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Biography: Recent Past

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 Maulānā 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 Maulānā Shibli Nu'māni, questioned the scholarship of the students who had graduated from the institution and their proficiency in modern Arabic. The Maulānā, 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 Sulaimān, who was destined to become one of the greatest historians and the greatest biographers of the Prophet of Islām during his time.

Sayyid Sulaimān 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 Sulaimān 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 Maulānā Farooq Chirayyakoti, Sayyid Muhammad Ali of Monghyr, Maulānā Hafizullah and Allāmah Shibli Nu'māni, who were much impressed by his talent, intelligence, and diligence.

In 1904, when Allāmah Shibli Nu'māni joined the staff of Nadwa, Sayyid Sulaimān 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 Allāmah Shibli Nu'māni, who was engaged in the preparation of his well-known work, Sīrat-un-Nabi (Life of the Holy Prophet ), the major part of which, in fact, was completed in six volumes by Sayyid Sulaimān 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 Sulaimān gave up his literary and educational pursuits and joined Al-Hilāl, Calcutta, a magazine edited by Maulānā Abul Kalām Āzād, another pupil of Allāmah Shibli Nu'māni. Together with Āzād, Sayyid Sulaimān made Al-Hilāl a powerful organ of young Muslims which ultimately played a dominant role in the awakening of Muslim India.

The association of Sayyid Sulaimān with Al-Hilāl would not last long. In 1912, Allāmah Shibli Nu'māni 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'māni, two years later, obliged him to return to Azamgarh and take up the unfinished literary work of his master.

Sayyid Sulaimān 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 Islām

Sulaimān Nadwi, whose life had been an uninterrupted devotion to scholarship and literary pursuits, was called upon to devote his energies to the service of Islām 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 Maulānā Muhammad Ali, had created a stir throughout the length and breadth of the subcontinent which led to an unprecedented awakening of the masses. Sayyid Sulaimān Nadwi, too, could not resist responding to the national call. In 1920, he joined a Khilafat Delegation, headed by Maulānā 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 Sulaimān Nadwi, which included Maulānā Muhammad Ali and Shoaib Qureshi went to Hijāz 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 Sulaimān 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 Maulānā, at the invitation of King Ibn Saud, headed a delegation of celebrated Muslim leaders, including Maulānā Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, to Makkah to participate in the Motamar-i-Alam-i-Islami (World Islāmic Conference). Delegations of almost all Muslim countries participated in the conference and Sayyid Sulaimān 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 Sulaimān 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-Hilāl of Maulānā Abul Kalām Āzād. He wrote some of its best editorials, including one on the Cawnpur Mosque incident which electrified the Indian Muslims. But his association with Al-Hilāl lasted two years only. In 1914, when the Shibli Academy was established and its official organ, the Ma'ārif 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 Sulaimān Nadwi was the establishment of Darul Musannafīn (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'māni, 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. Maulānā Sulaimān 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 Sulaimān Nadwi was a prolific writer who wrote books on history, biography, literature and travel. His greatest work is the Sīrat-un-Nabi (Life of the Prophet of Islām ) 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 was started by Shibli Nu'māni, but the major part of it was completed by his pupil, Sayyid Sulaimān. 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 Islām . He has made 'Seerah' a new and separate subject in Islamic studies.

His first book was Durūs-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'ān (the lands of Qur'ān), 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'ān. This is the only book of its kind in Urdu.

In 1910, he wrote another very important biographical work, Sīrat-e-'Ā'ishah, which is the most authentic book on the life of Hazrat 'Ā'ishah , wife of the Prophet of Islām .

His other widely read book is Arbon ki Jahāzrāni (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 Khayyām, which appeared in 1933 deals with the life and work of Umar Khayyām. It is yet another popular work of his. Dissipating popular misconceptions propagated in the West about Khayyām being a dreamer, steeped in wine, he brought out Khayyām's great contributions to mathematics, astronomy and science.

His Khutbāt-e-Madrās 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 Islām . This has been translated into English (under the title Muhammad : 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 Naqūsh-e-Sulaimān. 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, Hayāt-e-Shibli, was published in 1943. It deals not only with the life and works of his teacher, Allāmah Shibli Nu'māni, but, in fact, is a detailed history of literary and educational activities of Muslim India during the last 100 years.

Sayyid Sulaimān 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 Islāmic 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 Sulaimān 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 Sulaimān 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. Sīrat-un-Nabi (7 volumes)*
2. Ard-ul-Qur'ān (2 volumes)
3. Hayāt Imām Mālik
4. Ahl-us-Sunnah-wal-Jamā'ah
5. Khutbāt-e-Madrās (ONLINE)*
6. Sīrat-e-'Ā'ishah*
7. Arab-o-Hind ke Ta'alluqāt*
8. Arbon ki Jahāzrāni*
9. Naqūsh-e-Sulaimān
10. Rahmat-e-'Ālam
11. Hayāt-e-Shibli
12. Yād-e-Raftagān
13. Barīd Farang
14. Seir-e-Afghānistān
15. 'Umar Khayyām
16. Maqālāt-e-Sulaimān (3 volumes)
17. Khawātīn-e-Islām ki Bahāduri (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:

Hayāt Imām Mālik - A biography of Hadrat Imām Mālik 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 tābi'īn and fuqahā' as well as the history of the study and compilation of hadīth.

Ahl-us-Sunnah-wal-Jamā'ah - Deals with fundamentals of belief ('aqā'id), history of religious sects, and issues such as taqdīr (divine preordainment) and differences amongst the Sahābah.

Arab-o-Hind ke Ta'alluqāt - 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-'Ālam - A life history of the Prophet written in simple language that has been incorporated in the curriculum of Islāmic schools.

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

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

Seir-e-Afghānistān - In 1933, Sayyid Sulaimān and Allāmah Iqbāl 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.

Maqālāt-e-Sulaimān - A collection of the hundreds of articles written by Sayyid Sulaimān for various periodicals in his lifetime, namely An-Nadwa, Al-Hilāl, and Ma'ārif.

[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 Chālees Baray Musleman by Sayyid Hāfiz Muhammad Akbar Shāh Bukhāri (ed.).]



Last modified 08/12/05 09:25 AM - Iqra - ISSN #1062-2756