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Dr Muhammad Hamidullah (1908-2002)

Author(s): Muhammad al-Ghazali


Source: Islamic Studies, Vol. 42, No. 1 (Spring 2003), pp. 183-187
Published by: Islamic Research Institute, International Islamic University, Islamabad
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20837265
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Islamic Studies 42:1 (2003) pp. 183-187

Obituary

Dr MuhammadHamiduUah (1908-2002)

The Prophet (peace be on him) has informedus thatknowledge comes and


goes with the advent and exit of great scholars. This is preciselywhat is
signifiedby the famousArabic proverb:mawt al-'?limmawt al'?lam ("in the
demise of a scholar, thewhole world is joltedby an experienceof death"). For
what would theworth of thisworld be if it is devoid of knowledge and its
bearers? If thisproverb applies to anyone in our time in the truest sense, it
us? the
applies toDr Muhammad HamiduUah (rahimahu'll?h)who leftall of
studentsof Islam? virtuallyorphaned on Tuesday, the 17thDecember, 2002
inJacksonville,Florida,U.S.A.
Dr HamiduUah has now reached an altogetherdifferentrealmwhere he
will, insh?'Allah, be enjoying the blissful fruitof his life-longlabour in the
us
path of his Lord, the focus of his ardent love and devotion. But those of
whom he has leftbehind in griefand mourning feel impoverishedand have
been shocked by this tremendous loss. There are, however, grounds for
consolation in the fact that Allah's power is infinite. It is, after all, He Who
had produced such a great genius in the apparentlyweak physique and frail
formofDr HamiduUah. It isHe Who had made him shine on thehorizon of
Islamic scholarship for the greaterpart of the last centuryby endowing him
with talents and exceptional dedication. There is no reason to
extraordinary
believe thatAllah would not produce other luminariesUkeDr HamiduUah, or
even those who would surpass him.
Ifwe were to reverse the
above-quoted Arabic proverb which equates the
death of a great scholarwith thedeath of all in theworld, we would be able to
appreciate the role of the scholars of Islam in shaping the destiny of the
MusUm society.Thus, we can say that in the active and vibrant pursuit of a
scholarUes thedynamism and vibrancy of his entiremiUeu. Viewed from this
perspective,a true scholar of Islam is naturaUymoulded on thepatternof the
Prophet (peace be on him) whose spiritual successorhe is rightlyreckoned.
Such a scholar hardly ever indulges in petty and parochial politics played by
power-seekers. For a true scholar identifieshimself with the perennial
objectives of Islam.He, therefore,transcendsall trivial sectariandifferences

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OBITUARY
184

and paltry political divisions thatmight be visible around him. Indeed Dr


Hamidullah was a model par excellenceof such a true and genuine Islamic
scholar in our times.Although he lived in an age characterized by over
politicization of almost all social and cultural institutions,he kept himself
immune from the contaminationsof the currentpolitical culture.Being born
and bred in the affluentand aristocraticatmosphereofHyderabad, the cultural
metropolis ofMuslim India, he could have easily secured a prominent place
forhimself in thehighest echelons ofworldly power and influenceifhe had so
wanted. But he dedicated himselfexclusivelyto thenoble vocation of teaching
and learningrightfrom the dawn of his career till the end of his life.During
his long span of active academic life spread over about 75 years, Dr
Hamidullah had opportunities to satisfythe common human urge to acquire
power,money and influence.Yet he invariablyturneddown temptingoffers
of high officesand lucrativepositionsmade to him fromtime to time.
If there lived any scholar in our timewho consistentlydisplayed the
moral rectitude and academic idealism? the
highest qualities of integrity,
kind thatone reads about in books but rarelyencounters in actual Ufe? then
Dr Hamidullah was surely such a scholar. The thoroughnessof his vast
knowledge, the profundity and sharpness of his understanding, and the
meticulousness of his researchwere all combinedwith hardwork and strong
dedication to provide a Uving evidence of thegreatnessof the Islamic scholarly
tradition.

