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CIOGC remembers Professor Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un. Indeed, we belong to Allah, and to Him we shall return.We are sad to announce the passing of Professor Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni and offer our prayers and condolences to his family and friends during this difficult time. May Allah (swt) grant Professor Bassiouni mercy and accept him into the highest levels of Jannah, insha’Allah.

His Janaza was held at the Muslim Community Center (MCC) in Chicago on Tuesday, September 26, 2017 at 1:30pm. Please join the community in honoring and praying for this great man by sending your tributes to communications@ciogc.org.

May Allah (swt) forgive any shortcomings, increase his hassanat, shower him with HIS mercy and grant him the highest levels of Jannah.

Dr. Bassam Osman, CIOGC Chair and Co-Founder

Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon.

Thank you, Ahmed, for your brief summary and an eloquent tribute to the incredible achievements of Prof. Bassiouni. The loss to the community, the city, the country and the world is immense. Despite his international fame and recognition, he was so humble and caring that he would come when requested to any of CIOGC and community meetings and share his wisdom.  May Allah swt forgive any of his shortcomings, multiply the rewards for his incredible services and good deeds and grant him a high place in paradise.

I agree with Ahmed. The community should turn out in large numbers to pay the last respects and pray for him.

Mohammed Kaiseruddin, Co-Founder, Former Chair of CIOGC

Professor Bassiouni was a close friend, a brother. Even when we did not see each other due to travel or business we always found time to catch up. His travel schedule would wear out any man. Whether it’s back and forth to Bosnia documenting massacres or to Siragusa, Italy where he presided over meetings of Judges from around the world, justice was his passion. He fought injustice by action and the pen. He did not care to whom or by whom.

He did not consider the popular thing to do or say, only the right and appropriate thing. He was opposed by the highest levels in governments at the U.N. On the War Crimes Tribunal for Yugoslavia, but that did not stop him because the injustices committed had to be recorded. He told me that even if the findings were not acted upon then, there will be a historical record. As a result of 3,500-pagereport, (he gave me a copy) the U.N. had to act resulting in the trial of those perpetrating the genocide. Br. Ahmed Rehab covered the life and accomplishments of Professor Bassiouni beautifully and eloquently. I will talk about my personal interactions with this iconic man – a unique person.

In the aftermath of the 1973 War and Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian Americans rushed to register their properties and do powers of attorney to relatives in the region, to protect their land ownership. Immediately, Professor Bassiouni set up a table on the south side of Chicago to prepare the appropriate legal documents – gratis of course – never shrinking from his service and support of the Arab and Muslim communities in Chicago… He did not wait to be asked. He led.

When the Islamic Cultural Center was being formed in the early seventies, I asked him to please draw up a trust agreement between the Islamic Cultural Center of Greater Chicago (ICC-GC) and the Bosnian American Cultural Association. That trust agreement is still valid today.

Years later a major controversy arose and divided the ICC-GC community resulting in 3 1/2 years in court. As the Court appointed Administrator of the Mosque, I suggested to the judge- once it was agreed to have elections to end the case- that Professor Bassiouni be appointed to conduct the election. He knows the communities, the people, the situation that exists at ICC, knows the laws, a Muslim, firm in his convictions, and is trusted by all sides.

Under very tenuous and hostile conditions, he got the job done, efficiently, fairly, and professionally. He never wavered when called upon to perform an important service for the Arab or Muslim community or any community for that matter.

I will forever be grateful to him for his friendship, support, and generosity. When the board and membership of ICC-GC honored me, when I stepped down as President, at a dinner, Professor Bassiouni called me a few days before and said that he heard about it but did not get an invitation. (I was not involved in who was informed/ invited). He said, “I was going to be having dinner with the Ambassador of the Arab League, but now am coming invited or not and am bringing him with me?” At that dinner, he said that he had part of a Kiswa (cloth on the Ka’bah) passed on to him from his grandfather when he delivered it to Mecca as Amir of the Hajj from Egypt in 1937 – when Professor Bassiouni was born.

