Al-Azhar Grand Imams

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

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Salīm Al-Bishrī (1327 AH/1909 CE - 1335 AH/1916 CE)

Salīm Al-Bishrī

First Office Assumption Date

1317 AH/1899 CE

First Retirement Date

1320 AH/1903 CE.

Second Office Assumption Date

1327 AH/1909 CE

Second Retirement Date

1335 AH/1916 CE


Muḥammad ˁAlī and his family.

A Note about the Grand Imam

     Grand Imam Salīm Ibn Abu Farrāj Al-Bishrī was born in the village of Maḥallat Bishr, Shubrākhīt, Al-Buḥairah, Egypt, in 1248 AH/1832 CE. He was educated at Al-Azhar until he became one of its scholars and teachers. He excelled in the Ḥadīth and Qur'anic Exegesis Disciplines. Besides being a scholar, Al-Bishrī was also the head of the Māliki school of Islamic jurisprudence, and a member of the Board of Al-Azhar Administration. He was appointed as the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar in Ṣafar 1317 AH/July 1899 CE, but he resigned in 1320 AH/1903 CE. He was reappointed in 1327 AH/1909 CE.  Al-Bishrī was one of pioneers of Al-Azhar reform, and had courageous stances indicating his wisdom and farsightedness. He passed to his Lord in 1335 AH/1916 CE.

Brief Biographical Notes

     Grand Imam Salīm Al-Bishrī was born in the village of Maḥallat Bishr, Shubrākhīt, Al-Buḥairah, Egypt, in 1248 AH/1832 CE. He was an orphan. Thus, his elder brother, ˁAbdul-Hādī, sponsored and took care of him. At the age of nine, Al-Bishrī memorized the Noble Qur’an, then he moved to Cairo where he was hosted by his maternal uncle Shaikh Bassyūnī Al-Bishrī who taught him the principles of various religious disciplines. He remained in his uncle’s custody until he joined Al-Azhar, where he learned the Maliki Jurisprudence from the luminary scholars, including Sheikh Al-Khunānī, Sheikh ˁlīsh, and Sheikh Al-Bājūrī.

     After finishing the ninth year of study at Al-Azhar, his teacher Al-Khunānī fell paralyzed. When  Al-Khunānī , who used to teach the classical books to his students, felt better, he asked to be helped to his class, and said to his students, “I don’t have power for teaching anymore, but I’m going to choose my successor, the worthiest.” Then, he took Al-Bishrī’s hand and seated him on his teaching chair.

     Al-Bishrī began his scholarly life by taking his teacher’s position. Thus, his intellectual excellence was noticed, his fame widely spread,. In particular, he greatly excelled in the Ḥadīth discipline, so he managed to draw the researchers and scholars’ attention.

     After a while, he caught a serious disease for two years, during which he never stopped teaching, as his students used to visit him in his house. After his recovery, he was appointed as the Imam of Sayyidah Zainab Mosque. He remained there until a decree was issued to appoint him as the Head of the Māliki School of Jurisprudence.

     When a plan was made for reforming Al-Azhar during the Grand Imam Hassūna An-Nawāwī’s tenure, Al-Bishrī was among those chosen for membership at Al-Azhar Council. He was a prominent member of the Council until he was chosen to be Al-Azhar Grand Imam. Al-Bishrī apologized and categorically refused the position, justifying his apology with his old age and poor health. Eventually, under insistence, he agreed; thus, a decree was issued to appoint him as Al-Azhar Grand Imam on Safar 28, 1317 AH / July 7, 1899 CE. He remained in the position until a dispute arose between him and the rulers due to adherence to his rights in managing Al-Azhar, and rejecting the rulers' threats. Consequently, he submitted his resignation on Dhul-Hijjah 2, 1320 AH / March 1, 1903 CE. When things got complicated at Al-Azhar, the rulers were obliged to reassign him in 1327 AH/1909 CE. He stipulated that the government must honor scholars and students, raise their salaries and restore their full rights. He continued to strive for developing Al-Azhar until his death in 1335 AH/1916 CE.

Notable Contributions and Events

• He activated the Māliki Jurisprudential School after a five-year hiatus.

• He played a great role in reforming Al-Azhar since he was a member of its Board of Administration.

• He rejected the rulers’ attempts to control Al-Azhar, and prevented them from interfering in its affairs.

• He honored Al-Azhar scholars and students, restored their rights, and regained some of their privileges.

• He reduced the burdens of life on the Azhari poor students in particular and the poor Muslims in general.

• He supported the oppressed and worked on spending more on charitable causes.

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