Originally written for the Message International Magazine
His name was Yaḥyā, his kunya (Islamic surname) Abū Zakariyyā and his given title Muḥyuddīn (meaning “Reviver of the Religion”). But he is known in history as simply Imām Nawawī from his place of birth in the Syrian village of Nawā south of Damascus, said to be the hometown of the Prophet Job (Ayyūb). Like other notable scholars, he was a premier product of Damascus, the lush city of knowledge and Islamic scholarship.
His Learning and Vast Knowledge
Born 631/1234 into a humble family, not particularly known for scholarship or fame, his father, a local shopkeeper, was noted to be extremely pious and made sure to adequately provide for his son’s education, primarily in the religious sciences. He in turn was the ideal young student, full of zeal and thirst for learning and shunning games and play even in childhood. He acquired his early education in the Qur’ān in his hometown and when it became clear that his aptitude required much more, he was taken to Damascus for further studies.
It was there that he truly blossomed, spending night and day with a singular devotion that became legendary even in his own time. He studied both privately and formally, attending several formal institutes such as the Rawāḥiyyah school. At this particular school he spent a number of years living in a small room full of so many books that he had to move them to make room anytime he had visitors. He never wasted time, reviewed his lessons while walking, and ate and slept with his books. He himself admitted that during this period he spent two years without ever lying down on his side, falling asleep instead while reading and studying, picking where he left off when waking up.