by Ashraf Abdul Wahab.
According to Libyan historian Salam Kabtih, Thursday, 1, March was the 50th anniversary of the death of the prominent Libyan scholar, Sheikh Mohammed Al-Akhdar Al-Issawi.
This important figure in Libyan history was born in 1874 in Zintan to a family well known for its long history of commitment to scholarship, religious piety and religious struggle. Kabtih recounted how Sheikh Issawi memorized the Quran as well as studying religious sciences, Arabic and Arabic literature.
In 1903, he travelled to Egypt in order to train at Al-Azhar university in Cairo where he later received his diploma and was asked to stay on and teach. He was considered one of the greatest among members of the Sufi brotherhood of which he was a member — the Senussi brotherhood.
Issawi also contributed to the organization of the Libyan national movement in 1911 in response to the Italian occupation. He took part in the Senussi brotherhood’s historic meeting, held at this time, on the necessity of struggle and resistance. In 1936, Issawi released his celebrated book Revealing the Meaning of the Writings of Omar Muhktar.
It was penned in response to a book written by Sheikh Tahir Al-Zawi entitled Omar Muhktar, which was published in Egypt under the name “Ahmed Mahmoud”. According to Kabtih, Issawi had had much correspondence in the early 1930s with senior members of the Libyan expatriate community in Egypt, Syria and Jordan, in order to unify the national movements in these countries.
During this time he also continued his daily study of Abbasid teachings under the Maliki School of Islamic thought (Fiqh) at Al-Azhar.
Kabtih related how Sheikh Issawi published a series of articles on Libya and its history in the magazine Libyan Dawn and the newspaper New Barqa, both publications which came out of Benghazi.
Issawi returned to Libya in 1956 to attend the centenary of the death of Sayyid Muhammad bin Ali Al-Senussi, the founder of the Senussi order, who was born in Algeria and died at Jaghbub near the border with Egypt where he had founded a university. Issawi returned again in 1959.
He was also known for his friendship with the Libyan poet Ahmed Rafiq Almhadoui (1898–1961). This Libyan nationalist who was appointed a member of the Senate in 1952, died in London, Britain ten years later, after having undergone surgery. He was buried two days after in the tomb of Abu Rawash near Cairo, a cemetery in which many Libyans are buried.
As Libya is emerging and redefining itself as a state, rejecting the previous narrative of history its people were taught under Qadaffi, figures such as Issawi are seen as important for re-linking with the country’s past and its heritage. Not only was he a fighter in the national Libyan struggle against the Italians, he was also a member of the Senussi brotherhood headed by the Grand Senussi, later King Idris.
Figures like the Senussis and Idris, whom Qaddafi tried to airbrush out of Libyan history, even to the point of forbidding parents naming their sons ‘Idris’, are already retaking their place as significant symbols in the new Libya.