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Note of the editor
This lecture was presented by Professor Al-Hassani at the 15th Euro-Asian Economic Forum held in Istanbul and Izmir, Turkey, on 11-13 April 2012. The summit, which started in Istanbul and ended in Izmir, was attended by 13 presidents etc, one Prime Minister, one Speaker of the Parliament, three Deputy Ministers and 30 Ministers from 50 countries. See the Final Declaration of the Forum.
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Chairman and Honourable Guests Greetings to you all.
Delightful thanks to Marmara Foundation for inviting me to address this esteemed Gathering. I bring you greetings from the United Kingdom.
We see much effort being expended on Inter-faith dialogues, which is important. But there is a new space for dialogue which we believe may have effective results in bringing cultures closer. Our Foundation is a non-religious and non-political Institution based in the United Kingdom.
By using world class research and surveying of the traditional media, social media and school curricula, we discovered startling results. There is 1000 years amnesia in the public mind and in particular amongst the future generation. This amnesia affects the identity and behaviours of people towards themselves and towards other communities.
Almost all people have perception that after the fall of the Roman Empire there was an extraordinary dull period of a 1000years called the “Dark Ages”. This is a misnomer, as for the thousand years after 600 CE there was an extra-ordinary amount of scientific and intellectual activity that radiated from Baghdad and along a glittering crescent through North Africa and into Spain and Southern Italy. For many years, people associate Baghdad with stories such as the 1001nights (or Arabian nights) and no information in the schools’ curricula or media about the enormous inventions and innovations from that period which still affect our lives. Science and sport are projected as entirely European with only European names of scientists, jumping a 1000 years from the Renaissance back to the Romans and the Greeks. This gap is normally called “Dark Ages” or “Medieval Ages”. This is demonstrated in fig.1.
This amnesia brings a big problem, as it breeds superiority Complex amongst Europeans and Americans but it causes Inferiority Complex amongst other cultures. We believe there is a need for a new language based on cultural roots of science to discover connections between cultures to create social cohesion and inter-cultural respect. If we look at history using a religious lens we see conflict and hostility. If we look at history using a political lens we again see wars and struggle for authority. If, however, we use the lens of science, we see cooperation and respect throughout humanity. Hence when we eliminate the 1000 years amnesia (see fig.2), we not only have a logical continuity but also dependence of cultures upon each other in the efforts to build the civilisation of the present day. It demonstrates the famous saying by Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further than others, it was because I was standing on the shoulders of giants“.
Figure 3: Professor Al-Hassani and Dr Gjorge Ivanov, the President of Macedonia at the conference.
One of our recent initiatives is the “1001 Inventions” project. It took up the challenge of using edutainment techniques to transfer historical information trapped in library archives into the popular domain, in particular the Global Digital Audience. An interactive touring exhibition, accompanied by a book, a teachers’ pack, a website www.1001inventions.com, a set of educational posters and a series of lectures were launched in March 2006. The information is conveyed by taking the viewer/reader/visitor into a journey through zones showing such inventions, which we currently find or use, in the home, school, hospital, market, town, world and universe. The academic material is conveyed through a web portal www.MuslimHeritage.com after the usual peer reviewing and rigorous scrutiny for correctness and neutrality. This web portal has become the number one source on all aspects of Muslim civilisation in particular those relating to science, technology, art and sport.
Figure 4: View of the audience of the Forum.
I call upon the leaders of the countries participating in this summit to give a serious thought to using the cultural roots of science and sports to enhance respect and appreciation between their peoples.
Figure 5: The audience of the Forum listening to the presentations.
For more information I invite you to visit our websites indicated by the links below:
By Professor Moustafa Mawaldi*
This article was translated from Arabic by Haya Zedan (FSTC). A thorough revision and copy editing was performed by the editorial board of www.MuslimHeritage.com.
1.1. His name and career
The complete name of our scholar is: Fakhr-ul Dīn Ridhwān bin Muhammad bin Alī bin Rustam bin Hurduz Al-Khurasānī Al-Sā’ātī. This long name is contracted in historical sources to a shorter one: Fakhr al-Dīn Ridhwān b. Muhammad b. Alī b. Rustam Al-Sācātī. He was born and raised in Damascus, where he died. As well as a scholar and scientist, he was an astronomer, a mechanician (especially as a clockmaker, from which he gained his title as-Sā’ātī), a physician, a writer and poet, a musician, a politician and a calligrapher.
1.2. His family
His Father, Muhammad Al-Sā’ātī, is originally from Khurasan. He moved to Damascus and lived there until he died around the year 572 H. He was referred to in historical literature as an engineer. He created the clock on Jīrūn gate (Bāb Jīrūn), famous as the gate of the clocks, located east of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, between the years 1154 and 1174 CE, in the time of al-Malik al-‘ādil [the Just King] Nūr Al-Dīn Mahmūd bin Zingī in Damascus (died Shawwal 569 AH/ May 1184 CE). Muhammad Al-Sā’ātī was described by Al-Safadī and Ibn Abī Usaybi’a as unique in his knowledge of clock-making and astronomy.
Figure 1a: View of Damascus Citadel located in the northwest corner of the Old City. (Photography in the public domain).
Figure 1b: The foundation inscription of the Citadel of Damascus with the name of al-‘Adl the brother of Salahaddin. (Source).
Fakhr ‘l-Dīn’s brother, Bahā Al-Dīn Abū Al-Hasan Alī, known also as Ibn Al-Sā’ātī, was born in Damascus and died in Cairo in 604 AH/1207 CE. He was a famous poet, and was spoken of by Ibn Abī Usaybi’a as follows: “He was the best of his time in poetry, and has no equal”. His work was published in Beirut in 1938-1939.
Figure 2: Diagram of Ridhwān al-Sā’āti’s clock as depicted in the original manuscript of his book ‘Ilm al-sā’āt wa ‘l-‘amal bihā. (Source: J. Shawqī, Al-‘ulūm wa ‘l-ma’ārif al-handasiyya fī al-hadhāra al-islāmiya, Kuwait, 1995, p. 297).
1.3. His academic development
Ridhwān grew up in a house of knowledge, for he was raised by his father, the renowned creator and engineer. From him he learned astronomy and the science of mechanics- clock-making, and he learned the medical profession from Fakhr ‘l-Dīn Muhammad Ibn Abdu-s-Salām Al-Mārdīnī (512-594 AH/ 1118-1198 CE), and from Abū Al-Hajjāj Radī ‘l-Dīn Yūsuf Ibn Haydara Ibn Al-Hasan Al-Rahabī (534-631 AH- 1140-1233 CE). Ridhwān remained to learn with Abū Al-Hajjāj for some time, and was apt and intelligent, excelling at what he pursued, diligent in his learning. This was confirmed by Al-Safadī and Ibn Abī Usaybi’a. Ridhwān studied literature under Abū Al-Yamn Tāj al-Dīn Zayd Ibn al-Hasan al-Kindī (520-613 H/1126-1217CE). Ridhwān’s upbringing and learning is reflected in his work and scientific achievements.
1.3. The positions he held
Ridhwān worked in the palace of the King Al-Fā’iz Ibrāhim (the nephew of Salāh ‘l-Dīn al-Ayūbī) and the son of the Just King Sayf ‘l-Dīn Abū Bakr Ahmad. He then served the Great King Sharaf al-Dīn ‘īssā, son of the Just King (died 624 AH/1227 CE) in a medical capacity, and held a ministerial role as well, which exemplifies Ridhwān’s political knowledge and capabilities, and his aptitude at medicine.
1.4. Date of his death
There are no records of Ridhwān’s birth, and sources vary on his exact date of death. Yāqut al-Hamawī in his book Mu’jam al-Udabā‘ lists Ridhwān’s death in the year 618 H. Al-Ziriklī followed suit in his book Al-A’alām, and Ismā’īl al-Baghdādī in Hadiyat Al-‘āarifīn and acknowledged Ridhwān’s death in the year 620 H. This was also reiterated in Mu’jam Al-Mu’alifīn and with Humaydān in A’lām ‘l-hadhāra. Ibn Abī Usaybi’a in his book ‘Uyūn Al-‘anbā’ and al-Safadī in his book Al-Wāfī bi’l-wafayāt declined to state a date for Ridhwān’s death, saying only that Ridhwān died in Damascus of jaundice. Other sources have listed dates that are incorrect (627 H /1230-1231 CE), and the reason is that Yāqūt himself defines the date of Ridhwān’s death, but Yāqūt died in 626 H / 1229 CE. This confirms that Ridhwān died before Yāqūt, between the years of 618-626 H / 1221-1229 CE.
2. His writings
2.1. Mechanics, clock-making and astronomy
Ridhwān finished a book in Muharram 600 H/September-October 1203 CE on the science of clock-making titled: Kitāb ‘ilm al-sā’āt wa ‘l-‘amal bihā (The Science of clocks and working with them), in five chapters. The book is devoted to the description of clock machinery, the working of the device, shapes of its different parts, sizes, and how to work with them. He included illustrations of the machines and how they operate, as well as recommendations for their daily use, and problems that may occur, and how to avoid these to maintain a fully functional machine.
Ridhwān’s knowledge of clock-making indicates his knowledge of astronomy as well, and this is because of the strong relation between the two subjects in that time.
Ridhwān’s book was published by Muhammad Ahmad Dahmān in Damascus in 1401 H /1981 CE, and was translated by Wiedeman and Hauser into German, a short translation dependant on the manuscript 1348 preserved in Forschungsbibliothek in Gotha in Germany. The treatise is considered to be a move in a new direction for educational texts as far as organization and segmentation .
Figure 4: A view from the courtyard of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus where Ridhwān’s clock was erected. (Source).
Most of the sources and references point to Ridhwān’s medical aptitude, which made him Royal Physician to the two brother kings Al-Fā’iz and Al-Mu’azzam. He was complimented in Al-Safadī’s book Al-Wafī by saying: “he was a physician complete and dignified in medicine and literature, and he was fond of the words of Sheikh Ibn Sīnā and fascinated by it.”
Ridhwān is the author of the following two medical texts: A completion of the book Colinge by Ibn Sīnā, and Al-Hawāshī (marginalia) based on Al-Qanūn by the same Ibn Sīnā.
2.3. Literature and music
Ibn Abī Usaybi’a described Fakhr ‘l-Dīn Al-Sā’ātī as a decent writer who wrote in the best quality. He is the author of a poetry text titled Al-Mukhtār fī ‘l-ash’ār in which we read:
فِي صُفْرَةِ اللَّوْنِ يَحْكِــي لَوْنَ مِسْكِينِ
وَرَوْضَــةٍ زَادَ بِالْأُتْرُجِّ بَهْجَتُهَـا
مِنْ فُرْقَةِ الْغُصْنِ أَمْ مِنْ خَوفِ سِكِّينِ؟
عَجِبْتُ مِنْهُ فَمَا أَدْرِي أَ صُفْرَتُهُ
He wrote also:
لِأَنَّـنِـي بَيْنَهُـــــــــــــمُ فَـارِسُ
يَحْسُدُنِي قَوْمِي عَلَـى صَـنْعَتِي
لَنْ يَسْتَوِي الدَّارِسُ وَالنَّاعِسُ
سَهِرْتُ فِــــي لَيْلِي وَاسْتَنْعَسُوا
مِنْ كُلِّ مَا يَهْوَى وَمَــــــا بَتَحَبَّبُ
حَسْبُ الْمُحِبِّ تَلَذُّذ بِغَرَامِـــهِ
مَنْ كَانَ فِي شَيءٍ سِوَاهَا يَرْغَبُ
رَاحُ الْمَحَبَّةِ لَا تُرِيحُ بِرَوْحِهَا
Furthermore, he was knowledgeable in music and was adept at playing the ‘ud (luth). Yāqūt al-Hamawī reported that he attended gatherings with Ridhwān in Damascus where he played more than once.
In conclusion, we may say that Ridhwān b. Muhammad Al-Sā’ātī’s scholarly achievements embodied science, art and literature, and he was a distinctive personality that held prestigious positions in his society.
3. Sources and references
 See Abdel Aziz al-Jaraki (2007), When Ridhwan al-Sa’ati Anteceded Big Ben by More than Six Centuries.
