Al- Qarawiyyin University

Al- Qarawiyyin University

Sheikh al-Islam, hafizh of his time, political personality and mujahid, great Sufi and historian of Fez; one of the leaders of the intellectual and cultural renaissance during the reign of Sultan Hasan I in Fez. From 1336 to 1345, he lived in Damascus, and part of his family settled there, most notably his son Sheikh Muhammad al-Makki al-Kettani.

He was born in the city of Fez in 1273 H. and grew up there, acquiring knowledge from its greatest scholars. He then travelled to different countries and received ijazat from scholars of the West and East. He was given ijaza to guide and instruct in over forty Sufi turuq, amongst them the Kattani, Darqawi, Tijani, Ba'Alawi and Rifa'i Paths. He had a leading position in the Qarawiyin University and other mosques and Zawias in Fez, teaching various of the twelve Shari`i sciences, especially fiqh and hadith until he obtained the highest rank and became a professor with his own dedicated chair.

He contributed to the social reform movement under the reign of Mawla Hasan I by issuing several important fatawa about trade with foreign countries and buying their commodities. During the time of Mawla `Abd al Aziz he wrote the book "Advice to the People of Islam about what will push away the blameworthy disease of kufr", in which he described the situation of the countries, the reasons for their decline and the ways of remedy. He went to visit the Sultan, explained the book and gifted it to him.

He went for his first hajj in 1321. On his way, he visited Egypt, Hijaz, al-Quds and Damascus, and was well received by its people and notables, and exchanged knowledge with its scholars.

In 1325, he again went for hajj, and settled with his family in al-Medina al-Munawwara, after the decline of Maghrib and the fear of foreign colonization. The following year, he was informed of the uprising of the movement of resistance and social reform that was headed by Ibn `Amta and his student Imam Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Kabir al-Kettani1 and returned to Maghrib. He found the country in a position of weakness. Ibn `Amta was tortured and martyred, and he interceded for his cousin who was imprisoned in 1327. He was favourably received by Mawla `Abd al-Hafizh, who made him the chairman of the great scholars of Maghrib who were reciting hadith in the royal court and gave him the final word in scholarly matters. The sultan asked his du`a in favour of his army upon its encounter with the great insurgent al-Zarhuni (known as Abu Hamira) which he did, whereupon Abu Hamira was brought to Fez in shackles. This increased the Sultan's trust in him.

Disillusioned once more about the state of Maghrib, he returned to Medina in 1328, and stayed there until 1336, raising the banner of scholarly revival in al-Haramayn. He was teaching many different books and delving into the fiqh of all four Madhahib, and many great scholars in Hijaz, residents as well as visitors, were among his students and followers. Among his students was also the minister of warfare and leader of the fourth division of the Ottoman army, general Ahmad Jamal Pasha, who followed him in suluk and had the utmost respect for him. Also, the Ottoman caliph showed the greatest respect for him and for his family, ad so did the Sharifs of Hijaz and their representatives, in particular al-Sharif Husayn. whose sons, king Faysal and king `Abd Allah, and cousin Haydar were among his students. In 1336 [= 1918 CE], upon the revolt of the Sharifs against the Ottoman caliphate, the latter appointed him as a mediator between it and the Sharifs.

As a consequence of the fitna in Hijaz, he left upon the request of the Ottoman government and went to settle in Damascus in 1336. He was well received by its notables and commoners, and began the work on religious and social reform, educating and raising the elite of the country, giving religious instruction, ethical guidance and Sufi training to its notables, especially the leaders of social and religious reform, such as `Ali Daqar, Hashim al-Khatib and `Abd al-Qadir al-Maghribi. [He exchanged knowledge with Sheikh Badr al-Din al-Hasani, and he was teaching Imam Ahmad's Musnad in the Umawi mosque.] At the same time, he was influential in the political field: He was a mediator between the Ottoman government and the Syrian nobility. The Sharif Faysal ibn Husayn, who became the governor of Syria in 1336, used to visit him in his home, and entrusted to him the establishment of the Syrian board of muftis.

In 1338, Syria was colonized by the French, members of the nationalist movement were detained, and many of the mujahidin of Sham were sentenced to death. In this situation, the notables of Damascus made him their spokesman in front of the French generals, to negotiate the release of insurgents, and to ease the pressure that was imposed on the country and its people.

In this period - from 1340 to 1444 - occurred the rural revolt in Maghrib under the leadership of one of the students of Imam a-Kettani, by name Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Karim al-Khatabi, as well as the uprising in Lybia against the Italian colonizers, under the leadership of his friend and student, Ahmad al-Sharif al-Sanusi and his leader, `Umar al-Mukhtar. Imam al-Kettani supported them with money and weapons, that he was able to supply through special channels. The uprising in the rural areas of Maghrib and the Atlas mountains was inspired by his book "Advice to the People of Islam", which was being preached in the gatherings and in the armed movements. He also assisted them with valuable advice by correspondence written with ink in secret chiffer, and the news of jihad was conveyed in the same way, and therefore publicised in Eastern newspapers.

