Remembering Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah

Death of a giant of Islamic scholarship 

In preparation for a script for Sound Vision, I had been reading Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah's books for the last three days when I heard the news of his departure from this world. I will not use the word "sad" in mentioning him. He has, Alhamdu Lillah, contributed substantially to this world. He was successful in this world and we pray that Allah accepts his contributions and rewards him with the best place in paradise. I am pretty sure he would request books in Paradise as well. We all return back to our Creator. Inna lillahe wa inna ilaihe rajeoon.

Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah or M. Hamidullah, as he used to write more often, is probably the most important Muslim research scholar of our time. There are many Islamic scholars, but in terms of dedication to Islamic research, no one is his equal today.

Dr. Hamidullah passed away on Dec 17, 2002, in Jacksonville, FL in his sleep after praying Fajr at the home of his host sister Sadida who is his brother's granddaughter. He was 94 years old. His funeral prayers were led by a Turkish-American scholar Dr. Yusuf Ziya Kavakci, Imam Islamic Association of North Texas. There were about 75 Muslim present when he was buried on Dec. 18, 2002 about 1:30 pm.

His last major contribution was a lecture series which is known as "Khutbat e Bhawalpur" He delivered these 12 exceptional lectures in Rabiul Awwal 1400 Hijrah (March 1980) in Bhawalpur, Pakistan in celebration of the year 1400 of Hijrah. He completed the final revision of the book on 26th Ramadan 1408 (in 1988). The Islamic Research Institute in Islamabad, Pakistan, has published its translation in English as well. I have read this 400-page plus book and have consulted it many times. Dr. Hamidullah presented these 400 pages verbatim, without any notes whatsoever, to an audience of scholars and students at the Bhawalpur Islamic University. With his amazing memory, he represents part of a great tradition of early Islamic scholarship, when good memory was a scholar's essential asset.

Last June, I gave a few lectures on the Prophet's life at the University of Toronto to a select Muslim audience. While researching for those lectures, I ended up reading and referring to more than 20 works on the Prophet's life. These included the books of scholars Shibli Numani, Sulaiman Nadawi, Husain Haikal, Martin Lings, Ibn Hisham, as well as the books Rasool Number of Nuqoosh, Rahiqal Makhtum, and Saiyarah Digest. I also consulted several of Dr. Hamidullah's books. Although my aim was not a comparative study of biographies of the Prophet, it became so when I studied the material.

For example, searching for information about the Hilf al-Fudul was an extraordinary struggle. Hilf al-Fudul was a pre-Islamic pact to assist the helpless in Makkah. The Prophet was a part of it before he became a Prophet. Even after the Prophet migrated to Madinah and became the city's leader, he stated his support for this pact. I was researching Hilf al-Fudul to include in my lecture on "Social Services in the Prophet's Life." It was no surprise to me that the best detailed description I could find was in Dr. Hamidullah's contribution to that topic in the Daira Muarifal Islamia (Urdu Encyclopaedia of Islam) published by the Punjab University in Lahore, Pakistan. It is the best research one can find in any language on that topic. Its references even took more space than most of the other works on the same topic.

It was his urge for thoroughness in research that brought him outside Hyderabad, Deccan in India, where he was born. After exhausting the libraries of Hyderabad, he visited those of Makkah, Madinah, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and Turkey. These trips taken in early 1930's were taken at a time when travel afar was very difficult and flying around the world, unless you were very rich, was unheard of.

This research investigation that took him to so many countries is essentially presented in his book "The Muslim Conduct of State". He wrote this as his master's thesis for Osmania University in Hyderabad, Deccan.

Dr. Hamidullah completed his first Doctorate degree from Bonn University in Germany in 1933 in a span of only nine months. He then acquired another doctorate degree from the University of Paris on "Early Muslim Diplomacy" the next year. Both of these dissertations interestingly are only one chapter each in the above mentioned book.

Born on 16 Muharram 1326 (Feb. 19, 1908) in Hyderabad Deccan, he was always committed to Hyderabad Deccan. He was Hyderabad's ambassador to the United Nations when India attacked and forcefully occupied Hyderabad Deccan, an independent Muslim state. He decided not to return to the occupied land and stayed on in Paris, France on an asylum visa endoresed by the UN that he is a stateless person. He remained a stateless Hyderabadi citizen without ever applying for the French citizenship. He never visited his occupied homeland. That was his commitment to his country Hyderabad and probably a form of silent protest. Once he realized that the cause of his country's independence from India was abandoned by its people, he dedicated his life to Islamic learning and communication in the Western Hemisphere. He is not only the most important graduate of Osmania University Hyderabad, with master's and law degrees, but was also a professor there until he was appointed Hyderabad's ambassador.

In Paris, he remained a scholar for France's National Center of Scientific Research for 20 years before dedicating himself to serve Islam. After he was struck with Alzheimer's disease, he moved to Pittsburgh, PA probably in 1995 and later to Jacksonville, FL.

