Shaykh Sayyid Muhammad As-Sanusi
Shaykh Sayyid Muhammad as-Sanusi, the founder of the Sanusi Order of Algeria, was born into a distinguished family, which was noted for its many learned men who were influential in many localities, near Mustaganim in northern Algeria in about 1787. He was instructed in all the traditional Islamic sciences by a number of teachers at an early age. He learned the entire Quran by heart and excelled in his understanding of the recorded actions and sayings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the nature of existence, Islamic jurisprudence and the Arabic language. In the company of his teachers, he moved about from place to place, living in such towns as Tlemsen, Mu’askara and Mustaganim, before travelling to Fes where he continued his studies at the Qarawiyyin mosque-university. There he studied all the Quranic sciences and the science of Unity, and became so well-versed that he attained great distinction in the spiritual knowledges.
Shaykh as-Sanusi departed from many of the more rigid viewpoints and customs which had been adopted blindly by many religious pseudo-scholars, to the extent that he earned both the hatred of the arrogant scholars for his freedom in interpretation, and the love of many others for his having a piercing intellect, wisdom and perception. Shaykh as-Sanusi always sought to unite all Muslims by following the general consensus of the Muslim community, and by recalling them to the basic path of original Islam, thereby discarding internal strife and dispute.
Shaykh as-Sanusi travelled to Libya in 1853, when he was in his sixties, and designed and commissioned to be built what was shortly to become the great sanctuary-university at Jaghbub. He died six years later in 1859, and was succeeded by his elder son. Following his death, the Sanusi Order created a network of Sufi sanctuaries that extended to every region of the Sahara and beyond its southern fringes. As well as being centres for spiritual activities, these Sufi sanctuaries also provided people with better methods for improving their resources. The social structure of the Sanusi Order ensured a balanced economic and political base as well as a spiritually vibrant society. Under the onslaught of first the French and then the Italian occupation, which was enforced by the use of superior military technology, the members of the Sanusi Order who opposed the colonial forces were considerably depleted in number and their influence was accordingly diminished.
During his lifetime Shaykh Muhammad as-Sanusi succeeded in uniting all the tributes of the region through his teaching and training. He advised people to direct themselves towards Allah, and to submit themselves completely to him, both in heart and form, so as neither to see, nor hear, nor witness anything else.