Analysis :: The Judge, the Vizier, and the Ruler

By Maribel Fierro

This case, recorded by Ibn Ḥārith al-Khushanī, concerns an accusation of apostasy during the reign of the Cordoban Umayyad emir Muḥammad (r. 238–273/852–886). A vizier conspires to confiscate the fortune of a talented state secretary upon the latter’s death by accusing him posthumously of apostasy. The vizier attempts to use a muḥtasib (lay person) and notable Cordoban bureaucrats and scholars as witnesses who could testify to the secretary’s Christianity. The accusation’s language provides an example of how the state was conceptualized at the time, while its proceedings demonstrate how internal faith was judged in a court of law.

This case brief is part of Maribel Fierro, The Judges of al-Andalus, forthcoming.

Case Background

When he inherited the throne, the Cordoban Umayyad emir Muḥammad (r. 238–273/852–886) confirmed the same viziers who served under his father before him. However, after two years, his secretary ʿAbd Allāh b. Umayya b. Yazīd fell ill,[1] so he commissioned the Christian Qūmis b. Antunyān al-Naṣrānī to assist with secretarial duties. Shortly thereafter, the secretary died, and the emir proposed that if Qūmis b. Antunyān b. Yulyāna (this being the name of his Christian grandmother) would convert to Islam, he might appoint him as replacement secretary. Accordingly, Qūmis converted to Islam and became secretary, excelling in this role with superior Arabic language and administrative skills.

The convert’s speedy rise to power in the emiral administration (khidma), garnered the resentment of the powerful vizier and military commander, Hāshim b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz,[2] and it also incited animosity from the Arabs and mawālī (clients) active in the Cordoban court. Hāshim plotted persistently against Qūmis during his time as secretary. After Qūmis died, Hāshim again conspired, claiming that the secretary did not die as a true Muslim—thereby challenging the right of his descendants to his inheritance.[3]

The Case

Upon his death, Qūmis b. Antunyān left a large inheritance to his descendants. The vizier Hāshim b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz conspired to confiscate this fortune for the state by proving Qūmis b. Antunyān’s apostasy in court. To bring the case before the Cordoban judge, Hāshim b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz acted clandestinely through two different channels.

On one end, Hāshim b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz incited a muḥtasib to collect attestations of the deceased secretary’s apostasy and bring the case before the Cordoba judge, Sulaymān b. Aswad al-Ghāfiqī. Here, a muḥtasib refers to a lay person[4] (and not a professional), who petitions to bring a case before a judge to initiate a trial, acting in accordance with the precept of “commanding good and forbidding evil.” The muḥtasib appeared before the judge to declare that Qūmis b. Antunyān had died a Christian and that his fortune—being that of an apostate—belonged to the Public Treasury (bayt al-māl).

At the same time, Hāshim b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz brought the case to the emir’s attention, advising the emir that he might have rights to the inheritance of Qūmis b. Antunyān, if it could be proven that Qūmis died a Christian. Following this, the emir called for the Cordoban judge Sulaymān b. Aswad (in office 252-60/866-74) to investigate the case. Hāshim b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz’s language in this conversation suggests that he conceived of the Public Treasury and the emir’s fortune as one and the same—a reflection of the patrimonial conception of the state which prevailed at the time.

Prompted by Hāshim b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz’s activism, the judge collected testimony (in the form of witness statements) about Qūmis. Many Cordoban notables holding prominent positions in government administration and the world of religious and legal scholarship declared that Qūmis had died a Christian. However, there were a few who abstained from providing testimony, among them Muḥammad b. Yūsuf b. Maṭrūḥ, known for his friendship with Qūmis. Muḥammad b. Yūsuf b. Maṭrūḥ protested the accusation against his deceased friend and proclaimed the veracity of Qūmis’s conversion to Islam by citing Qūmis’s regular participation in prayers in the Cordoban Friday mosque. Muḥammad b. Yūsuf b. Maṭrūḥ’s proclamation points to the importance considering external Islamic rituals and obligatory prayers in judging another’s internal faith.

News about the Qūmis affair spread from the court and the notables’ circles to the common people, who were astonished by the accusations. This concerned the emir, who inquired with his viziers about the details surrounding the case and the nature of the evidence collected by the judge Sulaymān b. Aswad. Seeking information, the viziers approached the judge, who withdrew the scroll of testimonies from his sleeve[5]—to be brought directly to the emir so that he might arrive at his own conclusion regarding the case. Because the nature of the accusation against Qūmis dealt with God’s rights and not man’s rights, it seems that the judge was only acting as delegate and deferred to the emir to give a final ruling.

