Abd Al Hamid B Badees (1889-1940CE/ 1307-1358H) عبد الحميد بن باديس
Playing a crucial role in the Islamic resurgence of the 20th century, `Abdul Hameed ibn Badees represents a distinctive example of how a Muslim intellectual activist works within the context of a broader cultural heritage to respond to the challenges of the modern world. A leader of the Islamic Reform (Islah )Movement in Algeria between the two World Wars, Bin Badees along with his followers vigorously affirmed the unique cultural and historical character of the Algerian nation at a time when highly visible politicians were advocating Algeria’s assimilation with France.
Bin Badees appeared when Algeria was under French Colonialism since the end of the 19th century. He was born in Constantine in 1307 H, corresponding to December 1889 into a noble Berber family of Sanhaji descent renowned for its scholarship, wealth and influence. A prominent member of the Sanhajiyya, was Abul Abbas Hameed ibn Badees who was a judge at the time when the atrocities being perpetrated by the French rulers were at their peak. It was at this time that, in 1891, he wrote a letter to the French authorities asking for the freedom of the people in the practice of their religion.
By the time Bin Badees was thirteen, he had memorized the Qur’an. He led the congregational tarawih prayers at Al-Jami ` al-Kabir in Constantine at that age. He was sent to Shaykh Hamdan al-Unaysi to study Arabic, Fiqh and Hadith. His teacher there prevented him from working under the government, because government jobs prevented a person from the duty of preaching Islam, and took away the freedom of thought.
However, in 1908, while the teacher, Shaykh Hamdan migrated to Madinah, the student, `Abdul Hameed, went to Al-Zaituniyah, studying there for three years, at the end of which he got the degree of At-Tatwee’. `Abdul Hameed worked in the same institution during his fourth year there. He completed his studies in Tunisia under Shaykh Muhammad al-Nakhli, a professor of Tafsir , Shaykh Tahir ibn Ashur, a professor of Arabic Literature, and Shaykh Basheer Safar, a professor of History.
Bin Badees returned to Algeria in 1912 to start his academic and educational activities in Al Jami ’ al-Kabeer at Constantine. He taught the book Ash-Shifa’ of Qadi Iyaad in Al Jami ’ al-Kabeer, but it was not long before the French prevented him from teaching the book. In 1913 he met his teacher Shaykh Hamdan, who then introduced him to Shaykh Hussain Ahmed Madani of India who was teaching in Madinah at that time. Interestingly enough, while his own teacher, Shaykh Hamdan advised Bin Badees to come over to Madinah, it was Shaykh Hussain Ahmad al-Madani who objected to this course of action and advised him to go back to Algeria, to work for reformation of the people and preach Islam.
Leaving the Hijaz, Bin Badees visited Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. He stayed in Egypt for some time, met with the scholars there, prominent among whom was Shaykh Muhammad Bukhayt al-Muteei,’ a contemporary of Shaykh Muhammad Abduh and Rasheed Rida.
So he returned to Algeria and settled in the city of Constantine. There, he took the Al-Akhdar Mosque as the center for his Da`wah and as an institute for his educational activities.
He held classes on the Tafsir (explanation) of the Qur’an, and finished explaining the whole Qur’an in a span of 25 years. Similarly, being a follower of the Maliki school of Fiqh, he finished explaining the Muwatta’ of Imam Malik in a span of 12 years.
In word and in deed, therefore, Bin Badees was a man of deep piety, and nobility. Working as the President of an educational association at Constantine, he did not draw a salary or any other remuneration for his services, but relied on his ancestral wealth. He could be found spending his time in teaching, in self-study, in looking after his students and in calling them for prayers. His dynamism, however, would not allow him to be a mere teacher for he also established several institutions like schools, charitable societies, businesses, commercial organizations, and clubs for scouting and sporting activities. Having a strong dislike for praise and promotion, he used to constantly avoid the press lest any matter related to him be published therein.
