Hon. Justice Abdulmuttalib Ahmad Ambali, OFR, FISN (Grand Kadı, RTD): Death of a Sharīah Jurist, Teacher, Preacher and Researcher

Certainly, every soul will taste death and indeed death is inevitable for every being. Ina lillahi waina ilehi rajiun.

The death of Honourable Justice Ambali, the second Grand Kadı of Kwara State Sharia Court of Appeal (retired on 24/04/2008) is one in many deaths that would actively linger on in my memory for a long time. I would sorely miss him. His death on Thursday, 30th March, 2023/8th Ramadan, 1444, was a personal loss to me. He was a great motivation to me in many ways, both distantly and closely.

Like so many other Shariah and Islamic Studies students in Nigeria, his famous and blessed book titled, _The Practice of Islamic Family Law in Nigeria,_ (which has featured a third edition) was of great impacts on my Shariah learning. Although my first encounter with his writing was with his book titled _Place of Women in Islamic Law_(not sure of exact title now) where he collated various Ahādith on matters affecting women affairs and analysed them (no wonder he was a great champion of women Rights).

Closely, my relationship with him started sometime in the Year 2010 (Allahu Akbar, it was during the Ramadan of that year). It was two years after he had retired from the government service. I was then undertaking my Masters Dissertation research on Judicial Precedent from Islamic Law Perspective. In the course of my research, I had read his Judgment where the issue was addressed and I needed to engage him further on his view. It was the first and only case, to the best of my knowledge, where the Shariah Court of Appeal, Kwara State had witnessed a dissenting judgment from a member of the Panel (see _Fatimoh Muhammed v. Ambassador Ali Assayouti,_ 2008, Shariah Court of Appeal Annual Report) p.9. In that case, the learned Jurist ruled on the position of Judicial Precedent as not being applicable in Shariah Courts as follows:

Islamic Law does not enslave its judges to their previous judgements and those of others. Each case is determined on its own merit“. (For details see Abdullahi Saliu Ishola, “Issues in the Practice of Judicial Binding Precedent in the Shari’ah Courts of Nigeria”, Journal of Islamic Law Review, Vol. 9, No. 1, June 2013, pp. 27-63).

Needing the interview with him on my research, I was worried about how I could just walk onto a retired Grand Kadı without any one to introduce me. Then someone suggested that I should just look for his phone number to give him a call. I was informed that he would not bother about how I got his number. And just like that it happened and immediately he gave me an appointment. The interview greatly enriched my research to the administration of my supervisor (Prof AA Alaro, mni) and it earned me a “Grade A“, alhamdulillah. Since then, I have always kept in touch with him whenever I had the need for any intellectual engagement with him and he was always welcoming.

Again, during my PhD, I ensured by Allah Grace that I also interviewed him and his views on Waqf matters shared with me were equally highly beneficial to my research.

What I did enjoy mostly with him, among others, that always wanted me to have a face to face engagement with him, was how he was always ready to tolerate my my divergence with his positions on some issues in his writings. And he would still be defending his views, giving me evidence as if he was so obliged to do that. That is how humble and accommodating he was as a scholar, motivator and elderly statesman. The last time I enjoyed this interesting moment with him was last year Ramadan (1443/2022) when he was the Guest Lecturer at the Official public presentation of Kwara State Majlis for Zakat, Sadaqah, Waqf (MASAZAWAQ) held on 16/April, 2022 at Ilorin Central Mosque. It was a very enriching engagement for me.

It must be mentioned that I have gotten so may inspirations from his publications and judgments to write some papers. He was a great motivating and inspiring Scholar and Jurist. There is no way one would read his write ups, which are usually in simple language, without getting better for it. This is one technique of writing I have imbibed from him, writing for the understanding of one’s audience. I have also learnt from him a teaching technique of writing even even academic papers.

Justice Ambali has been blessed to secure an eternal rewards yielding arrangement for himself through his publication. He has a Sadaqatul Jaariyah to his credit. Notable of this is his book _The Practice of the Muslim Family Law in Nigeria_ first published in 1993. One can be right to say that no research on Shariah in Nigeria (especially Islamic Family Law and Islamic Social Finance: inheritance, Waqf) will be complete today without a reference to that book. I have just done a search through search engines for his name and it prompted up thousands of articles citing the book. He is widely referenced by great writers on administration of Islamic law in Nigeria such as Prof AA Oba. What else, the book has even gained the recognition of both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, being relied upon in many cases.

By the next month of April, on the 24th, it would be exactly fifteen years ago that he bowed out of the judicial service (retired on 24th April, 2008). But he was not tired. He retired to dedicate his remaining life to Shariah promotion, propagation, preaching and practice and to community service. We have indeed lost a great pillar of Shari’ah in Nigeria.

Great lessons for others from his life. Justice Ambali was a humble, soft spoken, patient, listening, accommodating, intellectually tolerant Jurist and Shariah scholar par excellence. He was specially known for keeping to time. Like his predecessor in office, late Justice Abdulkadir Orire, he was a strong defender of Shari’ah. He lived and died serving Islam, Shariah and Humanity.

Narrating to me the genesis of the involvement of Shariah Court of Appeal in Estates distribution, he told me that his father-in-law or mother-in-law (cannot remember who among them) died while he was still the Grand Kadı and Banks were asking for Letters of Administration (which is not a Sharīah Instrument). Thus, he came up with the idea that Shariah Court of Appeal should be able to provide a Shariah compliant alternative. Consequently, he caused the registrar to write to relevant banks to surrender the deceased money to the court for distribution in accordance with Shari’ah. He was happy that he used his own personal case to test run that initiative in defence of Shari’ah.

Another great of his legacies as a promoter of Shariah was his introduction of Annual Reports of the Shariah Court of Appeal as the Grand Kadı. He did inform me that the initiative was meant to show the public that the court was equally working as people had an erroneous impression that the court was not working. He said it was a way being accountable to the public. Today, those Reports remain a great source of legal research in Nigeria. So many undergraduate, masters and even PhD studies have been done on those Reports. What a great legacy to his credit (Alhamdulillah).

His death marks the end of one of the great experts in Islamic law of inheritance (Mirāth), Zakah and Islamic Will-making in Nigeria, both in writing and in practice. We are indeed bereaved in the Islamic Justice sector in Nigeria.

O Allah, your servant, Justice Mutallub Ahmad Ambali is now in your care. O Allah forgive him, overlook his shortcomings and admit him into the highest and best place in Al-Jannah Firdaos. May all his family not be troubled after him. May we all his lovers and beneficiaries be pacified by his good legacies.

Allahunma igrifir lahu wa arhamuhu.


Adieu Baba!

Dr Abdullahi Saliu Ishola
Research Fellow
Centre for Islamic Economics and Finance (IKAM)
Istanbul University Turkey


83-year-old former Kwara Grand Kadi Justice AbdulMuttalib Ahmad Ambali dies

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