Discovering the History of  the Development of the Intellectual Personality of Imam Ahmad ibn Idris

The gloomy afternoon of Fez brought us to explore the history of what its like here 1200 years ago. Its peaceful environment invited us to uncover the history of a university that played a huge role as the leader of the spiritual and intellectual education of the Islamic world.

Our steps got heavier as we walk through the narrow alleys of the bazaar which serves a variety of dishes, clothing and souvenirs. However, our goal is much more valuable than all of that; visiting the great Mosque of Qarawiyyin. Besides that, this mosque is closely linked to the scholarly development and the formation of the personality of the two main figures of the Muhammadiah Tariqah, Imam Sayyid Ahmad ibn Idris and his student Imam Muhammad ibn Ali al Sanusi.

Perhaps most people perceive that the Oxford University in England is the first university to be established. However, it has been recorded that the Qarawiyyin University in Fez, Morocco is the oldest university in the world. This has been acknowledged by UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the Guinness World Book of Records as the world’s oldest educational institution which still operates till today.

The establishment of the University began with the construction of the Qarawiyyin Mosque which eventually formed the system of a university. This usually occurs in educational institutions based on system of Turath where mosques are the foundation that plays a key role in the enlivening and prospering a certain area.

The Qarawiyyin Mosque which was the largest mosque in North Africa in its time was founded in 245 AH / 859 AD at the hands of a lovely princess, Fatimah binti Muhammad al Fihri. Her father was a successful entrepreneur from Qayrawan, Tunisia who migrated to Fez following the immigrants of the same place and where they all settled in the western part of Fez. Fatimah and her sister, Mary was raised by a family who holds strong to the religion were from the learned people.

Bestowed with her father’s heritage, Fatimah al Fihri spent all of the wealth she received to build the Qarawiyyin Mosque which was a need for the Qayrawan community so that they could perform their acts of worship besides being the centre of education.

Like mosques in the past, the Qarawiyyin Mosque also developed into a place to Islamic studies and sociological sciences, which subsequently developed into a centre that teaches various disciplines, manqul and ma’qul which are knowledge based on revelation and reason.

In addition to the Quran and Fiqh disciplines, knowledge such as logic, medicine, mathematics, astronomy, chemistry and history were also taught here in the past. It became a dream amongst scholars of the Islamic world to come here at that time because of the diversity of disciplines and the quality of knowledge offered. Due to the overwhelming demand, al Qarawiyyin had to set out some conditions for students wishing to pursue their studies there, such as they must be among those who have memorized the Quran and mastered the Arabic language.

Our arrival at the Qarawiyyin Mosque was when the sun was about to set. Observing the architectural beauty and the unique designs reminded us of a garden that once streamed with knowledge and blessings that made who Imam al Qutb al Nafis Sayyid Ahmad ibn Idris al Hasani al Maghribi is today.

History tells us that the noble Imam grew up under the care of his two brothers after his father had passed way. He memorized the Quran and other knowledges besides attaining all the basic knowledge of Islam.

After reaching 20 years of age, he migrated to Fez and enrolled at the University of Qarawiyyin. In the beginning, he was staying there with the intention of studying. But later on, he started teaching there and taught for 30 years.

There is not a single Shaykh who lived during his time him except that he has studied from them. Thus, his knowledge status considered to be one of the most knowledgeable in the eastern part of the Islamic world, where even his students and descendants reached or surpassed the level of great scholars in the field of Quran, Shari’a and gnostics.
Imam Sayyid Ahmad al Sharif mentioned in his book al Fuyudhat al Rabbaniyyah that Imam Ahmad ibn Idris has narrated in Morocco from the long-aged scholars, those who possess secrets of the world such as Shaykh Muhammad al Tawudi ibn Saudah, Shaykh Abdul Karim ibn Ali al Yazighi, al ‘Allamah Abdul Qadir ibn Syaqrun and Sayyid Abdul Wahhab al Tazi.

He then migrated to the East and reached Makkah al Mukarramah. There, he guided and produced scholars who later presented their service towards Islam with pure sincerity and were very beneficial to the ummah. He then left Mecca for Sabya, Yemen after leaving Haramain with contributions that will remain until the Day of Judgment. In Yemen, the people gathered to meet him came in huge crowds. Upon his arrival, he called all of them to surrender to Allah with complete sincerity, hoping for His Pleasure.

In the joy of indulging the atmosphere of al-Qarawiyyin, the sound of the Maghrib azan took us to a pause. The azan seemed to give us a little bit of heat, assisting us to go through the cold twilight winds Fez’s and its cold water. Praise be to Allah, for providing us with the blessing of making sujood on a floor where thousands of past scholars and saints of the east and west have made sujood before.

Prof. Dr. Abdul Wahhab al-Tazi seems to be in a state of deep zauq and syauq. Perhaps his thoughts are immersed in the environment that once built the genius personality of Imam al Akbar Sayyid Ahmad ibn Idris.
After performing Maghrib prayers, he then sits at one corner near one of the Qarawiyyin pillars which were arranged with a unique and stunning way. We then sit around him like little children hoping to be fed with something that fills our needs.

It turns out that he was not stingy in sharing his knowledge and high gnostics during that that time. The pearls of knowledge related to the history of the the struggle of the nobility of the Prophet SAW were dispersed as it filled our hearts that were empty, and moistened our souls who were thirsty of knowledge and gnostics.

We were immersed in his vibrant and deep reflection, showing that the one who was with us wasn’t just a somebody. How is that not so, for he is one of the descendants of Imam Ahmad ibn Idris.

When it was getting dark, we gradually left Qarawiyyin with a heavy heart. Perhaps because it has captured our hears with its spirituality aspect.

Praise be to God who has allowed our foreheads to make sujood to Him in this beautiful garden. It is where our Imam, Sayyid Ahmad ibn Idris and Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali al Sanusi once prostrated to offer their sincere and pure devotion to their Supreme Creator.

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