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Guardians of Islamic Pluralism

Selamaleykum warahmetallahuh wabarakatuh

Bismillah ir-rahman ir-rahim

With the present text the Center for Islamic Pluralism inaugurates a new feature: profiles of outstanding moderate Muslims of recent times, whom we honor as Guardians of Islamic Pluralism.

In the first such article, we present the biography of Sayyid Muhammad ibn 'Alawi ibn 'Abbas ibn Abd al-Aziz Al-Maliki. Sayyid al-Maliki was prominent in Hejaz, until his death in 2004, as a stern opponent of Wahhabism. An image of his funeral remains at the top of our website in honor of his example. The following biographical sketch was prepared by Center for Islamic Pluralism Western Europe Director Irfan al-Alawi. An Arabic translation will be posted forthwith.

Earlier texts dealing with the life of Sayyid al-Maliki may be found here:

Stephen Suleyman Schwartz
Executive Director
Center for Islamic Pluralism


Sayyid Muhammad ibn 'Alawi ibn 'Abbas ibn Abd al-Aziz Al-Maliki

Sayyid Muhammad ibn 'Alawi ibn 'Abbas ibn Abd al-Aziz Al-Maliki was born in 1947, a descendent of the prophet Muhammad (Blessings and peace be upon Him) through Imam Hasan, a grandson of the Prophet. His family were traditional Maliki scholars with an ancestral residence in the Holy City of Mecca. His grandfather was the Qadi (Chief Judge) of Mecca and an Imam of the Haram, the site of the Ka'aba. The Maliki residence was close to the Haram, next to Bab al Salaam, and there our Sheikh was born.

At school in Mecca, his first and most important teacher was his father, the illustrious Sayyid Alawi (1328-1391 A.H.), whose name was rather unusual, since he was an Idrisi sharif. The reason was that our Sheikh's grandfather, Sayyid Abbas ibn Sayyid Abd al-Aziz, son of the great saint Muhammad al-Maliki al-Makki al-Idrisi, had only daughters and greatly desired a son to succeed him as the chief Maliki scholar of Mecca. When he learned that the great Hadhrami scholar and Qutub, the Gnostic Habib Ahmad ibn Hasan al-Attas, had arrived in Mecca, he went to visit him, explained the situation to him and asked him for his prayers. Habib Ahmad answered him that not only would Allah grant his request and give him a son, but that he would also be the most eminent scholar in Mecca. However, because it was to be through the baraka of the Ba-'Alawi sayyids of Hadhramaut, he was to name the boy 'Alawi.

Sayyid Muhamamad Al Maliki, our Sheikh, was a contemporary Meccan scholar of Tafsir (interpretation of the Qur'an), Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet), Fiqh (Islamic law), 'Aqidah (tenets of faith) and Sirah (Prophetic biography). He was the most highly acclaimed and respected scholar (Sheikh) in Mecca.

His father, Sayyid Alawi, taught and lectured in the precincts of the Holy Haram for 30 years until he passed away on Wednesday, 21 April 1971 / 25 Safar 1391, his funeral being the largest seen in Mecca for the previous 100 years. Sayyid Muhammad from his early childhood was authorized by his father to teach every book he studied with him. He also learnt at the feet of such prominent Meccan scholars as Sheikh Sayyid Amin Qutbi, Sayyid Hasan Fad'aq, Sheikh Hassan Masshat, Sheikh Muhammad Nur Sayf, Sheikh Saeed Yamani and many others. He frequented the great scholars and Gnostics of Egypt, such as Sayyid Muhammad al-Hafiz al-Tijani, Sheikh Ahmad Ridwan of Luxor, Sheikh 'Abdal Halim Mahmud the chief religious authority in Egypt (Sheikh al-Azhar), Sheikh Salih al-Ja'fari, and Sheikh Muhammad Zaki Ibrahim, among others

At 25, he received his Ph.D from the esteemed Al-Azhar University in Cairo. His thesis on Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet) was rated excellent and highly praised by the 'ulama (learned scholars) of the time, such as Imam Abu Zahra. During his never-ending quest for knowledge he travelled extensively through North Africa, Egypt, Syria, the Far East, Turkey, Yemen and the Indian subcontinent to gather Hadith, collect manuscripts, visit scholars and saints and benefit from their wisdom.

