Allama Shibli Nomani

It is to the enduring credit of the Indian Muslim–scholar and layman– that he took up the cause of the Ottoman Caliphate and the Turkish nation during their most difficult days. His devotion and sacrifices for people in a distant land from whom he did not expect any material rewards, nor was he beholden to them for past favours, is a unique example of selfless sacrifice and sincere love, rarely matched in any stage of history.

Among the scholars and poets who devoted their speeches and writings to promote the Turkish cause, one of the most outstanding was Allama Shibli Nomani. His poems reflect the pain he felt when news reached him of military reverses faced by the Ottoman army, and the undiluted joy he experienced when informed of their battlefield successes.

I have attempted a translation below of his poem titled شهر آشوب اسلام (The Tumultuous City of Islam) which he wrote in the aftermath of the Italian invasion of Tripoli and the Balkan wars, both of which inflicted heavy losses on Turkey.

Shibli’s biographer, the learned Allama Syed Sulaiman Nadwi, has this to say about the afore-mentioned poem (Hayat-e-Shibli, page 593)

This poem, in a poetical sense, was divinely inspired. The events that the Maulana’s prescience foresaw in the poem all came to pass, word to word.

When Allama Shibli recited this poem before a public gathering in Lucknow, which was called exclusively to raise funds for the Turkish war efforts, he wept inconsolably and so did the audience—reminding one of the Muharram mathams (self-flagellation) of Lucknow.

Khawaja Kamaluddin Saheb (Lahore) who was stationed in London during those days to propagate Islam, was moved by the poem. He expressed his feelings in a letter to Allama Shibli in these words:

“Respected Maulana,
Assalamu alaikum!
Seated thousands of miles away, if there was something that made me weep like a child, it was this stanza from your poem:
چراغ کشتھ محفل سے اٹھيگا دھواں کب تک
‘For how long will the smoke from this flame of a ruined assembly keep rising’
How very true and valid. A depressing scenario indeed. May Allah have mercy.”

In an earlier post, I had published my translation of Shibli’s poem celebrating the victory of the Turks in the Second Balkan War. Please read this poem in conjunction with the one below.

 شهر آشوب اسلام

 “Tumultuous City of Islam”[i]
Written in the aftermath of the Italian-Turkish and Balkan Wars

(شهر آشوب  represents a genre of poetry in which the poet bemoans the disturbances or social and economic decline of a city or country)

Translated by Zubair Chinoy and Khalid Chinoy

How long will remain the prestige of a nation when decline sets in,
For how long will the smoke from this flame of a ruined assembly keep rising.

The very canopy of the Sultanate has been torn to smithereens,
How long will the fragments continue to drift in the sky.

Morocco has fallen, Iran too; Now needs to be seen,
How long the tottering, ailing Turk survives.

Fast surges the flood of ill portents from the Balkans,
How long will it be warded off by desperate cries of the oppressed!

Spectators, sauntering about, watch this gory dance of death,
How long will the weak be martyred to keep  the show going!

They revel in listening to the cries of the oppressed.
How long will the melancholy in the infirm orphan’s voice keep resounding!

Can someone ask, ‘O ye dons of culture,
How long this tyranny, how long this incitement!

How long these storms of oppression!
How long the vicarious pleasure at the moaning!

We know you want to display your military might,
How long will it be at our cost.

If you yearn to see the spouting fount of blood
How long do we bear fresh wounds to assuage your pride!

Indeed, you want material to augment your revelry,
How long should we recount the anguish of our hearts!

Know we that you have a grouse against the sky for the drought,
How long do we bleed to water your fields!

You need glitter to adorn the bride of fortune,
How long will our wealth be plundered to be used as gold dust!

How long will you take vengeance for the victory of Ayoobi!
How long will you show us spectacles of the Crusades!

Taking us to be but faint footprints of the path,
How long, in this manner, will you try to erase our trace!


Decline of the Ottoman is the decline of the sharia and millat,
How long, dear, the concern merely for kin, wealth, status and ties

By God, do you comprehend what these preparations portend!
How long, if not for now, will it take you to unravel this mystery!


Should the votaries of the Ka’ba be gone,
How long, then, will remain the sanctity of the holy sites!

When the bells of the cathedral will echo through the land,
How long , then, will songs of tauheed and the melodious adhaan remain!

Leaves of the legacy of Islam are being scattered,
How long will blow these tumultuous winds of idolatry!

Perchance these gusts of idolatry affect the precincts of the Haram
How long will the undaunted dust of disbelief continue its pranks!

When the sight of the hunter is  trained on the Holy Lands,
How long, then, will survive the dwellers of the Haram.

Alas, even after having migrated, Shibli, you have no place to go!
How long, now, will peace and security in Syria, Najd and Kairwan endure!


[i] Kulliyat-e-Shibli, Compiled by Maulana Syed Sulaiman Nadwi. Darul Musannifeen, Azamgarh, UP, India