On Monday, Mauritanian police surrounded and shut down the well-known Islamic school Markaz Takween al-Ulama (The Centre for the Development of Islamic Scholars). The closure came under the pretext of the centre propagating ‘extremist ideologies’. 
These charges have been thoroughly repudiated by the head of the centre, world-renowned Islamic scholar, Sheikh Muhammad al-Hassan Walad al-Dido al-Shanqītī. He said that the charges and the subsequent closure was a “surprise with no cause or justification”. 
The move is speculated by some to be as a result of the Sheikh’s criticism of the Mauritanian president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz for stating that “Israel is more humane than political Islam”. 
Others have pointed to the strong competition that the Tewassoul party gave to the ruling UPR party in the recent legislative, local and regional elections as a possible cause. Commentators have said that this could be a possibility as the current Mauritanian president took a third term which the vice-president of Markaz Takween al-Ulama discouraged.  
Established in 2009, Markaz Takween al-Ulama has approximately 500 students from around the world and 45 highly qualified teachers working there.  The Markaz takes students from ages 15 and above with strict entry requirements including the students entering the university level of the Markaz to already have memorised the Qur’ān in two modes of recitation (qira’aat) and numerous texts in prophetic sayings (aḥādīth), jurisprudence (fiqh), grammar (nahw) and morphology (sarf). 
Its head, Sheikh Dido, is from an illustrious scholarly family with his maternal grandfather being one of the greatest scholars of his time, Sheikh Muhammad Salim Walad Adoud. The Sheikh himself has received chains in recitation in all 10 modes of recitation, and chains of narration in many of the major and minor books of prophetic sayings along with having committed them to memory.
He has studied all around the world with scholars from a variety of schools and orientations and also holds a PhD in Jurisprudence (fiqh) and the Fundamentals of the religion (usūl al-Deen). 
Scholars around the world have posted statements on their social media accounts condemning the move including Sh. Al-Bashir Bin Hasan (Tunisia),  Sh. Tariq al-Tawaary (Kuwait),  Sh. Muhammad al-Sagheer (Egypt),  and Sh. Al-Bashir Esaam (Morrocco). 
The International Union of Muslim Scholars also decried the decision and urged the Mauritanian authorities to reconsider.  Additionally, the head of the Assembly of Democratic Forces and the recognised head of the official opposition Ahmed Ould Daddah, said in a press conference this week that the decision to close the centre was “undemocratic and foreign to the traditions and morals of Mauritanian society” continuing to say that “the state chose threats and harassment rather than dialogue and consultation”. 
Alongside the Markaz, the Abdullah Bin Yasin University was also closed for the same reasons. The university had 1000 students and taught a variety of subjects including computer science, politics, economics, and Islamic studies. 
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