Muhammad Hamidullah: 'A Saint in Paris'

Muhammed Hamidullah was a scholar who devoted his entire life to education and knowledge...

Muhammad Hamidullah: 'A Saint in Paris'

Seyma Derbeder

On the very first day of class, our university professor made clear to us his will, and this was certainly enough to catch our attention. As my classmates and I were all eagerly waiting for what our professor was going to tell us, he continued by exclaiming, “If you don’t read this book, I will never forgive you!”

What was this important book he was speaking of? At this point we were even more curious. Before we could ask, our professor broke the suspense and told us, “The Prophet of Islam, by Muhammed Hamidullah”.

Being the youngest in a family of eight children, Muhammed Hamidullah was born in the city of Haidarabad in 1908, when India and Pakistan was still being ruled under one government.  After studying in the Dar’ul-Ulum madrasah (Muslim theology school), he went on law at Osmaniye University. Even as a young boy, Hamidullah took great interest in the biography of the Prophet Muhammad, and decided to go to France in order to further study the subject. He graduated from Paris University, with a doctorate degree based on the topic of the “Prophet’s war letters”.

A short while later, he enrolled in Germany’s Tübingen University and prepared another doctoral thesis. While he was in Paris, India fell under British imperial occupation. He wrote a number of articles protesting against the invasion, and as a result of his intellectual struggle, the Indian government repealed his Indian citizenship. For this reason, Muhammed Hamidullah was no longer able to return to his homeland India, and thus decided to remain in Paris. At this point, he started to engage in scientific academic work at the National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS).

Teaching in Turkey

Muhammed Hamidullah started teaching in universities in Turkey as of the year of 1952. He started off in Istanbul University’s Law and Literature Faculty. He later worked in Ankara University’s Islamic Theology Faculty and the Islamic Knowledge Faculty in Erzurum as a professor. He furthermore presented a great number and variety of seminars and conferences on different topics and different audiences, which not only attracted academics, but also the general public.

His teaching at universities, in addition to compilations of his works, are still relevant today and have played a major role in impacting and helping to accomplish the upbringing of researchers and scientists in our day, and has especially helped to constitute an example for them in matters of subjects and methods.

Muhammed Hamidullah, who never married, was a scholar who devoted his entire life to education and knowledge. He knew many languages, including English, German, French, Persian, Arabic, Italian, Russian and some Turkish.

‘‘A Saint in Paris’’ 

Scholars from various backgrounds learnt a lot from this great âlim, here I would like to explain some reminiscences about him that would reflect his scholarly character and personal devotion:

"When I was living away from home, in the 90s, we wanted to visit Professor Hamidullah with a few friends. We went to his neighborhood in Paris, where we came across a Turkish worker. We described the professor to him and asked him where he lives. The worker paused and thought to himself, then said “I don’t know him myself, however, some people say there is a saint who lives around here, I believe you are asking for him”. The worker’s explanation told of the contentment of the Muslims living there, and that was enough to explain everything.

‘‘If he was Christian...’’

‘‘When I was in Paris once, I wanted to visit Professor Hamidullah, so I went to his house. However, the doorkeeper said he had gone to Tunisia to give a conference. I then pleaded to him: “Can you please just open his door for me, so I can see what kind of place he lives in, so I can inhale his air?” The doorkeeper opened the door. There were many different books all over the floor. In one corner was his bed, and by the side of his bed was a tasbih/misbaha (a rosary used by Muslims for meditating over the glory of God), a skullcap and prayer mat. Ismail Hakki asked the doorkeeper what kind of a person he was. With a pleasant smile on his face, the doorkeeper replied: “If he was Christian, he would definitely be declared a reverend.”

"I have to stay here"

‘‘When I was in Paris, I invited Hamidullah to come to Istanbul. ‘You have been battling on the Western front, you must be tired. Come to Istanbul, be my guest and let my son attend to your service. Please honor us by letting us be at your service and your benefit,’ I requested. Hamidullah’s reply showed us what a truly selfless nature he had: ‘There are valuable people serving in Turkey. I have to stay here. Every week, there are a few French people who become Muslim. I must attend to them’, he replied.”

Sewn slippers and oil-free macaroni

When I went to visit Professor Hamidullah there was something I noticed:

"His bed was covered with a floor cloth...His eyes were always smiling, but I would quickly look away. It was obvious that he was semi-poor. I saw the slippers he hand sewn himself with thick yarn. He was against worldly pleasures and comfort, and focused entirely on the hereafter and unseen realm. When we wanted to kiss his hand he would not permit us to do so, when we attempted to leave, he offered us candy. Before I stepped out of the house, right behind the door was a small pot on a table. It wasn’t clear if there was oil in the pot or not, but there was a small piece of macaroni... And shortly after we left he was going to fulfill his appetite with that piece of macaroni.”

His last days and his death

Muhammed Hamidullah spent the last days and moments of his abundant life in America, where he had gone for treatment due to a number of illnesses that come along with old-age. However, he just wanted to leave the hospital right away and go back to his home in Paris. He put up a battle with his nieces and nephews, who insisted for him to stay in the hospital: “There are still many things to be done,” was his counter. He was 96 years old when he said this.

And at that age, on December 19th, 2002, he passed away in America. As a great scholar, he left behind many books and many students, and was a splendid life example in many matters such as knowledge, asceticism and virtues.

Some of his works include the following:

Introduction to Islam (1961)

Battlefields of the Prophet Muhammad (1962)

Islamic notion of conflict of laws (1962)

The History of the Qur’an (1965)

The Prophet of Islam (1966)

Islam, Philosophy and Science (1990)

The Emergence of Islam (1996)

Introduction to Islamic History (1999)

Last Mod: 04 Mart 2014, 18:20
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