Apart from the 'ulama of the Hijaz he received "Sanad" or "Ijazah" (lineage of authority to teach and guide) in the theological and spiritual sciences, from eminent savants all over the Islamic world. The great Da'ee (caller to religion) Imam the Qutub, the Knower of God, Habib Ahmad Mashur al-Haddad, Sheikh Hasnayn Makhluf, Grand Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh al-Ghimari of Morocco, Sheikh Ziauddin Qadiri of Madinah and numerous others gave him their 'ijazah.

In 1970 he was appointed professor of Islamic studies at the Umm-ul-Qurra university in Mecca. Then in 1971, after his father's death, the scholars of Mecca asked him to accept his father's position as a teacher in the Holy Mosque, which he did. He was also appointed as chief judge at the international Qira'at (Qur'anic reading) competition in Mecca for many years.

Having succeeded his father in Mecca, he maintained the tradition of indefatigable teaching for over thirty years. Even when he was prevented from teaching in the Mosque by the Wahhabis, who had declared him an apostate, the school which he had started in his own house remained active.

His debates with the Wahhabis are well known. Suffice it to say that they increased his popularity worldwide, for books were written in his defense by Moroccan, Yemeni, Emirates, and other scholars, in addition to countless magazine articles. He was a close friend of King Fahd, who being a reasonable man and an astute politician, invited him to his palace in Mecca many times. Even after the late King had a heart attack the Sheikh would visit him and recite the famous Burda of Al Buisiri. Fahd made it clear that they were on good terms.

As mentioned above, throughout his life, Sayyid Muhammad remained very close to the Ba-'Alawis. In addition to the fact that there were always young 'Alawis among his students, he had also given one of his daughters in marriage to an 'Alawi of the 'Aydarus family. At his home, he also commemorated the anniversary, each year, of the death of the Gnostic Habib Ahmad ibn Hasan al-'Attas. He described the great Gnostic Habib 'Abd al-Qadir bin Ahmad al-Saqqaf, Habib Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad, and Habib 'Attas Habashi, in Mecca, as others of his spiritual mentors. They in turn were extremely affectionate to him, were always pleased to see him, and gave him their unconditional support. He recited the awrad of Imam Abdallah ibn Alawi al-Haddad regularly and included them in his collection of invocations. As for Habib Muhammad Salih al-Mehdar, he could always count on Sayyid Muhammad to attend his innumerable mawlid gatherings in Mecca, Medina, and Taif. When he spoke, Sayyid Muhammad's words assuaged troubled hearts, uplifted souls, stirred up the love of God and His Prophet in people, and increased their knowledge.

Sayyid Muhammad wrote over 100 books.

In a conference about opposing extremism he pointed out that twenty years before, in his famous book al-Mafahim, he had suggested a meeting to resolve the differences between himself, some factions of Ahl al-Sunnah, and the Wahhabis. Ten years after the conference he wrote a short treatise on extremism and takfir and warned of their dangers. He concluded by hoping that the Muslims had learnt their lesson and that school curricula in Saudi Arabia would be altered and the media used appropriately to reduce the likelihood of terrorism in the future.

He passed away on Friday, the 15th of Ramadan 1425 (2004) in a state of fasting at his house in Mecca, surrounded by his children, his brother Sayyid Abbas and other family members.

His Janaza funeral prayer was first offered at his residence, and attended by many prominent Sheikhs, Ministers and murids from all over the world.

His Janaza was then taken to the Grand Mosque and placed near the Ka'aba to perform the final prayers. The Imam at the time was Subayl who was heard crying as he recited the funeral prayers; even the Wahhabi Imams recognized that a great Islamic scholar was gone. The bier was then lifted to be taken towards Suk al-Layl which leads towards the famous cemetery Al Mu'al'a. The Janaza was followed by a procession of thousands which filled the streets of Mecca from the Grand Mosque to the graveyard. Five hundred soldiers had to be deployed at the cemetery to control the crowds.

The Sheikh was laid to rest next to his father and grandfather, near the grave of his ancestor Sayyidah Khadijah.

Irfan al-Alawi

International Director
Center for Islamic Pluralism

January 8, 2007

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