Shibli was born in Bandwal near Azamgarh in 1857. These people were of Rajput descent. Shibli annexed his surname Nomani to express his strict Hanafism. His father was among Azamgarh’s famous lawyers, who was also a landlord and a merchant of sugar and indigo. He decided to impart religious education to Shibli. Shibli studied Persian, Arabic, Hadith, Fiqh, and other Islamic sciences from the leading scholars of his time. Then he passed the bar exam but failed the next year.
After failing to practice law at various places for a few days, Maulana got a job as an Arabic and Persian teacher at Sir Syed's College in Aligarh. It was during his employment in Aligarh that Maulana traveled to Turkey, Syria, and Egypt, where he became a friend of Sir Syed and a scholar of Arabic and Persian in Turkey. Atiya Faizi's father, on the recommendation of Hassan Affandi, had a special influence in the court of Sultan Abdul Hamid, he was awarded the "Tamgha-e-Majidiya". On his return, he wrote Al-Mamun and Sairat-e-Noman. In 1890, Shibli again visited Turkey, Lebanon, and Palestine and visited libraries there. On his return from this journey, he wrote "Al-Farooq".
After the death of Sir Syed in 1898, Shibli left Aligarh and returned to Azamgarh and engaged in the development of his established "National School" (now Shibli College). He then moved to Hyderabad, where during his four-year stay he wrote Al-Ghazali, Ilm-ul-Kalam, Al-Kalam, Biography of Maulana-e-Rum, and Muwazna-e-Anis-o-Dabir. He then moved to Lucknow, where he handled the educational affairs of Nadwa Ul-alma. Amidst his engagements at Nadwa, he wrote another important book, Sher-ul Ajam.
Shibli is also considered as one of the founders of Urdu criticism. He has expressed his critical views comprehensively in his two peerless books "Shaar-ul-Ajam" and "Mawazana-e-Anees-o-Dabir". In the former, he has tried to understand the reality and nature of poetry as well as the relationship between word and meaning, encompassing all the genres of classical Urdu poetry. In the latter, he laid out the nuances of elegy-composing (Marsiya-Goi). He explained the real elements of poetry, the difference between history and poetry, and the difference between poetry and storytelling. He states, “I consider emotion and feeling to be the essence of poetry.” He says that although poetry is not possible without emotions, it does not mean to create excitement or commotion but to create life and vibrancy in emotions. He calls the word body and meaning its soul. In recognition of Shibli Nomani's scholarly services, the British government had given him the title of Shams-ul-Ulema. Shibli College and Dar-ul-Musnafin, the institutions established by him, are still engaged in knowledge and research work.
Maulana had two marriages. The first marriage took place at an early age. His first wife died in 1895. In 1900, at the age of 43, he remarried a very young girl, who died in 1905. In 1907, following an accidental shot of a pistol, he lost one of his legs. Shibli's dream was to bring together great scholars and establish an institution of scientific research and publication called "Dar Al-Musnnafin". He had arranged for it, but the institution was inaugurated only after his death. Due to some of Maulana's activities, his opposition in Nadwa had increased. Eventually, he had to part ways with the organization, which he worked so hard to develop. Later, he came to Azamgarh and engaged in school and landlord work. Here his health began to decline and he died on November 18, 1914. An extremely pivotal and laborious personality, Shibli had a penchant for perfection, for every task that he took in his hand he completed it with great care, affection, and diligence. Due to his knowledge and fame, he had access to Muslim and non-Muslim rulers of many states at that time, who helped him in his scholarly and practical projects.