Last week started the 51st commemorations of the death of Cheikh Fodil El Ouartilani (born Feb. 6, 1900, Beni Ourtilane, Algeria — died March 12, 1959, Ankara, Turkey), so I take this opportunity to recall some parts of his biography.
Brahim Ben Mustapha El Djazairi, a.k.a. Fodil El Ouartilani, learnt Qur’an and Arabic in Beni Ourtilane, before going to Constantine to study in one of Imam Abdelhamid Benbadis‘s schools. There he studied Tafsir, Hadith and many other religious sciences. He was influenced by Benbadis and became a member of the Association of the Algerian Muslim Scholars (AOMA). I will go through a few aspects of his biography which look important to me.
The first point is about the Algerians living abroad. One of the keys in the Algerian revolution success was the fact that the Algerian national movement wasn’t only limited to Algeria and it was present in France as well. I could mention the leaders of the nationalist parties (North-African Star, Algerian People’s Party, etc.) who were in France, or, more importantly, the Fédération de France and its important role during the war. The AOMA didn’t neglet the Algerians in France either, and Benbadis appointed El Ouartilani as his representative there. So he moved there in 1936 and managed to open many schools teaching Islam and Arabic. Two years later, he started receiving many death threats which forced him to leave Paris to Egypt.
The second aspect I would like to highlight is the relations between the global reforming movement in the Islamic world (as started by Djamel Eddine El Afghani), the Algerian Islah movement, and the Egyptian Ikhwan. Fodhil El Ouartilani did indeed very quickly meet with Hassan El Banna and became an influential member of the Egyptian brotherhood movement. He became famous, especially for his speeches which he used to advertise the Algerian cause. He also helped found many associations to help the Algerian people.
Hassan El Banna decided to send El Ouartilani to Yemen so he could help in the 1948 coup against Imam Yahya Muhammed. Which brings me to the third aspect.
(Modern) Nationalism contradicts with the Islamic/Islamist ideology, and El Ouartilani obviously saw no problem in taking part in another Arab country’s politics. He indeed considered the Arab World as his country and felt he should care for it all. So he took a very active role in the coup which almost succeeded had the Arab League and the Saudi ruler not decided to stay neutral (or support Yahya). So the coup failed and El Ouartilani was sentenced to death, but he could escape to Beirut (no other country accepted to receive him).
He went back to Egypt after the army overthrew King Farouk, but left again to Beirut when Nasser‘s totalitarian regime started putting Ikhawn’s members in jail. He worked with the AOMA and its new president, Cheikh El Bachir El Ibrahimi, on defending the Algerian case.
He died in a hospital in Ankara on March 12th, 1959. On the 28th commemoration of his death, his corpse was transferred to Beni Ourtilane where he’s buried now.