Justice Sir Shah Mohammad Sulaiman

(Residential Halls of Aligarh Muslim University Series/ Blog 2)

Sulaiman Hall is one of the oldest Halls of resident of Aligarh Muslim University comprising of seven hostels – Kashmir House, Bhopal House, Agha Khan Hostel, Qidwai Hostel, Hasrat Mohani Hostel, Jai Kishan Das Hostel and Mahmoodabad House. It is named after Sir Shah Sulaiman, Eminent Judge and twice Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University. The hall was established in 1945 during the Vice Chancellorship of Sir Dr. Ziauddin (amu.ac.in).

Shah Muhammad Sulaiman was born on February 3, 1886 at Jaunpur. His father, Maulvi Mohammad Usman, was a member of Bar at Jaunpur. He was good at studies and got first division in Matriculation examination followed by a first division at Intermediate examination from Muir College. In 1906, he completed his B.A. from Allahabad University where he stood first. Later he did B.Sc. and stood first. The first position earned him the United Province State Scholarship to study at Cambridge. He completed Tripos in Mathematics from Cambridge in 1909. Simultaneously he completed his Tripos in Law in 1910. Later he qualified for Doctor of Law from University of Dublin. He was called to the Bar from the Middle Temple but Shah Sulaiman decided to return and came back to India in 1911 (Pathak, S., n.d.).

Initially he practiced law at Jaunpur but soon moved to Allahabad High Court to practice law. Allahabad High Court at that time had brilliant lawyers such as Pandit Motilal Nehru, Pandit Sunder Lal, Tej Bahadur Sapru, B.E. O’Conor etc. Shah Sulaiman found fertile ground at Allahabad High Court to express his intellect and very soon made a name for himself in the august company of lawyers practicing there (Pathak, S., n.d.). Starting as Criminal Lawyer, he soon started taking civil cases, and very soon his incisive observations started turning heads. His reputation started to grow and he caught the attention of Chief Justices such as Sir Henry Richards and Sir Grimwood Mears. He was soon offered officiating assignment on the bench. He again moved back to practice but his talent made sure that very soon he was elevated to the Bench as Puisne Judge in 1923. The occasion was recorded by Allahabad Law Journal Reporter in the following words ‘Dr. Sulaiman’s career in the High Court has been one of uniform brilliance and it must be a great sacrifice on his part to accept the Judgeship of the High Court. In doing so, he has upheld the best traditions of the Bar which require that a successful advocate is bound, in point of moral obligation to the State, to serve on the Bench when called upon by His Majesty the King to do so. As an officiating Judge, on two occasions, he made himself universally popular among all sections of the Bar by his courtesy, patience, and evident desire to do justice‘ (Pathak, S., n.d.).

As a Judge he came into his own and very soon made a name for himself. As Sir Tej Sapru would recollect that “Nature had endowed him with gifts of an extraordinary character. Possessed of a penetrative intellect, a mind which could dissect and analyse things as very few other minds could, a power of expression and exposition, he did not take much time on the Bench before he made everyone feel that we had got a Judge of unusual ability and unusual gifts. . . He earned the respect of everyone for his depth of learning, for his sweep of mind and for the promptness of his decisions.”

In 1929 he was knighted by the King-Emperor while he was Puisne Judge at Allahabad. The same year, C. V. Raman was also knighted for his contribution to Physics (The London Gazette, 1929). He acted as Chief Justice in the absence of Sir Grimwood Mears, and thereafter served as a member of the Peshawar Enquiry Committee constituted for enquiring into the riots in Peshawar in 1930.

Upon the retirement of Sir Grimwood Mears as Chief Justice, Sir Shah Sulaiman was appointed as Chief Justice on March 16, 1932. With a reputation whose brilliance was already acknowledged throughout India, it was no surprise when in May, 1937, it was announced that Sir Shah Sulaiman had been appointed a Judge of the Federal Court of India, there was rejoicing everywhere. The new Court was constituted under the Government of India Act, 1935 and for the first time under British rule a focal point was created within the country to which important and grave questions of law proceeded from the High Courts and which, moreover, was vested with original jurisdiction in matters of constitutional importance in disputes between the Central Government and a Province or between one Province and another. When the news of his appointment was announced, there was great rejoicing at Allahabad High Court, and in a reference before a Full Court shortly after the announcement tributes were paid and congratulations showered upon him. When the time approached for him to leave for Delhi, there was a fond but sad farewell. Sir Shah Sulaiman assumed office as Judge of the Federal Court on October 1, 1937. The oath of allegiance was administered by the then Viceroy (Gadbois, G.H.Jr., n.d.).

