The Arabic Qasidas of Shah Waliullah

Shah Wali Allah [1702-1763] was the greatest scholar of Islamic sciences produced by the subcontinent. His tremendous achievements in diverse areas [Quranic commentary, Hadith analysis, history, fiqh (law), tasawwuf (mysticism) and sociology among others] are of an extraordinary level.  One aspect of his multi-faceted attainments [which has not received sufficient recognition] is his great mastery of Arabic poetry and idiom. Although Arabic scholarship was an indispensable tool for marking his eminent status in the field of Islamic studies, the ability to compose poetry in any language is especial evidence of knowledge of vocabulary, metre and the whole range of technical skills associated with poetic tradition and expression. In his poetry, Shah Wali Allah shows his poetic compositions to be a milestone in the long history of Arabic poets [such as Ka’b b. Zuhayr, Hissan b. Thabit, Busiri, Ibn Faridh and others] whose height of poetic composition and the magnum opus of their oeuvre has been those panegyrics composed in praise of the Holy Prophet [pbuh].

Shah Wali Allah’s poetic panegyrics addressed to the Holy Prophet [pbuh] are contained in his small divan which comprises his magnum opus – Atyib- al-Nigham fi madh Seyyid al-Arab wa al-‘Ajam [= ‘the best of songs in praise of the Lord of the Arabs and non-Arabs’] and a number of short qasidas [= ‘poetic addresses’].

This valuable corpus of Arabic poetry, written in the classical Arabic mode, has not been translated into any Western language.  It was put into Persian with relevant glosses by the poet himself.  After this, it was printed much later with these Persian annotations on the margins of the Arabic text.  In the late 19th and early 20th century, Urdu editions [d. 1308 AH and 1334 AH] appeared which are not easily available at present.  In February 1996, an Urdu annotated translation was made and issued by the Islamic scholar, Muhammad Yusuf Ludhianvi.1 This also contained [for ready reference] the texts of two earlier poems of two Companions of the Holy Prophet [pbuh] viz. Sawad b. Qarib and Hissan b. Thabit on whose poems these later compositions are modelled.  Also, the earlier printed text of the poem with Shah Wali Allah’s Persian notes was attached.  So all the relevant material relating to the text, its models, its original notes and the Urdu translation were assembled at one place.

In 2004, the well-known Quranic exegete and spiritual guide, Pir Muhammad Karam Shah Al-Azheri [d. 2006] issued his own translation of the qasida with an introduction, Arabic glossary, Urdu translation and reproduction of earlier Persian annotation.2 Both translators do not refer to any MS. of the poem but only to the two printed texts mentioned above. The fact that each translation has varying number of verses shows that the two translators did not use the same printed text but each was using a different text. Be that as it may, the eminent qualities of the poem as a fine example of its own genre [the madh al-nabi] cannot be disputed and a familiarity with its contents will be beneficial.

Like the traditional qasidas of old, the poem [Atyib- al-Nigham …] is divided into twelve parts. These are as follows:

  1. the necessity of seeking help from the Holy Prophet after mentioning his various perfections;
  2. the intercession of the Holy Prophet;
  3. the prognostications of previous prophets about the advent of the Holy Prophet;
  4. the many sublime virtues of the Holy Prophet;
  5. the conditions of the world just before the advent of the Holy Prophet and other related issues;
  6. the perfection of the Shari’ah [law] as expounded by the Holy Prophet – just as a man reading the ‘Canon’ of Avicenna is convinced that the author is an expert in medicine;
  7. about the various miracles of the Holy Prophet;
  8. a prayer for the Companions and family of the Holy Prophet for the raising of their eminent station;
  9. a prayer for those Muslims who adhered to the glorious principles of Islam over the ages;
  10. love of the Holy Prophet and attachment to him despite distance in time and place;
  11. a plea addressed to the Holy Prophet and the bringing of the qasida to a close;
  12. conclusion.

This qasida is also called the ba-iyya [so called because its verses end in the letter ba].  It is modelled on the qasida of Sawad b. Qarib.  This is followed by the hamza-iyya [with verses ending in hamza] which is modelled on the qasida of Hissan b. Thabit.  This latter qasida has six parts detailed as follows:

  1. The opening of the poem on a style not used by traditional poets [i.e. instead of engaging in a lengthy periphrasis ( nasib), the poet goes directly to the subject];
  2. love of the Holy Prophet;
  3. a fresh approach to the praise of the Holy Prophet [i.e. instead of attributing various qualities to the Holy Prophet, the poet states that these qualities exist owing to their a priori possession by the Holy Prophet];
  4. another aspect of this fresh approach;
  5. a third aspect;
  6. a plea addressed to the Holy Prophet .

The hamza-iyya poem is embedded in the text of the famous mystical treatise Tafhimat al-Ilahiyya which is a bilingual work.3 Also, extracts from Atyib al-Nigham are given within the text.

