Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Shaykh al-Islam Ibrahim al-Riyahi

Called the "Izzideen Abdus Salaam of his time" the Mufti of Tunis and Shaykh al Islam of Zaytun University Sidi Ibrahim Riyahi by Faheem Taalib Deen on Monday, 04 April 2011 at 23:47.Shaykh al-Islam Ibrahim al-Riyahi By Muhammad Nasiruddin Andrea Ibrahim al-Riyahi (1767-1850), the Imam of the Zaytuna University and Maliki Shaykh al-Islam of Tunis from 1832. He was an enlightened mufti, a dedicated and innovative teacher and an accomplished poet. He also discretely cultivated a profound spirituality throughout his life, and was the man who introduced the Tariqa Tijaniyya in Tunisia. Shaykh Ibrahim Niasse (d. 1975)[1] said about him: “Were Shaykh Ahmad al-Tijani to have no other follower but Abu Ishaq Ibrahim al-Riyahi, it would suffice us as proof to also follow him.”[2] After having memorized the Qur’an from his father when he was in his late teens (some time between 1782 and 1785), Ibrahim was sent out to pursue higher studies in Tunis. He settled in the Madrasa of the Hawanit al-‘Ashur (Houanet Achour) ward, a western quarter of the Medina. He attended courses in all the major religious and philological disciplines at the Houanet Achour Madrasa, and then at the Zaytuna, the oldest center of Islamic learning in North Africa, which had been established in the eighth century and functioned as a major hub of Maliki legal thought. Under Ottoman rule, a parallel system of Hanafi law had been established, and the two legal doctrines were taught at the Zaytuna and practiced by the Tunisian courts. A Maliki Shaykh al-Islam (Bash-mufti) supervised the Maliki qadis, while a Hanafi one headed the Hanafi judiciary. At the Zaytuna, Ibrahim al-Riyahi studied with the most renowned scholars in Tunis of his time. Among his teachers were Muhammad al-Mahjub (Maliki Bash-mufti), Isma’il al-Tamimi (who succeeded the former as Maliki Bash-mufti), Muhammad Bayram II (Hanafi Bash-mufti), Hasan al-Sharif (Chief-Imam of the Zaytuna), Ahmad Abu Khris, Muhammad al-Fasi, Salih al-Kawwash, ‘Umar al-Mahjub, Tahir b. Mas‘ud.[4] He quickly attained great recognition for his sharp intelligence and for the passion with which he devoted to study. After obtaining ijazas in the major disciplines, he was encouraged by his masters to accept students of his own, which he did some time in his late twenties under one of the pillars of the Zaytuna mosque as was customary. He specialized in the teaching of grammar, prosody, rhetoric, and Maliki fiqh. It is related that one day his former teacher Tahir b. Mas‘ud, while commenting on the Mukhtasar of Sa‘d, overheard Ibrahim al-Riyahi teaching the same book to another group of students a few meters away. He interrupted his own lesson, and sent his students to listen to his former pupil’s explanations. The pathway which would eventually lead Ibrahim al-Riyahi to join the Tijaniyya developed out of his early search for knowledge in Tunis. Esoteric sciences, however, were probably already part of his family legacy: indeed the esoteric sciences associated with Arabic letters of the Qur’an (‘ilm al-huruf) were integrated into his ancestors’ study and transmission of the Qur’anic sciences. In any case, while pursuing his training in other classical Islamic sciences in Tunis, he simultaneously evidenced strong Sufi inclinations. He first embraced the path of Sidi Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili, the famous Moroccan saint who visited Tunis, where his Tariqa is still very popular. He devotedly pursued this path under the direction of his master Sidi ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Bashir Mashish. Some years later, his encounter with the Moroccan Sidi ‘Ali Harazim, one of the closest companions of Shaykh Ahmad al-Tijani, would lead him to embrace the Tijani path. ‘Ali Harazim had come to Tunis en route to accomplishing the pilgrimage, after having been confirmed as a consummate ‘Arif billah (Gnostic) by Shaykh Ahmad Tijani and sent from Fez to spread the tariqa Ibrahim met Sidi ‘Ali Harazim in the Zaytuna after a premonitory dream, and then invited Sidi Ali Harzimi to be his guest in the Madrasa ‘Ashuriyya.