Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi: A Man of Peace in a Century of Turmoil (Part II)

Way Apart

In 1939 he met another important figure of the century, Mawlana Manzoor Ahmed No’mani. The Mawlana had read his Seerat Sayyid Ahmed Shaheed and had asked him through a letter if, beyond words, Ali Miyan was interested in some practical steps towards reformation and renaissance. Soon the two were on a track together, traveling to various parts of northern India in search of a movement or collective work that they could join or launch themselves.

Preparation of the youth for a Jihadic struggle was one of the objectives. During those days Mawlana Mawdudi had toured through the Mewat region (now Harvana) meeting Mawlana lIyas and studying the reformation movement that the Mawlana had launched among the masses. Much impressed, Mawlana Mawdudi wrote a powerful article on the Tablighee movement for his Tarjuman al-Our’an. The article drew the attention of both Ali Miyan and Manzoor No’ mani. It was also during that journey that for the – first time he met the famous Sheikh Abdul Qadir who ran his Khanqah from Ra’epur. In the final leg, the journey took him to Nizamuddin, the center of Tablighee movement. He came back very much impressed by the effectiveness of the work, the simplicity of its founder and workers, and the depth of sincerity found in the rank and file.

The year 1940 took him closer to Mawlana Mawdudi who had launched his own Jamat-e-Islami movement in the year 1937. Ali Miyan and Manzoor No’mani were the natural first few of those who responded enthusiastically. Ali Miyan became its full-fledged member in 1941 and was given the charge of the Lucknow wing of the Jama’ah. But, by 1942 there were already controversies over some of Mawlana Mawdudi’s writings in which he had spoken of the scholars of Islam in a disparaging manner. There were suggestions in the Lahore meeting of the senior members of the Jama’ah that Mawlana Mawdudi should resign as the movement-leader. Ali Miyan voted for his continuance as the Amir. He felt that the step demanded would only mean some window dressing. It wouldn’t change the character of the Jama’ah.

Nevertheless, he felt that there was an inordinate reverence for Mawlana Mawdudi among the Jama’ah members. Mawdudi’s writings were treated as the last word on any topic and hence beyond any criticism. Not surprisingly, the members showed hardly any disposition towards the writings of other scholars, preachers or reformers, of the past or the present. For many of those who had been won over to the cause of the Jama’ah by Mawdudi’s writings, and whose reading “other than that” was quite modest, if any, Mawlana Mawdudi was the very epitome of learning and a kind of genius that the Islamic world hadn’t produced for a thousand years. But, more alarming was the tendency to belittle the scholars of Islam, both past and present, not too infrequently, even by the very senior members of the Jama’ah. It was to such an inordinate level that it could be regarded as the culture of the Jama’ah. Further, and more importantly, there didn’t seem to be a perceptible in-depth quality change in the rank and file of the Jama’ah members, nor the realization or acknowledgment of the fact of it missing, not to speak of an urgent and pressing need to address the issue. In the common man’s oft-repeated words of evaluation, the Jama’ah work was more brain and intelligence, less soul and spirit, more earthly and less heavenly; the demand on the individual being more on the outer dressing than on meaningful inner changes.

Further, to Ali Miyan, Mawlana Mawdudi’s personality did not appear as charming and attractive as his writings appeared. He wrote to Mawlana Mawdudi about the struggle within, although he wouldn’t have written to him how impressive the personality of Mawlana Ilyas was, and how deeply religious his entire life, to the finest detail, which stood in such noticeable contrast. But Mawlana Mawdudi did not appreciate any variant opinion within his Jama’ah, and so, as was his customary, advised him to quit. Although the membership ended then and there and coldness in relationship, Ali Miyan did not announce the dissociation for full 35 years until he wrote in 1977 a critique on Mawdudi’s Islam ki Char Bunyadi tstsliihen (Four Basic Conceptual Terms of Islam). Ali Miyan’s book was titled ‘Asr-e-Hiizir men Deen ki Tafheem wa Tashreeh (Islam’s Interpretation in the Modern Times) which refuted Mawdudi’s ideas expressed in Islam ki Chaar… He thought the ideas in the book were completely off the track and gave a new turn to the understanding of Islam especially for those who did not have direct access to the Islamic sources. The two remained on cordial terms though: Ali Miyan never criticized him publicly or openly. But the breach in the outlook, methodology of reformation work, and the objectives that were to be laid before the eyes, remained to the end. As Ali Miyan wrote later, Mawlana Mawdudi was a brilliant critic of the Western material culture and civilization, and a forceful spokesman of the Islamic causes, but not very successful when he attempted a new interpretation of the religion of Islam, its spirit, or undertook to explain the ultimate religious truths. Mawlana Mawdudi seemed to have as much drawn from the Western thought and ideology for his own understanding of the religion of Islam as he criticized it: a doctor who fell victim to his patient’s malady.

