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Joel Gordon

founder and martyred leader of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers, the archetypical modern Islamist mass movement, was born in Mahmudiyya, a Delta town not far from Alexandria, in October 1906. His father, a devotee of a mystical Sufi order and graduate of the prestigious al-Azhar seminar in Cairo, owned a watch repair shop and sold gramophones, but he gave religious lessons by day. He oversaw young Hasan’s memorization of the Qurʾan and taught him the watch business. Hasan attended Qurʾan school in the provincial city of Damanhur, but in keeping with his father’s modernist religious sensibilities, he went on to government preparatory school, then, at age 14, enrolled in a junior teachers school in the Delta city of Damanhur. In 1924 he entered Dar al-Ulum, the teacher training college in Cairo.

Banna went on to pursue a career in the state educational sector but his life became dominated by a ...

Article

Jeremy Berndt

Thierno Bokar Salif Tal (b. 1875–1886, d. 1940) was a Muslim scholar and Sufi who spent most of his life teaching in the central Malian town of Bandiagara. Although Thierno left no written works of his own, his ideas have reached a wide international audience through the efforts of one of his disciples, the prolific writer and colonial/postcolonial government official Amadou Hampaté Bâ. Thierno’s “parables,” a series of philosophical remarks Bâ recorded in 1933, have attracted particular attention from Western intellectuals, who have seen in him a symbol of African Muslim spirituality, tolerance, and open-mindedness. The admiration his memory ultimately inspired in the French colonial figures Marcel Cardaire and Théodore Monod is not without irony, for at the end of his life Thierno suffered from a colonial campaign of repression then directed at followers of the controversial Sufi leader Shaykh Hamallah.

Thierno Bokar was born in Ségou ...

Article

Alessandra Vianello

Islamic mystic and scholar, and the most outstanding poetess in Chimini, the Bantu vernacular of Brava, was born in Brava, a coastal city of southern Somalia, in the second decade of the nineteenth century. Her full name was Mana Sitti Habib Jamaladdin, but she was affectionately called Dada Masiti (Grandmother Masiti) by her fellow citizens. Her family, both on the paternal and maternal side, belonged to the Mahadali Ashraf. However, through her mother’s maternal grandfather, Dada Masiti was also related to the Ali Naziri Ashraf, who were locally more numerous and influential. Both groups, who traced their lineage to the Prophet Muhammad, had settled in Brava in the early seventeenth century.

The events that marked Dada Masiti s early years and had a crucial bearing on her subsequent spiritual development are known only through different oral traditions The most widespread version would have her kidnapped as a child of six ...

Article

Allen J. Fromherz

was born in Valencia, Spain in Rabi II 595 (according to the Islamic calendar), or January/February 1199, and is considered one of the greatest writers of the twelfth century. His full name, Abu ʿAbd Allah Ibn al-Abbar al QudaʿI, means “Son of the Seller of Sewing Needles,” indicating that his family was probably part of the small-scale merchant class in Muslim Spain.

As a young man Ibn al-Abbar witnessed the devastating battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 which turned the tide against the Almohads in Muslim Spain Divided and defeated the Muslim west began to fracture His early master Ibn Mardanish ruler in Murcia converted to Christianity possibly as a means of forming an alliance with other Christian rulers and averting the capture of his city Although Ibn al Abbar did not follow his master in converting he had no scruples about working for an ...

Article

Russell Hopley

Egyptian Islamic theologian and traditionist, was born in Cairo. His full name was ʿAbd Allah bin Wahb bin Muslim al-Qurashi ibn Wahb. Ibn Wahb received his early training in the Islamic sciences under the tutelage of the Egyptian scholar ʿUthman ibn ʿAbd al-Hakam al-Judhami (d. 779), and he traveled thereupon to Medina to study with Malik ibn Anas (d. 795), the eponymous founder of the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence. Ibn Wahb is said to have spent some twenty years in Medina studying at the hand of Malik, and this latter figure was sufficiently impressed with him that he gave the young man the title faqih reportedly the only student upon whom he bestowed this honorific Despite the esteem these two figures felt for one another they did have points of dispute between them over for example whether a Muslim should receive instruction from a non Muslim Malik reportedly ...

Article

Ellis Goldberg

Egyptian author, literary critic, and activist who helped shape contemporary political Islam, was born in the Upper Egyptian village of Musha in Asyut province on 9 October 1906. His father, Qutb Ibrahim, was a farmer and member of the nationalist Watani party led by Mustafa Kamil. Qutb attended a state-run primary school, but had also memorized the Qurʾan in its entirety by 1916. Qutb experienced the massive 1919 revolt against British rule as a teenage activist. He left the village in 1921 and lived in the Cairo suburb of Zaytun with his mother’s brother for four years, while attending a high school associated with the modernist educational institution Dar al-ʿUlum (founded 1871). In 1929 he entered Dar al-ʿUlum itself and graduated in 1933.

After graduation Qutb first appeared on the Egyptian intellectual scene as a poet and literary critic He was then thought of as a ...

