Al-Azhar Grand Imams

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Ḥassūnah An-Nawāwī (1313 AH/1895 CE-1317 AH/1899 CE)

Ḥassūnah An-Nawāwī

First office assumption date

1313 AH/1895 CE.

First retirement date

1317 AH/1899 CE.

Second office assumption date

1324 AH/1907 CE.

Second retirement date

1327 AH/1909 CE.


Muḥammad ˁAlī and his Family.

A Note about the Grand Imam

     Grand Imam Ḥassūnah Ibn ˁAbdullāh An-Nawāwī was born in Nawāy, Mallawī, Egypt.  He memorized the Noble Qurˀān, then moved to Cairo and joined Al-Azhar Mosque. He was educated by the top scholars of his time. An-Nawāwī worked as a teacher at Al-Azhar, Muḥammad ˁAlī Mosque, Dārul-ˁUlūm School and the School of Law. He was appointed as a Deputy for Al-Azhar Grand Imam, Sheikh Al-ˀInbābī. He was also a member of Al-Azhar Affairs Reform Committee. An-Nawāwī assumed Al-Azhar Grand Imam’s position twice. Thanks to him, modern sciences were included in Al-Azhar education system. He resigned in 1327 AH/1909 CE, and died on Shawwāl 24, 1343 AH/ May 17, 1925 CE.

Brief Biographical Notes

     Grand Imam Ḥassūnah An-Nawāwī was born in 1255 AH/1839 CE in Nawāy, Mallawī, Egypt, where he memorized the Qurˀān. Then, he moved to Cairo and joined Al-Azhar Mosque. He attended classes for Al-Azhar Senior Scholars, including Grand Imam Al-Inbābī, Sheikh Al-Baḥrāwī, Sheikh ˁAlī Al-Asyūtī and other scholars. An-Nawāwī was a distinguished hard-working student and knowledge seeker. Thus, his teachers approved him to teach at Al-Azhar. Many students flocked to attend An-Nawāwī’s classes, so he attracted public attention. He held a number of important jobs, including:

  • Teacher of Islamic Jurisprudence at Al-Azhar Mosque.
  • Teacher of Islamic Jurisprudence at Muḥammad ˁAlī Mosque.
  • Teacher of Islamic Jurisprudence at the colleges of Dārul-ˁUlūm and Law.
  • Deputy for Al-Azhar Grand Imam, Sheikh Al-ˀInbābī in 1311 AH/1894 CE.
  • Member of Al-Azhar Affairs Reform Committee in 1312 AH/1895 CE.
  • The Grand Muftī of Egypt in 1315 AH/1897 CE.
  • Member of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Court.
  •  Member of the Consultative Council of Laws.

     An-Nawāwī assumed Al-Azhar Grand Imam’s position twice. The first time was on Muḥarram 8, 1313 AH / June 30, 1895 CE. Then, he was dismissed on Muḥarram 24, 1317 AH / June 3, 1899 CE. His cousin - Grand Imam ˁAbdur-Raḥmān An-Nawāwī - assumed the position after him. The reason behind An-Nawāwī’s dismissal was his stance against the attempts of Khedive ˁAbbās to interfere in the work of the Islamic Courts, in addition to his refusal to issue a fatwa preventing the performance of Hajj under the pretext ofan epidemic that spread that year, as was demanded by the government. His adherence to the stance he adopted, and the attention he paid to protect the dignity of Al-Azhar and its scholars were other reasons for the high esteem he enjoyed among the public and the elite alike. He assumed the Grand Imam’s position once again on Dhul-Ḥijjah 16, 1324 AH / January 30, 1907 CE.

     Grand Imam Ḥassūna An-Nawāwī was one of the reform pioneers in Al-Azhar. During his tenure, a law was issued in 1314 AH/1896 CE to reorganize Al-Azhar, according to which a council was formed to manage Al-Azhar affairs. The council’s mission was to identify how the teaching process would be regulated, and how students, work and everything related to Al-Azhar would be administered. The committee also set regulations organizing the study system, holding exams and granting licenses of narration. Another committee was formed to determine which books to be taught at Al-Azhar. In addition, modern sciences were included in Al-Azhar education system after they had been almost completely ignored, even though Al-Azhar was full of the senior scholars of such sciences. However, the reform movement was opposed by some influential persons close to the rulers. Shortly, Grand Imam An-Nawāwī decided to leave the position due to the disruption of circumstances, mismanagement of the officials, and his personal despair from reform. Thus, he resigned in 1324 AH/1909 CE, and died on Shawwāl 24, 1343 AH / May 17, 1925 CE.

Notable Contributions and Events

  • He excelled in seeking knowledge, which helped him hold many significant positions.
  • He confronted the government's attempts to interfere in the work of the Islamic Courts and the issuing of fatwas.
  • On Muḥarram 20, 1314 AH / June 30, 1896 CE, he issued the Education Reform Law for Al-Azhar.
  • He developed Al-Azhar and introduced teaching modern sciences therein. He also paved the way for the reformers' mission after him.


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