Islam has bestowed many a boon on human civilisation. But two of them are, perhaps, the most cherished ones the art of calligraphy and the technique of biographical research known as Ilm-i-asma-ur-rijaal. Muslims are rightly proud that Ilm-i-asma-ur-rijaal, which was developed basically to investigate the authenticity of Hadith, or the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), became the foundation of principles of research in modern times.
The knowledge of Hadith consists of two branches rivayat, or narration of Hadith, and dirayat, or assessing the narration and the narrator. Assessing the authenticity of Hadith includes the names of narrators, their personal character, their intelligence, their aptitude and every minute detail of their entire life so as to ensure that every single person in the chain of narrators of Hadith who is quoted in the wordings of a particular Hadith was an honest, pious and reliable person. Scholars make it sure that a Hadith is free from logical flaws and the narrator's personal opinion or lack of knowledge has not affected the actual tradition. They also ensure that an unusual event or tradition is supported by more contemporary and stronger evidence and the vagaries of time have not changed the actual tradition.
These rules demanded of the researchers that the biographical details of each and every person, by whom a chain of narrators is formed in quoting a Hadith, shall be thoroughly investigated and recorded carefully, preparing a kind of database of about 500,000 persons. This gigantic task was accomplished by the scholars of Islamic sciences, some of whom spent their entire lives researching the subject. The monumental database, prepared in an era without electricity or even basic amenities, let alone computers, is known as Ilm-i-asma-ur-rijaal, or the science of names of persons. Shibli Naumani has described some of these principles in the introduction to his books Seert-un-Nabi and Al-Farooq. For lack of space I cannot go into the details of these principles, but in a nutshell we can say that the basic rules applied in authenticating Hadith were adopted by the west and even today the methodology of educational research applies many of them to academic research, especially in PhD programmes.
The idea of recording the biographical details of important persons drew the scholars of later eras too and the practice continued.
In our times though, the standard of scholarship in general and that of biographical research in Urdu in particular suffers from some serious lapses. But if you ask me to name a few scholars who have carried on the tradition of biographical research in Urdu especially and have contributed to enhancing the standard of general research, I would without hesitation include the name of Prof Dr Muhammad Ayoob Qadri.
Dr Qadri was an eminent scholar, historian, compiler and translator. But basically, he was a researcher. All his works are stamped with a high standard of research peculiar to him. Aside from biographical research, he was an authority on the subcontinent's Islamic history and religious and Islamic movements. Spending almost his entire life on research, he not only specialised in editing, annotating and translating rare and abstruse books, but he also chose such topics for research that were generally obscure and beyond the reach of other scholars.
Born in Aanwla, a small town in Bareli district, on July 28, 1926, Ayoob Qadri learnt Persian from his father, Moulvi Mashiyatullah Qadri, and Arabic from Hakeem Abdul Ghafoor, a well-known scholar and saint of his native town. Before migrating to Pakistan with his father in 1950, Qadri Sahib had passed his intermediate from Badayoon, where his maternal grandparents lived. In Pakistan, he initially stayed in Dadu, Sindh, before coming to Karachi and joining a government department. In 1956, he graduated from Karachi's Urdu College and joined the Pakistan Historical Society as a research officer and the following year he was introduced to the scholastic world through his first book Maulana Faiz Ahmed Badayooni. Then his other books that made the scholars take notice of him were brought out which included Ilm-o-amal, or Waqae Abdul Qadir Khani, published in two volumes with valuable annotations and the other was a translation of Moulvi Abdur Rahman Ali's famous Tazkira-i-Ulama-i-Hind with a detailed introduction and invaluable annotations. Dr Qadri, says Dr Moinuddin Aqeel, made these important books more valuable and more useful with his meticulous notes.
In 1962, Qadri Sahib did his master's in Urdu from the University of Karachi and joined Urdu College as a lecturer. Joining the Urdu College increased his sphere of academic and research works all the more and he wrote some extremely valuable books, including 'Makhdoom Jahaniyan Jahan Gasht', 'Maulana Muhammad Ahsan Nanautvi', 'Arbab-i-Fazl-o-kamal' (lives of luminaries of Bareli), 'Tableeghi jamaat ka tareekhi jaeza' and some works on the 1857 war of independence.
He translated Shah Waliullah's 'Majmooa-e-wasaya-e-arba', Shahnawaz Khan's 'Maasar-ul-Umara', Pasroori's 'Farhat-un-Nazreen' and Jamali's 'Sair-ul-Aarifeen'. In addition, he edited and annotated 'Tawareekh-i-Ajeeb' (known as 'Kala paani'), 'Ahd-i-Bangash ki siyasi, ilmi aur saqafati tareekh', 'Maqalat-i-Yaum-i-Alamgeer,' 'Tazkira-i-Noori' and 'Jang nama-i-Asif-ud-daula aur nawab Rampur'. As if these were not enough, he co-authored, in his brief lifespan of 57 years, 'Kahtt-o-khattati', 'Aligarh tehreek aur qaumi nazmen' and 'Nuqoosh-e-seerat', not to mention scores of scholarly articles and research papers which were important contributions to literary and research journals. It is of vital importance to collect all his articles in book form, though one such collection titled 'Ghalib aur asr-i-Ghalib' had appeared in 1982.
Though getting a piece of paper known as 'doctoral degree' is nothing more than a formality for a scholar of Qadri Sahib's stature, he did get one in 1980 and his dissertation 'Urdu nasr ke irteqa mein ulama ka hissa' was published posthumously. An incurable collector of books since early childhood, Ayoob Qadri's personal collection boasted thousands of rare books and hundreds of manuscripts.
Qadri sahib epitomised the golden principle of 'simple living and high thinking'. He reminded one of the scholars of olden times who selflessly spent their lives in pursuit of knowledge.
On November 25, 1983, this irreplaceable scholar died in a road accident in Karachi.