The truth is, the two scholars stood quite a bit apart and could not have gone along together for long. What was primary to one was secondary to another. One was down to earth rationalist, while the other was downright moralist and spiritualist. To Mawlana Mawdudi, the past (covering almost a thousand years) was the intellectual albatross that the Ummah sooner discarded, the better for it. According to him, you looked at it to find out “why” you were, and “where” you were in your decline. To Abul Hasan Ali, it was a legacy worth preserving: you looked at the past to find out “how much” you had declined. To Mawdudi, the Ummah needed a fresh kick-start, on a fresh trail, with a fresh agenda. Abul Hasan Ali envisaged the Ummah’s journey into the future as a continuation of the past, on the well-trodden path as taken by the Salaf, the Imams, the Mujaddidun, the renowned scholars, and, not to forget, what was anathema to Mawdudi, the Shuyukh and the great Sufis. Mawdudi would say, “forget the past except for the first generation or two (but that also with a grudge).” To Ali Miyan, the Ummah only needed a fresh resolve. To Mawdudi, it needed a fresh launch. Mawlana Mawdudi would never mention in his writings those who
had left a legacy behind them, but critically. Ali Miyan spoke of them lovingly. Surely, one would have suspected the future author of Khilafat wa Mulukiyyat in the other, while the other would have perceived in him the future biographer of Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliyaa. Surely, the two scholars, although both deeply committed to the cause of Islam, stood poles apart.

Tablighee Jama’at

Nevertheless, Mawlan Mawdudi’s article introducing the Tablighee movement was inspiring enough. Ali Miyan felt a pressing urge to meet its founder Mawlana lIyas. The first meeting swept him off his feet. Sincerity, simplicity, sacrifice, humility, love of Allah, care of the people, accurate understanding of the religion and its demands, complete confidence that the truth would prevail, and many other qualities that one only read in books describing the first generation Muslims, were richly present in Mawlana Ilyas. In fact, these qualities reflected in some measure or the other, in all those who came under the Mawlana’s influence and were serving the cause of the Tablighee movement. Ali Miyan was deeply impressed by him and his work, and was immediately won over to the cause. In fact, it was not very difficult for him to be won over. He had done a good amount of reading on reformation movements of the past, and having seen another movement outbudding, knew the difference, as he put it, between, “Two movements: one (which he had just abandoned) relied on intelligence, voracious reading, vast knowledge, and which had appeared as a reaction to certain historical factors, while, the other (which he was about to embrace) had its roots in devotion, a strong belief in Allah, an in-depth understanding of the Qura`an, a comprehension of the Prophet’s life that was steeped in love, and a true and sincere adherence to Islamic principles.”

Soon he began to work in earnest and established an effective Tablighee network at Lucknow. Initially, he involved the students of Nadwah, which in fact proved to be beneficial to the institution that seemed to be on the road to becoming a mere seat of learning, instead of a seat of religious revival, Da’wah and Jihad. Mawlana Ilyas, eager to draw in scholars and the scholarly to the movement, fully appreciated his contribution, and sent his guidelines continually until his death in 1944. Surely, Ali Miyan too profited from his communications and received a few lessons that served him well throughout the coming years of Da`awah works.

After the initiation of the work in Lucknow, Ali Miyan moved on to work in surrounding cities and provinces. By 1942 the work had expanded so much that he resigned from the teaching post at Nadwah to devote his full time and attention to the Tablighee work. Nevertheless, pressed up by financial needs, in a year’s time he was back as a teacher. But by 1945 he had said a final good-bye to paid jobs, depending there onward, on whatever he earned from his writings, which of course didn’t amount to much. Several big offers that came his way from universities, both Indian and foreign, and several lean patches during which he and his family were on the verge of starvation, wouldn’t alter his resolve.

Meanwhile, with the expansion of the Tablighee work, he felt that an expansion in the agenda of the reformation movement was necessary. Although the new Amir, Mawlana Yusuf, Mawlana Ilyas’ son, was not well disposed to any such expansion of the agenda, on his own Ali Miyan introduced a few changes in his personal approach. The Qur’anic and Dars al-Hadith sessions held by him, Mawlana Manzoor Ahmed No’mani, and others in the Lucknow Tablighee headquarters were steps in that direction.

Between 1945 and 1947 he toured the northern Indian region several times over: from the East to the West, in his efforts to popularize the work. In June 1947 it was decided that he should tour the Hejaz area (Saudi Arabia) along with a few others and popularize the movement among the Arabs. He traveled with his wife and mother and spent almost a whole year there. In Hejaz he was able to win over quite a few intellectuals and Shuyukh to the Tablighee cause. There were many doubts and lots of skepticism about the method and efficacy of the work. (Strangely, the initial skepticism has a history of persistence). His friendship with Sheikh, Umar b. al-Hasan Aal al-Sheikh, one of the descendants of Sheikh Abdul Wahhab, and the chief of the Higher Body of scholars in Saudi Arabia helped him in moving the movement. The Sheikh was so convinced that on various occasions he spoke openly in favor of the movement without which perhaps no work could ever have been done there.

Ma Dha…

Ali Miyan, had however, been thinking on the situation the Ummah was passing through, about what were the causes of its decline, and what impact its decline had on the world. In 1944 he began to write the book that did for him what Seerat Sayyid Ahmed Shahid had done for him in the Indian sub-continent: introducing him to the Arab and Islamic world as someone whose next title could be awaited. Completed in 1948, the book was written with a pen that was markedly different from those of the modernists as well as the classical. It expressed thoughts that were neither eastern nor western, a theme that was innovative, an approach that was novel, a style that was fresh, ideas that were exciting, a language that was classical, and a conclusion that was refreshing for the tired souls. (Imam Hasan al-Banna’ had just been assassinated and Ikhwan was undergoing a ban in Egypt). After Fi Zilal al-Our’an and Ma ‘alim fi ‘I-Tareeq of Sayyid Qutub, no other book gained as much popularity in the Arab world as this one: Ma Dha Khasira ‘Alam bin-hitat el-Muslimin (“What did the world lose from Muslim Decline,” – but the English version is known as “Islam and the World”). Nor has any other work exercised such extensive influence. Although first printed in 1951, even at the end of the century it was enough in the Arab world to introduce Ali Miyan as the author of “Maa Dhaa…. ” It is estimated that the book has undergone, to this date, over a hundred reprints. Once Ali Miyan asked one of his students if he had read it. When told he hadn’t, he spontaneously remarked, “In the Arab world a man is not considered educated if he hasn’t read this book.” Later he began to wonder if he had spoken the truth. But when he met Yusuf al-Qaradawi he told him, “When we were students in Egypt, we used to hear that someone who had not read this book was not an educated person.” It is reported that one of the professors at Cambridge, an Orientalist remarked, “If there was a law in Britain allowing for banning a book, I would recommend that this book be banned entry. This book strikes at the Western civilization, like a bolt of lightning.” And, in the words of an eastern writer, the book changed the Muslim position from defense to that of offense.

At its start, the book details out the situation of the world previous to the advent of Islam: the Roman, Persian, Chinese and Indian worlds, showing that the world was then sunk in injustice, misery, moral bankruptcy and debauchery. It also illustrates the situation in the Arab world and, specifically, in the Arabian Peninsula. Ali Miyan shows that it was, (as evidenced by the judgment of the contemporaries, in the unanimous voice of both Arabs as well as non-Arabs), not at the bottom of the world in injustice, moral bankruptcy and debauchery, but right in a pit of its own. It was a pit which, if visited by those who were at the bottom of the non-Arab world, would leave them gasping.

