Tribute to Sharif Abdinoor: The Preeminent Scholar of Somalia (1941-2017)
The passing away of Sharif Abdinoor Sharif Hassan Sharif Adan in Makkah, Saudi Arabia saddened Somalis all over the world. For readers who may not be familiar, the epithet “Sharif”, meaning “honorable” is a title used for descendants of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by way of his grandsons, Sayid Hassan and Sayid Hussein (May Allah be pleased with them).
In Islamic history, the Prophet’s cousin and Companion Sayid Ali Ibn Abi Talib married Fatima bint Muhamammad (daughter of the Prophet) – May Allah be pleased with them. Their progeny are known as the “Ashraf” in many parts of the Muslim world and they bear the title “Sharif”.
Sharif Abdinoor was the undisputed contemporary mufti, imam, and sheikh of Somali language speakers worldwide. He had a far-reaching influence on the advancement of Islamic and Arabic scholarship in Somalia.
He exhibited selfless commitment in the service of Islam and Muslims throughout his life. It is amazing to find how far reaching the Sharif’s teachings have become for Somalis at home and abroad.
So many Somalis have shared how they have studied under him or listened to the wealth of audio and video recordings he left behind. The fact that so many people speak highly of him is a tribute to the blessings of his work and its acceptance in the Sight of Allah. This is a brief biography of Sharif Abdinoor, whose loss many prominent Somalis have expressed their thoughts.
Childhood: Sharif Abdinoor Sharif Hassan was born around Fiiq Township in Nogob area within the Somali region in Ethiopia in 1941. The lifestyle in this region was nomadic and people moved from place to place in search of better pasture. So, the Sharif would have grown up as a nomadic sheep, cattle, or camel herder.
Also, there was no precise birth record keeping at that time and people would often use the spring season to mark one’s age. Usually, approximate birth dates would be selected much later when an individual moves to the city. This is not to say this practice applies specifically in the case of Sharif Abdinoor.
Under colonial rule, the area was severely under developed and children did not have access to formal educational system, as we know it today. However, the Sharif was from a noble religious family as his father, brothers, and uncles were all well versed in different branches of Islamic knowledge within the Shafi’i School of Jurisprudence. He memorized the Qur’an at a young age and then studied under various scholars in the “Xer” informal non-degree granting system.
His teachers or sheikhs included his brother, Sharif Abdullahi Sharif Hassan, Sheikh Ahmed Barud, Sheikh Hassan Moallim Ali (known as Marreexaan), and Sheikh Ali Jowhar. In this system, students would often travel to towns or cities known for certain specializations. So, Sharif Abdinoor traveled to Baabily, Harar, and Jigjiga – all within Ethiopia – for further studies. Some of the available fields of study were Arabic language, Fiqh (Jurisprudence), Usul Al-Fiqh (Foundations Jurisprudence), and Tafsir (Qur’anic Exegesis).
The tradition was for a group of young men to study a certain book or field of study in temporary encampments that moved from settlement to settlement. They would sit around a teacher who would read and explain that particular subject. Memorization, buddy support, and cooperative study habits were used to inculcate and retain the information.
Studying in Egypt: In his late teens, Sharif Abdinoor traveled to Egypt via Sudan, to further his education. This was a common practice in those days for young men to leave as a group without funding or support to undertake an arduous journey in search of education. They relied on the goodwill of communities along the way and hospitality of host countries in the new land. Generosity and welcoming the stranger were deep virtues. Sharif Abdinoor studied one year of high school then moved on to the prestigious Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt.
It is considered as one of the first institutions of higher learning in the Muslim world and was established in the 10th Century by the Fatimid Dynasty. Sharif Abdinoor joined the College of Sharia and Law for his Bachelor’s degree and the College of Fundamentals of Jurisprudence for his Master’s degree.
