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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 ...