:: Muwaṭṭaʾ Roundtable :: Medina, the Mashriq, and the Maghrib in the recension of Mālik’s Muwaṭṭaʼ by the Cordoban Yaḥyā b. Yaḥyā al-Laythī*

By Maribel Fierro (National High Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), Spain)

Mālik’s Muwaṭṭaʼ in the recension by the Cordoban Yaḥyā b. Yaḥyā al-Laythī includes many references to Medina.[1] This is hardly surprising given that Mālik b. Anas (d. 179/795) was a scholar from Medina and that the town of the Prophet plays an important role in his legal system.[2] This connection with Medina is highlighted in titles of Mālikī works such as Kitāb al-kāfī fī al-fiqh ʿalā madhhab ahl al-Madīna (The Sufficiency Regarding the Jurisprudence of the People of Medina) by the Cordoban Abū ʽUmar Ibn ʽAbd al-Barr al-Namarī (368/978-463/1071), Kitāb al-jawāhir al-thamīna fī madhhab ʽālim al-Madīna (The Precious Jewels of Legal Teachings of the Scholar of Medina) by the Egyptian Ibn Shās (d. 616/1219) and the Kitāb al-intiṣār li-ahl al-Madīna (Defending the Legal Doctrines of the People of Medina) by the Andalusian Muḥammad b. ʽAbd al-Raḥmān Ibn al-Fakhkhār al-Judhāmī (d. 723/1323). The ways of doing things in Medina and more specifically Medinese legal practice were one of the foundational blocks of the Mālikī legal school. Its prominence in their legal thought explains why the Mālikīs’ opponents focused on  “practice” in their anti-Mālikī polemical writings, such as that of the Iraqi Ḥanafī jurist, Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī (d. 189/805), in his al-Ḥujja ʿalā ahl al-Madīna (The Conclusive Proof Against the People of Medina).[3]

Mālik and his followers stressed in many different ways why Medina was special, but the main axis of their argument was the ten years that the Prophet Muḥammad had spent there, which allowed his followers to witness, record, and completely internalize his teachings. The legal tradition of the town, the Mālikīs claimed, was the best available reflection of the Prophet’s example and precedent. Medina was also the place where the Prophet had been buried. For these reasons, the Mālikīs were convinced that Medina was superior to other towns. The Mālikī scholar from Ceuta (Sabta) Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ (d. 544/1149) emphasized the special character of the Prophet’s grave, considering it superior to other sacred places, including the sanctuary (ḥaram) of Mecca.[4] Against this background, a peculiar practice developed in the Maghrib where Mālikism prevailed: writing letters to the Prophet Muḥammad that were sent with pilgrims to be read at the Prophet’s grave.[5] The special character of the Prophet’s grave is reflected in the Muwaṭṭa’ when dealing with the danger of making shrines of the graves of prophets.[6]

While the references to Medina are positive, its references to Iraq are not. Among what has been aptly termed ‘historical material’ in the introduction to the English translation of the Muwaṭṭaʼ,[7] there is a transmission in which it is recorded that an Iraqi man complained that perjury ‘has spread on every corner of our land’; another report shows a man from Iraq telling ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb that an apostate had been executed there without first giving the man a three day respite in which he could have been invited to repent.[8] Iraqi pilgrims, and ordinary men and women are shown consulting Medinese scholars and learning proper practice from them. The Iraqis are also associated with erroneous practices and rulings, and with defective legal reasoning.[9] This is not surprising given what we know of the legal divergence between the Hejazi and Iraqi scholars in the early period. This divergence, first expressed in regional terms, was later reflected as the divergences of opinion between two legal schools, the Ḥanafis and the Mālikīs.[10]

Historical material is particularly abundant in the last chapter of the Muwaṭṭaʼ, the Kitāb al-jāmiʽ (Book of Miscellaneous Matters). This is a section often included in Mālikī legal works and to which Ibn Abī Zayd al-Qayrawānī (d. 396/1006) devoted a book, the Kitāb al-jāmiʽ fī al-sunan wa’l-ādāb wa’l-maghāzī wa’l-taʼrīkh.[11] As explained in the introduction by M. Fadel and C. Monette:

