On February 3, 2021, the great scholar Murabit Ahmad Fal passed away in Mauritania. He was from the Massuma clan which is known for producing ulema. He had a profound impact on the lives of his students and visitors. He began his studies with his father Abdullah bin al-Salik and completed them with Murabit al-Hajj. His son Shaykh Abdullah Ahmadna is a respected scholar who teaches in the mahdara of his late grandfather Murabit al-Hajj.
I asked my teacher Shaykh Muhammad bin Hadameen bin Fahfou, the son of Murabit Muhammad Ameen (affectionately known as Haddamean), to share some reflections on the life of Murabit Ahmad Fal. I have translated his words and followed them up with my own reflections.
Shaykh Muhammad wald Abdur-Rahman
From the beginning to the ending of his life, Murabit Ahmad Fal was like Murabit al-Hajj. He was firm on the Sunnah, a zahid, and a scholar. One difference between them, however, was that Ahmad Fal would openly speak about experiential tasawwuf and would elaborate on the different stations and states of the heart.
He was as Allah describes the true believers, “those whose hearts become fearful when Allah is mentioned.” He exemplified good character and worked hard to help others, and he was not above sharing in physical labor with his students. Over 70 years of his life was all worship—teaching, studying, and qiyam al layl. Someone counted that in 60 years he set out on only 5 travels. We haven’t seen of him except that he’s from the mukhbiteen.
Ahmad Fal fled from fame and worldly positions and buried himself in the soils of obscurity and Allah manifested him as a beloved scholar to all those who met him. Ahmad Fal’s zuhud did not prevent him from solving community issues, resolving disputes, and giving fatwas. He taught Islamic sciences from morning until night. Sometimes zuhud approaches an extreme where people detach themselves from all community issues, and that type of zuhud can be from the nafs.
My father, Murabit Haddamean , told me that when Murabit Ahmad Fal came to study in Murabit al-Hajj’s mahdara he stood out as a hardworking student and it was clear that he would be from the ulema. He even had a strong understanding of Ja’m al Manafi’, a text on medicine. Another companion of his told me that Ahmad Fal stood out as a gifted student who would memorize 30 lines a day. His taqwa and war’a helped him in his memorization and studies.
Many claim to focus on da’wah and teaching, but the difference between them and Murabit Ahmad Fal is that he stayed in one place and was thus able to benefit generations by producing scholars. He had a fortified uprightness that was more beneficial than actions and movements. We have lots of da’is, but not many people with his level of devotion.
Ahmad Fal separated himself from the dunya. For about 50 years he did not have clear water to drink. It was only within the last few years of his life that his village was able to obtain clear drinking water. He lived in a very simple house, and he would go from his home to the masjid, and to the place from which he taught. This was his daily routine for over 50 years.
When my students would visit Mauritania, they would excitedly share their joy at just sitting in Ahmad Fal’s presence. He had a profound impact on those who met him, and was deeply loved by people. We see in him Allah’s statement manifest: “Those who believe and do good deeds, Allah will place for them love.”
Ahmad Fal’s passing away leaves the land barren. The loss of the righteous is like the loss of landmarks on earth used for guidance. The worry is that we will not find others like the righteous people we are losing. The likes of him are especially rare in our time.
انا لله وإنا إليه راجعون
We ask Allah to accept his good actions, have mercy on him, and forgive him.
When you study in a Mauritanian mahdara, you get to know the shuyukh well. The village is like a big house: there are no secrets. You meet your shaykh the person—not the persona. There is no performance on a stage, no marketing, and no one is recruiting you into a group. The focus is on knowledge and you see for yourself who lives up to the standards placed upon us.
Murabit Ahmad Fal was known for his piety, character, asceticism, knowledge, and humble submission to Allah. This was witnessed by scholars, students, and family who have known him closely his entire life. He chose an ascetic life where he taught, studied, worshipped, spent time with his family, and received guests. I witnessed several instances of people traveling from distant cities, seeking his opinion on community issues or a fatwa to resolve a dispute. Murabit Ahmad Fal’s school was in ‘Ayn al Khashba. This was in the desert, nearly an hour off-road by car, yet these people would usually walk about 3 hours in pursuit of his guidance. His zuhud was not rooted in apathy or misanthropy, but in focus on worship.
He had an expansive understanding of sharia. He gave me answers that made my life easier. I asked a couple of younger Mauritanian scholars why they seek his fatwas on issues rather than those of other ulema, and they told me it was because he is vast in how he answers questions. He was also generous in sharing narrations, lines of poetry, and insights.
He was an encouraging and uplifting teacher. I once told him about meeting a mufti in a Muslim country who told me that something haram by consensus was halal. Murabit Ahmad Fal asked me why I didn’t forbid the evil when the mufti said that. I told him that I didn’t think he would care what I had to say given that he had an official position as a mufti, but I conceded that I still should have tried. Murabit Ahmad Fal quickly said that I did in fact forbid the evil, because I rejected his statement in my heart. Then he shared the hadith that if a person cannot change a wrong with his hand or tongue, then it is enough to reject it with the heart, and that I was correct to reject it with my heart in this situation.