I was very touched when he said, “it was prepared in 1936 when I was born- so our lives are intertwined.” He donated that to ICC-GC in my honor and attached the story to it which is placed in the Lecture Hall.

I first met Professor Bassiouni in 1967, when as a Jaycee Board member, held a conference on the Palestinian / Israeli conflict. That was held in May 1967. He spoke brilliantly about the legal aspects of the seizure of the Suez Canal by The Egyptian Government, that is likely to take place, and the Palestinian issues of the time. We became close friends then and that friendship and mutual respect just grew stronger with time.

When I went to the Hajj the first time, he asked if I do it again to let him know – he would like to join me. So a few years later, my sister wanted to go, so I planned to take her and my niece. Cherif said, “I will join you, same arrangement as you have.”

We spent a wonderful, spiritually fulfilling time together. After that, he would always ask me to pass on his salams to my sister and niece and they always ask about him. He was a very caring, sincere, wonderful human being and a loss to me personally but also to so many who knew him and benefitted from his advice, wisdom, and generosity. There is much more that I can say given a 50-year friendship.

May Allah (swt) forgive any shortcomings, increase his hassanat, shower him with His mercy and grant him the highest levels of Jannah… Inna Lillah waiina Iliyhi Rajioon.

Talat Othman, President, Grove Financial


Salam and thank you Abu Yousuf for this eloquent, personal, and very touching testimony of our Brother professor Bassiouni,  what you said about him, as very caring, sincere, and wonderful human being, represent my feeling, and the feeling of so many who know. I got to know professor Bassiouni through you, and I was struck to see when I entered his office, a plaque on the wall, a special Hadith of our beloved messenger Mohammed, peace be upon him, indicating the special status for individuals who serve their follow human, “that they are the saved one on the day of judgment,”

“إن لله عبادآ سخرهم الله لقضاء حوائج الناس، هم الناجون يوم القيامة.”

I pray that what he did for the community and for the services, advice, suggestions, and connections he volunteered to so many individuals, including myself, will honor him to be among the saved one on the day of judgment Insha Allah. Ameen.

Talal Sunbulli, Former CIOGC Chair

Inna Lillahi wa Inna Ilayhi Rajiun.

May Allay swt shower him with mercy. We ask Allah swt accept his great service to the humanity as Sadaqa Jariyya.

Thank you Ahmad and Br. Talat sharing your experience with us.


Halil Demir, Executive Director, Zakat Foundation of America


It was shocking to hear the passing of Prof. Bassiouni. May Allah forgive him, shower him with His mercy, and bestow on him the reward of Jannah.

Oussama Jammal, President, US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO)


Professor Bassiouni’s name is mentioned with two other names for people who had MCC incorporated in 1969-48 years ago. In those days, he was one of the Muslims would lead Salat when Muslims would get together. 

A few months ago, when I came across his name in the MCC Handbook, I called up his office with a desire to meet him to update him with MCC activities. I was told that he was out of the country and then I never got a chance again to meet him. 

We pray that may he be granted paradise and Jannatul Firdous. At the corner of McClurg and E. Erie, you will find his name on the street sign post.

(Mufti) Nazim Mangera, Muslim Community Center (MCC)


We had numerous personal interactions with marhoom Dr. Bassiouni during his speeches, the last of whom I attended was in Elmhurst College a couple of years back. The closest interaction, one to one and at length was on the dinner table at Br. Shah Nawaz Khan’s house, some 10 to 15 years back when the host invited quite a number of Chicago’s Muslim leadership for an informal gathering.

I reproduce below the short, hurried announcement I sent to some of my contacts this morning:

“Inna Lillahi wa Inna Ilayhi Raaje’oon. This is a huge loss for the Muslim ummah, specifically Chicago community. Marhoom was an active Muslim, a brilliant jurist, expert in International law, a graduate of Al Azhar who was nominated for Nobel Prize. I have vivid memory of him chairing the 1966 Annual Convention of MSA of US and Canada (mother of ISNA) held at Fresh Air Camp, in a remote area near Dearborn, MI.

“Allahummaghfirlahu warhamhu wadkhilhu fil jannah (aameen).”