* Dean of the Institute for the History of Arabic Science, Aleppo University, Syria.
|Figure 1. An automatic clock design from al-Jazarî’s book, al-Jamiu bayn al-ilm wa’l-amal al-Nafi fî sinaat al-hiyal (Ahmet III Library, Topkapi Palace Nr 3472).|
In the Islamic world, great importance was placed upon the study of natural sciences and technology. It is known that as early as during the reign of Harun al-Rashid, a water clock was built in the Islamic world. As told by Einhard who wrote the life of Charlemagne, Harun al-Rashid sent a water clock to the Emperor Charles as a gift.
In the Abbasid period, Muslim scholars of Turkish, Persian and Arab origins created quite interesting works in the fields of mathematics and astronomy. It is accepted even by the Europeans that al-Bîrûnî, the Muslim scholar, (973-1051) had argued that the world revolved around its axis 500 years before Copernicus. It is certain that Islamic scholars influenced Europeans in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy.
During the era of the Artuqids, one of the small Turkic states that appeared after the Great Seljuk Empire collapsed, technical works were built. Upon the encouragement of Malik us-Salih Nasruddin Abu al-Fath Mahmud b. Kara Arslan b. Davud b. Sokman b. Artuq (1200-1222), the Artuq emperor who reigned in Diyarbakir, Bedi’ al-Zaman Ebu’1-Izz Ibn Ismail Ibn al-Razzaz al-Jazarî wrote a book with the title Kitâb al-Jâmi’ bayn al-ilm wa’l-amal al-nafî’ fî sinaat al-hiyal which mentioned several automatic machines, water clocks, water pumps, water levels, and musical instruments, with construction drawings.
Al-Jazarî worked for 32 years in the Artuqlu palace as the head engineer (Reis’ul-Amal) between 570 (1174) and 602 (1206). Al-Jazarî states that he had studied the books and works of scholars preceding him, but finally he had freed himself from their influences and solved the problems through his own point of view. He underlined the importance of the work, saying: “This book contains some tears that have been patched, some methods that have been classified and some sketches that have been discovered. I do not believe there exists another similar work”. In his work, which consists of six chapters, al-Jazarî discloses his discoveries concerning important technical issues such as water clocks, water clocks with oil lamps, the constructions of pots and pans for wine making, the construction of ewers and bowls for use as cups, the sketches of pools and fountains and music automata, and the sketches of devices able to elevate water from shallow wells or flowing rivers.
|Figure 2. A rocket plan from Ibn Aranbugha’s book Kitabül anik fil manajik kitabül hiyal fil hurub ve fath, Kitabul esliha (Armoury Manual), Ahmet III Library, Topkapi Palace Nr, 3469.|
It is seen that the technical and natural sciences were encouraged and flourished not only during the Artuqids, but also in the other Seljuk beyliks, and in Syria and Egypt later on during the Mamluk sultans. Especially during the first Crusades, there was an obligation for Islamic scholars to work on the discovery of gunpowder and explosive weapons as early as the twelfth century, in order for the Turkic-Islamic world to succeed against the Christian armies.
Syria (and particularly Damascus) was a major centre of the sciences in the thirteenth century with the madrasas and hospitals built by Turkic Atabegs. It was very natural for Muslim scholars to manufacture gunpowder and build explosive weapons in Syria as it witnessed many gory battles during the Crusades. Islamic scholars in the thirteenth century had sufficient technical information to use gunpowder for rockets.
In the books “Kitap al-furusiya val-muhasab al-harbiya” and “Niyahat al-su’ul val-ummiya fi ta’allum a’mal al-furusiya” written by the Islamic scholar Hasan ar-Rammah Najm al-Din al-Ahdab in the thirteenth century, explosive materials, firearms, and, for the first time, torpedoes driven by a rocket system were mentioned. In this work on battle techniques written around 1275 by Hasan ar-Rammah, the illustrations of a torpedo running with a rocket system filled with explosive materials and having three firing points can also be found.
Another book on arms and military in the Topkapi Palace is a very valuable document copied in the fourteenth century that consists of three different works. The first section is called Kitab anîq fi’1-manajniq and written in 775 for Ibn Aranbugha Al-Zardkâsh, the Ayyubid commander or for Mingili Boga al-Shimmin. According to more recent research, the author is not known. The second section is the book called Kitab al-hiyal fi’l-hurub ve fath almada’in hifz al-durub, on rockets, bombs and burning arrows, written by the Turkish commander Alaaddin Tayboga al-Omari al-Saki al-Meliki al-Nasir.
Figure 3. Another rocket plan from Ibn Aranbugha’s book Kitabül anik fil manajik kitabül hiyal fil hurub ve fath, Kitabul esliha (Armoury Manual), Ahmet III Library, Topkapi Palace Nr, 3469.
Leonardo da Vinci is often mentioned as the first inventor of the dark box (a primitive version of a camera [Camera obscura]), water pump, flywheel, and flying machines. However, it is known that Leonardo da Vinci was influenced by Islamic scholars, and he was particularly inspired by the work of al-Hazen. We have to remember that a hand-written copy of the technical work of Ahmed b. Musa, the Islamic engineer, is still in the Vatican Library.
Furthermore, in the Turkic-Islamic cultural world, the first attempts at flight are seen long before the European Christian world. A Turkish scholar of Sayram (Ispidjap) had researched the relationship between the wing surfaces of birds and their weights, to find the physical causes for flight. This work set new horizons in the field of aerodynamics.
The most interesting of the attempts at flight in the Turkish-Islam cultural circles were those of Hazarfan Ahmed Celebi and Lagarî Hasan Celebi in 1630-1632 during the reign of Sultan Murad IV. Evliya Celebi, who personally witnessed these flight attempts, gave the following information in his travel book, hand-written copies of which can be found in the Libraries of Istanbul:
“Hazarfan Ahmed Celebi: First he practiced by flying over the pulpit of Okmeydani eight or nine times with eagle winds, using the force of the wind. Then, as Sultan Murad Han was watching from the Sinan Pasha mansion at Sarayburnu, he flew from the very top of the Galata Tower and landed in the Dogancilar Square in Uskudar, with the help of the south-west wind. Then Murad Khan granted him a sack of golden coins, and said:
Hezarfen Ahmed Celebi, who opened a new era in the history of aviation, being sent to Algeria in exile, and Lagarî Hasan Celebi not receiving enough attention, and his departure to the Crimea later on, do answer the question of why the development in this field did not continue.
The Turkish engineer Lagarî Hasan Celebi, flying with a seven-winged rocket of his own invention and then landing safely on the sea with eagle-like wings, is very similar to the sea-landing methods of Americans, with parachutes after their voyages into space. Therefore, Lagarî Hasan Celebi deserves a special place in the history of aviation, with his flight attempt, which opened new horizons in rocketry techniques. When Lagarî Hasan Celebi made his flight attempt with a rocket-like vehicle; the Ottoman Empire was going through its last bright era under Sultan Murad IV.
In the work called Ummul-Gaza, written by Ali Aga, the second caliph of the Bombardiers class in the reign of Sultan Ahmed III (1703-1730), which is currently in the Topkapi Palace; the rockets called tulumbas invented by himself and used for castle sieges in the seventeenth century were described. These are described as being 11-12 arsin (7-8 m) long and the diameter was difficult for one person to encircle. In this work, Ali Aga relates the failures of the battles to the decline in inventing and developing armaments and recommends to the sultan that new arms be developed. Thus, it is seen that the developments and new discoveries in the Turkic-Islamic world in this field came to an end.
The Islamic renaissance, which began in the ninth and tenth centuries, brought about major advances in the technical field and as early as the ninth century the first attempts at flight had begun in Turkistan and Andalusia. It is understood from the works of Hasan ar-Rammah and Aladdin Tayboga al-Umari as-Saki and other works, the copies of which are in our libraries that during the Seljuk and Mamluk era rocket driven torpedoes and rockets were developed. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Turkish engineer Lagarî Hasan Celebi’s flight in Istanbul is very similar to the sea-landing methods of Americans, with parachutes, after their space flights. Evliya Celebi mentioned that Lagarî Hasan Celebi went to the Crimea after this trial, to Selamet Giray Khan, and the first Russian rocket technology studies in Ukraine coincided with the period just after Lagarî Hasan Celebi’s residence in Crimea and his death., This supports the opinion that studies in the field of Russian rocket technology could have been influenced by the Turkish engineer Lagarî Hasan Celebi and his students.
Famous traveller EvliyaCelebi recorded that Lagari Hasan Celebi made a successful rocket-powered flight in 17th-century Turkey. (Source)
|Figure 1. A class at the Gazanfer Aga Madrasa founded in 1566 (Image from Divan-i Nadiri, Topkapi Palace Museum Library, H. 899).|
The epistemological ground of science can primarily be deduced from its cognitive nature. A tradition, on the other hand, is a social phenomenon, which springs from the social constitution of our nature and as such cannot be deduced from the cognitive aspect of science. This leads us to distinguish the cognitive, or rather the epistemic ground of science from its social aspect. In fact, these two aspects of science spring from two aspects of man, which must be somehow reflected in all human activities as well; epistemological and sociological. We do not mean, however, that all aspects of man are reducible to these two alone; on the contrary, our aim, being rather pragmatic, is to show that science as a human activity must manifest such characteristics of man which will be examined here as the social and epistemological grounds of science. This is also the case with the concept of science in Islam. Without developing these two grounds of scientific activities we cannot investigate how a scientific tradition emerged in Islam.
A scientific tradition is actually the foundation upon which sciences are built within a certain civilisation (or society). But this proposition leaves us with a dilemma that is theoretically circular. This is because our position in this essay presupposes that in a civilisation no learning activity can be characterised ‘scientific’ unless there is already a body of knowledge defined as ‘science’ within that particular civilisation. This being the case, since any tradition of learning or an intellectual tradition can be described as ‘scientific’ only after the existence of sciences, scientific tradition is required for the emergence of sciences, but sciences are required in turn for the emergence of a scientific tradition. Our disapproval of the use of the adjective ‘scientific’ for the intellectual activities prior to the emergence of sciences is defended on the basis of a totally new concept which we would like to introduce here as scientific consciousness that is required by the systematic nature of our mind. We shall try to expose this in order to resolve the apparent circularity in our theoretical foundation.
|Figure 2. The miniature of Mawlana Kara Yaqub al-Aswad (Image from Tarjama Shakaiq al-Numaniya, TSMK, H 1263).|
By the systematic nature of our mind, we mean that mental function which forms an organised unity in order for the mind to be able to carry out its operations. As we proceed from infancy to adulthood, this mental unity is established gradually, forming itself into an architectonic unity that we call ‘worldview.’ Therefore, when we try to acquire knowledge our mind grasps that knowledge within this unity which has already been shaped in the mind.
In this way, if a specific subject of inquiry is investigated for a long period with an uninterrupted chain of investigators, which will be called here ‘scientific community’ (or the ulama within Islamic civilisation), the knowledge accumulated therein will be perceived gradually within a disciplinary unity. When this awareness emerges in the minds of the scholars involved in that activity they become conscious of the fact that subjects or problems of learning they have been investigating constitute a specific discipline, which is then given a certain name thus designating a particular science. It is such awareness that we shall entitle ‘scientific consciousness’ which is the natural result of the constitution of our mind. If scientific consciousness belongs thus to our mind as a natural characteristic, then it cannot be conventional, simply on the basis of the fact that it is primarily cognitive. But a tradition is almost totally conventional and social; hence, if there is such a thing as scientific tradition, then we may infer from our analysis so far that science is at once conventional and universal; the former ensuing from the ways and manners adopted by the scientific community in question, and the latter from the epistemological character of our mind.
This article was written by Adil Salahi and originally published by Impact magazine.
The Abbasid Caliph, Al-Mutawkkil was a strong admirer of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. He once sent him some rich gifts, including a large amount of money. A highly placed official at court, who wished Ahmad well, wrote to him that the gift was forthcoming and alerting him that, should he refuse it, there would be no shortage of people who would be quick to try to use that in order to sow discord between him and the Caliph. Nevertheless, Ahmad did not allow any part of the gift to enter his home. He distributed it all to poor and needy people, taking nothing for himself or his family.
Thus was Ahmad ibn Hanbal: a model of courage and honesty who cared little for worldly comforts and luxuries that money may buy. What a Caliph would give held no temptation for him. Yet he did not consider taking such a gift to be forbidden. His son once asked him whether he could offer the pilgrimage using money he received from the Caliph. He answered that he could, because it was money obtained from a legitimate source, explaining that he would not take it himself, as he wished to maintain a standard of purity that he imposed on no one else. If such an attitude was certain to ensure great fame for the scholar, let us now look into his life.
