Miscellaneous Seeking Knowledge

A Tribute to Shaykh Ahmed al-`Assāl, by Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradāwī

by Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradāwī | Translated and Abridged by Huda Shaka`

ppAt last, the end has come and a voice that always spoke the truth, invited to good, and articulated Islamic positions – both in creed and practice – has gone silent.

Today, I write of `Assāl, who though not destined to bear his own children, has spiritual children spread across the world: from China in the East to Ribāt in the West.  Ever since he was a student in Egypt in the 1940s and 50s, he worked with the youth in study circles, on trips and in camps, and he gave sermons and lectures in mosques and forums.

When he moved to Qatar in the sixties, he taught students in high schools and the masses in mosques and forums. In Britain as well, while working on his doctorate, he participated in various Islamic activities with students from around the world and with various Islamic organizations through classes and events.

When he returned from London in the seventies, he taught at Saudi universities with a distinguished group of his brothers, and was then made the head of the Department of Islamic Culture at the School of Education in King Su`ūd University.

From Saudi, he went to Pakistan in the eighties as a teacher at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, working in tandem with the head of the university, the renowned Egyptian scholar Dr. Ḥussein Ḥamid Ḥussein.  He went on to become the deputy and then the head of the university. He was beloved to students and was close to them, concerned with their worries and problems—just as he was concerned with the affairs of the university and its necessary funding.

Even after he retired, he continued working with organizations and groups, accepting their invitations until his last months when illness prevented him from doing so.

Whoever reads my memoirs, Ibn al-Qaryah wa’l-Kitāb (The Son of the Village and the Book), will find that the most frequently mentioned name is that of Aḥmed al-`Assāl; he was my comrade in my journey, my life-long friend, my soulmate, my brother in da`wah (calling to Islam), my colleague during my studies, trials, and work.  I knew him for about two-thirds of a century (sixty-five years or more), since the beginning of our Islamic work. This was during the prime of youth, in the first year of secondary school in the religious, Azhari Institute of Tanta.

Our acquaintance began after a funny incident.  We had a substitute teacher with a sense of humor in our class at the beginning of the year. He began by asking students, “What do you wish to be after you graduate?” Some said, “I want to be a judge in a shari`ah court!” He replied, “You will be no more than a door-keeper who cries out: ‘court!’”

Another said, “I want to be a manager at such and such institute,” and he replied, “You will be a janitor serving coffee and tea at the manager’s office!”

And so on until he came to me and said, “And you, what do you want to be?”  I told him, “Pardon me from having to answer, Sir.”  He insisted, “You have to share your thoughts. Don’t you have a wish for after you graduate?” I said, “Yes.” He asked, “and what is it?” I said, “If I have to answer – my wish is to be the Grand Imam of Azhar!”

At this point, the teacher changed his tone from sarcasm to seriousness, and he addressed the students saying, “Do not be surprised, young men, and do not dismiss this, for how many ambitious young men have had grand wishes that have come true.”

`Assāl was impressed and came up to me after class to encourage me, introduce himself to me, and get to know me. This is how it all began.

Coincidentally, two years ago I was at an interview when I mentioned this story and the journalist asked, “and today, do you still wish this?”

I said: “No,” for so and so reasons…

Incidentally, my brother `Assāl was present, and he said: “Indeed, Allah has kept for you that which is greater than the position of Imam at Azhar – that you be the shaykh of the entire Ummah (Muslim community)!” That was from the good opinion of this brother.

Our acquaintance grew and became stronger when we met at the house of the Muslim Brotherhood in Tanta.  We also met in the da`wah group of the Muslim Brotherhood which sent us to some villages and centers around Tanta to spread the message of Islam.

As days went by, our connection grew stronger and our activities in support of national causes continued.  We would bring students out, lead demonstrations, ignite emotions and be involved in clashes with the police.  They would arrest us and throw us in jail, where we were occasionally beaten and released.  In all these activities, `Assāl was by my side. This is in addition to our activities within the Brotherhood in the students’ group, which expanded and developed every day.