Hāshim unsuccessfully tried to manipulate the outcome by suggesting that the judge “edit” the document and relay only the testimony given by the Cordoban notables whom he knew held unfavorable views of Qūmis b. Antunyān.

The judge Sulaymān b. al-Aswad refused this suggestion and insisted that the emir read the scroll in its entirety. Soon after, the emir dispatched a page to inquire as to what the judge believed was the correct conclusion to be drawn from the body of testimony. The judge responded, via the page, that the accusations against Qūmis were not verified and that those who had provided testimony against Qūmis could not be accepted as witnesses. Hāshim then interjected that important people testified against Qūmis, listing their names. But the judge remained firm in his conclusion. The emir then promulgated an edict (tawqīʿ) ordering the judge to divide Qūmis’ fortune among his heirs, and so the judge did so.

In reviewing this process, it is important to note that the judge did not meet personally with the emir. This practice accords with the standards of upright scholars not to be seen in close proximity to the ruler. It is also worth mentioning that we lack documentary evidence of the case as it is recorded in a literary source by an author who states that he received the information through oral means. As such, the text of the Qūmis affair was likely subject to a redactional process. While there is no reason to doubt that the case did take place, it is possible that the details may have been manipulated in redaction for a variety of reasons.

Translation of the Arabic Text

Muḥammad [b. Ḥārith al-Khushanī] said: It was mentioned to me that Hāshim b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz sought to double-cross [the judge] Sulaymān b. Aswad and craved to dupe him because of the inheritance left by Qūmis b. Antunyān, as the judge did not perform in his favor according to what he desired.

What happened was [the following]: Hāshim b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz’s rank with the emir was elevated: he handled the burdens of the caliphate, administering the most serious business and was in charge of the affairs of the state, with no transactions taking place without him and with the emir not deciding anything except through his intervention. Hāshim did not encounter opposition nor did he conceive that he could [even] be opposed. Then, Qūmis b. Antunyān started to rise, the merits of his adab [literary skill] became manifest. He was named to the chancery, took over heavy duties, and was sought after, becoming renowned, as he was very competent and made every effort to rise. [Hāshim] did not like to be subordinate or to follow others, and he started to worry that Qūmis’ position would obscure his own. Thus, he turned his thoughts toward harming Qūmis and to having him fall.

When Qūmis sensed this, he was filled with caution and became prudent. His caution and prudence reached the point that Muḥammad b. Yūsuf b. Maṭrūḥ—who was his friend and who was on intimate terms with him—knocked on his door one day. Qūmis went out to see who was there and spoke to him from behind the door. Muḥammad b. Yūsuf b. Maṭrūḥ told him: “Open the door.” He answered: “By God, I will not unless you tell me what brought you here.” Muḥammad b. Yūsuf b. Maṭrūḥ answered: “These are affairs not to be told from behind a door.” Qūmis then told him: “Then let them be for tomorrow morning.” Muḥammad b. Yūsuf b. Maṭrūḥ then departed, annoyed that Qūmis had left him there standing. Muḥammad b. Yūsuf b. Maṭrūḥ did not sleep that night and after having prayed the morning prayer he went to see Qūmis early in the morning. Qūmis received him well, revering and honoring him. Muḥammad b. Yūsuf b. Maṭrūḥ told him: “Now you honor me, but when last night I came to see you, you did not consider me respectable enough to open your door for me.” Qūmis replied: “Forgive me. I am a man sought after and you know who is persecuting me, so I had to become as cautious as you have experienced. I have considered it adequate to show you a caution that could serve as proof for me if I use it with those who are not you. Do not censor me.” Then Muḥammad b. Yūsuf b. Maṭrūḥ dealt with his business with him.

