Prof. Awn Alsharif Qasim: A Life Story Of Changing Fates

Prof. Awn Alsharif Qasim: A Life Story Of Changing Fates

By: Yahya Hassan

KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - The life story of Professor Awn Alsharif Qasim is a story of changing fates. As a fresh secondary school graduate, Prof. Awn had wanted to go into the Faculty of Medicine to become a doctor, having earned distinctions in all the required subjects for that specialization.
The young Awn spent much of the night thinking of his interview next morning, what to say in answer to the questions and what would happen next in the college. But unfortunately towards dawn it began to rain heavily. That would mean the public transport would not access the muddy roads leading from Khartoum to student Awn’s 30km away home township of Halfayat Almilook.
Still, the young Awn was undeterred. He prepared himself quickly and hit the road down to Khartoum, often opting for a sprint.
At college and when he was checked by the interviewing doctor, his pulse was high and his heart was beating quickly. Very soon the British doctor concluded that the boy had something wrong with his heart and disqualified him for the medical career, regardless of the young man’s pleas and explanations. The die was cast and the boy was referred to the school of arts against his wish!
But that was a lucky turn he did not recognize at first. Instead of becoming an ordinary medical doctor like the other thousands in this profession, Awn’s talent with Arabic and Islamic studies propelled him to high horizons of knowledge that secured him a place among the most distinguished scholars of his time in those disciplines. 

Prof. Awn was born in 1933 in the ancient town of Halfayat Almilook, once the Capital of the ancient Abdallab Kingdom. His father immigrated to Sudan from Yemen in 1925, settled in Halfayat Almilook in Khartoum North, married a woman from the town and became a known religious figure in the area, teaching and educating on Islamic studies.

Due to this background, Awn was exposed to a heritage of Islamic and Arabic culture since his early childhood that later on shaped his life.

He graduated from the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Khartoum in 1957. He earned his master Degree in 1960 in Arabic and Islamic studies from the school of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. In 1967, he earned his PhD from the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Finishing his doctorate studies, the university kept Dr. Awn as lecturer for an extra year.

Back from the UK, DR. Awn engaged in teaching in the University of Khartoum and in researching and writing about Arabic language, Sudan’s literary and cultural heritage, demography and history of Islam in and outside Sudan.

This wide activity had earned Prof. Awn a leading position as a scholar in Sudan for the last thirty years of the twentieth century. An expert on Arabic and Islamic culture and language, Awn took a special interest in the history and people of Sudan. He was a professor and lecturer at the university level and a prolific author, writing over seventy books. He also served as his country's minister of religious affairs and endowments from 1971 to 1981.

Awn’s ministerial tenure (10 years) was the longest period served by a minister in all Sudanese governments; of course the longest under the erratic strongman General Ja’afar Mohammad Nimeri, who had a passion for frequent cabinet reshuffles. During this period he demonstrated exceptional qualities as a leading religious figure. He had outspokenly condemned the use of religion as a lever for political gaining.

He soon became one of the most popular and beloved ministers in Sudan's 1970s government for his strong work, ethics, humbleness and honesty. He was able to connect with different religious groups and to promote ideas of peace and harmony among these groups.

Awn continued to write during this period and published dozens of books. After the military coup by Omar Al Bashir in June 1989, he was arrested along with other ministers from Nimeriri’s and the following governments.


Outstanding Writings

In the mid-1990s, Awn authored the Sudanese Encyclopedia of Tribes and Genealogies, a pioneer, state- of- the- art series of books for the different Sudanese tribes, their roots and origins. This project has entitled him to earn Al-zubair Prize for Innovation and Scientific Excellence, the highest prize awarded by the Sudanese government. He was also awarded the Egyptian prestigious First Class Golden Award for scientific achievements in 1992 by Egyptian President Mohammad Husni Mubarak.

Encyclopedia of tribes & families in Sudan

Awn also authored the Dictionary of Sudanese Dialects, another valuable source of information on Sudanese culture. This dictionary is used worldwide by scholars as a valuable reference on Sudanese dialects.


Awn as a Human Being

Prof Awn was a man of the society, always living with the people, never forgetting a social duty whether on a happy or a sad occasion.

Very benevolent and quite uncaring about money, wrote chronicler of Sudan’s modern history and social life Siddiq Albady.

Bady said Prof. Awn would always give those in need far more than they would expect.

Perhaps his affluent job as a professor at the Arab League affiliate - the Khartoum Arabic Language Institute (that paid in dollars) - had helped him with this generosity, muses writer Bady about his friend, Dr. Awn.

The Arabic Language Institute, specializing in qualifying teachers to teach Arabic as a foreign language, has graduated multitudes of MA degree holders in this discipline. Its graduates are training teachers in many parts of the World.

Very pious, Prof. Awn was always living for and with God. He built his own mosque and was always ready to give religious speeches whenever asked to.

Poetry in Basra 


His Death

His death in 2006 was a true reflection of his piety. Recalls his son Amin: “When he was about to pass, he would often fall slip into a coma for sometime before awakening once again. But the last time he woke up, he raised his voice and uttered: “Allahu Akbar! (God is the greatest). I am Awn Alshariff Qasim !.” Then he passed.

 Prof. Awn was a strong advocate of Arabic Islamic culture and its interweaving with Sudanese culture. That mindset had helped him to author more than 70 books in the area of Islamic history and civilization, Arabic literature and studies in the Sudanese dialects.

Along with Professor Abdalla Altayeb, Professor Mohammad Abu Saleem and Professor Yousif Fadl, Awn was considered one of the scholars who shaped the Sudanese academic scene during the last 3 decades of the 20th century.


Professions and Affiliations

  • 1960 - 1961 University Lecturer, University of London UK
  • 1961 - 1971 University Lecturer, University of Khartoum Sudan
  • 1971 - 1981 Minister of Religious Affairs, Sudan
  • 1975 Founded Institute of Islamic Studies, Khartoum Sudan
  • 1981 President Award for Scientific Achievements
  • 1982 - 1984 Professor, University of Khartoum, Sudan
  • 1984 - 1995 Lecturer, Khartoum International Institute for Arabic Language, 1988 Head of Institute.
  • 1990 - 1994 President, University of Khartoum, Sudan
  • 1993 First Honor Golden Science Award for Excellence in Writing, Egypt, awarded by President Mohammad Husni Mubarak
  • 1996 President, Omdurman Ahlia University, Sudan
  • 2000 Az-Zubair Prize for Innovation and Scientific Excellence at the Scientist Level
    Allah’s Final Message


Part of the List of His Books

  • Qamus al-lahjah al-‘ammiyah fi al-Sudan (Dictionary of Slang Dialect in Sudan) ISBN977-353-010-8..
  • Al-Din fi Hayatina (Religion in our life)
  • Fi ma‘rakat al-turath (In the War of Culture)
  • Mawsu‘at Al-qaba’il wa-al-ansab fi al-Sudan wa-ashhar asma’ al-a‘lam wa-al-amakin (Encyclopedia of tribes and families in Sudan with most famous names and places.)
  • Al-Risalah Al-khatimah ( Allah’s Final Message)
  • Doblmaciyat Mohammed (Diplomacy of Prophet Mohammed)
  • Fi Tariq al Islam (In the Direction of Islam)
  • Shi'r al Basra fil 'asr al Ummawi: dirasah fil siyasah wal ijtima' (Poetry in Basra During the Time of the Umayyads: A Study in Politics and Society).




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