Ahmed Kuftaro

Ahmed Kuftaro or Ahmad Kaftaru (Arabic: أحمد كفتارو; December 1915 – 1 September 2004) was the Grand Mufti of Syria, the highest officially appointed Sunni Muslim representative of the Fatwa-Administration in the Syrian Ministry of Auqaf in Syria. Kaftaru was a Sunni Muslim of the Naqshbandi Sufi Tariqa.


His family comes from the village of Karma in the district of Ömerli in Mardin Province, Turkey. In 1878 the Kaftaru-family moved to Damascus and settled near the Abu al-Nur mosque in the Kurdish quarter. Ahmad Kaftaru's father, Amin Kaftaru, received a traditional education and started working as the Sa'id Pasha mosque. He married first Najiya Sinjabi and had four sons and two daughters with her: Musa, Taufiq, Ahmad, Ibrahim, Zaynab and Fatima. With his second wife, Is'af Badir, he had three children, Rabi', 'Abd al-Qadir and Rabi'a. He became a student of the famous Shaikh Isa al-Kurdi, from whom he has an Ijazah for the spiritual guidance Irshad of Sufi adepts in the Naqshbandi-Mujaddidi-Khalidi-Sufi order. Later Shaikh Amin Kaftaru took over as the head of this particular tariqa. At that time there were many Sufi shaikhs and Sufi traditions present in Damascus.

Classic education in Damascus

Ahmad Kaftaru was born in Damascus between 1912 and 1915. His father insisted that he first received a classic education in Quran, Tafsir, Hadith and Islamic jurisprudence, namely Shafi'i Madhhab with Muslim scholars in Damascus. Later his father introduced him to Sufism and to the Naqshbandi Sufi order. He was also taught by the famous Sufi masters Shaikh Ali al-Takriti, Shaikh Muhammad Abu al-Khair al-Midani and Shaikh Amin al-Zamalkani. He also did at least one khalwa. In 1929 he married the fourteen-year-old Arab girl Hawwa Milli, who gave birth to his twelve children: Umar, Fu'ad, Khadija, Wisal, Muhammad, Muhammad Amin, Mahmud, Zahir, Hasan, Ihsan, Wafa' and Salah (who was appointed as head of Abu AlNoor foundation now Ahmed Kuftaro Islamic foundation).

Taking over as a Sufi Shaikh

Before his father Shaikh Ameen Kuftaro appointed his sun Shaikh Ahmad Kuftaro as head of Naqshbandiya Tariqa. In the early 1940s he supported a stronger cooperation among the Ulama of Damascus and claimed to be the initiator of the Ulama-Association, founded in 1944. In the following decades, he became a charismatic leader speaker with a growing following. In the early 1960s, he gathered already more than 2,000 male and female participants in the ancient Abu al-Nur mosque for his Thursday lessons on Islam and his Friday Khutba. From 1959 to 1964 he made 120 radio broadcasts. Unlike the majority of the Ulama at that time, he was open towards the media and used it.

Abu al-Nur Islamic Center

The Abu al-Nur mosque was originally built from clay and wood. In the early 1970s, it was replaced by a huge concrete building with seven floors flanked by two 65-meter minarets. It became the center of official state Islam in Syria, propagating a Sharia-oriented interpretation of Sufism with an uncritical attitude towards the increasingly expanding police-state under the new President Hafiz al-Assad. It housed a cafeteria for students with 450 seats and sanitary facilities. In an annex was the tomb of the Kaftaru-family. On the first floor was an intermediary and secondary school in the morning and university lectures in the afternoon. In the center was the actual mosque with a huge prayer hall.

In 1987 after Syrian government decided to close all Islamic schools across the country, including Abu AlNoor institute, Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro announce the day before closure to call Islamic school as AlAsad Institute for learning Quran that moment took over the entire country and open the door to open branches in each mosque across Syria to have such Quran learning program, which run to this day

The building also comprised private apartments for disciples of the shaikh, offices, a library and a shop. In 1987, the Shaikh Amin Kaftaru Institute for Arabic Language Teaching was opened for male students, expanding over the years. A year later a language school for female students was opened next to the mosque. By the 90s, four universities were receiving students from all over the world.

Career in the Ifta'-Administration

In 1948 Shaikh Ahmad Kaftaru worked first as a mosque teacher in Qunaitra in the Golan and in 1950 he was moved to Damascus. Two years later, under Colonel Adib al-Shishakli he became Mufti of the Shafi'i Madhhab in Damascus and at the same time member of the Higher Ifta Council. Shaikh Ahmad Kaftaru's political instinct aligned him already in 1955 with the Syrian Baath Party. He was said to have supported the Baath Party candidate in the 1955 election for an open seat in parliament.

the Grand Mufti of Syria

On 26 October 1964, an election committee consisting of thirty-six Sheikh, met in the Ministry of Auqaf in Damascus. The Minister of Auqaf was also present. Two candidates stood for election, Shaikh Hasan Habannaka al-Midani, who was extremely popular and had a high reputation as an Islamic scholar, and Shaikh Ahmad Kaftaru. To everybody's surprise, Kaftaru won by one vote and was appointed the new Grand Mufti of Syria. He headed the Ifta-administration, which was part of the Ministry of Auqaf. In 1984 during his famous visit to Pakistan, and during his absence outside Syria, a ruling decision added that Grand Mufti he should be holding PHD, and will hold his position for lifelong, and to the surprise of everyone Sheikh Ahmed Kuftaro was awarded an honorary PHD from Omar AlFarouq University in Pakistan, and he was appointed Grand Mufti for life time. It was a very challenging position, and Sheikh Ahmed Kuftaro was able to utilize best of all governance of Syria, and all Arab word at his time as he survive more than 7 president:
  • Husni al-Za'im 11 April 1949 – 14 August 1949
  • Shukri al-Quwatli 6 September 1955 – 22 February 1958
  • Hashim al-Atassi 21 December 1936 – 7 July 1939
  • Abdullah Rimawi 29 October 1956 – 13 April 1957
  • Munif al-Razzaz April 1965 – 23 February 1966
  • Nureddin al-Atassi March 1966 – 17 November 1970
  • Ahmad al-Khatib 18 November 1970 – 12 March 1971
  • Hafez al-Assad 12 March 1971 – 10 June 2000
  • Bashar al-Assad since 17 July 2000

    Advocate of Interreligious Dialogue and Women's Rights

    Shaikh Ahmad Kaftaru was strong advocate of inter-religious dialogue. He was invited to many countries around the world as a representative of Syrian state Islam. These visits culminated in 1985 with a visit to the Pope in Rome. He was one of signatories of the Amman Message, which gives a broad foundation for defining Muslim orthodoxy.