Abul Hasan Ali An-Nadwi: A Man of Hope through a Century of Turmoil (Part–V)

While in the seventieth year of his life in 1984, Ali Miyan received a pressing invitation from the Royal family of Jordan to attend a conference to be held in Amman (Jordan) by the “Islamic Civilization Research Academy.” Well attended by delegates from 32 Islamic countries, including some from Moscow (headed by Baba Khanov), the conference was dominated by Prince Hasan’s speech in which he highlighted the gravity of the problems Jordan was facing in its confrontation with Israel. With the help of maps and charts, and a large amount of data, he put the audience into an uncomfortable spell by demonstrating the realities of the Israeli Occupation and its future plans.

In his turn Ali Miyan pointed out that history tells us that when facing difficult situations, it is the will and determination of a people which finally counts. The enemy might create an impossible situation, realities that strongly reflect on maps and charts, but once the challenge is answered with a challenge, and a determined people stand up, ready to sacrifice all that they posses, face up to any difficulty that they are confronted with, then the facts and figures, data on maps and charts, and the huge numbers, along with their equipments, melt away like wax under the heat of the people’s determination. The impossible then becomes possible. The night is pierced by the light of the unstoppable day. This is what history teaches us, especially from the example of Sultan Salahuddin Ayyubi. Dr. Iqbal had well illustrated this fact in a couplet:

If there is a Kaleem (Musa) in confrontation
Then, even now you can heat from Mount Tur, ‘fear not.’
Master Rumi’s companionship has revealed to me that
A  hundred thousand heads in prostration are unequal to a Kaleem in combat.

The speech seemed to have restored warmth to the hearts and moistened a few eyes among the audience.
In another speech at the College of Arabic, he emphasized the need for the Muslims to retain their identity as Muslims which was only possible if they drew inspiration from Islam. That would give them the power that had overcome the highly developed Roman and Persian civilizations, despite their material powers. He also visited the caves of the Seven Sleepers (As-hab at Kahaf). Rafeeq Wafa Dijjani’s research work, which was done for his doctorate degree, had strongly demonstrated that the caves located eight km. down south of Amman, are those very caves wherein a few young men took refuge and were put to sleep by Allah for three centuries. Excavations had led to findings of several tablets bearing the names “Al-Raqeem Cave.” The cave has eight graves and agrees with several Our’anic details. Of the historians of old, Maqdisi, Al-Bayruni and Yaqut also indicated that these were the caves spoken of in the Qur’an. From among the Orientalists one or two have also agreed with the findings and the identity of the caves.

Until Rafiq Wafa Dijjani’s findings, it was widely believed that the caves were in present day Turkey, sixty km. from Azmir (Anatolia).

In the Tablighee center of Amman he expressed the need for the Da’wa workers, to maintain high moral and spiritual standards with the help of supererogatory acts. But they ought not to forget to study and understand in greater detail the religion of Islam. They must also keep an eye on the events of the world and the developing situations, with special reference to currents that affect the Islamic boat. He quoted Iqbal again:

If you do not know the realities of this life
‘Your glass will not be able to face the stones.

In one of the private sessions the question of how to deal with the Muslim rulers came up and the prevalent opinion was that there was no wisdom in confrontation.

His journey was planned via Makkah and Madinah. A delegation of leading writers and intellectuals came to him seeking his approval to set up a “Literary Forum” which was to have its head-quarters in Nadwah, Lucknow, with Rabi’ Nadwi as its first general secretary. Headed by Ali Miyan, it was to invite writers from all over the world to register in and then organize meetings at regular intervals.

In Yemen

From Hejaz he traveled to Yemen. From the airport (then North Yemen), he was first taken, following Yemeni wisdom, to a scholar’s house in the countryside. What with the old hut-like house, with goats in the yard, it was to impress on ‘Ali Miyan how the Yemeni scholars lived: untouched by modern material comforts in contrats to the royal life enjoyed by a few scholars in other parts of the world. The scholar at the moment was Sheikh Yasin “Abd al-‘Aziz. He expressed his opinion that there were two methods of bringing meaningful and lasting changes in an Islamic polity. First, believers “should occupy the seats of power,” and second, “take faith to those who occupy the seats of power.” The Sheikh himself believed in the second method. Ali Miyan agreed with him and mentioned the example of Mujaddid Alf-Thani, who brought revolutionary changes by “taking the message” to those in the seats of power, rather than try to occupy those seats. It was possible that Ali Miyan was being told how to deal with this issue when he met with the Yemeni rulers. On various other occasions during his stay, he found the Yemeni wisdom at work. He found that three writers were popularly read in Yemen: himself, Mawlana Mawdudi and Sayyid Qutb, and to good effect. For example, when the communist South Yemeni forces launched an attack on the North Yemen, penetrating deep and occupying some strategic areas, and it was being believed that if they kept pressing on, the whole of the North would be lost to communist forces and communism, it was a few young men who requested that they be armed and allowed to fight on voluntary basis. Equipped with a few tanks and other lighter equipment, they launched a counter offensive from the mountains and ultimately pushed back the communist forces. In fact, the Islamists played the central role in the unification of the two Yemens.

