One of the Maraji` of Sham
He is Ahmad ibn Salih ash-Shami in the year 1322 in the city of Duma, a hamlet not far from Damascus. He had a good family and his parents were noble of character and hard working. At a tender age, he started at his studies and excelled but upon the death of his father, he left school in the third grade in search of work to feed his mother and his other brother.
His made his way into the trade of baking and he started out in the town bakery making bread. While selling bread, he noticed that some of the people were not very proficient in writing and neither were their children. So for a small fee, he used to teach people to read. After a stint at the bakery, the Imam found his way into the market and became a merchant. Imam Salih quickly proved himself to be trustworthy, thrifty and also good natured to his customers. Of the wealth that he generated while in the market trade, he only kept a small part for himself and household needs while the capital he reinvested.
Soon the Imam was married and also had to put aside money to take care of his wife and children, including his sons Salih and `Abdur-Rahman.
Although busy with work and teaching his own children, this did not stop the Shaikh from continuing his own studies.
When not busy in pursuit of the Sustenance of Allah sent down, he would primarily be in the classes of none other than the great marja` and teacher, Imam Mustafa ibn Ahmad ibn Hasan ash-Shatti ad-Dumi. Classmates included Shaikh Muhammad as-Sayyid and Shaikh Muhammad Mufid an-Naqshabandi, son of the Egyptian marja`, Imam Ahmad as-Sa`ati. Indeed it was these men that were the maraji` of their time and day.
Books covered by the classmates included:
Beg: Ad-Dalil ut-Talib Li-Nail il-Ma’arib Imam Mar`ii ibn Yusuf al-Karmi (d. 1033 AH) along with notes on Zad ul-Mustaqni` fi Ikhtisar il-Muqni` by Imam Mansur ibn Yunus al-Buhuti (d. 1051 AH).
Inter: Ghayat ul-Muntaha by Imam Mar`ii ibn Yusuf al-Karmi. This text was a joining between the original text of the author, Al-Muntaha, as well as the work Al-Iqna`, penned by the Palestinian giant, Imam Musa ibn Yahya al-Hajjawi (d. 968 AH).
Adv. Al-Ghayah, a work dually authored and collected by the two authorities, Imams Hasan ibn `Umar ash-Shatti (d. 1274 AH) and Mustafa as-Suyuti ar-Ruhaibani, may Allah be pleased with both of them.
Beg. and Inter: Lum`at ul-I`tiqad al-Hadi ila Sabil ir-Rishad by Imam Muwaffaq ud-Din Ibn Qudamah and its’ associated commentaries. Much fruit was gleaned by the Imam from these works and his wisdom showed in his later dealings with people.
Beg. and Inter: In this area the Imam mostly consulted the works of Imams Muhammad Ahmad as-Saffarini (d. 1188 AH), Mustafa ash-Shatti (d. 1346 AH), Ibn al-Mabrid (d. 909 AH) as well as Al-Balbani (d. 1083 AH), may Allah have mercy upon all of them.
Thus in terms of his attitude and nature, he was upon the way of Imam `Abdul Qadir al-Jilani, may Allah be pleased with him, in his stringency and adherence to the Revealed Law and humanity; but in his outward manifestation he was upon the way of the Shaikh Mustafa ash-Shatti and others who had the Khalwati branch of the Qadiris, that insisted upon dhikr that reached its’ pinnacle in peace and blessings sent upon the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, the night of Friday.
The Imam was exultant when his brother became old enough to assist him at the market and in his other labour tasks. This gave him time to give even more dedication to study. Seeing the promise in Shaikh Ahmad ash-Shami, the younger brother pushed the elder to work harder in his efforts and to strive to complete the noble endeavour.
Imam Ahmad ibn Salih ash-Shami arrived in Damascus not long after ceding some of the duties in his market job to his younger brother. He sat with numerous scholars while there and dedicated much to the science of hadith and its’ disciplines. Having memorised the Qur’an in his youth, commentary literature on the Qur’an was much easier to work with and opened his mind to the treasures of the Book of Allah.
Then came the year 1369 AH, which the shaikh was offered marja`iyyah. He flatly refused it and attempted to resist the position as the weight was too great for him. However, both scholars in particular and people in general of the laity kept up their efforts.
Their persistence continued so that this was the year that the Shaikh was conferred the title of marja`, after having been a mufti for over ten years. Several shaikhs had conferred marja`iyyah upon him and advised him sincerely that when he returns from Damascus he is to take responsibility alongside of the sons of the late marja`, Shaikh Mustafa ash-Shatti, and others at the largest masjid in the hamlet.
Shaikh Ahmad ash-Shami was humbled by the responsibility and upon return went to work with enthusiasm and diligence that encouraged those around him to work to a higher standard.
Now as a marja`, Imam ash-Shami was busier than ever and he had a number of issues to complete. He had already founded a madrasah as well as a seminary in the year 1355 AH in an attempt to stamp out illiteracy among young adults and the elderly who may have left school to support their families.
During this time, a very tiny contingent of Hanafis approached him and asked if he could give any fatawa based on their madhhab. The Imam was surprised as there were virtually no Hanafis known in Sham and that in Duma, Ruhaibah and other areas, there were hardly any books printed and they were mainly in manuscript form. There were no madrasahs or any other places and the people of Duma had no use for any school other than their own.
The Imam looked through the manuscripts in Hanafi fiqh and found that no one had checked them out and almost no one knew about them. They were difficult to read and almost impossible to decipher.
In his life the Imam busied himself in teaching, preaching and giving people greater guidance in Islam. He would always ask the name, family and general state of the person visiting him before giving fatwa as he was sure to learn about the state of the people before ruling on that condition.
Imam Ahmad ash-Shami was not known to have written down his fatawa by his own hand; but he would dictate them in prose to gatherings and/or narrate them to students who would write them down.Death visited the Imam in the month of Safar, the year of 1414 AH after a brief illness.
In his last days, he stayed at home and allowed visitors. He never turned away any visitor and fed, gave drank to and showed good cheer towards every questioner, resident in Duma or visiting from foreign delegations.
Foreign dignitaries, judges, muftis, other maraji` spent time with the Imam. Much has been left behind of him in the form of his inheritance, the wealth of knowledge that he has left behind that has touch people directly or indirectly. This inheritance includes:
Shaikh Salih ibn Ahmad ash-Shami
Shaikh `Abdur-Rahman ash-Shami
Shaikh Isma`il ibn Badran
And Allah has blessed the Shaikh and favoured him with much fruit to where the Hanbalis of Palestine, Arabia and Egypt have scholars bearing his chain of transmission. May Allah bless all of our authorities.