A branch of Imam Ahmad Raza Khan Qadiri's ancestry first came to India in the 17th century from Qandahar, also known as Kandahar City, South Afghanistan joining the Mughal imperial bureaucracy as soldiers and soldier-administrators. A family ancestor eventually settled in Bareilly [Uttar Pradesh], where he was awarded a land grant for military service.
The family of Alahazrat is dynamic with Ulama (Islamic savants) of blue blood and nobility. His grandfather, Hazrat Raza Ali Khan (may Allah be pleased with him) [d.1282/1866] was a great Islamic saint and savant of his time. He fought for the freedom of Indian Muslims in 1857. Breaking the family tradition of military service he became well known as a faqih (jurisprudence-one who is knowledgeable in fiqh) and Sufi Gnostic in the Qadiri Order. He was educated in Tonk, the only Muslim state in Rajputana, completing his study of the dars-e nizami syllabus at 23 years. After his time the warrior's profession became a thing of the past, as succeeding generations became to enjoy a reputation for Islamic scholarship and/or saintliness.
In his biography of Imam Ahmad Raza Khan (mat Allah be pleased with him), Maulana Zafar ud-Din Bihari (may Allah be pleased with him) relates a story about Hazrat Raza Ali Khan (may Allah be pleased with him) following the British resumption of control over Bareilly after the 1857 revolt:
After the tumult in 1857, the British tightened the reigns of power and committed atrocities toward the people, and everybody went about feeling scared. Important people left their houses and went back to their villages, but Hazrat Raza Ali Khan (may Allah be pleased with him) continued to live in his house as before, and would go to the Mosque five times a day to say his prayers in congregation. One day some Englishmen passed by the Mosque, and decided to see if there was anyone inside so they could catch hold of them and beat them up. They went inside and looked around but didn't see anyone. Yet Hazrat Raza Ali Khan (may Allah be pleased with him) was there at the time, Allah had them blind, so that they would be unable to see him....He came out of the Mosque, they were still watching out for people, but no one saw him. [Hayat-e Alahazrat]
His father, Hazrat Naqi Ali Khan (may Allah be pleased with him) [d.1297/1880] was a renowned scholar and was author of 25 books on Islam. Imagine the magnitude of his knowledge that one of his books "Tafseer Alam Nashrah" published from Pilibhit, which is a commentary of a small surah of the Holy Qur’an consisting of only eight ayats (verses), is spread over more than 300 pages. Alahazrat Imam Ahmad Raza Khan's (may Allah be pleased with him) father-in-law was Shaikh Fazl-e Hussain (may Allah be pleased with him), was a government officer in the Rampur Post Office, and attended the Nawab's court.
During Alahazrat (may Allah be pleased with him) commencement of Islamic education a very strange incident occurred. His respected teacher asked him to read the Tasmiyah and then told him to read
Taa, . ". Alahazrat began reading the alphabet
"Alif, Baa, Taa, . ." until he came to the word "Laam
Alif" at which point Alahazrat silenced. When his teacher asked him once more to read
Alif", he remained silent. The teacher instructed him,
"ay, Laam, Alif". Alahazrat, then replied, "I have already read them earlier on. What need is there for me to repeat it?"
Hazrat Raza Ali Khan (may Allah be pleased with him), who was witnessing this incident said, "Son! Listen to what your teacher (Ustaad) is saying." Upon further reflection Hazrat Raza Ali Khan (may Allah be pleased with him), realized the reason for the objection of the young Alahazrat. Ahmad Raza was being taught single alphabets and he questioned how a complete word like "Laam Alif" could be found in a lesson that dealt only with single alphabets!
Hazrat Maulana Raza Ali Khan (may Allah be pleased with him) knew that it was a very delicate matter not be understood by a child. Nevertheless, he explained:
"Son! It is true that which you are thinking of. But the 'Alif' which you had earlier read, in reality, is 'Hamza' and this which you are reciting now is 'Alif'. 'Alif' is always 'Sakin' and one cannot commence with an alphabet, which is 'Sakin'. Therefore, it is for this reason that the alphabet 'Laam' is brought before the 'Alif'."
When Ahmad Raza (may Allah be pleased with him) heard this answer, he replied, "If that be the case, then any other alphabet could be joined to the 'Alif'. Why the 'Laam'?” Maulana Raza Ali Khan (may Allah be pleased with him) out of sheer happiness and excitement embraced Ahmad Riza (may Allah be pleased with him) and made prayer (dua) for him. He then explained the answer to Alahazrat Imam Ahmad Raza Khan (may Allah be pleased with him) in the following brilliant manner:
"In looking at them they both appear to be very much alike, since they are both empty. Even when writing them together, they look very much alike. When it comes to their qualities then 'Laam' is the heart of 'Alif' and 'Alif' is the heart of 'Laam'."
Hazrat Maulana Raza Ali Khan (may Allah be pleased with him) was in reality opening the doors and the treasures of knowledge and spiritual insight to Alahazrat (may Allah be pleased with him).
Imam Ahmad Raza Khan (may Allah be pleased with him) was 4 years old when he completed the recitation of the Holy Quran due to the extraordinary intelligence bestowed upon him by Almighty Allah. He received the customary Islamic education of his time and his name was listed amongst the graduate ulema (scholars) of the Islamic world. He states that, "I completed my religious education during the middle of the month of Shabaan in the year 1286 AH. I was 13 years, 10 months and 5 days old at that time. It was also at this time that salaah became fard upon me and I began to have great interest in the Laws of Shariah". (al Ijazatur Radawiyya)
By the time Ahmad Raza's education began in the 1860s, the family already had a well-established reputation for scholarship. Its inclination was toward rationalist studies (maqulat) and fiqh (jurisprudence), specialties also of the ulema of Badayun and Khairabad. This was in contrast to the hadis (prophetic traditions of the descendants of Shah Wali Ullah (may Allah be pleased with him). By the second half of the 19th century, the ulema of Badayun and Bareilly had distanced themselves considerably from the Delhi ulema.
He gained his basic knowledge at home and then later continued his studies under the guidance of certain noted teachers. He studied under his father, Hazrat Maulana Naqi Ali Khan (may Allah be pleased with him). His first teacher was one Mirza Ghulam Qadir Beg for whom Ahmad Raza is said to have retained a lifelong affection sending him fatawa whenever he requested and under whom he studied the book, "Mizaane Munsha'ab." Imam Ahmad Raza (may Allah be pleased with him) also studied under the guidance of the following luminous personalities:
1. Hazrat Maulana Abdul Ali Rampuri (may Allah be pleased with him),
2. Sheikh-e-Kabeer, Hazrat Sayyid Shah Abul Hassan Ahmed Noori
(may Allah be pleased with him),
3. Sheikh-e-Tariqah, Hazrat Sayyid Shah Al-e-Rasul (may Allah be pleased with him),
4. Sheikh Ahmed bin Zain-e-Dahlaan Makki (may Allah be pleased with him),
5. Sheikh Abdur Rahman Makki (may Allah be pleased with him), and
6. Sheikh Hussain bin Salih Makki (may Allah be pleased with him).