IOS-AMU Joint Webinar on Shibli Nomani: His Life and Works

IOS-AMU Joint Webinar on Shibli Nomani: His Life and Works

New Delhi: A two-day National Webinar on ‘Ahd-e-Jadid Ke Moa‘llim-e-Awwal, Allama Shibli Nomani: Hassas Mufakkir, Afkar wa Islahat (The first teacher of modern times, Allama Shibli Nomani: Sensitive thinker, thoughts and reforms) was jointly organized by the Institute of Objective Studies and the Faculty of Theology, Aligarh Muslim University on October 23 and 24, 2021.

The webinar commenced with the recitation of a Quranic verses by Hafiz Syed Athar Husain Nadwi. Maulana Shah Ajmal Farooq Nadwi, In-charge, Urdu section, conducted the proceedings. Inaugurating the webinar, President of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Maulana Syed Rabey Hasan Nadwi, held that Allama Shibli Nomani’s contribution to the preservation of Islamic heritage was unparalleled and the IOS deserved applause for organising the webinar on such a scholar, writer, and poet. He expressed his appreciation for the webinar, which was an extension of lectures on the scholars who enriched the Islamic legacy. The lecture was also an endeavour of the Institute to bridge the gap between old and new traditions of Islamic thought and philosophy. Recalling Allama’s association with Nadwatul Ulema, Lucknow, he said that Allama gave a new direction to the institution and its students. His contribution to Islamic literature, Persian, and Urdu literature would always be remembered. He hoped that the seminar on the literature Allama produced would benefit future scholars as also the younger generation. Similarly, his services to Nadwa would be remembered forever, he added.

In his welcome address, Dean, Faculty of Theology, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, Prof. Mohammad Saud Alam Qasmi (Seminar/Webinar Convener) expressed joy that the IOS was organising the online seminar/webinar in association with his Faculty on a great Islamic scholar, whose work in intellectual, literary, and cultural field was being discussed by scholars present in the two-day event. He was a perfectionist in every field he chose to work on, and a balanced system of education he presented adding a new chapter in the curricula of Islamic seminaries. He pleaded for the creation of a balanced society that could respond to contemporary challenges. This ostensibly meant going deep into traditional values and presenting them before the world in contemporary perspective. He said that owing to being influenced by the Prophet (PBUH), Allama tried to lay the foundation of a new society. What predominated his thinking was the need for preparing the traditional Muslim society to meet the exigencies of the changing world. He also wanted the new generation to receive both religious and cultural education. He ended his address with the observation that a new generation fully conversant with Islamic and occidental knowledge should emerge.

Introducing the topic, the Director, IOS Centre for Historical and Civilisational Studies, Prof. Syed Jamaluddin (Seminar/webinar Convener), referred to Syed Suleiman Nadwi, who described Allama Shibli Nomani as the first among the ‘ulama of his time. He said that Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was much influenced by Allama. He possessed an encyclopedic vision and wanted the new generation to be immersed in knowledge. He made all-out efforts to train the younger generation in literature, knowledge, philosophy, research, etc. He expressed the confidence that the webinar would focus on various aspects of Allama’s life and works. Secretary and spokesman of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani, regretted that Muslims were in an oblivious mode in respect of their culture and the scholars who left an indelible mark on Islamic history and scholarship. Quoting a Hadith of the Prophet (PBUH), he said that those who carved out a niche for themselves in their field and left this mundane world should not be forgotten. Referring to Shibli, he noted that Allama adopted a balanced approach to the subjects of his writings. This could never be treated as hypocrisy. He brought to the fore old books that were almost forgotten and acquainted the scholars with them. He also wrote critiques on them wherever necessary. He imbued the Islamic world with scholarship. He observed that Allama wrote a wonderful book on Imam Abu Hanifa in Urdu, which was considered the first book in this language. This work reflected his faith in the Imam. Modernism was his forte, which found an echo in the writings of Syed Suleiman Nadwi and Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, aka Ali Miyan. Modernism was also reflected in his thoughts and scholarship. His book on Sir Syed after his death was its best example. His pen, criticism, and scholarship were all marked by modernism. He produced an excellent book on Aurangzeb. He introduced vibrancy in the writing of Islamic history. So was the case with his scholarly writing on a variety of subjects. He said that Allama profiled the life of several Islamic figures, including Imam Ghazali, Maulana Rumi, etc. Sirat-un-Nabi was a living testimony to his deep understanding of Sirah. The other aspect of his personality was a vehement defence of Islam in the face of criticism of the Islamic faith by western scholars. Similarly, he took part in the Nadwa movement with a spirit for the modernisation of the curriculum that had remained static though a number of changes took place in the socio-political realm. He viewed that modern education was necessary for employment. Keeping this view, he included Hindi, Sanskrit, and English in the curriculum. He pointed out that this was important today as much as it was yesterday. He said that modernism in ideas should be presented in a positive manner. He emphasised the need for presenting Islam in contemporary perspective.

