Remembering Maulana Sayyid Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi

This December marks 19 years since the esteemed Islamic scholar, historian, and literate from our Indian subcontinent, Maulana Sayyid Abul Hasan Ali Hasani Nadwi, passed away (on 31st December 1999). He was born in Rae Bareli, UP, India, (in 1914 C.E. ) to a family known for its piety and scholarship, which traced its ancestry to Imam Hasan bin Ali (grandson of the Prophet (PBUH)) through Sayyid Abdullah al-Ashtar (towards whom the famous Sufi shrine of ‘Abdullah Shah Ghazi’ in Karachi is attributed).

Family background

Hakeem Sayyid Abdul Haiy Hasani was a reputable scholar of Islam, Arabic, Persian, Urdu, History and Tibb. He had family links to the renowned Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed and many other scholars, Sufis and poets. Among his well-known Arabic works were Nuzhat-ul- Khawatir, an encyclopedia of nearly 5000 major Muslim luminaries of India throughout the history; and ‘Al-Thaqafat al-Islamiyah’, a glossary of the major scholarly works compiled in India. His Urdu work Gul-e-Rana was on Urdu writers and poets, while ‘Delhi aur us kay Atraaf’ was his travelogue to Delhi and its surroundings. His elder son, Maulana Dr. Sayyid Abdul Ali Hasani was also a prominent Islamic scholar and a Medical Doctor; while ‘Sayyid Abul Hasan Ali’ was his younger son. His wife (Abul Hasan Ali’s mother) too was a pious and learned woman whose poetry was published as Kaleed-e-Bab-e-Rahmat.

Early Education

Coming from such a literary family, it’s no surprise that the young ‘Ali’ grew up developing a high literary and scholarly sense. Due to his father’s early death, his education was overseen by his elder brother. He graduated from the famous Darul-Uloom Nadwat-ul-Ulama (shortened as ‘Nadwa’) in Lucknow (hence the title ‘Nadwi’) regarding which Akbar Ilahbadi remarked ‘Aur Nadwa hay Zuban-e-Hoshmand’ (‘And Nadwa is the rational tongue’). His teachers at Nadwa included scholars like Maulana Haider Hasan Khan and Maulana Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi. Family upbringing, the environment of Lucknow, the education at Nadwa and a personal zeal to study inevitably enriched Maulana Ali Nadwi’s literary Urdu.

Apart from Urdu, Maulana was equally known for his fluent and eloquent Arabic. He was fortunate to have esteemed Arabic teachers such as Shaykh Khalil Arab (originally from Yemen) and Shaykh Taqiuddeen al-Hilali (from Morocco), among others. Maulana recalled (in Mayri Ilmi wa Mutala’ati Zindigi) that Shaykh al-Hilali’s teaching was ‘innovative’ which stressed upon learning Arabic as a ‘living language’ through conversations and reading of modern newspapers and books, before jumping on to the classical Arabic texts. It was him who offered help in publishing young Ali’s Arabic treatise on Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed (written around the mere age of 16-17) in the renowned Egyptian magazine, Al-Manar.

Apart from Nadwa, Maulana also received a ‘gold medal’ from Allahabad University (in Arabic) and studied English language privately. After graduating from Nadwa, he attended Hadith lectures at Deoband (from Maulana Sayyid Husain Ahmad Madani) and Qur’an lectures in Lahore (from Maulana Ahmad Ali Lahori). He also visited and benefited from various esteemed Islamic scholars and Sufi Shaykhs throughout this life.

Some famous Arabic books

Maulana Ali Nadwi’s Arabic lectures and books continued to flow thereafter and attained wide popularity among the Arab scholars and public. Among his well-known Arabic books is ‘Maza Khasar al-Alam bi Inhitat al-Muslimin’ (translated as ‘The Rise and Decline of the Muslims and Its Effect on Mankind’) which subsequently got translated in Urdu, English and other languages. Qisas al-Nabiyeen (translated as ‘Stories of the Prophets’), that he wrote for his nephew, soon found its way in to the syllabi of various Arabic institutes for the initial levels, along with ‘Mukhtarat min Adab al-Arabi

Being deeply inspired by Allama Iqbal (whom he once met in Lahore), Maulana undertook to introduce Iqbal to the Arabs for which he wrote ‘Rawai’ Iqbal’. The book, like his other Arabic books, was read widely; thereby successfully propagating the thoughts of ‘Shaair-e-Mashriq’ (Poet of the East) to the Arab World. Upon seeing its Urdu translation (entitled Nuqoosh-e-Iqbal), Javed Iqbal (Iqbal’s son) remarked that this book introduces and explains the poetry of Iqbal very much in line with Iqbal’s own thoughts.

Some famous Urdu books

Apart from Arabic, he authored numerous titles in Urdu. Most of his Arabic works were also translated in Urdu which were generally supervised and edited by him (like ‘Nuqoosh-e-Iqbal’). His first book in Urdu (around the age of 25) was ‘Seerat Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed’ which was greatly admired among the scholarly and literary circles of India. It was later added to ‘Tareekh-e-Dawat-o-Azeemat’, a multi-volume account of the historical ‘revivers’ of Islam (translated as ‘Saviors of the Islamic spirit’). He wrote a detailed biography of his father, ‘Hayat-e-Abdul Haiy’, and a biographical account of his mother, in ‘Zikr-e-Khayr’. His own autobiography, ‘Karawan-e-Zindagi’, encompasses 7 volumes! He also compiled (and supervised many others in compiling) biographical accounts (in Arabic and Urdu) of various luminaries from the past and from his own era. Furthermore, he penned his impressions on his seniors and notable contemporaries in 3 volumes, entitled ‘Puranay Chiragh’.

