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Muslim scholar
Name: Uways Al-Barawi
Title: Al Barawi
Birth: 1847
Death: 1909
Ethnicity: Somali
Region: East Africa
Maddhab: Qadiriyyah
School tradition: Uwaysiyya
Main interests: Islamic philosophy, Islamic literature

Sheikh Uways Al-Barawi (Arabic: أويس آل البراوي‎) (b. 1847–1909) was a Somali scholar credited with reviving Islam in 19th century East Africa.

Contents

Early life

Sheikh Uways was born in Barawe on the Benadir of Somalia coast, the son of a local religious teacher. He obtained a simple elementary education in basic theological sciences, and only later furthered his studies with eminent scholars. Sheikh Uways studied the Qur'an, Qur'anic exegesis, syntax and grammar, legal principles and basic Sufism under the tutelage of one Sheikh Muhammad Tayini al-Shashi in his local vicinity.

Journey to Baghdad

Being a devout student of Islam and excelling in piety, the young Sheikh Uways caught the attention of his teacher who then introduced him to the Qadiriyya doctrines and, circa 1870, took him to the birth place of that tariqah in Baghdad. This journey had a profound impact on Sheikh Uways' spiritual search and religious credibility. He studied with the eminent Qadiri, Sayyid Mustafa b. Salman al-Jilani and later claimed to have received an ijazah from his teacher, thus boosting his reputation. Despite this, B.G. Martin described his training and education as "relatively provincial, mildly uninspired, and above all conservative and conventional." Uways also made Hajj to Madinah and Makkah during this spell, which normally marks a spiritual milestone for Muslims. And truly so, his life took a drastic turnaround.

Journey home

In 1883, Sheikh Uways made his way back to his hometown to settle there for good. A very important journey in enhancing his reputation as a scholar was when he passed through the Hejaz, Yemen and northern Somalia. While in northern Somalia in particular, Choi Ahmed claimed through oral tradition that Shaykh Uways met the renowned Somali Qadiri Shaykh Abd al Rahman al-Zayla'i near Qulunqul right before his death and was at that time handed granted complete control of the Qadiriyya in Somalia. On the other hand, the Somali scholar Said Sheikh Samatar claims that Shaykh Uways merely visited al-Zayla'i's tomb and received a symbolic ijazah to preach. Whether or not the former or the latter claims are correct, both Choi Ahmed and Samatar imply that Shaykh Uways successfully established himself as the successor to the much revered Shaykh Abd Al-Rahman bin Ahmad al-Zayla'i.

Sheikh Uways' reputation and renown preceded him by the time of his arrival back in his hometown of Baraawe. He was subsequently elevated as leader of the Qadiriyya in southern Somalia (which later became a sub-branch named after him, the Uwaysiyya), and began missionary works throughout East Africa. According to B.G. Martin, this newly-earned prominence was met with envy by the rival brotherhoods of Ahmadiya and Saalihiya, and even by some family members, according to Samatar. This intense competition for influence led Sheikh Uways to seek greener pastures, perhaps in emulation of the holy Prophet Muhammad's hijra from Makkah to Madinah.

This decision made room for further proselytizing, which in turn increased his influence. Sheikh Uways moved inland and founded Beled al-Amin (translated as "Town of Peace"), which flourished into an agricultural town. Bearing testament to his mass appeal, Samatar mentions that "nomad and farmer flocked to his community, bringing with them gifts in vast amounts of livestock and farm produce". Freed from external pressure from the Salihiyya of Sayyid Muhammad Abdullah Hassan in northern Somalia, the Sahiliyya led by Sayyid Muhammad Maaruf from the Comoros Islands, and Christian missionaries from inland Ethiopia, Uways and his followers were able to focus on proselytizing the Qadariyya.

Death

The struggle of Shaykh Uways against the Salihiyya was so intense that he was resolute to being a martyr (martin). Moving north to curb the influence of radical nationalist and puritanical teachings of Salihiya neo-Sufis, Shaykh Uways was tragically murdered by Salihiyya followers in 1909. His death came as a shock to even Salihiyya adherents. The Sayyid, however, composed a poem to celebrate his brotherhood's victory, although some northerners offer a differing view of the Sayyid's reaction.

The tragic ending of the Uwaysiyya leader was compounded with the death of all but one of his disciples, a person who later carried on the Uwaysiyya legacy. This remaining disciple composed a moving qasida that eventually became a liturgy of the Uwaysiyya order. Uways's house was later bought by Shaykh Sufi and turned into the main headquarters of the Uwaysiyya.

Influence

Sheikh Uways' influence can be felt throughout East Africa: From the islands surrounding Zanzibar to as far west as the Eastern Congo and as far south as the Tanganyika. His influence in Zanzibar alone was attributed to his close relationship with the Sultanate, two of whom he took as his Khalifah. This close relationship was established as a result of the Sultan of Zanzibar encouragement. Uways' widespread appeal is also attributed to the present circumstances of the Benadir coast, where foreign migration undermined local economic domination. The locals thought their calamity correlated with their lack of spiritual strength rather than external circumstances. Sufi orders then "provided a context for exploring these failings and proposing solutions by means of a renewed moral framework" (Reese). This phenomena elevates the status of wadaads, where merchants subsidized activities of the wadaads. Due to the Qadiriyya's popularity (which Uways spearheaded), the Sheikh's elevated status was most felt.

References

  • Choi Ahmed, Christine, 1993. God, Anti-Colonialism and Dance: Sheekh Uways and the Uwaysiyya, in : Gregory Maddox (ed.), Conquest and Resistance to Colonialism in Africa. New York: Garland Publishing, 145-67.
  • Martin, Bradford G., 1993. Shaykh Uways bin Muhammad al-Barawi, a Traditional Somali Sufi, in: G. M. Smith and Carl Ernst (eds.), Manifestations of Sainthood in Islam. Istanbul: ISIS, 225-37.
  • Reese, Scott S., 1999. Urban Woes and Pious Remedies: Sufism in Nineteenth-Century Benaadir (Somalia). Indiana University Press.
  • Samatar, Said S., 1992. Sheikh Uways Muhammad of Baraawe, 1847-1909. Mystic and Reformer in East Africa, in: Said S. Samatar (ed.), In the Shadows of Conquest. Islam in Colonial Northeast Africa. Trenton, NJ: The Red Sea Press, 48-74.
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