In his key-note address, senior teacher in Nadwatul Ulema and the founder chairman of Jamia Islamia, Muzaffarpur, Azamgarh, Maulana Dr. Taqiuddin Nadwi held that Shibli Nomani was deeply immersed in the love of the Prophet (PBUH). He was born at a time when Islam faced attacks from all sides. In order to effectively counter the attacks on Islam, he undertook a deep study of Islam and other western religions and thought. After completing a comparative study of religions, he took upon himself the task of rejecting all allegations against Islam. He penned more than 40 books on varied subjects. He said that Allama prepared a new syllabus for madrassahs. His interest in research led him to bring into light several unknown facts relating to Islamic history. He learnt the intricacies of Hadith from Maulana Ahmad Ali. He used his intense knowledge of Hadith for showing the path of the Prophet (PBUH) to ‘ulama. Modernism and the expanse of ideas played a central role in the treatment of the subjects he took up for study. His new system of education was a bold initiative to conform to the requirements of the time. He suggested that Sirat-un-Nabi needed to be presented in a new style.

Presiding over the session, the Secretary General, IOS, Prof. Z.M. Khan said that he himself benefitted from the proceedings. He assured that the Institute would assist those who were willing to work on various aspects of Shibli’s life and contribution. Desirous scholars were welcome to submit their projects to the Institute. He observed that every personality represented his time. Work based on his writings could prove beneficial for the millat and the country. He said that the IOS would give serious consideration to the suggestions made by Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani and take a decision on them. He sought cooperation of all in the endeavours being made by the Institute since the last 35 years.

The inaugural session ended with a vote of thanks by the Assistant Secretary General, IOS, Prof. Hasina Hashia.

Technical Session I

The first technical session was chaired by Professor and Head, Dept. of Islamic Studies, Maulana Azad National Urdu University (MANUU), Dr. Md. Fahim Akhtar Nadwi. The session was conducted by Dr. Raihan Akhtar Qasmi, Asstt. Professor of Sunni Theology, AMU. Dr. Irshad Ahmad Khan Niyazi of Delhi University was the first speaker who presented the profile of Allama Shibli Nomani titled “Allama Shibli ki Hayat ke zer o Bum”. In his paper, he said that Allama’s work in Urdu poetry was not much. He wrote in Persian, and his monumental work Sherul Ajam was acclaimed in the Persian knowing world. Seerat-un-Nabi was his best book written in Urdu. He wrote Al-Farooq and a 120-page book on Aurangzeb in which he rebutted charges against the Mughal emperor. In 1892, he suffered from Malaria, still he came out with Safarnama in 1893. His letters known as Shibli ke Khutoot were also well received in literary circles. He founded Darul Musannefin in Azamgarh, which was called Siraj-i-Munir by the President of India, Dr. Zakir Husain, Dr. Irshad Niazi concluded. He was followed by Dr. Mohammad Arshad, Asstt. Professor, Dept. Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, who presented his paper on Shibli: His scholastic philosophy and history of ’Ilm al-kalam. He said that Allama used the last 30 years of his life to complete most of the work. He was influenced by Sir Syed, but several aspects of his life and works remained untouched. It was also unknown why Shibli did not bring forward the ideas of the great argumentative Muslim reformer like him. Quoting Syed Suleiman Nadwi, Dr. Arshad said that in certain cases, Shibli settled on hearsay and wrote. He expounded the Qur’anic knowledge and freed Muslims from the shackles of intellectual serfdom of Greece. He described Shibli as the philosopher of oriental knowledge.

