Allama Shibli Nomani

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Allama Muhammad Shibli Nomani

By Afzal Usmani*

After Sir Syed Ahmad Khan Bahadur, one of his protege Allama Mohammad Shibli Nomani is considered as tallest figures among the Muslims of Indian subcontinent who died at an age of 57 but his academic and social work put him way above to people who were far senior and elder to him. Being a native of Azamgarh, I heard his name at a very early age due to Shibli National Post Graduate College , which he founded in 1883 and got named after him after his death. Even though the college did not progressed as expected by any standard but got significance because of its founder. His another venture Darul Musannefin which was also renamed as Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy did a wonderful job in realizing the dreams of its founder. After the Independence of India and break up of the country, it lost one of the main pillar Maulana Syed Sulaiman Nadvi who migrated to Pakistan and strong supporter Nizam of Hyderabad but still survived many hick ups. The new team of Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy under the leadership of its Director Prof. Ishtiyaq Ahmad Zilli is trying to bring it back on its feet and restore the past glory. Allama Shibli Nomani has a versatile personality but his mostly known for his academic work. Hope people of academia will work on other dimensions of his personality and give him his deserving stature of a reformer rather than just academician and theologian.

Here is his brief life sketch.

Born 4th June 1857 in Bindawal Azamgarh (UP)
Died on 18th November 1914 in Azamgarh (UP)
Father : Shaikh Habibullah
Mother: Moqeema Khatoon (d/o Mr.Qurban Ahmad, Phariha Azamgarh)
Wife: Majidunnisa (Married 1876-77)
Brothers : Mahdi Hasan, Mohammad Ishaq, Mohammad Junaid, Mohammad
Children : Hamid Hassan Nomani , Rabia Khatoon , Jannutul Fatima
Teachers: Maulana Farooq Chirayyakuti, Chirayyakot Azamgarh, Maulana Irshad Husain, Rampur, Maulana Faiz ul Hasan Saharanpuri, Lahore, Maulana Ahmad Ali Saharanpuri

MAO College Association: 1882 – 1898, Professor of Persian and Arabic

Founder Editor: The Aligarh Magazine (Urdu)-1891

Famous Students:
Hamid ud din Farahi, Abul Kalam Azad, Saiyid Sulaiman Nadvi, Muhammad Ali Jauhar, Zafar Ali Khan, Sajjad Haider Yaldram, Aziz Mirza, Masud Ali Mahvi, Abdus Salam Nadvi, Abdul Bari Nadvi, Shibli Mutakallim Nadvi

Books :

Seerat-un-Nabi – 7 Volumes (co-edited by Syed Sulaiman Nadvi), Muqadmat-Seeratun Nabi, Al-Farooq : Biography of Hazrat Omar Farooq (R.A.), Al-Ghazali, Al-Mamoon , Seerat-un-Noman, Swaneh-Maulana Roomi, Al-Kalam, Ilmul-Kalam, Safar Nama Room-Misr-o-Shaam, Sherul-Ajam -5 Volumes, Kuliyat-e-Shibli (Urdu), Kuliyat-e-Shibli (Farsi), Mawazenah Anees-o-Dabeer, Al-Inteqar, Auragzeb Alamgeer per Ek Nazar

While writing biography of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, political heir of Allama Shibli Nomani, here is how Dr. Ian Henderson Douglas introduced Allama Mohammad Shibli Nomani in his book Abul Kalam Azad: An Intellectual and Religious Biography

Shibli Nomani (1857-1914), was an exception to the rule in that he was not in line of Delhi ulema-sufis of the Naqshbandi order, although his thoughts were influenced by Shah Waliullah. He was, however, an alim concerned with the reform of the ulema so that they could be the effective guides to the Muslim community, a scholar who wrote and published prolifically and who nurtured younger authors, leader in the movement to advance the Urdu language as a modern vehicle of expression, and an educator associated with Aligarh College and with the reformist madrasa of the Nadwatul-Ulema in Lucknow. Shibli was the Muslim Rajput from Azamgarh district in the eastern reaches of the then United Provinces. Although his younger brothers went to Aligarh, Shibli was given a classical Islamic education. His teacher was Maulana Muhammad Farooq Chirayakoti, a rationalist scholar who was an outspoken opponent of Sir Syed. This aspect of Shibli’s background perhaps explains his ambivalent relationship with Aligarh and Sir Syed. The Chirayakot connection is significant. David Lalyveld notes that Chirayakot was the center of ‘a uniquely rationalist and eclectic school of ulema’, who studied Mu’tazalite theology, the early Arab development of Greek science and philosophy, as well as such languages as Sanskrit and Hebrew*.

