A Lifetime of Commitment to Faith, Peace & Understanding
By Huseyn Abiva
With global tensions on the rise and the great need for understanding the Muslim World and its interac- tion with the global village, there has never been a greater need for qualified individuals to provide both correct information and posi- tive guidance. Dr. Abidullah Ghazi is one such individual whose fam- ily background of Ulama' of Deo- band, diverse international edu- cational experience and five-year stay at Harvard's famous Center for the Study of World Religions, specializing on Religious and So- cial Interaction in South Asia, pre- pared him for a role of dialogue and conciliation. He has no doubt used his experience and expertise with wisdom and constancy to promote through IQRA' Interna- tional Educational Foundation, World Council of Muslim Inter- faith Relations and Chicago Coun- cil of Inter-Religious Learning a fresh understanding of Islam for Muslims and interfaith dialogue.
He is a unique person given that in him are blended the moderation of his traditional Islamic upbring- ing, deep appreciation of the rich diversity of South Asian traditions and an inherent appreciation of the humanistic heritage of the West and practical experience of involvement in interfaith dialogue, almost from his youth in India. His teacher, Pro- fessor Habib at Aligarh wrote in 1959 about his student, "Abidullah Ghazi is the very best of the students that this University has produced, both from the perspective of academics and social service." Prominent Indi- an educator Syed Hamid described him in one his articles as, "a, man of millennium".
Dr. Abidullah Ghazi hails from a family of India Ulama long established in Islamic educational endeavors and freedom struggle. In more recent times his ances- tor, Mawln Muhammad Qsim Nanawtaw (1832-1880), who first participated in India's first war of independence in 1857, later was in- strumental in establishing one of the most prestigious Islamic seminaries (madrasahs) of the Muslim World, the Dr ul-cUlm (1867).
Mawln' Nanawtaw's son- in-law, Mawln cAbdullah Ansar (great-grandfather of Dr. Abidullah Ghazi), was one of the first graduates of the Dr ulcUlm and became the first Dean of Theology (Nazime-Dinyat) at the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College (established in 1875), on the invitation of its founder Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.
Mawln cAbdullah Ansar', however, did not send his eldest son, Muhammad Mian (alias Mansoor Ansar, paternal grandfather of Dr.
Abidullah Ghazi), to Aligarh but was educated at the Dr ul-cUlm. He came under the influence of prominent scholar, Head of Darul Ulum's Hadith Department, and revolutionary Maulana Mahmud al-Hasan, and left for Afghanistan to continue the freedom struggle called by the British as Silken Letter Conspiracy.
In Kabul the leaders of the Revolutionary Movement met other exiled leaders and established special partnership with Ghadar Party and successfully established the first Provisional government (Hukumate-mu'aqqata) of free India. The government established by the ulama' was broad based and elected Raja Mehendra Pratap Singh, a Hindu prince of Bindraba,n as its President and Barkatullah Bhopali, a Muslim as Prime Minister.
Thanks to his wide experience of travels through the Middle East and Central Asia, he observed the decadence of the Muslim lands and selfish interest of their rulers and he came to recognize the value of Western education and improved relations with the West. He advised his son (Hamid al-Ansari Ghazi) to send his grandson, Abidullah Ghazi for modern education and teach him Islam privately through reputed teachers. The son of Maulana Mansoor Ansari from his first wife (and the father of Dr. Abidullah Ghazi), Hamid ul-Ansari Ghazi, was a graduate of the Dr ul-cUlm a celebrated theologian, scholar, journalist and social leader who participated in the independence struggle under the banner of the Indian National Congress along with Jawaharlal Nehru, Mawln Abul Kalam Azad and Mahatma Gandhi. Hamid ul-Ansari Ghazi was in the forefront in demonstrating the viability of a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional India through his writings as the Chief Editor of the famous nationalist bi-weekly Madinah, (Bijnor U P).
Abidullah Ghazi was born in 1936 in the northern Indian town of Ambehta (Dist. Saharanpur, UP).
