“Gone is the theologian – gone is the universe” – what do we know about Shigabutdin Marjani?

19 January


“Don’t hurt your children. Don’t hit them, especially on the head. I have experienced the bitterness of orphanhood…” Shigabutdin Marjani.


His works are the quintessence of Tatar religious and philosophical thought that determined the way it developed in the second half of the XIX century. He has been called a giant of thought, and Akmulla, an enlightener of the Kazakh, Bashkir and Tatar peoples, devoted a poem to the well-known Tatar theologian. He called Shigabutdin Marjani the “Polar Star” that illuminates the path to spiritual freedom. We invite you to study the main periods of the theologian’s life, learn interesting facts and read what prominent scholars and his followers said about him, as well as what he himself thought of the Tatar elite.


“I was born at night, on Thursday, January 15 in 1818. According to other sources, I was born on January 5, after sunset, - in the village of Yabynchi. On Friday, December 10 1821, [my] noble father moved to the village of Tashkichu to work as Imam. On August 16 1823, mother went for the mercy of the True One [died], which made us grieve very much”.


Marjani’s paternal and maternal ancestors belonged to the famous Imams Muddaris. He learnt the first knowledge of history, philosophy, the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet, as well as the Arabic and Persian languages from them. His father also taught him logic and kalam. Marjani’s maternal grandfather taught him the Quran, sunnah, fiqh and madhhabs.


He received his primary education in a madrasah in the village of Tashkichu, and then he continued his education in Bukhara and Samarkand. He came to Uzbekistan in 1838 and found in the madrasah mindless memorization of the Quran, religious texts and lack of secular subjects. In 1843 the enlightener went to Samarkand, where he studied in “Shirdar” madrasah. There he got acquainted with Qadi Abu Sayyid as-Samaqandi, a historian, who became the reason for Marjani’s great passion for history. In 1845 he returned to Bukhara and found himself in Mir-i-Arab madrasah.


The theologian came back home only 11 years later – in1849, taking examinations in Kazan and Ufa.


On April 20, 1850 he was appointed as Imam-Muddaris I of the Kazan mosque in accordance with the decree of the Orenburg Spiritual Board of Muslims. In 1867, Marjani was appointed as the akhoond and muhtasib of Kazan by the Orenburg Muslim Spiritual Assembly.


Throughout his life, Marjani had read a lot of books, preferring primary sources and works written in the original.


As Provost of the Bulgarian Islamic Academy Said Hazrat Shagaviev noted in his research work, Marjani listed 28 published and handwritten works in his autobiography, noting that there were also sermons and letters composed by him. “Rizaeddin Fakhretdinov mentioned only 11 published and 3 handwritten works by Marjani (those that were known to him) in his “Asar”. In the collection “Marjani”, Galimjan Barudi listed already 27 works”, Shagaviev noted.


It is worth noting that almost all works of Shigabutdin Marjani are written in Arabic, which significantly complicates their study for our contemporaries. In the case of theology, about half of his works are dedicated to theological subjects, while the rest raise issues of history, literature and the language. The Tatar enlightener’s theological studies are divided into 4 parts: doctrine, fiqh and its principles, Quranic sciences, morals and sermons.


As a humanist, he placed at the center the unquenchable desire to help people, common laborers. That is how he defined the purpose of all science. His contemporaries described the scholar as a fair, impartial and very principled person, who throughout his life, regardless of the circumstances around him or his cruel trials, remained true to his way.


Top 10 facts about Shigabutdin Marjani


1) His full name is Shihab al-Din Abu’l-Hasan Harun ibn Baha’ al-Din ibn Subhan ibn ‘Abd al-Karim ibn ‘Abd al-Tawwab ibn ‘Abd al-Gani ibn ‘Abd al-Quddus ibn Yadash ibn Yadkar ibn ‘Umar al-Kazani al-Marjani al-Bulgari.
2) The only reason why Marjani was not appointed as mufti in his time was that he did not know Russian.
3) Marjani defended the ethnonym “Tatars” and sought to establish historical continuity between the Volga Bulgars and the Volga-Ural Tatars through the Kazan Khanate and the Golden Horde. 
4) The future great enlightener of the Tatar people wrote his first book, belonging to the so-called Gilmi Khal genre (catechisms on the basics of faith and worship), at the age of 12. It was for students of an elementary madrassa and ordinary Muslims.
5) He was a disciple of three Naqshbandi Sufi Sheikhs: ‘Ubaydullah ibn Niyazkuli (d. in 1852), ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Faruqi al-Hindi (Sahibzade) (d. in 1855), Mazhar (Muzkhir) ibn Ahmad al-Hindi (d. in 1883).
6) Marjani was not just a disciple of the Sheikh. He gained ijazat from Sheikh Sahibzade, which is the right to be a murshid - a spiritual teacher.
7) Marjani was deprived of his position as imam, being accused of beginning his fasting one day early.
8) His lack of knowledge of the Russian language did not prevent Marjani from communicating with Russian scholars. Russian and foreign colleagues looked for an excuse to meet him.
9) Shigabutdin Hazrat is buried in the Tatar cemetery. On the tombstone, along with other words of farewell, are engraved the words “Gone is the theologian – gone is the universe”.
10) At the age of 17, Shigabutdin began teaching career in his father’s madrasah and compiled his own textbook of Persian morphology.


