Success Story of Mohammad Ali Shihab IAS

“….I used to read in scant light under the cover of bed sheet and pillows in order not to disturb my friends sleeping in the neighbouring beds of the dormitory. In fact, I was violating the orphanage rules,” – Mohammad Ali Shihab

– Mohammad Ali Shihab

Nothing is possible in this world with constant hard work and a strong determination. Mohammad Ali Shihab who hails from Kerala underlines the statement by bagging the prestigious 226th rank in the UPSC Civil Services IAS Examination in 2011.  Currently, he is serving as Joint Secretary of APC Cell and the Project Director of IFAD. Let’s see a motivating tale of fortitude.


Mohammad Ali Shihab is from a village in Malappuram district of Kerala. He grew up in an orphanage. His primary education was shattered due to several issues. He lost his father when he was in Class V.  After his father’s death, his mother sent him away to an orphanage in Kozhikode district.


He did not attend any formal school for his education. While in the orphanage Mohammad Ali Shihab finished his basic education. He graduated in history through distance education from the Calicut University of Kerala. Later he worked as a peon in Kerala Water Authority and subsequently as a clerk in a Gram Panchayat. Thereafter, he became a teacher in a primary school in Malappuram which brought him respectability and fulfilled his childhood ambition. It was his brother who motivated him to become an IAS officer.

Optional Subjects

Initially, Shihab took Geography and History as his optional papers for UPSC IAS Exam. He got coaching for both optional subjects. But later, he found Geography difficult and opted for Malayalam as his optional Subject for the Civil Services Mains Examination.

What/who inspired him? 

It was not Shihab’s childhood dream to become an IAS officer. It was his brother who took his mind to the Civil Services. The dream of becoming an IAS officer sneaked into his mind only at the age of 25. Mohammad Ali Shihab drew inspiration from his teachers who cared for him in his orphanage. His life in the orphanage taught him the advantages of discipline and a systematic life, which later became his inspiration. The discipline and decorum instilled by the orphanage authorities had a great influence in his life.

UPSC preparation: Days of fortitude

Shihab’s preparation for UPSC IAS exam was not an easy one. It was entirely different. The newspaper is considered as an indispensable part of UPSC Exam preparation. However, Shihab never got newspapers at home. He constantly depended on reading rooms and libraries for accessing newspapers. So far, he has cleared 21 exams conducted by different government agencies.

In 2006, he got married and two years later a daughter was born to him with Erb’s palsy. During UPSC preparation and exams he used to shuttle between hospitals and home. In 2009, he was selected by Zakat Foundation for free Civil Services coaching. He got training in Geography and History in New Delhi. But due to extreme climatic conditions and health issues, he returned home. Later he prepared for UPSC IAS exam intensively for three months.


He was good at writing and expressing his thoughts in Malayalam, so he chose Malayalam as his Medium for Civil services Mains examination. He wrote his UPSC Civil Services Mains in Malayalam and appeared for the interview with the help of a translator for want of proficiency in English. After a long struggle, in his third attempt, he bagged IAS. He strongly believes that his understanding of the grass-root reality will help him serve people better.

Message for aspirants by Mohammad Ali Shihab

Mohammed Ali Shihab advises the upcoming UPSC aspirants to read predominantly the news and opinion columns of newspapers and journals. Aspirants should explore their strength and potential and they can definitely gain success.

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