At the Federal Court of India, Sir Shah Sulaiman immediately showed his brilliance which further enhanced his reputation. The opinion which he delivered in his first case at Federal Court has been described by eminent British lawyer, J. H. Morgan, K. C. in the following words “Now I have just been reading the judgments of the Federal Court at Delhi in that important case. One of those judgments stands out conspicuous and pre-eminent and may well prove to be locus classicus of the law on the subject. It is a judgment worthy of the highest traditions of the House of Lords as an Appellate Tribunal and of the Privy Council itself. I refer to the brilliant judgment of Mr. Justice Sulaiman. In depth of thought, in breadth of view, in its powers alike of analysis and of synthesis, in grace of style and felicity of expression it is one of the most masterly judgments that I have ever had the good fortune to read. Everyone in India interested in future development of the Constitution should study it.”

Similarly, his ruling in what was known as the Communist Conspiracy case in 1933 needs to be read today for certain important lessons. Sir Shah Sulaiman had categorically asserted that, severe punishment on account of political offences or beliefs, defeats the very objective. Today, even calling yourself a ‘comrade’ or reading and referring to Lenin is an offence that can put you behind bars – and even deny you bail.

Besides, his command of law, the other areas of interest were Urdu, Persian, Mathematics and Physics. Interest in Mathematics came to him from his family. One of the most distinguished ancestor of Sir Shah Suliman was Mulla Mahmoud Jaunpuri. Mulla Mahmoud Jaunpuri is the author of highly acclaimed 17th century book on mathematics and astronomy ‘Shams e Bazigha” written in Arabic language (Habib, Irfan, S., 2020). He had a refined taste of Urdu and Persian and wrote a tabsera (Critical note or comment) on Shauq Lucknowi’s Doosra Rukh in Masnawi Alam e Khayal (Sulaiman, S., 1913). He was an ardent admirer of classical Masters of Urdu Poetry Mohammad Ibrahim Zauq who wrote under the nom de plume of ‘Zauq’ and Meer Taqi Meer who wrote under the nom de plume of ‘Meer’. Sir Shah edited and published the poetry of Zauq. He also edited and published the poetry of Meer Taqi Meer by the name of “Intekhab e Masnawiyat e Meer”. He himself wrote the introduction to “Intekhab e Masnawiyat e Meer”. The introduction shows his grasp and mastery over Urdu and Urdu Poetry (Ahmad, A., 1986).

Despite his busy schedule at Allahabad High Court, he always found time for Mathematics and Physics. During his stay at Allahabad, one of his friends was eminent physicist Meghanand Saha who was at Allahabad University at that time. It was during this period that Albert Einstein proposed the Theory of Relativity which settled some unanswered questions from Sir Isaac Newtons time related to gravity. Sir Shah did not completely agree with Einstein and developed his own theory which while departing from Newtons theory also showed calculations to explain the divergence noticed upon application of Einstein’s theory. Sir Shah Sulaiman’s theory with its Mathematical calculations was published in Science and Culture which was published by Meghanand Saha (Habib, S, I., 2020). The theory developed by Sir Shah Sulaiman received widespread recognition in the scientific world including from famous physicists at Harvard University (Pathak, S., n.d.). Even today, his mathematical calculations are available at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Harvard University Websites.

He was always involved with matters of education. He was a member of the Court of the Aligarh University and of the Allahabad for many years. He was a regular participant in the Executive Council of Allahabad University. In 1928, he presided over the All India Mohammedan Educational Conference at Ajmer. He also presided over the All India Adult Educational Conference at Delhi. Sir Shah Sulaiman was also the President of the Anglo-Arabic College of Delhi for a number of years.