Although the name Ahmad has been over the whole history of Islam one of the most common names in Islamic culture and throughout the Muslim world, when it is mentioned on its own in any scholarly work of hadith or Fiqh, there can be no mistake that the reference is to Ahmad ibn Hanbal. Ahmad was the founder of the fourth school of thought, but the ranking is made only on the basis of chronological order. He was born in 164 AH, corresponding to 781 CE. This means that his birth took place 14 years after Abu Haneefah’s death, and 15 years before Malik’s death, but the two did not meet. He was a student of El-Shafie whom he respected very highly. His full name was Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Hanbal Al-Shaibani, which means that Hanbal was his grandfather, but the affiliation to his grandfather stuck to him, perhaps because his father died when he was a very young baby. Indeed he mentions that he did not see his father, which suggests that the father died when the young child was not yet able to recognise people with eyesight.
His grandfather was a governor in Persia, and although the family was purely an Arab one, it lived in Persia for many years that some of its members found it easier to converse in Persian, rather than Arabic. Ahmad himself spoke Persian, although the family moved to Baghdad when he was still very young. That helped Ahmad who showed strong inclinations to study and learning. His uncle was looking after the family, and directed his early studies, but it was his mother’s influence that had the clearest mark on his upbringing and future attitudes. She was a remarkable woman of very strong faith and serious attitude. His early promise was recognised by teachers and friends. Thus, he was known to be among scholars as ‘the pious young man’ and in his old age he was the master scholar withstanding torture and hardship for his beliefs.
Ahmad memorised the Quran at an early age, and as he was directed by his uncle and his mother to pursue his studies, his serious nature and early pious attitude ensured that he sought to study Fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence. Baghdad was at the time not only the political capital of the vast Islamic state, stretching from the Atlantic in North Africa to Central Asia; it was also the most important centre of Islamic scholarship, witnessing at the same time the penetrating influence of other cultures, including Greek philosophy, Indian mythology and Persian traditions. Ahmad sought none of this, but went straight into the study of Fiqh, reading under Abu Yussuf, the best known student of Abu Haneefah. This means that his early studies took him into learning Fiqh that gave scholarly discretion a very high rank and relied much on analogy. But soon afterwards, he decided to pursue the study of hadith, delaying Fiqh study for a while.
Ahmad started his pursuit of the study of hadith in Baghdad at the age of 15, and continued to give it his full attention there for seven years. He realised that the main scholars of hadith did not all live in the capital. So he decided to seek them wherever they lived. He began to travel to Basrah, Kufah, Hijaz and Yemen. He is said to have travelled five times to Basrah, and paid a similar number of visits to Hijaz. However, in the latter trips he combined offering the pilgrimage with his studies.
On all these trips, Ahmad’s aim was to listen to the Prophet’s hadiths from scholars personally. He could have easily learnt the hadiths from their books, but he was keen to listen to their hadiths as they personally reported them. That is a recognised virtue of excellence in the scholarship of hadith, because it ensured a smaller number of reporters in the chain of transmission of a hadith between the student and the Prophet himself. A shorter chain of transmitters, who were all reliable and trustworthy, meant the room for error is practically non-existent. Hence, scholars were keen to seek a hadith at the shortest chain of transmission they could achieve, even though that might have required them to undertake a long journey.
His trip to Yemen was one such effort. He was keen to meet Abdurrazzaq ibn Hammam, an eminent scholar of hadith who was at the time, and remains today, widely famous. In fact he had met Abdurrazzaq during pilgrimage, and he could have learnt from him whatever he wanted to learn, sparing himself a long journey to Yemen, but he preferred to learn from the scholars of Makkah and Madinah while he was on pilgrimage, and to go to Abdurrazzaq in Yemen later. That way, he would hope for God’s reward for his arduous journey and get all that he could from the Yemeni scholar in his home surroundings.
Up to this stage, we recognise two major influences on Ahmad’s scholarship: the early study of Fiqh under Abu Yussuf and the hadith study through which he collected a wealth of statements by the Prophet, or hadiths, together with rulings by the Prophet’s companions and their successors as well as their judgements in disputes put to them. This represented a strong exposure to the practical application of hadith and other religious text, which means that he was not isolated from Fiqh during his study of hadith. However, a third influence was soon to have a major bearing on Ahmad and his scholarship. That was his meeting with El-Shafie who by that time had developed his methodological approach to Fiqh and the fundamental rules he set for construction and deduction of rulings and judgements. When he studied under El-Shafie, Ahmad started to review what he had learnt and collected of hadiths and reports of the Prophet’s companions and their successors so as to pinpoint the relevance of those texts and reports to practical matters. That gave him a profound insight in Fiqh which was rare among scholars of hadith. Thus, Ahmad was at the same time a top scholar of hadith and a top scholar of Fiqh. That combination gave him a rare standard of excellence.
It was not until Ahmad was 40 years of age that he had a circle where he taught and gave rulings on any question put to him. This does not mean that he would not have given rulings earlier than that. Indeed he would answer when a question was put to him, because abstention meant suppression of knowledge and that is forbidden in Islam. But he would not sit for teaching and issuing rulings until he was 40. He had two reasons for that: the first was to follow the Prophet’s example, who received his revelations and became a teacher for mankind at that age, and the other his respect for his teachers meant that he would not teach while they were alive. It was a coincidence that El-Shafie died in 204, when Ahmad was 40. A point to remember is that Abu Haneefah did the same, starting his study circle at the age of 40.
It did not take long for Ahmad to become widely known. Indeed his circle was soon very large, with some reports putting the number of students and listeners attending it at 5000, among whom one tenth wrote what he taught. While this may be rather exaggerated, even a circle one-fifth that size, i.e. 1000 students, is very large by any standard. People loved his teaching because they recognised in him a teacher of wide knowledge, and a highly pious man who spared no effort in the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge.
Three factors enhanced Ahmad’s popularity as a teacher. The first was that his serious attitude to learning and teaching was coupled with exemplary humility and contentment. Secondly, he was always keen to report only that of which he was absolutely certain. Hence, he did not rely on his memory, fine and sharp as it was. He always referred to his books, which he had written with his own hand, when he learnt from his teachers. He feared that if he would report from memory, he might be mistaken and he would attribute to the Prophet what the Prophet did not actually say. Thirdly, he taught his students to write down what they learnt of hadith only. He did not allow them to write anyone else’s views or teachings. To him, true knowledge that deserved to be documented was the Quran and the hadith.
This meant that despite the numerous trends of scholarship with which Baghdad was bustling at the time, Ahmad rejected any study that was not based on the Quran and hadith only. Thus, he would not take a logical approach to faith, nor would he discuss matters of faith in a purely rational or philosophical way. He rejected any involvement in debates of theological nature, such as whether God’s names and qualities mentioned in the Quran were purely attributes of His, or they were the same as Himself. To him, that was a pursuit that brought no useful results.
Ahmad ibn Hanbal combined qualities that are always certain to ensure a degree of exceptional excellence. The first of these is one he shares with all hadith scholars of repute; that is, a sharp memory coupled with penetrative insight. In this regard Ahmad is rated by many scholars who knew him well as having the clearest, sharpest and most reliable memory of all his contemporaries.
The other quality that stands out when we discuss Ahmad’s personality is his endurance and perseverance. This is the fruit of a strong will, sincerity and an aspiration to achieve only what is best. It gave him a most pleasant personality that combined poverty with generosity and dignity, self-respect with willingness to forgive those who caused him harm and injury, and a willingness to undertake difficulties in the pursuit of his goals. We will see how these qualities stood him in good stead during his long and hard trial when he was subjected to much persecution. As we try to delve deeper into his character, we find a person who derives his dignity from faith, relies on none other than God, aspires to nothing that a human being can confer, and fears God alone. Hence, he was a model of humility; always ready to overlook other people’s mistakes and forgive whatever they might have caused him of hardship.
Ahmad’s third quality was purity of heart in the broadest sense of the word. He never touched anything belonging to someone else, nor did he ever succumb to a desire. Moreover, his faith was pure, acknowledging no authority other than that of God. We find this quality rubbing off onto his scholarship. In beliefs and thought, he would not take any course other than that of the Prophet and his companions. In Fiqh, he would not even try to weigh up the different views of the Prophet’s companions. If they differed on one questions, he would consider their differing views as equally acceptable. He treated the tabieen, or successors to the Prophet’s companions in the same way.
His purity of heart affected his whole life. He tried his best to ensure that he would not touch any money, property or indeed anything that came from any source other than what he knew to be absolutely lawful. He would not accept money given to him by a teacher, friend, prince or Caliph. He was poor, living mostly on the rent he received for property he owned, but that rent was too little to give him a comfortable life. When a teacher like the Yemeni hadith scholar, Abdurrazzaq, tried to help him with some money as a gift, he apologised gently, pointing out that he preferred to live on his own earnings. Therefore, when he needed extra income, he worked, doing whatever job he could find. He did not hesitate even to copy with long hand a book for someone who needed it in return for some money.
Ahmad also maintained a high standard of honesty in everything he pursued. Thus, all his scholarship was for God’s sake. He sought no recognition or position. Even when he was young, he would not carry his writing material in a visible way; he would hide them so that people would not say that he was going to study, or that he was a scholar.
It was an awesome scene in a terrifying place. The Caliph, Al-Mustassim, who was a courageous fighter and an uncompromising ruler, tried hard with the assistance of Al-Mutazilah scholars to persuade Ahmad ibn Hanbal to agree to their line of thinking stating that the Quran is a ‘creature of God’. Great and tempting promises were offered and hard punishment was threatened but he would not budge. The punishment was to be carried out there and then. A well-wisher who belonged to scholarly circles approaches him and whispers: “Why subject yourself to all this torture when God allows you to spare yourself by telling them what they wish to hear and maintain your own beliefs.” Ahmad asked him whether he knew who was outside. The man said: “There are more than a thousand people carrying pen and paper.” He said: “Yes. They all want to know what Ahmad says on this issue. If I conceal what I believe to be the truth in order to spare myself, this wrong idea will spread and flourish for generations to come. I will not meet my Lord having helped to spread it.” He remained steadfast bearing excessive torture.
Ahmad’s great test of endurance and hardship began towards the end of the reign of the Abbasid Caliph, Al-Ma’moon, when the philosophical school known as Al-Mutazilah was on the ascendance. The Caliph himself was a scholar who loved philosophy and debate. He favoured Al-Mutazilah because of their logical approach to all matters. One major issue Al-Mutazilah raised was that of the position of the Quran in relation to God. It is well known that all Muslims believe that the Quran is, literally, the word of God, but Al-Mutazilah added that it was ‘created’, in the sense that it did not share God’s attribute of being ‘ever-present’. This attribute belonged to God and to no one and nothing else.
The Caliph accepted this view and defended it with enthusiasm. He even wrote in his will that he bears witness that ‘God is unlike anything else. He is One, the Sovereign of the universe with no partner. Everything else is a creation of His. The Quran cannot be anything other than the rest of creation, having the same qualities as everything else, while God is one with nothing like Him.’ He also urged his brother, Al-Mu’tassim, who was to succeed him, to follow his ideas.
As Al-Ma’moon was staying at Tartoos, he wrote to Ishaq ibn Ibraheem, his Deputy in Baghdad, to examine all scholars on this point, insisting that they must accept that the Quran was ‘created’ by God. The orders were carried out immediately, with the Deputy organising a meeting of all scholars and warning them that torture and affliction would be the lot of anyone who dissented. All scholars attending toed the official line, with the exception of four, but two of these later followed suit and two were left unwilling to compromise. Ishaq ibn Ibraheem decided to send them over to the Caliph, in fetters, as his orders specified. The two were Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Muhammad ibn Noah. On the journey, the latter scholar died, a martyr, and Ahmad was transported to the Caliph. However, a couple of days later, news of the Caliph’s own death were received, but the travelling party continued their journey until they arrived at the door of his successor, Al-Mu’tassim.
