Muhammad Hamidullah, the world famed scholar who knew 24 languages and wrote 170 books in 22 languages, lived in France for about 50 years.
His greatest contribution is the translation of the Holy Qur’an into three languages — English, French and German.
He was an authority on Islamic and international law, which he taught at Osmania University in Hyderabad for a decade. He wrote over 1,000 articles in seven leading languages — English, French, German, Arabic, Urdu, Turkish and Persian.
Hamidullah came from a very learned and respectable family of Hyderabad. His ancestors migrated from Arabia few centuries ago. His great grandfather Maulvi Mohammed Ghauth was a well-versed scholar of Islamic sciences and wrote 30 books in Arabic, Persian and Urdu.
His maternal grandfather Qadi Mohammed Sibghatullah was an accomplished scholar who wrote a commentary of the Holy Qu’ran alongside many other books.
His father Mufti Abu Mohammed Khalilullah (died 1943), also a noted scholar of Islamic jurisprudence, was appointed as director of revenue in the government of Nizam Hyderabad. He was the pioneer in instituting the first interest-free banking system in Hyderabad.
Hamidullah was born on Muharram 6, 1326 (Feb. 9, 1908). He was the youngest of his three brothers and five sisters. He was educated in the Holy Qur'an, Hadith and Islamic subjects at home by his elders.
Later he joined Darul Uloom, Nizam College and Jamia Osmania Hyderabad from where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Laws and Master of Arts, all in international law. He received his doctorate from Bonn University, Germany and later his Doctor of Letters from Sorbonne University, France.
He also served as visiting professor of Istanbul University in Turkey. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the current secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and Saleh Tug were among his illustrious students. He also served for some time as lecturer of Arabic and Urdu at Bonn University, Germany.
It is said that hundreds of German and French people embraced Islam at his hand.
In 1946, Hamidullah was appointed as a member of Nizam’s delegation sent to the League of Nations. In 1948 he returned to France and lived there for the rest of his life as a “stateless citizen” of the world.
In 1959, he published his translation of the Holy Qu’ran in French, the first translation by a Muslim scholar in the language. It has undergone into 30 reprints and the last edition has sold over 2 million copies. The other two translations were in English and German.
In his other book “Al Qur’an Fi Kul Lesaan (Holy Quran in Every Language of the World)” published in 1939, he translated the first chapter of the Holy Qur’an (Al Fateha) in 125 languages of the world.
His major work in Arabic was “Al-Wathayeqal Aiyasiyah” published in Cairo in 1941, covering over 300 documents from the period of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the four Caliphs.
His book “Mohammed Rasulullah,” the biography of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) in English, was also printed in French under the title “Le Prophet de l’Islam” and both have been reprinted several times. His marvelous book “Muslim Conduct of State” on Islamic statecraft published in 1941 is a unique contribution to political science.
In 1985, the Pakistan government, in recognition of his scholarship and services, awarded him the “Hilal-i-Imtiaz” civilian award and donated 10 million Pakistani rupees in cash.
He declined the title and donated the whole sum to the Islamic Research Academy in Islamabad.
Hamidullah devoted his whole life to scholarship and did not marry.
In 1996, when he was 88 and engaged in his literary jihad alone, he fell ill in Paris. There was no one from his family living near him. The granddaughter of his brother, Saadia Ataullah, took him to Jacksonville in the US state of Florida and took good care of him.
He passed away on Shawwal 13, 1423 H (Dec. 17, 2002).
- By Abu Tariq Hijazi
A List of Books By Muhammad Hamidullah stocked by Kitaabun Include: