SHAH IBADUR RAHMAN ALIAS NISHAT is one of the direct disciples of Late Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi. Born and brought up at Lakhminia in Begusarai district of Bihar, he did his MA in English from Bihar University and worked as a lecturer in a college for a couple of years. On the advice of Maulana Ali Mian he went to the USA for higher learning and completed his Ph.D. in 1981. Maulana Ali Mian considered it to be a form of worship (Ibadah). Then he joined as Assistant Professor in Ummul Qura University of Makkah Mukarramah and rendered his services there for 20 years and then at King Khalid University in Abha for eight years. In an exclusive interview with DR. WAQUAR ANWAR he talks on some aspects of his life.
What was the subject of your PhD thesis?
I worked for developing a new grammar of Urdu in line with the current developments in other languages, particularly English. We are not talking about grammar but about grammars. The Urdu language is not getting the advantages of new researches and developments. I have tried to write a new grammar based on the structural theory of grammar. I analysed the principles of the structure of the language at the word level. Further studies may be done on other layers like clauses or sentences.
What were your activities in the USA besides your education?
While I was in Chicago I worked for Muslim students – organising Friday prayers, arranging lectures on Islam for the benefit of Indian and Arab students. We reached out to Christians and discussed issues like common elements and differences in the articles of faith in Islam and Christianity. These days this topic has become very common but in 1970s it was an uncommon topic. I always kept in touch with Maulana Ali Mian through letters and sought his advice. He was always kind enough to respond to my letters and guided me at every stage.
What books you wrote or translated?
I plainly admit that I could not produce works to the extent the Maulana wished me to do. However, I have translated into English some books of the Maulana. I have also translated the fifth volume of Maareful Hadees, a collection of Hadeeth (Sayings of Prophet) compiled by Maulana Manzoor Noamani. I have also translated into English one book written by the spiritual guide of Maulana Ali Mian and another by his elder brother. I also wrote a book in Urdu about Maulana Ali Mian titled Naquoosh-e-Hayat. These days I am working on a book in English on Syed Ahmad Shaheed and the book is in the final stages of completion. I had started working on this book after taking permission from Maulana Ali Mian.
Maulana Ali Mian advised you to present in the English language the life and deeds of the Holy Messenger (may Allah bless and greet him) and defend him. Any work you did in that specific field?
Instead of writing books myself I found it more fruitful to translate into the English language the valuable works by Maulana Ali Mian. The Western writers who are doing character assassination of the Holy Messenger (may Allah bless and greet him) are biased; they are an uninformed lot. All queries for the last more than one thousand and four hundred years have been replied by Islamic scholars. They have not stopped their tirades as their opposition is their commitment. So if you continue replying them it will be like chasing shadows. So I thought providing new and good material on Islam through translation would prove more useful. However, I have plans to work on Islam in English. In fact I took premature retirement with the intention of working full time in this field. I want to present Islam in its correct perspective so that the sincere who are in search of the right path may be benefited.
How you came in contact with Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi?
I came in contact with the Maulana after I read a book by him about his spiritual guide Shah Abdul Quadir Raepuri in early 1970s. Although I had completed my MA by that time, I had not heard his name. I was impressed by the book. I also realised that the controlled and balanced manner in which the writer has written about his spiritual guide shows that he is a great person, an epitome of sincerity. I felt that I was attracted towards the person. I wrote him a letter. The Maulana honoured me by his reply and asked me to visit him. I did. After that I went to America for higher studies. He had asked me to keep contacts by post. I continued writing letters to him from America and he was kind enough to always reply to them. I accepted him as my spiritual guide by taking oath of allegiance (Bait) on his hand in 1986 after coming back from America.
When did you become his Khaleefa (vicegerent)?
I do not remember the exact date when the Maulana made me his khaleefa (accredited student who is permitted officially to take oath of allegiance from others). I was in Makkah Mukarramah and it was a date prior to the year 2000. He came to Madina and summoned me there for the formality. The Maulana asked me not to deny oath of allegiance to any sincere person who wanted to learn the names/attributes of Allah.
Have you continued taking the oath?
I did not dare to take into this fold any person, save one in Abha, with the logic that there are other better persons in the row ahead like Maulana Rabey Hasani Nadwi. In fact I arranged a meeting of the person in Abha, the sole exception to this date and who has been a colleague of mine, with Maulana Rabey Hasani Nadwi when he visited Jeddah. But the person remained determined that he wants me to be his spiritual guide. While leaving Saudi Arabia I remembered what Maulana Ali Mian had told me viz. not to deny a sincere person who wanted to learn the attributes of Allah and I yielded to his request.
