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Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy

By Dr Javed Ali Khan
Honorary Fellow, Shibli Academy

On the 21st of November 2014, Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy, the premier Indo-Islamic research institute of the Subcontinent, which was established at a time when literary academies such as those in Europe were unheard of in India, completed its hundred years of existence. Its founder Muhammad Shibli Nomani (1857-1914) first conceived the idea of an academy while he was on a visit to Constantinople (Istanbul). Later, on the occasion of the Delhi Conference of Nadwatul Ulama in March 1910, he placed his views before the people. Subsequently, in February 1914, through a writeup in Al-Hilal, he spoke of the scheme to the common people.

Maulana Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi (left), Allama Shibli Nomani,
Darul Musannefin's main building

After having failed to establish the Academy in Lucknow, it was ultimately established in Azamgarh amidst Allama Shibli’s mango orchard and two kachcha bungalows. Thereafter, it was decided that so long as the institution was unable to generate its own income, the grant of Rs. 300 that Shibli was getting from the State of Hyderabad was to be utilized for its functioning. Family members and relatives donated their adjacent lands, constituting a total area of 23172.67m2, of which 3656m2 now has constructed buildings. A few years back a double-storey conference hall was constructed on an area covering 436.26 m.2  The institution runs on its meager sources with occasional individual help. On one occasion, it received monetary help by the Central Government.

Three days after Shibli’s death on 18th November 1914, his cherished pupils and admirers, namely Maulana Hamiduddin Farahi, Maulana Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi, Maulana Abdus Salam Nadwi, Maulana Masood Ali Nadwi and Maulana Shibli Mutakallim Nadwi, assembled at Shibli’s house and laid the foundation of a society called Ikhwanus Safa (brethren of purity, the name of a society of Abbasid intellectuals), which may be described as the nucleus of Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy whose first President was Maulana Hamiduddin Farahi while Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi was its first Secretary. The All India Muslim Educational Conference in its meeting held in December 1914 at Rawalpindi praised the mission of Darul Musannefin.

In its first annual meeting held on 25 May 1915, Ikhwanus Safa coopted a number of new members: Hamid Hasan Nomani, son of Shibli Nomani, Habibur Rahman Khan Sherwani, Nawab Sayyid Ali Hasan Khan, Professor Abdul Qadir, famous poet-philosopher Dr. Muhammad Iqbal, Nawab Emadul Mulk, Maulvi Sayyid Husain Bilgrami, Maulana Abdullah Emadi, Maulana Sayyid Karamat Husain and Maulana Abdul Majid Daryabadi. With these distinguished men the caravan moved ahead.

On 21 July, 1915, the Ikhwanus Safa society was registered with the new name of “Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy”. It was stipulated that the society shall be a purely literary society. In the years to come Dr. Zakir Husain and Janab Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad were made members of the Managing Committee. Presently Professor Ishtiaq Ahmad Zilli is the Director and Abdul Mannan Helali is the Joint Director.

The objectives of the Academy, as visualized by Shibli, were primarily to display the significance of Islam and of the Muslims, to educate and train a group of scholars who could accomplish the desired task, to meet the challenges of European criticism, and to enlighten the Muslims with the progressive knowledge of the West. It also aimed at a better presentation of Islam, understanding of Holy Qur’an in the light of modern reasoning and arguments, study of modern sciences, and promotion of social and political harmony between the Hindus and Muslims.

The first significant publication of the Academy was Shibli’s magnum opus, Siratun Nabi. It is acknowledged as the most comprehensive and authentic biography of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). It was received with great enthusiasm all over the Indian Sub-continent. Two thousand and five hundred copies were sold within two-three months. Some other books that were published by Shibli Academy were Sirat-i Ayesha, Sirat ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdul ‘Aziz, Arzul Qur’an, Siyarus Sahabah, She’rul ‘Ajam, Ruq’at-i ‘Alamgiri, Tarikh-i Islam, etc. Until now, more than 200 books have been published.

Soon, under the supervision of Maulana Masood Ali Nadwi, a central building and a few residential quarters for the staff were built. To cater to the needs and to facilitate research, the Academy was organized into seven sections: Department of Seeratun Nabi, Research Department, Publication Department, monthly journal Ma’arif, Library, Buildings, and Printing Press. Thus it became an integrated and self-contained institution where research, editing, collation, compilation, calligraphy, printing and sales were done as part of a unified process.