In his childhood he was sent to the madrasahs in keeping with family tradition. Through his grandfather's advice, Abidullah was taken from the madrasah system and sent to Aligarh Muslim University in 1951 where he stayed till 1959. While there he displayed great intellectual aptitude and achieved several exceptional distinctions as a student. He was unanimously elected as chairman of the National Council of University Students of India. As a student leader he had an opportunity to interact with the national leadership of India. He sat with such luminous figures as Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr.
Rajinder Prashad, Mawln Abul Kalam Azad and Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani. He was a favorite student of Dr. Zakir Husain Khan (Vice Chancellor of AMU then) and President of India. Dr. Ghazi is a close friend and class-fellow of Honorable Hamid Ansari, Vice President of India, whom he regards affectionately as his ideological twin.
With his personal relations with India's national leadership, while most people expected a bright political career in waiting for him, he chose academic life and declined many opportunities of political careers open to him. He taught at Jamia Millia Islamia and famous Delhi College (1959-1963). He completed his Master's in Middle Eastern Studies in 1966 from London School of Economics.
It was in 1967, while he was staying in London and working through his research in British archives on a project dealing withthe response of culam' of South Asia to the demand of Pakistan, that he was brought to the attention of the late Professor Wilfred Cantwell Smith (d. 2000), who was the director of the Center for the Study of World Religions at the Harvard Divinity School. Professor Smith offered Abidullah a fellowship to come and complete a PhD in the study of religion with specialization on Religious and Political interaction in South Asia. He eventually obtained his PhD from Harvard in Comparative Religion in 1975 writing on Raja Ramohun Roy: his Interaction with Islam and Christianity.
Dr. Abidullah Ghazi has taught and lectured in India, UK, USA and the Middle East and provided educational consultation worldwide. He along with his wife Dr. Tasneema Ghazi are educators without borders par excellence.
While at Harvard in 1968 Dr.
Abidullah Ghazi, along with his educator wife Dr. Tasneema Ghazi, became painfully aware of the plight of Islamic Madrasah education and
decided to apply modern methodology for the teaching of Islamic Studies and the promotion of interfaith dialogue. In 1983 they founded IQRA' International Educational Foundation (Chicago). IQRA' (www.
iqra.org and www.iqrafoundation.com) has now completed a comprehensive and systematic integrated system of Islamic Studies which is being used in USA, India and worldwide. Ghazis have just completed a formidable project and produced an integrated educational system for the madaris of Singapore for the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura, an official body of Singapore Muslims.
The program integrates Arabic and Islamic studies with national curricula to enable madrasah students to appear in national examination for the High School and choose from among various career opportunities.
The national and international communities have given prestigious awards to Dr. Ghazi (and his wife) for their life long services, which decorate the walls of Iqra' Foundation. Dr. Ghazi was recipient of Prime Minister of India Fellowship, from Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru (1958-59), the prestigious SARC Interfaith Conclave's Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Award of Interfaith Harmony by Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh, New Delhi (2007).
His prominent awards in America are Citizenship Award, Ronald Regan Award, Certificate of Welcome, City of Los Angelis, 1995. Pakistan has also honored the two authors for their Islamic scholarship with two major awards: the Sanad-i- Imtiaz (1983) and the Nishan-i-Imtiaz (1998). He is listed in several Who's Who and is much sought after speaker on Islamic, social and interfaith relations.
He has been deeply involved in interfaith activities and is one of the founding members of the Chicago Committee on Inter-Religious Learning (www.ccirl.com) and is a Chairman for World Council of Muslim Interfaith Relations (USA).
Since the completion of his three educational programs, Dr.
Ghazi has turned his attention to academic work for South Asian Muslims, Hindu-Muslim Interaction in South Asia and interfaith relations in USA and South Asia. It was this concern of him that (late) Wilfred Cantwel Smith offered him a fellowship at Harvard; he feels compelled to fulfill his mentor-teacher's hopes.
I am confident that the importance of his Islamic educational works and interfaith works would unfold as time passes. Even in our lifetime they have pioneered a change that is transforming the understanding of Islam and interfaith relations across the world. Knowing his personal views and social concerns for more than two decades I am pleased that he has started addressing regularly to contemporary issues that need clarification and elucidation.
(Huseyn Abiva is a historian and Research Fellow at IQRA International Educational Foundation)