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

In Egypt

With the travel expenses jointly arranged by his brother and Sheikh al-Hadith (Mawlana Zakariyyah), he traveled to Egypt. Cairo then (1951) was a galaxy of scholars, literary masters and Shuyukh. Some of those living in Cairo at that time were greatest figures of the Islamic world: Dr. Ahmed Amin Bek, Taha Hussain, ‘Abbas Mahmud al-‘ Aqqad, Muhammad Husain al-Haykal, Tawfiq al-Hakirn, Ahmed Hasan Zayyat, Mansur Fahim Pasha, Sheikh Abdul Majeed Saleem (Sheikh al-Azhar), Hasanayn Muhammad Makhluf, Ahmad b. “Abdur Rahman (Hasan al-Banna’s father), Hamid al-Fiqi, Abdul Wahhab bek Khallaf, Zahid al-Kawthari, Fu’ad Abdul Baqi, Mufti Sayyid al-Hussaini, Abdul Karim Rayfi, Abdul Rahman “Azzarn Pasha, Amin Mahmud Khattab, Muhiuddin Khateeb, Sayyid Qutub, Mahmud Muhammad Shakir, Muhammad al-Ghazali, Sa`id Ramadan and many others. “Ali Miyan and his colleagues were all but lost, invisible in the galaxy.” Mii Dha … ” and Egyptian youths came to his rescue.

They took him around to young men’s associations, hostels, seminars and weekly meetings, allowing him opportunity to address young men from Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Indonesia, Eriteria and other parts of the Islamic world. Members of the Ikhwan (then undergoing ban) took him around to almost an end to end tour of Egypt. As he moved along, so did the Tablighee workers who worked among the masses. While’ Ali Miyan’s platform was public halls, they operated through the mosques. It was during those tours that he realized the depth of Ikhwan influence, not merely in big cities, but small towns and even villages. Sheikh Hasan al-Banna’ (who had been martyred a little earlier) seemed to have left his influence on every facet of Egyptian life and every section of the society. He was not only moved by the wide expanse of the work, but also the depth of reformation among the individuals. Sincerity, love of Islam, high discipline, sacrifice, brotherhood, moral rectitude, hard work, realism, interest in constructive social works, undaunted faith in Islam – these were qualities visible in every individual who came under the influence of Ikhwan. All kinds of men: young and old, the laity and the scholar, rich and poor bore qualities that, according to ‘Ali Miyan, he never happened to have seen earlier or would ever see later in any section of people anywhere else. From Egypt he went to Sudan, then to Syria, Jordan, Palestine, taking the Tablighee work with him, although himself delivering lectures to the educated class. Touching Hejaz again, he was back in India after a tour that stretched over a period of 1 3-14 months.

Change of Heart?

Back in India now, an important change in his  approach was brought by the observation that was need to address the non-Muslims of this country along with Muslims. “Peace first” was the idea that came to his mind again and again. Addressing huge mixed gatherings – Muslim and non-Muslim, initially from the Tablighee platforms – he pointed out that the primary reasons for the modern degradation were an insatiable love of this world, selfishness, and weakening of moral values. Mawlana Manoor No’mani was once again with him in several tours that were undertaken for this purpose. They toured together the north-Indian regions. The non-Muslims generally received the messages well, but, although by 1957 it could develop into a full fledged movement if given an organizational structure, it did not bear much fruit since it did not have any written program, a party manifesto or plan of action. The demand was restoration of good sense and moralistic behavior: not very attractive themes for the modern Industrial societies.

Nonetheless, Ali Miyan was convinced that in the changing conditions, methods of invitation and propagation needed to be improved and new vistas must be opened. If movements do not move with time, did not answer the new challenges, did not find solutions to new problems, they’d get frozen. Human society would benefit less and less from their frozen state. He had these ideas in mind even during the time of Mawlana Ilyas, but perhaps, Mawlana’s personality was too powerful for any suggestion of change in style, content or approach. He spoke of the need to the new leaders including the Ameer Mawlana Yusuf. The issue was discussed during several consultative meetings, but he found little inclination towards any change in methods, revision or inclusion of new agenda. On the other hand the Tablighee movement was still doing some good work, which, as always, was better than nothing.

Indeed, from a certain angle, the results were satisfactory, and, therefore, there seemed to be no wisdom in pressing on the changes. But, that didn’t mean the need was not there, and that those who could do better ought to follow the footsteps of those who, without their personal knowledge and experience, were bound to keep close to the line drawn for them by others.