Dr. Hamidullah's contribution to Dawa includes his translation of the Quran in French, "Le Saint Coran". It is more widely used in the French-speaking countries of Africa and France than Abdullah Yusuf Ali's translation in the English- speaking world. His "Le Prophete de l'Islam" has been popular in French, English, and Slavic. His book "Introduction to Islam" has been translated in more than 12 languages, and has been published legally and illegally.

Dr. Hamidullah's foremost research is in Islamic history and Muslim international law. He asserts the uniqueness of Muslim international law very powerfully in his book "Muslim conduct of State", and defines it as "being a treatise on Siyar, that is, Islamic notion of Public International Law, consisting of the Laws of War, Peace and Neutrality together with Precedents from Orthodox Practice" of Islam.

Dr. Hamidullah also brought to light an early Islamic document called "Sahifa." Based on that, he asserts that the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, came up with "The First Written Constitution in the World" which is the title of one of his books. He has printed the Arabic text of Sahifa with his research, English translation, and full references. This amazing book asserts that the Madinan state established by the Prophet was the first multi-ethnic and multi-religious federated state in the world, in which the Prophet stated that "wa inna yahoodu bani awf ummat mahal mumineen" "And verily the Jews of the Banu Awf shall be considered as an Umah (community) among the Believers. " Saying that Madinah's was the first written constitution in the world, Dr. Hamidullah notes:

"In the present state of my knowledge, there is no earlier text known to history. Solon's work at Athens cannot be considered as the promulgation of a constitution. He was not the sovereign monarch, but a delegate of the governing body; he did propose certain constitutional changes which were approved and applied by the governing body of the City-State of Athens, but we do not know if they were published in writing; certainly they did not constitute a comprehensive constitution for running the State.

We do possess the Constitution of Athens by Aristotle, but it is not a constitution: it is the history and evolution of the constitution of the City-State of Athens, compiled by a minister. In his time, the City-State had long since ceased to exist...

For these reasons I provisionally maintain that the text of the time of the Prophet of Islam … is the earliest of its kind in history."

Dr. Hamidullah's other contribution includes his research and publication of Sahifa Humam bin Mumbah, which is the oldest collection of Hadith complied at the time of Sahabah. He also published a bibliography of Quran translations in 120 languages of the world, along with translations of the first chapter. He also did a comparative study of all the three of the earliest copies of the Quran found in the world. One in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, another in Istanbul, Turkey and one in India Office Library, London, UK. All three have been traced back to the time of third Khalifa Usman ibn Affan, may Allah be pleased with him. Dr. Hamidullah said all three were written on a similar type of skin, and look authentic for that period. He also said, after seeing bloodstains on the Turkish copy, that this was what Usman was studying from when he was killed. I have seen a limited edition of Dr. Hamidullah's comparative version of the Tashkent copy with modern script of the Quran. He wanted to publish the whole Quran with Tashkent script on the right and current script on the left.

Most of Dr. Hamidullah's works are highly relevant and useful in the current environment of attacks on the Prophet and Islam. Sh. Muhammad Ashraf publishers, who have printed and distributed some of his books, have done an admirable job of keeping Dr. Hamidullah's books in print. They are also the ones who introduced the Abdullah Yusuf Ali translations to the world and hold copyrights for it as well. Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, the man who started this company, died and his grandson, is now running the family business. I spoke to him about asserting copyrights on Yusuf Ali's translation so it will not go through the abuse it is going through at this moment. I wish either Sh. Muhammad Ashraf publishers of Lahore, Pakistan themselves come up with better quality prints of his books which are suitable for the Western market, or the Islamic Research Institute of Islamabad takes over the republishing of Dr. Hamidullah's works. The latter has done a better job of printing "Khutbat e Bhawalpur" and its English translation with quality.

Dr. Hamidullah has done his job, Alhamdu lillah. Let's do ours. We need Muslim writers and scholars who are willing to pick up where Dr. Hamidullah has left.

I sat down with my family after Isha prayers yesterday and we discussed him and went through with some of his books. I hope you can do the same. Maybe you can also request your Imam to mention him in his Khutba and pray for him this Friday.

Comments

He is not with us but still we areliving with him whenever we read the great books he wrote on ISLAM. He has achieved his goal in life. When i met him in 1968 at my home in 485/1 ,Dematagoda RD, COLOMBO 9, I was in my teens .i never reliased that such a renowned scholar was my father"s best friend> Insha allah we all must keep him alive by reading his noble work> MAY ALLAH GRANT HIM JENNATHUL FIRDOUSE!AMIN> e_mails anticipated>

Location

srilanka

Assalam Alikum, dear elder brother,
It is so pleasurous to know you have 'seen' Dr M. Hamidullah saheb with your eyes.
I am student.
Can I please be in touch with you regarding my research.

Location

TURKEY

I appeal to Dr Hameedullah's fans, readers and students to consider establishing a Dr Hameedullah Memorial Library on Islamic Research (perhaps in the USA - the country where he is now buried) where all his books, lectires and unpublished works (notes, manuscripts and other material he may have left with his daughter who looked after him in his last days) could be preserved for benefir of scholards. Of course this seed, if sown properly, would grow in the times to come to provide fruits to millions of persons both from the Islamic Ummah and other religions. I will be glad to share my vision with those who are prepared to join in this modest initiative.

