Print this pagePrint this page

Sayyid Sulaiman Nadvi

The Annual Convocation of Nadwatul-Uloom was being held in a packed hall at Lucknow in 1907. The conferring of degrees in this well-known institution of religious education was to be followed by Dastar Bandi (investiture of academic turbans) ceremony, which was being presided over by Khwaja Ghulam-us-Saqlain, a renowned scholar and son-in-law of Maulânâ Altaf Husain Hali, and was attended by Muhsinul-Mulk and other intellectual luminaries of the time.

Meanwhile, someone got up from amongst the audience and, addressing Maulânâ Shibli Nu'mâni, questioned the scholarship of the students who had graduated from the institution and their proficiency in modern Arabic. The Maulânâ, being a celebrated historian, accustomed to confront his adversaries with incontrovertible facts, asked a young graduate to deliver a speech on any given topic. The student got up and delivered a masterly speech in pure, fluent Arabic on certain aspects of modern philosophy. His command over the language, the sublimity of his ideas and his excellent delivery astounded the president and all those present there. The speaker was the young Sulaimân, who was destined to become one of the greatest historians and the greatest biographers of the Prophet of Islâm (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) during his time.

Sayyid Sulaimân was born in 1884 C.E. (23 Safar 1302 H.) in a well-known Sayyid family of Desna, a village in the district of Patna (Bihar, India). His father, Hakim Sayyid Abul Hasan, known for his learning and piety, was highly respected in the locality.

The young Sulaimân received his early education from his elder brother. Then he joined the Arabic Madrasah at Phulwari Sharif and later he enrolled himself in the Madrasah-e-Imdadia, Darbhanga.

In 1901 he joined the Darul-Uloom of Nadwa, Lucknow, which was recognized as the foremost institution of religious and Arabic education in the subcontinent. Here he completed his religious curriculum in five years and came in contact with such eminent scholars as Maulânâ Farooq Chirayyakoti, Sayyid Muhammad Ali of Monghyr, Maulânâ Hafizullah and Allâmah Shibli Nu'mâni, who were much impressed by his talent, intelligence, and diligence.

In 1904, when Allâmah Shibli Nu'mâni joined the staff of Nadwa, Sayyid Sulaimân came under his direct tutorship, a relationship which turned into a lifelong companionship between the two great scholars of modern India.

In 1906, he joined the staff of An-Nadwa, a magazine published by the Darul-Uloom. In 1908, he was appointed a lecturer in the Darul-Uloom, and for two years worked as an assistant to Allâmah Shibli Nu'mâni, who was engaged in the preparation of his well-known work, Sîrat-un-Nabi (Life of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)), the major part of which, in fact, was completed in six volumes by Sayyid Sulaimân himself after the death of his illustrious teacher.

The international political situation was becoming extremely explosive at this time. The European powers were conspiring to divide the Turkish Empire and wanted to finish this "Sick Man of Europe." In 1911, when Italy launched an unprovoked attack on Tripoli, a port of the Turkish Empire, young Sulaimân gave up his literary and educational pursuits and joined Al-Hilâl, Calcutta, a magazine edited by Maulânâ Abul Kalâm Âzâd, another pupil of Allâmah Shibli Nu'mâni. Together with Âzâd, Sayyid Sulaimân made Al-Hilâl a powerful organ of young Muslims which ultimately played a dominant role in the awakening of Muslim India.

The association of Sayyid Sulaimân with Al-Hilâl would not last long. In 1912, Allâmah Shibli Nu'mâni got him appointed as Assistant Professor of Persian at the famous Deccan College, Poona. Here, too, he did not stay for long. The death of his illustrious teacher, Shibli Nu'mâni, two years later, obliged him to return to Azamgarh and take up the unfinished literary work of his master.

Sayyid Sulaimân Nadwi thereafter settled down at Azamgarh to a peaceful life of research and study, which later won for him an immortal place as a historian and scholar.

Service to Islâm

Sulaimân Nadwi, whose life had been an uninterrupted devotion to scholarship and literary pursuits, was called upon to devote his energies to the service of Islâm and his country. The first quarter of the twentieth century was a period of trials and tribulations for the Indian Muslims in particular. The political scene was tense, surcharged with revolution. The caliphate held by the Turkish Sultan was at stake. The Western powers were conspiring to do away with the "Sick Man of Europe." The wars in the Balkans and Tripoli and ultimately World War I, were all pointing to this end. In India too, the Indian National Congress and especially the All-India Khilafat Committee, under the dynamic and inspiring leadership of Maulânâ Muhammad Ali, had created a stir throughout the length and breadth of the subcontinent which led to an unprecedented awakening of the masses. Sayyid Sulaimân Nadwi, too, could not resist responding to the national call. In 1920, he joined a Khilafat Delegation, headed by Maulânâ Muhammad Ali, to London, for securing equitable and just treatment of Turkey at the hands of the victorious Allies.