Ali Miyan was convinced however that a change was essential. And so, if others who acknowledged that something was lacking, but did not know how to go about filling the gap, then, Ali Miyan would do it on his own. Therefore, the work at Lucknow, in which he and Mawlana Manzoor No’mani played the leading roles, began to adopt two approaches side by side. The standard approach was for the masses, and the special for the educated. The work among the Arabs that he was asked to introduce and popularize, also needed a new methodology. With their direct contacts with the Qur’an and Sunnah, the Arab audience was certainly different form the non-Arabic audience. Ali Miyan had to adopt new techniques His wider exposure to various problems that the Muslim Ummah faced in various parts of the world, problems which could not be solved with a single formula led him to work for change in methods.

Further, his own readings of the past and present reformation movements, in different parts of the world, was another factor that had its slow but certain effect, and led him more and more away from the standard Tablighee approach.

In 1969, by which time Ali Miyan had also got involved in various other social and community activities in India, he had to shift his residence away from the Tablighee center in Lucknow. He had lived there for almost 15 years – monk like – in order to be available at call. Now he shifted to the Guest Quarters in Nadwah. Mawlana Manzoor No’mani, another pillar of Tabligh at Lucknow, who had lived in the same street as the Lucknow Tablighee center, also moved out to another part of the city. The two took away with them their special style of work and left the standard bearers to do the standard work. Not that the romance was over or that there were serious differences. But, the old stalwarts were simply not available at call, as before. Yet, the change in residence was symbolic.

Saviors of Islamic Spirit

Despite his deep involvement in Da`a wah works, Ali  Miyan hadn’t laid aside his pen. In 1953 he began to write a new book,” Tarikh-e-Da` wat wa ‘Azimat” (Saviors of Islamic Spirit), Its first volume came out in 1954. It consisted of life histories and achievements of Islamic renowned personalities between `Umar ibn `Abd al-Aziz of the first century and Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi of the seventh century. Mawlana Ra’epuri read it several times over. Even Manazir Ahsan Geelani had generous words of praise for it. Its second volume came out in 1956. It presented the life of Imam Ibn Taymiyyah and his students. The third was written between 1 961 and 1963 when he was suffering from cataract in the eye and had to dictate his writings. It consists of the lives of Sheikh Nizamuddin Awliya’ and Sheikh Sharfuddin Yahya Minyari. The fourth part, that speaks of Mujaddid Alf-Thani came out as late as 1980. The intention was to follow up with a fifth volume on Shah Waliy Allah and his students, but it never came to be written.

In 1955 Dr. Mustafa Rifa’i, who was a professor of Law at the University of Damascus and a member of Jordanian parliament, invited him to join the staff at the newly opened College of Shari’ah in the University. He declined, but agreed to go as a visiting professor. The lectures delivered at intervals, over a three month period, were well attended by scholars, intellectuals and the religiously committed. He also spoke on the Radio twice. In some of the speeches he criticized the Arabs for their present role and their un-Islamic attitudes, which manifested itself in the powerful Arab nationalism. On one occasion he told them that he didn’t expect that the Arabs would deliver the message of Islam to non-Arabs and then abandon it themselves.

From Syria he traveled to Lebanon and then to Turkey delivering lectures. In June 1956 he was back in Syria to attend an Islamic conference in which were also present Mawlana Shafi ‘ Deobandi, Mawlana Mawdudi and Mawlana Zafar Ahmed Ansari, some of the notable figures of the sub-continent. He was made a member of the prestigious “Literary Society” of Damascus. Back in India, he strengthened his ties with the rernammq Shuyukh of the dwindling orders. Sheikh Shah Muhammad Ya’qub, Mawlana Wasiullah, Haji ‘Abdul Ghafoor, Mawlana Warith Hasan and Mawlana Abdus Shakoor Farooqui were the tail-enders of the caravan that had packed and gone. At Nadwah he took up some new subjects for teaching, including Sahih Bukhari. In 1958 he brought out another work of importance. It was about the Qadiyani movement. He was visiting Sheikh Abdul Qadir Ra’epuri in Pakistan. The Sheikh complained to him that the Qadiyani movement was getting stronger there and wished that Ali Miyan could write a book on the menace. Ali Miyan was without the usual reference works, but the Sheikh insisted that he begin writing then and there. Finally, Ali Miyan agreed and produced a work in Arabic, that was printed and published in the Arab world in hundreds of thousands. It was later translated into Urdu. Its English version was done by Dr. Zafar Ishaq Ansari (translator of Tafheem al-Our’an, and son of the energetic Zafar Ahmed Ansari of Pakistan). Written entirely in an objective manner, consisting of arguments that do not provoke anger, the book has become a kind of standard text on Qadiyanism and deserves to be included as course book in the universities.

