Shaykh (Sheik) Mustafāal-Marāghī(1881-1945) was an Egyptian jurist and educator who served twice as rector of al-Azhar University and was responsible for modernizing reforms in that institution.
Al-Marāghīwas born in Marāghah, the village after which he is called; the village is headquarters of one of the administrative districts of Egypt. His father, Mustafā, was a shaykh (learned doctor) of al-Azhar and aqādī(judge of a religious court); the family is famous in Egypt for the pursuit of the qādī's profession. Because of his father's position the boy grew up in reasonably comfortable circumstances.
Al-Marāghībegan his education in the village school, and he had memorized the Koran by age ten; his father then sent him to a shaykh in a neighboring village to learn the art of Koran recitation (tilāwah). Shortly after, he was sent to Cairo to study in al-Azhar, where he excelled in his work. By age 12 he was studying some of the most difficult books then being taught by the shaykhs of al-Azhar. As a student al-Marāghīwas dissatisfied with the method of study used in al-Azhar; he felt that it would not lead students to an independent understanding of the subjects nor to proper comprehension of them. He banded together with a group of companions for self study of the classics of the Islamic tradition, which they felt would enlarge their knowledge and strengthen their general culture.
Al-Marāghīcompleted the 12-year course leading to the highest degree of al-Azhar in ten years, impressing his examining committee with his grasp of the subject matter and his comprehension of the problems involved. The chairman of the committee was the famous reformer Muhammad 'Abduh, whose ideas deeply influenced al-Marāghī's mental outlook. 'Abduh was also of much assistance to al-Marāghīin the latter's subsequent career.
In October 1904 al-Marāghīwas appointed qādīin Dongola in the Sudan, but after only two years he was transferred to Khartoum where he occupied the second highest judicial post in the country. In September 1907 he returned to Egypt to take up service as an inspector of religious endowments in the Ministry of Religious Endowments. His responsibilities there included administration of mosques, and he was responsible for such reforms as improvement of the mosque baths and the formulation of a set of regulations for mosques.
He had done this work for less than one year when the government of Sudan requested that he be made QādīalQudāt (chief qādī) of the country. He returned to Sudan in August 1908 and remained there until 1919. Al-Marāghī's greatest gift lay in the area of organization, and he effected important reforms in the system of religious courts in Sudan that made them function more smoothly. During this period he learned English and had close contacts with English administrators, some of whom spoke warmly of his abilities and personal qualities.
While in Sudan al-Marāghīhad often requested to be allowed to return to Egypt, but the authorities had refused. When he did go home he went as chief inspector of the religious courts. Shortly after, in 1920, he became a judge in a religious court. In 1921 he became a member of the High Religious Court and finally in 1923 became its chief justice. In the latter position he was a leader in legal reform in Egypt, especially in the area of Muslim personal law.
In 1928 when the rectorship of al-Azhar fell vacant, the Egyptian prime minister chose al-Marāghīto fill the post. He was 48 years old, the youngest person ever to hold the office, and was not one of the select group of learned doctors known as the "high 'ulamā'." Al-Marāghī, it seems, actively sought the post, but the Azharīs considered him an outsider, and he had little support within the institution. His most significant accomplishment was the submission of a memo that resulted in reorganization of the institution. A distinction was made between pre-college and college level education, and three divisions were established at the college level: one for law, one for religion, and one for the Arabic language. Al-Marāghī's proposed reforms, however, went much beyond this reorganization, and he had to resign in 1929 because of opposition from the Khedive and conservative Azharīshaykhs who found his support for the ideas of Muhammad 'Abduh too radical. Of all that he had attempted, only the reorganization remained, but the era of real reform in al-Azhar may be considered to have begun with his efforts.
Al-Marāghīwas appointed rector of al-Azhar for a second time in April 1935 after an interregnum of six years; he held the post until his death. Little had changed during the interval, and he began once more his work of reform. He created a section that specialized in the preparation of teachers to carry out instruction in the Amīrīyah Madrasah (palace school) and in the religious institutes of al-Azhar and a section that specialized in the preparation of teaching materials. The work in these sections extended over a five year period, and at the end the students received the doctorate of al-Azhar. He was also responsible for sending students abroad for higher studies to Britain, France, and Germany. Upon their return these individuals exerted great influence for the further reform of the university.
Al-Marāghīdied in a hospital in Alexandria on August 22, 1948, and was buried in a special tomb near the shrine of Sayyidnā Nafīsah.
Al-Marāghīwrote extensively on a variety of subjects in the fields of politics, administration, and jurisprudence. His writings, however, are scattered, and there is no one comprehensive work that gives the gist of his thought.
Source materials for the life of al-Marāghīare available only in Arabic. There is a discussion of the reformist ideas that al-Marāghīshared with Muhammad 'Abduh in Albert Hourani, Arabic Thought in the Liberal Age (London, 1962). A detailed history of al-Azhar in the modern period and of al-Marāghī's role in its reform is available in Chris Eccel, al-Azhar in Conflict and Accommodation (Berlin, 1984). The laws enacted for the reform of al-Azhar may be studied in the various issues of Revue des Études Islamiques beginning with an article by Achille Sékaly in vol. 1, 1927.