Prof. Dr. Abdul Ali's Presidential
Addresses on Arab-Islamic Studies is an enthralling work that consists of nine
well-researched pieces that the author first presented as Presidential
Addresses at successive sessions of the prestigious All-India Oriental Conference.
Each talk delves into crucial but understudied areas of the Arab-Islamic
intellectual and scientific legacy. Prof. Dr. Abdul Ali's comprehensive
research shines a light on critical topics that have long been overlooked or
ignored. Given its depth of knowledge and intensive research, this collection
is an essential resource for students and academics of Islamic Studies and
related areas. Furthermore, both scientific and cultural historians, as well as
general readers, will find this book both enlightening and entertaining.
The present volume is a collection of nine research articles presented by the author as Presidential Addresses at different sections and sessions of the All-India Oriental Conference. Based on deep research and extensive investigations, these Addresses are in- depth studies on the hitherto neglected or little-studied but important aspects of the Arab-Islamic intellectual and scientific heritage. It is hoped that this book will prove useful to both students and scholars of Islamic Studies and allied subjects. The historians of science and civilization as well as general educated readers will also find it informative and interesting.
Dr. Abdul Ali is Professor at the Department of Islamic Studies, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. His publications include Dirasat fi al- Hadarat al-Islamiyat al-'Arabiyan (Studies in Arab-Islamic Civilization) in Arabic (1991), Arab-Islamic Legacy to Life Sciences (1993), Islamic Dynasties of the Arab East (1996), and Arab Legacy to Humour Literature (1998), Eminent Arab-muslim Medical Scientists (2001). In addition, he has had numerous research papers and articles published in leading journals of international repute both at home and abroad.
The All-India Oriental Conference, a premier Body of Orientalists in India, was brought into existence in 1919 through the initiative and efforts of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Poona. It was founded with the main aim of coordinating the academic pursuits of scholars working in the diverse branches of Oriental Studies. The first session of the Conference held at Poona on 5-7 November, 1919, was inaugurated by the then governor of Bombay George Lloyads and presided over by Sir R.G. Bhandarkar, the renowned Indian Orientalist and social reformer. It has since been bringing together at one platform scholars of Oriental Studies from all over the country every alternate year.
Arabic and Persian Section was included in the programme of the Conference since its very inception, the first Sectional President of which was Prof S. Khuda Bukhsh, an eminent scholar of Arabic and Islamic Studies. Sanskrit language and literature, Avesta, Pali, Buddhism, Ancient History, Philosophy, etc., were other important subjects of discussion at the first session of the Conference. In the course of time several other disciplines were added to it including the Sections of Islamic Studies, West Asian Studies, and South-East Asian Studies.
I have been closely associated with the All-India Oriental Conference since 1968 when its 24th Session was held under the auspices of the Varanaseya Sanskrit University at Varanasi. I also have had the honour of presiding over different sections of the Conference several times. And the present volume is a collection of the Presidential Addresses presented by me on these occasions. Since these Addresses are in-depth studies on hitherto neglected but important topics of Arab-Islamic learning, it is hoped that the book will be useful for both students and scholars of Oriental Studies in general and of Islamic Studies and allied subjects in particular.
Lastly, I wish to express my hearty thanks to my friend and inspirer Prof N. Akmal Ayyubi, former Chairman, Deptt. Of Islamic Studies, A.M.U., Aligarh, for having yielded to my persistent requests to write his scholarly foreword to this volume. My thanks are also due to Prof M.S. Agwani, former Vice-Chancellor, Jawahar Lal Nehru University, New Delhi, for having gone through the West Asian Studies Presidential Address and given his encouraging remarks before its presentation. I am also thankful to Mr. Syed Ausaf Ali, former director of the Indian Institute of Islamic Studies (now Hamdard University), New Delhi, for having given me his valuable ideas as well as provided me with the facilities of studies and research at his Institute where the fourth Presidential Address was prepared. Finally, I should like to thank Mr. Kabir Ahmad Khan, Assistant Librarian at the Institute of Islamic Studies, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, whose vast bibliographical knowledge and efficient handling of books have been of great help to me.
The All-India Oriental Conference which was originally called Indian Oriental Conference, has been serving for the last eighty years as the national forum of scholars interested in scientific Orientology. It was brought into existence for the purpose of co-ordinating and promoting the scholarly activities of individuals and institutions working in the field of Oriental Studies. Its sessions are normally held once every two years at different centres in the country and research papers are submitted, presented and discussed by scholars.
The All-India Oriental Conference has now firmly established itself as the authorised national forum of the Orientalists of India. At present the Conference is divided into sixteen sections including those of Islamic Studies, Arabic & Persian, West Asian Studies, and South-East Asian Studies. All these sections are presided over by eminent scholars and their Presidential Addresses are rich contributions to knowledge.
Prof. Abdul Ali has also presided over Islamic Studies, Arabic & Persian, West Asian Studies, and South-East Asian Studies Sections of the All-India Oriental Conference several times. A scholar of international repute, he has distinguished himself in his field of studies and research. The present volume is a collection of nine research articles on Arab-Islamic Studies which were presented as Presidential Addresses at different sections of the Conference. Since these Addresses are based on deep research and extensive investigations, it is hoped that this book will be hailed as a treasure for students and scholars of Arab-Islamic history and culture. Even the general educated readers will find it interesting and useful.
The first Presidential Address presented by Prof. Dr. Abdul Ali at the West Asian Studies Section of the 29th session of the All-India Oriental Conference held at Poona in 1978, opens with an analytical account of the unique geo-strategic position of West Asia as the connecting link between the East and the West as well as gives a glimpse of the main historical factors that have shaped the destiny of this region through the ages. He also describes in detail why this area will always remain the centre-stage of international politics and power rivalry.
