OBITUARIES: Sayyid Muhammad ‘Alawi al-Maliki

JUST BEFORE dawn on Friday the 15th of Ramadan of this year the Muslim community lost one of its most eminent scholars and men of Allah. Sayyid Muhammad ‘Alawi alMaliki came from a long line of eminent scholars, Idrisi sharifs connected to the Prophet, may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him, through Imam alHasan, may Allah be pleased with him. His ancestors came from Morocco many centuries ago and settled in Mecca. The custom in Mecca has always been to use the title Sayyid for the scholarly among the descendants of Imam Hasan and Imam Hussein, reserving the title of sharp “for the rulers of Mecca, until the modern day Saudi era, for the martial, warrior scion amongst the ahi al-bayt. Thus it was that the newcomers retained the surname of Maliki, that of their illustrious ancestor Muhammad al-Maliki, whose North African origin made him a follower of Imam Malik in matters of jurisprudence, and the title Sayyid for being scholars, not warriors.

The Maliki family home was very near to the Sacred Mosque, next to Bab al-Salam. This is where Sayyid Muhammad was born in 1367 ah. He went to school in Mecca, but his first and most important teacher was his father, the illustrious Sayyid ‘Alawi (1328-1591 ah) whose name was a rather unusual one for an Idrisi sharif. The story behind it is that his father, Sayyid ‘Abbas, son of Sayyid ‘Abdal ‘Aziz, son of Sayyid ‘Abbas, son of Sayyid ‘Abd al-‘Aziz, son of the great saint Muhammad al-Maliki alMakki al-Idrisi, had only daughters and greaUy desired a son to succeed him as the chief Maliki scholar of Mecca. When he learned that the great Hadrami scholar and saint, Habib Ahmad ibn Hasan al-‘Attas had arrived in Mecca, he went to visit him, explained the situation to him and asked him for his prayers. Habib Ahmad answered him that not only would Allah grant his request and give him a son, but that he would also be the most eminent scholar in Mecca. However, because it was to be through the baraka of the Ba-‘Alawi sayyids, he was to name the boy ‘Alawi.

It was not long before a boy was born to Sayyid ‘Abbas and he had no hesitation in calling him ‘Alawi. The boy grew up into an accomplished scholar, recognized and loved by his peers throughout the Islamic world, as well as by all the inhabitants of the Hijaz. He had an especially close relationship with the Ba-‘Alawis, as did his son Muhammad after him. Sayyid ‘Alawi was a tireless teacher who held open sessions that everyone in Mecca was welcome to attend in the Sacred Mosque daily between Maghrib and ‘Isha, then devoted himself to teaching students of sacred science after ‘Isha. He also had brief sessions after Dhuhr and at his house after ‘Asr. Following his death, Sheikh Hasan al-Mashshat, Sheikh Muhammad Nur Sayf, and others among the senior scholars of Mecca nominated his son, sayyid Muhammad, to his place in the Sacred Precinct, formally declaring him to be his father’s successor. Sayyid Muhammad had been well prepared to assume this role, for he had studied under these and other masters in the Hijaz. Among the elite scholars he studied with were two of the most remarkable men of Allah: Sayyid Muhammad Amin Rutbi and Sayyid Hasan Fad’aq. In addition, he had obtained a Ph.D. in Hadith from the venerable Azhar University, and while doing so had sat at the feet of the great scholars and saints of Egypt such as Sayyid Muhammad al-Hafiz al-Tijani, Sheikh Ahmad Ridwan of Luxor, Sheikh ‘Abdal Halim Mahmud, rector of al Azhar, Sheikh Salih al-Ja’fari, and Sheikh Muhammad Zaki Ibrahim, among others.

Having succeeded his father in Mecca, he maintained the tradition of indefatigable teaching for thirty four more years. Even when he was prevented from teaching in the Mosque by the Wahhabis who had declared him a disbeliever, the school which he had started in his own house remained active. It received students mainly from South East Asia, but also from Africa and every other part of the Islamic world. In addition, Sayyid Muhammad was constantly being invited to speak in religious gatherings all over the Hijaz, especially on occasions such as the mawlid or the mi’raj, attending more than one gathering in a single day.

