Qazi Saiyid Nurullah Shushtari His life and works

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Qazi Saiyid Nurullah Shushtari (1549-1610 A.D.)
A Biography of an eminent scholar

Qazi Saiyid Nurullah Marashi al-Shushtari was the son of Saiyid Sharif. The name of his mother is not mentioned by any scholar. His grandfather Saiyid Nurullah, was an eminent scholar of Shushtar. He was a mathematician, a Hakim and an expert in uloom -i- din (religious subjects). He wrote Sharh i- Zij -i- Jadid, Sad Bab -i- Astur Lab and a book on Tib (medicine) dealing with herbs and the method of treatment suited to the climate of Khuzistan. The brother of Qazi Nurullah's grandfather, Saiyid Zainuddin wrote a book Risala dar Tahqiq -i- Arazi Anfal (on the management of land) and Nafhat -i- Lahut (on mysticism). His father Saiyid Sharif was a disciple of Shaikh Ibrahim bin Sulaiman Qatifi, an eminent mujtahid in his own time. Saiyid Sharif had four sons, Saiyid Nurullah, Saiyid Ismail, Saiyid Qutubuddin and Saiyid Wajihuddin Mohsin. Qazi Nurullah's ancestor came from Amul the capital of Tabristan, or Mazandaran, during the period of Abbasid rule. From Amul they moved to Shushtar, in the Khuzistan province of Iran. Qazi Nurullah was educated by his father in the uloom -i- din (religious subjects) and uloom -i- maqulat (rational Sciences). He studied Tib (medicine) under Hakim Maulana Imaduddin. Other subjects were taught by Mir Saifudin Muhammad and Mir Jalaluddin Muhammad who was holding the position of sadr of Shushtar. In 1571, he left Shushtar for Mashhad for further education. At Mashhad he joined a renowned scholar, Abdul Wahid, who had traveled widely and had been educated by scholars in both Iraq and Iran. He wrote books of higher learning relating to Hadis, Fiqh and the principles of Fiqh, and also a book on mathematics. Qazi Nurullah spent twelve years at Mashhad to complete his education. Around 1584, Mashhad suffered from persistent tragedies and repeated political crises. Shah Abbas had not yet ascended the throne, and the political uncertainty prompted his move to more peaceful place so that he could work with concentration. Qazi Nurullah did not choose the Deccan where some other Iranian ulema like Sulaiman and Mir Muhammad Maumin had already settled down and made their mark. He choose the Mughal empire's capital Agra. As Saib rightly said:

(Like the desire to go to India which possess every human heart, there is not a head which does not dance to the tune of thy love )

From Humayun's second entry into India, the gates of the Mughal empire were opened for Iranian ulema and umara. A significant development in the history of India. This decision provided a new dimension to Indian polity, society, education and culture. The ulema were the expert of uloom -i- din (religious subjects) and uloom -i- maqulat (scientific subjects). Under imperial patronage they laid the foundation of a new education policy and revised the syllabus of these madrasas. As a result of this, change also came about in the perception and understanding of teachers and students. In Iran all the leading poets like Firdausi, Asadi, Nizmai, Khaiyam, Sadi and Hafiz already sang a new song of liberalism, humanity, peace, accommodation. Persian poetry had played an important role in strengthening the relations between India and Iran. This was the period when Akbar's (1556-1605) darbar consisted of outstanding scientists and social scientists. This was the time when Akbar had launched his policy of sulh -i- kul (peace with all), Akbar had provided his full patronage and freedom to work. Impressed by the congenial climate prevailing in the Mughal empire, Qazi Nurullah migrated from Mashhad to Agra in 1584. As one Persian poet said:

(Khizr comes to the Agra road to be a guide for the traveler who loves Agra)

Qazi Nurullah seems to have arrived in Fatehpur Sikri in 1585. He wrote to one of his friends, Bahauddin Amli, that, "After traversing long distance and undergoing considerable pains and agony, I reached the Indian capital. Luck favoured me and I obtained an opportunity to benefit from the luminous sun (Akbar) and found repose under the shadow of the great Sultan, Akbar. My eyes were filled with tears of joy and I composed the following verses.