Shibli, therefore, had reasons to be both attracted and repelled by Aligarh. Even after he had secured a post as a teacher of Persian and Arabic at Aligarh, he always found the intellectual atmosphere at the college disappointing, and eventually left Aligarh because he found it uncongenial, although he did not officially resign from the college until after Sir Syed’s death in 1898. Shibli had an original mind that combined rationalism and clarity of expression with an aesthetic sensibility. These characteristics are apparent in his writing style and they doubtless attracted him to the young Azad, and vice versa.

In early 1890s Shibli traveled extensively in West Asia, visiting educational institutions and libraries in Turkey, Egypt, and Syria for his own research and meeting scholars, including Sheikh Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) in Cairo and other Islamic reformers. After leaving Aligarh, Shibli worked for a time in the educational service of the Nizam’s government in Hyderabad, but finding that also uncongenial he returned to north India, where he became the secretary and guiding light of the madrasa of the Nadwatul Ulema in Lucknow.

The Nadwa, founded in 1893, was an association of ulema who had various institutional affiliations. One of its moving spirits was Maulana Syed Muhammad Ali Mongiri, a learned Naqshbandi who continued the mission of promoting Muslim solidarity that was initiated by Shah Waliullah. The Nadwa was formed to bring about the reconciliation of eastern and western learning of Deoband and Aligarh, as it were nd to unite the ulema in the task of spreading and defending Islam. To do this, Nadwa avoided the divisive issues and called upon the ulema to sink their differences and to improve communication among themselves by holding annual meetings. The Nadwa was not always able to avoid divisions in its ranks or at its meetings, however, as Shibli later found out. In 1898, the Nadwa founded a madrasa, the Darul Ulum, with the intention of incorporating the best of Islamic and western learning in its curriculum, in order to produce a new breed of modernized ulema. Under Shibli’s direction, the school earned a reputation for sound scholarship, published a journal, Al-Nadwa, and collected an impressive library. It also secured British government patronage to build an imposing edifice by the bank of the Gomti, and to institute the teaching of English and mathematics.

Ultimately, the Nadwa gave up its notions of uniting occidental and oriental knowledge and concentrated on Islamic scholarship, and on the dissementation of biographical and historical writing in Urdu. Shibli’s own writings set the pattern for the latter. His works included biographies of the caliphs Mamun and Umar, the jurist Imam Abu Hanifa, al-Ghazali, the poet Rumi, and the Prophet Muhammad, and two works on theology. These works introduced into Urdu the methods of Western historiography and biography, but were also defensive in that they responded to western and Christian criticisms of Islam and Muslim heroes. Shibli also wrote poetry, literary criticism, including a monumental study of Persian poetry, and numerous articles and letters. His style was clear and straightforward, with a tendency to romanticize the Islamic past in the interests of promoting Muslim pride and solidarity. In the last year of his life,1913-14,Shibli left the Nadwa under fire from an opposing faction and retired to his home in Azamgarh, where he started an academy, the Darul-Musannifin, again to promote historical scholarship and publication in Urdu.

In his two works on theology, Ilm-al-Kalam and Al-Kalam, Shibli shows both similarities and differences with the rationalism of Sir Syed. They shared similar sources and influences, but on the equation of the work of God ( science, or nature) and the word of God (religion, or revelation), Shibli parts company with Sir Syed. He states that science and religion have nothing to do with one another, being two entirely different realms. The one has to do with observable phenomena and the other with matters that are beyond the grasp of observation or experiment. As such, they do not conflict, but neither can the one be used to confirm the other.

Allama Shibli Nomani with Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and supporters and Well wishers of Aligarh Movement

Allama Shibli Nomani with leaders of Aligarh Movement: (L-R) Sitting:Viqarul Mulk, Mohsinul Mulk, Nazir Ahmad, Altaf Hussain Haali, (L-R) Standing : Shibli Nomani, T.W. Arnold

Shibli Hostel at Aligarh Muslim University Aligarh India

KutubKhana AllamaShibli in Nadwatul Uloom

Kutub Khana Allama Shibli Nomani at Nadwatul Ulum Lucknow India


Shibli National College at Azamgarh (UP) India India

Shibli Inter College at Azamgarh (UP) India India

Shibli National Girls High School at Azamgarh (UP) India India


Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy Main Building

Book fair in Shibli Academy

Sir Syed Bi-Centenary


Hamiduddin Farahi


ZH Chowdhury

Satish Chandra