Syed Kifayat Ali Kafi: Moulana, Poet, Patriot

Syed Kifayat Ali Kafi: Moulana, Poet, Patriot


India’s struggle for freedom involved people of every hue. Despite the British divisive policy, people from all sections of society contributed to it. There could be a difference only in the means adopted. Religion, caste, creed, colour barriers did not hinder people’s participation in the movement for independence. However, only a few historians have done justice to this diversity, while others have framed Indian history in a way that we see only a particular community’s contribution. Others have been ignored as if they were British collaborators.
In present times as well, history is being distorted in the fashion that heroes are presented as villains and vice-versa. In this situation, the Muslims – who constitute the second-largest population of India, are primary victims. Acknowledging their sacrifices is another question; they are yet to be recognised as citizens. Let alone appreciating their role in the freedom struggle, they are looked down upon and are often labelled as traitors by the majority. However, historical facts tell us a different story.
A good number of Muslim freedom fighters played a key role in the freedom struggle and gave their blood to it. Even Islamic scholars actively took part. Among them, one of the eminent names is Molana Syed Kifayatullah Kafi Shaheed. Kafi was born in Moradabad (U.P.) and was an erudite Islamic scholar, a Sufi, and a great poet. But he relinquished comforts and came out to fight against oppression. It appears that the bravery of Kafi impressed Iqbal to such a degree that he attempted to promote his ideas and said:

Nikal kar khankahon se ada kar
Ke faqr-e-khanqahi hai faqat
(‘Come out of the monastery and play the role of Shabbir; for monastery’s faqr (poverty) is but grief and affliction).
During the revolt of 1857, when Britishers inflicted atrocities upon atrocities on the people and passed all boundaries of savagery, ‘Kafi’ could not maintain his silence and issued a decree of ‘Jihad’ against the Britishers. Through his edict, he aroused people from slumber and inspired them to take a bold position against Britishers. He was quite aware of the consequences of writing the fatwa, yet he did not desist. Britishers had already written chapters of gore. Before him, some scholars had met gruesome fate for speaking out. Muslim resistance leaders would be subjected to a different kind of treatment. Britishers would wrap them in a pork rind and then set them ablaze. But this brutality could not extinguish the courage of ‘Kafi’ to speak against colonialism and to issue a ruling against the English – an action that cost him his life. Soon after he issued the injunction, ‘Kafi’ was convicted on grounds of instigating people and was sentenced to death. All proceedings were completed within two days. The case was filed on 4th May 1858, the judgment was announced on 6th May, and ‘Kafi’ was publicly hanged on the same day.
As an accomplished scholar and a brilliant poet, he set some other examples particularly of the Prophet’s (SAW) love.
Kafi’s love for the Prophet (SAW) was deep-seated, which he demonstrated while ‘embracing’ death. History is witness that a moment before the noose was adjusted around his neck, he recited the following historic couplets:

Koie gul baqi raheyga na chaman reh jaayega
Par Rasullah ka deen’e hassan reh Jaayega
(No flower will be existent nor will any garden remain; But the beautiful religion of Muhammad will forever remain)

Naam’ e shahanay jahaan mit jayeingay
laikin yehaan
Hashr tak naam’o nishaanay panjtan
reh jaayega
(The names of worldly kings will be erased yet till the day of resurrection; the name and mark of five-blessed people [Muhammad, Fatima, Ali, Hassan, Hussain] will remain).
From the above poetic verses, one can easily gauge Kafi’s poetic ability and his vision. The brightest star in the galaxy of Indian Islamic poets — Ahmad Raza Khan – commended Kafi’s poetry. He said, ‘I only listen to the poetry of two poets –my brother Hassan Raza Khan and Molana Kafi’. Furthermore, he described him as Sultan of Naatiya poets and said:

Mehka hai merey boo’ey dehan say aalam
Yaan nagma’e shireen naie talkhi say baham
Kafi’ sultaan’e Naat goyaan hai Raza
Insha Allah, mein wazir’e aezam
(The world smells sweet because of the fragrance of my mouth; Here, the sweet songs do not mingle with the bitter ones; Kafi’ is the King of naatiya poets; Allah willing, I will be the prime minister).
Kafi was a prolific writer and produced several good texts. Tarjumah Shumail Tirmidhi (translation of Book of Hadith into poetry) is considered his magnum opus. Other books include Majmua-Chehil Hadith (compilation of 40 Hadith and their poetic translation), Bahar’e Khuld, etc.
‘Kafi’ had the privilege of being the student of Shah Abu Saeed Mujadidi Rampuri, the illustrious scholar and pupil of Shah Abdul Aziz Muhadis Dehalvi. He also knew Ilm’e’Tib (Knowledge of Medicine) and received guidance from Hakeem Sher Ali Qadri in this arena.
No plausible information about his date of birth is available; however, it is beyond doubt that he was martyred on 6 May 1558 (22 Ramazan 1274). He was given capital punishment in the jail of Moradabad and was buried nearby in the dead of night.

‘Khuda Rehmat Kunad Een Aashiqaan’e Pak Teenat Ra’
(May Allah’s blessings shower on his lovers with a noble soul).

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