Shekh Muhammad Tānī

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According to the Amharic biographical account published four years after his death, Muhammad Tānī was born at Ančarro/Kärabitti in Qallu awrağğa, south Wällo administrative zone in 1906 Ethiopian calendar (E.C). /1913-14 A.D. His father was al-Hāğğ Habīb, the son of Bašīr, a native of Wälqayet in Təgray, who migrated to Qallu “seeking knowledge” (talab al-‘ilm). Muhammad Tānī’s mother was Wäyzäro Fātuma Malik. When Muhammad Tānī was four years old, his father went to Təgray and then to Asmära where he stayed for more than twenty years. Sheikh Muhammad Tānī married Kubrā bt. Sheikh Sa‘īd Mansūr of Wärrä Himäno who bore him six sons: Muhammad Nūr, ‘Abd al-Rahmān, Husayn, Bašīr, Ahmad and Hasan, and two daughters, Maryam and Rahma.


Islamic Education[edit]

Muhammad Tānī’s first Qur’ān teachers were Sheikh Muftī b. Ibrāhīm of Wärrä Babbo and Ahmad Mahallī of Alašša in Wärrä Himäno, who were then the students of al-Hāğğ Ahmad b. Bašīr of Qallu (d.9 June 1948). He studied the Qur’ān, fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), tafsīr (exegesis), mantiq (logic), usūl (fundamentals [of jurisprudence]), hadīt and balāġa (rhetoric) under several ‘ulamā’. At the age of 23, after completing the study of Alfiyya (Kitāb alkhulāsa al-alfiya, a résumé of al-kāfiya by Muhammad ibn Mālik [1203/3-1274], he went to Asmära in search of his father and returned with him after a year. It was in the same year that he set out for the pilgrimage. After completing his religious education in 1937 (1944/45), he taught for many years at mosques and Islamic schools first in Dessie, Wällo and then in Massawa in Eritrea. The Arabic version of the account of his life partly confirms and partly contradicts some facts in the Amharic one as well as providing pieces of additional information in the latter: at the age of seven, he studied the Qur'an under Muftī b. Ibrāhīm and Ahmad Lāšī for four years. He also studied other subjects, especially fiqh according to the Hanafī madhab, under al-Hāğğ Ahmad of Qallu, and nahw (Arabic grammar and syntax) and sarf (morphology) under Sheikh Kämmäläw b. Muhammad (d. A.H.13 Dū’lHiğğa 1367/6 Teqemt 1941 E.C./18 October 1948).

Journey to Mecca[edit]

In A.H. 1357/1938-39 he left for Mecca to perform the pilgrimage. However, on his way to Mecca, he (and his colleague, Sheikh Muhammad Tāğaddīn) stopped at Harqiqo near Massawa where the Muslim elders of the town, in recognition of his erudition and piety, offered him the position of imām of the Mīrġanī Mosque which he accepted. He served in that capacity for several years. Subsequently, he traveled to Mecca and performed the hağğ. On his return to Wällo, Sheikh Muhammad Tānī studied ‘Ālā’ al-Dīn al-Haskafī’s Durr al-Muhtār šarh tanwīr al-absār (a textbook of Hanafī fiqh) under al-Hāğğ Ahmad of Qallu. This was the second time for him to be tutored by the renowned master of fiqh. On the completion of his studies, he received an iğāza. Sheikh Muhammad Tānī and his lifelong colleague traveled to Albukko to pursue their higher Islamic studies under Sheikh Ahmad Nure, and mastered six subjects: tafsīr, balāġa, mantiq, ‘arūd, tawhīd and usūl al-fiqh. Sheikh Ahmad also granted Muhammad Tānī iğāza. From 1951 (1958/59) to 1967 (1974/75), he taught a basic course on Islam to Muslim students at the Wäyzäro Sehin Comprehensive Secondary School in Dessie, and was selected as one of the co-translators of the Holy Qur'an on the orders of Emperor Haile Sellassie I. In 1967 E.C. he moved to the capital to start work on the translation of the Qur'an. From 1969 (1976/78) to 1971 (1978/79) he taught at the Däğğazmač ‘Umar Sämätär School located within the premises of the Anwar Mosque and became deputy imām, (and in 1971 imām and hatīb [deliverer of the Friday sermon] of the mosque]). He also privately taught hadīt, balāġa, tafsīr and mantiq to advanced students at his home.

Key Roles for the Muslim Community[edit]

After the outbreak of the revolution, Sheikh Muhammad Tānī became the founding chairman of the Mağlis (Ethiopian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs), a member of the central committee of the national literacy campaign, the relief coordination committee and several other national committees. In early Mäskäräm 1967, he led a Muslim delegation to, and had an audience with, Lt. Colonel Aman Mika’él Andom, chairman of the Därg, and on behalf of Ethiopian Muslims, he expressed support for the ongoing changes. On the occasion of the first official celebration of ‘Īd al-Fitr, he reiterated such support and made a reference to the fact that in the past, a delegation representing the Muslim residents of Addis Ababa used to go to the imperial palace twice annually after the two ‘Īd prayers in order to express their good wishes to the emperor on the occasion of the celebration of the Islamic festivals. He noted that after the revolution, they were allowed to celebrate the festival within the premises of the principal mosque in the presence of senior government officials. He also alluded to the fact that Ethiopian Muslims had long been prevented from taking part in national affairs and discriminated against in education, administration and the army. Finally, he called upon the government to grant land for the construction of a new mosque in the capital. In the succeeding years he was elected as a member of the national Šängo (parliament). He attended many international conferences (including one on world peace and disarmament/détente held the USSR), Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Libya, Algeria and other countries. He also took part in an interreligious seminar organized by the government and held from 28 to 30 March 1978 at which he “…expressed appreciation of the fact that Islam had been placed on an equal footing with other religions in Ethiopia.” Sheikh Muhammad Tānī played a crucial role in facilitating the construction of mosques in and outside Addis Abäba, and the establishment and expansion of orphanages by personally endorsing applications for financial and material assistance submitted to him, and approaching Ethiopian Muslim and foreign philanthropists and organizations. Sheikh Muhammad Tānī’s contribution to public and community service was as impressive and outstanding as his accomplishments in Islamic religious scholarship and preaching. He played an active role in transforming the Anwar Mosque from a venue for only formal ritual services into a centre of a vigorous, organized and vibrant social, intellectual and spiritual life and of theological and legal discourse based on consensus, tolerance and legitimacy of diversity and dissent, thereby setting a trend for, and impacting, the wider Muslim community in the country at large. orphanages by personally endorsing applications for financial and material assistance submitted to him, and approaching Ethiopian Muslim and foreign philanthropists and organizations.


