Prophecies of Shah Ni’matullah Wali -C.M Naim
Three “prophetic” Persian poems ascribed to a Shah Ni’matullah Wali have been a fascinating feature in the popular political discourse of the Muslims of South Asia. For nearly two centuries these poems have circulated whenever there has been a major crisis in, what may be called, the psychic world of South Asian Muslims. The first recorded appearance was in 1850, after the “Jihad”
movement of Syed Ahmad had failed in the north-west, followed by serial appearances after the debacle of 1857, the dissolution of the Ottoman Caliphate and the failure of the Khilafat and Hijrat movements in 1924, the Partition of the country and community in 1947, and the Indo-Pak war of 1971-72. Curiously, these poems have re-emerged in Pakistan in 2010, and have found wider circulation on the internet.
I was intrigued, since I had not seen any reference to the poems for almost three decades. Two weeks later, a friend asked me to check out a Pakistani media phenomenon named Zaid Hamid. As I skipped from one YouTube snippet to another, I was startled to discover how avidly interested Hamid was in
Shah Ni’matullah Wali: he had republished the “prophecies”, and also made video commentaries on them. A few weeks later, one more reference to the “prophecies” appeared in a column by Harun-ur-Rashid, a senior columnist in Jang, the most popular Urdu newspaper in Pakistan.
Evidently the Ni’matullahi poems had re-emerged in the political discourse of the Muslims of South Asia, a clear indication to me that all was not right in their psychic world. I was in India in 1971-72 when East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Following the developments in Indian Urdu newspapers, I was struck by their highly charged tone. Back in Chicago, I read the coverage of the same events in the Urdu press in Pakistan. The result was an article, “Muslim Press in India and the Bangladesh Crisis”. Working on it several things surprised me. One was the frequent invocation of the Ni’matullahi “prophecies”, and their simultaneous, though independent, publication within a week of the ceasefire in both India and Pakistan. Clearly, they had a hold on the minds of the Urdu-speaking Muslims of south Asia. I started collecting different texts of the poems, hoping someday to write about them. Little did I know then that less than 40 years later, the poems will not only be quoted again in print but also explicated on TV, and then zipped around the world through the internet, thanks to a self-described “security consultant” and “former mujahid” named Zaid Hamid, who has seemingly won the hearts and minds of a great many affluent youth in Pakistan.
At the heart of what follows are three Persian poems in the qasidah form, i.e. they observe the rhyme scheme, aa ba ca da ea, while varying in metre and length. The first poem – henceforward Q1 – contains as its radif (recurring rhyme) the word, mibinam (“I see”). The second – henceforward Q2 – employs the phrase paida shawad (“Is born; Comes to be”) as its radif. The third – henceforward Q3 – does not have a radif, and its endrhymes are assorted words that end in two recurring syllables: “-ana”. All three poems are generally ascribed to a single poet named Shah Ni’matullah Wali. Over the years, however, two separate poets with the same name have been posited: one in the 15th century, who wrote Q1, and another, of disputed time and place, who composed Q2 and Q3.
The poem is now universally accepted as composed by a Sufi master who was born Syed Nuruddin but is known to posterity as Shah Ni’matullah Wali of Kirman (Iran)
The opening verse of Q1 reads: qudrat-i-kirdigar mibinam// halat-i-rozgar mibinam (“I see the Creator’s powers; I see how Time fares”). The poem is now universally accepted as composed by a Sufi master who was born Syed Nuruddin but is known to posterity as Shah Ni’matullah Wali of Kirman (Iran). Several reliable manuscripts of his poems include Q1, and its “visionary” tone is in harmony with portions of his other poems. Born in Syria, the Shah traveled widely, and was said to be more than 100 years old when he died at Mahan, near Kirman, in April 1431. His fame having spread to south India, the Bahmani monarchs invited him, but the Shah, instead, sent one of his grandsons. Later, the Shah’s only son also came to Bidar, where the family’s tombs are still much venerated.
In 1888, the eminent Persianist Edward G Browne visited the Shah’s tomb, where he obtained a text of Q1 from the attendants, copied from the “oldest” manuscript they possessed. Published with a translation in Browne’s History, it consists of 50 couplets.
The versions now found in Iranian, Indian and Pakistani publications commonly have a few more. The Indian monthly, Shabistan, published 57 verses in 1972, while the version published in Pakistan by Qamar Islampuri had 55.
A recent Iranian booklet on the Shah’s “forecasts” again has 57 couplets.
The serial order of the verses also frequently varies. One also often finds changes in one particular verse, where a few letters are changed in order to deduce different dates according to the Abjad system.
A short excerpt from the beginning and another from near the end, as translated by Browne, should indicate the tenor of the poem as a whole:
I see the Power of the Maker; I see the state of the time.
The state of this year is of another sort; not like last year and the year before do I see it.
These words I speak not from the stars; rather I see them from the Creator.
When ‘ayn, r? and d?l (= 274) have passed of the years I see wonderful doings.
In Khurasan, Egypt, Syria and ‘Iraq I see sedition and strife.
When the fifth winter has passed I see in the sixth a pleasant spring.
The vicar of the Mahdi will appear, yea, I see him plainly.
I see a king perfect in knowledge; I see a leader endowed with dignity.
I see the servants of His High Majesty all wearing crowns.
For 40 years, O my brother, I see the cycle of that Prince continue
All versions of Q1 contain only one explicit reference to India. It comes in the middle: hal-i-hindu kharab miyabam// jaur-i-turk-o-tatar mibinam (“I find the Hindus in dire straits; I witness the tyranny of the Turks and the Tatars”). That may explain why, after a big start, Q1 eventually became secondary to Q2 and Q3.
“I find the Hindus in dire straits; I witness the tyranny of the Turks and the Tatars”
The opening line of Q2 is always: rast guyam badshahe dar jahan paida shawad (“Verily, I tell you, a king shall come into this world”). The second line varies, but mostly it reads: nam timure buwad sahib-qiran paida shawad (“His name will be Timur, the Lord of Auspicious Stars shall be born”). After prophesying the appearance of Timerlane (1335-1405), Q2 lists his “Mughal” descendents in India until the time the British take over. The latter, Q2 declares, would rule for a century before being devastated by a king from Ghazni. The new Muslim rule would last for 40 years. Then Dajjal, the Anti-Christ, would emerge in Isfahan, followed soon after by the promised Mahdi – a righteous guide – who would wage war against him. Next would come Jesus, and destroy the forces of the Anti-Christ, followed immediately by the day of god’s final judgment.
The pressure of chronology in Q2 does not allow for much variation in verse order; however, there are plentiful variations within individual couplets, particularly in words that imply dates. For example, in one version a verse implies that the poem was written in 570 AH (1174-5 AD), but in several other versions the same verse, slightly modified, implies 770 AH (1368-9 AD). Similarly, in some versions the prophesied date for the appearance of the Mahdi is 1380 AH (1960-1 AD), but elsewhere it is 1680 AH (ca
2152 AD). In length, one version of Q2 runs to only 28 verses, while another has 40; most versions, however, run to 35 or 36 verses.
Here, in loose translation, are some excerpts from Q2:
I speak the truth: a king shall come into this world. Born in an auspicious conjunction, his name will be Timur Shah.
After him will come Miran Shah – successor to the one who was born in an auspicious conjunction.
Nadir will come from Iran to grab the Indian throne; his sword will launch a massacre in Delhi.
After him comes Ahmad Shah, a mighty king, to establish his authority over India.
And when he journeys to the eternal world, dissension will become rife in his family.
The Sikhs will tyrannise the Muslims; oppression and falsehood will prevail for forty years.
Then the Nazarenes shall take hold of all of Hindustan, their rule lasting a century.
But when oppression and falsehood become prevalent a mighty king shall come from Ghazni to destroy them.
These remarks are made in 570; the Mahdi will be born in 1380.
Ni’matullah knows the secrets of the Unknown; his words will doubtless come true.