On his days off from teaching, Wednesdays and Thursdays, I noticed him going over a grammar text with a young student. I first thought he was teaching, then it became clear that Murabit Ahmad Fal was actually learning from the student. He was reading the Ihmiraar which is a 3000 line commentary on the 1000 line text on grammar by Ibn Malik. I was shocked by this, and asked the student how old he was, and why Ahmad Fal was reading it with him. He told me he was 23, but his clan specializes in language- and part of their curriculum is to memorize books of hadith just for grammar and rhetorical points. He said they aren’t very strong in fiqh, so they go to the mahdaras of the Massuma for that.
Murabit Ahmad Fal was very open in answering questions about different ranks of awliya, spiritual states, and ma’rifa and could answer with poems he memorized. I thanked him once for giving detailed answers on these topics and said that many other shuyukh say to focus on knowledge. He replied, “This is knowledge.”
He stressed that someone ignorant of the sharia can never be a wali. He emphasized that the correct tasawwuf which remained after the prophetic period is in following the sunnah, sticking to the sharia, and having taqwa.
In quoting verses on the merits of having taqwa, he added that when Allah says he is with those who have taqwa, “with” means through i’rfaan and that He assists them with fayd-rabbani.
He liked the following poem by Muhammad Mawlud for describing awliya
آيات الأولياء في ابيات نظمتها لطالب الآيات
علامة الولي عند العلما هجران ما الله تعالىى حرما
مع المداومة للطاعات وترك الانهماك في اللذات
[Herein] I have composed a few lines,
for those seeking of the saints’ notable signs.
According the scholars, the sign of a saint
is [his] forsaking what Allah has forbade.
And obedience to Allah in constant measure,
and eschewing excess in mirthful pleasures.
The night before he passed away I was going through some of my recorded lessons with him and the various questions and answers I had compiled over the years. In matters of tasawwuf, he emphasized the centrality of knowledge and said that when a powerful spiritual state comes to an ignorant person it often deludes and misguides him; but when received on the heart of someone who knows the sharia, it is good and strengthens him. He would emphasize that for ma’rifa one needs knowledge, which is a prerequisite for taqwa. This leads to performing good actions and avoiding sins, which then leads to spiritual states, stations, and ma’rifa. Thereafter, the ranks of the awliya vary according to their yaqeen. The example he gave was of Sayyyida Khadija having the highest rank out of the wives of the Prophet ﷺ. He stated that although Sayyida Aisha had the most knowledge, Sayyida Khadija had the most yaqeen in the Prophet ﷺ and what was revealed to him. He added that both Abu Bakr al-Sideeq and Sayyida Khadija were given salaam from Allah and Sayyida Aisha was given salaam from Jibrail.
He often repeated Muhammad Habiballah ibn Mayaba’s poem and would say this is all of Tasawwuf:
جربت والتجريب كالمربى أن ليس نافعا لداء القلب
مثل كتاب الله بالتدبر والموت بالدوام كل الأعصر
كذا حديث أشرف الرسل الكرام عليه والآل الصلاة والسلام
هذا هو التصوف النفوع وشأنه بين الورى مرفوع
لأنه مشاهد لايُنكَرُ وهو على شرع النبي مُقررُ
I’ve discovered from experience, and experience is the best spiritual guide,
that there is nothing as beneficial to the heart’s sickness
as [reciting] the Book of Allah with contemplation,
and remembering death in every moment;
and the traditions of the noblest of the esteemed Messengers,
may blessings and peace be upon him and his progeny.
This is the beneficial tasawwuf,
whose reality is exalted among humanity,
for it is attested to–there’s no denial–
for it is established upon the Law of the Prophet.
After finishing his recitation he’d say “This is true tasawwuf.” He repeated time after time that the path to ma’rifa is through tasawwuf al-shar’i, which is acquiring knowledge, acting accordingly, and avoiding sins.
He stated that after acquiring obligatory knowledge one may continue seeking knowledge as worship, or focus on spiritual edification, and as long as there is no innovation or opposition to the sharia, there are many paths which lead to Allah.
He was adamant against innovations in religion, and would say that any innovative belief one holds is a barrier between him and Allah. He stated that an innovator can never arrive to Allah because he does not embrace the sharia of the Prophet ﷺ.
Murabit Ahmad Fal is one of the highest exemplars of the sunnah I have ever seen. People like him prove that descriptions of awliya who remind you of Allah and benefit you by their presence before their speech are not exaggerations. Such people are becoming fewer and fewer. When Muslims are only acquainted with false claimants of tasawwuf, or those reputed as pious through myth building to raise funds, amass followers, and become influencers, it’s not hard to understand why such skepticism exists. Perhaps, in our context, the greater problem is a lack of skepticism.
The same praise I give Murabit Ahmad Fal is heaped upon charlatans. I repeat that Murabit Ahmad Fal’s life was well known by those learned and firm in the sharia, those who knew both his personal and private life. This is not comparable to being praised by those in want of a quasi-transcendental figure. Nor is this comparable to knowing someone from afar, in a society where double-lives are easy to live and people are easy to fool. Likewise, it is dissimilar to someone praised for piety by those who are not deeply learned in Islam, or by those who ignore harmful behavior to preserve nostalgia or to benefit from having a saintly figure to market.
I once asked Murabit Ahmad Fal why we are seeing less of the righteous people now and he said that the further we get from the Prophet’s ﷺ time the more darkness will come into the world. He then mentioned the hadith about scholars dying and people taking the ignorant as their leaders. The passing of Murabit Ahmad Fal truly is another light lost from the world and it leaves a void. We ask Allah to have mercy on him, forgive him, and elevate his rank.