In 1924, when the Sharif of Makkah and King Ibn Saud of Najd were at war, Sultan ibn Saud sought the help of the Khilafat Committee to settle the dispute. A delegation, headed by Sayyid Sulaimân Nadwi, which included Maulânâ Muhammad Ali and Shoaib Qureshi went to Hijâz in 1926 and fearlessly placed the views of Indian Muslims before Sultan ibn Saud for establishing a truly democratic rule in the Holy Land. In 1926, Sayyid Sulaimân presided over the memorable annual session of Jamiat-ul-Ulema at Calcutta, which considered the deteriorating Hindu-Muslim relations in the subcontinent due to the Shuddhi-Sanghattan Movement started by the Shardhanand-Malaviya Group. The same year, the Maulânâ, at the invitation of King Ibn Saud, headed a delegation of celebrated Muslim leaders, including Maulânâ Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, to Makkah to participate in the Motamar-i-Alam-i-Islami (World Islâmic Conference). Delegations of almost all Muslim countries participated in the conference and Sayyid Sulaimân Nadwi had been elected the Vice-President of the Conference. On his return from Makkah, he retired from active politics and decided to devote his heart and soul to literary pursuits only.

Sayyid Sulaimân Nadwi had started his career as the sub-editor of An-Nadwa, a well-known magazine devoted to religious research. In 1910 he joined as an assistant editor and lead writer of the celebrated Al-Hilâl of Maulânâ Abul Kalâm Âzâd. He wrote some of its best editorials, including one on the Cawnpur Mosque incident which electrified the Indian Muslims. But his association with Al-Hilâl lasted two years only. In 1914, when the Shibli Academy was established and its official organ, the Ma'ârif started publication, he became its founding editor. This magazine, during the last 44 years of its existence maintained an enviable record of high-class articles.

The greatest achievement of Sayyid Sulaimân Nadwi was the establishment of Darul Musannafîn (House of Writers), also known as the Shibli Academy, at Azamgarh, which became the pioneer in the field of literary and historical research in the subcontinent. He attracted around him a large number of talented scholars who carried on the literary mission of his illustrious teacher, Shibli Nu'mâni, with unabated zeal. This institution of learning founded in 1914 continues to spread its luster throughout the subcontinent and during the last 48 years of its existence has published some outstanding works on diverse branches of knowledge. Maulânâ Sulaimân Nadwi dedicated his life to the service of learning and kept his uninterrupted association with the Shibli Academy, Azamgarh. During this period he spent an austere life at Azamgarh, busy in writing books which inspired an entire generation.

Sayyid Sulaimân Nadwi was a prolific writer who wrote books on history, biography, literature and travel. His greatest work is the Sîrat-un-Nabi (Life of the Prophet of Islâm (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)) in six volumes, which has hardly any parallel in any language of the world. This outstanding work on the life of the Holy Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was started by Shibli Nu'mâni, but the major part of it was completed by his pupil, Sayyid Sulaimân. This has since been translated into several languages and is the most widely read book on the life and teachings of the Great Prophet of Islâm (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). He has made 'Seerah' a new and separate subject in Islamic studies.

His first book was Durûs-ul-Adab, an Arabic reader in two parts. In 1912 he compiled a Dictionary of New Arabic Words. In 1915 he brought out the first volume and in 1918 the second volume of Ard-ul-Qur'ân (the lands of Qur'ân), which is a priceless piece of historical research and refutation of orientalist propaganda against the geographical descriptions of ancient lands and nations given in the Qur'ân. This is the only book of its kind in Urdu.

In 1910, he wrote another very important biographical work, Sîrat-e-'Â'ishah, which is the most authentic book on the life of Hazrat 'Â'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her), wife of the Prophet of Islâm (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).

His other widely read book is Arbon ki Jahâzrâni (Arab Navigation), dealing with the great voyages undertaken by the Arab navigators during the mediaeval times who, with the help of the mariners' compass that they invented, roamed about in open seas reaching as far as the Bering Strait, East and West Indies and even touched the New World. This work demonstrates his intelligence, power of memory, aptitude for research, and breadth of knowledge.

The Khayyâm, which appeared in 1933 deals with the life and work of Umar Khayyâm. It is yet another popular work of his. Dissipating popular misconceptions propagated in the West about Khayyâm being a dreamer, steeped in wine, he brought out Khayyâm's great contributions to mathematics, astronomy and science.

His Khutbât-e-Madrâs is a collection of his lectures delivered at the invitation of the Muslim Educational Conference at Madras on the life of the Holy Prophet of Islâm (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). This has been translated into English (under the title Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him): The Ideal Prophet) and has since been published into several editions.

In 1939, he published a collection of his essays on diverse subjects, known as Naqûsh-e-Sulaimân. These essays, known for the sublimity of thought and lucidity of diction, are a living testimony to his scholarship and mastery over the language.

