Al-Azhar Grand Imams

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

Friday, August 21, 2020

Muḥammad Al-Mahdī (1287 AH/1870 CE-1299 AH/1881 CE)

Muḥammad Al-Mahdī Al-ˁAbbāsī

First Office assumption date

1287 AH/1870 CE.

First Retirement date

1299 AH/1881 CE.

Second Office assumption date

1299 AH/1882 CE.

Second Retirement date

1304 AH/1886 CE.


Muḥammad ˁAlī and his family

A Note about the Grand Imam

     Grand Imam Muḥammad Al-Mahdī Al-ˁAbbāsī was born in Alexandria in 1243 AH/1827 CE, then he moved to Cairo in 1255 AH/1839 CE. He was educated by the senior scholars of Al-Azhar. His scholarly excellence was early noticed; thus, Ibrāhīm Pasha issued a decree appointing him the Grand Mufti of Egypt in 1264 AH/1848 CE. Sheikh Muḥammad Al-Mahdī continued to study and seek knowledge, then he started teaching at Al-Azhar Mosque. Egypt’s Ruler Khedive Ismāˁīl appointed him the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar; thus, he worked hard to organize Al-Azhar administrative affairs. He was dismissed from his position in 1299 AH/1881 CE, for a dispute with ˁUrābī; then he reassumed it in 1299 AH/1882 CE. He passed away on Rajab 13, 1315 AH/December 7, 1897 CE.

Brief Biographical Notes

     Grand Imam Muḥammad Ibn Muḥammad Amīn Ibn Muḥammad Al-Mahdī Al-ˁAbbāsī Ash-Sheikh Al-Mahdī was born in Alexandria in 1243 AH/1827 CE. He moved to Cairo in 1255 AH/1839 CE to complete his scholarly life. He joined Al-Azhar Mosque, and was educated by the senior scholars of his time including Sheikh Khalīl Ar-Rashīdī Al-Ḥanafī, Sheikh Al-Bayyātī, Sheikh Ibrāhīm As-Saqqā Ash-Shāfiˁī, and other scholars. Sheikh Al-Mahdī enjoyed intelligence, acumen and strong memory; thus, he was keen on searching, seeking knowledge, and learning whatever was unknown to him.

     In mid Dhul-Qiˁdah 1264 AH/September 1848 CE, after Ibrāhīm Pasha, Muḥammad ˁAlī’s son had become Egypt’s Ruler. He called Sheikh Al-Mahdī and issued a decree assigning him as the Grand Mufti of Egypt. That was in response to the Sheikh of Islam ˁĀrif Beik’s demand.

Besides being the Grand Mufti, Al-Mahdī assumed Al-Azhar Grand Imam’s office twice:

     The first tenure: From 1287 AH/1870 CE to Muḥarram 1299 AH/September 1881 CE. He was dismissed from his position due to a dispute with Aḥmad ˁUrābī; then Sheikh Muḥammad Al-Inbābī succeeded him.

     The second tenure:  On Dhul-Qiˁdah 18, 1299 AH/October 2, 1882 CE, after the ˁUrābī Revolution was over, Grand Imam Al-Mahdī was reassigned to his position. He remained as Al-Azhar Grand Imam until 1304 AH/1886 CE. He was the first to enact a law regulating the students' examinations at Al-Azhar Mosque.

     Despite his (rejecting) stance towards the ˁUrābī Revolution, Grand Imam Al-Mahdī stood against Muḥammad ˁAlī’s successors who ruled Egypt, especially ˁAbbās I and Khedive Ismāˁīl. He rejected their demands to approve what is contrary to Islamic Sharia. He was dismissed due to his cultural activities; great thinkers and politicians used to gather in his house to discuss Egypt’s affairs and public matters. When the Khedive Tawfīq knew about this, he rebuked him for such meetings held in his house; thus, Grand Imam Al-Mahdī submitted his resignation from the two offices of Al-Azhar Sheikhdom and Iftāˀ. Sheikh Muḥammad Al-ˀInbābī succeeded him as a Grand Imam on Rabīˀul-Awwal 3, 1304 AH/November 29, 1886 CE. Afterwards, Grand Imam Al-Mahdī was reassigned to his office as the Grand Mufti. He remained there until he fell paralyzed in 1314 AH/1896 CE. He stayed at home until his death on the 13th (perhaps the 15th) of Rajab, 1315 AH/December 7 (or 9), 1897 CE.

Notable Contributions and Events

•   He Combined both offices of Al-Azhar Sheikhdom and Fatwa for a long time.

• He worked on reforming Al-Azhar's financial affairs.

• He reformed the education system by setting specific prerequisites for students who wished to join Al-Azhar through conducting due tests. He also issued a law to test those who desired to teach at Al-Azhar.



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