The Giant World Class Islamic Scholar of Our Time
By: Dr. Yusuf Ziya Kavakci *
We all know the concepts of “State in Exile” and “Government in Exile”, inferring that _expression I would like to characterize him as an alim (Muslim scholar) in exile. Prof. Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah was like a state by himself, he was “Ummah” by himself, as Ibrahim, a.s, is qualified in the Qur’an as “Ummah” (nation).
As a young man in my early life I met Muhammad Hamidullah lecturing at The Institute of Islamic Research, Istanbul University, College of Liberal Arts (Faculty of Letters) late 1950s. He was like the letter Alif, first letter of Arabic Alphabet and also first letter of Lafzat Allah slim, tall, and straight, with suits and tie. All his life he was seen dressed like that with a headwear, kind of made from fur like material, Jinnah’s cap type, like krakul in Urdu, as it is called “kalpak” in Turkish, one which Ataturk has been seen wearing in his early days of Turkish Republic too. Indeed I saw him first time entering to the conference room at the Department of Philosophy of the same college in 1957; 45 years ago accompanied by Dr. Fuat Sezgin as translator and assistant. He used to come during spring semesters each year pursuant to the contract he had with the University. Dr. Sezgin later on had to leave for Germany and lives there as a member of Goethe Universitaet in Frankfurt, because political will after military coup d’etat of 1960 in Turkey decided to throw out 147 academicians from universities or to transfer them here and there to other jobs. Unfortunately Turkish universities lost a very serious academician to the exile. Dr. Sezgin had written a very important research document on written sources of Sahih Bukhari that early days of researches before Mustafa A’zami’s the Studies in early Hadith literature and now he is continuing to write Geschite des Arabicshen Schrifttums, so far over 10 volumes being published in German language. That is a book that takes Brockelmann’s Geschite der Arabiscen Literature as basis and expands on it profoundly. It is really main book for scholarship as reference to Islamic Studies; no one can afford being away and not to benefit from.
Prof. Dr. Salih Tug was second person in the Institute to assist Hamidullah. He wrote a thesis on Islamic Finance System in the early Islam, the time of prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his ashab and played a lot of role in training and raising the writer of these lines to have an opportunity to do graduate studies in the same college, under Dr. Hamidullah’s guidance and also he became dean of Marmara University, in Istanbul, College of Theology, later on helping hundreds of young scholars and students to stand on their feet. Now both he and I retired from active academic duty. Dr. Tug is over there in Istanbul and the writer of these lines here in Dallas, Texas with my family members who are Hamidullah’s students from early 1960s. Dr. Hamidullah had his room at the first floor next to the library of the institute.
Hamidullah was invited to this university by Ord. Prof. Dr. Zeki Velidi Togan who was director of the above mentioned Institute quite a time. After his death Prof. Dr. Tayyib Gokbilgin took over the directorship of the Institute. Professors’ Drs. Ramazan Sesen and Ahmed Suphi Furat and others are academicians who benefited a lot from this Institute.
Hamidullah used to teach Islamic History and Islamic subjects to the students. I remember specifically his very detailed lectures on Islamic Constitution and its content during the time of the Prophet. The classes were open to the public too with special interest. It was a challenging job, since first time after the closing down of the College of Theology under Darul Funun (University) in Istanbul; there were in academia a substantial number of people who were very much against teaching of any Islamic topic at any level in the university. They were holding leadership positions in the university. Dr. Hamidullah’s vast knowledge, gentle manner, his living in the west and knowing west from in and out, better than many people in those leadership positions, along his ability to speak with them in their own language French, English, German, must have been a big help for the acceptance of Islamic teaching, though at very humble level, in the university academia. Islamic studies are being brought in academia in a soft way where after centuries long madrasa education and raising thousands of ulama (Muslim scholars) for Muslim Ummah and witnessing their unexpected collapse to pay the way for today’s higher education of Islam in Turkey, the natural inheritor of Ottoman legacy. Still he had kind of to prove his not being against the revolutionary trend-taking place around also not being khilafatist to some who were very much in watch. His lectures were taped and possibly checked by hard core intelligence agents one after another. This was the feeling one may have draw from the attitude of the people roaming around some being our colleagues at the university. But his quite and gentle method, keeping his head high and being a scholar as athlete complete was best working way at the time. After 1950 the political change in Turkey, change of Azan from Turkish into Arabic, allowing Islamic subjects be taught optionally in the schools, opening of Imam-Khatib Schools, was a very revolutionary concept. All subjects of public schools have been taught together with Arabic, Qur’an, Islamiyat, later stages Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqh and other Islamic subjects as public schools at the level of junior high schools and senior high schools up to university level.
First, seven of these schools were opened and during the later years the number climbed up to over 500 all over the country. Then, the last administration a few years back stopped the trend by taking up new measures leaving a lot of buildings built by communities emptied or grabbed by officials for other usage. This led to a lot of frustration on common Muslim men left in limbo with very bad tastes. The administration clamed that it is the mandate of Ataturk secularism not to allow this trend to grow, of course along with head cover (hijab) and other related issues viewed as direct threat to the Ataturk democracy in the Turkish type of republic.
Hamidullah possibly is the first one who had the opportunity to be a Muslim academician with a lot of experience and credentials acquired in the West who came to the Istanbul university and began to lecture on Islamic law and related areas during the middle of 1950s.
He was born in Hyderabad-Deccan, India in February 1908 during Nizam State period. Nizam’s two daughter in-laws, Durru Shahwar and Nilufar were from Ottoman Royal family. Nizam had had very good relation to Ottomans.
Hamidullah studied at the College of Law of the Osmaniya University. This university had been established by the effort of Abdullah Yusuf Ali, the famous translator of the Qur’an, and others to do academic research and teach in Urdu and to raise scholar of world class in Islamic Studies. A lot of rare manuscripts have been edited and published by this university, including the books of Imam Muhammad al-Hasan al-Shaibani, also a student of Imam A’zam Abu Hanifa. They had a magazine under the name of the Islamic Culture, also Dairat al-Ma’arif. If that university had continued, as it was intended, today we would have many scholars who could speak perfect English and deal with the needs of Muslim issues we have today all over the world, including American Sphere and English speaking area of Muslim societies and communities. Of course there was another university established same time at Aligarh in which medium was English.
