Thousands of followers and well-wishers have greeted Sheikh Suleiman Ali Beetay at the Algumhouria Square in Kasala upon arrival recently from a medication trip to the United Arab Emirates.
Sheikh Beetay runs a populous compound of Koran schools (seminaries) in his home area of Hamashkoraib, Kasala State, Eastern Sudan.
The wide welcome accorded to Sheikh Beetay translates a legacy of love and respect for the Beetay Family for setting the Koran schools in a once desolate area which has now morphed into a full-fledged town solely dedicated to this august religious purpose.
The Hamashkoreeb Koran schools (locally called khalawi) were first launched by the Great Ali Beetay (1930-1978) in 1951.
And when these Khalwai are mentioned one must remember the strenuous effort exerted to turn that poor, harsh, mountainous area into a radiant Islamic center.
One characteristic of this edifice of knowledge is the spirit of collective work and cooperation that engulfed this place, in a true translation of the teachings of the Koran that urge the faithful to work to change their conditions to the better.
After Ali Beetay came his sons and grandsons to trod the same path of religious education.
The late Ali Beetay first began by encouraging the area's inhabitants in particular and the Beja community at large to join these Khalawi that grew by the day and attracted thousands of students from Sudan and from West Africa, Eritrea, Chad, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Jordan, Turkey, China, America and elsewhere. Some 22 khalawi were allotted for women alone in the compound. The khalawi also have branches in many parts of Sudan and other countries.
The Khalawi kept these students and fed and clothed them until graduation after which they joined schools and then institutes of higher learning both in Sudan and Egypt. The khalawi consume more than 47 sorghum sacks a day for feeding the students in Hamashkoreeb, according to a press report in December 2017.
Socially, the late Sheikh Beetay fought harmful habits like taking alcohol, snuff, cigarettes or engaging in prostitution.
Over the years the area's population swelled sharply to hit the figure 50,000.
The schools thus developed have instilled a spirit of good manners and changed the life of the inhabitants a great deal.
That indeed was not an easy job at the beginning because the British colonialists were very apprehensive about Koran schools, in mind the Islamic Mahdia Revolution that wiped the Turkish occupation out of the country towards the end of the 19th Century. Most of the Mahdi's lieutenants were graduates of such Koran schools or khalawi.
The Britons were in particular well reserved about the growing of such schools in the Bija areas of Eastern Sudan, for fear they might graduate a like of Osman Digna (a Mahdi's Leiutenant) who defeated the British Army in the historic battles of Teeb and Tamay in the Red Sea region.
Those two battles were depicted in the poem "Fuzzy-Wuzzy" by the English author and poet Rudyard Kipling, published in 1892 as part of Barrack Room Ballads. It describes the respect of the ordinary British soldier for the bravery of the Hadendoa Bija warriors who fought the British army in the Sudan and Eritrea.
In his memoirs, the Late Ali Beetay said there was no love lost between him and the British rulers as they always doubted his intentions, eventually banishing him from the region until for the good offices of the late Sudanese dignitaries (Sirs) Abdelrahman Almahdi and Ali Almirghani. During his six years of banishment the Late Ali Beetay was incarcerated in the jails of Kasala, Aroma and Halfa.
Back from custody, he willfully managed to fulfill his life dream of launching the Hamshkoreeb Koran schools that continue to grow to date.