Allāma Shibli Nu’māni’s Sīrat-al-Nabi: Views of Some Modern Scholars
Darul Musanifeen Shibli Academy Azamgarh, is in news for having started a fund raising campaign on social media citing the reasons that current lockdown has increased the financial burdens of the institute. Javeed Ahmad Malik in this article, reminds us of the academic contribution of this premier institute and of the person who conceived the idea of this academy, Allama Shibli Numani. Sirat al Nabi, authored and co-authored by Allama Shibli and Syed Suleyman Nadvi is one such contribution of this institute that money cannot recompense. The importance of this book in light of the comments made by various scholars have been highlighted by the author.
Javeed Ahmad Malik
At the beginning of the twentieth century, one of the famous books written on Sīrah was ‘Allāma Shibli Nu’māni’s Sīrat-un-Nabi. Shibli was born on 3rd June 1857, in a distinguished family in Azamgarh city. He remained in Aligarh with Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan (d.1898) for sixteen years, where he came into close contact with Prof. T.W Arnold (d.1930) and other European scholars and by whom he got acquainted with western thoughts and ideas. After the death of Sir Sayyid, Shibli left Aligarh and went to ‘Uthmāniya University Hyderabad and eventually became rector of Nadwat al-‘Ulama Lucknow. Allama Shibli conceived the idea of Dār al-Musannifīn Shibli Academy, Indo-Islamic research institute, and its constitutional draft was laid down by Shibli himself. The academy was established three days after the death of Shibli by his prominent students like Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi, Hamiduddin Farahi, and others. It is very painful to learn that, 100 years down the line, this premier institute has to seek donations from common masses to meet its financial needs.
‘Allāma Shibli’s noteworthy works include Sīrah al-Nu’mān, Al-Ghazzāli, Al-Fārūq, Sawānih Mawlāna Rūm, Awrangzeib ‘Ālamghīr, Al-Ma’mūn, and others. But Sīrat al-Nabi, the biography of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is considered as his magnum opus. The way Sir Syed refuted the offensive book (The life of Mahomet) by William Muir, likewise Shibli Nu’mani felt the need to answer the unfounded allegations of D.S Margoliouth in his biographical work titled Muhammad PBUH.
In a letter to Munshi Muhammad Amīn Zubayri, Shibli writes:
“If I remain alive and only a single eye accompanied me, InshāAllah (if Allah wills) I will provide a book to the world which will not be expected for many centuries to come”.
The foreword of Sīrah al-Nabi is extraordinarily written in a scholarly style in which the need, importance, and methodology of Sīrah writing have been discussed. While compiling the second volume of the book, Shibli passed away, and then, the remaining five volumes were completed by Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi, a famous student of the author. Dr. Anwar Mahmud Khalid in his book, Urdu Nathar Mei Sīrat-i-Rasūl, says:
“Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi unostentatiously rendered due to pupillage and saved the lifelong earnings of his teacher”.
While highlighting the significance and distinction of Shibli’s Sirat al-Nabi in the entire Sīrah literature, Dr. Anwar writes:
“The first and half volume on the life of the Prophet (PBUH) is written with such hard work, minuteness, vast learning, reflection, sound argumentation and literary elegance which places it in the topmost shelf of pure Islamic literature. This book not only in Urdu but bears eminent position in the entire Sīrah literature written in all languages in the 20th century”.
