Sayyid Yusuf Hashim al-Rifa’i

Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller

From Reliance of the Traveller, by Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller

Yusuf ibn al-Sayyid Hashim al-Rifa`i, born in Kuwait in 1351/1932. A Shafi`i scholar, former minister of state, educator, Sufi, and author, he was given his primary education in the Holy Qur’an by Shaykh Ahmad al-`Aqil in Kuwait, and studied Islamic Law in Damascus and Shafi`i jurisprudence under Shaykh Muhammad Salih of Kuwait and others. His father, al-Sayyid Hashim al-Rifa`i, was the captain of a pearl-harvesting sailing ship then a state official and finally an advocate in the Shari`a court of Kuwait. Shaykh Yusuf is a descendent of the Prophet – Allah bless and greet him – through the Friend (walî) of Allah Most High, Shaykh Ahmad al-Rifa`i. He was made a member of Parliament in Kuwait in 1963, minister of telecommunications and postage in 1964, and he served as the minister of state from 1965 to 1970. He is also a Shaykh of the Rifa`i Tariqa founded by his ancestor, having been authorized by Shaykh Makki al-Kattani of Damascus, whose teacher Ibrahim al-Rawi was the student of Shaykh Abu al-Huda al-Sayyadi, one of the outstanding recent figures in the Rifa`i way.

Among Sayyid Yusuf’s written works are Khawatir fi al-Siyasa wa al-Mujtama` (“Thoughts on Politics and Society”), comprising articles on contemporary issues such as the need for Muslims to defend the rights of Muslim minorities in non-Muslim countries; Adilla Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`a aw al-Radd al-Muhkam al-Mani` `ala Munkarat wa Shubuhat Ibn Mani` fi Tahajjumihi `ala al-Sayyid Muhammad `Alawi al-Maliki al-Makki (“The Evidences of the Sunni Community, or, The Unassailably Proficient Rebuttal of the Blameworthy and Doubtful Points of Ibn Mani` in His Assault on al-Maliki”), which he published in 1984 in response to a contemporary’s attack on Shaykh Muhammad ibn al-Sayyid `Alawi al-Maliki for the latter’s having contradicted the tenets of the Wahhabi sect on a number of questions in his book Mafahim Yajib an Tusahhah (“The Necessary Correction of Certain Misconceptions”), published ca. 1983 and now in its 10th printing, perhaps the most important contemporary statement of Ahl al-Sunna on Wahhabi/”Salafi” teachings; and Adilla al-Qunut fi Salat al-Fajr (“The Evidences for Standing in Supplication at the Dawn Prayer”).

He takes a keen interest in the problems of the Muslims today, and at a recent symposium in Amman he voiced his concern for the obstacles to the current Islamic revival and world propagation of Islam that are being put in its way by “fundamentalists” whose view of Allah Most High is anthropomorphic, view of the Prophet – Allah bless and greet him – is that he is over-venerated and loved by Muslims, and view of Muslims is that they are unbelievers or immersed in unlawful innovations (bid`a). The unity of the Community and its future, he said, lie in holding fast to the agreed-upon schools of jurisprudence and tenets of faith, directing our efforts to non-Muslims; not in trying to convince Muslims that everything their forefathers believed was a mistake. He presently directs the al-Iman School, founded in 1973 in Kuwait, which provides Islamic and secular education patterned on the al-Azhar model at the elementary, preparatory, and secondary levels. He is a familiar figure at Islamic conferences around the world, and in 1988 was elected as president of the World Union of Islamic Propagation and Information at its London conference.