Hamidullah did go to Germany for graduate studies and did his Ph.D. in Bonn on International Islamic Law. His intention was to teach at the Osmania University, and serve his community with a strong tradition of Islamic popular and academic work. But the political instability, colonialist interests, Hindu and others invasion left a lot of his friends and colleagues struggle for their own freedom, independence if you will, and many lost their lives in this strife. When Pakistan separated from India, Nizam State was occupied by force by the armed forces of India.
Dr. Hamidullah found a refuge in France, kind of in exile. He became member of the France National Scientific Research Center (CNRSF) and worked there. He lived in France since 1948 until he fell sick and was brought by her grandniece Sr. Sadida to Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, USA in 1996. Seven years before his demise. He was may be the first Muslim scholar in France destined to do dawa, to teach and lecture in Paris and around to help Muslims at least academic level to organize themselves benefiting from Western culture of freedom and civility which were prevailing in Paris, France and whole western world. It was Allah’s destiny for him to do things, which he might not have planned before, to live in Paris and starting to establish an academic circle there in the French language. As we all know the French language was not popular in Indian as part of Muslim World. Even French language and France were kind of on hate list of languages in English colony world. But he was destined to do the job in French.
In France he lived at 4 Rue de Tournon, Paris VI nearly in same apartment for half century alone as tenant of landlord lady Madame Sphere, surrounded with his books and notes. He never threw anything away. He saved all the books given to him, all letters written to him in a surprising level, he saved every thing, even the fringes of stamps to be used for correction to stick small notes with the adhesive parts of these tiny things. Subhana Allah (Glory to Allah).
He later translated Qur’an into French, may be first one done by a Muslim scholar and alim. In this work he gave a full list of the translations of Qur’an in all of the languages in a chronological way with big introduction to them and the subject of Ulum al-Qur’an (Qur’anic Sciences).
He wrote two marvelous volumes in French about the life and contributions of the prophet Muhammad. That is the most quality type of academic, a very comprehensive work done by him, not many could produce any work like that in that level, if you allow me it is second to none. It has nearly hundred pages of bibliography of books and article in different languages like Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and others. He deals with Constitution the Prophet Muhammad brought to Madina City State, medicine of his time, economy of Sa’adah time and military system he established with his companions. All subjects are very much relevant to modern needs and concepts and very much detailed and adapted to the needs and mind of modern intellectuals, may be addressing more to western mind and intelligentsia.
He published first written constitution of in the History of Constitutional Law, the text and its analysis. I vividly remember how detailed information he gave in his lectures in Istanbul late 1950s and early 1960s, how he interpreted the simple Arabic words in the text in their historic and civilization context, and what are their relevance today. He explained that, it is possible to adapt the three branches of western classification of state, namely legislature, executive and judicial branches, with adding Islam to the content and a fourth branch that is dawa, teaching and spreading Islam branch. The addition of fourth branch, of course without forcing anyone and without exploiting or abusing the position of the people, I mean not like blind evangelization in rigid Christian sense.
He has produced Introduction to Islam in French first, then in English and German as his friends could not do the job he took over writing one by one on the subjects agreed upon to be written by each individual at a specific period of time. Since next meeting very few of them showed up with little work, he himself completed the work and published it (this is the story which he told us, his students some forty years ago).
Prof. Hamidullah’s al-Watha’iq al-Siyasiyyah work in Arabic with seriously worked out footnotes and textual criticism is one of the mukhallad and classic reference book for the scholars and researchers in the field. One wonders how one person could take this type of work up and manage it. That is true for all of his works.
His rendering and deciphering of the letter of the Prophet addressed to Muqawqas, King of Egypt, which is on exhibited in Topkapi Museum in Istanbul has its mark on the original copy.
I had the privilege to work on the two early copies of Qur’an on display in Istanbul Topkapi Museum, and also in Ethnography Museum in Ankara on his behalf when he requested me to do so at the days of my military duties in 1967.
He also published first time in the History of Usul al-Fiqh Science Kitab al-Mu’tamad fi Usul al-Fiqh li Abi ‘l-Hasan al-Basri al-Mu’tazili. That is the first Usul al-Fiqh manuscript edited with textual criticism in Arabic by him and printed in Damascus by the French Institute of Archeology. He has written a very good introduction to Usul al-Fiqh pages and pages in French which need to be studied, dissected and worked on by young researchers, the sooner the better. This Kitab al-Mu’tamad is first source for Usul al-Fiqh researchers and scholars which gives direct views of Mu’tazili side of Usul issues, and how they view them in their words. Before this book Islamic Scholarship had references in the books of other side of the aisle, how they said the Mu’tazila were thinking or saying as their opponents in any given subject. For scholarship honesty and fairness it is very important that we need to know what is said by who, where and how in direct sentences first, then comments who said, what and where.
Dr. Hamidullah prepared textual criticism of Sahifa by Hammam b. Munabbih, which is one of the earliest hadith collection of a tabii, from the generation next to Companions of the Prophet Muhhamad (pbuh), recorded that early in Hadith Literature, in addition to Sahifa al-Sadiqa which has been dealt by Dr. Sezgin.
He also published the Muslim Conduct of State as developed text of his Ph. D work. In this work, he has discussed a lot of new concepts of modern administrative and international law with very interesting method of references and their logical interpretation stemming from Qur’an, Hadith, Sirah of Ibn Hisham and Ibn Ishaq, and also sources like al-Maghazi by al-Waqidi.
He discovered Abu Hanifa al-Dinawary’s manuscript of the Risalah of Nabatat, some part of it in San’a, Yemen and some other pages in a North African library. He correlated them with other available sources and the later sources and references based on earlier ones and reconstructed the text and published it first time in the history of Islamic Botany Studies as a small work. But I believe a big discovery showing a genre of exemplary work to future researchers may do and need to do.
