Muslim Scholars: Khayr al-Din al-Ramli

Late 8th century Quran manuscript Islamic Kufic calligraphy.
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Khayr al-Din al-Ramli was an Islamic jurist, scholar and writer who lived in Palestine in the 17th century, during the period when Palestine belonged to the Ottoman Empire. He is known as an influential faqih (jurist) of the Hanafi madhhab, who gave a number of fatwas on key issues that were widely used in the practice of the madhhab in the 18th and 19th centuries. For his activities as a jurist he earned great fame and authority, which is why some consider Imam Khayr al-Din al-Ramli as a mujaddid (a renovator of faith who, according to the Prophet, should appear once every hundred years) of the 11th century AH.

Khayr al-Din al-Ramli was born in the city of Ramla (currently located in Israel, 24 km. east of Tel Aviv) in 1585. Actually, his nisbah (the last part of the Arabic name, “nickname” usually denoting “geographic affiliation” of a person) and means “Ramlinian”. Other scholars have a similar nisbah, for example, Shams al-Din al-Ramli, who lived some time earlier. However, this is not evidence of kinship, but rather of the place of origin or life, often a different one, too. Not infrequently the names of the places could coincide, so Shams al-Din al-Ramli was born in a completely different Ramli – Ramli Banha, located 50 km north of Cairo. Khayr al-Din al-Ramli traced his lineage to Abdullah, the son of the Second Rightly Guided Caliph Umar.

At the age of 24, Khayr al-Din went with his brothers to Egypt, where he entered the world famous Islamic University of Al-Azhar. The outstanding scientist Sheikh Fayed became his teacher, who taught him all the secrets and wisdom of fiqh. Khayr al-Din wanted to study the Shafi’i madhhab, but his older brother opposed this. Khayr al-Din was very worried. Once in a dream, the founder of the Shafi’i madhhab, Imam ash-Shafi’i, appeared to him and told him: “We all walk the same straight road.” One of the ulama of Al-Azhar interpreted this dream as an instruction to Khayr al-Din not to oppose his brother and take up the Hanafi madhhab, which he did.

Khayr al-Din and his brother Tajuddin were very successful in learning to the extent that even the rector of the university, Sheikh Abdullah al-Nahiri, invited them to his house for private lessons on the Hanafi madhhab.

Khayr al-Din graduated from the university 4 years later, in 1603, after which he returned to his native Ramli. Here he took up teaching and jurisprudence, as well as the arrangement and administration of mosques and schools. Khayr al-Din al-Ramli did not receive official mufti status from the Ottoman administration, so his activities could not be financed from the funds of the Ministry of Awqaf (religious assets). To finance his Muslim activities, Khayr al-Din al-Ramli took up agriculture. He bought fertile land and set up olive, fig and fruit orchards on them. Funds from agriculture allowed Imam al-Ramli not only to maintain schools and pay scholarships to teachers and students, but also to build mоsques, to support the imams in the countryside, to acquire a huge library of 1,200 books, which he would lend to the ulema of the neighbouring villages.

Devoid of any official status Imam ar-Ramli nonetheless had the highest authority. His fatwas were valued much higher than those of the official mufti. Moreover, he began to carry out his own “certification” of imams and faqihs, and his “certificate of conformity” was greatly appreciated. His fame reached Jerusalem, Damascus and Mecca. Prominent jurists and muftis from everywhere came to him for consultation. Even the Supreme Mufti of Jerusalem humbly asked Imam al-Ramli to test him in his knowledge of Muslim law and issue his “certificate”.

After the death of Imam al-Ramli, his fatwas were published in a separate collection. In our time, they serve as a valuable source for determining the ownership of a particular geographical area of Palestine and are often used to justify various legislative norms.