The library, which started with barely a few dozen books, was soon enriched. Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi’s visit to the United Kingdom greatly helped in the expansion of the library. Prominent scholars and publishers started sending complimentary copies of new publications for review. Some of the rare manuscripts collected during the early phase were Moonisul Arwah, Anisul Arwah, Akbar Namah, Farhang-i Jahangiri, Sirr-i Akbar, Qasasul Aja’ib, Rauzah Tajmahal, Sharah Nahj al-Balaghag, Tafseer-i Ahmadiya, Kitabul Mizan and Nizamul Gharib. The library now has more than one lakh books and 650 rare manuscripts.

In 1982, the then secretary of the academy, Sayyid Sabahuddin Abdur Rahman organized a world seminar on Islam and Orientalists. In 1995, with the collaboration of Alami Rabta-i Adab-i Islami, a world seminar was held on Sawanih Nigari (biographical writings) under Maulana Ziauddin Islahi, the then director of the academy.

The first eminent personality, a great freedom fighter, disciple and admirer of Allama Shibli, Muhammad Ali Jauhar, visited the Academy on 1 March, 1921. Thereafter, Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya came in June 1922. Among other matters, he discussed the Urdu-Hindi language issue. In subsequent times some of the most distinguished Indians to visit the academy were Mahatma Gandhi, Moti Lal Nehru, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Lal Bahadur Shastri,  Indira Gandhi, Ram Manohar Lohia, Bi Amma, Zafar Ali Khan, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Hasrat Mohani, Payare Lal, Suchitra Kirpalani, Chaudhary Charan Singh, Akbar Ali Khan (Governor), Dr. Sir Ziauddin, Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah, Begum Sajida Sultana, Tasadduq Husain Khan Sherwani, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Humayun Kabeer, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, Sarojni Naidu, Dr. Zakir Husain, V.V. Giri, Hakeem Muhammad Sayeed, Ram Naresh Yadav (Governor), C.B. Gupta, V.P. Singh, Nobel Laureate Professor Abdus Salam,  Shoaib Sultan (Magasasay Award Winner), Vibhuti Narain Rai (IPS), Karim Najafi (Iran), Duktar Ali Raza (Afghanistan),  Allama Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, Dr Ebrahim Al-Batshan, Syed Shahid Mahdi (V.C., Jamia Millia Islamia), Shamsur Rahman Faruqi (Urdu critic and Padam Shree awardee), Professor N.R. Faruqi (V.C. Allahabad University), Professor Saifuddin Khan, and many others. As a good gesture, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, Nawab Hamidullah Khan (the then ruler of Bhopal State), and many others became the academy’s Life Members. Jawahar Lal Nehru, in particular, would stay here for days together whenever he visited this part of Uttar Pradesh.

The Academy within a short period of time carved a niche for itself. Scholars of Egypt, Syria, Morocco, France and Turkey etc approached the Academy for their research work. When Maharaja Gaekward contemplated of opening a department of comparative study of religions, he sought guidance of Shibli Academy. The institution commanded such reverence that when Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was asked if he would like to serve the institution as an honorary fellow, he replied, “he would willingly serve even as a porter.” Complimenting the Academy on its early performance, Nawab Emadul Mulk Maulvi Sayyid Husain Bilgrami wrote in one of his letters to Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi: “Darul Musannefin requires no certificate. It is accomplishing a task, which was hitherto never undertaken in India”.

The Press Information Bureau of  Government of India, on the occasion of the Golden Jubilee celebration of the Academy, described it as “Moulded in the scholarly tradition of India’s ancient centres of learning, the Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy, in the old Azamgarh town of Uttar Pradesh, has taken its place alongside some known modern research institutions. The small band of devoted scholars in the Academy, who preferred the pursuit of knowledge to the lure of status, comforts or emoluments which could have been theirs for the asking, recalls the glory of the ancient scholars of Nalanda, Cairo, Taxila and Transoxiana.”

Ma’arif, the literary-cum-historical monthly journal, which is being regularly published since July 1916, may be described as a shining moon which effuses knowledge of Islamic sciences and the craving of Western science. It soon earned international reputation for its well-researched papers on various aspects of Indian and Islamic history and culture, Qur’anic sciences, poems, obituaries, educational information, reviews of books, etc. The scholars who served as editors in the past are Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi, Shah Moinuddin Ahmad Nadwi, Sayyid Sabahuddin Abdur Rehman, Maulana Ziauddin Islahi. The present editors are Professor Ishtiaq Ahmad Zilli and Umairus Siddique Nadwi Daryabadi.