[5] ‘Ali Harazim was gifted with many karamat (miraculous signs), and some intense events marked the acquaintance of the two, probably deeply affecting the young Zaytuna professor. It is related that one night ‘Ali Harazim woke up Ibrahim and told him: “wake up and ask God what you desire, for this is the time of the answered prayer”. Ibrahim wrote down 14 implorations (amongst them “to be granted constant vision of the Prophet Muhammad (sAws)”, “obtaining complete ma‘rifa“, “to be granted mastery in exoteric and esoteric sciences”, “to be granted a wife who will assist me”, “pious children”, and “to die as a believer”).[6] It seems that God did indeed grant Ibrahim his supplications through the intermediary of Sidi Ali Harazim. Notwithstanding the intense period of acquaintance with Sidi ‘Ali Harazim and the latter’s close affiliation with the Tijaniyya, Ibrahim al-Riyahi did not ask for actual initiation into the new order until he met Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili in a dream encouraging him. Then, after he had asked permission the shaykh who had initiated him into the Shadhiliyya, Sidi al-Mashish, he took the tijani pact at the hand of Sidi Ali Harazem.[7] Ali Harazim would soon leave Tunis to proceed his journey eastwards, but a providential coincidence gave the young professor and fresh Tijani initiate the opportunity to visit the Pole of the order he had just joined. In 1803, an insistent drought in Tunis prompted the Bey to send a mission to Morocco, in order to convince the Sultan Moulay Sulayman, who had enacted a protective measure against the exportation of Moroccan crops, to sell a certain quantity of crops that would allow Tunisia to overcome the food crisis. Ibrahim al-Riyahi was selected to conduct the mission, bringing a letter written by Isma‘il al-Tamimi. He stayed at the court of Moulay Sulayman, to whom he also dedicated a panegyric, and engaged in a fascinating poetical challenge with the learned men of his court. At the end, he had laid the foundations for long-lasting intellectual relations with some of the leading scholars of Fez. While in Fez, he also visited Shaykh Ahmad al-Tijani, about whom he would later remember: “I have never met anybody whose qiyam and whose sujud lasted longer than his.” He received further instruction in the Tijani path from Shaykh Ahmad Tijani himself, whom he would later praise in many verses of poetry In 1839, he was appointed as First Imam of the Zaytuna. He was the first person in Tunis who combined the position of Maliki Shaykh al-Islam and that of First Imam. From the pulpit of the Zaytuna, he used to enjoin to people zuhd (asceticism), but also to reprimand the economic policies of the Bey when he felt compelled to do so.[9] Other travels of Shaykh Ibrahim al-Riyahi include the Pilgrimage to Mecca and the visit to Medina. He also had occasion to visit the Algerian town of Tamasin to pay his respects to the Khalifa of Shaykh Ahmad Tijani, Sidi Ali al-Tamasini. Among his many writings were the following: 1.Dozens of poems, collected in a published Diwan [10] (praises of the Prophet [sAws] and of Shaykh Ahmad al-Tijani [rAh]; elegies for his teachers, as Isma‘il al-Tamimi, Tahir b. Mas‘ud, Ahmad Abu Khris; a touching elegy for his son Muhammad al-Tayyib, a brilliant scholar himself, killed by an epidemy of cholera in 1850); 2.A dazzling devotional text on the Prophet [sAws] titled al-Narjasa al-‘anbariyya fi al-salati ‘ala Khayr al-bariyya; 3.Glosses on the commentary by Fakihani to the Qatr al-nada; 4.A writing in the defense of the sound Ash‘arism of Sidi Ahmad al-Tijani, in response to a writing by an Egyptian; 5.A versification of the Ajurrumiyya; 6.A refutation of the Wahhabi doctrine (this document is apparently lost; it was written as a response to Ibn Sa‘ud’s letter reaching the Regency and calling for either joining the movement or prepare to fight); 7.Numerous khutbas, fatwas and answers to legal problems. 8.He also revived the celebration of the Mawlid nabawi in Tunis and wrote a short text for the occasion. Shaykh Ibrahim al-Riyahi died shortly after his son, from the same cholera epidemic. The last of the many favors that he received from God was that he was destined to leave the world on the night of Ramadan 27th, 1266 (August 6th, 1850).

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