He was fond of Shams al-A’immah al-Sarakhsi. He translated Sarakhsi’s Commentary on Shaibani’s Siyar based on its Sharh text to French, quite a lot of pages for UNESCO to publish. This book is a compendium on Islamic International Law, first time written in this field in that detail and centuries before Hugo Grotious named as father of International Law in the Western Hemisphere. He typed this French translation twice by himself with old typewriter, as we know in those days with no opportunity of computer miracle being in the service of humanity. But unfortunately his wish of seeing it published by UNESCO was not materialized because of cliques and may be power struggle in this type of international organizations we see happening. This huge work has been, thanks to Allah, published in Ankara, Turkey by Religious Affairs Foundation sometimes ago when he began to loose his health.
Coming back to Turkey he traveled a lot in Turkey and lectured here and there with astounding interest from the young generation and public alike. He gave lectures and conferences in Ankara, Konya, Kayseri, Erzurum and everywhere. As it was mentioned earlier, hundreds of students and young scholars have been positively affected by him all over Turkey. Among many others, Prof. Dr. Hayrettin Karaman, Prof. Dr. Bekir Topaloglu, Prof. Ihsan Sureyya Sirma, Prof. Dr. Suat Yildirim, Prof. Dr. Osman Ozturk and Prof. Dr. Mustafa Bilge.
When this brother of yours moved to Ataturk University, College of Islamic Studies in Erzurum at its third year as an associate professor doctor faculty, he invited Prof. Dr. Hamidullah to this College for the spring semesters a few years in row. We all were honored by having him enlightening and illuminating this new College of Islamic Studies with a lot of assistants who did their PhDs in France, in Germany, and in England. I, being most senior in the academia of the faculty at the time, had the opportunity to arrange Hamidullah’s visitation, lectures and residence as well. He had to stay in a small apartment with very humble means and very simple life style. Subhana Allah.
In Istanbul our ustadh used to stay in Sipahi Palas (Mahmudiye) hotel, a hotel he stayed when he visited the first time Istanbul in 1930s. The hotel is located in Cemberlitas, near Turbe, very near to Sultanahmet square where Blue Mosque is located at the heart of old Byzantine part of Istanbul. His room always looked at the grave of Sultan Abdulhamid Khan II, actually I may say less then 15-yard distance away from the Turbe of the Sultan. This Sultan is the one who reined the Ottoman Empire 33 years long, at the time when there were a lot of conspiracies brewing up under westernization trend of Young Turks with a lot of good and some times bad activities. These young Turks were blindly following the West and its non-Islamic values and mandates and bringing them to Ottoman realm. Abdulhamid was deposed twice from his throne and at the end he was put under house arrest. He is the one who was approached to be bribed for Palestine by Sabahattin Karasu coming from Selanik, a city now in Greece, with no avail of giving in. This is the city from where main members of Ittihad Wa Traqqi Jamiyyati were coming from. Also Ataturk from the same city played a very revolutionary roll in Ottoman and modern Turkish history.
Prof. Hamidullah was very traditional person, following very private life and really indulging in academic research and tracing any reference in any language with references leads and checking himself the texts, the sources with vast knowledge and linguistic skill and scholarship background he accumulated through years of hard work.
He was coming from Shafii background. He has a lot of respect to Hanafi jurists and their works too. As a matter of fact he was very much involved in Hanafi Fiqh Literature as well. He admired Hanafi fuqaha’s works done during the Qarakhanid period and his admiration gave me, this brother of yours, in his young days the opportunity to get the thesis for PhD from him the subject on the works of jurists and their works of Mavara’ al-Nahr (Transoxiana).
Hamidullah’s being single might have given him ample time and a lot of energy to spare for research in any area of interest in Islamic Studies. He had studied in the East, traveled the whole world and lived quite a long time in the West. His knowing nearly all the major eastern and western languages and studying and doing researches in western universities along with teaching and lecturing gave him a lot of experiences and exposed him to western ideas, books of orientalists. So he really had been in the source to speak, debate and also present his side of Islamic view to the western orientalists and in a very academic, gentle way but very honest and truthful way without offending any body. Because of his characters of this type he had a lot of friends in academia as well as in all walks of life and people who adapted his view and Islam in the West.
It was the destiny of this brother in exile, if you will, to hear the death of our ustadh on Tuesday December 17, 02 A.D.(13th Shawwal, 1423 Hijri). Upon hearing the news I rushed to Jacksonville, Florida in United States of America that same day and reached the apartment complex of Cedars of Baymeadows (near the intersection of Old Baymeadows and Southside), a humble apartment of his grandniece Sr. Sadida. I had the honor of being first visitor, among the persons who were affiliated with him nearly half century now in this far corner of the world as compared to his birthplace. He had passed away that day around noontime. I visited his body lying on the bed that evening.
Next morning Wednesday December 18, 2002, it was my distinct honor to cut his kafan (white shroud to be used to wrap the body after being ritually washed according to Islamic Law). I give him bathe (ghusl), with among others, brothers Irfan and Rehan, his grand nephews from his late brother’s side. We buried him that day noontime after leading salah al-janazah myself with a congregation of 60 plus people at the Muslim Garden, of Chapel Hills Memorial Gardens, located at 850 Saint Johns Bluff Rd, Jacksonville, Florida 32225. It is just across the Craig Municipal Airport, near the intersection of Atlantic Blvd. and St. Johns Bluff Rd.
This graveyard is under the Hardage Giddens Funeral Homes and cemeteries. It is about 20 miles (approx. 32 kilometers) away from the International Airport of Jacksonville, Fl. and also about four miles (approx. 6,5 kilometers) away from the Islamic Center of North Eastern of Florida. This center is located on the same road. Its address is 2333 St. Johns Bluff Road, S., Jacksonville, Florida 32246. This Islamic graveyard is newly acquired and the ustadh is the 5th one buried here. His grave is next to the grave of Armaan A. Sulaiman.
The city he was buried, Jacksonville, Florida is a city of sunshine Florida State on the shore of Atlantic Ocean, located nearly at the northern eastern part of the state looking at Europe through Atlantic Ocean. There are approximately 20.000 Muslims from all ethnicities, as I was told, more than half of them are Bosnians who took refuge after Bosnian war. It is a very important port for import of foreign cars and others as well as it is for naval purposes. It harbors a lot of important facilities which play and played very crucial roles in armed forces (Naval, Marines) of USA in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world.
