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SHALTUT, MAHMUD. (23 April 1893 – 13 December 1963), one of a celebrated number of Azhari shaykhs who undertook the reform of al-Azhar, reversing its decline, which occurred during the nineteenth century, and recapturing its old role as an active participant in Egypt’s educational, cultural, and political destiny. Although best known and esteemed for his vast knowledge of Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence) and Qur’anic interpretation, Shaltfit really made his mark as the shaykh of al-Azhar (19581963). During his tenure, al-Azhar began to take its modern shape. This transformation was complicated by the Nasser government, which sought direct control of the mosque/university. Although compromising with the state over administrative control, Shaltfit managed to bring about the partial realization of the dreams of past religious reformers of al-Azhar, including Shaykhs Rifa’ah al-Tahtdwi, Muhammad `Abduh, and Mustafa al-Maraghi.

Born in 1893 in the small village of Minyat Ban! Mansur (Buhayrah Province), in Lower Egypt, Shaltfit memorized the Qur’an as a child, entered the Alexandria Religious Institute in 19o6, and later joined alAzhar, where he received the `Alam-iyah degree in 1918. After teaching at the Alexandria Religious Institute for a number of years, Shaltfit joined al-Azhar through the auspices of Shaykh Mustafa al-Maraghi. The association between the two shaykhs would be a long-lasting one of cooperation in both the national and Azhari spheres. When al-Maragh! was fired by King Fu’ad in 1930, Shaltfit and seventy other Azharls who supported his reform plans for al-Azhar were also dismissed. Shaltfit had also supported al-Maragh-i’s opposition to Fu’ad’s efforts to have himself elected the new Islamic caliph following the 1924 Atatfirk cancellation of the Ottoman caliphate.

On his return to the leadership of al-Azhar in 1935, al-Maragh! asked Shaltfit, who had turned to practicing law, to rejoin the university. He did so, rising through the hierarchy to become accepted as one of al-Azharls chief `ulama’ (religious scholars) after presenting a highly acclaimed study, “Civil and Criminal Responsibility in the Islamic Sharfah” at the International Law Conference at the Hague in 1937. In his study, Shaltfit outlined his vision of a reformed Islam and of a shari ah that could become one of the sources for modern legislation.

In 1946 he was one of the few intellectuals selected as a member of the newly formed Majma` al-Lughah al`Arabiyah (Arab Language Organization). He was also invited to teach filth and sunnah (Prophetic traditions) at Cairo University’s Faculty of Law and became general supervisor for Muraqabat al-Buhath al-Islamiyah (Inspectorate/Control of Islamic Research) an office that allowed him to travel widely throughout the Islamic world to promote better relations between Islamic nations. In 1957 he became the secretary general of the Islamic Conference and under secretary of al-Azhar. In the following year he was chosen to be shaykh of al-Azhar, a position he held until his death in 1963.

Shaltut became the head of al-Azhar during the most radical phase of Egypt’s 1952 revolution; most standing institutions were undergoing fundamental reorganization at the time. By 1961 the law reorganizing al-Azhar was passed by an extremely reluctant Majlis al-Ummah. Even though Shaltut shared credit as architect of the law, he was not entirely happy with it, because it brought al-Azhar under the direct domination of the state. Since 1958, power over al-Azhar had been shared with a secular authority in the shape of a minister of alAzhar and religious affairs. The 1961 law came at a critical time in Egypt’s history, just before the imposition of Nasserist socialist laws and the declaration of the National Charter. It was a time of strong nationalist feelings and revolutionary actions that touched all areas of life. Al-Azhar was to be remolded into an instrument of a new Egyptian-dominated Arab nationalist and socialist order. It was expected to fulfill this role through reorganization, reform, and a wider national and international role.

Shaltut may have had mixed feelings about the 1961 law, but it should be remembered that he came from the generation that had participated in the 1919 revolution. His 1964 book, The Azhar in a Thousand Years, shows that he had long stood for an activist al-Azhar that could play a greater international role in fighting religious fanaticism and uniting the Islamic ummah (community) with its various schools of thought. Reorganization, and the budgetary allowances that came with it, meant the partial fulfillment of the goals of his teacher, Shaykh Muhammad `Abduh, and his collaborator, al-Maraghi: reopening the door of ijtihad (individual inquiry in legal matters); reforming education at alAzhar through the introduction of modern subjects; and ending the religious fanaticism that kept the Islamic world divided by narrowing the differences between different Muslim madhhabs (legal schools).

The reformed al-Azhar was to graduate `ulama’ with an all-around education. Thus to the university’s traditional religious education were added modern faculties for graduating doctors, engineers, scientists, and even a college for women. A new division, Idarat al-Thagafah wa al-Bu’uth al-Islamiyah (Department of Culture and Islamic Missions), delegated al-Azhar graduates to teach and preach in Islamic countries and supervised foreign students studying at al-Azhar. Cairo’s Madinat alBu’uth al-Islamiyah (City of Islamic Missions) enabled thousands of students from all over the Islamic world to study at al-Azhar. Primary and secondary ma`ahid

Azharryah (Islamic institutions) became active in graduating dais (missionaries) to work throughout the Islamic world. Even women graduates of the maahid and al-Azhar’s Kulliyat al-Banat (Girl’s College) could act as future dais among Egyptian and Arab women.

Other achievements of Shaltut’s tenure with a longterm impact on Egypt and the Islamic world included the formation of al-Majlis al-A’la lil-Shu’un al-Islamiyah (High Council for Islamic Affairs), which brought together for the first time representatives of eight Islamic madhhabs (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali, Ja’fari, Zaydi, `Ibadi, and Zahiri) to meet in Cairo in 1962 for theological discussions. The meeting resulted in the publication of the first encyclopedia to cover the different interpretations of mu`amalat (acts concerned with human intercourse) according to the eight sects, Mawsu`at Ndsir lil-fiqh al-Islami.

One other institution attributed to Shaltut, Majma` alBuhuth al-Islamiyah (Islamic Research Center), has had a deep impact on Egyptian intellectual life. Meant as a scholarly center to assure the accuracy of religious works, it has turned into an organ of censorship that monitors the purity of literature, declaring what is heretical, demanding the removal of publications from the market and libraries, as well as calling for the punishment of authors it considers “innovators” and “heretical enemies of Islam.” For Shaltut, a man famous for his innovative ten-volume Tafsir al-Qut’an (Interpretation of the Qur’an) and for his resourceful Al fatawah (Formal Legal Opinion), this would hardly have been acceptable.

[See also Azhar, al-; and the biography of Maraghi. ]


Shaltut, Mahmud. Al-Fatawd. Cairo, 1986.

Shaltut, Mahmud. Tafsir al-Qur’an al-Karim, 1o vols. Cairo, 1982. Shaltut, Mahmud. Ila al-Qur’an al-Karim. Cairo, 1978.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/shaltut-mahmud/

  • writerPosted On: July 30, 2017
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