While Maulana Kaleem Sifat Islahi from Darul Musannefin, Azamgarh spoke on Seerat-un-Nabi, Maulana Talha Nemat Nadwi from Asthawal, Bihar Sharif focused on the art of Sirah writing. He said that in writing Sirah, Shibli also had the works of western scholars in mind. He was in favour of making good use of European historical wealth. Ubaid Iqbal Asim, Secretary, UP Rabita Committee, discussed the Introduction to Seerat-un-Nabi. In his presentation, he referred to Shibli’s comments on the bias of western scholars against the Prophet (PBUH). He was followed by Dr. Nazir Ahmad Abdul Majeed from Khaliq Ahmad Nizami Centre, AMU, who pointed out that on some points, Shibli, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, and Swami Vivekananda stood on the same pedestal. Both Shibli and Vivekananda faced the challenges of western scholars. They argued that religion should be examined from the prism of reason. He said that reason was inherent in Qur’an as well as in Vedanta. Wahdatul Wujood (Unity of existence) was the essence of Islamic philosophy like Adwaita in Hinduism. In order to emphasise the core of this philosophy, Swami Vivekanand visited the US twice, he added. In his presidential remarks, Prof. Fahim Akhtar Nadwi held that Shibli was one of the eminent scholars who left an imprint on the time they lived. He used Urdu in its best form though it was in its infancy at that time. He said that in all six papers that were presented were informative and also raised several questions. 

Technical Session II

The second technical session was devoted to Sirah writing of Shibli. It was chaired by the Director, Centre for Comparative Religions and Civilisations, Jamia Millia Islamia, Prof. Mohammad Ishaque. Dr. Mhammad Arshad conducted the proceedings of the session. The first speaker, Prof. Mhammad Fahim Akhtar Nadwi observed that Shibli forcefully countered the false charges levelled against Islam by the western scholars. He proved wrong all the arguments advanced by them against Islam. He said that Shibli wrote books on Aurangzeb and the second Caliph of Islam Umar (RA) to disprove the misgivings about their rule. He challenged the western scholars who showed them in poor light by distorting facts. It was Shibli who set the points for Sirat-un-Nabi. He said that Shibli established the greatness of Islam and paved the way for its popularity. He wrote superb Urdu poetry and eulogised the splendour of Islam. He concluded by saying that Shibli maintained a high standard of education in the institutions he served. Dr. Naushad Alam Chishti of AMU spoke on Al-Farooq: A critical and analytical study. In his presentation, he said that during Shibli’s time, Persian was fading out, and English was replacing it. He wrote Al-Mamoon, which was republished recently. His book, Al-Farooq, was an unparalleled work on the life and times of the second Caliph, Umar Farooq (RA), he pointed out. Asstt. Professor, Sunni Theology, AMU, Dr. Nadeem Ashraf, held that Allama wrote Aghaz-e-Islam in Arabic, which was translated into Urdu. He said that Shibli was a scholar, writer, poet, and critic at the same time. Dr. Mohammad Osama from the Dept. of Islamic Studies, JMI, presented his paper on the comparative study of the work of Allama Shibli Nomani and other scholars on Caliph Umar Farooq (RA). Dr. Ziauddin Arifi from AMU spoke on Allama Shibli’s Al-Ghazali: A Review. In this connection, he quoted Ram Babu Saxena, who described Shibli as a writer, philosopher, poet, scholar, and critic par excellence.