The New Apostasy

In 1958 when Sa’ id Ramadan had to travel to Germany for his doctorate degree, he asked’ Ali Miyan to take over the editorship of his magazine Al-Muslimoon that he brought out from Dasmascus. Two editorials that he wrote for that magazine were combined into one called, “An Apostasy that has no Abu Bakr to Combat” and published separately as a booklet.” He pointed out there in the dangers of a new kind of apostasy that had appeared in the wake of Western cultural onslaught on the world of Islam. It was coming in through the channels of modern education. It was the most massive ever apostasy movement since the time of the Prophet (saws). As against previous waves of apostasy minor in nature, this one had a different character. Those who had apostatized under its influence did not deny God, and did not go to a Church, Temple or elsewhere to announce the change of persuasion. Nor does the Islamic society take any notice of someone who evinces the signs of this new kind of apostasy. No Muslim ever boycotts him and no one ever sees any difference between this new apostate and a true Muslim. A large number of the educated class had already caught the disease, and seemed to be beyond cure. But the coming generations had to be saved. He pointed out the dangers of neglecting this stealthily but fast-advancing malady which would eat away at Muslim Ummah’s root and branch from within like termites eat away at wood. What was required was a firm resolve to fight it out with the help of a new educational system, new literature and, most of all, a new resolve.

When printed as a pamphlet it proved to be an instant hit. It sold better than hot cakes. Many organizations and institutions re-printed and published it widely. Translated into several languages, it was distributed among the pilgrims in Arafat and Mina during the Hajj season. None of his books or articles received as wide a publicity as this one did. When he was introduced to Imam Khumeini in one of the conferences of the World Assembly of Muslims at Makkah, Khumeini quipped, “Ah yes. You are the author of “An Apostasy that … ” I have read your article. It should have been rather entitled ‘An Apostasy that has no Abul Hasan to Combat.”’ By Abul Hasan he meant Hasan’s father, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib!

Whatever others did to fight against the new apostasy, Ali Miyan himself opened a new Academy in 1959 that was to prepare and publish literature that would appeal to the new generation educated on Western lines. It was called “Academy of Islamic Research & Publication.” Over a period of 25 years, it published some 200 titles in various languages and exported books to several Islamic countries.

Nadwah’s Rector

In 1961 when his brother died, Ali Miyan was asked to take over the rectorship of Nadwah. Its financial problems forced him to travel to Kuwait. He had set the condition that he would only engage himself in Da`awah activities. Making appeals and collecting funds would be done in separate sessions by the accompanying team. He delivered speeches in mosques, academies and association halls, cautioning the Arabs over proper use of the new wealth. He also wrote a letter to Sheikh Abdullah Salem al-Sabah – the ruler of Kuwait – pointing out the responsibility that Kuwait bore and the things it had to do to enter into the family of nations as an equal contributor. It could only do that if it pursued an Islamic agenda. He also pointed out the dangers in allowing the establishment of places of worship devoted to other religions which went against the Prophet’s command that two religions ought not to exist in the Arab Peninsula.

In 1961 when the Jami’a Islamiyyah (The International Islamic University) was established in Madinah, he was offered a teaching post. In keeping with his vow not to accept a paid job, he declined. He was made a member of the consultative council of the University and traveled quite often to attend its meetings. The same year the World Muslim League” came into being and he was also made a founding member of the organization based at Makkah. In 1962 he delivered eight lectures at the University in Madinah on the topic of Prophethood and Prophets in the Light of the Qura’an.” The lectures were well attended. The rector Sheikh Abdul Aziz b. Abdullah b. Baaz personally sat through all the lectures. In 1963 he met Faisal b. `Abdul “Aziz who was then the Crown Prince and expressed his fears that the development pressures could completely change the Islamic character of the two holy cities Makkah and Madinah. Thereafter, when Faisal had become the King of the country, he wrote him two letters pointing out that true development did not consist merely in the availability of the means of comfort. The very class of people who make the most of the facilities made available to them – the rich and the well-to-do – have always proved in the past as an ungrateful class which rebelled against the established political system and brought revolutionary changes. It was rather the religious class which was the backbone of any country which could be relied upon for patriotism and faithfulness to it. Somewhere in 1965, he personally met the King and expressed his concern over the country’s emphasis on material development. The King assured him that attention was also being paid to the heritage of the past. Ali Miyan felt however that the King was facing constraints.

Invited by Dr. Sa’id Ramadan in 1963 to attend the yearly conference of the Geneva Islamic center, he traveled there, and then on to other parts of Europe and Britain. His most important speech was “Between East and West” which was delivered at the London University. It was impromptu translated by Dr. Zafar Ishaq Ansari. Muhammad Asad, Dr. Hameedullah, Dr. Zaki Ali, Dr. Abdullah Abbas Nadwi were some others present on that occasion. 