Touching on the age-old Indo-West Asian relations he highlights the fact that there has been a lively cultural and intellectual interchange between what the peoples of both regions possessed in different branches of knowledge and learning. He also focuses on geo-political reasons for further development of economic and political relations with the peoples of this area, thereby emphasizing the need for India to play a greater role in the vast market for technology, services, manpower and commercial goods that has opened up in all the oil-rich West Asian nations. Thus it is clearly indicated that there lies a vast potential for our country's participation in the industrial and technological development of these nations on mutually beneficial terms.
Finally, the address closes with specific suggestions and guidelines for the pursuit of studies and research in West Asian history, politics, sociology, and economics at some selected Indian Universities where emphasis should be put on the need to study the modem thinkers and writers of West Asia in original rather than through the writings of Western scholars whose interpretations are but naturally coloured by their imperialistic motives.
His second Presidential Address presented at the Arabic and Persian Section of the 31st Session of the A.I.O. Conference held at the University of Rajasthan in 1982, contains a brief assessment of the part played by Arabic and Persian languages in the advancement of human knowledge and learning as well as of their contributions to the cultural heritage of India.
This address upholds the fact that the contributions made by Arab-Muslim scholars and scientists in different branches of knowledge such as philosophy, medicine, mathematics, physics, mineralogy, botany, geography, chemistry, fine arts, music, etc., form the connecting link between the Greco-Roman classical age and the modern civilization. It also discusses in detail some important aspects of Indo- Arab cultural and intellectual interchange through the ages.
Lastly, it focuses on the need to prepare general descriptive catalogues of various Arabic and Persian manuscripts that are lying scattered all over the world, as non-availability of such catalogues not only renders the works of research tedious and difficult, but also keeps the research scholars in the dark about the available source materials in their respective fields of studies.
The third Presidential Address was presented at the Islamic Studies Section of the 32nd Session of the A.l.O. Conference held under the auspices of the University of Gujarat at Ahmedabad in 1985. This is an important piece of original research work, in which an attempt has been made to give a critical reassessment of the mentality and legacy of the pre-Islamic Arabs with a view to presenting a realistic and balanced image of them rather than condemning them outright as a totally immoral, vicious and foolish lot. This enables the readers to understand in a better manner not only the type of stuff they constituted for the rise and growth of Islam, but also the subsequent development of its various institutions.
In conclusion, it has been clearly brought out on the basis of facts quoted from the Qur'an and pre-Islamic Arabic literature that the Arabs were an eloquent, brave and scientific people who had tremendous capacity for observation, assimilation and acclimatization. In short, the pre-Islamic Arabs have been presented as having been in possession of all the ingredients of a powerful nation which needed to be tamed, sharpened and channelized by a civilizing force. And that was the main reason that as soon as they became united under the banner of Islam, they emerged as a highly cultured and powerful nation, and contributed a great deal to human thought and progress in almost all fields of scientific and cultural activity.
The fourth Presidential Address was presented at the Islamic Studies Section of the 33rd Session of the A.I.O. Conference held under the auspices of the Asiatic Society, Calcutta, on October 24-26, 1986. It gives a detailed critical account of Western distortions of Islam and the motives behind it through the ages. This is followed by a discussion on the need to highlight the contributions of Islam to the advancement of science and civilization. Prof Abdul Ali clearly points out that the mistrust about Islam in the West is not the result of independent thinking of the Western people, but rather it is motivated by their age-old hostile attitude towards this religion and its followers which was generated mainly by the triumph of Muslims over Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages. And that is the main reason why the vast body of literature on Islam produced by missionaries and their Orientalists is replete with grave and mischievous inaccuracies.
Barring a few examples, most of the Orientalists in the 18th and 19th centuries made Prophet Muhammad the main target of their attack, and painted him in the blackest of colours. Even the 20th century non-Muslim Orientalists fared no better than their predecessors. They tirelessly subjected the tenets of Islam to biased criticism by depicting it as the enemy of scientific thought and progress.
While rebutting the charges levelled by Western writers against Islam and Muslims, Dr. Abdul Ali maintains that Islam has been and remains a scientific way of living which aims at both spiritual uplift and material well-being of man. The tolerant and secular political spirit of Islam is described as another great contribution of this religious system to the growth of human civilization. The address also stresses the need to introduce the main ingredients of Islamic civilization in their proper perspectives to the modem scientific world which is confronted with a number of challenges that threaten the very stability of society. It further emphasizes that the scholars pursuing Islamic studies should undertake a systematic and comprehensive study of the contributions of Muslim scientists to the advancement of science with a view to properly assessing and evaluating their role as bearers of the torch of culture and civilization.
The address closes with a discussion on the traditions of Islamic learning being carried on in our traditional institutions and seminaries which not only teach and train students in the Islamic religious sciences, but also publish books and periodicals on them. Lamenting the wide gap that exists between the scholars of these traditional institutions and those of our modem universities, Prof. Abdul Ali rightly considers it desirable and imperative to bring about some sort of co-ordination and co-operation between both groups of scholars with a view to enabling them to carry on their works more efficiently.
The fifth Presidential Address was delivered at the Islamic Studies Section of the 35th Session of the A.I.O. Conference which was held at Hardwar under the auspices of the Gurukul Kangri Vishwavidyalaya, a great centre of Oriental Studies. It is devoted to the discussion of the hitherto little-studied but important aspects of the part played by Muslim scientists as harbingers of the modern scientific era.
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