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Asaf Ali Asghar Fyzee (10 April 1899 – 23 October 1981) was an Indian educator, jurist, author, diplomat, and Islamic scholar who is considered one of leading pioneers of modern Ismaili studies. He also served as India’s first ambassador to Egypt from 1949 to 1952, and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Jammu and Kashmir from 1957 to 1960. His best-known literary work is Outlines of Muhammadan law, which states that “in order to understand Islamic law, one has to be familiar with historic and cultural background of the law”. He was honoured with the Padma Bhushan award by the President of India in 1962, India’s third highest civilian award.In his writings, Fyzee advocates the need to incorporate modern reforms in Islamic law without compromising on the “essential spirit of Islam”.

Fyzee was born on 10 April 1899 to the Tyabji-Fyzee family of Sulaymani Ismaili Bohra in the Matheran town of Maharashtra. He took his initial education in Mumbai and completed his LL.B degree at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. In 1922 he went to England and studied at St John’s College, Cambridge. At Cambridge he also studied Arabic and Persian under eminent orientalist Reynold A. Nicholson. In 1925, at the age of 26, he became a barrister-at-law and started his career as an advocate in the Bombay High Court from 1926 to 1938.

From 1938 to 1947, Fyzee was Principal and Perry Professor of Jurisprudence in Government Law College, Mumbai. After the partition of India, he remained in that country and served as the first Indian ambassador to Egypt from 1949 to 1951. In 1952 he was appointed as a member of the Union Public Service Commission, New Delhi. He also held the position of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Jammu and Kashmir from 1957 to 1960

Apart from his academic and government duties, Fyzee made significant contributions to the modern scholarship of Ismaili studies. He wrote several books based on Islam, which promoted the idea of modernizing Islam.

Following are some of books written by Fyzee.

  • Outlines of Muhammadan law : This is Fyzee’s most famous book. The first edition was published in 1949 by Oxford University Press. This book discuss topics related to “Islamic law” with respect to India and topics related to “Freedom of religion”.The fourth edition of the book included topics related to change in English law with respect to Muslim immigrants in England. It also incorporated new laws resulting from the formation of Bangladesh and the introduction of Islamic policies in Pakistan.
  • A modern approach to Islam : This book posits a re-interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence and re-discovery of original Islamic philosophy. In this book, Fyzee argues that modern reforms can be incorporated in Islamic law without compromising on the “essential spirit of Islam”.
  • Cases in the Muhammadan law of India and Pakistan
  • Cases in the Muhammadan law of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh
  • Compendium of Fatimid Law
  • The Pillars of Islam

Honours and recognition

  • In 1956 Fyzee was elected as a corresponding member of the Arab Academy of Damascus.
  • He was the honorary secretary of the Islamic Research Association from 1933 to 1949.
  • He was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the President of India, the third highest civilian award of India.
  • He was an original associated member on the executive committee of the Encyclopaedia of Islam.
  • He lectured as a visiting professor in several American and Canadian universities.
  • He was a member of the Royal Asiatic Society.
  • He held the “Commonwealth Fellowship”.
  • He competed in a few First-class cricket matches between 1928 and 1930.
  • He was a member of the Indian delegation to the Third General Conference of UNESCO, held in Beirut in November 1948.