[ I know I’ve been away for a looooooooooong time, initially this was due to an internet problem, and now it’s more down to me trying to hammer out my thesis before the June deadline (eek!). Thanks to everyone who contacted me and told me to get back to this little blog. Inshallah I’ll get back to posting a little more often now. Maybe. ]

 April 16th in Algeria is known as the Day of Knowledge, in commemoration of the efforts of the Algerian scholar Abd al-Hamid Ben Badis to educate the Algerian people, and promote learning and knowledge in this country. People often forget the heritage of Islamic learning in Muslim countries outside of the Arabian Gulf (read: Saudi Arabia), Syria and Egypt, and it’s good to remember that this isn’t the case. Anyways, this is taken from a paper I wrote about Ben Badis and his role in Islamic reform, hence the more formal approach. Inshallah I’ll follow up with a couple more posts about him during the rest of the week.

Sheikh Abd al-Hamid Ben Badis

Born in 1889 in Constantine, the commercial capital of Eastern Algeria[1], Abd al-Hamid Ben Badis was the oldest child of Mustafa Ben Maki Ben Badis and Zahra Bint Ali Ben Jaloul. His father and grandfather worked in the French colonial administration, championing housing for Muslims in Constantine, as well as the rest of Algeria, while his mother was from a family that was renowned for their knowledge, piety and religious adherence. As a whole, the Ben Badis family – who were descendents of the Sinhadji Berber clan, an ancient, famous and powerful clan of Algerian Berbers – was well-known locally for their knowledge, power and wealth.

Whilst his brother received a French education, Abd al-Hamid Ben Badis pursued a more traditional route, studying Qur’an memorisation, Arabic and Islamic Sciences under private scholars, and ‘as a result memorised the qur’an at the age of 13.’[2] At the age of 19, he enrolled at the Zaytouna Mosque University in Tunis, where he studied a wide variety of Islamic Sciences in addition to the Arabic language. Although it took seven years for a student to graduate from Zaytouna University, it had been possible for a student to sit an entrance exam and enter the year they were best suited to. This was changed the year before Ben Badis started his studies and so he was entered into the first year. When he had completed his first year, the university reinstated the old entrance system in response to enormous pressure from its students. Ben Badis then took the entrance exam and was entered into the fifth year program of studies. As such, he graduated just two years later and remained at the university for an additional year as a teacher.

His Scholars included[3]:

–       Sheikh Mohammed El-Medasi, who taught him Qur’an memorisation.

–       Sheikh Abu Hamdan Lounissi, his first teacher of Islamic Sciences and Arabic.

–        Sheikh Mohammed An-Nakhli El-Qeyrouni, a Tunisian reformist, who convinced him of the Salafi / Wahabi perspective that was becoming popular and the need the remove all forms of deviation, such as the ‘Saint Cult’.[4]

–        Sheikh Mohammed Taher Ben Ashour, an international revivalist and modern reformist leader, who greatly influenced the young Ben Badis’ love of the Arabic language.[5]

–        Sheikh El-Bachir Safer, who encouraged Ben Badis to focus on current and past problems of Muslim communities, including ‘finding a response to Western colonialism and dealing with its socio-economic after-effects’[6].

Following his year of teaching at the Zaytouna University, Ben Badis went to Makkah to perform the Hajj (pilgrimage) and then on to Madinah, where he remained for three months, teaching in the Prophet’s Mosque. It was here in Madinah that he met Sheikh Bachir El-Ibrahimi, a fellow Algerian, who became his best friend and closest ally in the quest for religious reform in Algeria. ‘This was the start of a long friendship which spurred the Islamic Reform movement in Algeria into a position of prominence and influence’.[7] Sheikh Bachir el-Ibrahimi later said that they used to spend all night

… debating methods with which to reform Algeria, and planning a detailed program … and I call Allah as a witness that those nights of the year 1913 were when the first foundations of the AAMU (the Association of Algerian Muslim Ulama), which did not come into existence until the year 1931, were laid…[8]

Sheikh Ben Badis later said of this time:

I remember that when I visited Madinah Mounawwarrah and contacted therein my Sheikh and teacher Hamdan Lounissi, the Algerian emigrant, and my Sheikh Hussein Ahmad El-Hindi. The first directed me to emigrate to Madinah and cut all ties with my country and the second directed me – and he was a wise scholar – to return to my country and to serve Islam and Arabic in it as much as possible, so Allah made the opinion of the second Sheikh occur… [9].

As he made his return journey home, he passed through several countries and paid a visit to Al-Azhar, where he met with renowned academics of Arabic literature and Islamic Sciences.

During his travels abroad he was progressively won over to the world view and agenda of the Islamic Reform (Islah) Movement, which, as Thompson Gale stated:

called for (the) renewal and modernisation of Islam by purging it of accumulated beliefs and practices inconsistent with … (the Qur’an and Sunnah) … and by opening it up to the scientific methodology and learning that Muslim leaders of recent centuries had wrongly shunned. [10]

Reformists invoked the example of the pious predecessors, therefore promoting allegiance to the Arabic language and history, and this put him squarely against the Algerians who believed in assimilation with France.