Prof. Dr. Hamidullah was heimatlos. His birth country dropped him from citizenship. He did not acquire any new one. He was a man of principle. He wanted to stay loyal to his friends, ancestors and to his dream birth land. Many countries invited him including Turkey; he did not accept any new citizenship. Because of that his trips were kind of challenging. To get the visa, each time a little extra time and checking was necessary from the point of the country he was to visit. Official organizations, police were always careful and extra checking the documents submitted for any reason.
I remember when we were visiting Kayseri High Islamic Institute two officers wanted to check his I.D., since I was accompanying him it was my duty to let him not be hurt too much. In Ataturk University, we felt that people from intelligence were very curious in what he was saying, and what he was doing. The ones in the front line, like me, had to shield our ustadh from a little extra hurt and ill feeling. In those days because of martial law system, the people on the authority had a lot of power and because of that in future this humble brother feels that he had to pay for his leaning toward his ustadh. I was being looked at as uncooperative to the interest of my country and branded with it. I think people from intelligence visited some times his room and checked his papers and notes to know what he was doing. I feel we have enough people and colleagues around who would like to stick their noses here and there and abuse being around this scholar and work as kind of informant with very honestly and innocently appeared approach.
Sr. Sadida had to stay in France one year to take care of him and to arrange his travel documents to bring her Dada (originally from Turkish word Dede, grand father), since his documents had expired in quite a time before bringing him into USA at 1996. We are very appreciative of her efforts and for what she had done for our world class ustadh.
When my wife, Gulhan, who was Hamidullah’s student for years, had to leave University lecturing position because of her head cover like our daughter Merve later on. We felt our ustadh was very much hurt. That was actually the time for this brother to leave the university deanship and professorship in defense of more than 60 Muslim students with head cover and move out from the university. This ended our professor Muhammad Hamidullah’s coming to Turkey and also made our family to stay out side of academia. Of course we all did not forget how he and us are left kind of alone by our academia friend now leaning a little to the official position of the authorities of office holders and watch from the corner with half smile in their faces. Wa ilalahi ‘l-mushtaka, Wallahu huwa ‘l-musta’an. (Complaints are to Allah and He is the one help to be asked from).
Years later when our daughter Merve had first this problem of head cover in the university, then in politics as she was booed under the eyes of the whole Turkish Parliament. Also, Mr. Suleyman Demirel, the president of that time, labeled her as agent provocateur. We felt that Dr. Hamidullah also felt deep pain in his heart and prayed for us. In my various visitation, a few times together with my wife, my daughters Ravza and Elif and my granddaughter Erva, and others when he was in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania when I told him the story of our family softly he had a very nice smile and made dua for her and us. Also when he heard that Merve became Hafiza in 14 months when she was 27 years of age with two little children, he showed a lot of happiness. He was happy seeing her with my grand children Fatima and Mariam at Jacksonville, Florida residence. Fatima and Mariam treasure the gifts he gave them like their mother Merve does. Merve’s being deprived to serve in the Turkish Parliament under the watchful eyes of her party members and others together with islamically oriented organizations, media, TVs and her being left alone must have hurt him very much.
ISNA has done a very good job by assigning to his honor a section in one of the annual conferences a few years back where I was honored to be participant speaker together with Dr. Salman Nadwi, son of a well-known subcontinent Muslim scholar Sulaiman Nadwi, who came from South Africa. I had an opportunity to see some of Hamidullah’s old friends and admirers over there in that conference.
Hamidallah’s books, notes all of them graciously after being sorted out in Paris in his nearly half century old residence are brought to USA and preserved by his niece Sr. Sadida and they all need to be very professionally and seriously studied, worked on and published. His works and contributions to Islamic studies definitely deserve a lot of work, Ph. Ds and articles and scholarly meetings all over the world.
It is always observed that Dr. Hamidullah constantly developed his works and books by adding new notes in each new edition, even the books which have been translated have had many notes added into the translations which were not covered in the original texts.
It is unfortunate that some brothers put his name on the list of religious reformers among others like Sayyid Qutb, Abu ‘l-A’la al-Mawdudi, (I believe my teacher and famous mufti of Istanbul for a long time Omer Nasuhi Bilmen is also being implicated in the list) among others and published books and spread rumors as he is being British intelligence man or some thing in that line. Of course we, his students, always felt pressures and challenges to face this type of accusations, but he really did not loose his coolness and did not change his thoughts and attitude toward anyone. This brother remembers an agitated meeting with the presence of famous Turkish poet Necip Fazil Kisakurek in Erzurum quite years now where angry sighs and vents dominated the gathering. It is also a disaster that some people monopolize the concept of Ahl al-Sunnah wa ‘l-Jama’ah for themselves excluding all others, it is kind of funny many groups do it accusing all others as no ahl al-Sunnah wa ‘l-jama’ah, only themselves being firqa al-najiya (saved group). O Allah! Guide us, all, to the straight path.
Having a lot of experiences and also having seen quite a few colleagues around, who were not supporting Dr. Hamidullah in his efforts and they were watching him from their comfort zones whats going on in his circle, is very sad still haunting memory for all of us in academia. Forgiveness and tolerance are requested for ambiguity and the vagueness of the content.
It is also painfully regrettable, how non-professional brothers in terms of Islamic Scholarship or very narrow minded village level type of knowledge possessors had put a lot of writings in the books distributed every where the blindly accusations they poured on this mubarak scholar who was a very generous Muslim alim, and put their mahalla / village and tribal level grudges and hatreds against him, Dr. Hamidullah being high standard character and always behaving with good faith, he is never being heard saying anything against nobody at all, as if he knew that his accusers and their companies will one day, meaning soon, would slide away from real Islam, just contrary to their self claimed righteousness to worldly benefits, money and capitalistic economic harvestings and reaping of the time and will fall in due time by immersing themselves and their firms and companies deep into the non Islamic involvements with bank credits, and interests, in their publications, media outlets, news papers, magazines, TV channels and all type of programs, even leaning to ignore hijab problems happening under their nose, not supporting any one in their struggles, so that their nuqud (money) be safely flowing in, all of that, and more. Ummah would see more and more what went wrong and what is going on now and what will happen on due time. Here we see the secularization of Islamic movement and activities as we see them changing their pure purposes to worldly emphasis. This we saw and see a lot now days all over the world of course. Qur’an says, “You will be definitely questioned for what you are doing”.