Dr. Ahmad Khan, from MANUU, Hyderabad, presented his paper on Allama Shibli’s historical insight. In this connection, he referred to Shibli’s book Al-Mamoon. He said that Shibli was aware of historiography and wrote the book after studying the works of European scholars. He was followed by Asstt. Professor of Sunni Theology, AMU, Dr. Raihan Akhtar Qasmi, who threw light on the meaningfulness of Shibli’s Sirah writing in modern times. He said that Prof. Zafar Ahmad Siddiqui also profiled Allama Shibli’s life and works. Ex-principal of Jamia Urdu College of Education, Aligarh, Dr. Jabin Anjum, remarked that Shibli was an accomplished scholar, philosopher, and poet. He turned to history because western scholars were targeting Islam. Al-Mamoon was his first book, the foreword for which was written by Sir Syed. It was a book, divided into two parts, on the first ruler of Islam titled Khalifa Mamoon Al Rashid. As a patron of knowledge, Al-Mamoon held the scholars in high esteem. It was Shibli who introduced Urdu literature to the western world, she said. The last speaker of the session, Prof. Syed Jamaluddin, focused on a critical overview of “Aurangzeb Alamgir par Ek Nazar Mein Shibli Ek Moarrikh, Vakeel-e-Difaa’ ya Millat ke Tarjuman ya Teenon” He said that while Shibli wrote on Aurangzeb in 1908, Sir Jadunath Sarkar wrote on Aurangzeb in 1912. He named a few scholars who wrote on Aurangzeb. They included European historians of medieval Indian history. In his presidential remarks, Prof. Mohammad Ishaque held that Shibli was a traditionalist-cum-modernist. Whatever he wrote was authoritative. He forcefully rejected the arguments of William Muir, a Scottish Orientalist, against Islam. In 1912, he announced that he would write Sirat-un-Nabi, and it turned out to be his last and best work. He died in 1918 and left behind a framework in which Sirat-un-Nabi was written. He said that Shibli also wrote for the children in order to acquaint them with Islam. He had an avid interest in research as well as in beauty. He excelled in scholastic philosophy too. He noted that Shibli presented a historical vision of Islam by writing on caliph Mamoon-al Rashid. Prof. Ishaque said that Mamoon had negativity as he crushed dissenting opinions.

Technical Session III

The third session devoted to Shibli’s role in the dissemination of Islam was chaired by Prof. Obaidullah Fahad of the Department of Islamic Studies, AMU. Dr. Nadeem Sahar Ambarin of the Dept. of Islamic Studies, JMI, conducted the proceedings. Dr. Alauddin Khan, Associate Professor in Shibli College, Azamgarh, was the first speaker who focused on the problems of the community and Shibli. He said that Shibli created political awakening among Muslims. He visited several madrassahs and set a curriculum for them. With a view to imparting modern education to Muslims, he established National School in Azamgarh, Dr. Alauddin added. He was followed by Dr. Nadeem Sahar Ambarin of JMI, who spoke on Allama Shibli and the dissemination of Islam. Prof. Mohammad Ishaque threw light on Allama Shibli’s book on Syed Ameer Ali. Dr. Shaista Parveen, Associate Professor, Women’s College, AMU, focused on Allama Shibli and the rights of women. Sana Naz, a research scholar in Islamic studies, JMI, spoke on Allama Shibli’s role in educational reform among Muslims. Presiding over the session, Prof. Obaidullah Fahad asked the speakers to treat themselves as critics. 

Day-2 (October 24, 2021)

Technical Session IV

The fourth session focused on the special place of Allama Shibli Nomani in Urdu literature. While Prof. Syed Siraj Ajmali from the Urdu department of AMU chaired the session, Dr. Jamshed Ahmad Nadwi, Arabic department, Mumbai University, co-chaired it. Dr. Md. Kafil Ahmad Nadwi was the first speaker who spoke on the place of Allama Shibli in Urdu criticism. He said that Shibli was a farsighted scholar who had a few peers. Dr. Jamshed Ahmad Nadwi discussed Shibli’s profiling of the heroes of Islam. He started with the profiling of Prof. Arnold while still in Aligarh. He profiled several personalities, but not much had so far written on this aspect of Shibli, Dr. Jamshed observed. Asstt. Professor at Shibli College, Dr. Abu Rafey, concentrated on the letters of Shibli. He spent about 16 years in Aligarh but never compromised on the principles he set for himself, Dr. Rafey said. Asstt. Professor of Islamic Studies, Jamia Hamdard, Dr. Najmussahar, opined that Shibli was a multifaceted personality who eloquently wrote both prose and poetry. He was a biographer, critic, Sirah writer, poet, historian, and philosopher. He was exceptional in his scholarship, she said. In his presidential remarks, Prof. Ajmali briefly critiqued Shibli’s Al-Kalam.