Al-Mu’tassim was in no way a scholar, nor did he understand what the whole issue was about. He was more of a military commander, but he loved his brother, Al-Ma’moon and trusted his judgement. Therefore, he was bent on carrying to the letter his brother’s will, requiring him to eradicate the opposite view. Hence, Ahmad was brought to him, in fetters, and was asked about his views on the question at issue, i.e. the position of the Quran. He said in court, which was attended by a large number of scholars, mostly of Al-Mutazilah, that the whole subject was not mentioned in the Quran, the hadith or by the Prophet’s companions. As such, it was better and safer not to be involved in such theological arguments and to confine oneself only to stating that the Quran was God’s word. They would not accept that from him. Because of his popularity and high standing, they tried both to tempt him to agree and to scare him of the consequences of refusal, but without success. Hence, they inflicted on him physical torture, with slaves beating him up with whips, but he would not give in. Then he was taken to prison. This was carried out repeatedly over a period of 28 months, but Ahmad would not budge.
Ahmad’s popularity increased, as people admired his resolute stand. Therefore, he was released, but placed under house arrest. He was banned from teaching or meeting other people. This continued for the rest of the reign of Al-Mu’tassim and his son, Al-Wathiq. However, when Al-Mutawkkil succeeded Al-Wathiq, in 232 AH, 837 CE, the trouble was over, as he leaned towards scholars of Fiqh and hadith, among whom Ahmad was the top figure. That was a time when Ahmad could have avenged himself against those who persecuted him, but he absolved them all of everything they did, seeking no revenge whatsoever.
To the end of his life, Ahmad maintained his position on the central question in this difficult period. He believed that the Quran was part of God’s knowledge, and His word revealed to His last messenger, Muhammad [peace be on him]. It was not a ‘creature’ of God. He relied in this on the fact that neither the Prophet nor any of his companions stated anything of the sort. Hence, Muslims should maintain the same position and refrain from such logical and theological debate that was bound to be futile.
Imam Ahmad devoted all his scholarly work to hadith and Fiqh. He attained a very high position in both disciplines, but this has led some scholars to classify him among the scholars of one speciality rather than the other. Whatever anybody may feel, the truth is that Ahmad was a scholar of Fiqh who paid great attention to hadith so that hadith became his distinctive scholarly mark. We will consider Ahmad’s work in both capacities.
Imam Ahmad started his collection of hadith early in his scholarly career, and continued his efforts throughout his life. He kept all his material carefully, but without putting what he collected in any specific order. Late in his life, when he feared that what he collected might be lost, he gathered his sons and a few of his best students and related all his collection to them. He aimed to revise it all and classify it, but he died before he could do so. That task was left to his son Abdullah ibn Ahmad, who was a distinguished scholar of hadith in his own right. Abdullah added some hadiths which confirmed those collected by his father on different topics.
The system of classification followed by Abdullah ibn Ahmad was different from that of the other main collections of hadith which followed aspects of Fiqh. Al-Musnad is classified according to the first reporter of hadith, which means that it relates all the hadiths reported by one companion of the Prophet, regardless of subject matter. When these have been documented, a new chapter is started to relate all the hadiths reported by another companion, and so on. This makes it very difficult to use Al-Musnad by anyone who is not a scholar of hadith. This method of classification is useful in knowing the scholarly standpoint and views of each companion of the Prophet, but this is a specialised area.
Ahmad was keen to make his collection highly authentic. He was always looking into it, dropping any hadith that he suspected to have not been accurately reported. But he did not drop all the hadiths that were lacking in authenticity. He says to his son, Abdullah: “Had I aimed to include only what is highly authentic, I would have related only a small portion, but you, my son, know my method in relating hadith. I do not contradict a hadith whose authenticity is questionable unless there is some other hadith on the same subject to contradict it.”
This means that Al-Musnad includes some hadiths that are somewhat lacking in authenticity, but, as Imam Ibn Taimiyah says, there is not a single hadith in Al-Musnad that has been proven to be false or fabricated.
That Ahmad was a top scholar of Fiqh is a matter of no doubt, but his Fiqh scholarship was based on his excellence in hadith. Suffice it to say that when Al-Bukhari completed his Sahih collection, he chose Ahmad to review it for him, and Ahmad raised questions only on four hadiths in the book that was destined to become the best known in the Muslim world for 12 centuries so far. Hence, Ahmad’s fiqh is closest to the Sunnah and hadith. However, the mainstay of Ahmad’s fiqh may be summed up as follows.
1. Religious text, meaning the Quran and the hadith. When Ahmad finds a text applicable to a question, he adopts that and does not consider any other view, not even a ruling by any companion of the Prophet.
2. Rulings by the Prophet’s companions when there was nothing to contradict these. He would not say that such a ruling represented unanimity, but he would only say that he did not know of any opposing view.
3. If he had different views of the Prophet’s companions, he would choose the one that was more in line with the Quran and the Sunnah. If he could not determine that, he would report their disagreement without favouring any view. In this he is different from El-Shafie who would weigh up the different views and come out in preference of one. Ahmad considers analogy to be of lesser value than the view of a companion of the Prophet.
4. Ahmad places some of the less authentic hadiths ahead of analogy, or qiyas, as a source of rulings. Such hadiths would be the ones whose reporters are not of the highest calibre on reliability, but are not accused of falsification or fabrication. This means that Ahmad would uphold the views of scholars of the generation of tabieen, who were successors to the Prophet’s companions. If there were several views of this degree, he would consider them all acceptable.
5. Analogy, or qiyas, to which he resorted only when necessary. However, he relies on this source less than other scholars, including El-Shafie.
6. Unanimity of scholars, which is accepted as a main source of legislation by all schools of thought. However, Ahmad felt that such unanimity is very hard to achieve, particularly after the generation of the Prophet’s companions. For unanimity to be ascertained, there must be no dissenting views, and with scholars available in every main city, it was very difficult to achieve.
7. Serving the interests of the individual or the community, provided that these interests fit in with the aims of the religion and do not contradict any statement in the Quran or the Sunnah. This is what is known as massalih mursalah.
8. Means of accomplishing ends. This is a principle that has been refined by the Hanbali School of thought. What it entails is that if something leads to a forbidden end, it is forbidden, and if it facilitates the accomplishment of a duty, it becomes a duty or highly recommended. For example, Ahmad imposes the payment of blood money, like in accidental killing, on a person who prevents another to eat or drink until he dies, because his action led to his death. He also makes it forbidden for a shopkeeper to slash his prices in order to damage his neighbour’s business.
9. An initial ruling remains valid unless we have clear evidence to show that it has changed. This is what is known in Islamic jurisprudence as istishab. What it means in practice is that all transactions and conditions incorporated in them are permissible unless they are clearly forbidden, because all things are initially permissible unless they come under a specific prohibition. The Hanbali School of thought implements this principle far more widely than the rest.
The Hanbali School of thought is rich with diverse opinions. We often have more than one Hanbali view on the same question. Several reasons have contributed to this, such as the fact that Ahmad would accept as valid all the views reported to have been expressed by the Prophet’s companions, without favouring any of them. Another reason was that Ahmad would not give a ruling unless he studied the question in relation to the parties involved. Thus he may give two different rulings on very similar questions because the parties in each time have different circumstances, and he takes these into consideration. Moreover, over the years there were many highly distinguished scholars belonging to the Hanbali School who attained the grade of making independent ijtihad, or the exercise of scholarly discretion. These have greatly enriched Hanbali scholarship.
The Hanbali School of thought has not spread far and wide as the other three, mainly because it was the last of the four to develop. However, it always remained the one followed in the heart of Arabia, and after the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia it has spread to all parts of the Arabian Peninsula apart from Yemen and Oman. It continues to constitute a very valuable contribution to Islamic scholarship. Ahmad died in 241 A.H, corresponding to 856 CE. May God bless his soul.
This article was written by Adil Salahi and originally published by Impact magazine.
“If I were to walk from Madinah to Makkah [a distance of 500 kilometers] barefoot, with no mount to carry me, it would have been easier for me than to walk to Malik’s home here in Madinah. I am never in a humble position until I stand at his doorstep.” These were the words of the Governor of Madinah as he finished reading a letter addressed to him by the Governor of Makkah which wanted him to introduce a young man to the great scholar of Madinah. The young man continues the story:
“The Governor and a number of his men went with me until we reached Malik’s home and one man knocked on the door. A maid opened and the man told her that the Governor wanted to see the scholar. She went in and came back after a long while to say: ‘My master greets you well and says: ‘If you have a case requiring a ruling, then you may write it down and he will send you the answer. If you want to learn hadith, you know the day when he holds his circle. You may wish to leave now.’ The Governor said to her: ‘Tell him that I have a letter addressed to him from the Governor of Makkah with an important matter.’ She went in, then she came out again, placing a chair. Shortly afterwards, Malik came out. He was a tall, old man who inspired much awe and respect. He sat on the chair and read the letter until he reached the request made by the Governor on my behalf. He threw the letter down and said: ‘Have we reached so low that the study of the Prophet’s hadith is sought through favours and high position!’ The Governor of Madinah was in awe and could not reply. So I ventured to speak, saying: ‘May God grant you His favours. I am a man from the Muttalib branch of Quraysh, and I have so far done this and that…’ ”
Malik was endowed with penetrative insight. He asked the young man his name and then said to him: “Muhammad! Be always God-fearing, and avoid sin, for you will acquire distinction. God has given you light in your heart; so do not let it be put out by indulging in sin. Come tomorrow to read.”
That was the first encounter between Malik, the great scholar who was in his mid-seventies and El-Shafie who was just under 20 years of age and was destined to be among the greatest scholars in our history.
On the following day, El-Shafie went to his appointment, carrying Malik’s book Al-Muwatta’, and started to read. Malik was very pleased with his diction and delivery. When El-Shafie felt that he might have tired his teacher, he hesitated, but Malik told him to continue. Thus, he managed to complete reading the great book under the great imam in a very short period of time.
Muhammad ibn Idris El-Shafie, who was born in Gazza in 150 A.H. corresponding to 767 CE. He was of Qurayshi origin, with an ancestry that met the Prophet’s lineage at the Prophet’s grandfather, Abdulmattalib. His father died when he was very young, leaving him and his mother in utter poverty. The mother, who was of Yemeni origin, was of great influence on the course he took in life. She decided that his place should be in Makkah, close to his tribal ancestry. She sent him to a relative in Makkah when he was nearly 10 years of age, then followed him there to direct him in his pursuit of studies. Because of his poverty, he could not find enough writing material. He would go to the Governor’s offices in search for used paper that might be given to him free of charge, so that he would write his lessons on the unused part, or the reverse.
He memorised the Quran at a very young age, and then decided to improve his knowledge of Arabic. So, he went deep into the desert to join the Bedouin tribe of Huthail, renowned for the best standard of literary Arabic. There he memorised poetry and learnt their prose reporting and stories. He would join the tribe on its nomadic travels, until he mastered all that was there to learn. He also learnt archery there, and acquired great skill. He would be able to hit the target with his arrows 10 times out of 10. He then returned to Makkah and continued his studies, completing all that its scholars had to teach by the time he was nearly 20. Yet his thirst for knowledge was still burning inside him. So he decided to travel to Madinah to learn from Imam Malik. However, he did not wish to attend Malik without knowing anything of what he taught. He managed to borrow Malik’s book, Al-Muwatta’, and as he read it, he was even more eager to meet Malik and study under him. We know all about the first meeting between the two scholars.
El-Shafie stayed very close to Malik for nine years, during which he only travelled to visit his mother in Makkah, or to stay for a short while with some Bedouin tribes. In the last three years of attending Malik, El-Shafie had an additional benefit of meeting Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan Al-Shaibani, the eminent Iraqi scholar who recorded all the Hanafi scholarship. The latter had come to Madinah to study under Malik and stayed with him for those 3 years. That was a highly beneficial company that was to be renewed later.
Malik used to support his students who had no means of living. El-Shafie was one of these. When Malik died, El-Shafie went back to Makkah hoping to earn his living. It so happened that the Governor of Yemen visited Makkah at that time. Some people spoke to him about El-Shafie, and he took him with him on his return to Yemen where he assigned to him a post of justice in the city of Najran. The people there soon realised that they had a judge who was devoted to justice, unwilling to swerve from it for any favour or pressure. They loved him and learnt from him a great deal.
But people who are unwilling to compromise often find themselves in the bad books of rulers. El-Shafie stayed in Najran for five years, towards the end of which a strong-fisted governor was appointed. It was only natural that El-Shafie should criticise him for any injustice he might perpetrate. In his position, El-Shafie was able to curb that Governor’s injustice. Hence, the latter disliked him and sought to remove him. So he wrote to the Caliph accusing him of supporting a fermenting revolt by people loyal to the Alawees, i.e. the descendants of Ali. He added: “I have no authority over this man, and he achieves by the word of his tongue much more than a fighter can achieve with his sword.”
