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Published in the 1-15 May 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Book Review

Indian profiles

By Omar Khalidi

The Milli Gazette Online

Abunnasr Muhammad Khalidi, Wafiyat-i Ayan al-Hind
published by & available from Shah Waliullah Institute
D 84 Abul Fazl Enclave, Okhla, New Delhi 110025
488 pages, hardbound. Price Rs. 300.


The tradition of historiography in Urdu is fairly weak even as late as early twenty-first century. During the medieval era in Indian history, circa 1200 CE to 1800 CE, Persian was the language of historiography. In fact Persian lingered on as the language of administration and courts in British-rule India until 1837, and in princely India until much later, particularly in Hyderabad, where it was not dislodged until 1884. Urdu took its place only gradually both in administration and scholarship, though plenty of poetry was written in it. One of the reasons for the poor state of historiography in Urdu is due to lack of reliable sources such as handbooks, historical dictionaries, encyclopedias, who was who, or obituary indexes. In order to fill this serious gap in Urdu historiography, late Prof. Abunnasr Muhammad Khalidi compiled the present work, which supplies dates of deathhence Wafiyat, plural of wafat, of major figures in Indian history, hence the word Ayan al-Hind in the title. Prof. Khalidi went through a large number of original sources in Indian history in Persian ranging from Tabaqat-i Nasiri of Juzjani to Badshah Namah of Abdulhamid Lahori to Rawdat al-Awliya-yi Bijapur of Shah Sayfuddin Qadiri to create an obituary index encompassing a wide range of monarchs, queens, commanders, Sufis, scholars, and other significant figures of medieval India.

The publication of a serious prose work in Urdu in India today is uncommon. Collections of poetrytraditional, progressive, post-modern and the like is commonplace. However the publication of a voluminous prose work of quality is a rare occasion. One such occasion is the publication course of this book by late Professor Abunnasr Muhammad Khalidi, 1916-85. He was a professor at Osmania Universitys History Department from 1939-76. He spent his youth in the company of such stalwarts as Mawlana Abulala Mawdudi, Baba-ye Urdu Mawlawi Abdulhaq, Josh Malihabadi, Allamah Abdullah Imadi, Muhammad Hamidullah and the like. At Osmania Universitys famed Dar al-Tarjama, where he began his career, he enjoyed the company and the collegiality of some of the best minds of Muslim India in the late 1930s and 1940s. Educated in Egypt at King Fuad I University, now called Cairo University in 1946-49, he is the author of several books on Indian history and Islamic studies. Some of his most famous works are Taqwim-e Hijri wa Isawi, which has ran into multiple editions as a seminal work. Musalmanaon ki Bahri Sargarmiyan, published in 1974 by Delhis Nadwat al-Musannifin, on the naval activities of Muslim empires, is simply unrivalled in Urdu. There just is no work on the topic before or after him in Urdu to date. All together there are some 40 books and articles that he wrote. Most recently, between 2003-04, his books on Quranic studies, Zamaiyir al-Quran, and al-Ashbah wa al-Nazayir fi al-Quran al-Karim have been published and received acclamation. The collection of his article on language and culture, Deccani Kalam aur Tahzibi Tarikh, edited by Khwaja Muinuddin Azmi was also published just last year. When he passed away in 1985, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, one of the foremost scholars of Islam wrote: Saints abide by God, and he surely was one of them.

The present work combines the best features of the common finding aids. Finding aids such as this are common in English and European languages, but a rarity in Urdu. Written in clear, crisp, flawless Urdu, there is not a word thrown in or left out, this beautifully printed book is indispensable to anyone with interest in medieval Indian history.

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