Technical Session V

The fifth session was devoted to Allama Shibli’s travels in the intellectual and cultural quest. The session was chaired by the assistant professor of Islamic Studies, Jamia Hamdard, Dr. Waris Mazhari and co-chaired by Dr. Safiya Amir, Asstt. Professor of Islamic Studies of the same institution. Khalid Noor Mohammad from Islamic University, Malaysia initiated the discussion on Allama Shibli’s modernism as observed in his travelogue on education in Ottoman Turkey and Egypt. He said that Shibli batted for modern education. Shibli recollected his meetings with scholars in Constantinople. But they were not of much relevance. His observation of Turkey was that it lacked liveliness and exuberance. It did not stand anywhere near Oxford and Cambridge. Referring to India, he said that not a single scientific achievement was made or a cultural monument built during the last 600 years of Muslim rule. Shibli also described how the Turks preserved printing presses in order to keep alive Arabic language. He also wrote about the state of education in Cairo, Khalid added. Mir Sanobar, research scholar, Dept. of Sunni Theology, AMU, dilated on Allama Shibli’s stay at Aligarh. Dr. Safiya Amir spoke on Shibli Nomani: Different aspects of his modernism.

Shaziya Tareen, a research scholar in Sunni Theology, AMU, focused on Allama’s stay at Nadwa and his educational quest. Dr. Md. Mubin Saleem Nadwi Azhari observed that the Allama appeared to be very disgusted with Jamia Al-Azhar. Prof. Obaidullah Fahad was the last speaker who presented his paper on Turkey in 1892: a Critique to Shibli’s Safarnama. In his presentation, he said that Shibli stayed in Istanbul for three months. European scholars could not contest the arguments of Shibli in favour of Islam. They failed to portray Turkey’s picture objectively. They were abusive and regressive about Turkey. They were adamant to defame Turkey out of their bias against the country and its people. He wrote that coffee houses in Turkey and Egypt were centres of discussions and debate. The language used in his travelogue was not as beneficial as his other books. He said that Shibli was a theologian-cum-modernist while Sir Syed was a modernist-cum-theologian.

Technical Session VI

The sixth session was chaired by Prof. Syed Rashid Naseem Nadwi, AFLU, Hyderabad, and co-chaired by Dr. Ammar Abdul Hai, Guest Faculty, Islamic Studies, JMI. The session was devoted to Shibli’s corrective measure in the system of education and syllabus. Dr. Waris Mazhari was the first speaker who observed that Shibli laid stress on both modern and traditional education. Prof. Syed Rashid Naseem Nadwi spoke on Shibli’s philosophy of education. While Dr. Md. Tahseen Zaman of the Dept. of Islamic Studies, JMI, focused on Allama Shibli and the syllabus for madrasas, Dr. Naghma Parveen, Dept. of Sunni Theology, AMU presented her paper on Shibli Nomani’s educational thoughts and rectification of the syllabus. Research scholar in Sunni Theology in AMU, Md. Azam discussed Allama Shibli’s outlook on education. The last speaker of the session was Dr. Ammar Abdul Hai, who pointed out that Shibli viewed deen (religion) and education as two different things. Both were important for a Muslim, he said.

Prof. Syed Jamaluddin remarked that differentiation among branches of knowledge was not good. Both East and West needed to be unified. Referring to the medieval historian, Abdul Qadir Badayuni, he said that Badayuni engaged a pundit to get the Sanskrit text translated into Persian. He also learnt music, Syed Jamaluddin added. 