Similarly, while commenting on both ‘Allāma Shibli’s and Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi’s contribution to the Sīrah writing, Prof Yasīn Mazhar Siddiqui, in his Masādir-i-Sīrat-i-Nabawi (II/526) writes:
“(It is) like ibn Ishāq and Ibn Hishām appeared again in the guise of Shibli Nu’māni and Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi in Urdu. Our language (Urdu) was devoid of producing solid, authentic and accomplished Riwāyat (Narrations) and Dirāyat (Text) in Sīrah writing. Only a few Mawlūd Nāmey and fervent biographies existed. Arabic traditions had not flourished in the sub-continent. Astonishingly, even Persian which remained state and academic language for many centuries here, could not produce any notable work in Sīrah writing. Urdu still was an infantile and unacademic language. Some serious endeavours, which were performed before Shibli, happened to be incomplete. Sir Sayyid’s ‘Khutbāt-i-Ahmadiyyah’ bears eminent position in that list which was a rejoinder written in apologetic attitude and thereby couldn’t establish a strong tradition in Sīrah writing. Shibli Nu’mani was like Ibn Ishāq of our modern era, with a little difference that he couldn’t complete his work but the sketch and draft of Sīrah writing which he made, became torch to his accumulator and compiler (Sayyid Sulayman Nadwi), who compiled and completed his Ibn Ishāq’s work, thus proved himself as Ibn Hishām. He did the job of arrangement and refinement of the material of Shibli. (Undoubtedly) Sīrah al-Nabi of Shibli and Sulayman Nadwi constitute vast, beautiful and exalted tradition in the science of Sīrah”.
Dr. Mahmūd Ahmad Ghazi (d.2010) in his Muhazrāt-i-Sīrat, (at P.668) has compared Qāzi Sulaymān Mansūrpūri’s Rahmat al li al-‘Ālamīn with Shibli’s Sīrat al-Nabi, (which actually depicts later’s splendour) in the following words:
“In spite of its significance, Qāzi Sulaymān Mansūrpūri’s book faded before the splendour of another book. Although, this book of Qāzi Sulaymān Mansūrpūri was a glittering star of research sky, when the sun of research came out, the glitter of Qāzi Mansūrpūri’s star got dimmed. That sun of research was ‘Sirah al-Nabi’ of ‘Allāma Shibli Nu’māni and Sayyid Sulaymān Nadwi”.
In light of the above paragraphs, it becomes evident that Shibli’s work carries features like strong argumentation and exposition, academic analysis and scholastic, a historical and traditionalistic examination of narrations. Nevertheless, the book has been criticised for adopting an apologetic approach on some occasions.
Dr. Ghazi, in his above-mentioned book (P 673-74) at the same time without leaving the path of impartiality, also reported the weaknesses of Shibli’s work as:
“But perfection belongs to Allah only. Every human endeavour has its limitations. Shibli too contains many shortcomings that have been notified by many people. In some places, Shibli has adopted an apologetic attitude. Orientalists have written that Prophet’s initial campaigns were carried out for the purpose of booty only. Perhaps Shibli got influenced by these sorts of allegations. Now Shibli tried to interpret these campaigns in such a way, that at many places, his pen has deflected from the unanimous viewpoint of Muslims (which is supported by the Qur’an). No one has agreed with the interpretation of Shibli in respect of Ghazwah-i-Badar (Campaign of Badar). Even his student (who completed his work) has disagreed with him in this matter”.
Likewise, Prof. Siddiqui in his above-mentioned book (V 2, P 559) after quoting admirations of many analysts has also brought forth the weaknesses of the book, as pointed out by some scholars, he writes;
“On the contrary, Shibli’s part has been vehemently criticized and its weak aspects have been identified also. Some have regarded it as devoid of spirituality and before some people, its many debates are yet to be discussed exhaustively. Some claim that it has been written with poetical language and the author has failed to make proper usage of the traditions from the original sources. Some are angry with the analysis and criticism done by Shibli on various narrations. Some say that it contains irrelevant debates and some in spite of making a critique on the book, have attacked the personality of Shibli. However, besides many admirations and compliments, doors of criticism and evaluation and even disdain are seen open. But the fact is that, Shibli Nu’māni’s Sīrah al-Nabi, in spite of all its drawbacks, weaknesses and deficiencies is a splendid book on Sīrah and even his critics and those who possess enmity with him, cannot remain independent from him”.
Verily, Shibli’s Sīrah al-Nabi, despite some of its shortcomings, commenced authentic, strict and solid research and investigation in Urdu Sīrah writing. It holds a prominent position in the seerah literature and bears the privilege of being translated into the Arabic language as well.
The author can be mailed at email@example.com.
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