From Masjid al-Kabeer he was transferred to al-Masjid al-Sagheer which had been newly constructed for the dual purpose of holding prayers and educational activities. Bin Badees said:
Al-Jami’ al-Saghir which was the centre of efforts by Bin Badees soon became the model for others to emulate. It became a University. So attached was Bin Badees to his institution that he not only used to personally receive the students when they came at the beginning of the year, he also used to bid them farewell towards the end of the year. He established strong links between the institutions where the students studied and their respective houses. In fact, he used to visit the houses of his students himself to meet with their fathers, and to enquire about the educational progress of their wards. To him, however, there was a lesser need to educate the society in the conventional way than was there a need to train them more in ideology, politics, sociology, and the etiquettes of a moral character. Thus, as great an endeavor that it was, it was also a matter of course that Bin Badees set up around 350 Madrasas - that were soon sending preachers to far off cities and villages in Algeria. It was Bin Badees who, in those years of revolution, introduced the idea of military training as a concrete reality to the students who studied under him. He was constantly encouraging them to learn and to perfect the practice of archery for he was convinced that, sooner or later, the nation would be in need of this martial discipline. Thus, through Bin Badees, Al-Fudail al Warthlani worked tirelessly for the cause of armed resistance.
Never confining himself to his institution, Bin Badees traveled across the length and breadth of the country with his objective of effecting reform in accordance with the spirit and message of Islam. In a country fraught with the dangers of inter-tribal rivalries and hostilities, Bin Badees fostered a sense of equality and compassion among the many tribes of Algeria, and erased, to insignificance, the differences between the various schools of thought. To him Amaziee, Katamee, Sanhai, Zannati, Arabia, Maliki and Hanafi, all were equal.
In the meantime, the period that witnessed the close of the last and the opening of this century was also a period of awakening that was initiated in the East by Jamaluddin Al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh . The rays of this new awakening not only brought with them a new awareness in the East, but they also brightened up the intellectual horizon of the Arabs of the West. With Muhammad Abduh’s visit to this region in 1903, his magazine, al-Manar, also began to be circulated in this part of the Muslim world. Some magazines like al-Liwa, al-Muaiyid, al-Fatah and al-Zahra and al-Ahram were also reaching the Algerians through sources based in Egypt and Tunisia.
But the French influence was great. They ran two magazines, namely, La Voix des Endigenes and La Voix des Humbles. It happened that a writer expressed his opinion that Algeria, as a separate nation, was no more, and that it was now a part of France with the people there being as French as any in France proper. And, in 1936 Ferhat Abbas, Algeria’s best known liberal, wrote that having found no trace in the past or present of an Algerian Fatherland, France was his Fatherland. It was left to `Abdul Hameed ibn Badees to answer such claims and he did that eloquently stating, among other things, the following:
While the Algerian Muslim Scholars Association (Jamiat Ulema al-Muslimeen) was founded in 1931, the group had started out seven years earlier when they began, under Bin Badees’ leadership, the Al-Ikha al-Islami. Again, in 1931, Bin Badees worked behind the establishment of the Islamic Educational Association. It is a measure of Bin Badees’ patience and persistence that the French government approved its by-laws in the very same year that the proposal was made. The declared aim of the association was to inculcate noble values, to propagate the message of Islam and of Arab culture, and to promote the handicrafts industry among the Muslim youth. The real objective of this association, however, was the establishment of an educational institution wherein the Algerian students not admitted in French institutions could be given seats to pursue alternative courses in Islamic studies. In addition, the Association was in agreement with Bin Badees’ ambition to start a home for orphans in order that they be saved from the clutches of Christian missionaries. There was also to be a laboratory, or factory, for purposes of an industrial training that would prepare students for higher studies at university, and which would facilitate easier admission into the big industries once they finished college.
On women’s education
In his writings, Bin Badees never exhibited any reservations on women’s issues, especially when it came to their education. He wrote prolifically, unreservedly:
Elsewhere, Bin Badees wrote:
When he started the Association, Bin Badees stood behind the resolution that education provided would be free for girls, irrespective of their economic status. Clearly, this was a move designed to encourage the girls to pursue knowledge and, thereby, to educate them. He used to visit houses requesting parents to send their daughters to study. This was apart from his requests to the scholars to propagate the need for girls’ education among Algerians.
