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Muslim luminaries

Qudrat Ullah Shahab

Qudrat Ullah Shahab is the first Muslim of the J&K state to have qualified for civil services examinations (ICS) in the pre-partitioned India in 1941, A. A. JawwadKhurshid presents a life-sketch of the celebrated son-of-soil.

Shahab was born in Gilgit in 1920, where his father was governor during the Dogra Rule. After joining civil services, Shahab volunteered himself to serve in the famine-torn state of Bengal, where he got his first posting as an executive magistrate. His tenure in Bengal was full of thrill and adventure. He came under heavy fire from authorities for opening the doors of rice barns for the common public during the infamous famine of Bengal. The rice had, in fact, to be kept preserved for strategic purposes, but he distributed it among the needy on humanitarian basis.

Right from his teenage Shahab had shown signs of brilliance and high caliber. At sixteen he won first prize in an international essay competition organized by the Readers Digest, London. This was a rare achievement for any Indian Muslim in those days. His command over English language is par excellence, for which he owes a gratitude to his father Mr. Abdullah Shahab, who himself was a first class first from A.M.U, Aligarh in his B.A. Examination. On seeing the glittering performance of this young boy Sir Syed A. Khan had shown personal interest in the academics of Mr. Abdullah.


After partition the services of Q.U. Shahab were shifted to Pakistan, where he served on several high offices of bureaucracy and foreign affairs. But for a pretty good time of his career he served as principal secretary to many heads of state of Pakistan. Shahab has shown an exemplary character of being an extremely self-less, honest and dedicated civil servant of his time. As such he earned a lot of respect and confidence with all the presidents of Pakistan. However, he could not pull along with Gen. Yehya. He quited the country and opted for a self-imposed exile at U.K, where he and his family lived in extremely difficult conditions, full of fear, hunger and misery. Shahab was denied his pension and even his GPF was frozen by the then Pakistan Government. During his stay at UK, he lived on a petty honorarium of the UNESCO of which he happened to be member since sixties. His ego and sense of self-respect did not allow him to reveal his miseries to anybody even to his intimate friends.

However, he was recalled by the successors of Yahya Khan and was offered to serve his country as a secretary in the central secretariat. He took his retirement in 1975.


While he was in exile in the UK, Shahab went to Israel-occupied Territory of Palestine on a spying mission sponsored by some Arab-Embassies in the UN. The objective of the mission was to investigate the unlawful changes made by Israel in curriculum of Palestine schools. The documentary evidences provided by Shahab were accepted by the UN in toto, and Israel had to beat a retreat on this front. Israeli Zionists avenged of Shahab by attacking him and his family through black magic, which culminated in the death of his wife, Dr. Iffat Shahab at the age of forty seven.


The post-retirement era of his life till death in 1986 was apparently eventless, but it is this period of his liberation that “Shahab Nama” was born. This is his autobiography, which is certainly a wonderful book that has immortalized Shahab in Urdu literature.

Shahab Nama potrays his life experience. There is joy, pain, lament, laughter, stories and history in this book. Shahab Nama has in it many invaluable lessons for human life. It tells you that every moment needs to be cherished and every relationship savourd. For those who sometimes go swayed by their busy life and neglect the natural and more beautiful things in life, Shahab-Nama would be a wake-up call. Shahab Nama compels the reader to think and to contemplate about what should be important in our lives and to realize those things before it is too late. The words and the insights of the author have a simple clarity, which would for sure live in the hearts of the readers. The book on the whole is a master piece of the Urdu literature, but some chapters deserve a special mention. These are: Masjid-e-Aqsa main Eik Raat, Aur Iffat Mar Gaiey, Tu Abhi toe Rahguzar Mein Hai and of course the last chapter, Chota-Mounh Badee Baat. Shahab by virtue of this book  has become the cult favourite among the Urdu knowing circles of the sub-continent.