Allah is great! In the dawn of farewell (from the motherland).
What lightning has flashed through the mountain valley,
Whose light has enveloped me. I now realise that the darkness of the night has not extended its arms, the sun is shining and it is daylight.


His host in Fatehpur Sikri was Hakim Abul Fateh Gilani. During this period Fatehpur Sikri had become the centre of learning in the Mughal empire. Renowned scholars such as Hakim Abul Fateh Gilani, Shaikh Mubarak, Abul Fazl, Faizi, Abdur Rahim, Shah Fathullah, Abdul Qadir, Hakim Humam, Hakim Ali, Hakim Ainul Mulk and others assembled at the court of Akbar. Kalim, a Persian poet observed that:

(The means of acquiring perfection do not exist in Iran: the Hina dye acquires no colour till it comes to India)

Hakim abul Fateh Gilani introduced Qazi Nurullah to Akbar. Qazi Nurullah had completed a book on Hazrat Ali. He named this book Jalaliya after Akbar's name. Abul Fazl includes Qazi Nurullah in the list of the scholars of Akbar's reign who had mastered the traditional sciences. In 1585, Akbar went towards the North - West, and in 1586, he crossed the Jhelum on his return journey to Lahore. Hakim Abul Fateh Gilani and Nurullah seem to have accompanied the emperor. Shaikh Moin, the Qazi of Lahore, came to pay his respect to the emperor. He had become too old to perform the duties of the Qazi (judge). He was a scholar a pious had kind hearted man. Akbar permitted him to retire from the services of Qazi, and appointed Nurullah as Qazi of Lahore in 1586. Nurullah succeeded to a person whom Abdul Qadir Badauni held in high regard, "Shaikh Moin was an angel in human form. He devoted his subsistence allowance, over which he had exclusive rights, for the scribes, whom he used to employ to copy valuable books and would then distribute those books to students. It was a challenging task to succeed such a person". Nurullah's appointment as Qazi of Lahore was itself significant because he was a follower of Shiite sect. This was no secret Nurullah himself writes, "I believe that, as there is a just ruler in India, there is no justification for Taqiya (concealing) the true faith. Though there is no signature of Qazi Nurullah on Mehzar but now it becomes quite clear from his writings that Qazi Nurullah had also recognized Akbar as Sultan -i- Adil (just ruler). Qazi Nurullah holds the same opinion in his works - Risala -i- lima fil Salat al-Juma. A contemporary chronicler, Abdul Qadir Badauni, knew that Nurullah was a shiite, he states this in his work Muntakhabut Tawarikh. It is significant that since the establishment of the Sultanat in India, we do not come across an example of appointment of a shiite to the position of Qazi. Maulana Ziauddin Barani writes in Tarikh -i- Firoz Shahi, that no position should be given to non-Sunni Muslims'' Both the sultans of Delhi and the Mughal emperors followed the hanafi fiqh, and the department of Qaza (Judiciary) had to follow and to decide cases according to Hanafi law. Therefore only Sunni ulema could be appointed to the position of Qazi. Qazi Nurullah did not confine his knowledge to the Jafari fiqh but also studied other schools of jurisprudence, that is, Hanafi, Shafai, Maliki and Hanbali. Not only did Qazi Nurullah studied Hanafi fiqh but he also wrote a commentary on it, in Hashiya -i- sharh al-Waqaya fi Fiqh al Hanafia. Keeping in mind his proficiency in Islamic law and jurisprudence, Akbar appointed him, though he was a shiia alim, to the post of Qazi. According to Mirza Muhammad Ali, "Qazi Nurullah Shushtari told Akbar that he would not adhere to one single school of fiqh. Nevertheless, in his own judgement, he would not go beyond the limits of hanafi, Shafai, Maliki and Hanbali fiqh''. There was no such problem, and even in the later period we come across such decisions. We have one important example from Aurangzeb's reign (1658-1707) Aurangzeb wrote: "This decision is according to Hanafi law; decide the case according to some other school, so that control over the kingdom may not be lost. Ours is not the rigid Shia creed, that there should be only one tree in an entire village. Praised be God! There are four schools of law''. After he had written this, the Qazi pronounced the sentence that the prisoners of war (Hindus and Muslims) should be executed as a deterrent. The emperor wrote: I agree to it. They must be executed!'' Abdul Qadir Badauni makes no criticism of Nurulah Shushtari's appointment as Qazi. In fact Badauni praises the qualities of Nurullah Shushtari as a judge, ``In truth he has reduced the insolent muftis and the crafty and subtle muhtasibs of Lahore, who venture to give lessons to the teacher of the angels, to order, and has closed to them the avenues of bribery and restrained them within due bounds as closely as a nut is enclosed in its shell, and to such a degree that stricter discipline could not be imagined". In this comment, Badauni is highlighting the pious qualities of Qazi Nurullah Shushtari but at the same time being very critical of those Sunni ulema who were holding positions of muftis and muhtasibs. Badauni makes point clear in the introduction to his work, "I am not concerned with those who are not bound by the sharia, and who disown it in principle and in detail". This comment indirectly reflects the level of corruption that was rampent in the judicial system at Lahore during the period of Akbar. Badauni saw the corrupt in seats of judgement. He must have felt that if, in such a contingency the example and the influence of the court reinforced the general sentiments against the official ulema and their adherence and enforcement of the sharia, the shariat itself which was the mainstay of Muslim life, would be destroyed. He is very critical of those ulema whether they were Sunnis or Shiis. He is even critical of them after their death, even when he composed chronogram of their death. He said "the miserly Shaikh" for Shaikh Ibrahim Chishti and "Carcase of a swine" for Shaikh Gadai'' Badauni also comments on Qazi Nurullah's scholarship and piety "Although he is by religion a shia he is distinguished for his impartially, justice, virtue, modesty, piety, continence and such qualities as are possessed by noble men, and is well known for his learning, clemency, quickness, understanding, singleness of heart, clearness of perception, and acumen. He is the author of several works, and he has written a monograph on the "undotted commentary" of Faizi which is beyond all praise. He also possesses the poetic faculty and writes impressive poetry''. Most characteristic of Badauni are his epigrams and sarcastic remarks for ulema. Badauni wears no disguise; he writes as he feels. He has no affiliation of class and no concern of placating anyone.

