Dr. Shah Ebadur Rahman remained a very close associate of Shaikh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi Rahmatullah. Dr. Shah joined as professor of English in Ummul Qura University in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, after completing his higher studies from Northern University of Illinois, DeKalb, USA. He talks to Asif Moazzam Jamai about the Life and Death of Abul Hasan Ali Miya Nadwi in this exclusive interview for ummid.com.
AMJ: Dr. Shah, thank you for your time. Since the 31st December has just passed, a date in the year 1999, when Shaikh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi Rahmatullah passed away, we decided to commemorate him on his death anniversary. We arranged this interview with you for this purpose.
SER: Thank you for including me in this good work.
AMJ: I understand that you enjoyed quite a long association with him. How did you come to know about him?
SER: I happened to read an Urdu book by Shaikh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Tazkira Hazrat Abdul Qadir Raipuri. Abdul Qadir Raipuri was his spiritual mentor and the book was his biography. I was very impressed. I wrote him a letter of appreciation after finishing the book. He replied my letter and was kind enough to ask me to meet him. This was in 1970, I guess. I visited him in 1972, in the month of Ramadan at his home village, a little before I went to America for higher studies.
AMJ: So you couldn’t keep any contact with him for about two years.
SER: No, I kept on writing letters to him. He was a very honorable person, a person of international repute. I surely felt greatly honored. I remember I soon started regarding him as my spiritual mentor.
AMJ: What impressed you about him at that stage?
SER: His pious character, his religiousness, and his moral strength.
AMJ: Can you elaborate on that?
SER: He was a living example of the moral teachings of Islam, in his public as well as private life, and was especially careful about his moral uprightness. That is why he always stayed in touch with pious persons of his time.
AMJ: Can you name them?
SER: Yes, why not. Shaikh Ahmad Ali Lahori, Shaikh Abdul Qadir Raipuri, Shaikh Yaqub Mojjaddidi, Shaikh Waliyullah Allahabadi, Shaikh Mohammad Zakariya Saharanpuri.
AMJ: How did his moral strength reflect his personality?
SER: His relationship with one and all was based on sincerity, goodwill and desire to please his lord. If one sat in his company, he felt the love of Allah rising to his heart.
AMJ: What else did strike you as distinguishing about him?
SER: His broad-mindedness and broad heartedness.
AMJ: How would you explain his broad heartedness?
SER: He readily forgave his ill-wishers. For example, a person from India, a Muslim, developed animosity against him and used to write against him very harshly in Urdu magazines and papers. When that person died, Shaikh Nadwi called me in Makkah and through me instructed his close associate and student Dr. Abudllah Abbas Nadwi to go to Haram at the earliest and pray for the deceased. The relatives of the deceased would not even know about it.
AMJ: And his broad-mindedness?
SER: He was very clear about the understanding of the nature and goals of the teachings of Islam and adhered to his understanding and interpretation. But he was respectful to the others who held a different point of view. He was honest enough to express his differences, but he never opened a front against anybody or any group. That is why people from different groups of Muslims, sometimes holding confrontational standpoint, stayed in touch with him, used to visit him and seek his advice.
AMJ: What about his religious character? How did he integrate religion into his personal life?
SER: He was very sincere in his relationship with his lord. Following a religious injunction was not a ritual for him; it was a source of contentment of heart. An example may help us see the point. In his last sickness in which he was struck by paralysis, he was badly hurt. He was in his 80s. Frail as he was from his early boyhood days, he was then unable to rise from his bed or even turn his sides. He couldn’t utter words clearly. But even in that serious sickness, he never missed the salaat (daily prayers) even for one time. He insisted on making wudhu (ablution) for every prayer, and on having prayers in jama’at (congregation). So he was helped in making wudhu and brought down from his bed to sit in a raw to offer prayers in congregation. Pillows were put beside him and at his back to make sure he didn’t lose balance. He didn’t miss his tahajjud prayers (late night prayer), even for one day. This shows his sincerity in his relationship with Allah.
AMJ: How did he look at the social problems of the Muslim Ummah?
SER: He believed that the social irregularities of Muslims can be controlled only when Muslims realize their religious responsibilities and become mindful of aakhirat (life after death). He traveled extensively, addressed to these issues in his speeches and writings and supported all that was done in the field of ‘islahe Ma’ashra’(correction of society).
AMJ: Did he also have any plan for relationship of Muslims with other religious communities? Did he take any practical steps in this regard?
SER: This was an important agenda in his work plan. He established “Payame Insaniat” (message of humanity), a platform for the followers of all faiths to come together and address to the problems and issues threatening the humanity at large, such as dowry killings, communal violence, and intolerance in any form. He held the view that it was the responsibility of religious leaders first to save humanity from such wrongdoings. With this mission, he himself traveled to monasteries and had dialogues with Shankracharyas. He established an office for Payame Insaniyat at Nadwa in Lucknow and published literature to support this work. This office is still functioning.
AMJ: Anything else that he did in this regard?
