Scholar of renown: Muhammad Abdullah Draz

Edited by Adil Salahi, Arab News Staff
Publication Date: 
Mon, 2001-12-10 03:00

Muhammad Abdullah Draz was born in 1894 in Mahallat Diyai, a village of Kafr Al-Sheikh County in northern Egypt. His father was an Islamic scholar educated in Al-Azhar, the oldest university in the world. His work included the editing of a remarkable work, Al-Muwafaqat, by Imam Al-Shatibi, which brought a great treasure of former Islamic scholars into the hands of contemporary readers. The father wanted his son to follow religious education, so he sent him to the religious institute of Alexandria, affiliated to Al-Azhar. He followed this religious line of education throughout his schooling, until he received his degree. He then decided to learn French, as he considered such knowledge of vital importance in serving the cause of Egyptian independence. During the popular uprising of 1919, he, together with number of young Egyptians, visited foreign embassies to explain the uprising and to seek help in persuading Great Britain, the colonial power, to accede to the demands of the Egyptian people for independence. He also wrote in French defending Islam against its detractors.

In 1928, he was appointed to the teaching staff of the Department of Higher Education in Al-Azhar. He was then transferred, the following year, to the Department of Specialization at the same university, and in 1930, he moved to the Faculty of Usul Al-Din, which specializes in the basic sources of Islamic knowledge.

In 1936, he was sent on a mission to France, where he stayed for 12 years. By this time he had decided on the type of research he wanted to do for his postgraduate study. His choice was to study the Islamic approach to morality. With his in-depth knowledge of the Qur’an and the Hadith, he could have easily chosen an easier subject which would have taken him only a couple of years to write a thesis of distinction. But his aim went far beyond obtaining the highest university degree. He wanted to show the world the superiority of Islamic morality.

With this objective in mind, he decided to start with a bachelor’s degree. Thus, he was admitted to Sorbonne University where he studied philosophy, logic, ethics, psychology and sociology. To him, this was an essential preparation for writing his thesis, as it gave him a good grounding in the Western approach to moral and ethical values, the various moral theories advocated by Western philosophers as well as a broad background in the other subjects. When he completed his degree, he felt that he had all the tools necessary to pursue his research.

What Muhammad Abdullah Draz wanted to do was to highlight the Islamic approach to morality as might be derived from the Qur’an, and to look at its theoretical basis and practical implementation.

The search for the theoretical basis of the moral principles outlined in the Qur’an was certainly problematic. Indeed, Draz felt that he was venturing into an area where no researcher had tried to tread. He was aware that a number of scholars had spoken about good and evil, some wrote about responsibility and others had looked at the value of human effort and good intention, but these were scattered efforts and their approaches were characterized by the different perspectives of their authors. His own approach was the identification of Qur’anic morality. And that was a virgin area. Thus, he discussed moral issues according to the concepts and standards accepted by leading specialists and compared their views with the Qur’anic moral concepts. This was by no means an easy task, because the Qur’an is not a book of philosophy, proposing theoretical solutions to human problems.

To overcome the difficulty, he extracted the Qur’anic verses that speak about morality and managed to identify from them the concepts of duty, authority, obligation, responsibility, humanity and the nature of effort required for moral action, and the overall principle that provides motivation. In all these he was able to put together the Qur’anic view and its theoretical basis. His overall research gave him a splendid picture identifying all dimensions of moral life as described in the Qur’an.

His thesis, which was prepared in France during World War II, was a remarkable work given the title, La Morale du Koran. He was awarded for it the degree of Ph.D. in 1947. Needless to say, it was in French, and published in book form in 1950 by Al-Azhar. No Arabic translation was undertaken for many years, until Dr. Abd Al-Saboor Shaheen undertook its translation and it was published in Arabic in 1973 under the title, Dustoor Al-Akhalq fi Al-Qur’an. I understand that it is now in the process of being translated into English.

Dr. Draz wrote several books, most of which are studies of the Qur’an from different aspects. One of these is An Introduction to the Qur’an, which has been recently published in English. Perhaps his most fascinating book is the one entitled Al-Naba’ Al-Atheem, which is a unique study of the Qur’an. The author establishes first that the subject matter of the Qur’an and its contents prove beyond any doubt that its author could not have been anyone other than God. He gives further proofs from the personality of the Prophet. He then looks at the style of the Qur’an and its characteristics, finding proof after proof of its miraculous nature. Every aspect of the Qur’anic style provides a testimony to its authorship. With a unique clarity of vision, Draz looks at the challenge given in the Qur’an to all mankind and other creatures to produce anything similar to it, and shows why this challenge will remain untaken forever.

He then discusses the unity of subject in every Surah of the Qur’an. This is an area which Orientalists have found very difficult to come to grips with. They often speak of the Qur’an being disjointed, lacking coherence, etc. Dr. Draz devotes his longest chapter to this issue, showing that each Surah has a special character and perfect unity. He then applies this concept to the longest Surah in the Qur’an, showing the perfection of its structure. Much of this book was serialized in these columns, and it is now published in book form under the title, The Qur’an: an Eternal Challenge. It may be obtained from The Islamic Foundation, Ratby Lane, Markfield, Leicester, England, LE67 9SY.

On his return to Egypt, he taught the history of religion at the University of Cairo, Qur’anic Commentary in Dar Al-Uloom, a teachers’ college which was, at the time, affiliated to Al-Azhar. He also taught Arabic and moral philosophy at Al-Azhar University. Furthermore, he was elected to the membership of Senior Islamic Scholars, i.e. Jamaat Kibar Al-Ulema’ in 1949. He continued in these positions until his death in January 1958, when he was attending a conference in the city of Lahore, Pakistan.

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