Al-Azhar Grand Imams

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

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Shams Al-ˀInbābī (1299 AH/1881 CE-1299 AH/1882 CE)

Shams Al-ˀInbābī

First office assumption date

1299 AH/1881 CE.

First retirement date

1299 AH/1882 CE.

Second office assumption date

1304 AH/1886 CE.

Second retirement date

1312 AH/1895 CE.


Muḥammad ˁAlī and his family.

A Note about the Grand Imam

     Grand Imam Shams ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ibn Ḥusein Al-ˀInbābī, was born in 1240 AH/1824 CE. He combined intellectual excellence with successful business. In 1253 AH/1837 CE, Al-ˀInbābī joined Al-Azhar where he was educated by its luminary scholars.  During the tenure of Grand Mufti Al-ˁArousī, Al-ˀInbābī was elected the Fatwa Secretary General. Later on, Sheikh Al-ˁArousī chose him to be his Deputy when he became Al-Azhar Grand Imam. Al-ˀInbābī assumed Al-Azhar Grand Imam’s position twice. However, he was keen on continuing to teach at Al-Azhar; thus, he educated a group of Al-Azhar luminary scholars. He called for teaching modern sciences at Al-Azhar, and issued a famous fatwa in this regard. On his death, he left a great scholarly legacy in various rational and traditional disciplines.

Brief Biographical Notes

     Grand Imam Muḥammad Ibn Muḥammad Ibn Ḥusein Al-ˀInbābī Ash-Shāfiˁī was born in 1240 AH/1824 CE in Cairo. He took his surname after his father’s hometown, Inbābah (Imbābah). His father was a major merchant who was keen to teach his son the fundamentals of commerce, in addition to teaching him the Islamic disciplines. Thus, Al-ˀInbābī memorized the Noble Qurˀān early in his childhood. Meanwhile, he learnt trade through working with his father. In 1253 AH/1837 CE, he joined Al-Azhar Mosque where he was educated by the senior scholars of his time, including the former Grand Imam Al-Bājūrī, Shaikh Ibrāhīm As-Saqqā, Muṣṭafā Al-Būlāqī, and others. Al-ˀInbābī was licensed for narration by the aforementioned scholars, in addition to the two former Grand Imams, Al-Quwisnī and Al-ˁArousī, the case which qualified him to teach at Al-Azhar in 1267 AH/1851 CE, where he drew public attention.

     Enjoying good reputation and abundant knowledge, Al-ˀInbābī was elected to be the Fatwa Secretary General under Grand Mufti, Shaikh Mouṣṭafā Al-ˁArousī, and also his Deputy when the latter became Al-Azhar Grand Imam. Some of his students later became luminary scholars, including the four Grand Imams ˁAbdur-Raḥmān An-Nawāwī, Ḥassounah An-Nawāwī, ˁAlī Al-Biblāwī, Abul-Faḍl Al-Jīzāwī, in addition to other scholars. Al-ˀInbābī was appointed as the Head of the Shāfiˁīs (the Shāfiˁī School of Islamic Jurisprudence) after the death of his mentor Shaikh As-Saqqā. On Muharram 19, 1299 AH / December 10, 1881 CE, during the ˁUrābī Revolution, Al-ˀInbābī was appointed as Al-Azhar Grand Imam. However, due to the Khedive’s desire to reappoint the former Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Muḥammad Al-Mahdī, to the position, Al-ˀInbābī submitted his resignation on Dhul-Qiˁdah 18, 1299 AH/October 2, 1882 CE, by the end of the ˁUrābī Revolution. He was reappointed on Rabīˁul-ˀAwwal 3, 1304 AH / November 29, 1886 CE.

     Grand Imam Al-ˀInbābī was part of the reform team that supported teaching modern sciences at Al-Azhar. He issued a Fatwa that allowed teaching them at Al-Azhar. The Fatwa was approved by the Egyptian Grand Mufti Muḥammad Al-Bannā. This step paved the way to the reform which Imam Muḥammad ˁAbdu and the later Grand Imam Ḥassounah An-Nawāwī adopted.

     On his death, Grand Imam Al-ˀInbābī left a valuable scholarly legacy in various common disciplines and arts of his time. He remained fulfilling his responsibilities as Al-Azhar Grand Imam until he fell paralyzed. This case made the Khedive appoint Shaikh Ḥassounah An-Nawāwī as his deputy to bear the burdens of the position on Al-ˀInbābī’s behalf. However, Al-ˀInbābī preferred to resign from his position on Dhul-Hijjah 25, 1312 AH/June 18, 1895 CE. After his resignation, he dedicated his time to read the classical six books of Ḥadīth and other books. He died on the eve of Saturday, Shawwāl 21, 1313 AH/April 4, 1896 CE.

Notable Contributions and Events

  • He took an influential stance regarding the ˁUrābī Revolution.
  • He issued a fatwa approving teaching modern sciences at Al-Azhar, thus paving the way to those who came after him of the reform pioneers.


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