Athar on this subject. A description of this book is dispensable by the mention of the great name of its author. It was printed in India although getting hold of it has become somewhat difficult since its printed copies were depleted because of the great number of those interested in collecting the works of this lordly scholar, who is a blessing of the Indian lands, and he has a high standing amongst the scholars of India such that they call him “the sage of the nation” (hakim al-ummah).
“This magnificent scholar instructed his student and nephew, who completed his hadith studies with him, the critical hadith-scholar, the excellent jurist, Mawlana Zafar Ahmad al-Thanawi (may his achievements increase), to compile the proofs of the chapters of jurisprudence by gathering the hadiths of rulings, [arranging them] into chapters, from the sources which are difficult to obtain, while commenting on every hadith at the bottom of every page according to what is required in the science of hadith of strength and weakness and acceptance and rejection according to the different schools. This enthusiastic scholar occupied himself in this difficult task for around twenty years with the utmost devotion until he completed his work with the utmost brilliance with the accordance of Allah Glorified is He.
“Truth be told, I was astonished by this compilation and this exhaustion and by this extreme comprehensiveness in commenting on every hadith as is required in the science [of hadith], in relation to the text and chain, without there appearing the signs of affectation in support of his school, rather fairness was his principle when speaking about the opinions of the adherents of the [different] schools. Hence, I was pleased with it with the utmost happiness. This is how the aspirations of [real] men and the seriousness of [true] heroes are. If only some of the owners of the big printing presses in Egypt would attain the aforementioned book from its author, and print it with beautiful Egyptian letters, and if one of them were to do that he would have served knowledge a service that is appreciated, and he would fill a gap in this subject.” [Here] ends the statement of our teacher Imam al-Kawthari, Allah have mercy on him.
Indeed Allah Almighty has favoured for the realisation of this priceless noble desire and for the printing of this brilliant hadith and fiqh-related book in the city of Karachi in Pakistan, adorned with an academic and distinguished service, the great scholar, the researcher, the hadith-scholar, the perceptive jurist, the man of letters, the esteemed Shaykh Muhammad Taqi al-‘Uthmani, the son of our respected teacher the Grand Mufti Mawlana Muhammad Shafi‘, his lofty shadow be lengthened in good health and happiness.
That descendent, the brilliant heir, undertook [the task of] verifying this [book] and annotating it, in a way that will make its aims and objectives complete and will perfect its pearls and its benefits, with a lofty academic flavour and a novel typed artistic format, with a brilliant look from the beauty of modern printing. The first volume of it has become a wonderful academic treasure. The services of the sagacious researcher, the apple of Pakistan***, is manifest therein, so this wonderful academic work deserves the gratitude of the students of knowledge and scholars.
Allah is beseeched for the production of this encyclopaedic beneficial book to be completed at his hands, so it becomes a great weight in his overflowing good deeds, Allah willing. Allah reward him the best of rewards on behalf of knowledge and its people. Allah also reward with goodness its publisher and its printer and all who helped in its production in this nice cover and beautiful printing. All praise to Allah by Whose grace good actions are fulfilled.
The one needy of Him Most High wrote it, ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah. Riyadh, College of Shari‘ah. 3/2/1396 (1976 CE)
*The final volume was completed in 1357 Hijri (1938 CE)
**Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattah: This beneficial comprehensive hadith-related introduction called Inha’ al-Sakan ila man yutali‘u I‘la al-Sunan was printed in India in the year 1345 in [old] lithographic print, and then it was printed in Karachi in Pakistan in the year 1383 with modern printing. Later, Allah, with Whom is grace and blessing, favoured me with serving this unique hadith-related introduction and verifying it and annotating it and printing it and publishing it with the title Qawa‘id fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith. Its printing was completed in Beirut in the year 1392 in 550 pages, and it became by Allah Almighty’s grace, a knowledge-filled treasure, wonderful to look at and learn from, and it received the most pleasant acceptance and approval from the great scholars of this field, and all praise belongs to Allah Lord of the Worlds.
*** Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattah: This is a title with which I named the verifier of this book [Mufti Taqi al-‘Uthmani], Allah Almighty preserve him and maintain him, while he was in the prime of his youth around fifteen years ago in my first trip to Pakistan in the year 1382 (1962 CE) when I saw in him a vigorous talent, a sharp mind, expansive knowledge, overflowing brilliance, along with a high and transparent spirit and a rare Arabic eloquence in his sermons and his extemporary speech. Allah increase him from His favour and His accordance, and benefit through him [His] servants and all lands, and bless me with his righteous supplications.
(I‘la al-Sunan, Idarat al-Qur’an wa al-‘Ulum al-Islamiyyah, 1:3-7)