Article

North African scholar of Islamic law, theology, and mysticism, and leader and founder of the Sanusiyya brotherhood (tariqa), was born on 22 December 1787 in Wasita, near Mostaghanem in western Algeria. He was a sharif, or descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Orphaned at an early age, he was raised and educated in his early years by his paternal aunt Fatima, and then by the leading scholars of nearby Mazuna and Mascara.

Sometime between 1805 and 1809 al-Sanusi moved to Fez, Morocco, to pursue more advanced studies at the Qarawiyyin Mosque, the celebrated university. There he studied the traditional curriculum with many of Morocco’s most prominent scholars of the time and quickly achieved academic distinction in their courses. He became an avid practitioner of Sufism and an active member in a number of several turuq (Ar. sing. tariqa mystical way or organization including the Shadhiliyya the Nasiriyya ...

Article

Stephen Cory

a Sufi leader who revived the Qadiriyya Sufi order in the southwestern Sahara during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In doing so, he assured the dominance of his tribe, the Kunta, as the premier zawaya (clerical) tribe, providing religious and legal education and spiritual leadership throughout the area. His peaceful propagation of the faith led to an increased practice of Islam in the Western Sahara. In addition, his linkage of religious renewal to the promotion of trade led to a realignment of power relations among the tribes, with the Kunta at the top. Sidi al-Mukhtar sought to use the tariqa (Sufi brotherhood) structure to teach Islamic practices, reform social mores, and eliminate non-Islamic religious accretions from society. His descendants, leaders of the peaceful Qadiriyya-Mukhtariyya order, opposed the nineteenth-century jihad movements in West Africa, including the jihad of the Tijani leader Hajj ʿUmar Tal in Senegal.

The Kunta are ...

Article

Stephen Cory

Moroccan Maliki legal scholar, was born and lived in Fez, where he became a noted expert in the study of hadith and qurʾanic exegesis until he was exiled to Marrakesh toward the end of his life. He is also known as Abu al-Hasan ʿAli ibn Hirzihim. He is best remembered as a vocal critic of the Almoravid regime in Morocco and a proponent of the teachings of the noted scholar, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, whose works the Almoravids had banned. Ibn Hirzihim was also influential in the early scholarly career of Abu Madyan, who would become one of the most famous Sufi saints in North Africa during the late medieval period. Better known as Sidi Harazem, Ibn Hirzihim is the patron saint of a spring located near Fez and, as such, his name is used to market drinking water in Morocco to this day.

ʿAli Ibn Hirzihim was born into a ...

Article

Russell Hopley

polymath religious scholar, was born in Cairo to a family originally from Asyut. His full name was Abu ʾl-Fadl ʿAbd al-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr ibn Muhammad Jalal al-Din al-Khudayri al-Suyuti. His father was of Persian origin, while his mother had been a Circassian slave. She reportedly gave birth to al-Suyuti in the family library, a possible explanation for his sobriquet “son of books” (ibn al-kutub). The moniker is an apt one, as it is estimated that al-Suyuti went on to write no fewer than 980 works during his lifetime, a stunning output that easily makes him the most prolific author in the entire Islamic tradition.

Al-Suyuti’s father worked part-time as a qadi and served also as a preacher in the mosque of Ibn Tulun in Cairo He appears to have overseen al Suyuti s education from a very early age Indeed al Suyuti relates that his father ...

Article

David S. Powers

Maliki scholar, jurist, and mufti, was born in Jabal Wansharis (Ouarsenis), a mountain massif in the Central Algerian Tell, 31 miles (50 kilometers) southwest of Algiers. When Ahmad was five years old, his father moved the family to Tlemcen, where he studied the Qurʾan, Arabic language, and Maliki law and jurisprudence with distinguished scholars.

In 1469 at the age of forty al Wansharisi incurred the wrath of the Zayyanid sultan Muhammad IV who ordered that his house be ransacked and plundered Leaving everything behind al Wansharisi fled to Fez where he was welcomed by the scholarly community receiving food and shelter from the jurist Muhammad al Sughayyir He moved into a house near the Muʿallaq mosque in the Sharratin quarter of Fez al Qarawiyyin and was appointed professor of Maliki law at the Madrasa Misbahiyya His knowledge of the law was proverbial He who has not studied with al ...

Article

Efraim Barak

Muslim activist, terrorist, and leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Osama Bin Laden’s second-in-command, and a qualified surgeon. Zawahiri was born on 19 June 1951, in Cairo’s Al-Maʿadi neighborhood, to a distinguished Egyptian family. Zawahiri is also known as Abu-Muhammad, Abu-Fatima, Muhammad Ibrahim, Abu-ʿAbdallah, Abu-al-Muʾis, The Doctor, The Teacher, al-Ustadh, Nur, and Nur al-Din. Zawahiri holds French and Swiss passports under the name of Amin Osman and a Dutch passport under the name of Sami Mahmud al-Hifnawi.

His father, Muhammad Rabi ʿAl-Zawahiri, who died in 1995, was a professor of Pharmacology at the University of ʿAin-Shams. His paternal grandfather, Shaikh al Ahmadi Al-Zawahiri, served as the ʾImam of the Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo. His maternal grandfather, Prof. ʿAbd Al-Wahab ʿAzzam (1894–1959 was a Professor of Oriental Languages at the University of Cairo and served as the dean of the Faculty of Humanities Furthermore he was ...