In this newly anticipated series, Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed of South Africa will take us on a journey through the lives and biographies of some of the most celebrated and well known scholars of the twentieth and twenty – first century. These historical accounts will provide us with refreshing insights and lessons, and motivate us to follow in the footsteps of our pious predecessors.
In this third episode of the The Trodden Path series, Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed writes on the life of Shaykh Wahbi Sulayman Ghawji.
Shaykh Wahbi Sulayman Ghawji (1342-1434=1923-2013)
Shaykh Wahbī ibn Sulaymān ibn Khalīl Ghāwji Albānī was born in 1923 (1342) in Skudera, the former capital of Albania. He attended classes and studied the Qurān and theHanafi books of doctrine and morals. His first teacher in the Islamic Sciences was his father who narrated with chains of transmission (samā’) from the shuyūkh of Albania. In 1937 he migrated with his family to Syria where they settled in Damascus. His father assumed the position as Imām in the al-‘Umariyyah Mosque where he served as the deputy to Shaykh Muhammad Shukrī al-Ustuwānī.
His secondary education ended when King Ahmad Tughu decreed that Albanian students had to wear European hats. In 1937 his father sent him to Egypt to continue his studies where he initially studied at the Cairo Institute and in 1939 he enrolled at the Faculty of Sharī’ah of the al-Azhar University. Shaykh Wahbi’s proficiency in the Arabic Language was weak but he was dedicated and motivated and he graduated from the al-Azhar University in 1945. He then enrolled in the specialization programme concentrating on the Islamic Judicial System (Qadā) from which he graduated in 1947 with the International al-Azhar Certificate. Shaykh Wahbī said: “My father sent me to Egypt and I stayed there for ten years. I studied Arabic and received a degree from the Faculty of Shari’ah and then obtained a specialized degree that enabled me to serve as a judge in an Islamic Court. I attended the discourses of Imām Muhammad Zāhid al-Kawtharī whose hand I was honoured to kiss and who handed me a compilation of his teachers, which included chains of transmission (thabt) titled ‘al-Tahrīr al-Wajīzfīmā Yabtaghīhi al-Mustajīz’. However, I narrate from him only through the intermediaries of Shaykh Muhammad ‘Alī al-Murād and Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattāh Abū Ghuddah (d. 1997).” Shaykh Wahbī described al-Kawtharī as a sign of Allah in learning, modesty and abstinence, as if al-Kawtharī were a king walking in the street.” Shaykh Wahbī himself has been described inthis manner.
He returned to Syria where he was accepted by the Ministry of Education as a teacher in schools in Aleppo. While in Aleppo he became acquainted with Shaykh Muhammad ‘Ali al-Murad and they developed an excellent relationship that resulted in Shaykh Wahbi and his brother both marrying the sisters of Shaykh Muhammad Ali al-Murad. After three years in Aleppo, he was transferred to Damascus where he taught formally in the schools and voluntarily in various mosques. Sometimes he conducted as many as eight lessons per week and these included a Tafsir lesson at Jami’ al-Rawdah that continued for about ten years.Shaykh Wahbi remained in Damascus until 1965 during which he even taught at the Faculty of Sharī’ah at the University of Damascus and among his students here were: Dr Muhammad al-Zuhayli. It was during this period that he began writing some articles for newspapers and magazines.
When he reached the age of forty, he began writing and one of the first books he authored was the book titled: ‘Arkanal–Islamal–Khamsah’. In 1966 he travelled to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where he taught at the Faculty of Sharī’ah of the Muhammad ibn Saud Islamic University for one year after which he moved to the branch of this university in Madinah where he remained for five years. In 1972 he returned to Damascus where he continued teaching at various secondary schools until 1980 when he formally retired. He returned to Madinah where he taught for a while at the Secondary School affiliated to the Islamic University for a short while before being transferred to the Center for Academic Research of the same university. He faced some hardship because of his book ‘Arkanal–Iman and he then submitted his resignation. He remained for about year in Madinah unemployed after which he travelled to Jordan where he settled in Amman during which he authored his book titled: al–Taliqal–Muyassar ‘ala Multaqaal–Abhur in Fiqh of the Hanafi madhhab.
