Shaykh Ahmad Kuftaro raHmatuAllah'alayh

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    Shaykh Ahmad Kuftaro
    by Gibril Fouad Haddad

    (originally written by request of Islamica Magazine)

    Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim

    Samahat al-Mufti Ahmad ibn Shaykh Amin Kuftaro ibn Mulla Musa al-
    al-Shafi`i (1912-2004) was born in Damascus the capital of Syria, on
    Mount Qasyoun, in the neighborhood of Abu al-Nur named after one of
    officers of Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi (the great saintly and scholarly
    leader "Saladin"), Abu al-Nur Qaraja al-Salahi, in the district
    known as
    al-Salihiyya or "The Righteous District," in reference to the many
    friends of Allah that are buried there.

    In 1927 Shaykh Ahmad's father, Shaykh Amin Kuftaro (d. 1938)
    Shaykh Amin al-Zamalkani as head of the Tariqa Naqshbandiyya in
    Damascus. The latter had succeeded the great Shaykh `Isa al-Kurdi (d.
    1911). Shaykh Ahmad benefited from his father's guidance and was
    by a prodigious memory. He memorized the Qur'an at an early age and
    about ten thousand verses of poetry on the various sciences of the
    Shari`a according to the old mnemonic methods that put all the
    mother-texts (ummahat al-mutun) into verse for easier memorization.

    Shaykh Ahmad lived through the great upheavals of his country: the
    world wars, the departure of the Turks from Damascus in the year 1920
    and the coming of the French in the name of protectorate, followed by
    the Syrian insurgency against the French occupation - actively
    by the great Ulema of the time - until the last French soldier left
    the year 1946, eleven years after the death of the great Sufi hadith
    Master Shaykh Badr al-Din al-Hasani who had been a key inspiration in
    the insurgency. Shaykh Ahmad no doubt viewed his own Fall, 2003 fatwa
    approving of any attacks on the American occupants in Iraq as a
    of that legacy.

    Shaykh Ahmad's father married him with a Kurdish woman from a pious
    family when he turned 16. She was 14 and bore him all his children,
    boys and three girls. Shaykh Ahmad also took a second wife later in

    In 1935, three years before Shaykh Amin died, when Ahmad was only 23,
    Shaykh Amin had alread chosen him to succeed him in the office of
    spiritual guide or Murshid in the Tariqa. Shaykh Ahmad climbed the
    echelons of leadership and not only succeeded his father but became
    1951 Mufti of Damascus then, in 1963, Grand Mufti of the Syrian Arab
    Republic. From its beginnings as a place of worship and retreat the
    mosque of Abu al-Nur developed into an institute for religious
    in 1975 (the Ma`had for men and women), and a charity, Jam`iyyat
    al-Ansar al-Khayriyya.

    Shaykh Ahmad played a lively advisory role at different levels of
    in Syria and the Arab world, notably through his long-time friendship
    with the late President Hafiz al-Assad, without taking sides nor
    espousing particular views beyond the overriding imperative fostered
    the Rabitat al-Ulama': to protect and strengthen Islam in the society
    and the individual. He summarized his political philosophy
    thus: "Islam
    and political authority are twins, neither of which thrives without
    other. Islam is the foundation and power the guardian. What lacks
    foundation crumbles and what lacks a guardian gets waylaid." Thus it
    both as a Muslim and an Arab that he reiterated time and again to his
    audiences at home and abroad, especially in the United States, the
    responsibility of the world to help the Palestinians in their plight.

    In 1979 an assassination attempt against three of Shaykh Ahmad's sons
    took the life of one of them, his anticipated successor of
    learning, Shaykh Zahir. But the Shaykh's mettle was tested to the
    by the dark years of 1980-1982 during which he pleaded for moderation
    and strove to spare the religious institutions and symbols of his
    country the irrevocable damage caused by the fitna. After the Shaykh
    passed away he was succeeded by his youngest son, Shaykh Salah.

    In his lifetime of weekly one-to-two-hour pre-Jumu`a lectures in
    commentary of the Qur'an at Abu al-Nur Mosque, Shaykh Ahmad
    concluded no
    less than four full commentaries of the Qur'an, broadcast to the four
    levels of the 15,000-capacity mosque by close-circuit TV and
    simulatenously translated into English, French, and Russian. This
    is recorded in audio and video in full. One of the students of the
    Shaykh published an anthology of these lessons under the title Min
    al-Qur'an al-Karim, possibly the only book published under the name
    the Shaykh. Shaykh Ahmad liberally shared the podium with various
    from all over the world whom he would have address the congregation,
    from the late Shaykh Ahmad Ya Sin to American televangelists and
    Farrakhan to Sufi Shuyukh such as al-Habib `Ali al-Jafri and my own
    beloved teacher, Shaykh Nazim, whom Samahat al-Mufti affectionately
    nicknamed the Shaykh of Shaykhs.

    Shaykh Amin's original didactic method had been summed up by one
    book in
    particular: Imam al-Sha`rani's al-Mizan al-Kubra, written as a
    and illustration of the Four Sunni Schools against fanatical
    to a particular school and a defense of sufism. Similarly Shaykh
    de-emphasized Madhhabism as can be gleaned by Abu al-Nur's
    approach to the teaching of Islamic law. To the President of Iran,
    al-Khatami, who had requested him to add the fifth, twelver-Imami
    of law to the syllabus the Mufti reportedly replied, tongue in
    cheek, "I
    thought you were going to help me do away with differences and
    but you are asking me to add to them instead!"

    But Shaykh Ahmad's greatest innovation, no doubt, was his stand for
    inter-faith dialogue, "actively striving to unite the human family...
    [and] working to achieve better understanding and cooperation amongst
    the people of the heavenly religions" in the words of his website
    []. One day in the sixties, before his fifty-
    year, he announced that his mosque would celebrate the birth of
    and he invited the Christian religious leaders of Syria and Lebanon
    the celebration. A scandal ensued, fanned by naysayers on both sides.
    When the dust settled Shaykh Ahmad had become the single most
    interlocutor of the Christians in the Muslim world.

    This rhetorical gift ultimately led to his official invitation to the
    Vatican where John Paul II received him in 1985, one in a series of
    historical meetings and travels to the United States, Eastern and
    Western Europe, Japan, and elsewhere. Shaykh Ahmad attended fifty-
    international conferences out of a total of two hundred invitations,
    including a June, 1989, two-week lecture tour sponsored by the U.S.
    State Department to religious centers and leaders in Washington D.C.,
    the Northeast, and Florida. In 1990 he gave two seminal talks at the
    United Nations-sponsored Assembly of World Religions in San
    "The Quran Extends its Hand to Mankind" and "Spirituality in the
    Twenty-First Century."
    [More at] His
    summation of this message can be seen in his address titled "Islam
    Christianity: Two Religions, One God"

    Samahat al-Mufti often recalled that the Pope had said to him, "Every
    day I read the Qur'an." His repartee came in the form of an answer
    to an
    European ambassador that had asked him, "What is the Christian
    population of Syria?" "Fourteen million," the Mufti answered -
    its totality instead of the expected 14% of the country! He then
    explained: "Any Muslim that does not believe in our liege-lord the
    Christ, his Islam is nil." Sahih. May Allah have mercy on this
    extraordinary leader of wisdom, learning, and good humor in our time
    strove to address each segment of humankind in the fittest way he saw
    for its advancement out of the darkness of disbelief and into the
    of faith.

    GF Haddad

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