His books have been translated into Turkish by Dr. Salih Tug, the late Kemal Kuscu, the late Said Mutlu and by some others.
As it was stated earlier Hamidullah has a settled effect, both direct and indirect, on young Muslim generation in Turkey, who are today back bones of Islamic Studies with full professorship degrees and also on emergence of Islam in social arena and globally everywhere. The ones who were effected by him in one way or another are very nicely active and organized everywhere, some of the details may be too early to write about, since this may not help the cause of Islam at large and since there are powers and missions to watch and take measures necessary to curb the Islamic activities or keep things under control.
We know that there are some thesis and works on the life of Hamidullah and his service to academia and Islamic Studies in general. We hope that there will be a lot of workshops, seminars, and works on him in the future. Hearing that International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), Herndon, Virginia is planning under the leadership of Dr. Ahmad Totonji and his colleagues to have a scholarly workshop on him and perhaps to publish one or more Festschrift (Armaghan in Turkish) containing his life, works, scholarly articles basically written about him and his works and his service to Islamic Sciences may be very good for his memory. Also having heard that his grandniece Sr. Sadida is planning to have a trust on his life and place his books, notes and all that he collected in the service of researchers who intend to work on Hamidullah is really heart warming. This perhaps may mean the making up of ummah after his death for what we all missed, if not neglected, when Dr. Hamidullah was alive and may be a wasila for him to be blessed by Allah. Unfortunately it is a norm for ummah not to have fully benefit from Muslim scholars and fully appreciate them in their lives, as it happened to Abdullah Yusuf Ali, the famous translator of Qur’an and many others.
As we all know, no alim actually has and had any driver, any office, any secretary any car dedicated to them , as police chiefs , sergeants, colonels and generals who have all these facilities with weapons, arms every where in the Muslim world. Their number would total up to millions. They have budgets reaching to billions of US dollars, with all comforts at head quarters and state owned free or very cheap nominally charged housings and a lot of health benefits and insurances and kids’ education facilities, all for their own.
But when it comes to Islamic scholarship and scholars themselves there is no facilities, no real good salaries, no housing now a day, except perhaps who are state appointed and supporters of political will in each country, depending on circumstances. This phenomenon of no interest in scholars in real sense and a formal and global way of dealing with them on the parts of states and governments in Muslim countries has to have definitely a negative effect on the status of ummah and it must be considered as a strong factor in why ummah is where it is today. To my knowledge, during the Ottoman Empire time the salaries and Islamic waqf facilities were just an exception to this meager life of Muslim scholars. Indeed ulama (Muslim scholars) were upper class people with salaries and benefits above the ministers that time. Let me mention here that according to Waqfiyya of Sulaimaniyya Mosque in Istanbul, made by the waqif, Kanuni Sutlan Suleyman Sulaiman the Magnificent, there were in the mosque 270 or more staff, like scholars, muadhddins, imams, khatibs, lecturers, preachers, mudarrises, well paid with high ranks according to their experience.
They held kursis (chairs), like universities of today, to teach at a specific time in an assigned corner of the mosque as open system to students and to the public. These were kursu shailigi positions assigned, through rigorous selection process, to the best minds of ummah from all over Ottoman Empire, with no discrimination of ethnicity, or origin of city or any thing like that. The assignments were done just in fairness and equality. All were paid very high salaries and other benefits.
Many central mosques were in this category, like Aya Sofya, Fatih Suyltan Mosque, Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) and many others in Istanbul and else where. The subjects taught in kursis were not Tafsir, Hadith, Fiqh and Islamic sciences only, but Arabic poems like Mu’allaqat al-Sab’a, like Hamasa, like Risala-I Qushariyya, (Sufism), Persian texts, like Gulistan of Sa’di-I Shirazi, Pand-I Attar of Faridduddin al-Attar, Mathnawi of Jalal al-Din al-Rumi and many other subjects in the fields of literature, history as well. Public and ilmiyya sinifi (scholarship) had an opportunity to be exposed to the same thing and be able to have same level of knowledge and communicability with each other and with all segments of society. No more such a thing, of course, today. That did not last too long after the fall of Ottomans in the countries which took up its heritage.
Why not Muslim alims, scholars, fuqaha, qaris and other Muslim intellectuals do not have any thing like those ones in other areas? Why do we not have any Ijtihad Institution with support service department where some thousands of alims live, work, and discuss and debate the issues, and pass decisions collectively and put their effort to the service of Ummah? As supreme courts in many countries are doing, as many intelligence agencies enjoying the facilities they need for the job. Why ummah’s cream scholars are to live mediocre, even substandard lives with very limited means and ways, whereas the ummah’s wealth is squandered by political will high echelon sitting guys? Why is it that we do not have any full-fledged centers of Islamic research and Ijtihad at least one in Muslim world, but we have Sheraton Hotels, Anatole Hotels, Hilton Hotels and many other chains of them with full staff and managements? Why is this reckless and indifference attitude of Ummah towards Ulama and Muslim scholars? Why is it that in some countries Muslim scholars in recent history have been sent to their homes to die with very little salaries to save people and public from their evil influence (astaghfirullah, Islamically and religiously positive one, of course) under the watchful eyes of ummah ? We need scholars like Hamidullah come together in an institute and study collectively the texts of Qur’an, hadith with a new methodology fortified with socio-historic and civilization context, not etymological only, but tracing the development in proper understanding of Islam and drawing the rules and regulations from the texts with all sensitivities to stick to revealed texts (nusus), but making revelation alive and relevant and feasible to our day and answering all the needs of modern life. He was master of words in Qur’an, hadith and the books of Ulama and as well as well versed in many languages, had a very unique and profound method of evaluating the scriptural words as they were mentioned above in their modern relevance without compromising any of the traditional meanings.
