|Born||4 June 1857|
|Died||18 November 1914(aged 57)|
|Main interest(s)||Islamic philosophy Biography Education history Quran Languages|
|Alma mater||Urdu Masters English masters Arabic Masters Persian masters German masters Turkish Masters|
Shibli Nomani (Urdu: ? - ?All?mah ?ibl? No?m?n?; 3 June 1857 - 18 November 1914, Azamgarh district) was an Islamic scholar from the Indian subcontinent during British Raj. He was born at Bindwal in Azamgarh district of present-day Uttar Pradesh. He is known for the founding the Shibli National College in 1883 and the Darul Mussanifin (House of Writers) in Azamgarh. Shibli was a versatile scholar in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu. He was also a poet. He collected much material on the life of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad but could write only first two volumes of the planned work the Sirat-un-Nabi. His disciple, Syed Sulaiman Nadvi, made use of this material and added to it and also wrote remaining five volumes of the work, the Sirat-un-Nabi after the death of his mentor.
He was born to Shaikh Habibullah and Moqeema Khatoon. Although his younger brothers went to London, England for education and later returned as barristers, employed at Allahabad High Court, Shibli received a traditional Islamic education. Shibli Nomani was from the 'Nomani family which was descended from Imam Abu Hanifa Noman bin Sabit from the Azamgarh district in the then United Provinces of British India, now called Uttar Pradesh in modern India. "This aspect of Shibli's background perhaps explains his ambivalent relationship with Aligarh and Sir Syed." His teacher, in his early life, was Maulana Muhammad Farooq Chirayakoti, a rationalist scholar. Shibli went to Makkah for the Hajj and there, he devoted his time to furthering his studies in Islamic theology, history, philosophy and Sufism from different scholars in Arabia. Due to these two opposite influences in the younger years of his life, "Shibli, therefore, had reasons to be both attracted and repelled by Aligarh."
When he returned to India from the Middle East, he met Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898) who had just established Aligarh Muslim University. Nomani was offered and joined a teaching position at the university on 1 February 1882. He taught Persian and Arabic languages at Aligarh for sixteen years where he met Thomas Arnold and other British scholars from whom he learned first-hand modern Western ideas and thoughts. He travelled with Thomas Arnold in 1892 to Syria, Egypt, Turkey and other countries of the Middle East and got direct and practical experience of their societies. His scholarship influenced Thomas Arnold on one hand, and on the other he was influenced by Thomas Arnold to a great extent, and this explains the modern touch in his ideas. In Cairo, he met noted Islamic scholar Sheikh Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905).
After the death of Sir Syed Ahmed in 1898, he left Aligarh University and became an advisor in the Education Department of Hyderabad State. He initiated many reforms in the Hyderabad education system. From his policy, the Osmania University of Hyderabad adopted Urdu as the medium of instruction. Before that, no other university of India had adopted any vernacular language as the medium of instruction in higher studies. In 1905, he left Hyderabad and went to Lucknow to become the principal of Nadwat tul-'Ulum (Nadwa). He introduced reforms in the school's teaching and curriculum. He stayed at the school for five years but the orthodox class of scholars became hostile towards him, and he had to leave Lucknow to settle in the area around his hometown, Azamgarh in 1913.
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Earlier at Nadwa, he had wanted to establish Darul Musannifin or the House of Writers but he could not do this at that time. He bequeathed his bungalow and mango orchard and motivated the members of his clan and relatives to do the same and had succeeded. He wrote letters to his disciples and other eminent persons and sought their co-operation. Eventually one of his disciples, Syed Sulaiman Nadvi fulfilled his dream and established Darul Musannifin at Azamgarh. The first formal meeting of the institution was held on 21 November 1914, within three days of his death.
Shibli's genius had its flowering in Aligarh University when he came into contact with Sir Syed Ahmed and British scholars. Both Shibli and Sir Syed Ahmed wished for the welfare of Muslims, and wanted to have Western thinking and style come along with it. However, Sir Syed wanted to save the Muslims from the wrath of the British rulers after their active participation in the War of Independence, called the "Sepoy Mutiny" of 1857 by the British colonialist rulers, whereas, Shibli wanted to make them self-reliant and self-respecting by regaining their lost heritage and tradition.
Shibli was a staunch supporter of Pan-Islamism. He wrote poems and articles decrying the British and other Western powers when Turkey was defeated in the Balkan Wars and he urged the world Muslims to unite. In 1913, when the British Administration in India stormed the Kanpur Mosque, Shibli condemned them.
According to some scholars, Shibli was against the Aligarh movement. He opposed the ideology of Sir Syed and that is why he was debarred from the services of Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College. Kamleshwar wrote a novel 'Kitne Pakistan' (How Many Pakistan?) and in that novel he portrays Maulana Shibli Nomani as a narrow-minded Muslim theologian. In another book, 'Ataturk Fi Karbala by Dr. Arif ul Islam', the author alleged that Shibli was not happy with Sir Syed's policies and ideologies and was involved vehemently against Aligarh movement. There does not appear to be evidence of any difference of opinion between Shibli and Sir Syed either in the former's writings or in the correspondence during the life-time of the latter. Shibli's first critical reference is not to Sir Syed but to Altaf Hussain Hali with reference to "Hayat-i-Javed" which Shibli referred to as "sheer hagiography" (sarasar madah sarai). It was only later, i.e. after 1907 that Shibli made many critical references to 'Aligarh College' and occasionally to the founder Sir Syed.
From these writings, one is inclined to agree with the reasons assigned by Shaikh Ikram for this change of attitude. These are:
(b) Shibli's affection and reliance on Abul Kalam Azad who was allergic to Aligarh and Sir Syed. One of the primary objectives of 'Al Hilal' newspaper was "Aligarh ke Aiwan-i-Ghulami ko girana". Shibli and Azad's desire that promoters of the proposed Muslim University should not give up the demand for an all India affiliating jurisdiction.
(c) Lack of agreement on ideology between Shibli and Viqarul Mulk. Shibli had deep affection for Mohsinul Mulk who had appointed Shibli as the first Secretary of the Anjuman-i Taraqqi-i Urdu which started as a subsidiary of the All India Muslim Educational Conference.
Shibli had two daughters, Rabia Khatoon and Jannutul Fatima, and one son, Hamid Hassan Nomani. This son was born in 1882 and died in 1942. He had another son who died soon after birth, and five daughters.
Shibli was greatly inspired by the progress of science and education in the West. He wanted to inspire the Muslims to make similar progress by having recourse to their lost heritage and culture, and warned them against getting lost in Western culture. "Ultimately, the Nadwa gave up its notions of uniting occidental and oriental knowledge and concentrated on Islamic scholarship, and on the dissemination of biographical and historical writing in Urdu. Shibli's own writings set the pattern for the latter." In keeping with this goal, he wrote the following books;
"Lot of injustice has been done to Shibli. While Maulana Aslam Jairajpuri pointed out errors in "Sher-ul-Ajam", it was not mentioned that Shibli was the first to write a biography of Maulana Rumi. Though differences between Sir Syed and Shibli are highlighted, but it has not been pointed out that in spite of Sir Syed's opposition to the writing of "Al-Farooq", Shibli never complained about it. Sir Syed lamented that Shibli's Persian poetry was never tested on its merit and was wrongly associated with his acquaintance with an enlightened intellectual lady of the time Madam Atiya Fyzee. He refuted Shaikh Mohammad Ikram's claim in this regard and subtly highlighted delicacy of Shibli's thought moulded into his Persian poetry"