Shaykh Allamah al Hajj Tawfiq al Azhari: Revisiting The Neglected Legacy of Indigenous Imams In America
Shaykh Allama Al-Hajj Ahmad Tawfiq, the founding Imam of the Mosque Islamic Brotherhood, Inc., was born in Newberry, South Carolina on September 20, 1936. He came to New York City at the age of eight and attended schools in New York City. He was athletically talented all of his life. As an adolescent, he played football for DeWitt Clinton High School, and enjoyed swimming. As an adult he took to long-distance running and excelled in martial arts. He also possessed a musical talent that he developed through studies at the Manhattan School of Music, where he became proficient on the French Horn. Shaykh Tawfiq played with the Prince Hall Symphony Band and later conducted the Cairo Symphony Orchestra.
He was an American of African descent who also traced his lineage to Osceola, the Seminole warrior chief. He embraced Islam as teenager, and this became the focal point of his life for almost thirty years. Shaykh-‘Allama Tawfiq, served as a non-commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force. He later became a member of the Muslim Mosque, Inc., the organization founded by the late Al-Hajj Malik Shabazz (popularly known as Malcolm X). In order to help raise the level of Islamic scholarship among Muslim Americans of African decent, he went to study at Al-Azhar University, the oldest and most prestigious institution of Islamic education in the world, in Cairo, Egypt. While there, Shaykh-‘Allama Tawfiq studied Islamic and International Jurisprudence. He also attended The Academy of Islamic Research in Egypt, The Sadiyya School of Semitic Languages, and the Goth School of German Languages. He studied several tongues, including Arabic, Swahili, Hebrew, Spanish, French, German, Chinese and Japanese. A gifted liguist, he distinguished himself as a speaker, teacher and translator of Classical Arabic.
While a student at Al-Azhar, the Shaykh-‘Allama conceived the establishment of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood. When he returned to the United States, he and several associates formed the congregation and the organization known by that name. The mosque is located in Harlem, and is known for its contributions to the establishment and development of Islam in North America, and the improvement of the quality of life in the Harlem community.
Shaykh-‘Allama Tawfiq’s goal was to present a true picture of Islam in the United States, at a time when it was greatly misunderstood. He strongly advocated the establishment of an indigenous Muslim intelligentsia, and he is the father of the movement to do so. His vision included the establishment of instructions that reflect the culture and dignity of the religion of Islam. His commitment was to the upliftment of the American of African descent through the teachings of this increasingly popular faith. He viewed Islam as the means by which many of the social and psychological ills of his people could be cured. He devoted his life to those ends, and it was his sincerest desire that Muslims leave this profound legacy to their children.
From the late 1960s through the mid-1980s, Shaykh-’Allaama Al-Hajj K. Ahmad Tawfiq established a standard amongst Muslim Americans of African descent of delivering weekly khutab (sermons) in both Qur’anic Arabic and English. He was a visionary leader who regularly taught and published English translations of the proper ‘Aqeedah (binding beliefs and practices) of the Ahlus-Sunna wal Jamaat (”The People of the Sunna and unified Community”), some 30 years before the coming of the Salafi movement to America. They appeared regularly in The Western Sunrise, an independent newspaper published by the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood. When Minister Malcolm X formed the Muslim Mosque, Inc. after embracing the Sunna, K. Ahmad Tawfiq became a member. As such, he received a scholarship to study at Al-Azhar University. He began his studies there in September, 1964, the same year as Akbar Muhammad, the older brother of Imam W.D. Muhammad and a professor at the State University of New York. Upon Shaykh Tawfiq’s return to the United States two years after the martyrdom of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (May Allah grant him the promised reward of all true martyrs, which is paradise), Sister Betty Shabazz asked him to tutor their three eldest daughters (see Ilyasah Shabazz’s book, Growing Up X, pp. 57-59). He taught them Arabic and Islamic studies as well as African and African American history. He extended his teaching of these subjects to his people and others.
In 1977, Shaykh-’Allama Tawfiq produced an album of Qur’anic recitation (Sura Yasin and Sura Yusuf). This was the first time a recording of this type had been done by an American. It was distributed throughout the country and is now available on CD. In 1979, dedicated to “giving a true presentation of Al-Islam to American society,” Shaykh Tawfiq began the now-common practice in New York City of representing Al-Islam in large public events that were both civil and religious in nature. His student, Imam Al-Hajj Talib ‘Abdur-Rashid, continues this practice today. His da’wa (i.e. propagational) efforts were relentless. He spoke regularly in venues ranging from community-based forums to college campuses, religious seminars to radio and television programs, teaching and clarifying Al-Islam during a time when the organization known as the Nation of Islam was at its height.
Years before tariqas from abroad became prevalent in the United States, the Shaykh-’Allama taught his students the value of tazkiyya (purification of the soul) and athkaar (dhikrs) centered on the Asmaaul-Husna (99 names of Allah), from that which has been transmitted from Almighty Allah (Glory be to Him) and His Messenger Muhammad (May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). In 1975 he recorded live with his congregation, awraad (Islamic litanies), expressive of this dimension of worship.
Shaykh-’Allaama Tawfiq was known and respected as a leader in both Muslim and non-Muslim circles. His leadership and vision resulted in the inclusion of the Muslim holy days of the ‘Eidul-Fitr and ‘Eidul-Adha to the City of New York’s official calendar and cancellation of alternate side of the street parking for these holy days.
Source: Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood