Note: This is a matter of the Prophetic merit (fadha’il), rank, and haqiqa and not strictly an aspect of `aqida.
Hakim al Ummah Maulana Ashraf `Ali Thanawi (May Allah santify his secret) said in his wa`az entitled Al Surur, which was initially a lecture delivered on the 12th of Rabi` al Awwal, 1333 Hijri, in the Jami`a Masjid of Thana Bhawan and transcribed by Maulvi `Abdullah Gangohi (Pg 3-4):
“Know that no Muslim doubts that all of Allah’s blessings are worthy of thanks, in specific the more select ones. Then, within them, there are blessings specifically related to the religion and within these religiously related blessings particularly those that exceed others in greatness. Then within them is the single blessing that is the root of all religious and worldly blessings. What is this blessing? The coming of the Master of the Worlds, the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), whose religious bounties and blessings were disseminated and poured forth into the world. You are the fountain of all worldly blessings, not only for Muslims but the whole macrocosm. This is why Allah Most High said, ‘We have not sent you except as a mercy to the worlds.’ Notice, how the word ‘worlds’ does not specify human or non-human or Muslim or non-Muslim. Therefore, it can be gleaned that the existence of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is a mercy for everything regardless of whether it is flesh and blood or not or whether it is after the Prophet’s time or before.
It is not far-fetched to understand this for that which was after the Prophet’s (Allah bless him and grant him peace) time, but in order to be a mercy for that which came before him his existence was granted first. This existence was one of light and the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace), existing as this light, was the very first of creation. In the realm of the spirits this light was completed and cultivated until the final period when, in the good-fate of this ummah, this light was gloriously illuminated in bodily form in order to brighten the Universe.
Thus, the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is the cause of mercy for all the worlds. Therefore, the existence of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) being the basis and root for all other blessings is established both textually and intellectually.”
Qutb al din Maulana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (May Allah santify his secret) stated in his Fatawa, when asked about the narration “The first thing Allah created was my light” and “If it were not for you I would not have created the universe”:
“These narrations are not present in any of the six books (the sihah) but Shaykh `Abd Al Haqq reproduced “The first thing Allah created was my light” and stated that it has some basis.” (Pg 111, Darul Isha`at: 2003)
Similarly, Maulana Thanawi when asked about the above, latter narration in his Imdad al fatawa (Vol:5, Pg 79) said:
“Your being the first of creation is established through many narrations…”
Among such narrations is what was mentioned by Imam Tirmidhi in his Sunan when the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) was asked when he was a prophet to which he replied:
قال وآدم بين الروح والجسد
“When Adam was between spirit and clay.”
(Also narrated by Ibn Sa`d, Aby Nu`aym in his Hilayat from Maysara, Tabarani in his Kabir from Ibn `Abbas with the wording “I was a Prophet when Adam was between spirit and clay.”)
Imam al `Asr Anwar Shah Kashmiri stated in his al `Urf al Shadhi Sharh Sunan Al tirmidhi, when discussing the narration “The first thing Allah created was…”:
في بعض الروايات : أن أول المخلوقات نور النبي – صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ – ، ذكره القسطلاني في المواهب بطريق الحاكم والترجيح لحديث النور على حديث الباب .
“In some of the narrations the first creation was the light of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace). It was mentioned by Qastallani in his Mawahib from the path of Hakim, and preference is given to this narration of light over the narration of this section (s: which mentioned something else).” (Vol 2)
Hakim al Ummah further said in his wa`az entitled al Zuhur:
“Your light, which was present even before the realm of the spirits, can also be called “life” (s: part of the Prophet’s haya’ (life)) and it relates to the saying, ‘I was a prophet when Adam was between the spirit and body.'” […] Therefore, from this, we can conclude that the Prophet’s (Allah bless him and grant him peace) life is divided into four stages:
(1) The creation of your light till your birth,
(2) From your birth to your passing away from the world,
(3) From your passing away till resurrection i.e. the barzakhi life, and
(4) In heaven.
From the above we can see clearly the beliefs of the Deobandi akabir regarding the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace).
Blessings on the Prophet, his family, and companions.