Was this accusation baseless? There is no doubt that it was, because El-Shafie never supported or advocated any revolt or rebellion against the Caliph. But he loved the Alawees, as they were the descendents of Ali and Fatimah, the Prophet’s daughter. His love, however, never led him to belong to the Shia or to consider that Ali had the strongest claim to be the Caliph after the Prophet. Indeed he was of the view that the four Caliphs were elected to the post in accordance with the right order of their suitability. He also considered that Umar ibn Abdulaziz, the Umayyad ruler, was the fifth of the rightly guided Caliphs.
However, the accusation reached the Caliph in Baghdad, Al-Rasheed. El-Shafie was sent to him in fetters and chains in 184 A.H. when he was 34 years of age. The Caliph had him brought in when he was attended by his advisers and top officials, among whom was none other than Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan, who was his Chief Justice. Two factors served him well at the time. The first was his lucid defence of himself. The other was Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan’s testimony on his behalf. As El-Shafie stated that he had a share of scholarship known to the Chief Justice, the latter told the Caliph that El-Shafie was a scholar of eminence and that he would not be involved in such matters. The Caliph, who was kind and lenient, saw in this testimony his way out to spare El-Shafie. He told Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan to take El-Shafie to his home while he thought the matter over. That was all that the Caliph did. The accusation was never brought up again. The Governor of Najran had rid himself of a fearless critic, and he was no longer interested what happened to him.
Perhaps this accusation was the best thing that happened to El-Shafie, because it brought him back to the pursuit of knowledge. Moreover, El-Shafie stayed in Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan’s home and read under him all the books he had written, recording the Fiqh of Abu Haneefah and his disciples. When he left Baghdad two years later, he said: “I carried with me a whole camel load of books, all of which I learnt directly from Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan.”
It should be made clear that El-Shafie did not only learn the Iraqi fiqh in Baghdad, but he also memorised the hadiths that were known in Iraq, but not in Madinah or Hijaz. He also entered into debate with many scholars, speaking as a student of Malik, but he would only debate with lesser scholars than Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan, whom he respected highly. We must remember that El-Shafie was Malik’s disciple and Malik did not allow debate in his circle. On the other hand, Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan was Abu Haneefah’s disciple, and Abu Haneefah’s scholarship was imparted mainly through debate with his students. Hence, Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan insisted that El-Shafie should debate questions with him, and he reluctantly yielded.
Perhaps the most important characteristic of El-Shafie was his native intelligence which gave him an easy and good grasp of even the most difficult of questions. He always studied matters in depth, so as to arrive at the right verdict regarding any question put to him. His intelligence was coupled with a superb memory and ready argument. When he wanted to explain an idea, he would put it in a wealth of meanings that he always found ready to hand. He is not known to have been lost for words, yet his explanation was always rich and to the point.
El-Shafie had a fine literary style, which gave him powerful expression, coupled with lucid presentation. Moreover, his delivery was very clear and his voice added clarity to his thoughts. One of his students says: “Every scholar gives more in his books than when you meet him personally, except for El-Shafie whose verbal discussion gives you more than his books.” When we remember that his books were among the finest in style, lucidity and presentation, we realise what this student is talking about.
When we spoke about Imam Malik, we mentioned that he had a profound insight. This is a quality that El-Shafie had in common with his teacher. This quality allowed him to strike the right balance between his students’ ability to understand and his ability to explain, so as to achieve the best results. Hence, his students were devoted to him, eager to benefit by his superior knowledge.
Another main quality that facilitated for El-Shafie the achievement of the highest rank among Islamic scholars was his dedicated sincerity in the pursuit of the truth. This was coupled with his brave determination to declare the truth even if it was in conflict with what people used to believe. Should the truth be at variance with his devotion to his teachers, he would come out on the side of the truth. He was very reluctant to show his disagreement with Malik, because he loved him so much. The same was the case with Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan, who did him a great favour when he saved him from the wrath of the Caliph. His gratitude to him did not prevent him from declaring his disagreement with him and his colleagues, supporting the Madinah scholars. But no one ever accused him of not accepting true evidence whenever it was presented. He urged his students to give much of their time and effort to the study of the hadith, repeatedly stating to them that should they find an authentic hadith in conflict with his views, they should abandon his views and take up the hadith.
This dedicated sincerity made him seek the truth, regardless of who presents it. He never lost his temper in debate, because his aim was not to win the debate, but to arrive at the true conclusion. Thus, if his opponent was right, he would not hesitate to accept his view. He is reported to have said: “I wish that people would learn what I have to give, without it being attributed to me. In this way, I receive the reward for it from my Lord, without having people’s praise.”
With such a character, there is no wonder that scholars loved him and placed him in the highest rank.
Once a man asked El-Shafie a question, and he started his answer by quoting a hadith stating the ruling on that question. The man then said: but what is your own view? El-Shafie shuddered and changed colour before saying: “What corner of the earth or the sky would shelter me if I report something the Prophet said and then give a different opinion?”
When people went to the Haram in Makkah late in the second century [AH], they found a tall, dark man in his mid-thirties teaching in a circle which included young and mature students, many of whom were older than him. The teacher explained certain aspects of faith and Islamic jurisprudence which they could not learn from anyone else in their respective homelands, whether they came from Iraq, where much weight was given to scholarly discretion, or from Madinah where commitment to the hadith text was paramount. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal saw him when he was on his pilgrimage and was full of admiration. He persuaded his colleague, Isshaq ibn Rahaweih, to attend his circle. When they arrived, Isshaq said to Ahmad: “Are we to leave the circle of someone like Sufyan ibn Uyainah in order to attend this young man?” Ahmad said: “If you miss out on this man’s rational thinking, you cannot find it anywhere else; while if you miss out on hadith at a higher level of reporting, you can still learn it with a lower level.”
Such was the fruit of the great task undertaken by El-Shafie on returning to Makkah from Baghdad. Such was its importance that Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Isshaq ibn Rahaweih, two scholars destined to achieve great eminence, felt it more important to attend him than other more established scholars. What happened was that, back in Makkah after his long absence, El-Shafie gave much thought to what he had learnt, both in Madinah from Malik and in Baghdad. He compared methods and analysed differences and points of agreement. As El-Shafie was a scholar of the highest calibre, endowed with sharp intelligence, superb memory and an analytical mind, his comparative study yielded two highly precious fruits. The first was that he established his own school of thought, with its distinctive method of construction and deduction, independent from both the Hanafi and the Maliki schools. He would study Malik’s views in depth to arrive at his own views, which might have agreed or disagreed with the great scholar. He would do the same with the views of Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan and his two renowned teachers, Abu Haneefah and Abu Yussuf. He recorded his disagreement with Malik in a book he called: Khilaf Malik, and his disagreement with the Hanafi scholars in another book, Khilaf al-Iraqiyeen. This established him as the founder of a third school of thought.
The second result of his endeavours was that he set in place the rules of deduction of rulings on all questions. That was what came to be known as Ussool al-Fiqh, or basic methodology of jurisprudence. Previously, eminent scholars had their own methods of deduction and construction, but they referred to these in general terms, giving no details. El-Shafie outlined these in detail, showing what rules and methods a scholar must follow so that he might not arrive at the wrong ruling or conclusion. This time El-Shafie stayed in Makkah for 9 years, teaching his students and taking them to a totally unfamiliar territory.
He then felt that he needed to spread this new knowledge in the rest of the Muslim world, and to do so he went again to Baghdad in 195 AH, when he was 45. In Baghdad, the most famous seat of learning at the time, he was welcomed by all its scholars. Even its eminent scholars were willing to read under him, including Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Isshaq ibn Rahaweih. They all recognised that he had come up with a perfectly new knowledge and a complete system of deduction.
It was during this stay in Baghdad, lasting over two years, that he dictated his books, mainly Al-Umm, which contains his views on all detailed questions of Fiqh, and Al-Risaalah, which is his book on the methodology of Fiqh, the first book ever to be written on this subject.
El-Shafie then went to Makkah, but did not stay long there. Apparently, his trip this time was to visit the Kaabah, pack up his belonging and bid farewell to his teachers, such as Sufyan ibn Uyainah. Soon afterwards, he went back to Baghdad, arriving in 198, but he was soon on the road again, aiming this time for Egypt, where he arrived in 199 and stayed until his death five years later, at the age of 54. We will refer later to his changed views in Egypt, because this serves as the best example of giving different rulings on the same questions because of a change of situation.
As we explained over the last two weeks, El-Shafie fascinated all people with his broad knowledge, logical analysis, and lucid style. He fascinated the scholars of Baghdad in his famous debates with the best among them, the scholars of the Muslim world who listened to him on their visits to Makkah for pilgrimage, and the scholars of Egypt when he brought them knowledge that they had never learnt from anyone before him. He also fascinated all scholarly circles with his design of Ussool al-Fiqh. Hence, numerous scholars were full of praise for him. Perhaps the best that sums up scholarly opinion of El-Shafie is Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s words: “We have reported the hadith in which the Prophet states that God sends to the nation of Islam every 100 years a person to put its faith back on the right track. Umar ibn Abdulaziz was that man at the end of the first 100 years. As for the second hundred, I think the man was El-Shafie.”
It is such great admiration by eminent scholars that tells of El-Shafie’s standing as a scholar. Each would obviously praise him from the point of view of his own speciality. Thus, a scholar like Yahya ibn Ma’een, one of the highest authorities on hadith and its reporters describes El-Shafie in these words: “Had lying been lawful, his integrity would have stopped him from lying.”
El-Shafie lived at a time when different branches of knowledge were taking shape and being set on firm basis, with dedicated scholars writing their reference books, each in his field of specialisation. In linguistics, poetry, literary criticism and other language studies, there were scholars setting these branches on firm footing. In hadith, criteria were identified to sort out authentic hadiths, isolating them from a multitude of hadiths attributed to the Prophet without firm evidence of authenticity. In Fiqh different schools were emerging and taking form, particularly with the writing of Al-Muwatta’, by Imam Malik as the basic book of the Maliki school of thought, and Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan’s books recording the Hanafi school’s views.
At the same time, numerous works were translated from Greek, Persian and Indian languages in various fields. El-Shafie had a go at the study most of these. In addition, several political groupings emerged, each trying to advocate their position on the basis of religion, such as the different groups of Shia, and Khawarij. Philosophical and intellectual groups also emerged, particularly Al-Mu’tazilah, who advocated a rational philosophy that sought to subject religious truth to their approach. Others spoke of Divinity and theology on the basis of logic. El-Shafie rejected all these approaches, insisting that the only basis for such knowledge was the Quran and the Sunnah, making it clear that only the texts of the Quran and authentic hadith should be considered in such matters.
El-Shafie was very firm in his advice to his students to turn their backs on logical theology. However, he himself studied it and formulated clear views on its various issues. He once found some of his students debating one such issue. He said to them: “Do you think that I have no knowledge of this. Indeed I have gone deep into it, but this logical theology is useless. Let your debate be on something in which if you err, people would say that you have made a mistake, not that you have gone out of the faith altogether.” This is a highly respectable attitude, seeking to abandon any philosophical approach to faith, because it served no real purpose and was bound to err.
In his method of construction and deduction of rulings on any question, El-Shafie defines five sources of evidence. These are stated in his book, Al-Umm: “The first is the Quran and the Sunnah when the latter is confirmed as authentic; the second, unanimity concerning a matter to which no reference is made in the Quran or the Sunnah; the third, some companions of the Prophet may state a view and we have no report of any other companion expressing a different view; the fourth, the views of the Prophet’s companions when they differ over a certain question; the fifth; analogy. No source other than the Quran and the Sunnah may be considered when they voice a ruling. Knowledge is sought at the highest source first.” This means that El-Shafie considers the Quran and the Sunnah the only source of Islamic law, while other sources are based on them. Moreover, he considers the two as one source.
Scholars of later generations mention the Sunnah as a separate source, ranking second after the Quran. The same has been stated by Abu Haneefah long before El-Shafie’s time. Why does he, then, put them both together as one source, when they, in reality, cannot be placed at the same level? For certain, El-Shafie does not consider the Sunnah to be equal to the Quran in all respects, when the Quran is God’s own word, while most of the Sunnah is reported in a lesser degree. El-Shafie has looked at the fact that the Sunnah explains what the Quran has stated in general terms, giving the details of what we need to know in order to fulfil God’s orders. Hence, it must be placed at the same level as what it explains. Many of the Prophet’s companions had the same view.
