Shaykh Ahmad Al Damanhuri

SHAYKH AHMAD AL-DAMANHURI (full name: ibn ‘Abd al-‘im ibn Yusuf ibn Sayyam al-Damanhuri) (1689/1690-1778)

An Egyptian Muslim scholar. He moved from Beheira to the university al- as a young man without means, studied there, and obtained the qualification to teach for all four schools of law, for which he also gave opinions. He was unsociable and spent most of his lifetime in private studies. After the death of the shaykh al-Hifni (1767) he succeeded him as director of al- and thereby became the highest Muslim scholar in Egypt. Among the political leaders, he was feared for his incorruptibility and rigidity; the Muslim lower classes venerated him for his love of justice.

In addition to his program of study, a work with the heading Iqamat al-Hujjah al-Bahirah ‘ala Hadm Misr wa-al- Qahirah (“Presentation of the Clear Proof for the Necessary Destruction of the Churches of Old and New Cairo”) is preserved. It was written at the beginning of the year 1739 as an answer to an inquiry concerning the legality of the churches in Old and New Cairo. This inquiry was evoked by the construction of a near the Darb al-Hin, which greatly irritated the Muslims.

After a historical introduction that demonstrates that Old Cairo was conquered by force and that the New Cairo was founded by Muslims at a later date, Damanhuri examines in four chapters the commentaries of the four schools of law on the existence, maintenance, and restoration of old churches and the construction of new churches. He comes to the conclusion that even if there are some points of divergence among the various schools, the case of Old and New Cairo is quite clear. According to the great majority of Muslim legal authorities, the existence of churches in both cities is illegal, and therefore they must be demolished.

These fatawa (legal opinions) of Damanhuri are examples of an interpretation of law that became prevalent among the ‘ulama’ (Muslim scholars) in the thirteenth century A.D. From the eighteenth century, several fatawa with similar tendencies are known, but some others also emerged that showed more tolerance by permitting the restoration of the older churches.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Jabarti, al-. Aja’ib al-Athar fi al-Tarajim wa-al-Akbar, Vol. 2, pp. 25-27. Bulaq, A.H. 1297/A.D. 1879-1880.
  • Perlmann, M. Shaykh Damanhuri on the Churches of Cairo (1739).
  • Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1975.

HERALD MOTZKI