M. Raja-ullah Quraishi, Former CIOGC Board member and Chair of the Bylaws Committee


Aameen, Summa Aameen, to all the deservedly-generous du’as for our dear Dr. Bassiouni. May I reiterate the perspective of him being a Muslim legal luminary of unparalleled global scope and international recognition. I have considered Dr. Bassiouni a mentor since my law-school days at DePaul University back in 1986. Given his sharp intellect and insightful thinking, every engagement with him was a learning experience. I felt honored every time he reminded me to visit for a deep discussion “about all that is going on!” – those stimulating conversations shall be sorely missed by many.

May Allah(swt) grant Dr. Bassiouni Maghfirah and entry into Jannat al-Firdous, and Sabr & Ajr for his grieving family members and close friends (Aameen).

Kareem M. Irfan, CIOGC Interfaith Committee Chair, and Former Chair

It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of a legend, a mentor, and a father figure, Professor Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni who transitioned at 8:40 am this morning after battling cancer and related complications.

The funeral prayer will be held at the Muslim Community Center (MCC) on 4380 N. Elston in Chicago, tomorrow (Tuesday) at 1:30pm. I encourage all who can to attend. And I encourage all on this list to urge your communities and constituents to come out for him as he always did for us.

Professor Emeritus Cherif Bassiouni stands in my mind as one of the all-time greats of the American Muslim community as well as one of the greatest contemporary legal minds to ply the trade. He is considered a pyramid of human rights law and a founding father of international criminal law, the latter of which saw him fight successfully for the creation of the first International Criminal Court in the Netherlands to prosecute the most severe human rights abuses that traditionally got a political pass.

The youngest and longest serving professor at DePaul (45 years of service), he also taught at universities around the country and the world and counts among his students well-known judges, jurists, governors, mayors, public servants, and diplomats.

Throughout the course of his career, he was appointed to 22 United Nations positions, and against all odds and the heavy rebuke of the international diplomatic establishment, he defiantly racked up his personal resources and connections and set out to single-handedly investigate the war crimes in Bosnia, a monumental effort that documented mass killings, human rights abuses, 67,000 cases of rape, and resulted in the prosecution of hundreds including the top man, Milosevic. At a ceremony honoring him at the Bosnian Islamic center, he gave them his grandfather’s prize possession, the Kiswa (cover) of the Kabba, and it still hangs there on their wall.

Bassiouni, the author of 35 books, the editor of 45, and the author of hundreds of scholarly articles has left such an indelible mark on his discipline that it would be difficult for a student of international criminal law anywhere in the world not to have been assigned one of his works on the path to graduation.

He was the founder and president of three international human rights law institutes, in the US, France, and Italy.

A studious man who received his education in his native Egypt, France, and the US, he had a near photographic memory, and was known for the incredible clarity of his thought process and analysis, as well as verbal communication.

But beyond the special gift of mind, Bassiouni bore a personality to match: tough yet charming, commanding yet compassionate, no-nonsense yet with great wit, and most of all committed, courageous, laborious, unyielding – and deeply compassionate.

He spoke seven languages fluently, and authored works directly in several of them. He had a penchant for life and was a man of fine taste. His home on Chicago’s lakefront felt like a mini museum with ancient artifacts from Rome, Greece, Egypt, and the Far East, collections of original law books and other works that were published as far back as the 1600’s, and historical Islamic texts. In his study, hung two life-size portraits of his two grandfathers, one the head of the Egyptian senate in the days of the monarchy, and the other a jurist and a leader of the resistance against British imperialism. The latter, Mahmoud Bassiouni has a street named after him in downtown Cairo, a street that was the hub of the activists seeking freedom through the uprising of January 2011. Cherif himself was given an honorary street naming in Chicago, not far from his home. His summer home had displays of some of his favorite collections including military figurines, chess boards, old rifles, and huge model ships.

