Walking in their Shadow
One of the most amazing things about Cairo is the rich history of scholarship that can be uncovered from amidst the modern chaos and craziness of the city. All too easily one can forget that beneath the city’s crowded streets, newly built villas, ramshackled housing, souqs and shopping malls, high-rise apartment buildings and Pharoanically-fixated tourist attractions, stands a city that was once a hub of Islamic scholarship, where some of the greatest luminaries of our past resided, studied and taught. When someone visits the campus of al-Azhar University, it is staggering to think about how powerful this institution once was – that even just a hundred years ago, it was one of the most incredible centers of learning for Islamic studies in the world, producing great scholars, creative and innovative new works and ideas, and cultivating a culture of love and passion for sacred learning that made it a dynamic reality by which people lived.
This tradition still exists, albeit in a more humble and limited form… but one can find it. There is a vibrant community of students and teachers in Cairo, if one only looks in the right place, and with a gaze guided by Allah’s tawfeeq and kindness.
Recently, my husband had the opportunity to a complete his study of an important book of fiqh in the Shafi’i School, the Hashiyah of Imam al-Bayjuri (sometimes pronounced Baajuri). Imam Bayjuri was one of the foremost Shafi’i scholars of his time (in the early 1800s) and was made Sheikh al-Azhar for more than twenty years.
Books of fiqh often follow the same pattern. They usually cover the same topics (rulings related to ritual purification, worship, etc) in a certain order, using the same terminology, but with increasing levels of detail depending on the level of the reader. When someone first starts studying, they usually begin with a relatively short, introductory text (in the Shafi’i school it is usually Matn Abi Shuja). This may be followed by a study of a sharh of that text – a commentary which includes more information and detail; and thereafter a hashiyah, often translated as a ‘super-commentary’, which is a sharh of the sharh 🙂 and goes into even greater detail and explanation of the original text, and supplements and adds to the previous commentary with related information that gives the student a deeper and fuller understanding of the topic.
Hashiyat al-Bayjuri is probably the most well known ‘super-commentary’ of Matn Abi Shuja (via the sharh of Ibn Qasim al-Ghazzi). A printed copy of Matn Abi Shuja is probably about fifty pages in total, while the hashiyah of Imam Bayjuri is close to a thousand. A shaykh here, Sh. ‘Imad ud-Din Iffat, a resident Shafi’i scholar at al-Azhar and Dar al-Ifta, just completed a class on the book that has been going on for about seven years. The final class took place at the maqam [grave] of Imam ash-Shafi’i, may Allah have mercy on him, who is buried in Old Cairo.
It was an incredible feeling to be in the masjid where Imam Shafi’i, rahimahullah, used to teach, where he is presently buried, and to witness a group of students complete their studies of a book in his school; to witness a connection being forged between history and the present, between an incredible scholar of the past and a new generation of students of sacred law. For the students who attained ijaaza [certification] that day, I can only imagine what they were feeling – perhaps thinking about whose footsteps they were walking in, in whose shadows they were traversing, and realizing the heaviness of the mantle they were putting on as tulab al-‘ilm, seekers of religious knowledge.
May Allah make us people greatly inspired by our history, and make us like the great scholars of the past in our devotion, sincerity and passion for learning. May He, azza wajal, make from among our generation scholars and teachers who are constantly in His remembrance, close to Him and loved by Him, and through them guide others to His closeness. Ameen.
Sh. ‘Imad ud-Din Iffat (center) reading the last pages of Hashiyat al-Bayjuri while Sh. Ali Jumu’ah, grand mufti of Egypt, and students look on.
Sh. ‘Imad ud-Din handing out certificates to students.
A picture of the class after receiving their certificates and prizes for the best students.
Sh. Imad, may Allah bless him, always makes a point to include the sisters, and here asked the brothers to move over so that they could also be in the picture.
A picture of the grave of Imam ash-Shafi’i, rahimahullah.
The ornate walls surrounding his maqam.
Watch video from the event on Sh. Ali Jumu’ah’s official page here.