Shah Moeen-ud-Deen Nadvi RA
By Dr Basheer Ahmed Khan
Garden Grove, CA
In this month Rabi Ul Awwal when we commemorate Prophet Muhammad’s SA birthday, I wanted to write an article about Nabi SA, and I wrote one under the title “Muhammad SA, Journey of Prophet-hood from Captivating Miracle to Convincing Motivation.” As I read it again and again, I found that the demand of time is not to extol the magnificence of Muhammad’s SA personality to invoke awe, but to write about some of his followers who lived during our time so that they become an inspiration to us in the turbulent times that we face.
The hatred and the bloodshed that we see between people today isn’t something new. History has made us repeat it time and again; for we were not able to learn anything from it. However there were some people, who did not use the turbulent times to advance their personal agenda of power grab and gain victory over their presumed or real enemies. Instead they used their lives to give hope to their people and to educate their adversaries about how useful they were in solving the common problems that both face. Shah Moeen-ud-Deen Nadvi RA of Da’rul Musan-nifeen A’azam Garh, India, is one such person. He lived in the last century.
Nabi SA was born at a time when the world was in what is called “The Dark Age.” This Dark Age was trying to engulf the entire world in its darkness. Allah loves His world and His people; that is why He says: I have not created this world and this sky with all its celestial objects for a game. If I had wanted to play a game in this universe I would have done it Myself without involving human beings into so much of hurt and humiliation while I was playing a game (Ch21 V16-17). Therefore He sent His last messenger, Muhammad SA, who took great pains for himself to reform his people to undertake the task of reformation of the world. His companions and their followers brought the world out of darkness and on to the path of enlightenment and discoveries in a short span of time. A fact which is acknowledge even by the critics of Islam and Muslims.
Shah Sahib lived at a time and at a place when the challenges faced by Muslims were no less than what they are facing today. The end of colonization of the world was near and everyone wanted the lion’s share of the pie in a post-colonized world. In India, too, this struggle was going on. Muslims faced the onslaught from the Hindu extremists and European Orientalists. Both these groups discredited Islamic teachings to demoralize Muslims and make them ineffective in their bid to get their due share in the comity of nations in the pos-colonial world. Some Muslims were playing a game of tit for tat to establish their rights in the changing society. Some others were in a state of quiet introspection to understand themselves and others both in term of historical background and geopolitical realities in order to play the role which Islam and Muslims were chosen to play (Ch3 V110). Shah Saheb was one such person.
I grew up reading Ma’Aarif the monthly journal of Darul Musan-nifeen. My friend, Mr Noorul Haq, then a lecturer in Botany at Saint Philomena’s College Mysore who later retired as HOD of the department subscribed and shared this journal with me. I was fascinated by the articles written by Shah Sahib in it.
As I was reading the memoires of Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi RA (AKA Ali Mian RA), “Purane Chiraagh,” I found an article about Shah Moeen-ud Deen Nadvi. I was so inspired by this article that I thought of writing this piece. In the life of Shah Saheb I found a model, the replicas of which are essential in every part of the world today to avoid the war of civilizations which some people are trying to ignite.
In 1914, lines were drawn up for the First World War which was to change the political map of the world. At the same time Muslim intellectuals of India under the leadership of Shibli Noamani RA and Hameed ud Deen Farrahi RA established Darul Musan-nefeen at A’azam Garh, India. The objective of this institution was to defend Islam and Muslims from the false allegation against them and to give guidance to Muslims and help them face up to their present and future challenges. Both these scholars were equal to the task as both were astute students of history, Islam, comparative religion and other sciences. Shibli RA was a tennis-playing Maulana who was criticized by his conservative counterparts for playing a non-Muslim game. Maulana Farrahi RA was both a university graduate and an Islamic scholar who served the department of Arabic at Aligarh University. He had learned Hebrew and Latin to study Judaism and Christianity from its source. He advocated the study of the Bible by Muslims for a healthy dialogue with people of the Book as advocated by the Qur’an (Ch29 V46). He felt that this would not only help the people of the Book to understand their religion in correct perspective but also to help Muslims in correct practice of Islam in light of mistakes made by the people of the book before them (Nizam ul Qur’an).