“Gone is the theologian – gone is the universe…”: prominent people about Marjani


“Shihabutdin Hazrat was an open-minded person of strong constitution, pleasant in conversation, personable. He was also an expert in Muslim sciences, human history and written legacy. He knew by heart a lot of Arabic verses and some excerpts from famous works, such as “Kashshaf”, “Baydawi”, “Madarik” and “Ikhya”. His doctrine of service to his people implied criticism of some Muslim writings. 


The hardships and persecutions to which people following such a path are exposed are well- known, and this person, experiencing the blows of the fate of his time, endured them with fortitude. Deep thought and a steadfast pen constituted the glory of his personality and enabled him to be a hero to the end [of his life]. He will always be a role model for our respected friends and compatriots who want to serve their people and faith” Rizaeddin Fakhretdin.


“To know the role and value of Shigabutdin is honour for us, not for him”, Ismail bey Gasprinsky.


“Our new Tatar literature was not familiar with the West, and the Eastern world was in many ways known to it only by the negative, backward side of life. Our literature of this time, beginning with Sheikh Marjani, to our great joy, started to acquaint us with the wonderful, worthy of attention and imitation achievements of the culture of the East”, Fatih Amirkhan.


“There were no scientific books about Bolgar before the appearance of “Mustafad al-akhbar” …In his book he collected a lot of information about the history of Kazan. Despite the fact it is not perfect, there is no other book worthy of attention”, historian G. Akhmerov.


“Mustafad al-akhbar” was a timely warning for Tatars who had forgotten their own history and who had lost their interest in the past of their people… Future historians will not pay their attention to the compositional errors of “Mustafad al-akhbar” and will not notice its complicated language. They will be surprised by the fact that from the people, whose creative powers were at that time so limited and suppressed, there emerged a man who, not believing words and stories, in search of truth mounted a horse and went to different Mari villages and extracted material from the old Mari, and went to different places to dig gravestones”, G. Ibragimov.


“A champion of freedom of thought, knowledge and progress, who made the first step towards enlightenment” Gabdulla Tuqay.


“Once during a meeting, Hazrat asked me to read the Quran aloud. After that he gave me 3 rubles and tea as a token of his gratitude” Gabdulla Karyi Taugilde.


“I did not remember what Hazrat was talking about but his appearance, similar to oriental sages and his tall figure are imprinted in my memory. I also remember the white felt on the floor of the two-storey house. I remember that I wished that I had such a floor made of white felt” Yusuf Akchura.


“When I studied, I stayed at my relative Gabdulwali, Khalilullah’s son, a well-known master of hat making. The latter was fond of Hazrat Marjani. Therefore, the theologian was a frequent guest in the house of my relative and did not hesitate to talk and discuss matters of religion with the host for a long time with great pleasure. I was personally impressed by everything in Marjani, beginning with his large figure, remarkable appearance, beauty and charm, splendid clothes and their immaculate purity and freshness, to the diversity of his knowledge and intelligence, as well as excellent harness and carriage pulled by a pair of saddle-necked racehorses. For the reason of my youth I could not yet quite soberly estimate all depth of his views and ideas” Hasan-Gata Gabyashi.


“Marjani Hazrat was a very religious person and therefore he tried to perform all his affairs on the basis of the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), and for this reason he did not understand those people who were indifferent to religion. He was also a guardian of nation and did not like to mix words of different languages in one speech. In these two qualities he displayed a very great fanaticism” Abdurrahman Hazrat Gomari.


Ilmira Gafiyatullina