Awn Alsharif Qasim (1933-2006)
Leading Sudanese scholar, government minister, and expert in Arabic and Islamic culture and language.
Early years and Edinburgh
Awn Alsharif Qasim was born in 1933 in the ancient town of Halfayat Almilook, once the capital of the ancient Abdallab Kingdom. His father emigrated to Sudan from Yemen in 1925, settled in Halfayat Almilook in Khartoum North, married a local woman and became a known religious figure in the area, teaching and educating on Islamic studies.
This early exposure to Islamic and Arabic culture would that later help shape Awn's life.
He graduated from the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Khartoum in 1957, and then earned his masters 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. Finishing his doctorate studies, the University asked Awn to stay as a lecturer for an extra year, which he did.
On returning home from Scotland, Awn began teaching in his alma mater, University of Khartoum, and researching and writing about Arabic language, Sudan’s literary and cultural heritage, demography and the history of Islam in and outside Sudan.
The breadth and detail of his work led him to become known as a leading scholar in Sudan. As an expert on Arabic and Islamic culture and language, Awn took a special interest in the history and people of his home country of Sudan, and he was appointed professor and lecturer at the university, as well as becoming a prolific author, writing over seventy books.
He also served as Sudan's Minister of Religious Affairs and Endowments from 1971 to 1981, and this 10 year tenure was the longest period served by a minister in all Sudanese governments to date. It was especially noteoworthy as he served under General Ja’afar Mohammad Nimeri, who was known for his frequent cabinet reshuffles.
Awn soon became one of the most popular ministers in Sudan's 1970s government, and took time to connect and engage with different religious groups in order to promote ideas of peace and harmony among them.
He also continued to write during this period and published dozens more books.
After the military coup by Omar Al Bashir in June 1989, Awn was arrested along with other ministers from Nimeriri’s and the subsequent governments, but was released shortly afterwards.
In the mid-1990s, he authored the Sudanese Encyclopedia of Tribes and Genealogies, a pioneering series of books about the origins of the various Sudanese tribes. For this he was awarded the Al-zubair Prize for Innovation and Scientific Excellence, the highest prize awarded to an individual by the Sudanese government. He was also awarded Egypt's First Class Golden Award for scientific achievements in 1992.
Awn also authored the popular Dictionary of Sudanese Dialects.
He died after an illness in 2006 leaving behind a scholary legacy that enhanced the appreciation and understanding of both his religion and his country's culture.