Teaching Roles: Sharif Abdinoor returned to Somalia around 1970 to start his work as a teacher, preacher, and scholar. When he came back, Somalia was a communist country under the military rule of General Mohamed Siyad Barre. The socialist system took a hard-line position against free preaching of religion and the government curtailed the activities of scholars.
This must have been very difficult for Sharif Abdinoor to teach his knowledge openly. But, rather than leave the country, he chose to stay. He was jailed briefly in the mid seventies. He taught Arabic at the polytechnic institute and later at Lafole College of Education, on whose faculty he served for a long time. Many prominent Somalis studied under him and fondly express their gratitude to him.
Studying in Saudi Arabia: In 1984, Sharif Abdinoor enrolled in the Institute of Arabic Language, King Saud University, Rayadh, to pursue an Advanced Diploma in Arabic. After that, he got another opportunity to study at the Institute for training Islamic Preachers and Imams in Makkah.
Focus on the Science of Hadith: It seems Sharif Abdinoor saw clear gap in the study of Hadith Sciences in Somalia. So, he returned to focus on this field. Today, he is recognized as the undisputed authority on Hadith. This led him to an intense life-long pursuit of spreading the Sunnah, the second source of Islam, in Masjid study circles and academia.
His explanations and commentary on most of the Prophet’s Ahadith have been recorded in audiotapes and became a reliable source of religious knowledge for the Somali speaking public. For instance, Sharif Abdinoor’s recordings of the Authentic Six Books of Hadith are available.
1. Sahih Bukhari, collected by Imam Bukhari (d. 870), includes 7000+ ahadith
2. Sahih Muslim, collected by Muslim b. al-Hajjaj (d. 875), includes 9000+ ahadith
3. Sunan al-Nasa’i, collected by al-Nasa’i (d. 915)
4. Sunan Abu Dawood, collected by Abu Dawood (d. 888)
5. Jami al-Tirmidhi, collected by al-Tirmidhi (d. 892)
6. Sunan ibn Majah, collected by Ibn Majah (d. 887)
Also, (Mayow 2012, p. 101) reports that Sharif Abdinoor’s recordings of Bulugh Al-Maram (Attainment of the Objective) and Riyadh Assaliheen (Gardens of the Righteous) are widely used in Somali.
Moderation in His Teaching: In addition to Hadith, Sharif Abdinoor contributed immensely to guiding contemporary Islamic thought in Somalia. He called for moderation and comprehensive understanding of the religion. He also counseled Somalis on maintaining respectful dialogue and tolerance to resolve divergent views.
He believed in the dissemination of knowledge and gradual application of religious teachings. Sharif Abdinoor also took courageous positions in some difficult situations of the Somali civil war. He spoke truth to power to politicians and faction leaders, which put him at risk.
Character Traits: Contemporaries of Sharif Abdinoor universally agree on his love of learning and servant leadership. He was described as pious, ascetic, patient, humble, quiet, gentle, caring, forgiving, unifying, inclusive, courageous, and accessible.
Death: Sharif Abdinoor remained in Somalia until it became unbearable for him to stay. A car in which he was a passenger was targeted in 1992 and the Sharif suffered two bullet wounds that severely affected his health. He settled in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, close to the Sacred Masjid to focus on worship. Sharif Abdinoor passed away in Makkah on July 6, 2017.
His funeral prayer was held at the Masjid Al-Haram and he was buried in Makkah. Sharif Abdinoor leaves behind a wife and nine children. May Allah forgive him, grant him Mercy, and place him in the highest level of Paradise.
Mayow, A. A. (2012). Nayl al-aamaal fee taraajum a’laam as-soomaal. Khartoum, Sudan: Sharkat madhaabi’ as-suudaan
The six authentic hadith books, retrieved on 7/9/ 2017 from https://www.hilalplaza.com/blogs/what-is-islam/120778691-sihah-sitta-the-six-authentic-hadith-books
Masjid Dar Al-Hijrah, Minneapolis