Dr. Abidullah Ghazi & His Family
A Lifetime of Commitment to Faith, Peace and Understanding
-IQRA’ Editorial Staff-
With global tensions on the rise, especially in the arena Muslim World interaction with the West, never has there been a greater need for qualified individuals to provide both correct information and positive guidance. Dr. Abidullah Ghazi is one such individual. It is with great excitement, but with no less surprise, that his name has been included in the list of “The 500 Most Influential Muslims 2009”of the world, a research publication edited by John Esposito of The Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Center For Muslim Christian Understanding, Georgetown University. This is a fitting recognition for this one of a kind man, given that in him are blended the moderation of his traditional Islamic upbringing (which has equipped him with the knowledge of Islamic Studies), an inherent appreciation of the humanistic heritage of the West (which was gained from his Harvard years and teaching in various Indian, Middle Eastern, American and European institutions of higher learning) as well as an extensive initiatives and involvements in interfaith dialogue. His teacher, Professor Habib at Aligarh wrote in 1959 about him, “Abidullah Ghazi is the very best of the students that this University has produced, both from the perspective of academics and social service.” Prominent Indian educator Syed Hamid, Chancellor of Hamdard University of Delhi called him a “man of millennium”.
Dr. Abidullah Ghazi hails from a family long established in Islamic educational endeavors and freedom struggle. His distant ancestor was none other than Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, the host of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). Khwājah cAbdullah Ansarī, scholar and Sufi teacher of Herat (d.1088CE) was another of his versatile ancestors. He was famous mystic theologian, interpreter of the Qur’an and perhaps the best Persian prose writer ever.
In more recent times his great-great grandfather, Mawlānā Muhammad Qāsim Nanawtawī (1832-1880), who first participated in India’s first war of independence in 1857, later was instrumental in establishing one of the most prestigious Islamic seminaries (madrasahs) of the Muslim World, the Dār ul-cUlūm (1867), the mother of all Madrasah’s in the northern Indian town of Deoband. After the fall of the Mughal empire, Mawlānā Nanawtawī (a traditionally trained theologian), saw the need to provide India’s millions of Muslims with self-supporting institutions that would strengthen their faith and promote their national zeal for freedom.
His son-in-law, Mawlānā cAbdullah Ansarī (great-grandfather of Dr. Abidullah Ghazi), was one of the first graduates of the Dār ul-cUlūm and became the first dean of theology at the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College at (established in 1875), on the invitation of its founder Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. His decision to leave Deoband and join Sir Syed’s effort of Western education was opposed by his elders, yet he saw in it a unique opportunity to introduce authentic Islamic curricula and keep the young Muslim generation on the right path.
Mawlānā cAbdullah Ansarī’s eldest son, Muhammad Mian (alias Mansoor Ansarī, paternal grandfather of Dr. Abidullah Ghazi), did not attend Aligarh but was educated at the Dār ul-cUlūm, Deoband, and was profoundly influenced by the prominent Islamic scholar and freedom fighter Mahmud al-Hasan, better known as “Shaikh al-Hind”. In 1916, at the height of the First World War, Maulana Mansoor Ansari joined the anti-colonialist revolutionary movement of Shaikh al-Hind and left his homeland and his family for Afghanistan and tribal areas to organize armed resistance.
His role, along with his close associate in the movement was to influence Afghan government to support India’s freedom struggle and organize resistance against British by mobilizing Azad tribes of Northwestern India. His close relations to the rulers of the Azad tribes resulted in his second marriage in an influential family of Bajaur, to Zohra Begum; from her he fathered four children two boys and two girls. In Kabul the leaders of the Revolutionary movement met other exiled leaders and established special partnership with Ghadar party and successfully established first Provisional government (Hukumat-e-mu’aqqata) of India. The government established by the Ulama’ was secular and elected Raja Mehendra Pratap Singh, a Hindu prince of Bindraban as its President and Barkatullah Bhopali, a Muslim as Prime Minister.