Bassiouni’s efforts for human rights and his legal achievements saw him honored and awarded throughout his life. He received the highest civilian medals from several countries including France, Germany, Egypt, Austria, and Italy. He was awarded honorary citizenships from half a dozen countries and multiple honorary doctorates from several universities in the US, and Europe. His photo appears on a stamp in Trinidad and Tobago. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. His actual CV is 78 pages long by my count.

Though a larger than life figure whose role in the history, I knew Professor Bassiouni beyond the veneer and pomp as a humble, kind, and thoughtful man. I first met professor Bassiouni when I was a 21 year old graduate student at DePaul who happened to knock on his door wanting to meet him. He greeted me, a total stranger and simple student, with the courtesy of a diplomat. He smiled, made eye contact, offered me a chair, and spent as much time as I needed answering my questions about his work, politics, religion, and life, and offering me advice. I had no purpose being there, but to get to know him. He never asked me why I came or what I wanted. He let me in that day and never out. I recall a few years later sitting in the lobby of Winston Churchill’s former home in Sicily where professor Bassiouni was holding a human rights training of Arab judges under the auspices of his Italian institute, there at his invitation and not afforded any formal duties but to observe, I was mesmerized at how versatile one man could be. Switching seamlessly from speaking Arabic to his guests, Italian and French to his assistants, and German and Spanish in calls in between. And not merely language versatility, but culturally, he was truly a man of many worlds. At home in the company of kings and heads of government, as he was with student gatherings; in Islamic religious settings as in international high society galas; listening to Um Kulthum as to some of his favorite classical symphonies.

The picture I chose to attach to this post is from a personal happy memory: his visit to our home to congratulate us on our first born, Mahmoud Shamsedine. He gifted him a beautiful copy of the Qur’an in a silver casing, and we surprised him with a portrait my wife, Sevi, painted of him that now hangs in his institute in Sicily.

Professor Bassiouni is survived by his wife, Elaine, and his daughter Lisa and his grandchildren Szofia and Antonio. He is also survived by a band of “sons” including Mohamed Hilal, Laith Saud, Nehad el Gammal, Mohamed Abdel Aziz, Khaled Mohy, and myself. But most of all his favorite son, Yaser Tabbara with whom he had a special bond over many years.

Last night, as he lay in his bed unresponsive but breathing, we believed he could hear us, I read into his ear from the Qur’an. I opened the book and the first verses my eyes fell open read:

إِنَّا فَتَحْنَا لَكَ فَتْحًا مُّبِينًا
لِيَغْفِرَ لَكَ اللَّهُ مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِن ذَنبِكَ وَمَا تَأَخَّرَ وَيُتِمَّ نِعْمَتَهُ عَلَيْكَ وَيَهْدِيَكَ صِرَاطًا مُّسْتَقِيمًا
وَيَنصُرَكَ اللَّهُ نَصْرًا عَزِيزًا
هُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ السَّكِينَةَ فِي قُلُوبِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ لِيَزْدَادُوا إِيمَانًا مَّعَ إِيمَانِهِمْ وَلِلَّهِ جُنُودُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا
لِيُدْخِلَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الأَنْهَارُ خَالِدِينَ فِيهَا وَيُكَفِّرَ عَنْهُمْ سَيِّئَاتِهِمْ وَكَانَ ذَلِكَ

Verily, We have given you a manifest victory.
That Allah may forgive you your sins of the past and the future, and complete His Favour on you, and guide you on the Straight Path;
And that Allah may help you with strong help.
He it is Who sent down calmness and tranquillity into the hearts of the believers, that they may grow more in Faith along with their (present) Faith. And to Allah belong the hosts of the heavens and the earth, and Allah is Ever All-Knower, All-Wise.
That He may admit the believing men and the believing women to Gardens under which rivers flow (i.e. Paradise), to abide therein forever, and to expiate from them their sins, and that is with Allah, a supreme success.

When I got home, I remembered that these were the verses that coincidentally hung on a plaque above his head in his office for 45 years, a plaque that now hangs in mine since his retirement.

I ask Allah to forgive his sins and accept his soul to the highest level of heaven, and to grant his family patience and consolation.

Ahmed Rehab, Executive Director, CAIR-Chicago