As Salam Alaikum wa RahmatuAllah to murids and friends:
I have been meaning to, and have recently been asked, to send an update regarding my studies in Cairo to those within the wider Azzawia community. I am honoured and appreciative that my situation is of interest to people back home. I thought it appropriate now, following my time in Cairo for over a year, explaining what I have done, what I currently am busy with, and what I intend to do, insha’Allah.
The main priorities are three, thus far:
1. Arabic development
2. Gaining entrance into the formal al-Azhar educational system, via the preparatory college, and then a faculty at the university
3. Benefiting from scholars from the Egyptian-Azhari tradition, the Hadrami-Ba’Alawi tradition, and beyond these two blessed rivers
Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks, hafidhahu Allah, advised me to develop an Arabic curriculum prior to engaging in the Islamic sciences. The initial dive into Arabic began shortly after my wife and I arrived in Cairo. I enrolled in Markaz Nil/Nile Centre, a well-known institute of Arabic language studies in Nasr City in Cairo. I completed eleven levels at Markaz Nil, completing each level in a month.
I supplemented the Markaz Nil curriculum by attending the grammar classes of Shaykh Ahmad Tijani al-Azhari, the youngest Nigerian scholar with an Azhari doctorate in the Arabic language, known as one of Egypt’s foremost teachers of Arabic.
The classes were held at two institutions: Sahat al-Qazzaz, and Mu’assissat al-Qahira, adjacent to the maqam of Sayyidina al-Hussein (radiya Allahu anhu). Following a reading of al-Tuhfat al-Saniyyat bi Sharh al Muqaddimat al-Ajrumiyya (a foundational work in Arabic grammar) Shaykh Ahmad al-Tijani intends we move on to more advanced traditional (turathi) texts in Arabic grammar, morphology, and rhetoric, after Ramadan.
Gaining entrance into the formal al-Azhar educational system, via the preparatory college, and then a faculty at the university
Alongside my Arabic studies, it was my intention to enter into the formal Azhari education system, which necessitated a variety of paperwork from within the Egyptian state machinery, and the South African embassy.
This was initially difficult and not possible due to administrative obstacles. However, Sh. Dr. Hisham A. Hellyer engaged directly with different elements in Egypt and South Africa; with his guidance and help, I was granted entry into the Azhari preparatory college for non-native Arabic speakers (Dr Hisham also put me in touch with one of his students who recommended a private teacher to assist in the review of the college’s material).
The Institute has a programme that is tailored to train the student until they are ready to engage more in the Islamic sciences; this facilitates eventual entry into the Azhar University system, allowing the student to then specialise and focus in a particular field, within a particular faculty.
Additionally, I am taking private classes that review the pertinent parts of the entire Azhari pre-university curriculum (the Azhar has a curriculum from primary school onwards) of foundational Shafi’i fiqh and usul al-din, with a teacher from the Azhar’s preparatory college, in order to prepare me for the eventual Azhar university faculty entrance exams.
I have also enrolled in a recitation (tajwid) and memorisation (hifdh) class with Shaykh Zaid, a qari’ that has permission to transmit seven styles of Qur’anic recitation.
Benefiting from scholars of the Azhari, Shadhuli, Ba’Alawi, Idrisi, and other traditions
(Below are some scholars and institutions I have been advised to seek out by Shaykh Ahmad, and Shaykh Dr Hisham).
1. Azhari inspired or linked institutions:
A) Dr Hisham had Shaykh Muhammad Mehanna (one of Azhar’s most renowned scholars, and an advisor to Shaykh al-Azhar, Dr Ahmad al-Tayyeb) briefed on my situation, as the latter runs one of the most pre-eminent institutes in Cairo, called ‘Al-Bayt al-Muhammadi’, which seeks to uphold the very best of the Azhari tradition.
Al-Bayt al-Muhammadi runs an extensive curriculum and has many noted Azhari scholars teaching there that I intend to study with, including Shaykh Abdal Aziz al-Shahawy (shaykh of the Shafi’is in Egypt), Shaykh Ibrahim al-Hud Hud (former Azhar president), Shaykh Fathi Hijazi (head of the faculty of Arabic at al-Azhar), Shaykh Mahmud Othman (dean of the faculty of Shari’a at al-Azhar). (Most of these scholars also teach in the actual Azhar mosque, as part of the prestigious traditional sciences program that exists therein.)
The connection with Sayyid Muhammad b. Alawi al-Maliki is clear, particularly as both Sayyid Muhammad and many of these scholars studied under Shaykh Muhammad Zaki al-Din Ibrahim, one of the great taṣawwuf masters of Egypt.