Why we, Muslims, do not have just in one place in the world an Islamic Scholarship Center like NASA for Islamic Studies where all books and materials for Islamic researches are available to the world, any thing like Koranforschungen Institute (Qur’anic Research Institute) in Munchen which has been established by German orientalists before the Second World War, but unfortunately has been lost under the bombs dropped on the city together with all staff and researchers, as it was told by Dr. Hamidullah in his lectures late 1950s in Istanbul University? Why and Why?
Why our educational system in Muslim world and else where is such that we are unable to raise high standard intellectuals, brave leaders, well equipped with modern information, flexible to adapt and to bring about the changes necessary in Muslim world and among Muslims every where, with strong personality and superb leadership qualities, directing and changing whole world order and brand the secular system with the Islamic fairness, justice and equality, (social, political, economic) in full meanings of terms and sincerity and real and honest democracy to all Muslim world for the benefit of all humanity and for us Muslims and for all faith traditions as mercy of all universes? Why not and why not?
It is worth to note that many Muslim scholars and activists have to run away from their own countries and take asylum or refuge in a non Muslim country, in the West, in America to save their lives. Why is it that their own country armed forces or others did not give or are not giving them right to live in their own birth homelands? Thanks to non Muslim countries that they are accommodating these scholars and other Muslim activists. What a pity and how inexplicable this situation is?
Dr. Hamidullah was very loyal to his friends. He and I visited the grave of Said Mutlu in the graveyard of Sandikli, a township of the province Afyon, in Turkey. I remember how sad he felt in Said’s early at young age departure from this world by an unfortunate murder case. He did not have or own any car, any lot, any apartment nothing. He used to walk in Istanbul from hotel to University and vice versa. In Paris he used to use public transportation system. Once sadly we had to leave a restaurant when the half state owned restaurant manager did not allow him to sit with a cap, kalpak, just to eat food. Each time he came to the university he privately distributed through his assistants students almost half the money he was paid by the university to the low income staff of the university. By the way he always was paid perhaps less than one fifth of the beginner level of the Faculty, yet he never said any thing related to the subject, never, ever. The amount was so little that it was a subject of embarrassment for us, his students, even to think.
It was kind of understandable that village or township level imams or religious people, also some no-professional self-appointed scholar Muslims did not have any clue about what Hamidullah was up to and even accused him flatly, some times with a total lie. Sadly one may remember what Sadrettin Yuksel said and did, what Huseyin Hilmi Isik (both from Istanbul, with who this brother had acquaintances decades ago) and his followers said and wrote about him, implicating the writer of these lines too.
Of course the followers of taqiyya Islam and some other Islamic type of movements perhaps because of the working of secularization of puritanical beginning under the influence of nuqud (money) and wealth, are well located now in economy, in media and business hopefully are doing well by being on the right paths, and not leaning to compromise their din and specifically hijab as a test (ibtila’ ) for these days, as some one allegedly did blink perhaps with one eye to prime bi-namazi in sneaky politics at the time and allegedly again sold the dignity of faith to pennies, for which we all pray that it is a hearsay and has no bearing of truth. One may say how craftily some of us are who may blink same time in one glance to two opposing cliques with different eyes. One may wonder, as opposed to commonplace, whether leader-sheikh is directing and guiding his murids (disciples) or murids are guiding their leader-sheikh. It seems common theory sheikh can not survive as sheikh if he does not bow to adapt himself to the wishes of his murids.
Last weeks and days of his silent world Dr. Hamidullah had no direct communication with words. It was only Sr. Sadida who could communicate with him in Urdu first, then later on in sign language. Week days a Pakistani sister physician, had cared of him and also a neighbor Ms. Verda too helped Sr. Sadida in the job of taking care of him. Hamidullah used to watch two little birds (pitches) with red peaks in the house joyfully in the cage in the dining room. Hamidullah who did not allow nobody to hold his over coat, jacket, grab any thing for him or from him, and also did not let any one kiss his hands or what have you, now had to depend on others in his movements, food and other necessities. Subhana Allah, what a world we all are in!
He was so humble that we remembered how he tried to help an injured Pakistani person, being informed when he was walking in the street, happened to be in Erzurum Numune Hospital and his family wanted his body to be sent to Pakistan after his death.
Hamidullah, hafiz al-Qur’an, very private, lived like a lion in ‘Ilm, in Islamic Studies, died as a lion. Never bowed, never compromised his belief, his knowledge and academic independence no matter what for any thing. And now he joined to his friends who were like him in exile, like his good friend in Paris Topchubashi, Tayyib Okic, Muhammad al-Mubarak, A.F. Abu Ghudda, Dr. Said Ramadhan (Egyptian activist lived in Switzerland), Dr.Osman Rescher (who was working in the same Institute Dr. Hamidullah worked and who also was single, died in exile in Istanbul), teachers in my silsila (chain of teachers) Shaikh al-Islam Mustafa Sabri and his deputy Zahid al-Kawthari (first one being last Shaikh al-Islam of Ottoman Empire and the second one being his deputy in Mashikhat-I Islamiyya and both being kicked out and sent out of the country with no money and no salary into exile in a group of 150s and having no chance of returning back to their birth country, Turkey and their children too being mercilessly left with tears inside and outside their homeland under the watchful eyes of rich and powerful and what have you) and also Abdul Hakim Ervasi, who is also a teacher in the silsila of the writer of these lines, being sent and died in local exile, in the village or township of Baglum, in Ankara, also Shaikh Said Nursi, who unlike self claimed luke warm followers of luxury, lived single, sent to exile many times and jailed a lot of times, (the tragic part is that he is in exile even in his grave over four decades now, since no body knows where his grave is because the administration at the time decided it to be like that), Fethullah Gulen (who is living at the moment in USA, far away from his birth city Erzurum, Turkey, and who is vividly remembered by this brother his distinctly respectful audience with Hamidullah when he visited High Islamic Institute of Izmir, Turkey) are examples for local and international exiles which took place in many Muslim countries. Esad Cosan who recently died also in exile needs to be added to the long list one may make. He really was well trained, well thought and well spoken spiritual leader who had to leave academic life because some one thought so. What can I say, but Allahumma! as our ulama used to say when they discussed the challenging points in their books. Allahumma! Allahumma! (O my God! O my God!). One thing I want to stress on is as the key word “mission in exile”.
