Abd al-Aali and the Western Branch of the Idrisis
The following is an excerpt from a book about the Sanusis, written by Abd al-Malik al-Libi, the student and companion of the great Mujahid, Ahmad al-Sharif al-Sanusi, the grandson of Muhammad ibn Ali al-Sanusi. Abd al-Malik accompanied his teacher when he left to Turkey and then to Medina and stayed with him until he died. Here is what he wrote, as quoted in a book by shaykh Saleh al-Jaafari:
The birth of Sidi Abd al-Aali was in 1246 AH in Sabya, and his father died when he was only seven years old, and he stayed after the death of his father for 10 years in Sabya, during which he memorized the Qur'an and some texts (mutoon).
Then when he reached the age of 17, the khalifa of his father in Mecca, mawlana al-sayyid Muhammad bin Ali al-Sanusi, called him to him, and so he went to him in Mecca in the year 1264 AH. [al-Sanusi] kept him with him and dedicated private lessons for him and private mashayekh from among the best of the ikhwan (brothers) until the year 1269 AH when the ustadh (al-Sanusi), may God be pleased with him, moved from the Hijaz to Burqa, one of the provinces of Libya, so he went with him and attached himself to him the attachment of the sincere murid until he benefitted from him and gained a great and plenty share of his uloom and his ma'aarif. And there became for the sayyid a great and high station among the ikhwan that no one comes near it, and the ustadh ordered him to teach lessons during his lifetime, and he himself would go and sit at his lessons with some of the ikhwan to check up on him, and he gave him ijaza in all that is fitting for him and from him in all the sciences and turuq, and made him his na'ib (deputy) and gave him ijaza in giving the awrad and in exhorting and guiding people. And like that he stayed in his company until he (al-Sanusi) died in Jaghboub in 1276 AH.
al-Sayyid Abd al-Aali stayed in Jaghboub a full year after the death of his shaykh, then from a previous authorization (idhn) and wasiyya (instructions/advice) from his father when he was alive, and with the approval of al-sayyid Muhammad al-Mahdi al-Sanusi and the elders among the ikhwan, he left from Jaghboub to Upper Egypt, calling unto God and guiding to Him and as a deputy of sayyid Muhammad bin Ali al-Sanusi in giving his tariqa until he reached "Zainiyya" in Upper Egypt, and there he established his famous zawiya and settled in it, and he married and had eight male sons, who became the branch of the Idrisiyya the House (Aal) of al-sayyid Ahmad ibn Idris in Upper Egypt and they are the blessed family whose light shone and whose goodness and benefits spread in these areas.
And the sons of al-sayyid Abd al-Aali are: al-sayyid Muhammad al-Sharif, al-sayyid Mustafa, al-sayyid Muhammad al-Ma'mun, al-sayyid Muhammad al-Sanusi, al-sayyid Muhammad al-Arabi, al-sayyid Muhammad Idris, al-sayyid Murtada, al-sayyid Abu al-Hasan, and al-sayyid al-Amin who died young.
Then al-sayyid Abd al-Aali died in the year 1294 AH at the age of 48 only, may God have mercy on him and be pleased with him, and make the baraka in his sons, al-saadah al-akhyar, and he was buried in the town of Dunqula [in the Sudan].
Abd al-Aali: Like Father Like Son
Fifteen days after Muhammad ibn Ali al-Sanusi became the disciple of Ahmad ibn Idris, the teacher said to his student: "You are me and I am you", meaning that they were now one and the same. Later, Ibn Idris' son will become the discple of al-Sanusi, who would one day say to him: "You are me and I am you". And thus, the son became like the father.
