Maulana Muhammad Qasim Nanotwi was born in 1832 (1248 AH) in the village of Nanota (Saharanpur district). He is a descendant of Abu Bakr as-Siddiq (R. A.). From the beginning, he was highly intelligent, courageous, diligent, valiant, sharp and active in his studies and always outshone all his peers in exercises and competitions. He was the only son of his father and mother as all brothers of Maulana Qasim died in their infancy. Maulana got his early education at Nanuta. Maulana Qasim Nanotwi finished the Quran at an early age. He studied Arabic and Persian from Maulana Mamlook Ali.
At Delhi Maulana Rasheed Ahmad Gangohi, Maulana Qasim Nanotwi and Maulana Yaqub Nanotwi mutually became good friends while studying in Delhi. All of them learnt Hadith from Maulana Shah Abdul Ghani who was a follower of Shah Waliullah and a renowned teacher whose students flocked from all over the Indian subcontinent. Later at Madrassa Arabia Delhi he achieved mastery in Mathematics.
Haji Imdadullah Muhajir Makki who was a great saint of his age frequently came to his maternal home, Nanota. Maulana Qasim stayed for long hours with him and always enjoyed his company.
Maulana Qasim Nanotwi was held in a very high esteem by his Sheikh Haji Imdadullah Muhajir Makki. In Zia-ul-Quloob, Haji Imdadullah wrote about him: “People like him (Maulana Qasim) used to exist in earlier times”. He would say: “although Maulana Qasim Nanotwi is my disciple, in reality he is much higher in knowledge and spirituality than I. Allama Shabbir Ahmad Uthmani used to say: “No matter how many forms of arguments and debates are brought by the philosophers to challenge Islam in the next hundred years; the wisdom of Maulana Qasim Nanotwi provides the solution to all of them”. He was the teacher of erudite scholars such as Maulana Mahmood-ul-Hasan (also known as Sheikh-ul-Hind).
The greatest contribution of Maulana Qasim Nanotwi was Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband that started on May 20th, 1866 under a tree in the city of Deoband with only one student and one teacher. But soon became the most prestigious seminary in the subcontinent. According to a foreign observer, it is “next to the Al-Azhar of Cairo, the most important and respected theological academy of the Muslim world”. Before joining Deoband, Maulana Qasim was Deputy Educational Inspector in government service and was, therefore, well-acquainted with the modern educational system. Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband incorporated many features of the new educational institutions like division of students in regular classes, attendance registers, written examinations,
Maulana Qasim Nanutvi wrote many books including “Aab-e-Hayat” [commentary of the life of the Prophet (SAW)], “Jamal-e-Qasmi”, Tauseeq-ul-Kalam”, and “Mubahisa Shahjehan Pura”. He wrote polemic commentaries on the threats posed by Swami Dianand Sirswati the most famous were “Intisarul Islam” and “Qibla Numa” which aim to answer the objections and questions of the non-believers on the nature of Islam and its civilization. Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband produced prominent religious scholars like Maulan Mahmood-ul-Hassan, Shabbir Ahmad Usmani and Mualan Ashraf Ali Thanvi who wrote extensive books on Islamic jurisprudence as to accomplish the mission of the founder of the institution. On the political side, the majority of the Deobandi scholars and students kept aloof from Pakistan Movement or opposed it. However, there were also several scholars who played vital role in the Pakistan Movement under the leadership of Maulana Shabbir Ahmad Usmani.
The great genius and the saint of Islam died on April 15, 1880. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had great respect for this saintly sage and wrote a long and moving article on his death.