It is important, however, to realise that, in El-Shafie’s view, the Quran is the main source while the Sunnah is complementary to it. Hence, the Sunnah derives its effect from the Quran. Moreover, El-Shafie feels that, in order to arrive at accurate rulings, knowledge of the Sunnah as a whole must be placed at the same level as knowledge of the Quran. This does not mean that everything attributed to the Prophet should be treated as the Quran. Hadiths have different levels of authenticity. Hence, we cannot treat a hadith reported by a chain of single transmitters at the same level as a Quranic verse. El-Shafie acknowledges all this. Furthermore, when it comes to stating Islamic beliefs, El-Shafie gives the Sunnah a lesser status than the Quran.
We must say that El-Shafie has defended the Sunnah most determinedly against all groups that sought to reduce its status. There were many of those at his time, seeking to limit sources of Islamic law to the Quran only. He was able to show the weakness of their stand and reduce their influence to a minimum. Hence, he earned the title, ‘the advocate of the Sunnah.’
El-Shafie rejects what is termed as istihsan, or regressive analogy. This is when a scholar abandons a clear and apparent analogy in favour of a concealed one, because of what he considers to be in the best interests of the community or the individual. This sort of analogy is approved by both Abu Haneefah and Malik. Thus, he takes his stand in opposition to both.
When El-Shafie settled in Egypt in the last five years of his life, he revised many of his views as expressed in his books which he authored and taught in Iraq. He might have expressed two views on a certain matter when he was in Baghdad. Now he would come solidly in favour of either one of them, or he may express a third view to retain all three, or he may abandon both his two old views in favour of a third one which he finds to be better supported, either by a hadith he did not know before or by an analogy which he finds to be more valid. People often refer to this process as the ‘new El-Shafie school of thought’, as distinguished from his old one that relies on his old books dictated in Baghdad. The fact is that it is all a thorough revision of his books, bringing out a new revised version. Indeed he considered the old version abrogated. This shows that El-Shafie continued his pursuit of the truth throughout his life.
The best known works of El-Shafie have been mentioned already. The first is Al-Risalah, which establishes a specialised branch of Islamic studies. That is the one known as Usool al-Fiqh, or the methodology of Islamic law. The second is Al-Umm, in which he records his legal views on all questions. This is the book he continued to revise until his death. Al-Risalah continued to receive much attention by scholars and it has been published many times with annotation. It is a middle-sized volume of great importance. Al-Umm, which embodies the bulk of El-Shafie’s Fiqh has been published, but has not received the editing attention it deserves. Very recently, most of El-Shafie’s books have been published together under the title, El-Shafie’s Encyclopaedia, bringing 10 books together, in 10 large volumes. However, the work still needs more detailed editing and annotating attention.
The Shafie school of thought is distinguished by its richness in scholarly views, which made it easy to develop and enrich. Later scholars continued the process. Over the many generations since El-Shafie, numerous distinguished scholars contributed to its scholarship, placing it at the same level as the Hanafi and Maliki schools of thought. Today, it commands much following in Iraq, Syria and Jordan, although it remains second to the Hanafi school in these countries. It is predominant in Egypt, and it has countless followers in Yemen and Persia, while it is followed by most people in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Indonesia. It has practically no following in North African countries.
El-Shafie was a great scholar whose contribution to Islamic knowledge remains considerable, despite the passage of more than 1200 years since his death. May God bless his soul.
This article was written by Adil Salahi and originally published by Impact magazine.
Once upon a time, a pious young man of Persian origin was sitting by the bank of the Tigris river in Iraq when he saw an apple floating on the water. Feeling rather hungry, he picked up the apple and ate it. Then soon afterwards he began to question himself on having eaten something that does not belong to him, without permission by its owner. Therefore he decided to look for the owner. Had the young man been a scholar, he would have known that he could eat the apple without need of permission by anyone. However, he went upstream, looking at houses close to the river, until he saw a house with a garden and an apple tree, full of fruit and with some branches stretching over the water. It was a splendid house, with a large garden. He knocked on the door and asked to see the owner. He was ushered into the presence of an old man with a pleasant face, who seemed to be very decisive in his attitude.
On hearing the story, the house owner reflected a little before saying to the young man that he committed a gross error. He should have known better than seeking forgiveness after the misdeed is done. However, he was prepared to forgive the young man if he would meet his condition. The young man was full of hope, but when he heard the condition, his heart sank. The house owner said to him: I have a daughter of marriageable age, but she is physically and mentally handicapped, and I am worried about what would happen to her after my death. Looking at you, I feel that you could provide her with the care she needs. If you are prepared to marry her, I will forgive you what you have done.
The young man thought hard; then decided that going through life with such a wife was much easier than having to go to hell for his misdeed. Therefore he accepted. Then on the wedding night he was surprised to find his wife a beautiful and well-educated young woman.
It was into that marriage that Imam Abu Haneefah, Numan, was born in Kufah, southern Iraq in 80 A.H. corresponding to 700 CE. He belonged to a business family trading in clothes. Abu Haneefah grew up as a very religious young man, and he memorised the Quran when he was very young. He also began to learn hadith so that he would know how to conduct his life and business in accordance with Islam. He was clear in his mind that he would carry on with his family business, which brought affluence to his family.
His intelligence was evident at an early age. In his youth, he was involved in debates with the adherents of various beliefs and philosophies, relying mainly on his natural instinct. This gave him a good training that was to stand him in good stead in his later pursuit of Islamic studies which he started at the advice of Amir Al-Shaabi, one of the most distinguished scholars of the generation following the Prophet’s companions who said to him: “You should better pursue knowledge and attend the circles of scholars. I can see in you a man with an alert mind and penetrative understanding.”
Since debate was his main hobby, now he began to concentrate on beliefs, learning them in depth. He then travelled frequently to the other centre of learning, Basrah, where he was involved in numerous debates with different groups. But then he felt that such debates were largely a waste of time, and could not bring benefit to anyone. So he turned to the study of fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence.
Kufah was a city where different trends of knowledge had converged. Abu Haneefah aimed to achieve full understanding of four trends of fiqh scholarship: 1) Umar’s fiqh based on what benefits people; 2) Ali’s fiqh based on deduction and a thorough understanding of the fundamentals of Islamic law; 3) Abdullah ibn Massoud’s fiqh based on analogy; and 4) Ibn Abbas’s thorough knowledge of the Quran. He learnt from different scholars, but he had a teacher to whose company he committed himself. That was Hammad ibn Abu Sulaiman, a highly distinguished scholar who had studied under Al-shaabi and Ibraheem An-Nakha’ie, two of the most distinguished scholars of the second Islamic generation.
Abu Haneefah also learnt fiqh from other scholars, particularly during his pilgrimage trips. He did the pilgrimage almost every year, absenting himself only when there was an unavoidable reason. On these trips he met numerous scholars and he learnt much through them.
When his teacher, Hammad ibn Abu Sulaiman died in 120 AH, Abu Haneefah, his most distinguished student, took his place and continued his circle. He was soon to acquire great fame for he had added broad scholarship to superb intelligence and an exceptional ability in both analysis and debate. Moreover, he did not stop his business activity. In fact he continued his business, but went into partnership with a friend who was responsible for carrying on with all activities. Abu Haneefah, however, continued to exercise close supervision to ensure full compliance with Islamic law.
Abu Haneefah followed a meticulous method of learning. On the importance of combining the study of fiqh with the study of hadith he says: “Anyone who learns hadith without studying fiqh is like a pharmacist who has all the medicines but does not know for which conditions they are used. He must wait until the doctor comes. A hadith student must also wait for the scholar of fiqh.”
As a teacher, Abu Haneefah followed a method similar to that of Socrates. He did not lecture. Rather, he would present a case to his students and outline the principles that apply to it. That opens the way for a discussion or a debate. Each one was free to express his thoughts on the case. They may agree with him or object to his views. The discussion may even be a heated one. When everyone has had his say and defended his view as forcefully as he could, Abu Haneefah would sum up the discussion and outline the conclusion giving the final verdict. Everyone would accept his final verdict without hesitation. Thus he was able to debate with his students as if he was one of them, and retain the position of the teacher who has the ultimate say. Hence, his students loved him dearly.
But perhaps he loved his students more than they ever loved him. He treated them as a father treats his children. He often gave them grants to cope with their needs. If a student wanted to get married and did not have the means to do so, Abu Haneefah would pay the expenses of his marriage. One of his contemporaries describes this relationship as follows: “He would keep his student in good means, supporting him and his dependents. When he has attained a good standard, he would say to him, ‘Now you have attained what is more valuable than wealth; for now you know what is lawful and what is forbidden.’
His personal qualities had a great influence on his scholarship. One was his independent thinking. He would not accept any verdict on any question unless he had considered it thoroughly, looking at all factors that could influence the final verdict on it. This gave him two highly important scholarly characteristics. The first is his patience and forbearance. He did not use hard words to anyone who attacked him. Once, someone accused him of being a heretic who invented matters that had no basis in Islam. Very calmly, Abu Haneefah said to the man: “May God forgive you, for He knows that I am unlike what you have said. Ever since I came to know Him, I have not transgressed in my beliefs. There is nothing that I hope for more than His forgiveness, and nothing that I fear more than His punishment.” The man asked him earnestly to absolve him of what he said. Abu Haneefah said: “I forgive anyone who says something against me if he is ignorant. If he is a scholar, then the situation is more difficult. A slur by a scholar leaves its trace for long.”
The second characteristic derived from his independent thinking was his courage. He would state his views very clearly, not swerving from any of them for any reason. However, he admitted that he could be mistaken over any question. He frequently repeated to his students: “What we say is merely an expression of an opinion, which is the best we have determined. If anyone comes to us with something better, he is entitled to uphold the truth.” All this gave him a highly respectable status among all who knew him. He added to that a penetrative insight. He was indeed the top scholar of Iraq in his time.
Abu Haneefah never accepted any gift, in cash or kind, from any ruler or governor. In this attitude, he was subsequently joined by Ahmad ibn Hanbal, who lived much of his life in poverty. On the other hand, Imam Malik felt that Islamic scholarship had a claim to public funds. He took money from rulers, considering it as a salary, which he used to support his students. El-Shafie used to take an allowance that he earned by virtue of his belonging to the Quraysh and related to the Prophet.
As a businessman, Abu Haneefah had four characteristics that distinguished him among his peers: 1) A clear sense of integrity, which steered him away from greed and doubtful gains; 2) Exemplary honesty; 3) Kindness in his dealings; and 4) a profound sense of religion that considered honest and fair trading a kind of worship. This made him exceptional among people of business. He was likened to Abu Bakr in his trading, showing any defect in the merchandise he was selling, without placing the good and attractive items on top or in the front. He placed them with the rest of the goods in order not to let in any element of cheating.
His honesty was demonstrated in both buying and selling. A woman brought him a silk dress which she wanted to sell. She asked 100 for it, but Abu Haneefah would not take it for the asking price, because, as he informed the woman, it was worth more. So she increased the price, but he kept saying it was worth more. She eventually asked him to pay her 400, but he again said that she asked too little. She looked at him suspiciously and said, ‘Are you mocking me?’ He suggested that she should get someone who was an expert in this line. When the expert came, he valued it at 500, and Abu Haneefah bought it at that price.
He was willing to forgo his profit if the case merited that. An old woman said to him once: “I am old and poor. Be honest with me and sell me this dress without charging too much for it.” He said: “Take it, then, for 4 dirhams.” Knowing that the dress was worth much more, she said with a touch of anger: “Are you mocking me when I am an elderly woman?” He said: “The fact is that I bought two dresses, and sold the first one for 4 dirhams short of what I paid for the two. So, if you take the dress for this price, I will have got my money back.”
It is difficult to cover all aspects of such a rich personality in the space allowed for one article. Hence it is necessary to leave some important aspects to a second article, to be published, God willing, in the next issue when we will tackle Abu Haneefah’s political views and his method of deduction of rulings in all fields of Islamic Jurisprudence.