There have always been two viewpoints with regard to women’s education: one posits the idea that the woman must be confined to the compound of her house, while the other wishes for them a ‘liberation’ that would grant them an unrestricted presence in the markets and in other open, public, places. The West-inspired modernists considered this latter viewpoint as being the most conducive for the freedom of women. Among other things, they wanted Algerian women to be taught the language and culture of France. `Abdul Hameed ibn Badees was not a man to leave so serious a matter unattended, and he soon took them to task. In his reply to the modernists, he said:
Even with all the odds that he was up against, Bin Badees tried his best for the cause of higher studies for women. He wrote to the President of Jamiah Dawhe al-Adab, Damascus, and requested it to admit some girls from Algeria because they were keen to study further and also because such facility for higher studies was not then available in Algeria.
Upon his return from Madinah in 1913, he made it a point to travel around a lot, travel out of the country and to bring the attention of the world to the internal conditions of Algeria. It was during these travels that he met with Hasan al-Banna, the renowned scholar of Egypt who had personally visited more than 2000 Egyptian villages to study the conditions of life of the people there.
Bin Badees used to attend all social functions like marriages, and deliver speeches that were aimed at informing the people of the situation that was current in the Algeria of that time. While he did not record a complete diary of his travels, he did, however, write down some of the experiences that came his way during his journeys. Delivering lectures on Muslim unity, on Qur’anic studies, and against the current trends of a deviant Sufism all formed part and parcel of Bin Badees’ tour itinerary.
The first Arabic magazine published by the Algerians came out in the twentieth century by dint of sheer individual effort. The journals circulated in Algeria from other countries included Al-Urwatu Al Wuthqa, Al-Manar, Al-Muayyid, Al-Liwa, Al-Fatha, Al-Ahram, and Al-Muqat’a.
The magazine, al-Najah, was published from Algeria after the First World War in the year 1919. It was in this magazine that Bin Badees made his contribution with articles that sometimes bore his name, and sometimes went with names like al-Qasantini, al-Absi, and al-Sanhaji. However, when Bin Badees realized that Al-Najah would not serve his purpose fully, he started a magazine of his own: Al Muntaqid – in July, 1925. When the French authorities closed this journal in November 1925 because an article supported the rebellion in Morocco, Bin Badees replaced it with the monthly Al-Shihab, which remained the reformists’ principal publication until it was shut down at the advent of the Second World War.
Bin Badees never forgot to recall the great contributions of the past generation and its heroes. Thus, it was usual for him to deliver lectures on some great personality of the past. In this connection, once, while he was speaking about Ubadah ibn Samit, he dwelt at length on the strength of his faith, and on his quick deliberation in matters pertaining to it. He wrote biographies of Sheikh `Abdul Aziz Jaweesh Ramadan Hamood, Umar al-Mukhtar, Ahmad Shawqi, Hafiz, Ibrahim Muhammad, Rashid Rida, al-Ameer Khalid, and Sheikh Muhammad Bukhayt. He laid much emphasis on the freedom of thought in his writings, and asked people to come out of the circle of imitation and passivity. Attaching great importance to the reformation of one’s inner self, he said:
To Bin Badees, Islam as expressed in the world was of two kinds: Hereditary Islam, based on imitation and inactiveness, and personal Islam, which comes from thinking, research and curiosity. According to him, personal Islam lay in understanding the fundamentals of Islam and the changes that it brought in creed, morals, character, etiquette and mode of living. He asked everyone to try and understand the Qur’an and Sunnah according to his capacity. These objectives, he said, could be achieved through reflection. Thus, Muslims would find in themselves freshness of thought and firmness of conviction that would result in action. Such Muslims would love Islam not only on the basis of imitation and attachment to elders, but in the light of reason and argument as well.
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