I can not help remembering and mentioning here my beloved teachers among many others, Terzi Ahmed Efendi (Topaloglu) who taught me al-Sarf wa ‘l-Nahw, and Islamic Sciences in his farm and home, Cevdet Simsek who was consistently reading Arabic text to the public after Asr prayers every day in his Orta Camii and translating them to the people who were business people, professionals (that is what I have inherited from him in my practice in my academic and professional life), and Saban Bas who also was very appreciative for my being very in time in my attendance in his home, all from Adapazari, Sakarya, Bekir Haki Yener, mufti of Eminonu and later Mufti of Istanbul, who was sent home by military governor of Istanbul at the time to retire to his home after 1960 coup d’etat and who called this brother of yours “baba Yusuf” and encouraged him to study learn western languages, English, German and French and the like and whose deerish looking eyes still haunt the writer, Mahir Iz, murshid (guide) and fatherly teacher and Uskudari Ali Efendi, who was a Royal Family hafiz of Ottoman Empire almost a century ago, one of the biggest shaikh al-Qurra’ (Chief of the master reciters of Qur’an), Hazmi Tura who was last Mathnawi-Khan title holder and taught Mathnawi of Mawlana Jalal al-Din al-Rumi to this brother, one of the last masihat-I Islamiyya musawwid faqihs in charge of drafting fatwas for shaikh al-Islam Ali Haydar Ahiskavi, his good disciples Fuad Camdibi, Ali Yekta Sundu (with who I worked as muadhdhin in Hirka-I Sharif Mosque in Istanbul) and Carsmbali Mahmut Efendi (who had developed his taste of leadership as compared to his shaikh Ali Haydar), Emin Sarac from Fatih, Istanbul (who is oldest student of Ali Haydar (These are the people who were in one way or another I had affiliated with in my youth days in Istanbul), Qari ustad Ali Riza Sagman, Celal Okten, Mahmut Bayram and Zekai Konrapa who established and served in the most important revolutionary schools for non-arab muslims in the last century, Imam-Khatib Schools in Turkey, all from Istanbul. There were many more ulama and mudarrisin in madrasahs ,some were at the level of Darsiam, who were sent to their homes with no substantial financial source to support their lives and their families, kind of house arrest, to clean the environment from their influence and to cut the society’s tie with the past of Islamic content.
All of them were basically mazlum (oppressed, done injustice, not cared about by others) by zalim and tyrant , anti-religion, anti-Islam, secularist, exploiting religion of Islam governments and states of Muslim world. The whole Muslim world is suffering from fake democracy pushers and maintainers in form of political establishments and military powers who are there to suppress the voice of common man and the people, manipulate whole system and grab lion’s share from the national wealth and maintain the status quo in their favor. No one think that they are sincere in democracy. Hijab is totally banned in some Muslim countries, women and girls are prevented from entering university buildings and schools and even hospitals with their hiajb, some even are forced to migrate to western countries in search of opportunities to finish their education with a lot of financial problems and needs. This is mainly happening under the direct or indirect influence of military or militarist regimes of their own people with no affection to their citizens in this category and western world is tacitly giving them green light too. Undoubtedly there are many other scholars in this category for who we pray that they all are with anbiya’, siddiqin, shuhada’ and ibad Allah al-salihin in the realm of souls (‘Alam al-Arwah), and finally would go to paradise. Let’s not forget that, as it was said earlier, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, well-known translator of Qur’an into English also found by British police at Trafalgar Square at a rainy day sitting with a bundle and taken to hospital, then to nursing home, and then passed away alone with no relative around, buried in the graveyard of Surrey, UK alone next to the grave of M. Marmaduke Pickthall, other translator of Qur’an into English. There are many Bosnian Muslim scholars, North African Muslim leaders and scholars who died outside of their countries, mainly in the western countries like France, England, Switzerland, USA and Canada, with no comfort zones for them at their last days of lives to able to die in their birth places or at the places they grow up. One even can make tragic stories out of their miseries, Ph.D subjects can be taken on their ordeals putting out scholarly all sociological explanation of the prevailing conditions surrounding them.
Definitely we have a big innumerable category of Muslim scholars who were doomed to live and die in exile in their own countries, many in house arrest, or sent to home being whispered in the ear an authoritative order to stay and die at home, an order which was coming from the authorities with gun. In a Muslim country last century quite a time a go Muslim scholars had to suffer some with lives because they opposed the imposed Orthodox Jewish type of hat to wear instead of turban or fez. This brother thinks that when this magnitude of injustice and wrong doing is done to this type of alims and they die unhappy and broken hearts, how is it possible for carelessly watching category of people that they prosper, when their bad duas with whispering in the lips and tears in the eyes, are always hanging and looming around on the heads of ummah. When this type of trauma gets into the posterity of the day and ummah, how would be possible to have any real solution and help from Allah, the Almighty? How?
I would like to make an important point here, I see many social, economic, commercial, political and other organizations and institutions, like companies, firms, banks (I honestly appreciate Raqabah Shar’iyyah committees of a few of them, though they maybe not ideally capable to the mission), political parties and governments claim to be Islamic, or intend to be Islamic or pursue Islamic system and law and to apply its rules as much as possible in their daily wheeling and dealings and actions and executive works, but often times they do not have at hand on the site any committee comprised of well versed Muslim jurists, faqihs or alims who are well experienced and who can give an good opinion on the spot to ensure the Islamicity of any act and deed falling in their category. How one can make sure without having such committee of scholars available full time at hand on site? Of course I am talking about a committee of quality scholars who fit to job,like Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah, Dr.Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Dr. Hasan al-Turabi, Taqiuddin Uthmani, Taha J. al-‘Alwani, Hayrettin Karaman and the like. I mean fugaha’ (Muslim jurisprudence specialists) who may evaluate the complex issues of secular nature and worldly problems at the moment on the spot and find from the main sources of Islamic law most fitting answers and solutions to them and in no time convey to the respective executives for full and proper in time implementation thereof. So that real life may not fall behind the Islamic rules or Islam may be kept relevant to every day life of Muslims all over the world. It would be disaster otherwise as it was happened at the end of Ottoman Empire in countries like Turkey, Tunisia, even Pakistan and maybe in Iran too. These are the countries which claim and perhaps intend to globally apply Islamic law, but still struggling to establish an Islamic Law Order. I feel pity for such organizations and parties, how they are going to stand on their feet at the day of Judgment in front of their Maker and answer the violations they committed in the field of the human rights of others (huqud al-‘Ibad)?