In 1586, Kashmir was conquered by the Mughals and the revenue settlement process was introduced; but mismanagement and embezzlement obstructed Akbar's reforms. Akbar appointed Qazi Nurullah to inquire into the matter. In 1591, Qazi Nurullah and Qazi Ali were sent to Kashmir to make inquiries and submit a report. Qazi Nurullah informed the emperor about the cases of embezzlement by officials of the revenue department. After making this inquiry, Qazi Nurullah returned but Qazi Ali stayed on in Kashmir. The aggrieved individuals were so angry with both of them that they killed Qazi Ali. In 1596, Akbar gave the Qazi the responsibility of inquiring into the irregularities in the suyurghal of suba of Agra. Qazi Nurullah's report on this made him many enemies at Agra. Around 1599 Qazi Nurullah was appointed Qazi of the army at Agra.

Before coming to India, he had written a number of books and he subsequently wrote extensively on various subjects, Tafsir, (Commentary on Quran), Hadis (Sayings of Prophet Muhammad ), Riyazi (Mathematics),
Mantiq (logic), Falsifa (Philosophy) Tarikh (history) Sarf va Nahv (Grammar) and on other subjects. Qazi Nurullah was also an outstanding poet. One of his well known work is Majalis-ul-Mauminin. In its sixth chapter he had discussed Tasawwuf (mysticism) which is in itself quite important.