Location

London UK

I heard mr hamidullah when he came to Karachi, many years ago. he was very old even then but we were surprised at his knowledge and memory at that age,may Allah reward him for all his efforts and may grant our Muslim ummah with many many more like him .

Location

saudiarabia

I have read Dr. Hamidullah's Khutbaat-i-Bahawalpur and this is the only link I have with this great scholar of Islam. I hope that his other works should be posted on the Web so that more people can benefit from that.

Location

Inam

AIhough I have not heard about this great Islamic scholar until today when I read my mail,I thank Aimighty Allah for his usefull life.May AImighty Allah grant him Aljanah firdaus.I imploy Allah to bring up more of his type into limelight for the enlightenment of the Muslim Ummah. Amin

Location

Odua Invest.Ibadan,Nigeria

Asalam alekun I pray that almighyAllah forgive him.(amin)Masalam

Location

Nigeria

I ask Allah (swt) to shower his mercy on the soul of Dr. Hamidullah and to accept him among the roghtious ones Ameen.I have his book "Le prophet de l islam: sa vie son oeuvre". it is one of most beautiful books about the biografph of our Messenger (p.b.u.h).may Allah accept from him, and give him a high place in His paradise.

Location

Lubbock, Texas

AsalamalayKum,Peace and e-Greetings be upon you.For a few hours after Juma salat in Toronto's Regent Park neighbourhood Musalahthis this past Friday December 20th, I gave what turned out to be a full lecture on Islam to a young muslim brother, Asif, who is all of 15 years of age. He was fasting and waiting for Maghrib.Our young brother listened intently and reminded me that yes, there are muslim youth eager for the life of a true muslim scholar. In passing I mentioned some works of Dr. M. Hamidullah and wondered whether he was still alive...?Serendipity combined with sadness then as I read these words just minutes ago about the passing of our Great Scholar of Islam.Just before Ramadan, T.B. Irving returned to Our Lord, and now just after, M. Hamidullah has done so as well. May Allah forgive our neglecting of the Old among us during their lieftimes, and moreso our Elder Scholars.May Allah bless us with new scholars of the same calibre who can teach us and remind us anew.Amen.HiMY Syed aka Abul-Hasnat Syedwebmaster: http://www.IslamBank.comToronto Downtown, Ontario, Canada.

Location

Toronto Downtown, Ontario Canada

This week the world lost a great Muslim writer, scholar and the last citizen of the state of Hyderabad. I lost my beloved Dada, my spiritual guide, mentor and teacher, my adopted father, my surrogate mother, my best friend and confidante, my big brother, my son and my favorite poet. We belong to Allah and to Allah we shall returnGrief stricken as I am, Dada will insist that I answer all your calls and messages, answer every Salaam sent to me, as he always did. So with a broken heart I am writing to tell you about the final hours of his life. He had lost his hearing, and had trouble speaking but he remained alert to the end. He was never diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and remained fairly active till the end. We had dinner together on Monday night. Tuesday morning I helped him to get up at 4 am and began the usual morning routine, he walked without help to the bathroom, showered, had breakfast in the dining area and walked back to bed on his own at 6.am. He was sitting on the bed as I went to get ready to go to work. When I looked in his room, as I was ready to leave the house at 6.45 am, he was already sleeping peacefully on his side with his face towards the wall. When I returned home about 1.15 pm, he had kept his promise to me that he jokingly made in Paris in 1996 after I had to give permission to take away the life support system, that he will not let the Angel of Death take his soul in my presence..There was a slight smile on his face, his legs were stretched out with his hands folded as if he was standing in salat. When I walked in I knew he was gone because he always slept with his legs close to his body.My brother Irfan and I positioned his bed with his feet toward the Qiblah and his head lifted slightly, and prepared him as we have seen our elders do in Hyderabad.we received permission to keep Dada at home and take him directly to the graveyard as soon as the grave was ready.A few local Muslims, probably well under 50, called to pay their respects. His family stayed with him and kept him company on his last night on earth. After fajr on Wednesday, Dr. Yusef Zia Kavakchi, his relatives and two or three neighbors washed and prepared him in the patio and laid him out in the Dining area, in the same spot where he had his last meal, less than 24 hours ago.He began his last journey to his resting place on St. Johns Bluff at 12.15. My brothers carried him in their arms to the van, and wrapped in a additional sheet to prevent his burial shroud touching unclean surfaces he arrived at Chapel Hill Cemetery.There were about 70 men and 5 women at the graveyard and Dr. Kavakchi led the prayers. He is buried by a grand old live oak tree, in the first row of graves so there is no one above him. He is at the end of the row, so no one will be buried next to him on the left. On the right, he is in the company of a 83 year old female writer and a child, and it seems Allah granted Dada his every wish including the occupants of neighboring graves, writers and children were always his preferred companions. He wanted to be “that fortunate man who lived and worked and died in anonymity and acknowledged 200 years after his death.” And he got that too. May Allah shower him with His blessings, and give him everything he missed here. Inshallah his work will be carried on and his books and papers preserved for the next generations.

Location

Jacksonville

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