Showket Ahmad Teli
21st century has witnessed a number of global issues and events that have led to global tensions on the rise, especially in the arena of Muslim World interaction with the West. These phenomena have acted to obscure the true teaching of Islam. The need for a well designed curriculum which guides young minds of the Ummah has risen. There is also a greater need for qualified individuals to provide both correct information and positive guidance.
Dr. Abidullah Ghazi was one such individual. It is with great excitement, but with no less surprise, that his name along with his wife Dr. Tasneema Ghazi has been included in the list of “The 500 Most Influential Muslims” of the world by the “Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in 2020”. 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 Ansari 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). Khwajah Abdullah Ansari (1006-1088), scholar and Sufi teacher of Herat Afghanistan (also known as Pir-i-Herat) was another of his versatile ancestors. He was famous mystic theologian, interpreter of the Qur’an and perhaps the best Persian as well as Arabic poetry and prose writer ever. In more recent times his great grandfather, Mawlana Muhammad Qasim Nanawtawi (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 (Madaris) of the Muslim World, the Dar ul-Uloom (1867), the mother of all Madaris in the Northern Indian town of Deoband.
Dr. Abidullah Ansari Ghazi, a prominent writer, speaker, educationist, poet community activist and specialist in comparative religion was born on July 6th, 1936 in Saharunpur (Peerzadgan) in U.P. His early education was in Deoband. 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 Aalim. 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. Dr. 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 as a 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 was an advisor and worked with luminous figures such as Jawaharlal Nehru (1947-64), Mawlana Abul Kalam Azad(1947-1958), Dr. Rajinder Prashad (1950-1962), Dr. Zakir Husain (1967-1969), and Maulana Husain Ahmad Madani. He was the 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 was 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 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 for 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. He eventually obtained his PhD from Harvard University in Comparative Religions in 1975.
Dr. Abidullah Ghazi believed in the concept that “Teaching should be Centered Around the Child, His Needs and Temperament.” He 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. He has been an educational consultant to several universities and educational institutions.
Dr. Ghazi has helped various educational institutions to 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 (Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction with specialization in Reading and Language Arts from the University of Minnesota Minneapolis), became aware of the need to apply modern methodology for the teaching of Islamic Studies and promotion of interfaith dialogue.
At the Harvard University, they questioned how they would teach Islam to their children.
Deciding to make America their home, they knew that they had to nourish their children’s Fitrah with more than the memorization of Islamic tenets. Even more, they wanted their children’s Islamic education to positively impact those around them.
Later, this 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.
As educators – by training and vocation – they conceived an entire curriculum of Islamic Studies, based on the traditional madrasah syllabus yet framed within a modern educational methodology. Inspired by modern approaches to religious education, they created rudimentary syllabi, textbooks and workbooks.
IQRA’s popular Program is based on the traditional madrasah syllabi with application of modern methodology now applied in North American Islamic schools and several dozen other countries across the world.
Along the way, they gathered like-minded Islamic educators and professionals until, in 1983, their collective efforts coalesced to found IQRA’ International Educational Foundation.
Since then, the Ghazis and the IQRA’ staff created the defining Program of Islamic Studies, which includes 150 books of syllabi, textbooks, workbooks and teachers’ manuals. These books have been translated into many languages and are a part of curriculum in more than 40 countries. This curriculum has been approved by Rabta-e-Aalame Islami (Makkah Mukarramah), based in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
As the Muslim community grew, so did their educational needs. IQRA’ designed workshops and assessment tools for school administrators and teachers, coaching for parents to nurture their children’s classroom experience, and school events for children.
Dr. Abidullah Ansari Ghazi is the recipient of many prestigious awards, most notably Saif Fida Hussain Gold Medal for best Speaker (1954-1955) at AMU Convocation, Prime Minister of India Fellowship (1958-59), Sitara-i- Imtiyaz Award (Pakistan 1983), Nishan-e-Imtiyaz Award for the Development of Educational Curriculum (Pakistan 1988), 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 from the city of Los Angelis, (1995).
Dr. Abidullah Ansari Ghazi is a well known Urdu writer (Novel- Inqlab: Ek Kahani Ek Tareekh) and poet. His recent book on Urdu poem “Zikr-e-Saman Azaran” (2003) and Urdu prose book “Sareer-e-Khama” (second edition, 2004) and Maulana Abdullah Ansari, Ahwaal, Khidmat aur Ilmi Asaar became very popular.
Nothing in this world is everlasting. We all belong to Allah and to Him do we return.
Dr. Abidullah Ansari Ghazi died on 11th April 2021 at the age of 85. His death is a great loss for whole Muslim Ummah. We surely lost an asset. Words may not suffice to express the heartfelt sorrow that we feel for Dr. Abidullah Ansari Ghazi’s death.
May Allah bless him for his unique contribution and expand his grave and light it with His blessings, grant him highest place in Jannah and grant us Sabr in this tough time and help us to bear this loss.
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.
(Author is an Arabic and Islamic Studies educator at Aarifeen School of Excellence Delina, Baramulla, Kashmir. He can be reached at email@example.com)
Disclaimer: Views expressed are exclusively personal and do not necessarily reflect the position of Tahrir.