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Monthly Archives: October 2014

Muhammad b. Idris al-Shafi’i (d. 820) on the Martyrdom of al-Husayn b. Ali (d. 680)

As the eponymous founder of the Shafi’i school of law, Muhammad ibn Idrīs al-Shāfi‘ī is perhaps the most influential jurist in the entire history of the Islamic world. His work on legal theory (uṣūl al-fiqh) was revolutionary and played a major role in the development of Sunni jurisprudence. Among his most important teachers was Mālik b. Anas (d. 795), the eponymous founder of the Maliki school who was himself a student of Ja‘far b. Muhammad al-Sadiq (d. 765), the sixth Shi‘i Imam. His love and attachment to the Family of the Prophet was well-known even in his own lifetime and is particularly evident in his poetry. He was accused by several of his contemporaries of being a Shi’ite, something that he flatly denied but without backing away from his devotion to the Family of the Prophet: “They say that I have become a Shi’ite. By God, I have not! I am neither a Shi’ite nor do I believe in its doctrine. But I have unhesitatingly taken as my supreme authority and my leader the best of Imams and the best of guides (i.e. ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib). If Shi’ism consists of the love of ‘Alī, then I am the staunchest Shi’ite on earth!” The following is another example of al-Shāfi‘ī’s commitment to the Ahl al-Bayt and their cause. It can easily be found within various editions of al-Shāfi‘ī’s collection of poetry. (more…)

Ibn Taymiyya (d. 1328) on the Conditions and Permissibility of Praying behind “Heterodox” Muslims

Taqī al-Dīn Abūl ‘Abbās ibn Taymīyya (d. 1328), the Damascene theologian and Ḥanbalī jurist, is perhaps one of the most controversial intellectual figures in Islamic history. The following is his fatwa in which he explains his reasoning for the permissibility of “orthodox” (Sunni) Muslims to pray behind “heretical” (mainly Shi’i) Muslims. I ask everyone to think beyond modern paradigms where intra-sectarian tolerance is accepted (however reluctantly) and remember that this fatwa was issued at a time when it was the norm for both Sunni and Shi’i scholars to mutually excommunicate one another and consider the others to be infidels. The fatwa, in many ways, exhibits an important practicality (and one which displays the flexibility of Islamic jurisprudence in general) that I think is worth reflecting on. (more…)

Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari (d. 936) on Karbala

The eponymous founder of perhaps the most important school of Sunni theology, Abū al-Ḥasan ‘Alī ibn Ismā‘īl al-Ash‘arī (d. 936) was one of the most influential scholars in medieval Islamic history. He was very well versed in Mu‘tazalite theology and philosophy, but abandoned that school of thought later in his life. His greatest contribution was the formulation of theological principles that would form the core of Sunni orthodoxy and his school of thought—Ash‘arism—was promoted by some of the most important scholars in the Sunni tradition, including Imām al-Ḥaramayn al-Juwaynī (d. 1086), Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 1111) and Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1209) among others. The following section which focuses on the martyrdom of al-Ḥusayn b. ‘Alī (d. 680) is drawn from his main work entitled Maqālāt al-Islāmiyyīn which deals with various historical and theological questions. It reflects the acceptance by a major Sunni scholar in the early tenth century of the key elements of the basic “Karbala narrative” which would be elaborated upon in subsequent centuries by various scholars and historians from all schools of thought.


Al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī (may God be pleased with him) rebelled in defiance of the oppression of Yazīd ibn Mu‘āwiya and was killed at Karbala. May God be pleased with him! His story is very well known. He was killed by ‘Umar ibn Sa‘d, who had been sent to fight [al-Ḥusayn] by ‘Ubayd Allāh ibn Ziyād. The head of al-Ḥusayn was carried to Yazīd ibn Mu‘āwiya, who—upon having the head between his hands—poked the lips—the same lips that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) used to kiss—with his staff. Al-Ḥusayn’s children, his daughters and the women of his household were also brought to Yazīd. Those from the Prophet’s family who were killed with al-Ḥusayn included his son ‘Alī al-Akbar and the sons of his brother al-Ḥasan: ‘Abd Allāh ibn al-Ḥasan, al-Qāsim ibn al-Ḥasan and Abū Bakr ibn al-Ḥasan. From among his brothers were killed al-‘Abbās ibn ‘Alī, ‘Abd Allāh ibn ‘Alī, Ja‘far ibn ‘Alī, ‘Uthmān ibn ‘Alī, Abū Bakr ibn ‘Alī, Muhammad ibn ‘Alī (also known as Muhammad al-Asghar). From among the descendants of Ja‘far ibn Abī Ṭālib who were killed were Muhammad ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn Ja‘far and ‘Awn ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn Ja‘far. From the sons of ‘Aqīl ibn Abī Ṭālib who were killed were ‘Abd Allāh ibn ‘Aqīl, Muslim ibn ‘Aqīl who was killed in Kufa, ‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn ‘Aqīl, Ja‘far ibn ‘Aqīl and ‘Abd Allāh ibn Muslim ibn ‘Aqīl. [al-Ash‘arī then includes three Arabic laments for al-Ḥusayn by three poets: Ibn Abī Ramh al-Khuzā‘ī, Manṣūr al-Nimirī, and Di‘bal al-Khuzā‘ī].