During his exile Maulana Ansari traveled widely in Central Asia, the Middle East, Russia, and eventually ended up in Turkey as an acting Ambassador of Afghanistan. Later he became an adviser to Atatürk and took part in the Turkish fight for self-determination. Maulana Ansari later returned to the East and settled in the northern Afghan city of Jalalabad, where he was united with his Pathan wife and started a second family. He now concentrated his efforts on reflecting, writing and teaching. The British never allowed him to return to India (where he still had his first wife and two grown up children), as he was not prepared to ask for clemency or promise to give up struggle for freedom. He lived out the remainder of his life in exile and ironically passed away in 1946, one year before the land that he had spent his life trying to free became independent and resulted in the partition between India and Pakistan.
In later part of his life he came to recognize the value of political struggle, which his contemporaries waging in India for its freedom. He spent later part of his life in translating the Qur’an in Persian, writing about the issues of governance in Islam, establish Islamic Madaris. With the rise of Soviet Union he envisaged reconciliation with the West and establishing a united front against the Red threat of atheism. 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. He felt wary of Madrasah curriculum that was producing static minds and developed a new syllabus for Madaris integrating traditional subjects with academic education. He shared his proposal with Maulana Muhammad Tayyib, (his cousin and in law, then Chancellor of Darul Uloom) during latter’s visit to Kabul in 1939 on the invitation of King Zahir Shah.
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 Dār ul-cUlūm as well and later went on to become 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, Mawlānā 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 bi-weekly Madinah, ((Bijnor U. P.). He opposed partition and wrote profusely against this popular Muslim demand.
Abidullah Ghazi was born in 1936 in the northern Indian town of Ambheta (Dist. Saharanpur, U. P.). In his childhood he was sent to the madrasah in keeping with family tradition. There he learned Persian, elementary Arabic and the basics of Islamic theology and jurisprudence. However, his path was not destined to be that of a traditional calim. Through his grandfather’s advice, (whose vast travels exposed him to new ideas) Abidullah was taken from the madrasah system and sent into the world of modern academia. Nevertheless he continued to receive religious training privately, to become an Islamic scholar in his own right.
Abidullah completed his MA in Political Science from world renowned Aligarh Muslim University (formerly Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College), Aligarh, in 1959. While there he displayed great intellectual aptitude and achieved several exceptional distinctions as a student. He was elected secretary of the student union in 1954, president of the student union in 1959 and finally was unanimously elected as chairman of the National Council of University Students of India in 1959. 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, Mawlānā Abul Kalam Azad, and Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani. He was a favorite student of Dr. Zakir Husain Khan (Vice Chancellor of AMU) and President of India, a foremost educator and founder of Jamia Millia Islamia at New Delhi.
Following his favorite teacher Dr. Ghazi, abandoned his political ambitions and decided to work for the promotion of education in general and Islamic education in particular. He is committed to interfaith dialogue and promotion of better inter-religious understanding and many others. Abidullah Ghazi was well known throughout student-circles in India for his liberal, constructive and positive ideas and he made his name as an educator, orator, writer, poet and community worker. In the year of 1953 he secured all the first prizes University’s for debates, many national awards and was nominated to receive University’s prestigious Saifi Fida Husain Gold Medal for Best Speaker of the year.
While most people expected a bright political career in waiting fro him, he chose academic life and declined many opportunities of political careers open to him in India, Pakistan and USA. He taught at Jamia Millia Islamia, an institution founded by Mahatama Gandhi and Shaykh ul-Hind in 1919, and famous Delhi College, one of the first educational institutions established to provide both religious and modern education. He completed his Master’s in Middle East Studies in 1966 from London School of Economics.
It was while working on a project dealing with the response of culamā’ 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. While studying at Harvard Abidullah Ghazi pursued a unique interdisciplinary program combining political science with religion studies and he had an occasion to attend courses in both the faculty of theology and faculty of Middle Eastern Studies, Political Science and Sociology. This allowed him to take benefit from some of the most prominent thinkers in the fields at the time. He eventually obtained his PhD from Harvard in Comparative Religions in 1975.
Dr. Abidullah Ghazi has taught and lectured in India UK, USA and the Middle East. In addition he has taught at several universities and colleges in the United States, namely San Diego State, the University of Minnesota, Northwestern University, and Governor’s State University. He has also taught at the King Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia. Dr. Ghazi has helped various educational institutions develop programs of Islamic Studies and special courses in Islamic and South Asian Studies and is a founding member of East-West University (Established 1983) and the American Islamic College (1985). He along with his wife Dr. Tasneema Ghazi are educators without borders and have provided educational consultation in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippine, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and scores of other countries.