Now as Darul Musan-nefeen completes its centenary, it is a valuable resource of the history of Muslims with its research and countless publications. As most of this literature is in Urdu and Arabic, it is the need of time that this valuable resource is translated into English. It is essential for the modern generation of Muslims to establish a relationship with the Western civilization based on correct knowledge and sound values for the benefit of both. The prevailing ignorance and defeatist mentality of Muslims which is detrimental to the interest of mankind can be overcome by this translation. The culture of greed, immorality and deceit which is plaguing the whole world can be replaced with hope and happiness to mankind by pursuing such a course.
Shah Sahib joined Darul Musan-nefeen when Syed Sulaiman Nadvi RA was chairing it after Shubli Noamani’s death. Shah Sahib served the institution till his last breath and left it only when his coffin was lifted from Darul Musan-nefeen. He rendered a yeoman service to the institution and to the cause of Muslims. He died on December 13, 1974 in his room from where he worked all of his productive life, Nawwaralahu Marqadahu (May his grave be always lit with the Noor of Allah swt).
The source of what follows in this article is the article about Shah Sahib which is written by his dear friend Maulana Ali Mian RA in his popular memoire “Purane Chiraagh Vol I” published by Firdose Publication Lucknow.
Shah Sahib was from the progeny of Shaikh Ahmed Abdul Haq Rowalwi RA who lived in the Barabanki District of UP, India, in the 9 th centurty Hijra. Based upon the opinion of contemporary scholars, Shaikh ul Hind Hussain Ahmed Madani RA considers Shaikh Rowalwi as the mujaddid (revivalist) of 9 th century Hijra. One of the famous sayings attributed to Shaikh Ahmed is: Mansoor (Hallaj) was a child who said “I am the Truth” after drinking the first sip from the ocean of metaphysical realities, there are hundreds of other people who drank oceans and did not even burp. His maternal grandfather was Shah Sharfuddin who was a respected Shaikh for Muslims of India as well as Arabia.
Shah Sahib was born in 1903. His parents had given him a name that personified the role which he was to play in his life, Moeen ud Deen, meaning a helper of Allah’s religion. He got his education under Maulana Abdul Bari of Farangi Mahl, and at Nadwa-thul Ulema, Lucknow under Maulana Syed Sulaiman Nadvi. Maulana Nadvi picked him up to serve Darul Musan-nefeen based upon the prospects he saw for Shah Sahib.
Shah Sahib was on the selection committees of many Indian universities because of his academic status, but he never aspired for any better paying job for himself in the universities in which he had considerable influence. He did not even ask for a raise in his salary at Darul Musan-nefeen. Any time he was offered more remuneration by Darul Musan-nefeen, he declined to accept it, instead he allocated the same in the budget for some other worthy causes. He did not even move to the house reserved for the Administrator when it was vacated by Maulana Masood Ali Nadvi after his death in November 1965. Shah Sahib continued to live in his one room study which he had occupied on the first day as an intern. His wife had died at an early age leaving a son and a daughter, and he did not marry after that. Both his children were taken care of by relatives and were successful in their own worldly life while Shah Sahib was devoting all his time in researching, writing, mentoring and taking care of an institution which had a stupendous task before it and which was also the mission of his life.
Darul Musan-nefeen was always facing financial problems. Maulana Syed Sulaiman Nadwi RA thought that by joining the palace of Nawab of Bhopal he could help both Nadwathul Ulema and Darul Musan-nefeen financially, but in vain. While Maulana Syed Sulaiman Nadvi visited Pakistan in June of 1950, his relatives over there stopped him from returning to difficult life in India in deference to his failing health. The mantle of responsibility at Darul Musan-nefeen fell on the shoulders of Shah Sahib: he stood like a rock facing all the problems which Darul Musan-nefeen and the Muslims were facing in India, un- relented.