Shibli Academy has the rare distinction of being, perhaps, the earliest Indian academy which not only laid the foundations for research but also played a significant role in the emerging national political life of the country. With Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan and Shibli Nomani no longer on the scene, the political condition of the country was such that many Muslims looked upon Darul Musannefin Shibli Academy to play an important role in the political life of the country. But Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi was basically a scholar and writer. Moreover, the regulations of the Society did not allow the institute to take part in active politics. Bonded by such restrictions, unlike his intellectual and political mentor, Nadwi did not plunge into politics. Notwithstanding, on matters which he felt were right and dutiful, he was bold to step out fearless of the consequences, to participate in the National Movement. His colleague, Maulana Masood Ali Nadwi, was equally daring and had no hesitation in attending the meetings of the Indian National Congress and would freely talk with Moti Lal Nehru, Jawahar Lal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and many others. Another audacious scholar was Maulana Sayyid Riyasat Ali. He had for sometime studied in Egypt but owing to his anti-British stance, was forced to return to India. Incidentally, he got a room-partner, Maulana Abdur Razzaq Maleehabadi, a fiery nationalist, who further indoctrinated him. He was a staunch supporter of the Congress and in politics had an aggressive attitude. Prof. Sayyid Najeeb Ashraf was another active leader of the Congress Party. In gatherings, he would make forceful anti-British speeches which the members of the Academy often feared would land them in trouble. Maulana Abdus Salam Nadwi would say Najeeb Ashraf will get us hanged.

However, the man who made a consistent and dignified effort, both at the national and international level for a considerable period of time, was Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi, the secretary of Shibli Academy. He had started his  career by joining Al-Hilal of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. In 1913, a portion of the mosque in Kanpur was pulled down by the British. When people resisted, they were fired upon as a result of which many men and children were killed. Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi wrote a stirring account, “Mashhad-i Akbar” in Al-Hilal causing its closure. In 1918, along with Maulvi Masood Ali Nadwi, he secretly met Muhammad Ali Jauhar (another fiery freedom fighter and a disciple of Allama Shibli) who was imprisoned in Chindwara jail. At the time, Nadwi was president of the Azamgarh Congress Committee. About this time he was among those who laid the foundation of Khilafat Movement. Nadwi was also among the founder-members of Jamiat Ulama-i Hind. He also wrote and supported the movement launched for the rights of the peasants. In 1920, he was the lone person to represent the Indian ulama in the Khilafat delegation sent to London. He had talks with Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, and with Montague Chelmsford, alongwith Muslim delegates of the world who had come for talks on the issue of the historical and religious importance of the Hijaz.

During this period, he would attend all meetings of the Khilafat Committee and Congress Party and would often wear cap and sherwani of coarse cotton (khaddar). In 1921, he attended the annual session of the Congress Party held in Ahmedabad. Here, he was nominated as a member of the working committee in a list of ten members. Mahatma Gandhi expressed good opinion about him.  Under him, Azamgarh emerged as an important centre of non-cooperation and branches of Khilafat Committees and Panchayats were established in the district.

In 1926, Sultan Abdul Aziz announced his kingship and invited the Khilafat Committee for discussions. Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi went to the Hijaz and had several rounds of talks with Sultan Abdul Aziz. He also had talks with Prince Faisal, son of Sharif Husain. It was a great moment for Shibli Academy whose Secretary was having parleys  with the ruler of Saudi Arabia. Again, when he went for Hajj in 1949, King Abdul Aziz ibn Sa’ud made him his guest and invited him several times to dine with him.

Shibli Academy is the pride of Azamgarh and a standing memory of a person whom Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi described as “Imamul Hind Hazrat Allama Shibli Nomani”. It marks a milestone of the Muslim quest of knowledge and renaissance and fulfillment of a long-cherished need of the Muslim intelligentsia in modern times. More significantly, it demonstrates that it were a group of Maulvis with traditional knowledge of Islamic sciences but with enlightened vision who drew the Indian Muslims out of obscurantism and led them on to the path of modernism. Considering its immense contribution to the country it has high claims of being declared as a place of national eminence, and the Philatelic Bureau of India should remember Shibli Nomani.