In 1602, Abul Fazl was killed on Jahangir's orders by Bir Singh Bundela and one Saiyid of Bareha. Abul Fazl's death was not only a severe blow to Akbar but a great loss to Qazi Nurullah. Most of his friends Fatehullah, Hakim Abul Fateh Gilani, Qazi Ali, Faizi, Abul Fazl and others had either died or been killed. Around 1603 distressed because he was left without friends at Agra, he decided to go back to Iran. Akbar did not allow him to go. There could be two reasons for this -- Akbar did not wish to lose yet another scholar; if he allowed him to leave for Iran, he might be in danger of being murdered on the way, as had happened to Bairam Khan. two years later, after Akbar died, Nurullah who had already lost his friends felt he was surrounded by hostile people, as a result of his position as Qazi of Lahore, as inquiry officer for the corruption in Kashmir; as inquiry officer into the affairs of the suyurghals of Agra, and as Qazi of the army. During the reign of Jahangir (1605-1627) he was executed on 18th Jamadi us-Sani 1019 A.H./7th September 1610. It is puzzling that Jahangir does not refer to Qazi Nurullah in his Tuzuk. He was buried in Agra in front of the Karbala in present Dayal Bagh area. When the Karbala was so near to his tomb, why was he not buried in the Karbala? Contemporary and later sources are silent on this issue. In 1774, that is, after one hundred sixty four years of his death, Saiyid Muhammad Mansoor Husaini Neshapuri built a tomb over is grave. In 1854, Maulana Saiyid Hamid Hasan Musavi started taking an interest in the mazar of Qazi Nurullah. In 1873, Zamin Ali constructed a portion of the mazar and a mosque. In the same year an appeal was published for donations for the mazar in Qamus al-Akhbar. As a result of this, some individuals-Maulavi Saiyid Asghar Ali, Mir Inayat Husain, Mir Hasan Ali, Mir Kamaluddin (of Jalali, Distt. Aligarh) Saiyid Ali Naqi and others contributed money for the construction of the mazar. In 1812, the Sadat conference was set up at Agra, and its first meeting was held in the campus of the mazar from 25th- 27th December, 1912. In this meeting saiyids of Agra, Mahaban, Saiyidpur, Pehrsir, Bharatpur, Bayana, Hailak and Dholpur participated in this conference. In its Resolution No. X, proposed to construct a Musafir Khana (guest house) for the pilgrims at the mazar of Qazi Nurullah. By Resolution no. xii, it appointed a committee of 12 members to look after the construction work at the mazar. And by Resolution no. XIII. Requested Maulana saiyid Nasir Husain, who had already shown a keen interest in the mazar, to organise "Salana Jalsa' (annual meetings) at the mazar under his patronage. A beautiful gate of red sandstone inlaid with marble was constructed by the Maulana around 1912. Later his son Maulana Saiyidul Millat worked for the construction of a beautiful tomb in 196....

Qazi saiyid Nurullah Shushtari was an alim -i- ba amal (a practicing scholar). Well known for his learning, quickness of understanding, singleness of heart, clearness of perception, and acumen, he should also be remembered for his impartiality, sense of justice, modesty and piety.

Qazi Nurullah had five talented sons. His eldest son Saiyid Sharif become an eminent scholar. While in Iran, Saiyid Sharif attracted the attention of Shah Abbas Safavi and had been presented to his court. But Qazi Nurullah urged his son not to enter employment at the court but to devote to higher studies, and intellectual debates. By 1606, he returned to India. He was greatly disturbed at his father's murder and he died at an early age of twenty eight years in 1611. Saiyid Sharif is the author of following works: 1. Hashiya -i- Tafsir -i- Bezavi 2. Hashiya -i- Qadima. He also composed a treatise on nine different religions. His second son Saiyid Muhammad Yusuf was a poet. His third son Alaul Mulk obtained higher education from Shiraz and then returned to India. He took up teaching career at Agra. Later on he was appointed as tutor to Prince Shuja, the son of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1627-1658). He was the author of Anwarul Huda, Al-Siratul Wasil fi Asbatul Wajib, Muhazzabul Mantiq and Firdaus, the history of Shiraz. His fourth son Saiyid Abul Maali for some time lived under the patronage of Qutub Shahi rulers where he translated Masaibun Nawasib from Arabic to Persian. He was the author of Sharh -i- Alfiya, Risala fil Adl, Risala Nafi Raut wajib Taala, Tafsir Ala Suratul Akhlas. His fifth son Mir Alaud Daula was a poet.

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