He is Muhammad al-Khidr ibn al-Hussain ibn `Ali ibn `Umar al-Hasani at-Tunisi al-Maliki. This noble scholar comes from the household of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, through his grandson Al-Hasan al-Mujtaba ibn `Ali, peace be upon both of them.
Through his mother, his lineage goes back to Algeria and also runs up to great scholars such as Shaikh Muhammad `Azuz. This is in addition the fact that he also has Idrisi lineage that terminates in Morocco.
Early Life and Upbringing
Born in Tunis on the 26th Rajab in the year 1293, he showed promise in all of his studies by first memorising the Qur’an before his adolescence. By the year 1305 he had already begun serious studies of the Revealed Law with local scholars such as his uncle, Shaikh Muhammad Al-Makki ibn `Azuz.
The Imam entered Jami` az-Zaitunah in Tunisia in the year 1307 and began an intensive programme of the study of fiqh, creed and also the fundamentals of fiqh. His teachers include the shaikhs `Umar ibn ash-Shaikh, Muhammad an-Najjar as well as Salim Buhajib.
Imam Muhammad al-Khidr graduated from Az-Zaitunah in the year 1317 AH with high honour, teacher licenses in the six hadith books, the commentary of the Qur’an and the expertise in the recitals of Hafs from `Asim, Warsh from Nafi` and Qalun from Nafi`.
In the year 1321 AH, the Imam would found a magazine with other notable scholars, naming it As-Sa`adat ul-`Uzma. This was the first magazine founded in North Africa that gave the people consistent access to scholarly resources and a place to ask questions.
Previous to that time, the people would have to come in person; but with such unrest looming in the north of Africa between the Italians, English, French, Americans on one side and the Muslims on the other, it became necessary to consider answering questions that Muslims could send from the safety of their own home.
The years 1325-1326 proved to be busy, with the Imam returning to Zaitunah and also establishing another institute, named Jami` us-Sadiqah. He was also instrumental in forming the only secondary school in Tunisia at the time.
All of the others previous to then were run by colonial authorities and they sought to breed Arabic and Islam out of students and bizarre torture techniques were used on the children. The Imam interfered in this to assist the children and protected their minds from molestation.
Secularism was a new force in North Africa and challenging it would mean that one would have to do so with force of arms but precede that with force of mind. After opening new schools, the Imam held one of his first lectures on the topic, entitled “Al-Hurriyah Fil-Islam (Freedom in Islam).”
The students connected with their teacher and understood all of the material presented. The book was a bestseller and today still resonates. The next book that came was Al-Ilhad (Atheism and Secularism), which covered the topics of Secularism, Social Darwinism, Cultural Relativism and the beginning of the American century.
The Imam is believed to perhaps have been the first one to have coined the term `Ilmaniyyah (“Secularism”) and then discussed it in details as a separate subject besides crude forms of atheism.
War broke out in the year 1327 and intensified in 1328 and the Imam was adamant about supporting our troops. He brazenly passed rulings stating that the Ottomans should be helped and the Italians fought and resisted by all means possible.
After fortifying people with the knowledge of falsehood of secularism, now people were able to fight it, uproot it and destroy it in an armed struggle. There were attempts on the life of the Imam in 1330 and so knowing his life to be in danger, he gathered his family and left the region he was living in at the time.
Although now in exile officially, he still continued to agitate against the Italians, Americans, French and others in the area and eventually found himself in Egypt surrounded by scholars who admired his struggle and continued bravery.
However, the Imam could not stay put in Egypt while the Europeans were set to be involved in their first civil war. During the war between the Europeans, the Imam travelled to the newly carved out countries of Syria, Lebanon and Transjordan in order to have the people fight against the invading powers.
This would land Imam Muhammad al-Khidr Hussain into a series of imprisonments and releases throughout the Muslim world between the years 1333-1337 AH. After every release, he would find himself back in jail again due to something he said or did.
After 1337, things normalised for him and he returned to his travels.
Having already pronounced all forms of political allegiance outside of Islam as kufr and citizenship as a branch of it, Imam Muhammad al-Khidr Hussain continued a fierce writing programme and fought against the growth of new “islams.”
By shedding light on these new interpretations and the wickedness of modernism, he was able to give the Muslims in general and scholars in particular a 30 year head start to prepare for a long and drawn out ideological war that would be around the corner.
In the year 1349, he was declared marja` by a panel of scholars in Egypt and began writing and teaching in Al-Azhar, benefiting the scholars and the students with his vision of a Muslim world prepared to face an enemy with numerous heads and tentacles spread throughout the world.
He became Shaikh al-Azhar by the consensus of the Egyptian scholars in the year 1371 AH, a momentous moment indeed. He was the first Tunisian, in fact the first non-Egyptian to have been selected as Shaikh al-Azhar.
The honour would last for only a few moments as communism came to Egypt in the same year and this began the tyrannical rule of Gamel Abdel Nasser, the communist general who had studied Marx and Engels in Arabic while at Moscow and also in Sandhurst in the UK.
Imam Muhammad al-Khidr Hussain was told in no uncertain terms that the post of Shaikh al-Azhar had been subsumed into the government and was now under the control of the ministry of religion, thus making him an official. Rather than deal with the complications of what that would mean and bless secularism, he resigned.
This would be another first for Al-Azhar. No Imam had every resigned before that time but this was a principled man who chose to resign a post rather than his principles.
Later years and death
After his resignation, the Imam left and headed back to what he loved best: teaching and preaching. His writing output increased and so did his student base. The total number of books and rulings written in articles he left behind is just under the number 100, a startling achievement for a man whose life was so filled with turmoil. His death came on Monday, the 13th of Rajab in the year 1377 AH.