Activities and recognition at home and abroad

He traveled far and wide which provided him with opportunities to study various societies and thoughts while nourishing them with his own well thought and sincere advices. He frequently visited the Arab world and the west for various scholarly and missionary activities, lecturing at various prestigious institutes, universities and conferences etc. His impressions are scattered throughout his travelogues, published speeches and letters (e.g Isma’ee ya Suria, Isma’ee ya Misr, Do haftay Turkey may, Maghrib say Saaf Saaf Bataen, Aalam-e-Arab ka Almiya etc).

He was an active and centric part of a number of institutions and organizations worldwide such as being a founding member of the Saudi led Muslim World League (Rabitah al-Alam al-Islami), a visiting professor at a number of Arab universities (he also remained in the higher council of the Madinah University) and so forth. He was awarded with multiple awards in his lifetime which included the Faisal International Award. When the University of Oxford decided to establish a ‘Center for Islamic studies’, Maulana Ali Nadwi was cordially invited and made the chairman of its board of trustees (for his lifetime).

Despite his frequent traveling and scholarly engagements, he was also very active at his home country, India, where he frequently undertook diverse scholarly and supervisory roles. Apart from being the rector of Darul-Uloom Nadwa (from 1961), he was also a leading member of a various organizations such Darul-Uloom Deoband’s advisory council, Muslim Personal Law Board, Darul Musannifeen Azamgarh and Academy of Islamic Research and Publications Lucknow , among others. He played a crucial role to maintain harmony and work for humanitarian causes in India for which he established a movement, Tehreek Pyam-e-Insaniyat. He also supervised editorial roles in a number of magazines in Arabic, Urdu and English. After his demise, many of these positions got transferred to his able nephew and close confidant, Maulana Sayyid Rabey Hasani Nadwi.

Some noteworthy thoughts

Having teachers from various backgrounds and thoughts, he comfortably admired diverse views and personalities. He adored every personality and organization that worked for the cause of Islam and humanity but, at the same time, he critically reviewed each of them and provided them with sincere advices. Personally, he was a part of the Qadiri Sufi order of Maulana Abdul Qadir Raipuri (on whom he authored ‘Sawaneh Hazrat Abdul Qadir Raipuri’). He also benefited and learned from many other Sufi Shaykhs from Chishti and Naqshabndi orders. He was also deeply inspired by the founder of the Tablighi Jamat, Maulana Ilyas Kandhelwi, with whom he formed a close relationship (and authored ‘Maulana Ilyas aur unke Deeni Dawat’) He joined Jamat-e-Islami under the leadership of Sayyid Maududi during its early years but left soon afterwards (later expressing some of his differences in ‘Asr -e-Hazir may Deen ke Tafheem-o-Tashreeh’); although he continued a friendly relationship with him (which is another example of his balanced approach to address differences of opinion).

Maulana Ali Nadwi sincerely and staunchly believed that the real threat to the modern world, especially the Muslim world, is neither the lack of material development nor the political disturbances, rather it’s the moral and spiritual decline. He firmly believed that Islam alone has the ability to overturn this and thus Muslims must wake up to make an effort in this regard. By staying back, he argued, the Muslims were not only failing themselves rather the entire humanity! He stressed on Muslims, especially those living in a Muslim majority countries (like Pakistan), to develop a society based on Islamic principles that could become a model (for its moral and spiritual values) for the rest of the world. He was a strong critic of nationalism and stressed upon working for the humanity, collectively. He also laid much emphasis on the crucial role women for upholding the teachings of Islam in a society.

Instead of trying to shut their doors for the incoming western influence, he believed that the intellectual Muslims should study the contemporary Western ideologies and form their own ideology in its response, withholding the ‘superior moral values of Islam’. He opposed ‘Islamic groups’ from clashing with the ‘secular elite’ in Muslim majority countries and instead encouraged for an ‘inclusive approach’ wherein the ‘secular elite’ could be gradually and positively called towards Islam, without causing any chaos in the society. Similarly, he also urged Muslims living as a minority to maintain peace and create a valuable position for themselves through hard work and exemplary morals.

Maulana Ali Nadwi today

Maulana Ali Nadwi’s legacy still prevails in various parts of the world mostly through his writings, which have been published in various languages. Some people remember him as ‘Shaykh Abu al-Hasan Ali al-Nadwi’ (in the Arab world), some call him ‘Maulana Ali Miyan’ (in India/Pakistan) while some transliterate his name as ‘Ustad Ebul Hasan Nedevi’ (in Turkey). Numerous people, inspired by his teachings, continue to work for Islam and humanity, worldwide.

Paying tribute to him after his demise, the Islamic University in Islamabad (IIUI) arranged a seminar in his honor and published (through Idara Tahqiqat-e-Islami) the speeches and articles presented therein as ‘Maulana Sayyid Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi – Hayat-o-Afkar Kay Chand Pehlu’. In Pakistan, his writings are published by ‘Majlis Nashariyat-e-Islam’ (Karachi). An impressive web portal is also dedicated to him, (operated in India).

Whereas a person like him is hard to replace, nevertheless, we can try to find the much needed guidance in his deep and sincere advice. Lessons from his life can enable us to devise a balanced and practical approach towards the various problems that we are facing today, as a society. Thus, in the light of his teachings, the polarizing behavior of our society, that is aggravating our collective issues instead of providing any substantial solutions, may also be changed.

Originally published in Daily Times on December 21st


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