As has been abundantly portrayed in his book, Shahab’s personality reflected mysticism. He was basically a sufi, who attributes his mystic experiences to an out-of-world personality whom he calls as ‘Ninety’. Shahab has been influenced a great deal by two Indian Sufis  Bakhtiyar-ud-Din Kaaki and Imadadullah Makki Mahajir. Shahab belongs to the Owaisi chain of Sufism, which, it is said connects a ‘Saalik’ directly to the holy Prophet (SAW). His close disciple Mumtaz Mufti says about Shahab that he believed in the ‘identification with Muhammad’. It means that before undertaking anything to be done, Shahab would think of the beloved Prophet doing the same. Then he would try to follow the foot steps of the Holy Prophet(SAW).

In the very last chapter of Shahab Nama, the author shares some of his spiritual experiences with the reader. In fact, the main quest in his mystic endeavours is to know and comprehend the reality of the soul (Rooh). A series of unusual events that he encountered at the bewitched bungalow of 18 civil lines (Cuttuck) were a milestone in his understanding of Para-Psychology.


Shahab has earned a name and fame as an established short story writer, in the Urdu knowing world, right from his days of studies in the university. Later on, he would often find himself grappling with administrative matters, yet he did not divorce the world of literature. He would describe himself as a part time write ‘Yaa Khuda’, ‘Maan Ji’ and ‘Surukh Feeta’ are considered to be his best short stories. The awesome beauty of his ‘chandrawati’ has received a ludicrous applause and admiration by Urdu writers like Quratul-Ain Hyder.

Iranian astronomy was also assimilated by the Arabs at the time of Harun, the translations being done by Al-Fad1 Ibni Nawbakht (d. 815 A.D.) who was his chief librarian. But Persia seems to have exerted more influence on Arab literature and fine arts than on science and philosophy. Ibni al-Muqaffa (d. 757 A.D.), a Zoroastrian convert to Islam, translated “Kalilah wa Dimnah” (“Fihrist” Pg. 118) from Pehlawi, being itself a translation from its original in Sansikrit. He also wrote a book on ethics and behavior ( “Tahzib-ul-Ikhlaq”) based on Indo- Persian sources. From Arabic “Kalilah wa Dimnah”  was, in course of time, translated into practically all the languages of the civilized world and exerted a deep influence on the literature and imagination of a number of modern nations. For example La Fontaine’s acknowledged it as a source of his famous Fables. The original Sanskrit work in its complete form is stated to be lost.

After Harun-Ur-Rashid’s death when Al-Manum succeded to the Abbasid throne (having defeated his elder brother Al-Amin with the support of Tahir Ibni Al-Husain of Khurasan and his Persian mercenaries) he rebuilt Baghdad and founded his unique Dar-ul-Hikmah where a galaxy of expert translators and original investigators enriched the Arabic language with the choicest products of Hellenic science and philosophy. Foremost among his staff of translators was the Nestorian Hunain Ibni Ishaq (809-73 A.D.), mainly occupied with the translation of Greek works on medicine and philosophy. The scale of remuneration paid to translators in this age of literary supremacy may be gauged from the fact that Hunain and his collaborators when they were in the service of Ibni Shakir received a salary of about 250/- per mensem, and when Hunain was appointed superintendent of Al-Ma`mun’s literary academy he received in gold the weight of the books he translated (“Ibni Abi Usabiyyah”, Vol. 1, Pg. 187). Al-Mutawakkil also extended his patronage to Hunain and made him his private physician and personal friend.

Al-Ma`mun’s zeal for scientific research resulted in the measurement of a degree of terrestrial latitude from astronomical observations conducted on the plain of Sinjar north of the Euphrates and again in the neighbourhood of Palmyra. Dr. George Sarton and Philip al-Khouri Hitti state that the length came out as 56.67 miles, which is really too small. From data supplied in Al-Khazini’s “Mizan-ul-Hikmah”. I obtain this length as roughly equal to 69 miles (assuming the dhira’ to be equal to 1,627 feet nearly, from the footnote to the Arabic text and translation of Al-Birunis’s “Kitab-al Tafhim” by R.Ramsay Wright, Luzac, 1934, page 120), which is extremely close to the actual figure. I am not aware of any later Muslim attempts after Al-Ma`mun’s time to repeat the geodetic survey and am inclined to conclude that Al-Khazin’s figures based evidently on Al-Biruni’s measurements but with a correct estimation of the length of the dhira’. The matter, however, requires further and more careful investigation.

