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`ALAWI, AHMAD AL-, (1869-1934), more fully Abu al `Abbas Ahmad ibn Mustafa al-`Alawl, Algerian Sfifi and poet. Characterized by the French Orientalist Emile Dermenghem as “one of the most celebrated mystic shaikhs of our times,” al-`Alawi overcame humble origins and lack of formal education to create a substantial religious clientele with disciples and affiliated zdwiyahs throughout the Maghrib, Mashriq, East Africa, Yemen, and even Europe. His story is one of remarkable spiritual renewal within the idiom of Sufism in an era when Sufis and Sufism were under attack by the reformist Salafiyah movement.

Ahmad al-`Alawi was born in Mostaganem in western Algeriaduring the period of intense colonization. The popular appeal of his teachings and the response they elicited were in part linked to the travails of the Muslim population under the French civilian administration. Al`Alawi’s great-grandfather had been a local notable; however, the family had fallen on hard times, and his father’s death when the young man was only sixteen forced him into the profession of cobbler, ending what minimal Islamic education he had received. Al-`Alawis first association with formal Sufism came in the 1880s when he joined the `Isawi tarigah. After attending Isawiyah dhikr gatherings and participating in their more extravagant practices, such as snake-charming, al-‘Alawi began to doubt the spiritual merit of the tarigah. By the time he encountered the celebrated Dargawi Shadhili shaykh Muhammad al-Buzidi (d. I9o9), al-`Alawi had already distanced himself from the `Isawiyah.

Received into the Dargawa tariqah at the hands of alBuzidi, who also instructed the novice, al-‘Alaw! was a muqaddam (one authorized to initiate members into a particular tariqah) by the age of twenty-five, with authority to initiate others into the order.

Al-`Alawi apparently remained in theOranuntil 1909, the year his spiritual master al-Buzidi died. Then he embarked on a journey toTunis,Tripoli, andIstanbul, where he lingered until 1910. TheOttoman Empirewas at that time rent by the political upheavals of the Young Turk revolution that deposed the sultan in April I9o9. His experiences in the Ottoman capital during the Committee of Union and Progress’s rule appear to have reinforced al-`Alawis conservative orientation. He returned to his native land shortly thereafter and only returned to the Mashriq for the hajj toMeccaandMedina, visitingJerusalemandDamascuson the way, just before his death in 1934

In the Oran, al-`Alawis followers persuaded him after I9o9 to serve as head shaykh; some five years later he established an order independent from the Moroccan Dargawa. In Tidgitt, Mostaganem’s purely Muslim quarter, a great zdwiyah was constructed overlooking the sea and drew growing numbers of disciples. The master’s position on the Muslims’ relationship with the colonial regime and on Salafiyah teachings caused conflict with both the Europeans and fellow Muslims. Denouncing Algerians who had become naturalized French citizens, the shaykh also decried westernization, secularism, and modernization. As a riposte to the reformist publication Al-shihab, al-`Alawi created a weekly newspaper to defend Sufism against its detractors. By his death, al-`Alawi had written some fifteen works, mostly on Sufism, as well as a diwan of poetry. Some of these works exist only in manuscript form even today and are found at the Tidgitt zdwiyah, where the shaykh was buried in 1934

[See alsoAlgeria; Sufism, article on Sufi Thought and Practice.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Berque, Augustin. “Un mystique moderniste: Le Cheikh Benalioua.” Revue Africaine 79 (1936): 69i-776. Biography by a French colonial official, based on the his friendship with al-‘Alawi from 1921 to 1934.

Lings, Martin. “Ibn `Aliwa.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 3, pp. 700-701.Leiden, 1960-. Concise version of Lings’s fulllength biography, containing a short bibliography of additional sources on the `Alawiyah and its founder.

Lings, Martin. A Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century: Shaikh Ahmad al-Alawi. His Spiritual Heritage and Legacy. 2d ed.Los Angeles, 1971. The fullest English-language treatment of al-`Alawi’s life and works, including selections from his writings and poetry.

JULIA CLANCY-SMITH

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/alawi-ahmad-al/
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  • writerPosted On: October 7, 2012
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