I graduated from the School of Ūsul ad-Dīn1 and `Assāl graduated from the School of Shari`ah.  Both of us then joined a program specializing in teaching at the School of Arabic Language, in which we studied the theoretical and practical sciences of education and psychology.

We were incarcerated together on another occasion. `Assāl was arrested before me, while I hid in my aunt’s house in Tanta; but I was easily found and taken to the bureau of investigation of Greater Maḥallah, which had been ordered to torture and interrogate me.  I then ended up in ‘the large cage’- a military prison that had opened its mouth wide enough to swallow everyone.

After our release from the military prison, we found shared accommodation in Shubrah Gardens, where I used to live before. At that point, we faced the problem of employment.  We applied to positions of teaching at Azhar’s institutes and were indeed appointed when Azhar published our names on its list of appointees.  However, soon after, the Ministry of Interior or the General Bureau of Investigation sent a memo to the management of al-Azhar, drawing their attention to the necessity of having appointees approved by the Bureau of Investigation before being published.  That allowed them to refuse our appointment at Azhar and any other employment that involved contact with the public.

We both started searching for suitable employment away from official positions.  The most appropriate work seemed to be teaching Arabic in private schools.  However, we were not successful.  After we had grown tired and frustrated, I found an advertisement in Al-Ahrām (an Egyptian newspaper) announcing teaching vacancies in private schools in az-Zamālik. I invited `Assāl to apply but he refused, saying, “We were rejected by schools in Boulaq. Will schools in Zamālik accept us?! You go if you wish!”

I said: “I will go and do what I can, and the rest is up to Allah.”

I went to the school and waited, and was surprised when the man asked to see me and welcomed me.  He then said, “I accept your application.” The administrative and financial manager of the school was present and said, “but I have a request for you, Shaykh Yusuf.” I said, “Please, go on.”  He said, “You know that every environment has its own customs, and in Zamālik we are in an area of pashas.  Maybe the juba and `amamah (gown and turban of Azharis) is not the most suitable attire here.  I think a Western suit would look good on you!”  I said: “Yes, I know that and I know that the shari`ah also takes customs into consideration. Let us begin, then, with the blessings of Allah.”

Within a few days, `Assāl had found a suitable school as well.

After some time, a competition was held to assign lecturers at Azhar and imams in the Ministry of Religious Endowments. `Assāl and I applied and passed. Our official position was imām, while in reality, we worked in the department of lecturers, under the Ministry of Religious Endowments.

Our position in the Ministry was comfortable, but not stable.

That is why we seriously considered moving to Azhar, especially since our distinguished Shaykh, Mahmūd Shaltūt, was the Grand Imam of Azhar at the time.

In 1960, Sheikh Abdullah bin Turki, who was in charge of Islamic sciences in the Ministry of Education in Qatar, came to Egypt.  My brother, Ahmed al-`Assāl and I met him, and he was pleased with us and officially requested that we move there from Azhar.

`Assāl left for Qatar without any impediments, but I was denied travel by the General Bureau of Investigation. So, I stayed in Egypt. After a year, with Qatar’s insistence, I was allowed to move to Qatar to work as the Director of the Secondary Institute of Religious Studies.  `Assāl and some of our old friends came to welcome me when I arrived, and I stayed the night with my family at `Assāl’s home.

After a while, `Assāl decided to leave Doha for London to get his doctorate from Cambridge University.  I had considered following in his footsteps, but I had four daughters and had not saved enough money to tend to a family that hoped to grow.  Allah had wished that `Assāl not be blessed with children, and that enabled him to travel and further his studies.

With all the Islamic projects I took on, `Assāl was there encouraging me and supporting me.  Despite the fact that I resided in Qatar while he was in Egypt, he always inquired about me over the phone.

We ask Allah, the Benevolent, The Generous, Who united us in love for His sake, that He unite us under His Shade on the day when there is no shade but His. Indeed He is The All-Hearing, the Most-Close.

  1. Foundational Principles of the Religion.

About the author



Leave a Comment