When Qūmis b. Antunyān died, Hāshim made claims against his inheritors and his legacy, causing attestations to be collected from every corner and having a muḥtasib bring the case to the judge Sulaymān b. Aswad, telling him that Qūmis b. Antunyān had died a Christian and that his fortune thus belonged to the Public Treasury (bayt al-māl). Furthermore, Hāshim elevated the case to the emir, telling him: “You have more right to his fortune than his heirs, but order the judge to investigate this.” The emir Muḥammad ordered Sulaymān b. Aswad to look into the affair. The judge received serious and numerous declarations from important persons and notable witnesses saying that Qūmis had died as a Christian. Very few among the notables and jurists abstained from giving testimony in this affair. Muḥammad b. Yūsuf b. Maṭrūḥ was one of them; when he sat in the Friday [congregational] mosque, he did not fail to say to the principals: “Of a man like Qūmis who was always praying and performing acts of devotion, the dove of this mosque, now you say that he died a Christian!” And he repeated this many times. The common people were astonished by the testimonials made against Qūmis, and all this came to be known to the emir. The emir entrusted his viziers to call the judge Sulaymān b. Aswad and ask him what [facts] had been established, in his opinion, against Qūmis b. Antunyān. Sulaymān b. Aswad appeared, and the viziers told him: “The emir has ordered us to summon you so that we can determine from you what [facts] have been established in your court in the Qūmis case.” Sulaymān withdrew a scroll from his sleeve and said: “Here is what has been declared in my court regarding his case, but it should be sent to the emir so that he can examine it and then order what he thinks should be done.”

Hāshim wanted to stop him and told him: “Oh, judge, the scroll is extensive and the declarations are many, and not everybody is known to the emir. Limit yourself to the names of those witnesses who are acceptable; point to them and to their declarations.” Sulaymān was aware of what Hāshim intended and told him: “I will not do such a thing. It is indispensable that the emir reads [all] the declarations themselves.” The judge sent the scroll with the totality of what had been recorded. Shortly afterwards, a page went out from where the emir was and said to the judge: “The emir asks you to extract from the declarations, given their length, and to inform me of what [facts] have been established, in your opinion, from them.” Sulaymān b. Aswad told the page: “Inform the emir that nothing reprehensible has been established, in my opinion, against Qūmis, while it is well known that God would not take into account anything from the totality of the declarations that have been collected in the scroll.” Hāshim then told him: “God be exalted, oh, judge! Ibn Qulzum and such and such are among those who gave declarations in your court.” The judge replied: “I informed the emir of what I hold to be correct.” An edict (tawqīʿ) was sent to the judge saying: “Divide Qūmis’s fortune among his heirs,” [which is] what the judge did. The fortune was large.

*              *              *

The Source of the Case

This case comes from a biographical dictionary devoted to Cordoban judges who were active from the beginning of the Muslim conquest in 92/711 to the period of the Umayyad Cordoban caliph ʿAbd al-Rahman III (r. 300–350/912–961). The author, Ibn Ḥārith al-Khushanī (d. 361/971), was born in Qayrawān [in present-day Tunisia], but left his homeland around 311/923–4 (or the year after) during the period of Fatimid rule. He settled in al-Andalus, where he composed many historical and legal works for the future caliph al-Ḥakam II (r. 350–366/961–976), who was a prince at the time.[6]

The Author’s Works

Al-Khushanī’s legal works include:

  • Kitāb al-futyā, ed. Muḥammad al-Majdūb, Muḥammad Abū l-Ajfān, and ʿUthmān Battīkh, Uṣūl al-futyā fil-fiqh ʿalā madhhab al-imām Mālik (Tunis: al-Dar al-ʿarabiyya li-l-kitāb, 1985). Review: M. Marín in Al-Qanṭara 7 (1986): 487–89.
  • Kitāb fil-ittifāq wal-ikhtilāf li-Mālik b. Anas wa-aṣḥābih, still unpublished (there is a ms. in Qayrawan).

Al-Khushanī’s historical works include:

  • Kitāb fī akhbār al-fuqahāʾ wal-muḥaddithīn, ed. María Luisa Ávila and Luis Molina (Madrid: CSIC, 1992). Reviews: Maribel Fierro in Al-Qanṭara 13 (1992): 607–9; P. Chalmeta in Anaquel de Estudios Arabes 4 (1993): 203–6; Mahmūd Ali Makki in Anaquel de Estudios Arabes 5 (1994): 139–66. Ed. Sālim Muṣṭafā al-Badrī (Beirut: Dar al-kutub al-ʿilmiyya, 1999).
  • Kitāb/Tarīkh al-quḍāt bi-Qurṭuba, ed. and transl. J. Ribera, Historia de los jueces de Córdoba (Madrid: Imprenta Ibérica/E. Maestre, 1914), with an introduction published in Disertaciones y Opúsculos, 1: 385–416. Reviews: Revista del Centro de Estudios Históricos de Granada y su reino 5 (1915): 129; F. Gabrieli, “Qualche nota sul Kitāb al-quḍātbi-Qurṭuba di al-Jušanī,” Al-Andalus 8 (1943): 275–80. Ed. ʽIzzat al-ʽAṭṭār al-Ḥusaynī (Cairo: Mu’assasat al-Khanjī, 1373/1954) (with ʽUlamāʼ Ifrīqiya; it is based on the edition of J. Ribera). Reviews: E. Lévi-Provençal in Arabica 1 (1954): 357; MIDEO 2 (1955): 298. Ed. Ibrahīm al-Abyarī, 2nd ed. (Cairo: Dār al-Kitāb al-Miṣrī/Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-Lubnānī, 1990). Russian translation by K. Boĭko, Moscow, 1992.
  • Ṭabaqāt ʿulamāʾ Ifrīqiya, ed. and trans. Ben Cheneb, Publications de la Faculté des Lettres d’Alger, vol. 52 (Algiers, 1916, 1921) (repr. Beirut: Dār al-kitāb al-lubnānī, [198–]). Ed. ʽIzzat al-ʽAṭṭār al-Ḥusaynī (Cairo: Mu’assasat al-Khanjī, 1373/1954) (with Kitāb al-quḍāt bi-Qurṭuba; it is based on the edition of Ben Cheneb). Ed. M. Zaynhum M. ʽAzab (Cairo: Madbulī, 1993).

The text translated and analyzed here is found in Ibn Ḥārith al-Khushanī, Kitāb al-quḍāt bi-Qurṭuba, ed. and trans. J. Ribera, Historia de los jueces de Córdoba (Madrid: Imprenta Ibérica/E. Maestre, 1914): 130–33 (Arabic text) and 159–64 (Spanish translation), in the entry devoted to the judge Sulaymān b. Aswad al-Ghāfiqī from the sources edited by Ibrahīm al-Abyarī, 2nd ed. (Cairo: Dār al-Kitāb al-Miṣrī/Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-Lubnānī, 1990), 158–62.


[1] He was a member of one of the Umayyad mawālī (client) families who traditionally served the Cordoban Umayyads. See Mohamed Meouak, Pouvoir souverain, administration centrale et élites politiques dans l’Espagne umayyade (IIe-Ve/VIIIe-Xe siécles) (Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica, 1999).

[2] He was also a member of one of the powerful Umayyad mawālī lineages.

[3] For more about this case see: Ibn al-Qūṭiyya al-Qurṭubī (d. 367/977), Taʾrīkh iftitāḥ al-Andalus, ed. P. de Gayangos (with the collaboration of E. Saavedra and F. Codera), 83–84, Spanish trans. J. Ribera, Historia de la conquista de España de Aben al-Cotia el cordobés, seguida de fragmentos históricos de Abencotaiba (y la noble carta dirigida a las comarcas españolas del wazīr al-Gassānī) (Madrid: Revista de Archivos, 1926), 68–69; English trans., David James, Early Islamic Spain: The History of Ibn al-Qūṭīya (London: Routledge, 2009), 115–16; María Isabel Fierro, La heterodoxia en al-Andalus durante el periodo omeya (Madrid: Instituto Hispano-Arabe de Cultura, 1987), 77–80.

[4] That is, a ṣāḥib al-suqsūq; see Pedro Chalmeta, El señor del zoco en España: Edades media y moderna (Madrid: Instituto Hispano-Arabe de Cultura, 1973).

[5] The width of the sleeves allowed them to be used as “pockets”; there are many other instances in this time period where literate persons are described as carrying various types of documents and even books in their sleeves.

[6] For more information on Ibn Ḥārith al-Khushanī, see Encyclopaedia Islamica, 2nd ed. (Leiden: Brill, 1960-2004), 5:73–4 (Charles Pellat); Fuat Sezgin, Geschichte des arabischen Schrifttums, 1:363; J. Shaykha, “Abū ʽAbd Allāh Muḥammad b. Ḥārith b. Asad al-Khushanī al-Ifrīqī al-Andalusī,” Cahiers de Tunisie 26 (1978): 33–60; Biblioteca de al-Andalus, vol. 3: De Ibn al-Dabbāg a Ibn Kurz, ed. Jorge Lirola Delgado and José Miguel Puerta Vílchez (Almería: Fundación Ibn Tufayl de Estudios Árabes, 2004), 290–6, nº 548 [A. Zomeño]; Historia de los Autores y Transmisores de al-Andalus [] and Prosopografía de los Ulemas de al-Andalus, ID 8774 [].

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