In Al-Mutawakkil’s time (847-61 A.D.) the Sabian mathematician Thabit Ibni Qurrah (836-901 A.D.) and his disciples translated the principal Greek works on geometry and astronomy including the classical treatises of Apollonius of Perga (262 B.C.) and Archimedes (212.B.C.). Latterly Thabit won the personal friendship of Al-Mu’taded who ruled from 892-902 A.D. After Thabit his sons Ibrahim and Sinan, his grandsons Thabit and Ibrahim and great-grandson, Abu al-Faraj (on the authority of Ibn-abi-Usaybi`ah and Qifti) continued the work of translation and compilation, enriching mathematics and astronomy with their original discoveries and observations. Sinan was the first to embrace Islam and died in 943 A.D. His son Ibrahim was born in 908 or 909  A.D.and died at the early age of 37 or 38; but left an immortal name in the annals of mathematics through his quadrature of the parabola, the simplest ever made before the introduction of the integral calculus (G. Sarton’s “Introduction to the History of Science”, Vol. 1, Pg. 624).

In the foremost rank of mathematicians of all times stands Muhammad Ibni Musa Al-Khwarizmi (780-850 A.D.). He composed the oldest works on arithmetic and algebra, now unfortunately lost in the original Arabic. They were the principal source of mathematical knowledge for centuries to come both in the East and the West. The work on arithmetic first introduced the Hindu numerals to Europe, as the very name algorism signifies, and the work on algebra (Hisab Al-Jabr wal-Muqabalah) not only gave the name to this important branch of mathematics in the European world, but contained in addition to the usual analytical solutions of linear and quadratic equations (without of course, the conception of imaginary quantities) graphical solutions of typical quadratic equations. It was revised by Abu Kamil Shuja Ibni Aslam in the first half of the tenth century. Al-Khwarizmi’s “Zij” (consisting of astronomical tables) was also very popular and remained a standard until revised by Maslamah Al-Majriti (of Madrid) in the second half of the tenth century. These tables included values of trigonometrical sine and tangent functions also, as was the fashion among early writers before trigonometry became a definite subject by itself. He prepared also a map of the earth in collaboration with a number of scientists of Al-Mamun’s time for his book “Surat-al-Ard”.

The greatest of Sabian astronomers and one of the most original investigators in Islam, Abu Abdullah Muhammad Ibni Jabir Al-Battani (between 877 A.D. and 918 A.D.) was a Muslim scientist well known to the Latin world as Albategnius. On comparing his own observations with those of Ptolemy he discovered the motion of the sun’s apogee and the arrived at a more correct value for precession of the Equinones (54.5″ per annum) and initiated the use of sines in trigonometrical calculations. It was from a perusal of his dissertation on the apparent motion of the fixed stars that Hevilius discovered the secular variation of the moon.

Before him Abu Al Abbas Muhammad Ibni Kathir Al-Farghani, (Latin Alfraganus, 840 A.D.) adorned the Dar-ul-Hikmah of Al-Ma’mun and took part in the measurements for the degree of terrestrial latitude. His book “Harakat al-Samawiyah wa Jawami illm unl-Nujum”, in which he follows Ptolemy but substitutes more accurate figures based on local observations, enjoyed (in its Latin version known as the “Scientia Stellarum”) great popularity among European scientists of the Middle Ages. Most of Dante’s astronomical data were derived from this book. Al-Farghani built also a nilometer in Fustat for Al-Mutawakkil( Ibni Usaibiyyah, Vol. 1, Pg. 207). Abu Ma’shar (Latin Albumasar) though better known to Europe as an astrologer was the first to explain the tides as influenced by the moon (a fact unfortunately ignored by Kepler as savouring of astrology).

The Arabs were keen students of medicine. Harun-Ur-Rashid was the first caliph to endow a public hospital in Baghdad. The tradition was continued by his successors. Al-Muqtadir appointed Sinan Ibni Thabit Ibni Qurrah to conduct a regular examination of medical practitioners in Baghdad in 931 A.D. and over 800 candidates were thus awarded certificates to practise in their profession. Sinan further instituted travelling hospitals and inspected prisons, administering appropriate treatment to ailing prisoners. As a result of this activity no less than 34 hospitals were founded in the Muslim world in the course of a few years.