What special traits you found in Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi?
He had a comprehensive personality. It is very difficult for me to describe what impressed and attracted me. However, he was broad hearted. A man like me who was in no way in his specialised field of Islamic studies and practices was also acceptable to him without any reservation. He made me at home the very first day I met him. He was not concerned about my dress, my face, my background and preparedness and accepted me as I was. Any one coming closer to him felt that any Muslim, the person himself, whether a teacher or a journalist or in any position or profession, can become a soldier of Islam. The very first day he asked me to go ahead with my higher studies and devote my acquired talents for services to Islam. He told me that the foes of Islam are attacking the persona of the Holy Messenger and it is not only an act of worship (Ibadah) but also a jihad (holy struggle) of higher order to defend Islam in writings.
What made, in your opinion, Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi so much popular?
The Maulana was always focussed on objects and ends without giving much importance to intermediaries. The real object before him, like every other Muslim, was to please Allah and serve Islam. With this broad object in mind he approved actions of every other person in accordance with the taste and preference of that person provided these things did not violate the limits imposed by the Shari’ah. Association with any group or affinity with any particular person had no meaning to him. He loved everyone working for Islam from any platform. Once he told me that he had the ‘dubious’ distinction of loving persons from every group, Jamaat or platform.
There were numerous other personalities in the country during his time but the popularity he got was perhaps unparallel. What made it so? Can you recall any particular incidence? Tell us something that you always cherish to remember.
I agree with you. I have written a book in Urdu named, Naquoosh Hayat (Tracks of Life) recalling several incidences witnessed by me. I am recalling one such incident. After hearing the news of the sad demise of a person who was a severe critic of Maulana Abul Ali Nadwi, even to the extent of assigning bad motives to his action like calling him a person who is amassing wealth from Middle East using his name and fame, the Maulana advised one of his confidents residing those days in Makkah, Maulana Abdullah Abbas Nadwi, to offer special prayers of Tawaaf (circumambulation around Ka’aba) for the deceased person. So I found the Maulana loving all persons working for Islam with different taste or alignments, including his bitter critics.
Do you find these high points of character in the disciples and near and dear ones of Maulana Ali Mian as well?
Yes, I have found that. During the life time of the Maulana I used to think where else we will get such guidance and affection. Maulana Rabey Hasani Nadwi had kept himself in low profile. But when the moment came he took the charges and we felt, and I am saying this with complete sense of accountability towards Allah, that we got a person who had total similarity of object of life of the deceased soul, total resemblance with the methodology of Maulana Ali Mian and a cent per cent likeness of his character. The resemblance is so much that some times we feel that Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi has not left us and we have him in the persona of Maulana Rabey Hasani Nadwi. They belong to the same family and facial resemblance is also there! That is why I repeated (tajdeed) my oath of allegiance (Bait) on the hands of the latter.
Tell us about your personal experience about the popularity of Maulana Ali Mian in the eyes of Arabs both as an Aalim (religious scholar) and as an Arabic prose writer.
He was very popular in the Arab world. Such type of popularity and affection is especially bestowed upon some people as a divine design. Alhamdulillah, it appears that he was a recipient of this grace of Allah. I have a feeling that his command over the Arabic language played a very vital role. Besides, his balanced stand on different issues made him popular, loving and acceptable to the Arab world. People used to feel that he is a God-fearing and pious person. I have stayed in Makkah Mukarramah for 20 years and whenever the Maulana visited there I remained in his company. I have seen Imam-e-Haram approach the Maulana without his usual security guards and embrace him and kiss his forehead, a sign of highest regard in the Arab world. The Imam addressed the Maulana in Arabic as “How are you, my leader, my elder.” Such regard by Imam-e-Haram to any person inside the Haram where he is the person of highest order was unusual. I have seen Sheikh Ali Tantavi calling on the Maulana at the place where the latter was staying – an unusual thing for a person of Sheikh Tantavi’s stature. The Sheikh said during conversation that the Maulana was greater than any other living person. I have heard Arab youths using many adjectives for him and saying that he was a pious person and the best living Aalim (religious scholar).
Your message for the readers of Radiance Viewsweekly.
My message is to become broad-hearted. One may belong to a Jamaat or group or aligned to a personality, he/she should respect all others and appreciate all other efforts to serve Islam. One should not have any difficulty in communicating to others. All groups of Muslims in the places where I have lived in, like Makkah Mukarramah, have not felt any distance from me and I have participated in all such platforms and addressed from their podium. I too never felt any aversion from these Muslim groups. Maulana Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi taught me this and I have always found this a correct and useful approach to life. It is not permitted for us to be divided on petty issues.