“Had I known that people would not let him down, I would have joined him in his jihad, because he is the right leader. However, I will help him financially.” These were Imam Abu Haneefah’s reported words in reference to Imam Zaid ibn Ali who rebelled against the Umayyad rule in 122 A.H. He was true to his word and he sent a large donation to Zaid. Abu Haneefah lived most of his life under the Umayyad Caliphate, but he felt that the Umayyads had no right to be the rulers and he was against making the choice of the Caliph hereditary. In fact Abu Haneefah was a sympathiser of the Alawees against the Umayyads and he felt that Zaid had far stronger claims to be the head of the Muslim state. However, when he looked at the prevailing situation, he felt that Zaid had no chance of winning, because he relied on the support of the people of Kufah, who were well known to desert their masters at the moment of truth. That was what they did with Ali and with his son Al-Hussain. In such a situation, rebellion would be foolhardy.
Later when the Umayyad Caliphate was facing its stiffest test, the Umayyad governor in Kufah, Ibn Hubairah, wanted to consolidate their position in Iraq by getting the support of scholars. He called in the best known and most popular scholars and practically pressurised them into accepting official positions with the Umayyad rulers. They accepted these, with the exception of Abu Haneefah, who refused all offers. Ibn Hubairah then offered him the seal, so that no government correspondence would be issued and no financial allocations made unless he would sign and seal it. But he refused. The Governor requested some scholars to try to persuade him, but Abu Haneefah spoke to them kindly. In repeating his refusal he said: “If he wanted me to count the doors of the main mosque for him, I would not do it. How can I agree to sign and seal a letter ordering that a man should be beheaded? I will never agree to do any work for him.”
That brought matters to a head, and the Governor ordered his punishment. So he was imprisoned and beaten up. Then the Governor feared that such punishment could lead to his death, and that would place a lasting stigma on the Umayyad rule. So, he requested other scholars to persuade Abu Haneefah to allow the Governor to fulfil his oath. Abu Haneefah would not accept co-operation, not even by seeking a postponement of the appointment. The Governor had no choice but to release him. When freed, Abu Haneefah left Kufah with his family, going straight to Makkah where he spent the next few years. That was in 130 AH.
With the Abbasids, he was first on good terms, but relations with Al-Mansoor, the Caliph, were again strained. Al-Mansoor called in several scholars, including Abu Haneefah, and told them that the people of Musel rebelled, while they had earlier pledged loyalty, making it clear that they would be liable to be killed should they ever rebel. The Caliph wanted to know if this case comes under the principle laid down by the Prophet: “Believers will always honour their pledges.” That would mean that all those who rebelled were liable to capital punishment. One man present said to the Caliph: “You have all authority over them. Should you forgive them, it is only your noble character, and if you punish them, they have deserved punishment.”
As people voiced their views, Abu Haneefah remained silent. Al-Mansoor asked him for his opinion, reminding him that rebellion threatened people who otherwise were enjoying security. Abu Haneefah did not hesitate to state the truth as he knew it. He said to the Caliph: “They have pledged what is not theirs to offer, and you have imposed on them a condition that you have no right to impose. Capital punishment cannot be imposed on a Muslim except in one of three cases. That is the condition God has imposed, and His condition is the one you are better advised to honour. If you impose your condition, you kill them without justification.” On hearing this, Al-Mansoor dismissed his attendants, but retained Abu Haneefah. When he was alone with him, he said: “Yours is the correct view. You may go home, but do not issue rulings that detract from your Caliph, so that you do not encourage rebellion.”
This respect, which Al-Mansoor expressed to Abu Haneefah, was countered by his fear of his standing with the people. A shrewd politician, Al-Mansoor felt that the only way was to appease Abu Haneefah by a post or favours. He called him in and offered him the post of Chief Justice. Abu Haneefah said: “The only person who is suitable for that post is one who has the guts to pass judgement against you, your children and commanders. I am not such a person.” Al-Mansoor asked him: “Why, then, do you not accept my gift?” Abu Haneefah replied: “I have not rejected any gift the Caliph has given me of his own property. What he has given me belongs to the public treasury, to which I have no claim. I am not one who fights in armies to claim a fighter’s allowance, and I am not a youngster to get a child’s benefit; nor am I a poor person to take what poor people receive.”
Al-Mansoor pressed his offer, but Abu Haneefah continued to refuse, despite immense personal pressure. Then the Caliph warned him but Abu Haneefah said: “If you threaten to drown me in the Tigris, I would choose drowning in preference to being a judge. You have courtiers who need to be appeased for your sake.” In this last sentence, Abu Haneefah was making it clear that he would not be prepared to appease anyone, not even the Caliph. The Caliph ordered that he would be imprisoned, but shortly afterwards he released him, fearing public anger at detaining such a highly respected scholar.
Imam Abu Haneefah was one of the leading scholars of Fiqh, or Islamic jurisprudence in our history. It is sufficient to quote one or two views of other leading scholars. El-Shafie says: “In Fiqh all people are dependent on Abu Haneefah.” Ibn Al-Mubarak describes him as “the core of knowledge.” By this he refers to Abu Haneefah’s honest and diligent pursuit of the truth, never swerving from it. After a debate with him, tackling several issues, imam Malik described him as ‘a true scholar of fiqh.’ Abu Haneefah died in year 150, at the age of 70. May God bless his soul.
There is no doubt that Abu Haneefah was a scholar of the highest calibre. Yet he was beset with controversy in his own time, because his method of scholarly thinking was practically new in the sense that no one delved into it with similar vigour. Coupled with his independence and consistency, his method was liable to irritate those who take all religious text at face value. At the same time he was extremely unpopular with those who followed deviant creeds, because they felt that he established a solid system of construction and deduction in Islamic Jurisprudence.
He outlined his method with regard to religious text, stating: “I rely on God’s book, and when I do not find applicable text, then I rely on the hadith of the Prophet. When I have nothing available in either, I take what the Prophet’s companions said, but I take any of their views when I have more than one. I do not leave what they say to take up anybody else’s view. When a question is left to Ibraheem, Al-Shaabi and Al-Hassan [i.e. the tabieen scholars], they are simply people who endeavoured to arrive at a ruling based on scholarly discretion. I will make my own.”
This, together with his approach where no text is directly applicable, provides a system of scholarly endeavour that has 7 main elements, which are:
One distinctive feature of Abu Haneefah’s scholarship is the high importance it attaches to personal freedom. In all his studies and views, he valued very highly the free choice of a human being in practically every type of behaviour, provided he or she is sane. It is not for the community or the ruler to interfere in personal choices, as long as the individual has not contravened a religious order.
Such emphasis on personal freedom manifests itself in various areas. One of the most important of these is that Abu Haneefah gives an adult woman the authority to enter into a marriage contract by herself, without reference to her guardian. All scholars agree that no guardian may force a woman under his guardianship to marry anyone without her consent, but she may not marry without his approval. Her direct verbal consent is not sufficient to initiate a marriage contract. Her guardian must act for her. Abu Haneefah disagrees with all scholars on this point, making an adult woman free to enter into a marriage contract by herself, without her guardian. He considers a young woman equal to a young man. As he can marry by himself, so can she. And as she has full authority over her property, she has full authority over herself with regard to marriage. Guardianship over a free and sane person must work in that person’s favour. To restrict one’s freedom does not serve one’s interests. It is indeed harmful.
Abu Haneefah’s respect of individual freedom is also manifested in his verdict that does not allow withdrawing a person’s rights of dispensing with his money or property on account of his being stupid or irrational. As long as his actions do not cause harm to others, then Abu Haneefah feels that society or ruling authorities have no right to restrict his freedom of action. If he squanders his money, he will reap the results himself. Society will not be harmed, as the money will still be there, in other people’s hands. Restricting a person’s freedom is much more harmful to society than that person’s loss of his money or property.
Similarly Abu Haneefah does not consider it permissible to restrict a person’s freedom of dispensing with his property as a result of being in debt, even if his debts exceed all his property. A debtor may be forced to repay his debts, but not through restriction of his freedom of action.
Abu Haneefah did not write any book, but some pamphlets are said to be authored by him. It is his students who recorded his views. Abu Yussuf, his best known student, wrote several books in which he recorded Abu Haneefah’s views and rulings. However, his other student, Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan, was the main scholar who collected, related and published Abu Haneefah’s fiqh in six books representing the first systematic collection of a particular method of fiqh. It should be mentioned that Muhammad ibn Al-Hassan did not study under Abu Haneefah for long, as he was 18 when the great scholar died, but he was one of his best students and he read much under Abu Yussuf. The other main scholar of the Hanafi school of thought was Zufar ibn Al-Huthail.
The Hanafi school of thought spread far and wide, particularly because of the very large number of scholars who followed it in successive generations. It is the main school of thought in central Asian countries, as well as Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Turkey. It is widely followed in Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Palestine, but not in African countries.
May God reward Abu Haneefah handsomely and bless his soul.
Every day, TV and newspapers show us in a dramatic way, how the Western world and Islamic world seem to be far apart from each other in many ways. Also within Western societies, discussions go on about planned or failed measures for integrating Muslim fellow-citizens.
This integration of Muslim fellow citizens happened without difficulties and was almost totally accepted when Austria-Hungary solved this problem 90 years ago: With the Islam act of 1912 -which is valid until today-,”adherents of Islam according to the Hanafite rite” was defined as a religious community and equal to the Christian churches. They “shall…enjoy the same legal protection as is granted to other legally recognized religious communities. The doctrines of Islam, its institutions and customs shall enjoy the same protection too, unless they are in contradiction to state law.”
Worship was allowed in public and not, as before, only in domestic areas and a big mosque was planned in Vienna with support of Emperor Franz Joseph I. Already before, Muslim members of the military were provided with someone to look after them. The monarchy, which had occupied the former Ottoman provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina after the Congress of Berlin in 1878, wanted to bind both closer to the empire after they annexed it on October 7th, 1908 and gained a new territory of about 51,000 km².
The backward and underdeveloped regions, which lacked of any infrastructure such as hospitals, schools, even paved roads or a railway, became a great example of an advanced administration . And many ambitious officers regarded it as a personal challenge, to have been sent there. So the creation of new transport systems, which brought also a remarkable economic upturn, was mainly the work of the “Genie-” (pioneer) troops from all parts of the Empire. The responsibility of the “Reichsland”, commonly administrated by Austria and Hungary, belonged to the k.u.k. . In 1910, the military administration was replaced by a state government, a parliament (Landtag) and a state governor – in this case Feldzeugmeister Oskar Potiorek. All were based on a new constitution.
For security and executive reasons, volunteer forces where set up as constabulary forces, consisting of Austrian and Hungarian constables, but also Bosnians and Herzegovinians. A special unit of them gained a great reputation by fighting against gangs and insurgents. These “strafunis” were the first ones dressed in grey camouflage battle-dresses. Almost invisible among the grey rocks of the Karst Mountains, they were called the “Grey Hawks”. With the introduction of the compulsory military service, these volunteer forces where changed into regular military units .
Thus, during the decades between 1882 and 1894, four infantry regiments were set up and stationed at Sarajevo, Banjaluka, Budapest, Mostar, Trieste, Graz and Vienna. In 1903, a battalion of riflemen (Feldjäger) was added, also located at Vienna, so the structure was as follows:
|Battle of Lemberg|
· k. k. Bosnian-Herzegovinian Infantry Regiment No.1 (Sarajevo): 94% Bosnians (Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims) and 6% various
· k. k. Bosnian-Herzegovinian Infantry Regiment No. 2 (Banjaluka): 93% Bosnians (Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims) and 7% various
· k. k. Bosnian-Herzegovinian Infantry Regiment No. 3 (Tuzla): 94% Bosnians (Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims) and 6%various
· k. k. Bosnian-Herzegovinian Infantry Regiment No. 4 (Mostar): 95% Bosnians (Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims) and 5% various
· k. k. Bosnian-Herzegovinian “Feldjägerbataillon” (Vienna): 96% Bosnians (Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims) and 4% various (during the war, seven further battalions were formed)
In 1914, Muslims made up about 30-40% of the total population of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the majority of them lived in the Sarajevo and Tuzla areas i.e. Central Bosnia. Knowing this we may assume or calculate that the largest percentage of Muslims was most probably serving in the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Infantry Regiment No.1 and Bosnian-Herzegovinian Infantry Regiment No. 3, closely followed by other two regiments. The stationing of troops at the capitals of Budapest and Vienna was caused by domestic politics due to the ever-increasing number of riots by workers and German, Hungarian or Czech nationalists.