Another example of how they are similar comes from this text written by shaykh Saleh al-Jaafari in his book al-Muntaqa al-Nafees:
It has reached me that seventy notebooks were filled from the tafsir of al-sayyid Ahmad ibn Idris, may God be pleased with him, of one ayah in the sura of al-Ahzab, and it is the saying of God Most High, "the Muslim men and the Muslim women", and that he kept explaining "walladhee qaddara fa hadaa" (87:03) for three days from after the Asr prayer until sunset. And when they were astonished by that he said to them: If I stayed with you as long as Noah stayed with his people I would have given you a new explanation [of this verse] every day.
And the like of that happened to his son sidi Abd al-Aali, and it is that when he came to his town of Dunqula in the north of Sudan, he used to give lessons at night and in the day time. My father the hajj Muhammad Saleh al-Jaafari told me that he used to go with my grandfather shaykh Saleh Muhammad al-Jaafari, who was Ahmadi in tariqa, to visit sidi Abd al-Aali at his home. He said everytime we went to him we found him sitting with books around him, raising one to him and putting another one down.
And I was told by knowing people from that town that the sayyid used to comment on the Qur'an in the manner of the people of the maghreb, and the person who read the ayaat to him was the famous shaykh Abdallah Klamseed al-Danqalawi, may God have mercy on him. And the sayyid was once explaining God Most High's saying: "Blessed is He Who made the constellations in the heavens and made therein a lamp and a shining moon". (25:61), and when the shaykh read it to the sayyid, the sayyid explained it. Then one of the scholars came to shaykh Klamseed and said: Tomorrow, don't recite the next ayah, but read this same ayah that the sayyid explained today so we can see if he can give us a new tafsir of it.
So when the next day came, shaykh Klamseed read the same ayah and so the sayyid explained it with a new explanation different than the first and he excelled in it greatly. And when the third day came, it was the sayyid himself who read the same ayah and then gave us a new tafsir and excelled at it wonderfully (abda'a feeha ghayat al-ibdaa'). So the shaykh Klamseed kissed his hand and started crying. So the sayyid said to him "what makes you cry, our brother shaykh Abdallah?" so he said: "Ya sidi, I cry because you came to our town when I was already old, and I used to wish that I was still a strong young man that I can receive this knowledge." So the sayyid said to him, "If I stayed with you as long as Noah stayed with his people I would have given you a new explanation [of this verse] every day."
Abd al-Aali and His Son
So wrote shaykh Saleh al-Jaafari about his teacher Muhammad al-Sharif and his father Abd al-Aaali:
This shaykh of mine has secrets, karaamaat, nafahaat, and wonderous and strange matters. His secret is hidden, yet he is famous. His zahir is batin, and his batin is zahir. He has a cutting sword, and a brilliant light. He inherited from his grandfather and his father many states, and obtained much of their barakaat.
One day he was walking behind his father in the town of Dunqula in the Sudan and the people were crowding around them, with kisses and glorification. So he thought to himself, "Will I, when I reach this age of my father, receive the same respect and honor that he is receiving now?" So his father sidi Abd al-Aali turned to him and said to him: "And more than this, oh Muhammad". And it was as he said.
Guiding His Son's Disciple
From the autobiography of shaykh Saleh al-Jaafari:
"Before coming to the Azhar, someone from our town (Dunqula) came and brought with him the first volume of al-Nawawi's commentary on Sahih Muslim. So I borrowed it from him and began studying from it. So I saw (in a dream) sidi Abd al-Aali al-Idrisi on a chair and next to him travel provisions, and I heard someone saying: "The sayyid wants to travel to Egypt, to the Azhar". So I went and greeted him and kissed his hand, so he said to me with sternness (hidda): "Knowledge is taken from the chests of men, not from books", and he repeated it. So I woke up from my sleep, and God inspired me to travel to the Azhar, and I was allowed even though it was full, and I attended the lesson of the muhaddith shaykh Muhammad Ibrahim as-Samaluti, who was teaching Nawawi's commentary on Sahih Muslim, and I heard him read the hadith: “There is no Hijra after the Conquest [of Mecca], but only Jihad and sincerity of purpose. And when you are asked to set out [in the cause of Islam] then go”.