Shah Sahib was a kind person who did not take any relationship personally. Even though he had some tiffs with Maulana Masood Ali Nadvi, the administrator of Darul Musan-nefeen, he took good care of him during his long illness before his death because of the services of Maulana Masood Ali to the institution. When a reputed scholar went public with his unjust criticism of Shah Sahib, Shah Sahib forgave him for the sake of Allah. He was cautious in his praise of young scholars lest they may stop pursuing knowledge after obtaining accreditation from him. He was also very careful in expressing his opinions even though he was an astute observer of events both, big and small, and had a healthy mind to analyze them properly.
Even though he was a great scholar, it was not the scholarship that had a high place of importance in his personal life, it was love. He would be moved by words that moved the heart more than the words that stimulated his mind. He had maintained a perfect balance between emotions and intellect and that is how he could pursue the path which he pursued for himself so consistently. He was interested in poetry and Sama’a. In one of his letters to Maulana Ali Mian, Shah Sahib said: Sa’adi RA was complaining about his childish nature at the age of forty, and I have reached fifty-five years of age and still I have the same complaint about myself. Allah’s mercy is only for sinners like me. The pious may not be in need of it. I have hope in Allah’s mercy, and you pray that Allah takes out all weaknesses from me.
Commenting upon the life of Shah Sahib RA, Maulana Ali Mian RA writes in the article: Being from the progeny of a great Sufi, it was easy for him to have the easy life on the seat of Makhdoomiath at the shrine of his ancestors. But Shah Sahib discarded it in favor of the difficult task of seeking knowledge, doing research and bringing about publications all his life. More importantly, even in this changed role Shah Sahib did not abandon the ascetic lifestyle of a Sufi. He demonstrated it by living a simple life with no demand for any ostentatious living from the institution that he was serving or from the position which he enjoyed as a renowned scholar and writer. He was recognized by the President of India for his services, but it had no importance in his life. He did not have any bank balance or any property which he had made except the one that he had bequeathed from his ancestors. To live an ascetic life in the shrine as a Sufi is easy, but to live it as a scholar and academician of great repute is really difficult, and it is a wonder that Shah Sahib lived it with ease.
I did not have a chance to see Shah Sahib RA, but I saw Sabahuddin Abdul Rahman who was the successor to Shah Sahib at Darul Musan-nefeen after his death and his right hand man when he was alive. Maulana Sabahuddin Abdul Rahman visited Mysore in the late-seventies as the chief of Darul Musan-nefeen. Those who had organized his program at Mysore gave me the opportunity to make invocation at the beginning of the program. I with my poor pronunciation (Tajweed) recited the powerful words of Allah swt in the last few verses of Al An’am. I was watching his face to see appreciation at my choice of Qur’anic verses and consternation at my presentation.
The irony of Muslim history in my humble opinion is that when we had sincere rulers we had misguided scholars. The example of this is in the life of Mughal King Akbar who had in his court Abdullah Sultanpuri and Abdul Nabi at one time and Abul Fazal and Faizi later. Both this pair of scholars impacted the destiny of India negatively because of their conservative and liberal attitude respectively, while the spirit of Islam is moderation (Ch2 V143). When Muslims got good scholars to give good advice, we had rulers who cared more for their selfish interests than the welfare of the state they ruled or the world of which they were a part. If our rulers can’t take any lessons from the academic research and publication of Shah Sahib they should at least get a lesson of sincerity from his life to be able to serve their countries and humanity better. It is a miracle of the life of Nabi SA that luminaries like Shah Sahib RA continue to be born fourteen hundred years after his (SA) departure to illuminate our way. If we continue to remain blind, nothing can help us to see the path or tread it.
I conclude by writing two of the couplets which were liked by Shah Sahib:
Ai Mere Bagh e Aarzoo Kaisa Hai Bagh Ha-ye thoo
Kaliyan tho Go Hain Char Soo Koi Magar Khili Nahin
Dil Mein Laga-ye Iski Lau Karde Jahan Mein Nashr Zau
Sham-may Tho Jal Rahin Hain Sau Bazm Mein Raushni Nahin.
The garden of my dream! What sort of a garden you are? You are full of buds but none is blooming. What if there is no light in the hundreds of lamps that are burning? The flame that is burning in my heart will surely illuminate the world.