Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah: Great Scholar, Simple Man

Posted: 16 Shawwal 1423, 21 December 2002

Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah, was born on February 9, 1908, in the state of Hyderabad Deccan in the Indian subcontinent. He was the youngest of 3 brothers and 5 sisters.

In Hyderabad, Dr. Hamidullah was educated at Darul-Uloom secondary school, Nizam College and Osmania University from where he obtained his MA and LLB degree in International Law. From 1933-35 he studied at several universities in Europe and obtained a doctorate from Bonn University in Germany. In 1936, he obtained a degree from the Sorbonne University, France. From 1936-46 he served on the faculty of Osmania University teaching International Law.

In 1946, he was appointed as member of the delegation sent by the Nizam of Hyderabad at the League of the Nations. After the 1948 invasion of Hyderabad by the Indian army, Hamidullah chose to live in exile in France. In 1948, he founded the Hyderabad Liberation Society to get Hyderabad recognized as an independent state. He decided to stay as a stateless person as long as the question of Hyderabad was still open in the United Nations.

In 1985, he was awarded the Hilal-e-Imtiaz, the highest civilian award of Pakistan that includes a substantial monetary amount. He donated the award money to Islamic Research Academy, Islamabad.

He stayed in France till 1996, when he was forced to move to the USA because of illness. The professor never married. During the last few years of his life, he was being taken care of by the grand daughter of his brother, sister Sadida who left her job to devote herself to his care.

Professor Hamidullah's scholarship is unparalleled in the last century. He was fluent in 22 languages including Urdu, Arabic, French, English, etc. He learned Thai at the age of 84. He translated the Qur'an in French and many other languages. He also translated a number of other important Islamic books in many European languages. He gave lectures in various universities around the world, some of which have been published. His works on Islamic science, history and culture number more than 250. His books have been translated in many languages.

Some of his most famous books include "Introduction to Islam", "Muhammad Rasulullah", "The Battlefields of Prophet Muhammad", "The Muslim Conduct of State", and "The First Written Constitution."

The publication of Sahifa Hammam bin Munabbah proved, as has always been held, that the earliest manuscripts had been absorbed in the later compilations.

One of his great contributions to the hadith literature was the discovery of Sahifa Hammam bin Munabbah, the earliest hadith manuscript still extant today. Two copies of it were discovered; one in a Damascus library and the other in a library in Berlin. Dr. Hamidullah published it after carefully comparing the two manuscripts. This was an important discovery for the hadith scholars. It also proved, as has always been held, that the earliest manuscripts had been absorbed in the much bigger later compilations. Hammam bin Munabbah was a disciple of Syedna Abu Huraira, Radi-Allahu unhu. It was generally known that Sahifah Hammam bin Munabah had been completely included in the Musnad Ahmed. After the publication of the Sahifah by Dr. Hamidullah, hadith scholars searched Musnad Ahmed for the presence of the ahadith from the Sahifah. They found all 138 ahadith of the Sahifah in the Musnad. There was not the slightest discrepancy in any of them!

He wrote several researched treatise on the early life of Muslims. Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah was well known for the great quality and high caliber of his research in Islamic Law and history. He was recognized as one of the most authoritative scholars in Islamic International Law and Islamic Constitutional aw. At its initial stages, he was invited by the government of Pakistan to help draft the constitution of Pakistan.

This great scholar led a life of simplicity, patience and humility. He passed away in his sleep on December 17, 2002 at the age of 95 in Jacksonville, Florida.