Yet another monumental work, Hayât-e-Shibli, was published in 1943. It deals not only with the life and works of his teacher, Allâmah Shibli Nu'mâni, but, in fact, is a detailed history of literary and educational activities of Muslim India during the last 100 years.

Sayyid Sulaimân Nadwi developed a style which was sober and lucid but at the same time convincing and impressive. It was especially suitable for his historical writings. He was scholarly and objective in his treatment of history.


The brutal persecution of Muslims in India by the Hindu majority community compelled him to migrate to Pakistan in 1950. The pleadings of the Prime Minister of India not to leave India could not dissuade him from going to Pakistan where he was immensely needed to guide the framing of a truly Islâmic constitution. On arrival in Karachi, he was made President of the Islamic Talimat Board, attached to the Constituent Assembly. He had come to Pakistan with an ambitious plan in his mind of establishing an Academy of Islamic Studies in Karachi that could rival the Shibli Academy of Azamgarh (UP). But he was not destined to live there long and died three years after, in 1953. His death was mourned throughout the world of Islam and the loss of this great scholar, historian, and religious writer was universally acknowledged. His death created a void in the literary life of the subcontinent that cannot be easily filled.

The services of Sayyid Sulaimân Nadwi were recognized and his greatness as a great scholar was acknowledged during his lifetime. The Muslim University, Aligarh, conferred on him the degree of D.Litt. in 1941. A number of universities and institutions, including the Aligarh Muslim University, the Hindustani Academy of Allahabad, the Jamia Millia, Delhi, the Nadwatul-Ulama, Lucknow, and the Hindustani Committee of the Government of Bihar, had associated him with their work.

Sayyid Sulaimân Nadwi was a great scholar, historian, and religious writer but above all he was a great Muslim. Like all truly great scholars he was the embodiment of humility and simplicity. He was not ostentatious and never took pride in his greatness.

Literary Works

1. Sîrat-un-Nabi (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) (7 volumes)*
2. Ard-ul-Qur'ân (2 volumes)
3. Hayât Imâm Mâlik
4. Ahl-us-Sunnah-wal-Jamâ'ah
5. Khutbât-e-Madrâs*
6. Sîrat-e-'Â'ishah*
7. Arab-o-Hind ke Ta'alluqât*
8. Arbon ki Jahâzrâni*
9. Naqûsh-e-Sulaimân
10. Rahmat-e-'Âlam
11. Hayât-e-Shibli
12. Yâd-e-Raftagân
13. Barîd Farang
14. Seir-e-Afghânistân
15. 'Umar Khayyâm
16. Maqâlât-e-Sulaimân (3 volumes)
17. Khawâtîn-e-Islâm ki Bahâduri (Heroic Deeds of Muslim Women)*

The starred (*) titles have been translated partially or wholly into English. Several of these works have been described above. The others, in brief, are:

Hayât Imâm Mâlik - A biography of Hadrat Imâm Mâlik ibn Anas (d. 179H.), which also contains details of his works, including the famous Mu'atta. This book also included details of the lives of prominent tâbi'în and fuqahâ' as well as the history of the study and compilation of hadîth.

Ahl-us-Sunnah-wal-Jamâ'ah - Deals with fundamentals of belief ('aqâ'id), history of religious sects, and issues such as taqdîr (divine preordainment) and differences amongst the Sahâbah.

Arab-o-Hind ke Ta'alluqât - A collection of lectures delivered in 1939 at the Indian Academy, Allahabad. A discussion of the trade relationships between the Arabs and India and interactions of trade, scholarship, and religion.

Rahmat-e-'Âlam - A life history of the Prophet(peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) written in simple language that has been incorporated in the curriculum of Islâmic schools.

Yâd-e-Raftagân - Between 1916 and 1953, with the death of any well-known person in Azamgarh - friend, scholar, lawyer, poet, politician, head of state, etc. - Sayyid Sulaimân would write to express his heartfelt feelings on their passing away. This book is a collection of such writings.

Barîd Farang - A collection of letters written to various prominent figures of the Indian subcontinent related to the Khilâfat delegation in 1920.

Seir-e-Afghânistân - In 1933, Sayyid Sulaimân and Allâmah Iqbâl were invited by the government of Afghanistan to tour the country. This journey was to study the academic and literary problems of Afghanistan. This book is a collection of his chronicles published on his return.

Maqâlât-e-Sulaimân - A collection of the hundreds of articles written by Sayyid Sulaimân for various periodicals in his lifetime, namely An-Nadwa, Al-Hilâl, and Ma'ârif.

[Prepared by Nadeem Abdul Hamid for IQRA. Sources: Hundred Great Muslims by Kh. Jamil Ahmed, Bees Baray Musleman (Twenty Great Muslims) by Abdul-Rashid Arshad (ed.), and Châlees Baray Musleman by Sayyid Hâfiz Muhammad Akbar Shâh Bukhâri (ed.).]


[ Click to read writings by Sayyid Sulaiman Nadwi published in IQRA.]