[al-Ash‘arī, Maqālat al-Islāmiyyīn (Beirut: al-Maktaba al-‘Asriyya, 2009), 1: 76–78]


Abu ‘Abd Allah Muhammad al-Qurtubi (d. 1273) on Yazid b. Mu’awiya (d. 683)

Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muhammad b. Ahmad al-Qurṭubī was one of the most prominent exegetes of the Qur’an in al-Andalus and North Africa during the medieval period. Born in Cordoba in al-Andalus in 1214, he emigrated to Alexandria following the capture of his hometown by Fernando III in 1236. By this time he was already an accomplished Maliki jurist, theologian, and expert on hadith. His exegesis of the Qur’an—over 12 volumes long and entitled al-Jāmi‘ li-Ahkām al-Qur’an—is one of the most influential and comprehensive ever written. He also composed an array of other works, dealing with various theological and legal matters. The following is taken from one of his lesser-known works.


“When mentioning the famous hadith of the Prophet that this community would be destroyed at the hands of young men from the tribe of Quraysh, some have commented and asserted that this (and God knows best!) refers to Yazīd and ‘Ubayd Allāh b. Ziyād and their ilk from amongst the rulers of the Banū Umayya. For these were responsible for the murder of the Family of the Prophet and taking them captive, killing the noblest of the Companions from among the Emigrants and the Helpers in Medina and Mecca and elsewhere. This is in addition to all the bloodshed, illicit plunder of wealth and annihilation of life perpetrated by al-Hajjāj [b. Yūsuf] and Sulaymān b. ‘Abd al-Malik and his descendants in Iraq, the Hejaz and elsewhere. In short, the Banū Umayya completely abandoned the Prophet’s commandments and final testament with regard to [caring for] his family and his community and replaced it with dissension and impiety. For verily they shed their blood, took their women and young children captive, destroyed their homes, slandered their noble status, and made cursing them an established practice and, thus, they opposed the Prophet and did the exact opposite of what he commanded. It shall be with great shame and embarrassment that they shall stand before him [the Prophet] on the Day [of Resurrection].”

[al-Qurṭubī, al-Tadhkira fī Ahwāl al-Mawta wa Umūr al-Ākhira (Riyadh, 2004), pp. 1114-1115]


Abu Hasan al-Tabari (d. 1110) on Yazid b. Mu’awiya (d. 683)

Abū al-Ḥasan ‘Alī al-Tabarī, known as Al-Kiyā al-Harrāsī, was an important Iranian Shafi’i jurist and Ash’ari theologian who lived in the early Seljuk period. He was one of the most prominent students of Imam al-Haramayn al-Juwaynī (d. 1085), with whom he studied in Nishapur. He held the position of chief judge during the reign of Malik-Shah (r. 1072–1092) and was one of the most important professors at the Nizamiyya madrasa in Baghdad, the most prestigious learning institution in the Sunni Muslim world. In addition to being a prominent jurist and a senior theologian, he was also a master of prophetic traditions (hadith) and many of the most prominent muhaddithun of Baghdad studied under him. The following fatwa that he issued against Yazīd b. Mu‘āwiya is preserved by Ibn Khallikān (d. 1282) in his Wafayāt al-A‘yān (Biographies of the Notables). Ibn Khallikan was himself a Shafi’i jurist and historian from Irbil in Mesopotamia. As a young man, he studied in Aleppo and Damascus and met the renowned historian and chronicler Ibn al-Athir (d. 1233). He served as chief judge (qādī al-qudāt) of the Shafi’i madhab in Damascus during the Mamluk period. His famous aforementioned work is a monumental biographical dictionary which contains invaluable information about hundreds of Muslim scholars, princes, and poets. It also preserves many important documents—fatwas, epistles, poems etc.—which would otherwise have been lost to the modern historian. The following fatwa, in which Abū al-Ḥasan ‘Alī al-Tabarī, gives a short answer to a question about the permissibility of cursing Yazīd, is one such document. (more…)