While at Harvard in 1968 Dr. Abidullah Ghazi, along with his educator wife Dr. Tasneema Ghazi, became aware of the need to apply modern methodology for the teaching of Islamic Studies and promotion of interfaith dialogue. This later became a serious concern and furthered a passion by which both Dr. Ghazi and his wife conceptualized an entire system of Islamic Studies appropriate for modern pluralistic society and global village. IQRA’s popular Program is based on the traditional madrasah syllabi with application of modern methodology now is use in North American Islamic schools and several dozen other countries across the world.
In 1983 they took the initiative and along with other concerned Muslims educators and community workers, founded IQRA’ International Educational Foundation. IQRA’ has now completed a comprehensive and systematic integrated system of Islamic Studies which includes 150 books covering syllabi, textbooks, workbooks, teacher’s guides etc. The program is immensely popular in USA and many countries across the world. The work of IQRA’ has inspired many similar attempts across the world and thanks to this initiative the importance of Islamic education for children and youth has come to the fore in various Islamic languages and Muslim societies.
In the context of the heartbreak of 9/11 both Dr. Abidullah Ghazi and his wife, Dr. Tasneema Ghazi, have made heartfelt efforts to review their own writings and advise educational institutions and governments in developing literature that has emphasis on Islamic universal values and appropriate for modern pluralistic society promoting peace, harmony and justice for all, which are integral to the basic teachings of Islam. Dr. Ghazi wrote in English and Urdu profusely on some contemporary issues bringing new approach to traditional issues.
IQRA’ has just completed a formidable project and developed a completely revised integrated educational system for the madaris of Singapore in cooperation with the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura, a semi-official body of Singapore Muslims. Ghazis are its chief architects and editors. The program is published and used in Singaporean madrasahs. They are developing supplementary educational material for the madrasah system in India in accordance with the curriculum of the India’s National Council of Education and Research and Training (NCERT).
The National and International communities have given prestigious awards to Dr. Ghazi (and his wife) for their life long services, which decorate walls of Iqra’ Foundation. Dr. Ghazi is recipient of Prime Minister of India Fellowship (1958-59) the prestigious SARC Interfaith Conclave’s Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Award of Interfaith Harmony, New Delhi (2007), Kainat Society’s (Delhi) Sir Sayyid Award of Social Service (2006). 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 with two major awards the Sanad-i Imtiaz (1983) and the Nishan-i-Imtiaz (1998). He is listed in several Whose Whos and is much sought after speaker on Islamic and interfaith relations.
Dr. Ghazi has traveled widely in North America and across the world with the mission to uplift the educational level of the Muslims in the World as well as to promote harmony and understanding between religions, cultures, and peoples. 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), a body of Jewish, Catholic and Muslim educators and publishers whose goal is to ensure the positive and accurate portrayal of the world’s religious traditions in each of the respective communities’ textbooks. After five years of labor they have succeeded to prepare a document presenting guiding principles for teachers to approach religions of the “other” with sensitivity and empathy. In addition to this Dr Ghazi has been recently been elected as chairman for World Council of Muslim Interfaith Relations, a pioneering effort of interfaith understanding and reconciliation. (www.wcmir.com)
Since the completion of his three educational programs Dr. Ghazi has turned his attention to academic work on Islam and Muslims in contemporary world and South Asia concentrating on their impact on modern society. It was this concern that landed him a fellowship at Harvard’s famous Center for the Study of World Religions and led to his Ph. D in the Study of Religion.
Dr. Abidullah and his wife with similar social and educational background have pioneered three major educational programs which are changing the horizon of Islamic education worldwide, namely:
- A Comprehensive, Integrated and Systematic program of Arabic and Islamic Studies.
- An Integrated Madrasah program integrating Arabic and Islamic Studies curricula with modern subjects.
- A Supplementary Program of modern subjects for Madaris in South Asia.
We are confident that the importance of his education works will unfold as time passes. Within our lifetime, Dr. Abidullah Ghazi’s efforts have pioneered a change that is transforming the understanding of Islam and interfaith relations across the world.
Note: This Biography is written by Huseyin Abiba of IQRA’ PDC Department