Riots at Home

In the meanwhile hatred against Muslims in India was mounting. Riots were the order of the day. But 1963 and 1964 would be remembered as the most cruel times for Muslims. A series of riots broke out, one after another, in a chain that it was difficult to deny they were pre-planned by those who had been spreading hatred since several decades and preparing the common people for the onslaught. Calcutta, Jamshidpur, Rourkela, and Ranchi witnessed such riots that forced a man like Jaya Prakash Narayan to say in the Parliament, “There were no limits in barbarism that were not crossed Such horrible things were done that are impossible to imagine.”Ali Miyan could no more talk of peace, responsibility, good sense and so forth. Blood patches on the walls, and skulls in the fields lying like water melons were calling for some action. He, Manzo No’mani and others decided to see Vinoba Bhave, the famous social worker. The memorandum that was presented said, “India stands at a new crossroad. Should it take the road to self-destruction or to national reconstruction? The country is at such a juncture that if a few courageous people stood up with resolve, they could change the direction. A firm word from such a person could do what governments cannot achieve. It can only be those who have the past record of honesty, integrity, patriotism, and sincerity attached to their name. According to the delegates who had the backing of Jaya Prakash Narayan, Vinoba Bhave was the man.” But, disappointingly, Vinoba Bhave showed no concern for the massive human losses. He seemed to be more concerned about cows. He was fighting hard to win better treatment for cows.

Disappointment with the majority community forced the Muslims to turn inward and work out other ways of achieving safety of life and property. A political platform was necessary. The need gave birth to “Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat” (The Muslim Consultative Body) of whose advisory board he became a member. It was decided that an awareness program should be launched and the sensible elements of the non-Muslim society should also be involved. A series of mass meetings were organized. When the delegates of the Majlis traveled around, evoking peace, Ali Miyan spoke at Jamshedpur to a mixed audience of Hindus, Muslims and Christians, in a mass meeting chaired by the Hindu General Manager of the TATA Company. With reference to the steel industry of the TATA’s, he said in his speech that “If steel was given voice it would say that I have not been created so that man may cut man’s throat. If that happens then it is not I, the steel, that needs to be blamed. The blame is on those educated people who use me not for constructive but for destructive purposes.” The TATA General Manager whispered in Ali Miyan’s ears that there was need for more speeches of that sort.

In 1966 he penned down another important work “The Four Pillars of Islam.” Like many others, he had begun to be alarmed by the influential modernistic writers who were giving the rituals of Islam materialistic and utilitarian coloring. Prayers and fasts, for instance, were for self-discipline. Zakah, a solution to economic problems. Hajj according to them was an international Conference. Ali Miyan dug out material from Imam Ghazali, Shah Waliyullah, lbn al-Qayyim and others, strengthened with Hadith material and demonstrated the moral and spiritual benefits of these Islamic rituals. In a way this happens to be the most important of his writings. Admittedly, no such work exists even in the Arabic language, and perhaps will be preserved better than even “Ma Dha .. ” One wishes that his intention to write a separate book on faith and beliefs, the first pillar of Islam, had been accomplished.

Two years later in 1965 he added another important work to the list of his writings. It was originally written in Arabic, and was a kind of a sequel to ” Ma Dha … ” It was later translated into English, entitled ” The Struggle Between Muslims and Western Ideologies.” It analyzed the situation prevalent in every major Islamic country. The problem these Muslims were now facing was, how to treat the onslaught of the Western ways of life, culture and thought. Instead of the Muslim (political) leadership working out a compromise solution, since, total rejection was not workable, nor total acceptance advisable, they seemed to be engaged in an internal struggle. On the one side were the political leaders and rulers who had accepted West’s superiority in everything and were its staunchest protagonists in their own countries. They believed that the only path to development and progress was the Western path. They thought Islam and Islamists stand on the path of development as highway robbers, and the Islamic culture was the barrier that needed to be removed from the path. On the other side were the masses who still clung to their religion and to whom nothing made masses as strong an appeal as Qur`anic call. Nothing quickens their imagination better than the examples from the life of their Prophet Unfortunately, the ruling class considers the more seriously committed individuals from among the masses as those who pose a strong challenge to its authority, and therefore spends its best energies in fighting and curbing them, creating an atmosphere of fear. Rather than this internal confrontation, or, confrontation with the West and its influence, a wiser course would be to work out ways by which the best of the Western thought and culture that did not clash with the Islamic principles be worked out and adopted. Obviously, it required courage, wisdom, hard work, and therefore, a new kind of leadership, if not a new leadership altogether. This book was also well received and was soon translated into several languages. In fact, coming out in 1968, it happened to be the last of his great works. He wrote several more afterwards, but none carried any new idea, expression or thought – at least not of the quality the earlier writings had, Incidentally, the book could only have evoked suspicion of the ruling classes, as it suggested a new kind of leadership. So, after all, they were not wrong in assuming who their true enemies were!

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