Shibli, along with his contemporary Hali, is believed to be one of the rescuers of Urdu poetry who re-conceived and took it towards a transformation that was the need of the hour. The real fame of Shibli rests on his role as an outstanding literary critic. His "Shai`r-ul-Ajam" (The poetry of the Orient) dealing with the principles of criticism and the brilliant criticism of Persian poetry may be ranked as one of the best works on literary criticism in any language. According to the famous British orientalist Professor Browne, "Shai`r-ul-Ajam" is undoubtedly the best literary estimate of Persian poetry written up to the present day. It is in this book that the Maulana has displayed his masterly hold over the literary study of literature and his depth of knowledge. It combines the high class research with the fluency and lucidity of expression. The fifth chapter of the book elaborately deals with the principles of criticism, on which he has based the poetical estimate of Persian poets.
Shibli belongs to the modern school of Urdu Poetry. Had he exclusively devoted himself to the service of the Muse, he would have been a second Iqbal. Hali simply lamented the decline of the Muslim power, but could not seriously contemplate the remedies for saving Islam from falling into the abyss of decadence. Shibli's poetical career may be divided into two parts. During the first period, when he was employed at Aligarh, he was a close associate of Hali and Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.
His outstanding achievement of the period is his well-known poem "Subh-i-Ummeed" (The Morn of Hope) in which he has chosen the theme of "Musaddas-i-Hali". The only difference between the two is that Hali's poem bristles with pessimistic ideas, while a sort of optimism pervades the poem of Shibli which concludes with a forecast of the bright future for Islam. But the poem of Hali is superior of the two, as it maintains uniformity in standard which Shibli's poem so badly lacks. This poem of Shibli comes very close to the healthy optimism preached by Iqbal in a later period.
The second part of his poetical career starts from the time, when, due to ideological differences, Shibli had to sever his connection with the Aligarh Muhammadan College and henceforward he devoted himself solely to the betterment of Muslim India. He was not an opponent of Aligarh College, but he did not like the principles of its education and its excessive liberalism. Unlike the blind imitation of the West as propagated by the Hali group, Shibli adopted a via media and his clear insight enabled him to shun the harmful influences of Western culture and adopt the beneficial objects found in it. Hali and Shibli both lamented the decline of Muslim power---but Hali ascribed it to their dissociation from the materialism of the West, while Shibli attributed it to their estrangement from Islamic principles. Shibli has given a graphic description of events in his poem "Adl-i-Jahangir" (The justice of Jahangir) and "Hamari Tarz-i-Hukoomat" (Our System of Government).
"Mowaazina-i-Anees-u-Dabeer" (A Comparison between Anees and Dabeer) is another standard book of literary criticism in which he has compared the achievements of the two greatest elegists of Urdu poetry. Anees, no doubt, was greater of the two; the Maulana has fully proved with examples the superiority of Anees, both in thought and expression. The poetry of Anees was known for its purity of language, simplicity of diction, novelty and originality of ideas and graphic descriptions. Dabeer, on the other hand believed in the verbosity of language and excessive flights of imagination.
A very brief Introduction to Shibli
Dr. Israr Ahmwed on Nadwah and Shibli