The Bosnian “mountain people” from districts surrounding Sarajevo, Banjaluka, Dolnja Tuzla and Mostar, who partially signed their contracts only with their finger prints or three crosses, had no understanding for these activists and this was not merely due to difference of language. When members of the 2nd Bosnian-Herzegovinian Infantry Regiment were attacked during disturbances at Graz and their officers ordered to shoot, the right-wing politicians agitated against the “Black-Yellow Muslim Mercenaries” . (Black-yellow were the old Imperial Austrian colours, coming from the old Holy Roman Empire of Germany.)
But basically, these new regiments -called later simply “the Bosniacs”- turned out later to be the most faithful, loyal and bravest army units of the k.u.k. army. They were easily recognizable with their Turkish knee-breeches and their exotic cap, the red (“krapprot”) fez with black tassel (“kièankas”) which had become rather popular due to a religious law that prescribed that peaked caps should not be worn. Their light-blue uniforms were contrasted by their “alizarin red” cuffs.
Officers were allowed to choose between fez and shako, and also wore long trousers. During World War I, it all changed to the “field grey egalisation” (uniform). The fez remained the official headgear of all other ranks, even though some were Serbian (Orthodox) or Croatian (Catholic) citizens of Bosnia or Herzegovina.
Privates were armed with an 8 mm repeater rifle of the “Mannlicher” system 1888/90  and a bayonet by Werndl. Officers were given sabres.
The wearing of the fez was also allowed for members of the navy, though not many Bosnians served in that part of the armed forces. Besides normal draftees who served with arms, “working groups” were also established for road, rescue and entrenchment works for the regiments and their supplies. These found deployment within various divisions and on all fronts, from Tyrol to Syria.
Conscription for military service was required for every man, who finished his 20th year of life; each conscript’s active service took three years and the following nine years he served in the reserves. Exceptions existed for teachers, pharmacists, doctors, priests and judges, although every man could name a substitute within three months .
An interesting story was recently told to the author by Dr. Ahmet Ayral of Istanbul, whose uncle moved from Bosnia to Edirne for work at the age of 18. When he did not appear on his 20th birthday at the drafting office, two Austrian officers came to Turkey to bring him back by force .
It was no problem for the k.u.k. army, which was always very liberal in religious matters, to take care for their soldiers’ religious needs. Each of the four regiments had its own military Imam. The spiritual leader of the Bosnian Muslims was the Reis-ul-Ulema of Sarajevo whose election was confirmed by the Emperor and the Sheik-ul-Islam at Istanbul.
The wording of the oath of allegiance was:
“I swear to God the Almighty that I will be faithful to His Majesty the Emperor and King Franz Joseph I., and to obey all orders of my superiors and higher staff, even in danger of my life.” 
The Emperor became the unifying person for all these new countrymen, so it is no wonder that Sarajevo had its own “Kaiser-Mosque”. The commanding language for the k.u.k. army was always German. For everyday use, most officers used the so-called “Army Slavonic”, a mixture of expressions from various Slavonic languages.
On almost all fronts, the Bosniacs proved their bravery, in particular at the Southern Front against Serbia and the unfaithful Italy, which left the Triple Alliance and joined the Western allies in 1915. The war in the mountains with its twelve battles on the Isonzo River was one of the bloodiest and fiercest of the whole World War I.
|Bosniacs in 1896|
This is not the place to mention all the operations and campaigns of the war, but some are particularly worth pointing out: The crossing of the river Drina in 1914 at the beginning of the campaign against Serbia, the battle on the Mount San Michele  and the storming of Mount Meletta on the Italian front on June 7th, 1916 by members of the k.u.k. Bosnian-Herzegovinian Infantry Regiment (No.2) under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Stevo Duiæ. Although the peak was strongly fortified and defended, the troops of the “Second Grazer” were successful in winning and holding that strategically important point with great tenacity in spite of heavy losses .
Many times, the success of the “Junaci” (heros, as they were often called or just “Momci”, “the boys”) was achieved by single individuals, coming from normal platoons, who stood up in obviously desperate situations and fought back against the enemy encouraging their weakened comrades of other regiments to join them. Just, like 14-year-old Elez Derviševic , who joined the Bosniacs as dispatch rider and scout, and was later promoted to the youngest corporal of the k.u.k. army due to his personal bravery. Or Private Serif Miljkovic, who captured an Italian machine-gun with just a dagger with the same cold-bloodedness as Corporal Kadric Ramo who beat back 50 Russians with only nine comrades. Or Private Serif Miljkovic who captured an Italian machine-gun  on his own. Just by reading these names, one can see that these warriors were Muslims, and there are many more.
Furthermore, the Bosniacs fought bravely against an enemy who outnumbered them more often than not, and were seen as a kind of “fire brigade”. Courageously they advanced into the Karst Mountains, the Russian front, in the Carpathians of Transylvania (after Romania joined the Entente), and near the Rombon Mountains in the Julic Alps.
The “Junaci” had a great reputation for steadfastness and military power, as was shown in early October 1917 before the 12th battle of Isonzo, when some battalions were replaced. The new troops received fezes and the Muezzin called for the prayer, outsmarting the Italians by making them believe the Muslim soldiers were still present.
Between 1916 and 1918, four more Bosnian-Herzegovinian regiments were built up, mostly coming from companies of the four other regiments, but they were either dismissed or sent to other units due to many losses.
|Bosniacs at Tolmein|
Even a specially trained “High Mountain Company” (No. 16) was created and contained members of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Infantry Regiment No.4, unfortunately no further details are reported. Other units of the Bosniacs were allocated to secure the naval port of Pola in Istria.
Due to their excellent knowledge of the mountains, an “Oriental Corps” was formed at the urgent request of the Turkish Minister of War, Generalissimo Enver Pasha, to support the Austro-Hungarian troops in Syria in their fights against the English . The leader of that special unit was the well-proven Lieutenant Colonel Stephan Duiæ, who chose parts of the first three Bosnian-Herzegovian regiments for that task. Because of logistical problems, the Corps could not be brought to the Middle East -except the artillery and supply units-, but it was later formed into a complete unit in late 1917. It was transferred with the name “Oriental Corps” to the Army Group Boroeviæ in Italy. Thus, they took part in the Battle at the Piave River suffering tremendous losses of more than 50% that included crossing the Tagliamento River during high water in the course of the 12th Battle of Isonzo.
Later, the Oriental Corps made a name as it proved its worth in Albania. Already in early 1916 the Central powers managed to gain greater parts of Northern and Middle Albania by pursuing the Serbian army, which was struggling against diseases and defeats. Very soon, the important cities of Skutari/ Shkodër, Durazzo/ Durrës and Tirana, the capital, were controlled by the k.u.k. army. In 1912, Austria, which favoured the creation of an independent state for Albania, began to build up an infrastructure like that in Bosnia, and the occupation forces were warmly welcomed by the Muslims there. Photos document that the Emperor’s birthday was celebrated three times in Tirana, the Albanian capital (August 18th of Franz Joseph I. and August 17th, Charles I.)
When the Italians and French started a campaign from Greece in July 1918, it was necessary to reinforce the front there. Hence, their own forces were severely weakened by malaria and a shortage of rationing and supplements. When Karl Freiherr von Pflanzer-Baltin was appointed as new commander of the Army Group Albania (k.u.k. XIX. Corps), one of the most successful and most popular military leaders of the monarchy appeared on the theatre of battle. His offensive was the last victory of the Central Powers, starting on August 21st, 1918, with support of German and Austrian airplanes and finishing with the conquest of the South Albanian cities of Fjeri, Berat and Narta. The French staged a diversionary assault, but Pflanzer-Baltin was not distracted and he repulsed the main Italian blow. Several hundred prisoners were taken and much-needed foodstuffs were also looted from the Italians. Von Pflanzer-Baltin’s Army Group Albania intended to settle in after this victory, but the Corps was not able to maintain its position permanently. There were more and more losses due to cases of Malaria (in July: 2,600, one month later they totalled 18,000 causalities), and by continuous skirmishes with Albanian gangs. Additionally, all the recently built infrastructure was once again destroyed during the course of events. After the defeat and surrender of Bulgaria in September, 29th 1918, the Army Group Albania sought refuge in the Albanian interior, where it lost contact with the outside world by the third week in October. They were not able to maintain their situation any further, and the march back was even more hard and difficult: The Oriental Corps was reduced to only 50 soldiers , the 47th Infantry Division (including three Bosnian-Herzegovinian riflemen battalions and one battalion of the Bosnian-Herzegovinian Infantry Regiment No. 7), the 9th Cavalry Division and parts of the k.u.k. Infantry Regiment No. 88, all went to the Bay of Cattaro, the Austro-Hungarian naval port for submarines. At this place, they received the final order to retreat behind the River Save and were divided into “nationalities”.
This was the beginning of the end of the k.u.k. army and the Bosniac regiments. One should also mention that the Bosnian-Herzegovian Infantry Regiment No.2 was the one, which gained the most Golden Bravery Medals of the entire monarchy. They received 42 of these medals as compared to the average of 8 to 14 medals for a regiment. The highest decoration, the Order of Maria Theresa, for personal, spontaneous bravery, was also awarded to a member of that regiment, Captain Gojkomir of Glogovac. As part of the award, he was granted the title of Knighthood.
To summarise, one can conclude that these regiments have been something special: Not only are they rightly famous for their military power and unlimited loyalty and dependability, but also due to the fact that during the 20 years of their existence, 200,000 men of different ethnic backgrounds and religions -Muslims, Catholics and Orthodox, privates and officers- became one unit.
They were referred to among others, when (probably) Colonel Anton Lehár, the composer’s brother, wrote the following public statement in late 1918, which ended with the words:
“Austria-Hungary’s former armed forces […] wait with proud sedateness and patience for the fair judgement of world history.”
When the Austrian units left Sarajevo, people stood in the streets and had tears in their eyes. During the previous 40 years, they had felt well accepted, respected and established in this historically unique empire, unlike Czechs or the Romananis, who had been members of the same state for centuries.
Today, the “Bosniacs Lane” at Graz, the march “The Bosniacs are coming” by the Styrian composer Eduard Wagner, the “Posso del Bosniaco” – Alpine heights near Görz/ Gorizia, which were defended by the Bosniacs- , a monument at Flitsch/ Bovec (Slovenia) , near the Rombon mountains and the Muslim cemetary at Lebring, Styria, are reminders of a multicultural and multi-religious heritage, which ought to be continued, especially in these times.
In 1996, the newly independent Bosnian-Herzegovinian post remembered this honourable past and issued a stamp showing one of the “momci” with his fez.
Deák, István: Der k.(u.)k. Offizier 1848-1918. Wien 1995
Feigl, Erich: Kaiser Karl I. Wien 1990
Rauchensteiner, Manfred: Die Unseren. Zum Bild des österreichischen Soldaten während
der letzten 100 Jahre. In: Jahrestagung der Wissenschaftskommission, Wien 2002.
Schachinger, Werner: Die Bosniaken kommen! Elitetruppe in der k.u.k.Armee. Graz 1989
Trost. Ernst: Das blieb vom Doppeladler. München 1969.
 Imperial Gazette for the Kingdoms and crown-lands represented in the Imperial Council
Year 1912, item LXVI, published and dispatched on this 9th of August, 1912, No. 159.
 Deák, p.81, also Trost, p. 329.
 k.u.k. means: Kaiserlich und Königlich, the Imperial (Austrian) and Royal (Hungarian) part of the monarchy
 Deák, p. 81, cp. Schachinger, p.23 f.
 Deák, p.87, comp. Rauchensteiner, p.3.
 Schachinger, S.32.
 Rauchensteiner, p.2.
 Perhaps these both officers were members of the” Adjoint militaire d’Austriche-Hongrie”, a unit of volunteers to train the Imperial Ottoman gendamerie at Üsküb.
 ibid, p.26.
 ibid, p. 81 f.
 ibid, p. 106 f.
 ibid, p.286-297.
 ibid, p. 310.
 ibid, p. 117.
 ibid, p. 133.
 ibid, p.222.
 ibid, p. 190.
 ibid, p. 246.
 Cited in: Feigel, p. 212.
 Trost, p.347.
The Bosniac Muslims played a crucial role integrated in the Austro-Hungarian empire and Muslims and Islam continues to have great recognition in Austria.