Obituary: Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah

Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah
1908 – 2002

Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajeeoon (To Allah We belong, and to Him is our return)

Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah died in Jacksonville, Florida, U.S.A. in his sleep at 11:15 AM on December 17, 2002. He was 94 years old. Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah was well known for his translation of the Qur’an into French.

Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah, (born 1908), was educated at Osmania University in the state of Hyderabad Deccan (India). He had described Osmania University as: “[in the] center of India [was Hyderabad Deccan which was] as big as Italy, with over 20 million inhabitants. It was well known for the attention it gave particularly to the reform of Islamic education. In its university founded along Western lines with about a dozen faculties, there was also a faculty of Islamic Theology. The university imparted teaching, at every level and in every faculty, through the medium of Urdu, the local language (with its script in Arabic characters). Specialization began in the school stage, when Arabic language, Fiqh, (Muslim law), and Hadith (documents on the life and sayings of the Prophet), were obligatory beside other subjects such as English language, mathematics and other courses of modern education. In the university stage, the students of the Faculty of Theology learned not only English of a high standard, but also Arabic and subjects concerned purely with Islamic studies were prescribed. Moreover comparative studies became the vogue. With the Fiqh was modern jurisprudence; with Kalam, the history of Western philosophy; with Arabic, also Hebrew or some modern European language, French or German in particular. When the students prepared their theses, they were attached to two guides – one a professor of the Faculty of Theology, and the other a professor from the Faculty of Arts and Letters or Law as the case may be. This provided the means of mastering simultaneously both the Islamic facts and modern Western trends on the same subject. After thirty years of experimentation and obtaining very happy results, there remains nothing now but a distant memory of it all. For, when the British left the country for good in 1947, dividing the country between Muslim Pakistan and non-Muslim Bharat, this latter not only incorporated its neighboring indigenous States but even disintegrated and dissolved them in other administrative combination, creating linguistic ‘Nationalities’ fraught with disintegration.” (Introduction to Islam, Ch. 14, cf 505)

Also in Hyderabad Deccan, the English translation of the meaning of the Holy Qur’an was published by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall [1875-1936] in 1930, while in service of the Nizam of Hyderabad Deccan.

India was partitioned and Pakistan was created in August of 1947. In January of 1948, Mahatma Ghandi was assassinated. Also it was in 1948 that Britain withdrew from Palestine and the state of Israel was created, and it was this same year (September 1948) that India invaded the state of Hyderabad Deccan. Hours before the invasion, Mir Nawaz Jung (1903-94), Nizam’s Agent-General in London, transferred more than one million pounds of Hyderabad state funds into Pakistan High Commission’s account at Westminster Bank. This money remains in dispute to this day and has not been released by the bank. A Hyderabad delegation that included Professor Muhammad Hamidullah left for the U.N. to plead their case, but before he arrived, the U.N. Hyderabad state was liquidated (five days after the Indian invasion). Hyderabad had a predominantly Hindu population under a Muslim ruler. While the U.N. chose not to deliberate on the liquidation of Hyderabad Deccan, a U.N. resolution was passed on predominantly Muslim Kashmir.

Professor Hamidullah was well known for his translation of the Qur’an into French, and more than 170 works on Islamic Sciences, history, and culture. He has lived in self imposed exile since 1948. The President of the Canadian Society of Muslims, Syed Mumtaz Ali, was also educated at Osmania University and he was a student of Dr. Hamidullah’s. They both graduated from the Faculty of Theology and the Faculty of Law, Osmania University.

Dr. Hamidullah took his doctorate degrees in International Law etc. from universities in Germany, France and other countries. He has also taught various subjects related to Islamic Studies and Muslim International Law etc. in many countries. He was well known for the great quality and high caliber of his originality of research in Islamic Law and all related subjects. He was recognized as the most (or at least one of the most) authoritative scholars in the research of Islamic International Law and Islamic Constitutional Law. At its initial stages, he was invited by the government of Pakistan to help draft the constitution of Pakistan. Two of his most popular works are Muslim Conduct of State and Introduction to Islam. The first book was used as a textbook in Islamic International Law and the second book (Introduction to Islam) has gained such wide acclaim and is known to have been translated into almost every major language of the world — mainly for the reason that its contents are divided into chapters (which stand on their own as a monograph) which deal with related specific subject matter. It is easy to understand how his style of presentation has endeared the book not only to common folk, but also to the people who would like to gain a reasonable insight into the true spirit of the teachings of Islam. This little book of about 300 pages is a veritable gold mine of very reliable information on almost every aspect of Muslim life.

Source: Biographical sketch of Dr. M. Hamidullah.

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