By Dr Thameem Ushama
Professor at the Department of Usul al-Din and Comparative Religion, International Islamic University Malaysia
AFTER benefiting the worldwide Muslim community for almost seven decades, a veteran economist who has been crucial in providing ideas to solve the contemporary Islamic financial issues for the banking industry has left people, specifically Muslims, mournful.
He is acknowledged as the godfather of several Islamic bankers and economists in the fields of economics and banking. He is Mohammad Nejatullah Siddiqi, who passed away in the US on Nov 12, 2022.
Yes, the Muslim community has lost a God-fearing, righteous and brilliant researcher, thinker, intellectual, philosopher and activist who not only pioneered Islamic banking but also offered ideas and workable solutions in the area of Islamic economics. His contributions to Islamic thought are notable too.
His article ‘Tawhid’ — the concept and process, opens the eyes of Islamic revealed knowledge and heritage studies students to understand the applied dimensions of the concept.
Every Islamic economics and banking student is aware of him and his contributions to the world of Islamic economics.
His passing has left the entire world of Islamic economics in sadness. He would have offered additional remedies to current problems in Islamic economics and discourses if he had lived longer.
Great Islamic scholar Siddiqi had a solid understanding of Islamic jurisprudence. He was a professor and the head of the Department of Islamic Studies at Aligarh Muslim University in India, in addition to lecturing in the Department of Economics over there before he served as a professor of Islamic economics at the International Centre for Islamic Economics for more than a decade at King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Following his departure from Saudi Arabia, Siddiqi accepted a fellowship at the University of California’s Centre for Near Eastern Studies. He was also offered a position as a visiting scholar at the Islamic Research and Training Institute of the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah.
He was the epitome of a researcher and a consummate scholar, delving deeply into the canon of Islamic literature to generate novel insights. He was able to achieve that due to his mind’s intense curiosity. His views, which he addressed in books and in person with students, professionals and specialists, have benefited every one of this generation.
The role of the State in the economy from an Islamic perspective, interest-free banking, issues in Islamic banking and finance, some features of the Islamic economy, insurance in the Islamic economy, partnerships and profit-sharing under Islamic law, and many other topics were covered by him.
In his book ‘Maqasid Shariah’ (Objectives of Shariah), Siddiqi has proposed more objectives to be added to the existing five objectives, such as honour and dignity of humankind, fundamental freedom, justice and equity, poverty alleviation, sustenance for all, social equality, bridging the gap between the rich and the poor, peace and security, preservation of system, and cooperation at the world level.
He based his perspective on verses from the Quran and the Prophet’s sayings, particularly those that deal with non-Muslims.
He spent years studying the Quran, the Traditions of the Prophet, commentaries on the Quran, Fiqh, and Usul al-Fiqh in addition to Arabic as he felt the need to master Islamic sciences to move forward in the intellectual journey to address the Ummah’s necessities in light of the revelation.
Another characteristic of this scholar was that he had a good time and engaged in a spirited conversation with ulama.
He read the writings of Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanawi and Abul Ala Maudidi, particularly as a budding researcher and scholar. He drew inspiration from many other thinkers and revivalists from around the globe.
It is hardly hyperbole to say that he is considered the father of contemporary Islamic banking. This nobleman, notably, pioneered interest-free banking, which millions of people use worldwide. A legacy he leaves behind enables thousands of people to get interest-free loans.
He has delivered thousands of talks and presentations. As a prolific writer in Urdu and English, Siddiqi has 63 works in five languages. Many have been translated into Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Indonesian, Bahasa Melayu, Thai, Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi and other Indian languages.
He has written many articles. The title of his most famous book is “Banking without Interest”, which has been published in 27 editions. It is acknowledged that his works are found in 220 libraries worldwide.
He made the doctrines of divine equity and justice applicable in everyday life. There were practically no institutions using religious principles when he began his work on Islamic banking; today, there are hundreds of Islamic banks and other non-interest-bearing financial institutions.
For this pioneering achievement, the Muslim world is indebted to him. This is because he invented banking without interest, which is being operationalised in Islamic banks in many countries, including Malaysia, which founded Bank Islam in the early 1980s by the Tun Dr Mahathir administration.
In recognition of his remarkable and lifelong achievements, he has been given two prestigious significant awards for his work: King Faisal International Prize for his devotion and service to Islamic Studies and Shah Waliullah Award for his contributions to Islamic Economics. Indeed, there are other awards as well.
He was also an activist to the point where he served as a consultative member of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind’s Central Working Committee.
Many institutions worldwide use his writings as text and reference books for the broader discipline of Islamic economics. Islamic studies and economics students know his substantial contributions to contemporary economic discourse and Islamic ideas.
In addition to his family and close friends, Siddiqi’s demise is a loss for the generation of Muslim economists who look up to him as their mentor and godfather.
He is a beacon of inspiration for those who support Islamic banking and economics. It is argued that his fellow companions and disciples will further advance the vast intellectual legacy that he left behind.
Indeed, he laid the foundation for Islamic banking and provided insights into many other issues that his successors would promote and improve, assisting the Ummah and humanity.
May God accept his endeavours and reward him for all he has done for humanity.