However, his biggest contribution to education was at Aligarh Muslim University. Sir Shah Sulaiman acted as Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University at various occasions (Pathak, S., n.d.). He became Honorary Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University in 1929 (amu.ac.in). He was asked to become Honorary Vice Chancellor after the Chancellor of the University asked the then Vice Chancellor, Nawab Muzammilullah Khan, to resign (Naveed, M.). It was to pave the way to implement the recommendations of the Rahimatoola Committee. He was given the Honorary post as a compromise candidate in which Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah was also involved (Masood, N). His knowledge of the law helped the University immensely as he was instrumental in getting relevant Statutes and Ordinances framed for the University. He initiated and effected reorganization of various academic and administrative aspects of the University (Pathak, S., n.d.). At that time he was Judge at The Federal Court of India at Delhi and managed the affairs of the University from there. He used to travel to Aligarh twice a week from Delhi. It is noteworthy that he always incurred personal expenses for the purpose and never claimed salary or travel allowance from the University. Later Sir Sulaiman again became Vice Chancellor of the University in 1938 and continued till his death in 1941. He was buried at Nizamuddin Dargah near Amir Khusrow. Had he not died young, he would in all probability became the first Chief Justice of Independent India. During his tenure he gave considerable importance to girls education and Girls intermediate college was upgraded to degree college. He also introduced Urdu as an independent subject in B.A.

His death was noticed widely and obituaries were written all over the world from New York Times (New York Times, 1941) to Nature Magazine. Noble Laureate, C. V. Raman wrote in the Nature Magazine “As chief justice of the High Court at Allahabad for several years and as vice-chancellor of the Aligarh Muslim University over a considerable period, Sir Shah Sulaiman was a well-known public figure in India. During the last few years of his life he held the distinguished position of one of the three judges of the newly established Federal Court at Delhi. The news of his death early this year at the age of fifty-five came as an unpleasant surprise to his many friends and admirers, and elicited numerous well-merited tributes to his personality and career” (Raman, C. V., 1941).

Justice Pathak described his life aptly when he noted at the time of his death that “Within the years given to him, he achieved a versatile excellence and an intellectual brilliance which dazzled the generation in which he lived. Like a meteor blazing its luminous course across the heavens, he left a trail of glory behind‘ (Pathak, S., n.d.).

For references and more details, please see:

Ahmad, Akhlaq (1986) Sir Shah Sulaiman. Fikr o Nazar, Vol. 23, pp. 231-242

Amu.ac.in. Available at: https://www.amu.ac.in/amuhalls.jsp?did=10091. Accessed on 13 November 2020

Bhattacharya, A. (2019) Legacy of a Polymath. Frontline, July 19. Available at: https://frontline.thehindu.com/the-nation/article28260092.ece. Accessed on 12 October 2020.

Business Recorder (2006) Sir Shah Sulaiman, brilliant judge, , educationist and scientist. 13 March. Available at: https://fp.brecorder.com/2006/03/20060313397214/. Accessed on 18 September 2020.

Gadbois, George, H. Jr (n.d.) The Federal Court of India: 1937-50. The Indian Law Institute, pp. 253-315. Available at: Accessed on 14 November 2020.

Habib, S. I. (2020) Judging political offence: How this visionary handled it in 1931. The Quint, 3 July. Available at: https://www.thequint.com/voices/opinion/chief-justice-sir-shah-sulaiman-allahabad-high-court-legal-system-judiciary-science-math. Accessed on 25 September 2020.

London Gazette (1929) Supplement to The London Gazette, 3 June, 3667, p. A2. Available at: https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/33501/supplement/3667/data.pdf. Accessed on 23 October 2020.

Naveed, Masood (2020) Aligarh Muslim University: Vice Chancellors (1920-79). Available at Indpedia at: http://indpaedia.com/ind/index.php/Aligarh_Muslim_University:Vice_Chancellors(1920-79)#.28VI.29_Sir_Shah_Mohammed_Sulaiman_.2830th_April_1938_to_13th_March_1941.29. Accessed on 15 November 2020.

New York Times (1941) Sir Shah M. Sulaiman. 13 March, New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/1941/03/13/archives/sir-shah-m-sulaiman.html. Accessed on 19 October 2020.

Pathak, S. (n.d.) Sir Shah Muhammad Sulaiman. Available at: http://www.allahabadhighcourt.in/event/SirShahMSulaimanRSPathak.pdf. Accessed on 21 October 2020.

Raman, C.V. (1941) Sir Shah Mohammad Sulaiman . Nature, pp. 336-337. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/148336a0. Accessed on 12 October 2020.

Sahai, V. (2016) Glorious history, splendid past. Times of India, 13 March. Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/allahabad/Glorious-history-splendid-journey/articleshow/51384342.cms. Accessed on 12 October 2020.

Sulaiman, S. (1913). Doosrey rukh pe tabsera In Alam e Khayal, Maulana Ahmad Ali Shauq Lucknawi, Munro Publishing Company, Lucknow.