Apart from his greatness as a scholar, writer, researcher, thinker, teacher,


author of books and mentor, Dr Hamidullah was a
preacher, Uving
embodiment of the distinctive Islamic traits of human personaUty. To
mention justa fewof the traitsof his peronaUty:he spoke Uttleexceptwhen it
was needed.He never talked of himself and always discouraged others from
doing so. That iswhy so Uttle is known of his biographical details despite his
rich scholarly contribution. I have never come across a
Personally speaking,
more humble person than him in all my Ufe. In his extremely simple
demeanour, modest appearance, and unostentatious ways he testified to the
truthof theProphet's statement"man taw?da' Ii yll?hrafa'ahu 'U?kT:("Allah
elevates thosewho humble themselvesforAllah's sake").
Moreover, in his whole pattern of Ufe,Dr Hamidullah provided a
practical proof ofwhat has been stated in a number of sayingsof theProphet
(peace be on him)wherein he has stressedthat: "He who fiUshis heartwith his
Lord's love and fulfilshis covenantwith Him with sincerity,devotion and
perseverance,Allah endearshim toHis creatures,both in this terrestrialworld
aswell as in the celestial realm.A generalDivine proclamation is issued in the
higher heavenly quarters to the effectthat: 'AUah loves such and such person
and it isHis pleasure andwill thatyou all should love him and pray forhim'

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Dr MUHAMMAD HAMIDULLAH (1908-2002)
185

What else can explain the factthat thenumber ofDr Hamidullah's friendsand
admirersacross theworld isnot easy to count, and thisdespite the fact thathe
shunned publicity and self-projectionthroughouthis Ufe and Uved for about
half a centuryalmost in a hermit-Ukeseclusion inParis?
To have a gUmpse ofDr Muhammad HamiduUah's life,he was born in
Hyderabad, Deccan in 1908.He was theyoungest of the three brothers and
fivesistersborn toMuhammad Khalilullah, theDirector of theDepartment of
Revenue of Hyderabad state.Until 1913,Hamidullah remained under the
loving care of his parents and elder siblings.At an early age he memorized the
Qur'an and receivedhis formaleducation atDar ul-'Ul?m. From 1922 to 1928
he studied at Nizam College, Hyderabad where he completed his
undergraduate studies. In 1928,he sufferedthe tragedyof hismother's death.
In the same year, he joined the famousOsmania University fromwhere he
received M.A. and LL.B. degrees with specialization in International Law in
1930.Thereafterhe proceeded toGermany forhigher studies and completed
his doctorate at theUniversity of Bonn in 1933,The topic of his thesis:was
"Die Neutralitat im Islamischen Volkerrecht" ("Neutrality in Islamic
InternationalLaw"), which was pubUshed in the famous journal ZDMG in
1935. In 1933 he joined the famous Sorbonne University of Paris and
completed his doctorate there in 1935. For this second doctorate he wrote a
thesisentitledDocuments sur laDiplomatie musulmane a l'?poquedu Proph?teet
desOrthodoxesKhalifes ("Documents onMuslim Diplomacy at theTime of the
Prophet and the Orthodox Caliphs"). Hamidullah had wanted to go to
LeningradUniversity to obtain a thirddoctorate, but for a variety of reasons
he returned home in 1936. In the same year, he joined the faculty of Osmania

University and servedhis alma meter forabout a decade, rising to theposition


of Professor.
In 1948, Dr Hamidullah was sent by the Nizam of Hyderabad as
constitutionaladviserof theHyderabad statedelegation to theUnited Nations
SecurityCouncil. In this capacity he travelledto Europe contributinghis bit
to saveHyderabad from forcibleannexation by India.While he was abroad,
his homeland fell in September 1948.Thereupon he opted for a refugeestatus
inFrance and remained so throughoutthe remainingyears of his life,moving
across theworld on traveldocuments issued to him
by theGovernment of
France. For shortperiods of time,he did travel to other countries,especiaUy
Pakistan, Turkey and Malaysia. In Pakistan, he spent one full year as a
member of theBoard ofTaiimat-i-Islamiah (1949-50). In Turkey fora number
of years he used to spend a fewmonths everyyear teaching in theUniversity
of Istanbul as a Visiting Professor.He also visitedMalaysia and lecturedat the
University ofMalaya. Except for the last fewyears of his Ufe,when he stayed
with his brother's grand daughter inU.S.A., he lived in France and worked