Besides co-translating the Qur’ān (with Sheikh Sayed Muhammad Sadiq), Sheikh al-Hāğğ Muhamamd Tānī was the author of the first full-length Amharic biography of the Prophet Muhammad as well as a short introduction (in the form of questions and answers) to the rituals of the greater pilgrimage (hağğ) and the lesser pilgrimage (‘umra), the latter published posthumously. He also contributed an article in Amharic entitled “Mälkam Ar’aya” to the Wäyzäro Sehin Secondary School magazine, Mäskäräm (1956 E.C.). An analysis of the contents of the article clearly reveals his grasp of the crucial importance of modern education. He noted that the awareness of the people about the value and benefits of education was limited and that in the past parents had to be persuaded through various incentives to send their children to school. However, after it was realized that “education was as essential as food and air,” the public demand for the establishment of schools increased. Besides, the government was unable to meet the growing demand. The author then analyzed the situation in the town of Dessie by pointing out that there were only one secondary and three elementary schools, and an Islamic school financed by the Muslim community, in addition to some schools run by the Ethiopian Orthodox church and the Catholic missionaries. But in relation to the public demand and the size of the student population, the number of the existing schools is far from adequate. Sheikh Muhammad Tānī then discussed the problems that students from the rural areas faced in towns one of which was insufficient government stipends which were given only to students who scored high marks (those from the countryside could not achieve this). As a result, many poor students attended classes in conditions of hardship. Since all students of grades seven and eight went to the high school, those coming from remote districts such as Tita, Qäläm Meda, Säyyo, Gärado and Ruga had to leave their homes very early in the morning, often without taking breakfast, and arrived at school late. At the end of the morning shift, they stayed in the school compound with no lunch. In the afternoon, while the other students living in the town returned to school after relaxing in their homes, those from the countryside, attended classes on empty stomach, and trekked back to their villages where they reached after dark. In order to solve this problem, the teachers of the high school contributed money to prepare lunch for the students from the countryside. The coordinator was an American called Kilhefner. In 1955 E.C. (1962/63) a committee was set up for that purpose. That year (1956 E.C.), between 70 and 80 students were assisted by the committee. They were engaged in the work of cleaning up the school compound and gardening, fetching firewood and washing of utensils. Finally, the writer made a strong appeal to people and organizations to assist the poor students.


Following a long illness, Sheikh Muhammad Tānī was admitted into the Black Lion hospital on A.H. 01 Ramadān 1409/6 April 1989). After three weeks of treatment, he died at 2:15 p.m. on Friday 23 Ramadān/10 Miyazya 1981 E.C./ 28 April 1989. His funeral was attended by an estimated crowd of 300,000 people including the patriarch, Abunä Märqoréwos, Täfärra Wändé, deputy prime minister and member of the central committee of the Workers Party of Ethiopia (WPE), and other senior Ethiopian government officials, leaders of other religious communities, ambassadors, representatives of international organizations, colleagues, friends and family members. He was buried at the Kolfe Muslim cemetery in Addis Abäba. Both at the time of his death and after the end of the period of mourning, many people openly admitted that Sheikh al-Hāğğ Muhammad Tānī was irreplaceable, but they soon reconciled themselves to that eventuality as readily as they had accepted the reality of his demise. The author of his brief Arabic biography composed the following lines about the symbolic significance and actual impact of his life and death: laqad māta tawd al-‘ilm wa’l-hilm wa’l-tuqā wa azlama arğā’ al-nawāhī bifaqdihi wasālat dumu‘ al-ša‘b ka’l-ġayt al-hātil imām usiba al-qawm tarran bimawtihi liyabkīh masğid fī yawm wa fī’l-layl litabkīh jum‘at wahutbatuhu al-ahlā liyabkīh tafsīr bidam‘ihi al-hātil watabkīh ġurfat wamaktab mağlis walağnat da‘wat fī kulli al-asā’il Indeed, died the mountain of knowledge, forbearance and devoutness His absence darkened all the directions of the horizon The tears of people poured down like heavy rain [He] was the imām by whose death people were much aggrieved Let the mosque weep day and night Let Friday and his sweet sermon weep Let the exegesis shed its tears Let the room and office of the Mağlis weep And the committee of the da‘wa in every place He concluded: “wa ammā dakā’ihi wa ‘ilmihi fahuwa bahr qa‘ruhu ‘amīq.” (As for his intelligence, cleverness and knowledge, it is [like] a sea whose depth is profound.”)


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