IOS on-line lecture on “Allama Shibli’s Portrayal of Turkey”

New Delhi: An on-line lecture on “Allama Shibli and his portrayal of Turkey in the light of his travelogue, poems, fatwa and activism” was organised by the Institute of Objective Studies on April 3, 2021. Presided over by the former professor of History, Jamia Millia Islamia and currently, director historical research projects, IOS, Prof. Syed Jamaluddin, the lecture was delivered by Noor Mohammed Khalid, researcher, International Islamic University, Malaysia. The proceedings were conducted by the member of the general assembly of the IOS, Shaikh Nizamuddin. The lecture began with the recitation of a Quranic Verse by Hafiz Athar Husain Nadwi.

Introducing the theme, Shaikh Nizamuddin said that Allama Shibli Nomani was a great orientalist who inspired a generation of scholars in India and abroad. His travels to Egypt and other neighbouring countries helped him understand rich Islamic heritage, he observed. Delivering the lecture, Noor Mohammed Khalid, who hails from Bengaluru, said that Allama Shibli’s portrayal of Turkey was evidenced by his write-ups, understanding and his activism. Referring to his basic outlook of Muslims, he noted that he treated the Muslims of the world as one ummah or family. Turkish land was occupied by the Europeans who humbled the Ottoman empire that used to be the only powerful power of Muslims in the world. Pan-Islamism started with Turkey taking a lead in it and the Muslims of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh treated the Ottoman empire as their own. He said that Mohammed Fateh was sent a letter by the ruler of Bahmani Kingdom, Bahadur Shah. This clearly illustrated that several Indian rulers had some connection with the Ottoman empire. The great Islamic scholar, Shah Waliullah Mohaddis Dehlvi, had also written about the Ottoman empire. Another connection which could be cited was a colourful letter written by Tipu Sultan to the Ottoman Khalifa seeing his help in the fight against the East India Company. As per his request, an investiture was granted to Tipu, but no other help could be given to him, he observed.

Noor Mohammed Khalid held that during the Mughal period Caliphate used to be mentioned in Friday khutbas. Since Muslims considered Europeans as usurpers of their land, they developed special affection to the Ottoman empire. They pinned high hopes on the Turkish empire because they believed that it would be able to resist European expansion. Quoting extracts from Shibli’s Safarnama, he said that at the onset of Ramadan ul Mubarak 1382 (1892 CE) the Allama embarked on a journey to Constantinople as a humble student of knowledge. Since this was not an extraordinary event, nor was there an exceptional tale to be narrated about the journey, he initially abstained from the thought of compromising a travelogue. The necessary components of a typical travelogue included synopsis of current affairs, state of the administration, legal procedures, trading patterns, illustrations of buildings; etc. Not one of these was present in the travelogue. Nonetheless, narratives about the social conditions and educational affairs of the nation were included, he pointed out.

Noor Mohammed Khalid observed that Muslims of British India (now spread over India, Pakistan and Bangladesh), were descendants of different ethnic and cultural groups like the Arabs, Turks, Mughals, Afghans, Persians and a variety of local and foreign hybrids as well the off-springs of indigenous converts. They thought that if Turkey was to disappear, they would become like the Jews – a stateless people. He said that Shah Mohammad Ishaq (1778-1846). The grandson of Shah Waliullah, was probably the first Indian alim who supported the Ottoman political policies from around 1841 when he migrated to Makkah. The most outstanding contribution to the Ottomans in the 1870s was by Maulana Mohammad Qasim Nanantvi and his colleagues, Maulana Rashid Ahmed Gangohi, Maulana Ahmed Nanantvi, and others from Deoband and Saharanpur. He held that with every fresh encroachment on Muslim lands by foreign powers, there was a call for rallying round the Ottoman Caliphate, the symbol of Islam’s splendour and glory. This activity for a supranational pax Islamic, spurred as it was by a psychological compulsion to readjust to the loss of power, was labelled in the West as pan-Islam. He said that the Indian Muslim involvement in the ideal of pan-Islam and the Ottoman caliphate was not something new. Both these concepts existed side by side, balancing and nurturing each other in the chequered history of the sub-continent, he said.

Noor Mohammed Khalid, insisted that in his Safarnama (Travelogue) Roum and Sham (Syria) which Allama Shibli Nomani wrote in 1892 documented his meetings with the scholars of the Muslim world. He chatted with the people at coffee shops. He mentioned that there were about 4000 coffee shops in Constantinople alone. He said that the Britishers had a close watch on Shibli through its intelligence network as it suspected him to be a Turkish agent. Shibli helped Turkey not only with banners, but also with money and his pen. He used every opportunity to refute allegations of genocide of Armenians against Turkey in British papers. He wrote that Germany did not make any such allegation. Allama pleaded that Armenian students were awarded scholarships to study in Istanbul. It may be recalled that Adrianople was the capital of Turkey prior to Istanbul. Allama wrote a poem in appreciation of Turkey. His donation for the Turks was sent through the All India Medical Mission during the Balkan war. Other donors were Justice Ameer Ali, Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar and Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari. In 1912, a delegation led by M.A. Ansari visited Istanbul via Egypt, he added.

Noor Mohammed Khalid, held that in order to support the Ottoman empire, Allama Shibli issued a unique fatwa which was published in newspapers. In his fatwa, Allama Shibli pleaded for funds in support of the Ottoman empire in place of the sacrifice of a goat during Eid-al-Adha. He appreciated Abdul Hameed-II as a successful ruler in Turkey who did not allow even a drop of blood to be shed during his reign. He said that Shar-e-Ashob-e-Islam was a poem written by Shibli which brought him to the forefront. He also appreciated Abdul Hameed because he corrected the mistake of Maaviya in appointing Yazid his crown prince. His Ashob-e-Islam became so emotional that people were weeping while reading the poem. He explained why Muslims displayed their disenchantment with Turkey. This was due to the abolition of caliphate by the new ruler, Kemal Ata Turk who westernised Turkey. He concluded the lecture by observing that people were not aware of the history of Turkey and the contribution made by Indian Muslims to the preservation of the cultural heritage of the country. He stressed need for remembering the role of the Muslims of India in strengthening and defending the caliphate.

In his presidential remarks, Prof. Syed Jamaluddin said that it was a lucid presentation of Shibli’s portrayal of Turkey. The translation of Shibli’s poems was wonderful. However, the reason for Shibli’s journey to Turkey, Syria and Egypt had not been specified. Shibli focused more on Istanbul’s past and present. He argued that the condition of Muslims in Turkey was not different from Indian Muslims. By and large, people were traditionalists and the shops were mostly owned by Jews. This was due to their lack of interest in business. The Indian Muslims supported Turkey as much as they could. He said that they supported Turkey because they felt that it symbolised Islamic glory. Even today, thousands of Muslims admired Turkish culture. This was also due to their belief that it was the Turkish heroes who laid the foundation of a strong country that challenged European powers. They did not consider post-caliphate Turkey as strong as it was earlier. This was illustrated by the fact that several people in India named their children after Turkish heroes. But today, things had changed as the Indian Muslims had developed a sense of detachment with Turkey, he concluded.

The lecture ended with the vote of thanks extended by Shaikh Nizamuddin.


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