Valedictory Session

The valedictory session began with the recitation of a verse from the Qur’an by Maulana Shah Ajmal Farooq Nadwi. In his special address, the principal of Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama, Maulana Dr. Saeed Ur Rahman Azmi Nadwi said that Allama Shibli Nomani was a critic, writer, speaker, litterateur, and an Alim of high calibre. He discharged his responsibilities as in-charge of Nadwa in 1905. He took an active part in the activities of the institution. He was a doyen of Islamic philosophy and thought, Dr. Azmi, remarked. Delivering the valedictory address, Ex-Head of the Dept. of Islamic Studies, AMU, Prof. Zafrul Islam Islahi quoted Syed Suleiman Nadwi, who called Shibli a historian, litterateur, and a scholar of oriental studies. He was an international personality whose contribution in intellectual, philosophical, social, religious, literary, and cultural fields was unique. He was conferred with the title of Shamsul Ulema for his valuable services in various fields. Essentially, he was a teacher, and his philosophical and intellectual depth had few parallels. His ideas relating to the community, social service, and education were in keeping with the times he lived in. he introduced changes in the course of Islamic study and prepared a new syllabus for the madrasas. He said that Shibli engaged himself with the opponents of Islam and dismissed all their objections as ludicrous. Shibli was the first Islamic scholar who joined traditional and modern education together to keep pace with changing times. Meaning, thereby, he advocated modern education with traditional education. In that sense, he was more close to Sir Syed than anybody else. Replying to a question why Syed Suleiman Nadwi was against the imposition of English on the students, he said that if the ulema had been well-versed in English, wrong translation of Islamic texts would not have been presented in courts. He concluded by observing that Shibli’s personality was multi-dimensional.

In his presidential remarks, the chairman, IOS, Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam, felt elated over the successful conduct of the two-day webinar and thanked all the participants.

He said that Allama Shibli Nomani left behind a rich intellectual legacy that needed to be taken forward. Shibli brought to light the educational plight of Muslims. According to the first census conducted in 1881, while the education among Muslims stood at 16.35 per cent, Hindus accounted for 12.8 percent. But the situation changed thereafter, and today, Muslims were educationally most backward. He said that the Allama tried to modernize the Islamic curriculum by developing a unified or integrated course. He said that a centre headed by Prof. Syed Jamaluddin had been created in AMU to combat attempts to obliterate Islamic history and culture. Only a race that accepted challenges could survive and forge ahead. He held that the responsibility to secure the future of the community devolved on the elders who were obliged to guide the young generation. Referring to the mission to ensure that no child of the community should remain illiterate by 2050, he said that both the All India Milli Council (AIMC) and the IOS took a decision in this regard. Laying emphasis on the need for quality education, he maintained that every question relating to knowledge should be intellectually answered. He called for sinking all differences and unitedly focusing on education. There was also a need for linking the present to the past. Expressing concern over the attempt to drop certain portions that were unsuited to a particular ideology, he called upon the new generation to stand guard against such attempts. Time waited for none, and it was time to get intellectually updated and informed. He invited young scholars to come up with tangible suggestions. He asked them to ‘think, sit and work together.’

At the end of the two-day webinar, a 4-point resolution was unanimously adopted by the participants. The resolution was read out by Maulana Shah Ajmal Farooq Nadwi. The resolution read as:

  1. Several aspects of the life and services of Allama Shibli Nomani remain fully or partially untouched and offer scope for further study. This session feels the need for further research on these aspects. 
  2. Shibli’s efforts to revisit the syllabus and the system of education have usually been hailed by scholars. But, at the same time, complaints of little or no headway in that direction have also been echoing. Therefore, this session feels the need for exploring the possibility of setting the Islamic syllabus based on traditional and modern topics and taking it further. 
  3. This session strongly feels the need for hosting a seminar on the style and principles of Sirah and the history of Allama Shibli Nomani and his students, especially Syed Suleiman Nadwi, in order that guiding principles for re-compilation and re-editing of the history of Indian Muslims and India could be put in place.
  4. This session offers its sincere thanks to the Chairman, Institute of Objective Studies, Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam, other functionaries of the Institute and bodies of the Institute, and requests that the young scholars be invited to present their research projects on Allama Shibli Nomani, his students and their contemporaries in order to rectify the present and pave the way for building future of the country and the community by learning from the past.

Maulana Shah Ajmal Farooq Nadwi informed that as many as 53 papers were presented in the webinar with the participation of 67 scholars.

While Dr. Rehan Akhtar Qasmi conducted the proceedings, Prof. Syed Jamaluddin extended a vote of thanks. 


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