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186 OBITUARY

for long as a Research Fellow in Centre Nationale de la Researche


Screntifique,Paris.While he lived as an emirg? in France, he continued to
strivefor the liberationofHyderabad. In 1980, he gave his famous series of
lectureswhich were subsequently published as Khutb?t-i Bab?walp?r. (Its
English translationtitledThe Emergenceof Islamwas subsequentlypublished
by the Islamic Research Institute). In 1985, Dr Hamidullah received
InternationalHijrah Award amounting toRs. one million which he donated
to Islamic Research Institute.
In January 1996, he fell sick andwas hospitalized in Paris. Since he had
notmarried, he had no children,norwere thereany relativesof his inParis to
look afterhim. His grand-niece,Sadida Athaullah, thereforebrought him to
her home inUSA and nursed him during the lastyears of his life.For this
dedicated service all the students of Islamic learning owe her a debt of
gratitudebecause she therebyfulfilleda duty that in factdevolved upon them.
Since 1996,however, hewas unable to continuehis academicwork because his
memory had been impaired. It seems thatAllah wanted him to enjoy a few
years of restfulUfe free fromhis routine of hard work in thisworld before
rewardinghim amply in theNext.
One of the most conspicuous qualities of Dr Hamidullah was his
generosity:generositywith his time,money, knowledge andwhatever else he
possessed. For hewas ever ready to shareall thiswith others.He helped others
to his utmost capacity. He was to receive any visitor in his home
delighted
almost at any hour. He promptly replied to all the letterssent to him from
any part of the globe. Students and scholars from every nook and corner of
theworld wrote to him regularly.They correspondedwith him not only to
elicit academic guidance and advice, but also to seek his assistance and help.
Whenever any researcher wrote to him about any work or
enquiring
manuscript or printedmaterial, Dr Hamidullah would send him thematerial
or the informationthathe needed, and he did all this,of course, at his
personal
expense. But when it came to his own self, he abstained from accepting
favours,big or small.Dr Hamidullah also spenthismoney generously to help
widows, orphans, and theneedy. For thispurpose, hemaintained a listof such
people alongwith theiraddresses,and sentregularfinancialhelp to them.
Dr Hamidullah led an extremelysimple and austereUfe.He lived inParis
not far fromSorbonne. This was a small apartmenton the fourthfloor of an
old mansion, constructed in the traditional style.He lived all alone amidst
heaps of books and papers, with no secretary to assist him in his work, nor

any attendantto look afterhim or his house.


Pakistan and its various governments, institutions and universities had the
honour of invitingand hostingDr Hamidullah several times.Owing to his
heavy academic pre-occupations, however, he accepted a few of these
only

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Dr MUHAMMAD HAMIDULLAH (1908-2002)
187

invitations.During thesevisits,hiswhole luggagedid not exceed a small bag,


which he always insistedon carryinghimself.He did not particularlycherish
the invitations of the rulers and appeared ill at ease in the glamorous
of courts, palaces, posh hotels and opulent state guest houses.
surrounding
One would almost always see Dr Hamidullah in serious, even somewhat

pensive mood, though occasionally he would make some light, good


humoured remarks. Despite his scholarly pre-occupation, there was no
distance between him and an ordinaryMuslim, whose joys and sorrows he
fullyshared.He even participated in popular eventsorganized by theMuslim
communityof France to express solidaritywith Islamic causes, such as those
of Palestine,Kashmir, orAlgeria.
So rich isDr Hamidullah's legacythatMuslim scholarswill surelyremain
occupied forquite some time assessing the enormityof his contributions to
Islamic scholarship. I am confidentthat such efforts
will not only bring out
his scholarly achievements,but also the impact thathe had on the Uves of a
largenumber of people who came into contactwith him. For perhapsmore
than theworks he wrote or thewords he uttered,his saintly life led a great
many people to God and goodness. Indeed the number of such people,
especially theFrench,who were inspiredbyDr Hamidullah to find their self
fulfilmentin Islam is counted in thousands. Some of thesemen and women
rose to considerableprominence inmany walks of life,includingscholarship.
For these services he sought no worldly reward, nor any formal recognition.
The true recognitionof his life-longlabour of love and devotion shall, inshd'
Allah, will be made on theDay of JudgementbyHim forWhose sake he had
devoted every moment of his life and every ounce of his energy. It is only this
finalrecognitionthatmattered toDr Hamidullah; every thingelsewas utterly
meaningless.
While we are aU engaged in paying our tributeto him, I am sure that in
theseverymoments Dr Hamidullah must be receivinghis reward fromAllah
Who never failsHis true seekers, nor ever His sincere servants for
disappoints
He alone knows and is fully appreciative of the truevalue of the righteous
deeds of His servants.May Allah grant him eternal peace and the highest
station inParadise, and conferupon him theproximityof Prophets and saints
and martyrs and true believers. ?m?n.

Muhammad al-GhazaU

? ? ?

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