An Extraordinary Scholar’s Amazing Gift to the Umma

The death of a scholar is a loss for the entire world

By Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqi

January/February 2023

Aged 91, my uncle Mohammad Nejatullah Siddiqi breathed his last on Nov. 11 at his son’s home in Palo Alto, Calif. He is survived by his wife, three sons, two daughters and 14 grandchildren. 

As I received the news, I recalled the Prophet’s (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) words [Al-Hasan reported Ibn Mas’ud cited]: “The death of a scholar is a loss that cannot be replaced for as long as the day and night alternate” (Shu’ab al-Imān 1590).

During two Zoom meetings held in remembrance, his relatives, friends, colleagues and students from around the world paid tribute to his pioneering intellectual and scholarly contributions to Islamic economics, finance, banking and contemporary thought. 

Khursheed Ahmad, one of his closest friends and another towering figure in Islamic economics, as well as a former chairman of the Planning Commission of Pakistan, described my uncle’s departure as an irreplaceable loss for both Islamic economics and contemporary Islamic thought. 

Sadatullah Husaini (president, Jamaat Islami of India) said that Siddiqi was a long-time leader of India’s Islamic movement and that his work in Islamic economics has benefitted hundreds of thousands of people by saving themselves from interest-based economic transactions. “This is indeed a perpetual charity on his part,” he added.

Aslam Abdullah described my uncle as a reformist in his demeanor but a revolutionary in his ideas. “He challenged some of the notions that Muslim scholars have held for centuries.” 

Zaki Kirnani (chairman, Center for Studies on Science, India) pointed out that three of his works — “Maqasid-e-Sharia” (2d ed., 2017), “My Life as an Islamic Economist” (2015) and “Islamization of Knowledge: Reflections on Priorities (AJISS, Summer 2011) — are critical to understanding his thought process, adding, “He wanted Muslims to develop the capacity to critically think, reflect, and relate to the issues faced by humanity today. In his view freedom to express one’s views is essential to critical thinking.”  

Imtiaz Yusuf (associate professor, International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, Malaysia) said they will honor him by publishing a book consisting of articles by his colleagues, friends and former students highlighting Siddiqi’s contributions to Islamic economics and contemporary Islamic thought.

Among the many other tributes were the following:

• Muzammil Siddiqi (chairman, the Fiqh Council of North America): “Dr. Nejatullah Siddiqi impressed me very much by his personality and his demeanor. He was a very simple, humble but a very dignified person. He was a prolific writer and published more than 60 books and hundreds of papers on Islamic economics as well as Islam.” 

• Sen. Sirajul Haq (president, Jamaat Islami Pakistan): “We are deeply grieved to learn about the sad demise of illustrious scholar, Dr. Nejatullah Siddiqi. His services for Islam and the Muslim Ummah and for the promotion of Islamic economy will always be remembered with great reverence.” 

• Ishrat Aziz (former Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Brazil, the UAE and Tunisia), a fellow Aligarh Muslim University classmate: “Apart from his great intellectual and scholarly contributions, he was a brilliant student. Not only he topped the class in my batch, but he also received a gold medal in economics. From his student days he was a thinker and an intellectual who impressed both the students and the faculty.”

• Iqbal Masood Nadwi (chairman, the Canadian Council of Imams; a former president, ICNA-Canada): “Dr. Nejatullah Siddiqi was a very versatile person. He and his work are an asset of the Islamic movements across the world. His work will help Islamic movements establish their priorities. He was an intellectual and a thought-provoking leader.”

• Mumtaz Ali (professor, Faculty of Revealed Knowledge, International Islamic University, Malaysia): “Nejat sahib has argued that the project of Islamization of Knowledge and the movement for Islamic resurgence should not be explained in terms of power, dominance and superiority of Islamic leadership. They must be put in their proper perspectives of ethics, spirituality, morality and humanity.”

• Anas Zarqa: “One of the earliest works of Dr. Siddiqi that impressed me and the professional community was a survey of literature on Islamic economics spanning more than sixty years. He was a brilliant scholar and lovely colleague and had the capacity to present complex ideas in simple terms.” Zarqa also shared his memories of their working together for about 20 years at King Abdul Aziz University’s International Center for Research in Islamic Economics.

