Al-Azhar Grand Imams

Al-Azhar Mosque/Al-Azhar Grand Imams
Al-Azhar Grand Imams

Friday, September 4, 2020

Muḥammad Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī (1347 AH/1929 CE-1354 AH/1935 CE)

Muḥammad Al-Aḥmadī Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī

Office Assumption date

Jumādal-ˀŪlā 7, 1347 AH/October 10, 1929 CE.

Retirement date

Muḥarram 23, 1354 AH/ April 26, 1935 CE.


Muḥammad ˁAlī and his family

A Note about the Grand Imam

     Muḥammad Ibn Ibrāhīm Al-Aḥmadī Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī was born in Kafr Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī, Ash-Sharqiyyah, Egypt, in 1295 AH/1887 CE. He joined Al-Azhar and obtained his high school degree in 1320 AH/1902 CE. He worked as a teacher at Al-Aḥmadī Azhari Institute in Tanta. Adopting the same ideology of his teacher Muḥammad ˁAbdū who had called for reforming Al-Azhar, Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī called for such reform in his book Al-ˁIlm Wal-ˁUlamāˀ in 1322 AH/1904 CE. He continued to be promoted in several positions till he became the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar on Jumādal-ˀŪlā 7, 1348 AH/October 10, 1929 CE. During his office as Grand Imam, “Law No. 49” was issued in 1930, according to which Al-Azhar was transformed into a university. He had strong stands in supporting Islam and the Muslims, and defending Al-Azhar. He passed away in Jumādal-ˀŪlā 20, 1336 AH/May 13, 1944 CE.

Brief Biographical Notes

     Muḥammad Ibn Ibrāhīm Al-Aḥmadī Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī grew up in a household known for knowledge and righteousness. He memorized the Noble Qurˀān at a young age, then moved to Cairo where he studied at Al-Azhar. He was educated by senior scholars, at the forefront of whom was Sheikh Muḥammad ˁAbdū. In 1320 AH/1902 CE, he obtained his high school degree, then he was appointed as a teacher at Tanta Azhari Institute. In 1322 AH/1904 CE, he wrote his book Al-ˁIlm Wal-ˁUlamāˀ in which he criticized the status of Al-Azhar, its teaching systems and the methods adopted by its scholars, and called for reform.

     Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī used his Sufi attitude, which he acquired from his father, as a way to attract Al-Azhar students after he had lost hope of any positive response from the Khedive and the scholars to his reform call. In Rajab 1325 AH/August 1907 CE, his father, Sheikh Ibrāhīm Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī, died. The latter was the head of Tanta Azhari Institute, which was officially affiliated to Al-Azhar Sheikhdom. Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī aimed to succeed his father, thus he got the support of Tanta’s notables who wrote a letter to Khedive ˁAbbās Ḥilmī, asking him to implement their wish. However, being too young prevented Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī from achieving his ambition, till it came to effect in Ṣafar 1332 AH/January 1914 CE, despite the objection of many Azhari imams. During his office there, the new building of the institute was inaugurated with the presence of the Khedive. With the assumption of King Fuˀād to the throne, his ties with Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī were strengthened, but the situation did not last for too long by the act of evil plotters. Thus, the secondary school section at Tanta Azhari Institute was closed. This action was considered a diminution of the institute head’s prestige. Then a decree was issued in 1342 AH/1923 CE according to which Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī was transferred as the head of Assiut Azhari Institute.

     On Jumādal-ˀŪlā 7, 1348 AH / October 10, 1929 CE, a royal decree was issued to appoint Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī as the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. No sooner had he taken over the great position than he formed committees to achieve the comprehensive reform he was seeking. He set up a precise system and took great care of education whether in Al-Azhar Mosque or the other affiliated institutes. Although “Law No. 49” was issued during his office on Jumāda l-ˀŪlā 24, 1349 AH / November 15, 1930 CE, to reorganize Al-Azhar Mosque and Azhari institutes, Grand Imam Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī was unable to achieve all his aspirations of reform. Thus, he submitted his resignation on Muḥarram 23, 1354 AH/April 26, 1935 CE, and continued to carry out his scholarly mission in defending Islam till he died on Jumāda l-ˀŪlā 20, 1336 AH/May 13, 1944 CE.

Notable Contributions and Events

• In 1925 CE, a committee headed by the Prime Minister and some MPs and sheikhs was formed to reform and develop Al-Azhar. The committee concluded that Al-Azhar would better be affiliated to the Ministry of Education, provided that the Grand Imam keep his religious position. This meant putting an end to the independence of Al-Azhar, and even demolishing its historical position in the Muslim world. At that time, Grand Imam Aẓ-Ẓawāhirī revolted against this proposal and said, “By making such a decision, you intend to eliminate Al-Azhar and its religious influence in the country, and this is what the colonialists wanted to achieve. Then he submitted an objection memorandum to King Fu’ād. After debate, deliberation and persuasion, the government backed away from affiliating Al-Azhar to the Ministry of Education.

• He stood against the Christian missionary movement in Egypt.

• He had a significant perspective about the issue of caliphate, and led of the Egyptian delegation to Makkah Conference in 1926.

• He participated in establishing a number of charitable and Islamic societies in Tanta.

• During his office as Grand Imam, “Law No. 49” was issued in 1930, according to which Al-Azhar was transformed into a university. Hence, Faculties of Sharīˁa and Law, Uṣūl ud-Dīn (Islamic Theology), and Arabic Language were established. He set a project for the huge buildings of the modern University of Al-Azhar.

• He established Nour ul-Islām Magazine, later known as Al-Azhar Magazine, to represent Al-Azhar and promote the religious culture.

• He called for delegating Azhari scholars to introduce Islam and promote the Islamic culture abroad. During his office, he sent two Azhari scholars in a mission to China, and another mission to Abyssinia.

• He established Al-Maˁāhid Press to print all the administrative and scholarly publications Al-Azhar needed.

• His name was awarded the (Egyptian) First Class Order of the Republic for Arts and Sciences on the occasion of the Millennium celebration of establishing Al-Azhar.



Categories: Grand Imams
Back To Top