The Persian notes to the text are stated [by Muhammad Yusuf Ludhianvi] to be those written by Shah Wali Allah himself.  The compiler [M.Y. Ludhianvi] has used the text of 1304 AH [reproduced in his edition while Pir Muhammad Karam Shah used that of 1334 AH with Persian notes attributed to one Nizam with no other information given. However, both these gentlemen [of differing backgrounds i.e. legal and mystical] have been swept away by the torrent of Prophetic love that pours forth from the pen of Shah Wali Allah. The two translations have been carefully printed and punctuated.

There exist two other qasidas viz. the qasida ta’iyya [ending in ‘ta’] and the qasida lam-iyya [ending in ‘lam’] which have not been translated. According to Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi [d. 1999], rctor of the famous Islamic seminary, the Nadvatul Ulema [Lucknow, India], a MS. copy of Shah Wali Allah’s poetry is present in the library of the said institution.4 This MS. was examined by the eminent Arabic scholar, Abdullah ‘Abbas Nadvi, who states that Shah Wali Allah wrote ‘lucid poetry unencumbered by literary devices.’5 The qasidas of Shah Wali Allah follow the pattern of the great qasidas of traditional mystical poetry.  According to Prof. Z.A. Faruqi, the qasidas of Shah Wali Allah show his consummate command of Arabic and rank with the greatest creations in this genre written by Arabs.6 In poetry, Shah Wali Allah chose the nom-de-plume of ‘Amin’ [= ‘trustworthy’].7 According to Hakim Mahmud Ahmad Zafar, the poetry of Shah Wali Allah was initially collected by his son, Shah Rafiuddin [also an eminent Arabic mystical poet and scholar].8 A selection of Shah Wali Allah’s original verses in Persian [obtained from his various writings] has been made by Hakim Mahmud Ahmad Barkati and placed separately in his book Shah Wali Allah aur unka khandan (Lahore, 1976).  An enlarged selection has been included in the revised edition titled Shah Wali Allah aur unke ashab (Karachi, 2004).

It is clear thus that Shah Wali Allah is one in a glorious line of excellent poets and writers of poetic panegyrics in praise of the Holy Prophet.  This was a process that began with the advent of the Holy Prophet and which continued over the centuries till the present day.9 It is common for Muslims composing poetry to begin their divans with a hamd [divine doxology] followed by a madh [prophetic eulogy].  The great spiritual personalities of Islam especially felt that they should compose verses in praise of the Holy Prophet who was the source and font of all good and not play the role of court poets to worldly rulers.  Thus famous names such as Seyyid ‘Abdul Qadir al-Gilani, Shaykh Shihabuddin Suhrwardi, Shaykh Ibn al-‘Arabi, Ibn Faridh right up to Ahmad Shawqi [d. 1936] and Amir Shakib Arsalan [d. 1948] have offered their homage and bouquets of poetic praise to the most eminent of men.10


End Notes

  1. Ludhianvi, Muhammad Yusuf [ed. & tr.], “Atyib- al-Nigham … al-‘Ajam” of Shah Wali Allah, Karachi, 1996
  2. Al-Azhari, Muhammad Karam Shah, Qasida atyib al-Nigham, Lahore, 2004
  3. Wali Allah, Shah, Tafhimat Ilahiyya, 2 vols., Hyderabad, 1997
  4. Nadvi, Syed Abul Hasan Ali, Da’wat wa ‘Azeemat, part 5, Karachi, n.d., p. 404
  5. Nadvi, Abdullah ‘Abbas, ‘Arabi mein na’tiya kalaam, Karachi, 1978,
    pp. 246-256
  6. Faruqi, Z.A., in his essay, Shah Wali Allah Dehlvi aur ‘Arabi zabaan wa adab mein un ki khidmaat, printed in the book Imam Shah Wali Allah kay afkaar wa nazariyaat, ed. ‘Ataa’-ur-Rehman Qasmi, Lahore, 2005, p. 241.
  7. Jalbani, G.N., Teachings of Shah Wali Allah, Lahore, 1970, p. 225
  8. Zafar, Mahmud Ahmad, Shah Wali Allah aur un kay tajdeedi kaarnaamay, Lahore, 2007, p. 210
  9. See Wasti, S.M., Four Prophetic Panegyrics, Journal of Islamic Studies, Vol. VIII, I-II, 2006, pp. 155-158.  Also: Nadvi, Syed Rizwan Ali, Al-Lughatul al-‘Arabiya fi shubbeh qareh ‘ibr al-Qurun, Karachi, 1995
  10. See Nadeem, S.H., A critical appreciation of Arabic mystical poetry, Lahore, 1979; Shawqi, Ahmad, Ash-Shawqiyyaat, 2 vols., Beirut, n.d.;  Shurbasi, Ahmad, Amir al-Bayan: Shakib Arsalan, 2 vols., Beirut, 1963.
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One response to this post.

  1. good information


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