In 1986 he moved to Dubai where he taught Fiqh at the College of Arabic and Islamic Studies. He also served as the deputy director and the head of the Fiqh Department for one year. He continued teaching until 2001.
In 2001 (1422) a function was held in his honour and it was attended by some renowned scholars who included: Shaykh Ibrahim al-Salqini, Shaykh Muhammad ‘Ijaj al-Khatib, Dr Muhammad al-Zuhayli, Dr Mustafa Muslim, Shaykh ‘Abd al-Karim Tatan, Dr ‘Abd al-Razzaq al-Kaylani, Dr Ma’mun al-Shafqah and others. The guests spoke about the Shaykh and his personality and some even composed odes in his honour describing him as a rare pearl and requesting to him to supplicate to Allah for them.
In 2000 he returned to Damascus where he lived since. He taught Fiqh form the famous Hanafi book, al–Hidayah at Ma’had al-Fath al-Islāmī and he delivered the Jumu’ah sermon at Jami’ al-Arnaout in Damascus and taught at various mosques including Jami’ al-Iman.
Ever since Yugoslavia gained independence, Shaykh Wahbi travelled to Albania about six times for the sake of propagating and spreading the message of Islam. His first visit was in 1991. During these visits he conducted lessons and lectures in Albanian in Skudera.
Among his teachers apart from those already mentioned are:
- Shaykh ‘Ināyat Allah al-Askūbī who narrates with chains of transmission from his Macedonian and other shuyukh
- Shaykh Muhammad al-Khidr Husayn who was the Grand Shaykh of al-Azhar from 1952-1954.
- Shaykh Muhammad Abu Daqiqah in Egypt
- Shaykh Muhammad Ali al-Sāyis in Egypt
- Shaykh Hasan Habannaka al-Maydani in Damascus who was a renowned Shafi’ scholar and the teacher of renowned scholars like Shaykh Mustafa al-Khinn, Shaykh Mustafa al-Bugha and Shaykh Muhammad Sa’īd Ramadan al-Būtī.
- Shaykh Muhmamad Salih al-Farfūr who was a renowned Hanafi scholar and the teacher of illustrious scholars like Shaykh ‘Abd al-Razzāq al-Halabi, Shaykh Adīb Kallās and Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Bazm.
- Shaykh Abu al-Yusr ‘Abidīn who was the Mufti of the country.
- Shaykh ‘Abd al-Wahhāb Dibs wa Zayt a renowned scholar in the Hanafi madhhab and in the science of qirā’āt.
- Shaykh Muhammad ‘Ali al-Murad
- Shaykh‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah
- Shaykh Muhammad al-Hāmid of Syria.
- ShaykhSa’d al-Dīn al-Murād al-Hamawī of Syria
- Shaykh Muhammad al-‘Arabī al-Tubbānī
- Shaykh Muhammad ibn ‘Alawī al-Mālikī of Makkah
- Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ ‘Uthmānī and his son, Mufti Taqī ‘Uthmānī of Pakistan
- Shaykh Mufti ‘Ashiq Ilāhi al-Murtahinī al-Madanī of India but he resided in Madinah.
- Shaykh Abu al-Hasan ‘Alī al-Nadwī of India
He was known for the books he authored related to Fiqh of the Hanafi madhhab as well as about 35 books he authored in his native Albanian Language. He participated in writing textbooks to teach Hanafi Fiqh at Islamic Institutions that were affiliated to the Ministry of Endowments in Syria. He also wrote about 400 articles that were published in various magazines.
He visited Shaykh Mustafa al-Sibaī in his last illness and he presented him with an article in which he criticized him on some aspects of socialism. Shaykh Mustafa published it verbatim. This is a sign of the lofty character of a scholar and exactly how Shaykh Wahbi described Shaykh Mustafa.
He revised some of the books authored by Shaykh Sa’īd Hawwa and he even wrote the forward to Shaykh ‘Abd Allah ‘Alwan’s book titled ‘Tarbiyyatal–Awlad fi al–Islam’.
Among the works Shaykh Wahbī authored and published are:
- Abū Hanīfah al-Nu’mān Imām al-A’immah al-Fuqahā
- Arkān al-Imān on the branches of faith
- Arkān al-Islām on the Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqh) of the five pillars according to the Hanafi school of thought
- Al-Hayāt al-ākhirahah wa luhuwaah waluhu wa Husn ‘Aqibati al-Muttaqīnafina bi Fadl Allah wa Rahmatihi on the states of the Hereafter
- Jābiribn ‘Abd Allah, Sahābiyyun Imāmun wa Hāfizun Faqīh
- Kashf Shubuhāt man za’ama Hilla Arbāhi al-Qurūd al-Masrafiyyah in refutation of those who declared bank interests on loans as permissible.
- Kalimatun ‘Ilmiyyatun Hādiyatun fi al-Bida’h wa ahkāmiha which is a concise study of the Sunni definition of innovation
- Maqālatun fi al-Ribāwa al-Fā’idah al-Masrafiyyah
- Masā’il fi ‘Ilm al-Tawhīd
- Min Qadāya al-Mar’ati al-Muslimah
- Munāzratun ‘Ilmiyyatun fi Nisbati Kitāb al-Ibāna Jami’ ila al-Imam al-Asha’ariwa Yalihi faslun fi Khilāfat Ahl al-sunnahwa Khilafāt al-Manqūlabayn al-Māturidiyyahwa al-Ashā’irah
- Al-Salātu wa ah kāmuhā
- Al-Shahādatānwa Ahkāmuhā
- Al-Siyāmu wa ah kāmuhu
- Al-Tahdhīr min al-Kabā’ir
- A two volume compilation of his fatwa’s that were issued in Dubai.
He also wrote important marginalia:
- Minah al-Rawd al-Azhar on Mulla ‘Ali Qāri’s Sharh al-Fiqh al-Akbar a classic textbook on Sunni doctrine
- Al-Ta’līq al-Muyassar on Shaykh Ibrāhīm al-Halabi’s recension of Hanafi Fiqh, Multaqā al-Abhur
- Muqaddimah fi ‘Ilm al-Tawhīda long introduction to Idāh al-Dalīl fi qati’ Hujaji Ahl al-Ta’tīl by the Shāfi’ scholar, Qādi Badr al-Dīn ibn Jamā’a which is a defence of Sunni doctrine against anthropomorphists
- On al-Qāsim ibn Sallām’s Fadā’il al-Qurān
- On Hāfiz al-Zabīdi’s two volume ‘Uqūd al-Jawāhir al-Munīfah fi Adillat Madhhab al-Imam AbiHanīfah on the Hanafi proofs in jurisprudence.
- Al-‘Iqd al-Jawāhirin his bio-bibliographical introduction to al-Zabīdi’s Bulghat al-‘Arib fi MustalahAthar al-Habīb
- On al-Kawtharī’s Mahq al-Taqawul fi Mas’alah al-Tawassul and Hāfiz Muhammad ‘Abid al-Sindī’s Hawla al-Tawassulwa al-Istighātha written to clarify the Sunni ruling on tawassul.