Next it moved to showing what changes the personality and teachings of Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace) brought into the lives of the earliest converts, also showing what it was that could be counted as the distinguishing and outstanding part of the Prophetic message. What were the objectives and the means that were adopted to attain those objectives? He also showed what the central theme of the Prophetic message was, which had to be kept before the eyes by every reformation movement. The third chapter considers the rise and fall of the Turkish Caliphate, discussing the reasons that led to the great decline. That is followed by the most important part of the book which discusses the reasons of the rise of the Western power and leadership, and why it was that the West abandoned Christianity and took on materialism as its goal of life and civilization. The chapter also points out the dangers the world faces, real and perceptible – time would confirm – as a result of the change in leadership, from Islamic, (a combination of intellectual, moral and spiritual), to the Western (a combination of mental, physical and animalistic prowess) that accepted no moral binding, saw no spiritual upturning and believed in no other objective but the ever more exploitation of man and materials. Islam on the other hand being what it is: an “optimum-best package,” allowed for the building of the body and re-construction of the world, but, at the same time, delivered enough sugar-burner to the body to assure good health. Further, in contrast to the Western system, which allowed no reprieve, Islam made enough space in what was already built to allow for ever more numbers of those who labored to sneak a siesta in, before the next construction activity began. Such an Islam – the companion-runner that halted the runner before he dropped dead out of exhaustion – the world had no choice but to accept, willy-nilly, and the Muslims too had no choice but to live by. That is because, if the Muslims fell for something else, or something else was targeted at them, in either case they would be the losers. Muslims are like water melons. If the knife fell on the water melon, it would cut it, and if the water melon fell on the knife, it would be cut. In either case, Muslims would be the ones to suffer a cut.

That reminder is followed by suggestions as to how the Islamic world can regain its true position: not as leaders, but as demonstrative co-workers, and save the world and themselves from the impending gradual, but sure destruction. Faith and action, spirit and intellect, morals and ideals, industries and military, were to be the tools that the Muslims were to skillfully employ. The Arabs were invited to play the leadership role, reminding them that they were no more weightier than scrap material of the human order if they did not realize, acknowledge and follow the precepts of the Prophet raised among them.

Written partly in India, partly in the Arab world, the book was not exactly a hot cake at the start, but it remained a best-seller throughout the following half a century. It underwent dozens of reprints and was translated into major Islamic languages and the second Arabic print was decorated with Sayyid Qutb’s powerful foreword who was himself much moved by the work. In 1 982 Dar al-Qalam (Kuwait) published 100,000 copies, of which 92,000 went to the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Education. Once Sheikh ‘Abdullah `Abdul Ghani Khayyat, the Imam al-Hararn, read out a long passage from this book in his Friday sermon. Ali Miyan thanked him when he met him later. The Imam replied that he had been quoting from it quite regularly.

To the Elite

In addition to Ma Dh-a … , another article that he wrote before taking up the journey helped in introducing him to the Arab religious and literary circles. Entitled, “To the Elite of the Islamic World,” it was originally written for the representatives of the Islamic countries that were attending a conference at Delhi called by Nehru. The paper couldn’t be presented in the conference and so was later published in the newspaper Dawn. It was a powerful article which pointed out that the Muslim Ummah came into existence at a time when the world was not short of skilled and specialized men who could build and beautify the earth. Artists, architects, planners, builders, artisans, administrators and statesmen were aplenty at that time. The need at that time was for a new nation that had its roots in right kind of beliefs and ideals: those that the humanity lacked. The clashes that took place at Makkah and Madinah, between the early Muslims and pagans occurred precisely because the Muslims stood for beliefs, principles and values. Early in Islam, when the Quraysh made an offer to the Prophet to accept their leadership, wealth and women, in return of cessation of his Prophetic activities, and when the Prophet declined preferring to fight it out at Badr, Uhad and Hunayn, (undergoing severe hardships and exposing himself and the movement to great dangers), then, it was to demonstrate that it was not power, wealth, or any other worldly objective that the Muslims had before them. The pagans received the message in no ambiguous terms that the Muslims were fighting for faith, morals and principles. But the situation with the Muslim peoples is very different in the contemporary world. They seem to have accepted the same principles of life that the Prophet and the Companions fought against. If there happens to be an international conference today, in which Muslim nations are also represented, along with the world community, the Muslims would be unrecognizable and indistinguishable from the rest of the participants. Neither in words nor in appearance, nor in actions and activities, would they be any different from those others in the gathering who hold dear the same beliefs and ideals as the pagan Quraysh did. If those of the Quraysh slaughtered at Badr were brought back to life and if they asked the Muslims of today, “How can you justify your present attitude towards those principles and morals over which you slaughtered us?” – then, how will they reply?

It was another of those powerful themes that Ali Miyan was to use repeatedly when addressing the Arabs during the time he spent in Hejaz and other parts of the Arab world between 1 947 and 1 951.

