Sheikh Ahmed bin Hamed al Khalili belongs to my age group. He is two years younger and we lived in neighbouring villages of Mfenesini and Kazole respectively within rural Zanzibar. His presence at his village was on permanent basis as a living resident. As for myself, I used to visit Kazole and resided at our rural abode only on weekends on long school holidays as well as during various family functions. I started being acquainted with the young Sheikh Ahmed when he called at our abode to greet my grandfather Shayb Ahmed bin Ali al Riyami and his two sons, my father Ali and my uncle Mohammed.
He had a special regard for the old man who was locally known as Muammar (of long-lasting life) for he lived for a century plus. It was significant that his visits to greet my said elders took place during his early morning gaits. So early he was on his feet that the gaits coincided with our habitual efforts of picking/ collecting ripe fruits off trees, which should be done during dawn. My father admired Sheikh Ahmed and praised his remarkable efforts to acquire religious lessons from abled Islamic scholars of repute. Among whom I remember a few – Sheikh Zamil bin Mohammed al Alawi, Maalim Shinen Bin Marzuk and Sheikh Isa bin Said al Ismaily who lived nearby.
My father held high the very of the efforts of the young Sheikh Ahmed in knowledge seeking while scolding us for our comparatively futile efforts of no tangible value in sort of fruitbat attitude. Nowadays, the Sheikh tends to dispute my father’s relative comparison whenever I discuss with him the very matter! As if telling me that he was not at all better than us as boys!!
My father had every good reason to predict a bright reverend future for young Sheikh Ahmed whose concentration upon secular education did not match a bit his dedication towards religious studies. Since an early age, he memorized the Holy Quran, apart from being addicted to profuse reading. We never saw him without carrying a book, which he referred to as one’s best worthwhile companion i.e, “Jaliis.”
When we met in Muscat, I was again lucky to be his very close neighbour at Miabini. His house was always packed with Muslim knowledge seekers. He delivered, then, religious sermons in various mosques. Masjid al Khour, near the Muscat Palace, being one. His capability in teaching, lecturing plus explaining away matters lawfully (Iftaa) was acknowledged throughout the Sultanate.
Those immense qualities qualified him to be appointed the Grand Mufti of the Sultanate of Oman. His humbleness allowed me to pay cordial visits to his office – either at the Ministry or at home –time and again until today. I have always been more than welcomed by his Eminence whenever I so visited him, bit by myself or with company.
Notwithstanding his very high position in the Sultanate’s Government apparatus, which entails limited personal encounters, he once allowed me and my first cousin, Saif bin Sleyyum al Busaidi to take a group photo with him in his office.
A presentable photo that represented the preceding picture among many of my book titled, “Being a Mere Mister.” An extremely brief mention of his efforts to seek beneficial knowledge from whoever was included in the very book.
I am privileged to know personally this great man of wisdom and piety whose good company, did consist previously and do consist presently, of respectable God-fearing individuals. And so an envied Allama, Sheikh Ahmed al Khalili has always remained.
Ahmed al Riyami