He also wrote prefatory comments for the following works:
- ‘Abd al-Karīm Tattān and Muhammad Adīb al-Kilāni’sSharh Jawharah al-Tawhīdin two volumes
- Khaldun Makhlut’s Ahwāl al-Abrārinda al-Ihtidār on the states of the pious at the threshold of death
He was a very handsome person upon whom the awe of the fuqaha and the nūr of ‘ilm was apparent. He had a thick beard and was very neatly dressed. He practically demonstrated the noble character of the Prophet Muhammad in his conduct and he was very particular on adhering to the Sunnah. He was a humble person and disliked those who pretended to possess Islamic sacred knowledge. He was pleasant in his speech and close to the hearts of those seated around him. Peoples’ hearts even those who opposed him were attracted to him. He never offended anyone and he carefully selected his words before he spoke. He was patient and always pardoned people. He displayed anger for the sake of Allah but never harboured any hatred or malice for anyone. He cried easily especially hen reciting the Qurān or when listening to the incidents of the pious predecessors. Despite this he shared some light-hearted moments with those with him from time to time. He was very particular about his dressing and even in the quality and appearance of his books.
What the ‘Ulama Said About Him:
Shaykh Ahmad Kuftaro: ‘When I speak about the righteous scholar, my brother for the sake of Allah, respected Shaykh Wahbi Sulayman Ghawji who has acquired his ‘ilm from one of the most prestigious institutions in the Muslim World; al-Azhar University, I will state that this Shaykh is indeed a proof in ‘ilm and ma’rifah and a role model in propagation and spirituality and an illuminating light…’
Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah: ‘The noble brother, Shaykh Wahbi Sulayman Ghawji. May Allah protect him and may the slaves and the lands benefit from his knowledge and virtue.’
Shaykh Mustafa al-Khinn: ‘I have lived a long time with the honourable brother Shaykh Ghawji in different situations. I have only found him to be a righteous man, a sincere caller to Allah based on ‘ilm and guidance.’
Shaykh Muhammad Sa’īd Ramadan al-Buti: ‘…one of the divinely inspired scholars who combined vast knowledge of ‘Aqidah and Fiqh while treading the way of the pious predecessors in worship, piety, abstinence and adherence to the way of the Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jama’ah. I regard him today as one of the best people who demonstrate the belief, character, piety and method of the pious predecessors…’
Shaykh Wahbi remained in Damascus until a few months ago when he left to Beirut where he was intentionally delayed by members from Hizb for about 24 hours and with the result he missed his flight. Shaykh was ill suffering from a weak heart and water in his lungs. He arrived in the UAE the next day and he was admitted to hospital where he remained for one week. He was discharged but a month later he was re-admitted with inflamed lungs. He received treatment for two weeks and he passed away on the 19th February 2013 (9 Rabi’ al-Akhir 1434). The Janazah Salat was led by Shaykh ‘Abd al-Karim Tatan and he was buried in the al-Qawz cemetery in Dubai.
* Profile prepared by Shaykh Gibril Haddad with additional notes translated by Shoayb Ahmed from the Arabic article by Muhammad Muyassar ibn Shaykh Muhammad Bashir al-Murad. The translator visited the Shaykh in Damascus in 2006 and attended a lesson in Hanafi Fiqh and was granted ijazah and permission to translate the Shaykh’s books into English. This biography appears in the book: Muslim Scholars of the 21st Century by Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed (published by DTI)
Shaykh Shoayb Ahmed is a well respected South African Islamic scholar who lives in Pretoria, South Africa. He studied at the King Saud University in Riyadh and the faculty of Shariah at the Islamic University of Madina. He has attained a M.A. in Islamic Studies from the University of South Africa. Through his extensive travels he has met and benefited from many senior scholars from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Egypt, Syria, India, Turkey etc. He has received numerous Ijazahs from the various scholars that he has met, studied with and served. He is currently a senior educator at the al – Ghazzali College in Pretoria.
He has authored two books:
- Muslim Scholars of the 20th Century.
- Muslim Scholars of the 21st Century.
He was one of the translators of Shaykh Sayyid Muhammad Alawi al – Maliki’s work: The Way of the True Salaf.