Kalbe Sadiq: A Reformer, Educationist and Unifier

He was an institution builder and a man who seriously tried to uplift his community and propagate the message of harmony.

Syed Kalbe Sadiq ibne Allāma Syed Kalbe Husain Kabban was a person who cannot easily be wished away. Born in a family of theologians who once served the Nawabs of Awadh, Kalbe Sadiq was an educationist and a reformer to the core. After his basic and traditional education, he came to Aligarh Muslim University from where he earned his PhD in English. He was probably one of the last of the well-read and knowledgeable orators and widely accepted faith leaders of the Indian Shias. He, unlike many, was an institution builder and a man who seriously tried to uplift his community from ignorance and internecine clashes.

Hailing from one of the most prominent families of theologians, he along and his elder brother, the late Allāma Syed Kalbe Abid Sāhib, dominated scholarly studies of Indian Shias for the past six decades. Kalbe Abid Sāhib too had distinguished himself as an erudite spokesman of the community who stood for the unity of the Shias and Sunnis, especially the two warring groups in Lucknow. I remember that when he died from a yet to be explained accident, a throng of humanity descended to bid him farewell. No other religious leader inspired the coming together of Shias, Sunnis and even Hindus in that fashion.

Kalbe Sadiq took up the mantle from his late brother and stood for intra-communal relations between Shia-Sunnis and the Muslim-Hindu communities. He also sought gender equality and even at a time when most community leaders were opposing the banning of triple talaq, he stood for the long due reform and declared it un-Islamic. He is also known for fighting for the rights of Muslim women to pray in mosques as is the case in some other countries. Women’s education was also on his reformist agenda.

Like a true scion of a noble family of shurafa i Lucknow, he was seeped in adab, waza’dāri, murawwat and ihsān. He would help without making any proclamations about it or proclaiming it from the rooftops. I personally know many young boys and girls who could be educated only due to his timely monetary help. He would never publicise his good deeds. His Tauhid ul Muslemeen Trust educated many economically weak students.

He and his trust did what many other similar, prominently placed Shia leaders failed to do. He established educational institutions and even a well endowed medical college. The Era Medical College of Lucknow was established due to his endeavours. He opened a number of top-quality educational institutions. In fact, at a time when his contemporaries were talking of the need to open religious institutions and madrasas, he was founding modern English medium schools imparting scientific education. A case in point is the MU College which he founded at Aligarh. Quite interestingly, the teachers recruited at this institution belong to various religious denominations and were not confined to his own creed.

His role in interfaith dialogue too has been quite spectacular and unique. To him, the Shias, the Sunnis and the Hindus were all part of a singular humanity, all nurtured equally by God, the sustainer.

In his majālis (religious oratory), he emphasised a topic which was seldom taken up by others, but which was the need of the time: science and contributions of Muslims towards the growth of scientific temper. Majlis after majlis, wherever he was invited this became his topic. Another theme which he would invoke was that there was no social stratification in Islam, only piety counts, not the fact that you were a Syed. This coming from a Theologian of Lucknow was in fact very revolutionary. I remember many becoming very critical of him when he would rub it.

It was during the 1970s that he was at Aligarh. During that period, he regularly visited my father. We used to live near a hall of residence for AMU students which was known as MM Hall. And every Thursday night, my father used to hold a gathering where Hadīs i Kisa was recited and a small majlis was held, after which istikāni chai would be distributed. Kalbe Sadiq was a regular participant. Soon he also started leading maghribain prayers at the MM Hall mosque situated behind our mosque. It was probably the first Shia jamaat prayers at Aligarh those days, founded by my father and handed over to him.

His connections with us and Aligarh continued even after his elder brother was invited to head the department of Shia theology at AMU. Till the very end, he was associated with AMU in various capacities. He was part of the various interfaith dialogue initiatives of the Centre for Interfaith Studies, AMU.

He was a man whom you could never ignore: he never started wearing the turban that symbolic of scholars. Until the end, he also took pride in taking the help of science and his predictions based on that would always prove correct as far as sightings of the moon were concerned.

Syed Ali Nadeem Rezavi is a former coordinator and chairman of the Department of History, AMU, Aligarh. He is president of the Aligarh Society of History and Archaeology.