Biography

Abd al-Hamid al-Sayih

Spiritual Leaders

Abd al-Hamid al-Sayih

1907, Nablus, Palestine
2001, Amman, Jordan

Abd al-Hamid al-Sayih was born in the city of Nablus to Abd al-Halim al-Sayih and Sabha Bakri. He and his wife, Fadliyya Bakri, had three sons (Qadri, Usama, and Bassam) and three daughters (Nawal, Na’ila, and Basima).

Al-Sayih completed his elementary school education in the Khan School in Nablus and his secondary school education in the Rashadiyya Sharqiyya School (later renamed al-Salahiyya). He also attended teaching sessions in mosques.

After completing his secondary school education in 1920, he travelled to Cairo as member of a group of young scholars chosen by Nablus notables and scholars to study at al-Azhar. There, he studied jurisprudence and Islamic sciences and in 1923 he received the Ahliyya diploma, followed in 1925 by the ‘Alamiyya. While studying at al-Azhar, he joined the School of Shari‘a judges attached to the Egyptian Ministry of Waqf and in 1927 obtained a certificate of specialization in Islamic Shari‘a.

Returning to Palestine in July 1927, he was appointed teacher of Arabic and Islamic religion at the Najah College in Nablus in 1928–29, where he became very friendly with the poet Ibrahim Tuqan and his cousin Qadri Tuqan.

Following the Buraq Disturbances in 1929, he took part in forming a secret society in Nablus to alert people to the dangers of Zionist ambitions in Palestine and to encourage them to fight British imperialism. He was also a member of the conference held in Nablus in early August 1931 to protest the arming of Jewish colonists. In October 1932, he participated in founding the Society of Muslim Youth in Nablus, and when the Arab Independence Party was founded he became a supporter and delivered speeches at its meetings but never officially joined the party.

Al-Sayih had good relations with Haj Amin al-Husseini, head of the Supreme Moslem Council, and he was invited in 1930 to be chief of the registrars of the Shari‘a Court in Nablus; in 1935 he was appointed a judge of that court.

Following the General Strike of April 1936 and the formation of national committees in Palestinian cities, the Nablus national committee chose al-Sayih to head the fundraising subcommittee. In September 1937, the British authorities arrested him and held him for nine months at the Acre Farm camp. Upon his release, the British exiled him to the town of al-Bireh where he spent a whole year.

In 1939, al-Sayih was appointed Secretary-General of the Supreme Moslem Council and remained in that post until the end of 1940 when he was appointed Judge of the Jerusalem Shari‘a Court until the end of 1945. He was then promoted to the Jerusalem Shari‘a Appeals Court and served in that capacity until 1948.

Following the Nakba of 1948, al-Sayih was appointed head of the Shari‘a Appeals Court and chief of the Shari‘a courts throughout the West Bank of the Jordan, now under Jordanian rule. The two banks of the river were formally united in April 1950, and he became head of the Shari‘a Appeals Court in Jordan and member of the Council of Waqfs and Islamic Affairs.

Al-Sayih was chosen to be a member in the first Palestinian national council held in Jerusalem in late May 1964, at which the PLO was established.

After Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including Jerusalem, in June 1967, al-Sayih and other notables from occupied Jerusalem formed the Higher Islamic Council of Jerusalem, which delegated him to serve as Chief Judge of the West Bank and delegated the Shari‘a Appeals Court in Jerusalem to assume the functions of the Waqf Council and the al-Aqsa Mosque Rehabilitation Committee.

For his role in leading the opposition to Israeli occupation and calling on people through speeches and lectures delivered at the Aqsa Mosque to resist that occupation, the occupation authorities expelled him to Jordan on 23 September 1967. He thus became the first Palestinian to be exiled by Israel from the Palestinian lands occupied in 1967.

Al-Sayih played a major role in convening the large conference held in Amman on 21 February 1968, from which issued a permanent Committee to Save Jerusalem.