Shah Waliyullah

In 1984 he brought out the fifth volume of “Saviors of  Islamic Spirit” consisting of the life of Shah Waliyullah.  Wether or not the most important figure in Islam after Ibn Taymiyyah – as considered by some – or even more important than him from certain angles, as Ali Miyan said, Shah Waliyullah certainly played a very important role in the reconstruction of Islamic thought in the Indian sub-continent. He and his four sons, Shah ‘Abdul Qadir, Shah ‘Abdul Aziz, Shah Rafiuddin and Shah ‘Abdul Ghani revived interest in religion and gave it a new impetus. Most subsequent religious activities after them are attributed to their influences that are said to last to this day. Their efforts at popularizing the study of the Qur’an and Sunnah, seek for the true meaning beyond the surface of the words, seek food both for thought as well as for practical actions, in addition to their interests in Jihad activities revived not only the religious sciences but also inspired men of conviction to, on the one hand, set up religious institutions, wage a struggle against the Ahl al-bid’ah, establish the Sunnah, and, on the other, fight the enemy out in the battle-field and lay lives for moral causes – if it came to that.

Also in 1984 when Indira Gandhi was murdered and a massive killing operation was launched against the Sikhs, especially in New Delhi, where some 500 Sikhs were killed overnight, many burnt to death, their business looted, and some of the looted material reached Takya Kalam and its surrounding villages, presumably through Muslim hands, then Ali Miyan issued a simple statement: “diseases will visit those homes where the looted materials have arrived.” Very soon the sentence spread around and Muslims began to restore the goods to the Sikh owners. In response, Sikhs came to him and with tears in their eyes, some of them touching his feet, thanked him for the stand he had taken. However, it might not be missed to note that if, inspired by the Hindu initiative, some Muslims indulged in looting Sikh shops, there were many more who actually sheltered the Sikhs and their families in their homes and saved them from being murdered. This, despite the fact that the Sikhs had never in the past let an opportunity go by without harming the Muslim. The Sikhs are yet to say sorry for their historic role, and yet to say thanks in practical terms for the Muslim role during the Delhi riots.

Shah Banu Case

The year 1985 proved to be another eventful year for the Muslims of India. That was the year when the Supreme Court passed a judgement over the famous Shah Banu case, ordering Muslim men to bear the maintenance cost of their divorced wives, though of course a clause made it conditional to the husband’s affordability. The court also recommended the formation and implementation of a common civil code for all Indian citizens, regardless of their faith.

This was of course entirely against the Islamic principles and, moreover, a measure of oppression against Muslim women. Islamic law says that after divorce the father, or, in his absence, his brother(s) and others of the family-members of the father’s side on the male line, are responsible for the maintenance of a husband-less woman. And, they are bound to provide her food, shelter, clothing and medicine, whether the father, brother(s) and others happen to be rich or poor. Further, they are bound to provide for her, in all cases, whether the husband divorced her, or died. Finally, the father, brother(s) are bound to provide for her, whether the woman herself happens to be rich or poor, employed or not. But the court ruling, speciously kind on her, actually did Muslim women great wrong by asking the former husband pay for her maintenance, on condition of affordability. If he was poor, he was not bound. That meant in fact that a Muslim woman got nothing in actual fact since, according to Indian governmental statistics, 80% of Indians and among them greater number of Muslims live below the poverty line. Further, if the court ruling was accepted, while it would have been a harrowing job for 10% of Muslim women to get maintainance from their former husbands, the rest of the 90% would be deprived of their right of maintenance from their parents, not to speak of the deprivation in case of the husband’s death, or the wife seeking separation.

Muslims of the whole country stood up against the ruling as one man. It was obvious that it was a testing case. If the Muslims didn’t rise on that occasion in protest, in the next steps the whole of the Shari’ ah would be declared null and void. The Shi’a, Bohris, Barelawis, Mehdawis, everyone rose up in protest.

