Great Lives

Book: Alam e Islam Key Chand Mashaheer: Sawaneh wa Afkaar Ka Mutala
Author: Dr Muhammad Ghitreef Shahbaaz Nadvi
Year of Publication: 2014
Publisher: Rehbar Book Service, Delhi, India
Pages: 392
Price: Rs 300
Mushtaq Ul Haq Ahmad Sikander

The Muslim world has produced a number of personalities who have contributed to diverse fields. These personalities have left an indelible mark, an immortal legacy in history through their lives and works. It will need heavy tomes and volumes to document their lives and take an account of their impact, influence and legacy. Some of these personalities have written their autobiographies and others have been documented through various biographical works. But in the times that we are living in few people have the time to read bulky volumes in order to understand his life and mission. Further, common people have little attraction towards understanding the niceties of epistemology and academic and philosophical debates. In order to help them become aware and be exposed to the legacy of Muslim personalities, brevity and comprehensiveness is the need of the hour. The present book has all those traits that make it an attractive read for even a lay reader.

The book is written by Dr Shahbaz Nadvi, a young, dynamic and versatile scholar of Islam, who has published several books on various aspects of Islam. His columns, articles and research papers are regularly published in various newspapers and magazines of national repute. The book is a compilation of his biographical essays and sketches about various personalities who contributed richly to the Muslim discourse about politics, ideology, revivalism, theology, jurisprudence and academics. Many of these have been published earlier in the Urdu monthly Afkar e Milli and others are his research and academic papers that he published or presented in conferences from time to time. The Foreword to this book has been penned down by famous translator of the Qur’an Muhammad Farooq Khan.

In all his biographical essays and sketches, Ghatreef has used his research skills and vast reading to their zenith. The vast reading of Ghatreef, alongwith his profound knowledge of Arabic, Urdu, English and Persian, that makes him grounded both in Oriental and Occidental tradition, renders him certainly better than his contemporaries on this subject. He has used all these sources, both primary and secondary available in different languages to understand, analyse and write about these personalities. The essays about Islamic revivalist scholars like Maulana Abul Ala Mawdudi and the contemporary scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, are testimonies to profound writing. Similarly, his essay on Abulcasis and his contribution to the field of medicine is quite revealing, as is the biographical sketch of Fuat Sezgin of Turkey and his legacy. Every essay and biographical sketch is full of new aspects about the lives of these men that make the book engrossing, keeping the reader glued to the text.

Books, biographies and academic works about many of the personalities have been written already, but what makes this book distinct is the writing style, research content and analysis of the person under discussion. This book is a living testimony to the fact that Ghatreef has deeply read across genres and has the distinct talent as an analytical biographical scholar of Muslim personalities. What is scattered around in hundreds of books has been condensed in a singular tract, with brevity that can make the reader comprehend various thoughts and legacies of these personalities without reading scores of books.  

Even though one can have differences with Ghatreef’s conclusions, still the book is highly readable to understand the personalities, lives, works, thoughts and legacies. Also, there are a few shortcomings of the book. The Muslim world is huge and has produced thousands of personalities who deserve serious academic attention. But this book certainly does not fulfill the required criteria of being exhaustive on that account. Some of the important personalities like Anwar Shah Kashmiri, Hussain Ahmad Madni, Badiuzzaman Said Nursi, Asghar Ali Engineer, Javed Ahmad Ghamidi and others are missing from the list. Further, there is mention of no women scholars, theologians, politicians, or revivalist activists. One understands the dilemma of Ghatreef, because that certainly would need a lot of energy, time and resources to complete this project. But Ghatreef can be expected to take this mission as a project and keep producing work on this subject in the future, too.

The book is highly recommended. It can be beneficial to a layman as well as to a scholar. This book certainly needs to be widely read and also translated into English for a wider dissemination of its contents. It is hoped that Dr Ghatreef in the future will continue to produce many more works like this.

The reviewer is a writer-activist based in Srinagar, Kashmir.
 He may be reached at