Al-Sayih was twice Minister of Waqf and Islamic Sanctuaries in the Jordanian government (7 October 1967–26 December 1968 and 27 June 1970–mid-September 1970). He was also appointed Chief Judge and lectured at the Shari‘a Faculty at Jordan University.

King Hussein chose him to be one of the founders of The Royal Academy for Islamic Civilization Research (Aal al-Bayt Foundation), which was officially inaugurated in Amman in 1980.

Al-Sayih was elected President of the Palestine National Council to succeed Khalid al-Fahum at its seventeenth session held in Amman in November 1984. He remained in that position until he resigned and quit political activities in 1993, due to old age and illness. He remained in seclusion in Amman, far from the limelight and from politics. He died in Amman and was buried, according to his will, in Jerusalem.

Al-Shaykh Abd al-Hamid al-Sayih was a Palestinian patriot and militant who took part in all stages of the Palestinian national struggle and devoted his life to support the rights of the Palestinians and protect the city of Jerusalem. He had a penetrating mind and firm principles and was known for his high moral standards, his fine manners, his humility, and his moderation. He gained the respect of both Palestinians and Jordanians and was known as the “Red Shaykh” because of his progressive views. He was awarded the Nahda medal, first class, by Jordan in September 1967, and the Intellectual Achievement Medal, first class, from Morocco in January 1968. In 2013, the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, awarded him the Medal of the Star of Honor, first class, in appreciation of his nationalist role.

Writings

"مبادئ في الدين الإسلامي". عمّان: وزارة التربية والتعليم، 1964.

[Principles of the Islamic Religion]

"نهج الإسلام". القدس: قيادة الضفة الغربية، مكتب شؤون التربية والتعليم، 1966، 1967، 1972.

[The Way of Islam]

"التربية الإسلامية". القدس: قيادة الضفة الغربية، مكتب شؤون التربية والتعليم، 1972-1974.

[Islamic Education]

"مكانة القدس في الإسلام". عمّان: لجنة إنقاذ القدس، 1969.

[The Status of Jerusalem in Islam]

"الانتفاضة الفلسطينية: مستقبلها ودورها في التحرير". عمّان: مركز دراسات الشرق الوسط، 1991.

[The Palestinian Intifada: Its Future and Role in Liberation]

"ماذا بعد إحراق المسجد الأقصى؟". القاهرة: دار الشعب، 1970.

 [What Is to Follow the Burning of Al-Aqsa Mosque?]

"فلسطين، لا صلاة تحت الحراب: مذكرات الشيخ عبد الحميد السائح". بيروت: مؤسسة الدراسات الفلسطينية، 1994.

[Palestine: No Prayers under the Bayonets: The Memoirs of Shaykh Abd al-Hamid al-Sayih]

La position de Jérusalem dans l'Islam, traducteur Ibrahim el-Mouelhy, réviseur Ahmad Rachad. Le Caire: Conseil supérieur des affaires islamiques, 1968. 

                                                                       

Sources

Abdul Hadi, Mahdi, ed. Palestinian Personalities: A Biographic Dictionary. 2nd ed., revised and updated. Jerusalem: Passia Publication, 2006.

الحوت، بيان نويهض. "القيادات والمؤسسات السياسية في فلسطين 1917- 1948". بيروت: مؤسسة الدراسات الفلسطينية، 1981.

سلامة، زياد أحمد. "الشيخ عبد الحميد السائح: حياته، وفكره ومواقفه". عمّان: مؤسسة عبد الحميد شومان، 1996.

شاهين، أحمد عمر. "موسوعة كتّاب فلسطين في القرن العشرين- الجزء  الثاني". دمشق: المركز القومي للدراسات والتوثيق، 1992.

العودات، يعقوب. "من أعلام الفكر والأدب في فلسطين". عمّان: د. ن.، 1976.

لوباني، حسين علي. "معجم أعلام فلسطين في العلوم والفنون والآداب". بيروت: مكتبة لبنان ناشرون، 2012.