Al-Azhar Grand Imams

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

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Muḥammad Ash-Shanawānī (1227 AH/1812 CE-1233 AH/1817 CE)

Muḥammad Ash-Shanawānī

Office assumption date

1227 AH/1812 CE.

Retirement date

1233 AH/1817 CE.


Muḥammad ˁAlī Pasha.

A Note about the Grand Imam

     Muḥammad Ibn ˁAlī Ibn Manṣour Ash-Shanawānī was born in the village of Shanawān, Al-Minūfiyya, Egypt. He memorized the Noble Qurˀān in his village, then moved to Cairo to join Al-Azhar Mosque. He was educated by Al-Azhar senior scholars. After completing his studies, he worked as a teacher. He used to hold classes at Al-Fakahānī Mosque. Ash-Shanwānī excelled in both rational and traditional disciplines. He wrote a number of useful scholarly books. He had several patriotic stands. He took over Al-Azhar Sheikhdom as Grand Imam from 1227 AH/1812 CE till his death on Al-Muḥarram 14, 1233 AH/November 23, 1817 CE.

Brief Biographical Notes

     Sheikh Muḥammad Ash-Shanawānī joined Al-Azhar Mosque and was educated by the senior scholars of his time, including Muḥammad Al-Fārisī Ash-Shāfiˁī, Grand Imam Muḥammad Ibn Sālim Al-Ḥifnī Ash-Shāfiˁī, ˁAṭiyyah Al-ˀAjhourī, ˁAlī Aṣ-Ṣaˁīdī Al-ˁAdawī, Aḥmad Ad-Dardīr, Grand Imam Aḥmad Al-ˁArousī, Grand Imam Aḥmad Ad-Damanhourī and Sheikh Aḥmad Ar-Rāshidī Ash-Shafiˁī. He learned Islamic jurisprudence from Sheikh ˁĪsā Al-Barrāwī. He was appreciated and praised by his teachers throughout his studies at Al-Azhar.

     After Ash-Shanawānī finished his studies at Al-Azhar, he preferred not to compete with other sheikhs in teaching at Al-Azhar. Thus, he held a daily class at Al-Fakahānī Mosque in Al-ˁAqqādīn, near his house in Khashqadam, Al-Ghouriya district, Cairo. There, many students attended his classes to benefit from his views and knowledge.

     Ash-Shanawānī excelled in the disciplines of Arabic language. He was also keen to study theology and mathematics. Al-Jabartī described him as “rationalist jurist and Arabic grammarian” for having studied Logic, Dialectics, Philosophy, Astronomy, and Arithmetic, in addition to the classical disciplines such as Islamic jurisprudence, Qurˀān Exegesis and Ḥadīth. Grand Imam Ash-Shanawānī wrote a number of books in various disciplines such as Rhetoric, Ḥadīth, Research Etiquettes, and Monotheism. In addition, he also excelled in memorizing the Noble Qurˀān and used to recite it during the Islamic evening occasions.

     Grand Imam Ash-Shanawānī was unwilling to assume any positions. Thus, when he knew about his nomination to succeed his former Grand Imam ˁAbdullāh Ash-Sharqāwī after the latter’s death, he left his house and moved to another place in Miṣr Al-Qadīma district to hide there, leaving a letter announcing his abdication for Sheikh Badawī Al-Haythamī. Although some Azhari scholars, especially those of Ruwāq Ash-Shawām (Ash-Shawām class court), nominated Sheikh Al-Mahdī to be the Grand Imam, Sheikh Ash-Shanawānī only accepted the office after the insistence of Egypt’s ruler Muḥammad ˁAlī and some Azhari scholars, thus becoming the 13th Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. He remained in this position till he passed away on Al-Muḥarram 14, 1233 AH/November 23, 1817 CE. His funeral prayer was performed at Al-Azhar Mosque, and he was buried in Al-Mujāwirīn Graveyard in Cairo.

Notable Contributions and Events

• He participated in resisting the French Expedition in (1213 AH/1798 CE).

  • He refused to participate in Cairo’s Divan established by Napoleon. This Divan consisted of ten scholars headed by Al-Azhar Grand Imam ˁAbdullāh Ash-Sharqāwī.
  • He also refused the second Divan, which consisted of sixty members, including scholars, merchants and others.
  • He participated in the two Cairo Revolutions; the first (20-23 October, 1798 CE/11-14 Jumādal ˀŪlā, 1213 AH) and the second (March 20, 1800 CE/Shawwāl 24, 1215 AH). The two Revolutions broke out against the French army in Cairo.

• His teachers, headed by Sheikh ˁĪsā Al-Barrāwī, authorized him to teach.

• Egypt’s Ruler of the time, Muḥammad ˁAlī, presented him Sable’s Fur after becoming the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in (1227 AH/1812 CE).

•   Grand Imam Ash-Shanawānī enjoyed a high esteem by Egypt’s Ruler, Muḥammad ˁAlī, who was keen to accept his mediation to fulfill needs of the Azhari scholars and others.

• Grand Imam Ash-Shanawānī wrote an abundant scholarly book treasure.

• He preserved Al-Azhar endowments and the rights of Azhari scholars and students; he was able to persuade Egypt’s Ruler Muḥammad ˁAlī to release the endowments withheld from the Azhari students. Muḥammad ˁAlī did so as a kind of compliment to him.



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