By: Rogia al-Shafee
KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - An extremely long life, a hundred and sixty sons and daughters, a strong record of patriotism and the fight against the Turkish colonization of Sudan, a rich knowledge about the tenets of Islam and its jurisprudence and a continuous strive for national concord among the politicians of his time and further and above a good contribution to the economy of the country as a boat builder and a trader.
That was Sheikh Ahmed Sharfi.
But who was Sheikh Ahmed Sharfi?
Nobody in Greater Khartoum hasn’t heard of (or seen) the spacious (tens of acres) Ahmed Sharfi Cemetery in Omdurman, Khartoum’s twin city across the River Nile to the West, a cemetery that accommodates hundreds of thousands of the bodies of Sudanese, including those of some celebrities, like former President Ja’afar Nimeri and member of the Sovereignty Council Abdalla Alfadil Almahdi.
Emir Ahmed Sharfi was born Ahmed Haj Sharfi Ali Haj Shareef in the Northern River Nile Island of Labab, the same area that also saw the birth of his relative, patriotic, religious leader Mohammed Ahmed Almahdi who in the 188os defeated the Turkish rule of Sudan, creating a completely sovereign, united Sudan.
To know about this great national figure, Sudanow has consulted his grandson, Professor Muaaz Sharfi who said that Emir Ahmed Sharfi (the title Emir literally means a fighting lieutenant of Mohammed Ahmed Almahdi) has started his life career as a wooden boat builder in his area of birth .
He used to sail along the River Nile banks watching for suitable tree trunks for his boat building business in his home area.
Then he used to move further South along the River Nile, cutting trees and making boats until he settled down in Eslanj Island on the periphery of Khartoum where he launched a big carpentry of boat building .
Then later on this business took him further South until he settled down in the River White Nile Island of Aba.
There he continued with his boatbuilding business and, in addition, launched khalwas (religious seminaries for teaching Islam and the Koran)
During his stay in Aba Island, he at a point in time hosted his relative Mohammad Ahmed Almahdi who was contemplating both religion and revolt against the Turkish rule.
As a leading figure in Aba Island, known for his wisdom, good manners, clemency and knowledge about the inhabitants, havingin-lawed several families, Ahmed Sharfi was of great help to Almahdi in mobilizing against the Turkish rule.
Tribes from east and west of Aba Island (the Hassaniyyas, the Shanablas and the Dewaih) then rallied around him for the support of the Mahdi.
He used to move with the Mahdi wherever he went to call for religious reform and the rise against the Turks.
Multitudes of men from the said tribes accompanied him and the Mahdi in these tours and battles.
Their movements took them further West in Kordofan region where their army defeated the Turkish army, lead by British Generals, in the watershed battle of Sheikan, a victory that encouraged the Mahdi and his army to move towards the Capital Khartoum and take it from the British General Charles Gordon, who was at that time tasked to evacuate the Turkish Army from Sudan.
After the triumph of the Mahdi Revolution and the establishment of the state, Sheikh Sharfi continued with his Koran teaching schools, forming a big mass of religious followers who helped him in Koran teaching, farming and boat building to ferry sorghum to the now Southern Sudan.
As part of his economic activity Sheikh Sharfi was known to have been the first person to start bakeries in what is now called the Arabian Market (Alsouq Alarabi) in today’s Khartoum (proper).
The area now known as Ahmed Sharfi Cemetery was where his house was built. Later on one of his dauthers died and he chose to bury her near his house. By this, she was the first to be buried in that Cemetery .
He later on moved with his family Southwards to today’s Alomda suburb of Omdurman, leaving the entire area to be used as a public cemetery in which he was also later on buried beside the body of his daughter.
In the Alomda suburb he was known to play a conciliatory role among the Mahist feuding factions.
Emir Ahmed Sharfi died at midday, Saturday, 21 April, 1911, aged about 137 years.
Sheikh Sharfi has married a number of wives from different Sudanese tribes, keeping all his wives in one spacious home that was also open for his multitudinous guests. In this his home was known to consume four bags of sorghum a day (400 kilograms.)
He had fathered over 100 sons and more than 60 daughters. His grandsons count more than 500.
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