Protest gatherings were organized all over India, in every city and town, that were so well attended in hundreds of thousands as to leave even the speakers spell-bound. (The honest Indian press reported the gatherings, if it ever reported, as of a few thousand). And, what was notable is that although hundreds of such protests gatherings were organized by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, of which Ali Miyan was the chairman, not a single one went Violent. Muslims proved that at the national level they were an exemplary community, from whom the non-Muslims had plenty to learn. Despite having entered into his seventies, Ali Miyan, along with Mawlana Mujahid ai-Islam Qasmi, organized protest mass meetings all over the South of India. When the delegates passed by smaller towns during the course of their train journeys, they discovered that huge crowds were waiting for them at the railway platforms at midnight, eager to register the message that just about every single Indian Muslim was behind them in their fight against the ttack on their religious laws.

Muslim Women

Most surprisingly, the Muslim-haters did not seem to have played their card well. Although seemingly they had tried to evoke Muslim women against Islam by their show of sympathy for them, it was Muslim women who stood up in massive protest all over India. Amazingly, as if in proof that Indian Muslims could not be written off as those who did not care for their religion, it was the educated Muslim women who rose up in protest against the oppressive court ruling. Led by Begum Abida Ahmed, Najma Heptullah, Begum Ziar-Rahman Ansari, Begum Khurshid Alam Khan, Begum Sag her Nizami, and many others, Muslim women came out in surprising numbers and spoke with amazing conviction against the court ruling and the intended common civil code bill. That must have been very disappointing for those who had thought they would divide the Muslims over the issue. The Press and other media felt hurt as if they had been stabbed in their guts. They came out as one unit, one body and one soul, in opposition to the Muslims’ opposition. Newspapers were full of vindictive articles against Islam and Muslims, and so much attention was paid to the affair as if it was the question of India’s survival as a nation, or maybe there had been an earthquake accompanied by lava eruptions all over India. By over-reacting to the issue, the Press, inadvertantly removed the veil of secularism from its face. That was a good lesson for those moderneducated but simple Muslims who believed that they lived in a secular India, where the Press was entirely neutral. The over-reaction was a good thing to happen to many Muslims to realize who their true friends were. They were not outside of the boundaries of the community.


Interestingly, those very days when 700 Hindu women  were being burned to death every year by their in-laws in Delhi alone, for not bringing enough cash or property from their parents at marriage, a Hindu woman Rup Kanwar committed self-immolation (Sati) in front of 600,000 wild men and women, dancing in praise of the revival of the age-old Hindu custom. The Press however seemed to have forgotten the cause of the “down-trodden women – especially Muslim women” and hardly bothered to devote an editorial to it. In a country where, according to Times of India of 6th April 1986, 6.6 million illegal abortions take place yearly. Most are those that involve female fetuses. In this background, the attention the media gave to the Shah Banu case was surely as courageous an act, as curious.

In any case, when the Bill was presented to the Government, Muslim leaders stood up as one body, played their cards well and sought to nullify it with the help of a few clauses, so that, even if passed by the parliament, the effectiveness would be removed.

Fully convinced that the entire Muslim population was opposed to any move towards tampering with their Shari’ eh, Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, played the whole thing out very cleverly to get the Bill passed with the proposed amendments although the opposition made a big noise in the parliament until the late hours of the night when the voting was conducted.

Having experienced the poison in the press, radio and TV against the Muslims, Ali Miyan felt that it was extremely important to exchange opinions with important members of the majority community. Accordingly, dialogue-sessions were organized in several towns and cities of Central India, notably Nagpur where RSS has its headquarters, Poona which is considered a seat of Hindu revival as well as in Delhi. Attended and appreciated by many leading Hindu intellectuals and renowned figures such as Inder Kumar Gujral (former ambassador to Russia). Kuldip Nayar (the well-known journalist). Malik Ram, Chand Sarkar (Vice Chancellor Nagpur University). Agwal Tawde, S.D. Wagh (Editor, Maharashtra Herald), and several others demonstrated through their participation and speeches that the powerful hooliganism had not reached the intellectual class yet. While in one meeting a Hindu speaker said – in explanation of the Islamo-phobia that the Hindus suffered – that the Hindus felt threatened in this country both from without, being surrounded by Muslim states, as well as from within, faced up with the growing Muslim population, Ali Miyan on the other hand pointed out that anarchy could not meet anarchy without the two destroying each other. Nor could united fronts meet head on with united fronts without the two getting injured. It wasn’t also possible for those not directly involved to look in another direction while someone was poking a dagger into another innocent being. He informed the mixed Hindu-Muslim audience that if the upper class (read upper-caste) travelers in a boat denied water to the lower deck travelers and did not object to their drilling a hole in the bottom of the boat, both would sink.

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