He wrote another powerful article those days, this one in Urdu. It was not universally appreciated though. It was too frank not to hurt a people that wore a “holier than thou” attitude. It criticized the Muslims over their outlook towards this life, and their attitudes towards the challenges they were facing. He placed his diagnostic finger on the national weaknesses that seemed to be eating away at the root of the body politic of the Ummah, and were about to acquire the status of their national character. The weaknesses that he pointed out were:

(a) Tendency to accord preference to personal interests over those of the nation at the cost of principles.

(b) Refusal to accept the challenge the West had thrown at them.

(c) Refusal to plunge into action and put up hard work.

(d) Show of cowardice.

(e) Blind following of the secular and national leadership, and

(f) Excessive outpouring of emotions and sentiments in writings and speeches.

He pointed out that the depth of intellectual and moral decline of the Muslims had reached such proportions that they seemed to gloat over the calamities of their enemies and almost waited for them to occur. Their moral bankruptcy had suffered such decline that they were not ready to concede that their adversaries had anything good in them. Because of their inaction, they seemed to become so dispirited that they had lost self-confidence, imagined themselves weaker than they were, and over-estimated the strength and capabilities of their adversaries. The reason for such decline seemed to him to be the result of modern education that the colonial powers had designed for them.

A Charged Atmosphere

Having laid the foundation for Tablighee work in the Hejaz, Ali Miyan returned in 1948 to a sub-continent that had undergone division. And, the day he landed at Luknow Gandhi was assassinated. Probably it is from that shock that he took up the peace call that dominated his later life among his countrymen, throughout the rest of the century.

By 1948 Ali Miyan had returned to an India where tremendous transformations had taken place within a short period of time since independence. Hindus had turned highly prejudiced, offensive and violent. People in high places who were supposed to talk sense, were uttering non-sense. Important figures such as, Purshottam Das Tandum, Sampurnandji, and others were in the forefront asking Muslims why they couldn’t give their children Hindu names? Why they couldn’t write Urdu in Hindi script? Why did they broke their fasts with dates? Why did they cling to their culture? And so on.

Muslims were too overwhelmed, too fearful and too diffident to answer. Many of their prominent leaders had left for Pakistan and blamed the Muslims themselves for the situation. Muslims felt lost unable to cope with the situation. It was only Mawlana Hifzur Rahman Sew-harwi (the writer of “Life-histories of the Prophets”) who spoke out openly and fearlessly against the attacks reminding the Hindus that having opposed partition of the country, what he and his organization (Jami’at Ulamaa-e-Hind) were paying as price, was something the Hindus criticizing them had never paid.

`Ali Miyan called for a conference of scholars, intellectuals, leaders and social workers in which he read out a speech inviting the participants to gather their strength, look forward positively, and build up anew. Could a religion be defeated, which had followers who said, like Abu Bakr did, “Will this religion suffer damage while I am alive?” Could such a religion ever face threat of extinction?

In 1950 he was back in Hejaz. The upward journey was done in the company of Sheikh Abdul Qadir Ra’epuri. Apart from Hajj, the idea was to work for the Tablighee cause. Other important Tablighee workers were already in. At arrival by sea he found a sea of change between the Arabia of 1947 and that of 1950. The new generation had swiftly opted for Westernism. With the United States as the new Qiblah, materialistic way of life seemed to have taken a strong hold equally of the commoner as well as the elite, the literate as well as the illiterate. He realized immediately that in comparison to the Western storm, the da`awah efforts, books and pamphlets were mere ripples in the sea.

The first introductory session proved to be a test session rather than a speech session. The selected audience consisted of a member of the Saudi Consultative Council, a few editors of influential magazines, officers from various ministries and a couple of highly placed people. With their usual craft the Arabs dug into him. Satisfied that after all he knew sufficient Arabic, was familiar with writers like Taha Hussain, “Aqqad etc., knew all about communism and could manage some English, they arranged that he should speak on the radio. Several “Radio Speeches” helped him in reaching a wide audience. However, soon he realized that Egypt was the literary and cultural capital of the Arab world. Cultural ethos, literary zenre, ideas and ideologies were imported from across the Nile. If he wished to exercise any influence on the youth of this part of the world, he thought he will have to first address those of Egypt.

About YMD

Past Issues