On the 15th of Ramadan 1425 (29 October 2004), just before dawn, the shaykh of our shaykhs, the ustadh of the asatidha, the Muhaddith of the Haramayn al-Sharifayn, the Usuli of the time, the master of Tariqa ‘Ulama Makka, the murrabi, the trainer of souls, al-Shaykh al-Sayyid Muhammad b. ‘Alawi b. Abbas b. Abdal Aziz al-Maliki al-Makki, left this world (1944-2004). He was in a fasting state, and he passed away on a Friday, may Allah have mercy upon his soul, and benefit us from him. His funeral was one of the largest in modern times (video below) – Islamica Magazine published a short piece on him here.
Sayyid Muhammad, rahmatullah ‘alahi, was a Hasani descendant of the Prophet, ‘alayhi salat wa salam, born to an Idrisi family of traditional Maliki scholars, who had long been teachers in the Ka’aba, though their common ancestor had come from Morocco centuries before. His father, Sayyid ‘Alawi, was a famed scholar of the Hijaz, who taught for some 30 years in and around the Ka’aba; his grandfather, who lived in the pre-Saudi era of the Hijaz, was Qadi of Makka and Imam of the Ka’aba. He held this post during the Ottoman period, then during the Hashemite era, and continued to hold it after the Saudis established their rule.
The home of the Maliki family is not too far from the Haram itself in Makka, and is where Sayyid Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Maliki continues to be today; it is where Sayyid Muhammad b. Alawi al-Maliki himself taught, as did his father, Sayyid ‘Alawi b. Abbas al-Maliki. Many think that because of his mastery of the tariqa of the Sada Ba’Alawi, and because of the name of his father (‘Alawi), Sayyid Muhammad was actually from the Husayni sada of Yemen – of course, he isn’t. The Maliki family are Hasani, via Mawlay Idris of Morocco – and as such, the name ‘Alawi’ is a rather unusual one for him to have. It would have been far more typical for the Sada Ba ‘Alawi. How did he get that name?
So, the story is that the grandfather of Sayyid Muhammad b. Alawi al-Maliki, who was Sayyid ‘Abbas al-Maliki, the great Maliki jurist of Makka, really wanted one of his offspring to succeed him in his position as the shaykh of the Malikis. A member of the sada of the Bani ‘Alawi, Habib Ahmad ibn Hasan al-‘Attas was visiting Makka, and Sayyid ‘Abbas went to visit him, asking him for his prayers. Habib Ahmad said that Allah would grant his prayers, delivering him a son, whom would, indeed, become a great scholar in Makka – but that as this was through the baraka of the sada Ba ‘Alawi, Sayyid ‘Abbas ought to name the son when he was born, “ ‘Alawi”. Not long thereafter, a boy was born; he was indeed named ‘Alawi; and he became one of the most noted scholars in the entirety of the umma, particularly in the Hijaz.
[A small historical bit of info: what many of us do not necessarily know is of another connection that also exists. In the far distant east, there is another place – a place called, “Masjid Ba’Alawi”. In that mosque is a man called Habib Hasan al-‘Attas – a beautiful and wonderful shaykh of this tradition. I first met him only a few months before I met Shaykh Seraj in Cape Town, and subsequently took ‘ijaza from Habib Hasan in his tariqa, after I had taken from Shaykh Seraj. That same year, Shaykh Seraj also visited Singapore. Habib Hasan is so incredibly similar to Shaykh Seraj, in approach and orientation; and Masjid Ba ’Alawi is so similar to Azzawia. The very mood of the place is indelibly imbued with love of the Prophetic example, merciful service and welcoming. Anyone who visits the two places can bear witness to it; the traditions and culture are so very clearly mirrors of each other in so many ways. But there is something not everyone realises; and that is that the great-grandfather of Habib Hasan al-Attas of Masjid Ba ‘Alawi in Singapore, is Habib Ahmad al-Attas of Yemen, who was visiting Makka and met Sayyid ‘Abbas al-Maliki, the grandfather of the shaykh of our shaykhs, Sayyid Muhammad b. Alawi al-Maliki. And it was the great-grandfather of Habib Hasan who gave the name for the father of Sayyid Muhammad: ‘Alawi. Habib Hasan noted this to me as I visited him yesterday on the night of Friday, after we read the ratib of his illustrious ancestor, Ratib al-Attas, and noted also to me a room in the mosque which is affectionally named after Sayyid Muhammad b. Alawi al-Maliki, for he stayed so many times in that room as he visited southeast Asia.]
