LOOKING at the fanfare with which birth centennials and death centenaries of writers and poets, such as Manto, N.M. Rashid, Miraji and Faiz Ahmed Faiz, were commemorated, it was not too much to expect at least the same level of enthusiasm for Altaf Hussain Hali and Shibli Nu’mani’s 100th death anniversaries that fell in 2014. But it was not to be. Perhaps Hali and Shibli were too ‘orthodox’ or did not fit into the new scheme of things that scoffs at everything eastern and jumps at everything western.
The tragedy with Shibli (1857-1914) is that the moulvis consider him too modern to be accepted into their fold (they even had issued fatwas, or religious decrees, against Shibli) and the modernists feel he was too religious to be taken seriously. This perhaps was one of the reasons why we did not see real zeal on his death centennial, though a number of organisations and institutions arranged functions on the occasion in Pakistan. But Shibli’s fans in India commemorated his death centennial with more fervour as at least a dozen conferences/symposia took place there during 2014. Among them, the one organised at Dar-ul-musannifeen, Azamgarh, was perhaps the most talked about.
In Pakistan some forums did remember Shibli and some Pakistani literary journals brought out special sections on Shibli or special issues on him. And when in December 2014 Ma’arif, a scholastic and literary journal launched by Shibli in 1916 from Azamgarh, published its ‘Shibli Number’, or special issue on Shibli, one felt it was not only befitting but perhaps one of the memorable special issues on Shibli published so far. But little did we know that a special issue of Saheefa, Lahore, was on its way. It has just arrived and can, perhaps, be described as the ultimate among the Shibli Numbers.
Though the July-Dec 2014 issue of Saheefa has arrived a bit late, its tardiness feels justified when one looks at the size and depth of its contents. Its editors, Dr Tehseen Firaqi and Afzal Haq Qarshi, have packed between the covers the material that covers almost every aspect of Shibli’s life, his thought and works. In addition to new and unpublished articles, some important, albeit previously published, papers too have been included in Saheefa’s ‘Shibli Number’.
The issue includes articles by some renowned personalities and well-known scholars and critics such as Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Syed Sulaiman Nadvi, Sheikh Muhammad Ikram, Sheikh Muhammad Iqbal (not be confused with Allama Iqbal), Sir Abdul Qadir, Sufi Tabassum, Dr Syed Abdullah, Aal-i-Ahmed Suroor, Gian Chand Jain, Syed Vaqar Azeem, Khursheed-ul-Islam, Khaleeq Ahmed Nizami, Usloob Ahmed Ansari, Shamsur Rahman Farooqi, Rafiuddin Hashmi, Abid Raza Baidar, Khaleelur Rahman Aazmi, Ibn-e-Fareed, Nayyar Masood, Zafar Ahmed Siddiqi, Mirza Khalil Ahmed Baig and many more.
Some of the articles discuss some important aspects of Shibli’s life. One aspect of Shibli’s life, which is often overemphasised unnecessarily, is his “liking” for Atiya Fyzee. Saheefa’s Shibli Number includes a scholarly piece by Ibn-i-Fareed titled ‘Shibli choon ba khalvat mi ravad’ (when Shibli goes into solitude). The article successfully dispels the impression that Shibli’s ‘friendship’ with Atiya Fyzee can be described as a ‘romance’ or ‘love affair’. The writer has criticised Sheikh Muhammad Ikram, Dr Waheed Qureshi and Muhammad Ameen Zubairi for weaving such tales. In fact, he has proved that the assumption is based on wishful thinking and similar stories concocted about the friendship between Allama Iqbal and Atiya Fyzee, too, are nothing but the flight of fancy of some scholars.
Some scholars have based their ‘romantic tales’ on Shibli’s Persian ghazals, which, they feel, are addressed to Atiya. The other article included in the issue is by Shamsur Rahman Farooqi. In his piece titled ‘Shibli ki farsi ghazal’ (Shibli’s Persian ghazal), Farooqi has smashed the myth that Shibli wrote those Persian ghazals for Atiya. In fact, according to Farooqi, Shibli had composed those ghazals much earlier and by that time he had not even heard of Atiya.
The article by Tehseen Firaqi introduces an Iranian scholar and translator of Shibli to the readers of Urdu. Fakhr Daaee Geelani, writes Firaqi, was a scholar of Persian and knew many languages. He came to India and struck a close relationship with Shibli. Geelani translated Shibli’s many books, including Shear-ul-Ajam into Persian. In his article Muhammad Ilyas Aazmi has described major events of Shibli’s life in chronological order. It is often said that since Moulvi Abdul Haq was a disciple of Hali and Hali and Shibli had some discord between them, Moulvi Abdul Haq was against Shibli. In his letter reproduced in the issue Moulvi Abdul Haq has dispelled that impression.
Published by Majlis-i-Taraqqi-i-Adab, Lahore, Saheefa’s special issue on Shibli is truly a treatise on the great scholar who played a vital role in re-shaping the Muslim thought in the subcontinent. Some rare photographs adorn the 720-page issue.
Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2015