SER: Yes, in fact, he lived with the desire to contribute to the cause of mutual cooperation among different religious communities as much as he could. He wrote a book, perhaps entitled ‘The Indian Musalman’, in which he introduced the religious and cultural entity of Muslims in India to the followers of other religious communities in order to promote mutual understanding. He also requested writers from other communities to reciprocate so that barriers break down and familiarity persists among neighbors.
AMJ: How did he relate to the government of his time?
SER: He did not get involved in party politics, that is to say, that he didn’t side with one political party or the other. But he didn’t keep himself unnecessarily aloof from the government. As soon as he felt that the government of the time was in need of help in understanding an issue, he met the Prime Minister or the minister concerned to explain his perspective. He visited several prime ministers and chief ministers such as Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi and Deve Goda. Vajpayee personally visited him at his residence on various occasions.
AMJ: Could you elaborate on his relationship with such top leaders?
SER: He never asked for any personal favor from them, nor did he allow them to do any personal favor to his relatives. He drew their attention to the issues of the Muslim community in India in the context of the national structure. For example, when Prime Minister Vajpayee visited him in his sickness at Nadwa, he mentioned Democracy, Secularism, and non-violence as the foundation for the protection and development of the country, and requested him to protect them as prime minister. In the same meeting, Kalyan Singh, then chief minister of UP, informed Vajpayee that he had offered Shaikh Nadwi a chartered flight to Delhi and treatment at the cost of the government. But, he refused the offer and stayed in Luckow where he was treated by local doctors.
AMJ: What was his status among the Muslim scholars of the time?
SER: He was the most honored Islamic scholar of his time. He was a lifelong member of the Rabeta Alami Al-Islami, member of the governing body of Madina University, founder member of the Islamic Centre at the Oxford University of the UK, and the list is really too long. Great Islamic scholars of his time loved him and openly acknowledged his superiority. When Nadwa at Lucknow organized a world conference on the eve of its 85th year, great Islamic scholars attended. Shaikh Muhammad Al- Subayyil, the imam of the Haram Sharif of Makkah, was chosen to preside. When approached, he came to the microphone and made the historic announcement, “When Shaikh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi is present in the gathering, none else would ever preside. I request him to come and take the chair.”
AMJ: He must have received several awards.
SER: Many awards. The government of Dubai offered him the award for his life-long service to Islam and organized a big event for the occasion. He declined to attend on health ground. But the government of Dubai finally won his approval. A special plane was sent by them directly to Lucknow, with the permission of the government of India, which brought a full team of medical doctors to assist Shaikh Nadwi. With special facility, he flew to Dubai to grace the occasion. Such facilitation was not rare with Shaikh Nadwi. In fact, he raised the prestige of India on the world platform.
AMJ: Who was his ideal, the role model, in his life?
SER: Prophet Muhammad, may Allah’s blessings and peace descends on him. In one of his interviews that he gave in Madina to an Arab journalist, he was asked, ‘which of your books is your favorite?’ he readily answered, “Pathway to Madinah” (Tarik ilal Madina). This book revolves around the personality of the Prophet.
AMJ: Can you name some late religious scholars and leaders who inspired him?
SER: In general, he admired and trusted the earlier Islamic scholars (Salafe saliheen) and benefitted from them. But among the Indian scholars and leaders of the recent time, he was greatly inspired by Shah Waliyullah Dehlavi, Shaikh Ahmad Sarhindi known better as Mujaddid Alf Thani and Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed.
AMJ: We have heard that he died an ideal death, so to say. Do you agree and can you elaborate on it?
SER: Yes, for many, his death signified that he was dear to Allah and departed from this world as a pious soul. That was 1999, the 31st of December, the closing day of the 20th century. According to the Arabic calendar, it was the second last Friday in the holy month of Ramadan. He breathed his last around 11 a.m., which means that he had offered his Fajr prayer and the time of dhuhr prayer had not entered yet. He prepared for the Friday prayer, took a shower, changed dress, wore a sherwani and an Arabic head cover, applied perfume, sat in his head facing ‘Ka’aba’, started reciting Surah Yasin and then only after a few minutes people realized that he was no more.
AMJ: How is his mission being carried on by his associates?
SER: They are working in different faiths. All his works are being pursued by his devoted associates. Details can’t be covered in this short interview.
AMJ: Yes, I understand. If I may ask, how are you contributing to his mission?
SER: I’ve translated a few of his books into English. I also wrote a book on Sayyid Ahmad Shaheed in English, which is also available in Urdu now, and a memoir of Shaikh Nadwi in Urdu. We have also formed a platform for supporting his mission in Delhi, known as Abul Hasan Ali Study Circle. We have already published 10-12 short and detailed works from this Study Circle. We have devoted some of them to refute allegations against Islam, such as the sword theory against Islam, the charge of violence, incompatibility of Islam with modernity and progress, and multiple marriages of the prophet. These books are in English and Urdu. We are trying to bring out Hindi translations soon.
AMJ: Thank you for your time for this interview.
SER: Thank you for giving me an opportunity to share information with you.
[Asif Moazzam Jamai is associated with Department of English, Faculty of Science and Arts, University of Bisha in Saudi Arabia.]
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