Dr. Hamidullah’s relatives told me that he smiled, in appreciation I believe, when he read my alias at the bottom of my letter to him of “Yusuf –I Gum-Shuda Dar Ghayabat-I Jubb-I America (in Arabic Yusuf al-Ghaib fi Ghayabat-I Jubb-I Amarika). This meaing of this alias is Yusuf who is lost in the bottom of the well of America, inferring the Story of Yusuf, the prophet and I treasure this very much. He never liked his pictures and photos are taken, he was against it from the Islamic point of view. He never took copyright money from his books, always he used to suggest the publishers to deduct the author’s share from the cost and sell the books as cheap as possible. He was not inclined to exploit knowledge and restrict it from freely spreading among the people.
He was an alim of humility, humbleness, man of ibada and namaz and very much loving of the prophet Muhammad and ulama. He had the urge of research and investigation and seeing and showing the sources of the quotes where ever he wanted to say or to write any thing in any language. In his researches he was very much focused, dedicated, and definitely very loyal to the subject, friends, and ulama of the past. He was surprisingly prompt in answering the letters. His letters were so brief, just to the point. Once when we, young candidates of scholarship, were flying in the air of imaginary world establishing a research foundation and thinking that we will write to Muslim scholars all over the world and invite them and let them lecture etc, he asked us how many of them in our guess would answer the letters. Later we learned the hard way that no one was communicable by letters. Hamidullah was exception to this bad habit of disaster magnitude by which Ummah suffers. He always was used to be at the place of appointment a little ahead of time. He was never late. He used to say “la-budda la-na an nataqaddam (we need to be early over there)”. He was a man of no tea, no coffee, very little eating, preferably some rice with a little yogurt, may be a little piece of meat, which could be chicken. He was not a man of eating or drinking any thing in between the meals I don’t think he was eating three-four meals a day. Hamidullah’s sweet smile in his face and his deer looking eyes are always to be remembered by his students and friends.
My granddaughters Fatima and Mariam asked me whether I have experienced any miracle in my life, so I had to tell them the following story: When I visited Paris at 1963 on my way back from the conference of FOSIS which took place in Manchester, UK and at which I had the privilege of representing the Student Association of High Islamic Institute of Istanbul, I wanted to see a friend of mine, Prof Dr. Yahya Akyuz, who was in Nancy, France, but that time, I did not have his address hoping that I may meet him at the main Mosque in Paris after Friday prayer if he moved to Paris. This in my mind I visited my ustadh Hamidullah and requested him to go to Bibliotheque National with me, and when we went there and wanted to get a pass from the office to enter the Library the person came out from the office was my student days friend Dr. Akyuz. So this was kind of miracle for me , one can not explain easily. Ten and more million people in Paris, in an office among the millions of offices of the hundreds of thousands of buildings, I met my friend. Extra ordinary. This means something for this brother. Definitely it did not come from me, sinner, and I have no credit from that.
Soon we all will join him and stand in front of our Creator and Almighty Allah, give account to Him at the Day of Judgment, and have to reckon with our friends and colleagues who sided hypocrites, may be not kuffar but luke-warm Muslims, or leaned to them, leaving sincere Muslims alone to safe guard their worldly interests, to keep their standing in the positions they held and perhaps compromised Islam and rules of divine revelation with any one in authority, as this was before and is the norm nowadays.
I can not help thinking what a destiny of Dr. Hamidullah had to have, Hyderabad-Deccan, Nizam State, Paris, France, long life over there and last resort Jacksonville, Florida. How fani (mortal and transient) this world is and how vulnerable we all are! As it is expressed in a poem by a popular Turkish poet, Yunus Emre, he lived in ghurba (far way from his country of birth), died in ghurbah, washed by gharibs (people in ghurbah, strangers and aliens). By the way same word of ghurbah, has very close relation with its root gharb which means also ‘west”, in that context “gharib” means westerner, the one who is in the west) and buried in ghurbah. What an inexplicable destiny!
Now ustadh Hamidullah is resting in his last residence in exile, I would like to qualify it as residence with his Maker, his soul prayfully being in A’la al-‘Illiyyin, enjoying the company of all prophets, awliya (saints), ulama, and fuqaha’ (scholars of Islamic Jurisprudence) and having the opportunity to see things in open and in their real form (‘ayna al-yaqin and haqq al-yaqin). We hope and pray that he be considered in the presence of his creator Allah, Almighty, as shahid, since he suffered quite a lot, and because of ink on his pen, penned down in his numberless articles, works and book, as the saying goes “ the ink of scholars will weigh heavier than blood of shahids”. We all pray for him and say:
“Inna Lillah wa inna ilahi raji’un (We belong to Allah and we will return to Him)”.
“Al-Salamu ‘Alaika ya ustadh, anta lana salaf, wa nahnu bika insha Allh lahiqun” (As-Salamu Alaika o ustadh, you preceded us, we will be soon insha Allah joining you).
May Allah take this mubarak sufi-characterized and muhammadi behaved alim to “buhbuhat al-Jannah ( comfort of Paradise) and let us with all family members join him as part of his entourage and his company over there in Firdaws al-A’la and let all of us enjoy being in huzur Rasulillah (being around in the company of the Messenger of Allah) and liqa’ ma’a Allah (meeting Allah, j.j.). Amin.
Rahmat Allahi ‘Alaih.
• Fmr. dean and Professor of Islamic Law at the College of Islamic Studies, Ataturk University, Erzurum, Turkey, now resides at Dallas, Texas, USA.
• Thanks to my granddaughters, Fatima and Mariam, for their proofreading and corrections.
• You may see and listen a lecture in the Memory of Hamidullah given on January 12, 03, at the Islamic Association of North Texas, Dallas, Texas, USA at the following link http://www.iant.com/m_hamidullah.php
• Some pictures of his graves, and graveyard as well as a selective list of his works could also be found at this web