• Yaqoob Mirza (trustee and chairman, Amana Mutual Fund) offered: “I have greatly benefited from the knowledge, vision and wisdom of Dr. Siddiqi. He was kind enough to write a foreword for my book; he asked me to write down about the experiences and history of the growth and development of Amana Mutual fund which has become the largest mutual fund with more than six billion dollars in assets.” 

• Ramatullah (chairman, Jen Sava Cooperative and Credit Society, India), who was his student: “He was not only a teacher but my guardian too. I feel it a personal loss at his passing away. After completing my Ph. D. in economics, I incorporated my knowledge and the wisdom I gained from Dr. Siddiqi to establish two organizations: All India Council for Muslim’s Economic Upliftment and Jan Seva. The former has been serving the community for over four decades, while Jan Seva, established in 2010, is serving people in various parts of the country. So far, its yearly turn around is about three crore Indian Rupees [$548,240].” 

• Ammar Ahmed (deputy CEO, Dar Al Shariah Dubai Islamic Bank) stated that Siddiqi explained modern economic concepts very well, adding: “His vision was that the activities related to banking and economics should be run by Muslims based on Islamic Shariah. Dr. Siddiqi was a great visionary and a courageous Islamic thinker. He encouraged us all to continue our journey towards perfection and do not get disheartened by setbacks. The more than two trillion-dollar Islamic finance and banking industry owes a lot to Dr. Siddiqi’s vision, efforts, and guidance.” 

• Joining from Chennai, India, Abdur Raqeeb (general secretary, Indian Center for Islamic Finance): “Dr. Siddiqi was a dreamer and one of his dreams was that interest-free banking societies are established in every part of India to benefit the common people.” He also discussed my uncle’s contribution to establishing many Islamic banks and cooperative societies in South Asia and the Middle East. 

Arshad Siddiqi, the deceased’s eldest son, thanked everyone, especially those who expressed their thoughts: “It is very comforting to see so many of my dad’s friends, colleagues and students highlighting various aspects of his life. He was a very gentle, loving and caring person at home. If I had to say about one thing that my dad would have been looking for, it would be a just economic system which becomes a means to uplifting the umma and the community, and he would have liked us to take a very pragmatic approach to attain this goal.” 

Khalid Siddiqi, another son, also reflected: “He would take time to answer our weirdest questions. He taught us things by way of examples, instead of just telling to do this or that. Dad would love to play cards and chess. As a 15-16-year-old youngster, I would have lots of questions while reading the Quran. So, together we went through the English translation … [and] he would answer our questions and explain the context of a particular verse.” 

A Personal Note 

Last but not least, Nejatullah Siddiqi was my paternal uncle, benefactor, mentor and guide. I spent many years at his house while studying at Aligarh Muslim University during the late 1960s and 70s. I learned a great deal from his strict discipline in time management, hard work to enhance his knowledge of Islam and contemporary issues, humility, courage to express opinions on matters he considered important, willingness to accept criticism, ability to forgive people, readiness to help his students and others, as well as from his focus on finding goodness in people. 

My uncle believed in sharing intellectual thoughts and ideas, which he considered a trust from God. He wanted Muslims to learn from our heritage, but to live in the present and strive for a bright future, and to engage common people in intellectual discourses, for he saw no “scholar” and “ignorant person” division. Some of his many dreams have been fulfilled; others he left for us to realize. 

Once he said to me: “At the time of my departure from this world, I want to be like Allah has described his servants in these verses of Quran: ‘O you satisfied soul, return to the (mercy of) your Creator in such a manner that you be pleased with Him, and He be pleased with you. So, enter the company of my (esteemed) slaves and My Paradise’” (89: 27-30). 

Let us hope the Almighty will embrace him with His Forgiveness and Mercy.

Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqi, Ph.D. is professor emeritus, journalism and public relations, Western Illinois University-Macomb.

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