In 1341, he was invited by the Ottoman government to visit Istania in Turkey. He stayed there for two weeks, visited many places and met many contemporary Muslim personalities, including Ahmad al-Sharif al-Sanusi, Kemal Attaturk (before his revolt), and king `Abd al-`Aziz of the Saudi family, whom he advised to strictly follow the Shari` a in his rule, and to show leniency to his subjects. 2, 3

In 1345, he returned to Fez, and resumed his religious activities at the Qarawiyin University, teaching the Musnad of Ima Ahmad ibn Hanbal for the first time ever in the history of Maghrib. He commented on hadith as a critical hafiz, and gave a fatwa based on absolute ijtihad, quoting fatawa and texts of the four madhhabs, and then giving a reliable opinion. In all this, he would not neglect to command the good and forbid the evil and give guidance and advice, in a way that led to a spiritual uprising in Fez. People from all social layers attended his classes in al-Qarawiyyin, which was filled to the brim with people, as many as 10.000 people. His classes had an enormous impact, the fact that they lasted only for two months, after which he fell ill and passed away.

Imam Muhammad ibn Ja`far al-Kettani was one of the greatest scholars of his time. The greatest scholars of Hind, Sham, Hijaz, Misr, Maghrib, Algeria and Mauretania are counted among his students. Even western orientalists attended his lectures.

His knowledge encompassed all the religious sciences. [He took hadith and `ulum from his father and from over 30 Shuyukh, the most famous of them being Sheikh Muhammad al-Madini b. `Ali b. Julun.] [He travelled extensively East and West and met the best hadith and fiqh scholars of his age.] He was one of the greatest hadith scholars of his time, deeply immersed in the sciences of hadith, knowing their mutun and their isnads by heart, and able to critically assess their status, and comment about them. His isnads are valuable and his ijaza was sought by scholars from the east and west.

He authored a great number of books, among them "Sulwatu al-Anfas" on the history of Fez is an unsurpassed reference work, quoted and relied upon till this day, unique in its style, containing not only precise details but also analysis and fiqhi considerations.

And he was an able politician - despite the great calamities of his time, he opposed the colonial powers with such determination that a Parisian newspaper Le Temps wrote on the day of his passing (19 of March 1927): "The greatest enemy of France has died today in Maghrib." 

He passed away in Fez on the 16th of Ramadan 1345 and was buried in the section of the Kettani family grave on the outskirts of Fez. 100.000 people from all social layers of Fez attended his funeral. Two years later, his body was moved to a special burial place inside the city of Fez. This was done at midnight, in the presence of 10.000 people. The body was found unaltered, and the smell of perfumed emanating from his grave when it was opened, spread over the whole graveyard.


(1) Muhammed ibn `Abd al-Kabir ibn Muhammad al-Kettani, Abu FaiD al-Shahid (b. 1290 in Fez - d. 1327 in Fez) died in prison as a consequence of 500 lashed ordered by the Sultan `Abd al-Hafizh. He took the tariqa from his father, and founded the Amadi Kettani tariqa in Fez in 1308. He was teaching in the Kattani zawiya, and calling people from the neighbouring tribes and districts to Islam, and giving them guidance on the path. A million persons followed him. Then he moved to the desert, and his enviers in Fez plotted against him, accusing him of corruption in his Aqida and attempts to overthrow the king. In 1314 he was compelled to go to Marakesh, and asked to explain himself in front of King Mawla `Abd al-`Aziz, who freed him from the charges of the attempt of overthrow. The issue of Aqida was referred to the `ulema, who after several months of investigation freed him from all allegations, and he returned triumphantly to fez in 1315. He is buried in an unknown place in the graveyard of Bab al-Sakama.

(2) His son Muhammad al-Zamazani (b. in Damascus in 1305 - d. 1371 in Fez), accompanied him on this journey to Turkey. He also travelled to Hind twice: in 1343 and in 1353. After his father's death in 1345, he resettled in Fez, and stood by the side of Muhammad V against the colonisers. Among his feats is the restoration of the Qarawin University after the "reforms" of the French. Amongst his writings is a bio of the martyr Muhammed ibn `Abd al-Kabir al-Kettani.

(3) At this time (beginning of 1340's) al-Sharif Faysal was the king of Syria and Iraq, and his brother `Abd Allah and the latter's son Talal were kings in Jordan.

Selection of his writings:


Tarajum of al-Sharif Muhammad Hamza ibn `Ali ibn al-Muntasir al-Kettani, Dar al-Kutub al-`Ilmiyya, Beirut 2004, See also

(Notes) and [text within square brackets] are added from other sources.

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Al-Sayyid al-Sheikh Muhammad ibn Ja`far al-Kettani al-Hasani al-Idrisi (b. 1273 in Fez - d. 1345 in Fez)

By The Islam Shop

Published on October 14, 2022

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A brief description Al-Sayyid al-Sheikh Muhammad ibn Ja`far al-Kettani al-Hasani al-Idrisi (b. 1273 in Fas - d. 1345 in Fas)

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