His quarrel with the Wahhabis is well known. Suffice it to say that all it accomplished was to emphasize his worldwide popularity, for books were written in his defense by Moroccan, Yemeni, Emirate, and other scholars, as well as countless magazine articles. Ring Fahd, being a reasonable man and an astute politician, invited him to his palace in Mecca, made it clear they were on good terms, and had his picture taken with him.

Sayyid Muhammad was widely traveled. Wherever he went in the Islamic world, Syria, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, East Africa, or South Africa, he was met with great love and respect by scholars and lay people alike. Gatherings were arranged, poems sung, discourses given, and he was invited to return the following year.

As mentioned above, throughout his life, Sayyid Muhammad remained very close to the Ba-‘Alawis. In addition to the fact that there were always young ‘Alawis among his students, that he had given one of his daughters in marriage to an ‘Alawi of the ‘Aydarus clan, and that he celebrated the death anniversary of Habib Ahmad ibn Hasan al-‘Attas yearly in his home, the great among lhem such as Habib ‘Abd al-Qadir alSaqqaf and Habib Ahmad Mashhur al-Haddad in Jeddah, and Habib ‘Attas Habashi in Mecca; he always referred to them as being among his spiritual mentors. They in turn were extremely fond of him, were always pleased to see him, and gave him their unconditional support He recited the aw rad of Imam al-Haddad regularly and included them in his collection of invocations. As for Habib Muhammad Salih al-Mehdar, he could always count on Sayyid Muhammad to attend his innumerable mawlid gatherings in Mecca, Medina, and Taif. When he spoke, Sayyid Muhammad’s words assuaged troubled hearts, uplifted souls, stirred up the love of God and His Prophet in people’s breasts, and increased them in knowledge. He attended the celebrations held by all the other Hijaz notables, as well, for he knew that – due to the hostile environment, he was the only charismatic figure left in the Hijaz capable of keeping the tradition of their ancestors alive. He was always affable, easy to approach, courteous, and dignified. Whenever he taught he was careful to repeat each idea or concept by paraphrasing it more than once, so as to allow his authence ample time to absorb and assimilate it.

Sayyid Muhammad authored many books covering almost every field of Islamic knowledge. The most famous was undoubtedly Mafahim Yajib an Tusahhah [Concepts that Need to be Rectified], which came to be known simply as al-Mafahim, and in which he replied to his detractors very courteously as is the wont of true Muslim scholars. The contents of the book were endorsed by scores of scholars from all over the Islamic world, the second edition containing even more endorsements, as scholars competed to declare their approval of him and disapproval of his opponents and to record their position for posterity. By the time the third edition came out half the book had become constituted of such endorsements and there seemed to be no scholar of any consequence who had not sent his contribution in support of the sayyid, for in the eyes of the scholarly community he represented the strictest Ahi al-Sunna orthodoxy. His last booklet was a transcript of his contribution to a conference on extremism convened in Jeddah in 1424 ah at the behest of Crown Prince ‘Abdallah. Sayyid Muhammad pointed out at the conference that twenty years before, in his book al-Mafahim, he had indeed suggested such a meeting to resolve the differences between himself and the rest of AhI al-Sunna, and the Wahhabis, and that ten years later he had written a short treatise on extremism and takfirand warned of their dangers. He concluded by hoping that the Muslims had learnt their lesson and that school curricula would be altered and the media used appropriately to reduce the likelihood of terrorism in the future.

The funeral prayer was held in the Sacred Precinct before the Ka’ba. Thousands upon thousands of Muslims flocked to Makka to escort Sayyid Muhammad to his resting place in the Ma’la cemetery, in the same square as his father, not far from his ancestor, the Lady Rhadija bint Rhuwaylid – may God be pleased with her.

The untimely loss of Sayyid Muhammad ‘Alawi al-Maliki has been, and is likely to remain for some time to come, deeply felt by the Muslim community as a whole, but especially by the people of Hijaz who were so attached to him and who had placed in him all their hopes for a better future. His eldest son, Sayyid Ahmad, a university lecturer in religious sciences in Jeddah, has already assumed responsibility for his father’s school in Mecca. May Allah protect him, guide his steps, and make him a worthy successor to his ancestors.

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    A piece previously published in the print issue of Islamica Magazine between 2003-2009. The following has been an effort to digitize and archive as a free service. Author citations can be found at as we continue to work on improving the digital archives here.

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