Zabid is one of the most important towns in Yemen, having been its capital from the 13th to the 15th century. It had a great Islamic university, and was known as one of the great centers of learning in the Muslim world. It was always a city of scholars.
Shaykh Ibrahim al-Rashid, one of shaykh Ahmad ibn Idris’ closest disciples, writes about the shaykh’s arrival in Zabid:
“When he (may Allah be pleased with him) came to Zabid in Yemen and stayed there, the great scholarly masters rushed to him, like sayyid Abd al-Rahman (bin Sulayman al-Ahdali) the Mufti of Zabid and others. And they would go to his majlis every morning and evening, and hear from him the wonders of the ilm ladunni (ilm granted by Allah) that would never have occured to them, and they would ask him about the most difficult questions and he would give them answers that would expand the breast, of precious pearls.
So when they saw that, they decided that each of them will write down what they thought was a difficult problem of tafseer and hadith, and bring it all together in a piece of paper. And they said: You, oh sayyidi Abd al-Rahman, will ask, and if he answers them, we will accept him completely. So they came to the Teacher, may Allah be pleased with him, and he came to greet them and said to sayyid Abd al-Rahman by way of kashf: Take out the questions that you have, and look at the first question, and it was by s0-and-so, and he discussed it in a matter that astonished all minds. Then he said: the second question is by so-and-so, and it is such-and-such, and spoke about it with what has never occurred to a mind, and then he said the third question and who wrote it, and spoke about it with that which dazzles the minds. And so on until he finished all the questions, and they were shocked by the truth of his kashf, as if he was with them, and by the depth of his knowledge and how he answered all the most difficult questions without any difficulty. So they accepted him completely and recognized his great virtue, may Allah be pleased with him, and began to come to him after Isha to ask him about the tafseer of certain ayas.
And among the ayas that they asked him about was, ‘The Muslim men and the Muslim women” (33:35), and he kept explaining it and commenting upon it eleven days, one majlis in the morning and another majlis after Isha, and in each majlis he would speak of wonders that have not been heard before that.
Then he turned to them and said: “If Allah extended our life, and we spoke about the tafseer of this aya until the Day of Rising, and in each majlis we said something new, we would have done so.”
And they believed him and wrote down all that he said.”
[Ar-Rashid, Ibrahim, Iqd ad-Durr an-Nafees fee Ba’d Karaamaat sayyidna wa mawlaana as-sayyid Ahmad ibn Idris.
Edited and published by Shaykh Saleh al-Ja’fari, may Allah be pleased with him, in his book:A’taar Azhaar Aghsaan Hadheerat at-Taqdees. Cairo: Daar Jawaami’ al-Kalim.]
Likewise, another student of shaykh Ahmad ibn Idris, wrote about him:
“He (may Allah be pleased with him) spoke in Zabid in the presence of its ulama, muftis, and men for twelve days, completely filling his time with commentary on the saying of Allah Most High: “The Muslim men and the Muslim women, the believing men and the believing women,” the verse from Surah al-Ahzab. They wrote his commentaries and conclusions and discussions on the verse, and it amounted to seventy notebooks.”
[Voll, John, “Two Biographies of Ahmad ibn Idris al-Fasi (1760-1837)”, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol 6, No 4 (1973), pp. 633-645.]
Dr. Yahya Muhammad Ibrahim, studying a different manuscript in Luxor, found a note by its copyist saying that each notebook (karraasa) is 8 pages. If it was the same in the case of the lecture notes mentioned above, then they would amount to 560 pages of tafseer on that noble aya.
Dr. Ibrahim also found portions of these tafseer notes preserved in manuscripts in libraries in Upper Egypt and Sudan.
[Dr. Yahya Muhammad Ibrahim, Madrasat Ahmad ibn Idris al-Maghrebi wa Atharuha fil Sudan.]