Al-Baruni was born in the Jabal Nafusa in what was then the vilayet of Tripolitania, part of the Ottoman Empire, around 1870. His family belonged to the Ibadi sect of Islam, and he studied at the major universities of Al-Azhar in Egypt and Ez-Zitouna in Tunisia. In Cairo he founded a newspaper and later a printing press. During the reign of Abdul Hamid II, he was arrested several times by the Ottoman authorities on the accusation that he was planning to re-establish an Ibadi imamate or emirate in the Jabal Nefusa. In the general election of 1908, following the Young Turk Revolution, al-Baruni was elected to the Chamber of Deputies as the member for the Jabal Gharbi.
Following the outbreak of the Italo-Turkish War in 1911, al-Baruni immediately began recruiting Berbers to resist the invasion. He played a leading role at the Congress of Aziziyya, a meeting of important Tripolitanian leaders, in late October 1912, following the Ottoman capitulation. He eventually sought an understanding with the Italians in the hopes of creating an autonomous Ibadi principality centred on the Jabal Nefusa and Marsa Zuaga. At minimum he hoped the Berbers would receive special privileges in the new Italian Libya. What remained of Berber resistance in Tripolitania was crushed at the battle of al-Asabʿa on 23 March 1913. Al-Baruni and several other leaders who had been connected with the Ottomans, went into voluntary exile in French Tunisia. Italy sent Count Carlo Sforza to Tunisia to persuade the exiles to return. Al-Baruni was the first to be convinced, suggesting to the other that they should return to Tripolitania in exchange for an agreement from Italy that they could retain the position in Tripolitanian society and that their past resistance would not be held against them. Al-Baruni seems even to have been promised Berber autonomy. The Italians also asked him to write a monograph on the Jabal Gharbi.
Al-Baruni did not return until October 1916, when he was appointed governor (Arabic wāli, Turkish vali) of Tripolitania, Tunisia and Algeria by the Ottoman sultan in the midst of the First World War. None of these territories were under actual Ottoman control at the time, but the Ottomans were actively working to organise the war against Italy in Tripolitania. In November 1918, al-Baruni was one of four local notables elected to represent the Tripolitanian Republic that was proclaimed in the aftermath of the Ottoman surrender. With the promulgation of the Legge Fondamentale (Fundamental Law) in June 1919, al-Baruni made his peace with Italy.
By September 1921, as a result of the Italian policy of divide and conquer, there was a civil war in Libya between the Berbers, who increasingly looked to Italy for protection, and the Arabs. Among the Berbers, al-Baruni was widely blamed for this state of affairs. He went into his final exile in November 1921. He traveled to France, Egypt, Turkey and Mecca before settling in Oman. There he was appointed finance minister. After his death, his daughter, Za'ima bint Sulayman, gathered some of his papers and published them at Tripoli in 1964 under the title Safahat khalida min al-jihad li'l-mujahid al-Libi Sulayman al-Baruni.
- Explanatory notes
- Anna Baldinetti, "Italian Colonial Rule and the Muslim Elites in Libya: A Relationship of Antagonism and Collaboration", in Meir Hatina (ed.), Guardians of Faith in Modern Times: ʻUlamaʼ in the Middle East (Leiden: Brill, 2009), pp. 91–108, at 96–102.
- Rachel Simon, Libya Between Ottomanism and Nationalism: The Ottoman Involvement in Libya during the War with Italy (1911–1919) (K. Schwarz, 1987), p. 229; for al-Baruni's military command in the First World War, see Angelo Del Boca, Mohamed Fekini and the Fight to Free Libya (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), pp. 61ff.
- Ronald Bruce St John (ed.), "Baruni, Suleiman", Historical Dictionary of Libya, 5th edn. (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014), pp. 56–57.
- Corò, Francesco (1938). "Una interessante pagina di storia libica: Suleiman el Baruni, il sogno di un principato berbero e la battaglia di Asàaba (1913)". Gli Annali dell'Africa Italiana. 1 (3–4): 959–69.
- Peterson, J. E. (1987). "Arab Nationalism and the Idealist Politician: The Career of Sulayman al-Baruni". In J. Piscatori; G. S. Harris. Law, Personalities and Politics in the Middle East. Washington, D.C. pp. 124–39.
- Veccia Vaglieri, Laura (2001). "al-Baruni, Sulayman". Encyclopedia of Islam. Leiden.