Sayyid ‘Alawi maintained a strong connection to the sadah Bani ‘Alawi, as did Sayyid Muhammad, his son, after him. Sayyid Muhammad had many young sadah of the Bani ‘Alawi among his students; one of his daughters married into the Aydarus clan of the Bani ‘Alawi; he celebrated the hawl of Habib Ahmad b. Hasan al-Attas at his home every year; many of the awrad of the Bani ‘Alawi were included in his own collection of invocation such as Shawariq al-Anwar; and from among his teachers included Habib ‘Abdal Qadir al-Saqqaf, Habib Ahmad Mashur al-Haddad, and Habib Attas al-Habashi. The Sayyid also instructed his own students to seek the ijaza of these illuminaries, which they happily did, and received the baraka therein.
Of course, in addition to these teachers, Sayyid Muhammad learnt and received ijazat from the likes of Shaykh Muhammad Amin al-Kutbi, Shaykh al-Mashhat, Shaykh Muhammad Nur Sayf, and Shaykh Sa’id Yamani in Makka; but also took from many from around the Muslim world, including the likes of the Ghumari brothers in Morocco, many of the sadah of the Bani ‘Alawi, including al-Habib Umar b. Sumayt, the great imam of Hadramawt, and the ‘ulama of Azhar in Egypt, including Shaykh Salih al-Ja’fari, Shaykh Hasnayn Makhluf, Shaykh Abdal Halim Mahmud, and many others. He received his PhD at the age of 25 from the Azhar University, which was rare indeed; but his quest for knowledge was continuous, and took place around the world, to the point he had an extended volume published which only had the names of those who had given him ijazat and asānīd from so many ‘ulama globally, from Africa, the Arabian peninsula, Europe, and Asia. Over the course of his life, he obtained more than 200 ijazat from some of the greatest scholars of the age, from around the world, in various fields of the Islamic tradition – and thus, his own ijaza that he provided to his own students was as rare as red sulphur, linking them to so many. (Some more names are included in this biography provided by the Imam al-Ghazali institute.)
In 1970, at the young age of 23, he was appointed professor of Islamic studies at Umm-ul-Qurra university in Makkah; a year later, after the passing of his father, he was asked to fill his father’s position as a teacher in the Ka’aba, which he did. Eventually, he left these stations, after fanatic fatawa by Wahhabi scholars against him, who considered his very presence to be a threat to their ideology and authority. Yet, hundreds of thousands have benefited from his classes; some of which were given very publicly, over television channels; others were smaller, in the mosque; and others were smaller still, in his house on al-Maliki street in the Rusayfa district of Makka.
Our shaykhs were from among the last group; those who took from him as an ustadh, but who also took from him as a murabbi, a trainer of souls. From that capacity, I received the following narration from his son-in-law, who told me that the Sayyid said this in a hal (spiritual state):
أنا إدريسي ، شاذلي ، علوي ، إلى أن يأذن لي رسول الله بغير ذلك
“I am Idrīsī, Shādhulī, ‘Alawī; until the Messenger of God permits me by other than that.”
That was his main spiritual lineage; as for his intellectual lineage, he upheld the mainstream of Sunnism, and was opposed most harshly to any condemnation of Muslims as disbelievers or polytheists. But he was always generous to his opponents. Despite his being attacked so many times baselessly by Wahhabis and others, he rejected even listening to attacks of his opponents that were made inappropriately, insisting that, “they have their opinions and I have mine – what we oppose is the idea that everybody should have the same opinion. Islam is wide and opens its heart to a variety of opinions under the banner of Lailaha Illallah.”
May Allah have mercy upon the Sayyid; may Allah have mercy upon his khulafa’, including our shaykh, Sayyidi Shaykh Seraj; may Allah prolong the life of our beloved teacher, Shaykh Ahmad, in health and wellness; and may Allah allow us to benefit from the Prophetic teachings of all our teachers, amin. During the 15th of Ramadan, please do recite some Qur’an for the Sayyid, and make whatever du’a you might. For those who are interested, the Sayyid himself wrote a tract defending from the Sunna that one can donate the reward of such ‘ibada to the departed, masha’Allah (see here)!
[This was typical of the Sayyid: speaking on love of the Prophet, alayhi salat wa salam, using a wide variety of Islamic proofs, to elaborate upon it. In Abwab al-Farj, the Sayyid writes about the same subject (see here).]