Following the recommendation of Shaykh Ahmad and Dr Hisham, I have begun taking classes at this institute, and will (insha’Allah) deepen my classes there with the aforementioned scholars, subject to the needs of the Azhari prep college and subsequently the faculty. Particularly, but not exclusively, I intend to attend the Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din classes given by Shaykh Muhammad Mehanna, as especially advised by my uncle, Shaykh Ahmad.
B) Dr Hisham discussed my plans with Shaykh Muhammad Salih al-Ja’fari, the current shaykh of the Ja’fariyya in Egypt (grandson of Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari, one of the shaykhs of Sayyid Muhammad b. Alawi al-Maliki), and arranged for a meeting between us. Shaykh Muhammad Salih also then introduced me to a number of his murids who are teachers and officials in the Azhari establishment; I intend to benefit more from this as my schedule becomes clearer (now that I have entered the Azhari institute).
C) Shaykh Amr Wardani (Amin al-Fatwa, Dar al-Ifta’ al-Misriyya) and Shaykh Ibrahim Negm (secretary-general of the General Secretariat for Fatwa Authorities Worldwide) (both old friends of Dr Hisham) have also been briefed by him on my intentions in Cairo, and I am grateful to be able to call upon their assistance as needed.
A) Al-Habib ‘Ali Zayn al-Abidin al-Jifri, who also studied under Sayyid Muhammad b. Alawi al-Maliki, and ‘Umar b. al-Hafiz, who visited my father, rahimahuAllah, at Azzavia several times.) Habib Ali and Dr Hisham have known each other for around twenty years (Dr Hisham was involved with Habib Ali’s Tabah Foundation early in its establishment, and later appointed to Tabah Foundation’s Academic Committee). After the two discussed my situation, Habib ‘Ali was very keen to assist and facilitate, via Rawdat al-Na’im, his educational arm attached to the Tabah Foundation.
Following this, Dr Hisham also facilitated for me to connect with Shaykh Abdul Karim Ba Sharahil, one of the main teachers at Rawdat al-Na’im, to follow up about classes that take place at the institute, along with other students of Dr Hisham, which we hope to begin attending shortly.
B) Dr Hisham arranged for me to study different classical Islamic sciences under Shaykh Jamir Meah (Key to the Garden Institute) from a distance, and then to eventually meet with the Shaykh in Amman, Jordan. Originally from the UK, Shaykh Jamir has studied under the foremost scholars and muftis of the Ribat Tarim in Yemen for nine years and is now one of the foremost Western Muslim scholars, particularly in Shafi’i fiqh.
C) I start this week studying Shafi’i fiqh under al-Habib Ahmad b. Abd al-Rahman al-Maqdi al-Hadrami at the Multaqa al-Ahbab institute in Cairo. Dr Hisham arranged for him to be briefed on my situation by their mutual friend Al-Habib Ali b. Zayn al-Abidin al-Hamid, one of the main Southeast Asian teachers among the Haba’ib.
D) I also intend to study under Shaykh Muhammad Hasan al-Sirri Jamal al-Layl, who teaches at the Imam Ash’ari Academy; he has just started going through the entire Hadrami Shafi’i curriculum, from start to finish. (The Imam Ash’ari has a number of other teachers that I hope to eventually study with as well, including Habib Muhammad Hasan.)
3. Additional avenues:
A) I have been in frequent contact with and benefited regularly from Shaykh Faraz Rabbani of SeekersGuidance, an old friend of my father’s, rahimahu Allah, and Dr Hisham’s.
B) I was also honoured to meet with one of Dr Hisham’s main teachers, Shaykh Muhammad al-Jilani, of the Qadiriyya tariqa, who knew Sayyid Muhammad b. Alawi al-Maliki and who visited my father years ago, rahimahuma Allah, and benefited from his du’a.
C) I am also studying the Mukhtasar Ihya Ulum al-Din of Imam al Ghazali, and the works of the Malaysian scholar, Sayyid Naquib al-Attas, with Dr Hisham regularly.
Thank you to all my family, to all the murids, and to all my friends that have made this past year so easy for my wife and I. Alhamdulillah; we are in great health, and have become accustomed to Cairene life. Allah ta’ala has indeed made it easy for us, and we appreciate every bit of support that comes our way.
Thank you to my uncle, Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks, for guiding me on this journey and showing me how to navigate our vast tradition, highlighting the most important aspects of Islamic scholarship with years of experience.
I just want to express how grateful I am to Dr Hisham and his family, for also taking Reah and myself as a part of their household in Cairo. Every generation of the Azzawia that has gone away to study has had someone looking after them, and it is a blessing to have their support.
We are planning a return trip to South Africa soon, and when we are able to share news of that being finalised, we will do so insha’Allah. You are all in my du’as, and ask that my wife and I be in yours. I miss all of you, and hope to see you soon.
Rashid Seraj Hendricks
7 March 2023/15 Sha’ban 1444