Qadhi Nurullah's enemies finally got a chance upon the demise of Akbar. His son Jehangir had ascended to the throne, and they began spreading lies and rumors about him. Jehangir was more receptive towards their plots, but he asked for more proof. Eventually, the enemies were able to lay their hands on Qadhi Nurullah's book Ahqaq al-Haq, in which he greatly elucidated on Shia beliefs.
Although estimates vary, South Asia has the highest population of Shia Muslims in the world today. Yet only a few centuries ago, the followers of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) were severely marginalized and persecuted by oppressive regimes in the area. Surprisingly, that all changed within a period of a hundred years. The man who was responsible for much of this change was Qadhi Nurullah Shustari.
He was born Nurullah ibn Muhammad Sharif al-Hussain in 956 AH in Shustar, part of Khuzestan province of Iran. After acquiring initial education under his father and uncle, he eventually migrated to study at the seminary in Mash'had, where he was a contemporary of Shaikh Bahai.
In South Asia, the Mughal dynasty had extended its control over much of the area. Unfortunately, the Mughal emperors had surrounded themselves with corrupt and greedy clerics who did not know too much about religion. They had also manipulated the Mughals into persecuting the Shia population of South Asia, which had arrived there several generations ago in order to flee persecution by the Omayyads and the Abbasids. In the court of the Mughal emperor Akbar was a Shia vizier practicing dissimulation. He wrote to Qadhi Nurullah, asking him to come to the subcontinent so he could provide true religious guidance to both the king and the masses. Qadhi Nurullah agreed.
When he arrived in Delhi, the general population was still quite intolerant, and as such, Qadhi Nurullah did not disclose that he was a Shia. Akbar was quite impressed by his knowledge and wisdom, and he offered him the position of chief magistrate of the empire, which he accepted. However, he declared that instead of using one particular branch of jurisprudence, he would issue his decisions based on any one of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence. That way, could give verdicts in line with Shia jurisprudence, but given his extensive knowledge of other schools, he was always able to find shelter behind one of the other schools of jurisprudence which agreed with his verdict.
In addition to his role as chief justice, Qadhi Nurullah also established a seminary, where he began training Shia scholars and jurists. He wrote several dozen books, including Ahqaq al-Haq, Majalis al-Momineen, and Sharh Tajreej. He also authored several significant works on geometry, astronomy, poetry, and philosophy.
Soon enough, the word about Qadhi Nurullah's Shia faith spread to the Sunni clerics of the time, who began plotting against him. They tried to turn Akbar against him, but the latter refused to budge. Meanwhile, Qadhi Nurullah's students began travelling all over South Asia, correcting many popular misconceptions regarding Shias among the masses and inviting Muslims and Hindus alike towards the path of the Ahlul Bayt. Through their efforts, Shi'ism took root in areas like Hyderabad, Mysore, and Lucknow.
Qadhi Nurullah's enemies finally got a chance upon the demise of Akbar. His son Jehangir had ascended to the throne, and they began spreading lies and rumors about him. Jehangir was more receptive towards their plots, but he asked for more proof. Eventually, the enemies were able to lay their hands on Qadhi Nurullah's book Ahqaq al-Haq, in which he greatly elucidated on Shia beliefs. It was shown to several leading Sunni clerics of the time, who immediately signed their names on an edict declaring him a heretic and an apostate.
On 26 Rabi al-Awwal, 1019 AH, Qadhi Nurullah was brought before Emperor Jehangir, and the charges were laid out against him. He proudly acknowledged that everything they accused him of was true, and a death sentence was pronounced against him. His body was thrown in a garbage dump in Agra, where it was found several days later by some pious believers, who gave him a proper burial.
Although his enemies succeeded in eliminating him, they failed to counter Qadhi Nurullah's influence. His martyrdom gave new blood to the Shia movement in South Asia. Thanks to the network of students and preachers he had set up, the Shia population of South Asia began growing rapidly. Only a few generations later, several Shia kingdoms had emerged throughout the subcontinent. Today his resting place in Agra is a revered pilgrimage site for Shias, Sunnis, Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs alike.
EDITOR'S NOTE: These articles are adaptations of lectures delivered by Maulana Sadiq Hasan in Karachi, Pakistan, during the 1980s on the lives of the great scholars of Islam. The Urdu lectures can be accessed at Hussainiat.com. For previous articles in this series, please look under the History section.