Location: The Masjid of al-Qadi Sind bin Anan
He is al-Hafiz Ahmed bin Muhammad bin Ahmed bin Muhammad bin Ibraheem Silfah Isfahani. The word Silfah is a Persian word composed of two parts “si” meaning three and “lfah” meaning lips. He was given this name because he appeared to have three lips.
He was born in the city of Isfahan in the year 475 AH where he began his initial religious studies. He quickly began focusing on Hadeeth science listening to Isfahan’s erudite scholars, which he continued to do in Baghdad and afterwards in the Hejaz where he also completed his Hajj. On his return east, al-Silafy’s first stop was Hamadan, Iran, where he met the great scholar of Islam Abu Hamdi al-Ghazali (may God be pleased with him). al-Silafy said about him: “I attended a sermon of Imam al-Ghazali and we were in one tight knit group and our hearts were coalescing. He must have been one of the most intelligent being of God’s creation, and the most capable in speech, jurisprudence and other subjects.” Then al-Silafy left the east for the second time and went to Damascus where he studied until 511 AH after which he left for Alexandria where he got married and kept a successful trade. He would become known as a pious man extremely generous with his fortune.
From the outset of al-Silafy’s arrival to Alexandria, he taught Hadeeth. He began giving his sermons initially in the Mosque of the city where he continued receiving students from everywhere until the governor of Alexandria granted him a proper school, to be known as the al-Silafy School. In this school he (may God be pleased with him) remained teaching and instructing for the remaining sixty-four years of his life.
Shaykh al-Silafy was one of the few scholars who truly gave the women scholars their due attention and respect. He described in his book “Mu’jam al-Safar” several prominent women of Alexandria who dedicated themselves to knowledge and character refinement. He shows in the book how he learned from them as they learned from him. The leading women that he learned from were his mother-in-law Aisha and her sister Khadijah. He also met with another Egyptian lady named Hadrat bint al-Mubashir and learned from her and from the poetesses “Taqia bin Ghayth” who was known by the name “Situl Naghamy” (The Lady of Melody).
al-Silafy occupied an honorable position in the Alexandrian society worthy of note. Aristocratic men and women used to flock to him as well as important government officials. He remained nevertheless very cautious around these officials since the majority of them were Shias and he was a Sunni following the Shafi’i School of law. For this reason he never exploited their theological differences but would rather stress and advise the cultivation of strong ties and paying alms while avoiding any sectarian debates.
Another example of extraordinary blessed character has been related to us by the townspeople of Alexandria. Once a woman was in such intensive labor pains that her family requested al-Silafy’s aid in this difficult situation. So he gave them a folded note to be hanged above the door telling them that the pains would pass in due time by God’s will. It was only a curious family member who decided to peak inside this paper, which contained the supplication “O God they have assumed of me good so do not fail us or betray their good opinion.” It was by this paper that they realized that it was through al-Silafy’s privileged relationship with God that the woman was relieved from her pains. He was taken back to God in 676 AH.