According to the author Az-Zubair Ben Rahal[11], the most important factors in the development of Ben Badis’s personality, as derived from the speech the scholar gave upon his completion of the Tafsir of the Qur’an in June 1938, were:

1)    The direction and upbringing of his father.

2)    The scholars he studied under.

3)    The advice of his fellow scholars.

4)    The Ummah’s acceptance of his call to reform.

5)    The Qur’an.

6)    His natural inclination and ability.

His friend and colleague, Sheikh El-Ibrahimi later said of him: This man … – Ben Badis – history bears witness that it was he who established the foundations of reformist ideology in Algeria, and he who laid out a wise and rational path for it, that is the path of nurture and education.[12]

On the 16th of April 1940, Sheikh Abd al-Hamid Ben Badis passed away in his home in the city of Constantine. He was just 51 years old. According to Sheikh Mohammed El-Salah Ben Atiq[13] (a student), Ben Badis was exhausted both physically and mentally: physically due to his efforts promoting Islam and travelling, etc, and mentally because of the grief of losing so many of his beloved students, who were being drafted to fight for their enemy. In addition to this, he was planning the announcement of an armed struggle against the occupying forces as soon as Italy declared war on France. Before the outbreak of the Second World War, Ben Badis had gone to Tlemcen, to El-Ibrahimi’s house, where they decided what they would do if war should be declared and who should succeed them in the Association of Algerian Muslim Scholars (AAMU) if they should die. They considered all possibilities, planning for every possible outcome and they wrote two copies of all that they agreed on.

Despite the heavy military presence of the time (due to the Second World War), people came from all over the country to attend the funeral of this great religious leader. The city of Constantine came to a standstill, and a silence reigned. Reports of how many people attended vary, some sources put the figure at 20,000[14], while others say there were over 50,000 attendees[15].

His funeral took the aspect of a large, humanistic demonstration, both anti-colonialist and democratic, ‘the very principles practiced in the life of this large Algerian hero’[16]. He was carried by his students to his final resting place and among those in the funeral procession were the Algerian Muslim Scouts and representatives of all of the other Islamic groups, associations and organisations of the time. The procession arrived at the family plot and the funeral prayer was lead by Sheikh Mubarak El-Mili.


[1] Thompson Gale, “Encyclopaedia of World Biography, ‘Abd al-Hamid Ben Badis” www.bookrags.com/biography/abd-al-hamid-ben-badis, 2005-2006.

[2] Wikipedia, “Ben Badis”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Badis/

[3] انظر: الأستاذ الزبير بن رحال الإمام عبد الحميد بن باديس رائد النهضة العملية والفكرية، (عين مليلة، الجزائر: دار الهدى، دت) ص10-12.

[4] Wikipedia, “Ben Badis”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Badis/

[5] Wikipedia, “Ben Badis”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Badis/

[6] Wikipedia, “Ben Badis”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Badis/

[7] Wikipedia, “Ben Badis”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Badis/

[8] Paper titled “A summary of my Academic History”, submitted to al-Azhar in 1961 during his election to become a member. From:

الأستاذ الزبير بن رحال الإمام عبد الحميد بن باديس رائد النهضة العملية والفكرية، (عين مليلة، الجزائر: دار الهدى، دت) ص14 وص51.

[9] الشهاب، ج8، مج13، ص355، دورة أكتوبر 1937م. راجع: الأستاذ الزبير بن رحال الإمام عبد الحميد بن باديس رائد النهضة العملية والفكرية، (عين مليلة، الجزائر: دار الهدى، دت) ص 13.

[10] Thompson Gale, “Encyclopaedia of World Biography, ‘Abd al-Hamid Ben Badis” www.bookrags.com/biography/abd-al-hamid-ben-badis, 2005-2006.

[11]  الشهاب، ج4-5، مج 14، ص288-291، جون-جويلية 1938، راجع: الأستاذ الزبير بن رحال الإمام عبد الحميد بن باديس رائد النهضة العملية والفكرية، (عين مليلة، الجزائر: دار الهدى، دت) ص16.

[12] الأستاذ الزبير بن رحال الإمام عبد الحميد بن باديس رائد النهضة العملية والفكرية، (عين مليلة، الجزائر: دار الهدى، دت) ص19.

[13] محمد صالح العتيق أحداث ومواقع في مجال الدعوة والإصلاح، (الجزائر: منشورات دحلب) ص99، راجع: الأستاذ الزبير بن رحال الإمام عبد الحميد بن باديس رائد النهضة العملية والفكرية، (عين مليلة، الجزائر: دار الهدى، دت) ص117.

[14] Wikipedia, “Ben Badis”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Badis/

[15] الأستاذ الزبير بن رحال الإمام عبد الحميد بن باديس رائد النهضة العملية والفكرية، (عين مليلة، الجزائر: دار الهدى، دت) ص118.

[16] Wikipedia, “Ben Badis”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Badis/

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