Muhammad Hamidullah

Muhammad Hamidullah
Born 9 February 1908
Hyderabad State, British India
Died 17 December 2002 (aged 94)
Jacksonville, Florida, United States
Alma mater Jamia Nizamia, Osmania University, Bonn University, Sorbonne University
Religion Islam
Era Modern era
Region Islamic scholar
Main interests
Islamic law, International Law, Quranic Tafsir and Hadith
Notable ideas
Evolution of Islamic, International Law

Muhammad Hamidullah (Urdu: محمد حمیداللہ), (9 February 1908 – 17 December 2002) D. Phil., D. Litt., HI, was a Muhaddith, Faqih, scholar of Islamic law and an academic author with over 250 books.[1] A prolific writer, his extensive works on Islamic science, history and culture have been published in several languages and many thousands of articles in learned journals.[2] His scholarship is regarded by many as unparalleled in the last century. A double doctorate (D.Phil and D.Litt) and a polymath, he was fluent in 22 languages including Urdu (his mother tongue), Persian, Arabic, French, English, German, Italian, Greek, Turkish, Russian etc. He learned Thai at the age of 84.[1]

Early life and background

Hamidullah was from the Deccan area of British India and was born in Hyderabad, capital city of then Hyderabad State, (now Hyderabad, Telangana, India), and hails from a family of scholars, the youngest amongst three brothers and five sisters. His family's roots lie in the Nawayath community, ]his ancestors were eminent scholars in their own right.[3]

He earned his BA, LLB and MA at Osmania University. He travelled to Germany and was awarded D.Phil by Bonn University in 1932. After serving in the faculty of Bonn as a lecturer in Arabic and Urdu for a short time, he went to France and registered at Sorbonne University for his second doctorate. He was awarded D.Litt by the university after 11 months. He taught international law at Osmania University between 1936 and 1946.[4]


In 1948, Hamidullah was appointed by the Nizam as part of the delegation sent to London and the United Nations in New York to seek support against the invasion of the Nizam's territories by Indian Forces.[3] Subsequently he moved to Pakistan and was involved in writing of Pakistan's constitution, but did not to settle there as he found the cultural environment not to his liking. In 1985, he was awarded the Hilal-e-Imtiaz, the highest civilian award of Pakistan. The monetary part of the award was donated to the Islamic Research Academy, Islamabad.[1]

In 1948 he returned to France, living there for virtually the remainder of his life, apart from travel to teaching posts he held in Turkey for a number of years. He also held a post with French National Centre for Scientific Research from 1954, which ended in 1978.

Hamidullah was the last remaining citizen of the erstwhile Hyderabad State (which following 1956 reorganisation was divided into 3 on linguistic basis, and absorbed into other states of India, most being in Andhra Pradesh) and never obtained the citizenship of any other nation. Classed as a Refugee of Hyderabad by the French Government, which allowed him to stay in Paris, he remained exiled from his homeland after its annexation by the Indian Government in 1950. Hamidullah devoted his whole life to scholarship and did not marry.[3]

His ancestors and extended family are jurists, writers and administrators. His great grandfather Maulvi Mohammed Ghauth Sharfu'l-Mulk (d. 1822) was scholar of Islamic sciences, writing over 30 books in Arabic, Persian and Urdu, including a seven volume exegesis of the Qur'an. His paternal grandfather Qadi Mohammed Sibghatullah was a jurist and a scholar of repute writing an exegesis of the Holy Qu'ran as well as other books. He was also appointed Chief Judge of Madras in 1855.[5]

Hamidullah's father Mufti Abu Mohammed Khalilullah, was a scholar of Islamic jurisprudence, a director of revenue in the government of Nizam of Hyderabad, and the pioneer in establishing an interest-free banking system in Hyderabad.[3]

Hamidullah is known for contributions to the research of Hadith history, translations of the Qur'an into multiple languages and in particular into French (first by a Muslim scholar) and for the monumental biography of the Islamic prophet Muhammad in French. He is also famous for discovering a missing work on the Prophet Muhammad regarded as one of his great contributions to the Hadith literature. The earliest Hadith manuscript still extant today, Sahifa Hammam bin Munabbah, was discovered in a Damascus library. Hammam bin Munabbah being a disciple of Sayyidina Abu Huraira, one of the Sahaba.[6] It proved, that the earliest manuscripts had been absorbed into the much bigger later compilations.


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