“[T]he two chapters with the greatest amount of historical material are the Book of Pilgrimage, which contains approximately 20,000 words of historical reports, and the Book of Miscellaneous Matters, with approximately 22,000 words of historical reports. …. [A]pproximately 96% of the Book of Miscellaneous Matters consists of historical reports. At the other extreme, only 6% of the Book of Investment Partnerships consist of historical reports, and 76% of its texts convey Mālik’s personal legal reasoning … To understand the Muwaṭṭaʾ’s jurisprudence, therefore, it is not enough to describe, in the abstract, a generic approach based on a theoretical relationship between authority and legal reason without taking into account the legal context. The distribution of different kinds of texts indicates that Mālik clearly believed that certain kinds of arguments had greater salience in different areas of the law. It should not come as a surprise, then, that historical materials make up a substantial portion of sections of the Muwaṭṭaʾ dealing with matters that either fell squarely within ritual law or functioned as identity markers in the early Muslim community; and it is likewise not surprising that the relative importance of historical reports declines sharply as one moves to areas of the law connected to more conventional legal topics, such as sales, inheritance, and property.”[12]

In the Kitāb al-jāmiʽ (Book of Miscellaneous Matters) of the Muwaṭṭa’ in the recension by the Andalusian Yaḥyā b. Yaḥyā al-Laythī, the chapter What Has Come Down  Regarding the East (mā jāʼa fī l-mashriq) includes two reports; these are also found in other recensions of Mālik’s Muwaṭṭaʼ: those by al-Qaʽnabī (d. 221/835), Suwayd b. Saʽīd (m. 240/854) and Abū Muṣʽab al-Zuhrī (d. 242/856).[13] I reproduce here M. Fadel and C. Monette’s translation (the Arabic terms between square brackets are my addition):

[Book 45] Chapter 62. What Has Come Down regarding the East

  1. According to Mālik, ʿAbd Allāh b. Dīnār reported that ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar said, “I saw the Messenger of God (pbuh) pointing at the East and saying, ‘There, that is the origin of strife and tribulation [al-fitna]. There is the home of strife and tribulation from whence Satan’s partisans will emerge [qarn al-shayṭān].’”
  2. According to Mālik, it reached him that ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb wanted to set out for Iraq, but Kaʿb al-Aḥbār said to him, “Do not go there, Commander of the Faithful, for nine-tenths of all the world’s sorcery [al-siḥr] resides there, and it is home to the most wicked of the jinn as well as chronic, untreatable disease.”

The East (al-mashriq) in the second report is expressly associated with Iraq. It is a place of fitna, that is, of internal dissension among Muslims that may lead to civil wars, a place also of sorcery, wicked jinns and disease. This connection of Iraq with evil is not found in al-Shaybānī’s recension of the Muwaṭṭaʼ, another clear example that his recension reads Mālik’s work with Ḥanafī (and therefore Iraqi) eyes.[14] Abū ʽUmar b. ʽAbd al-Barr in his work Kitāb al-Tamhīd li-mā fī al-Muwaṭṭa’ min al-maʻānī wa-‘l-asānīd, written with the aim of proving the quality of the Muwaṭṭa’as a compilation of ḥadīth, lists some of the fitan (pl. of fitna) associated with the Mashriq, such as those leading to the Battle of the Camel, to Ṣiffīn and to the murder of al-Ḥusayn. Although Abū ʽUmar b. ʽAbd al-Barr points to the fact that examples of fitna could be found in every part of the Islamic world, the highest number is in fact to be found in the East.[15] No negative mention is made in Mālik’s Muwaṭṭaʼ of al-maghrib, the Western regions of the Islamic world, those where this work achieved extraordinary diffusion, prestige, and veneration. An Andalusian Mālikī author mentioned above, Ibn al-Fakhkhār (d. 723/1323), included among the virtues of Andalusia the fact that no heretical sect (ṭāʼifa mubtadiʽa) or sectarian group (firqa mutashayyiʽa) had become prominent there. He added that whenever a person who adhered to a heretical group appeared, God saved Andalusia from his influence by destroying and annihilating him. Quoting al-Ḥumaydī (d. 488/1095), Ibn al-Fakhkhār adds that the names of the Prophetʼs Companions were always mentioned from Andalusia’s pulpits (minbars) with due respect: in other words, Andalusia had always been free of Shīʽism. Al-Ḥumaydīʼs teacher, Ibn Ḥazm (d. 456/1064), in his Risāla fī faḍāʼil ahl al-Andalus, written before 426/1035, had stated before Ibn al-Fakhkhār that in al-Andalus the controversies were mild and there was no differentiation into sects (lam tatajādhab fīhā al-khuṣūm wa-lā ikhtalafat fīhā al-niḥal).[16] This harmonious vision of al-Andalus constitutes the opposite of the sectarian way that Iraq is represented in Yaḥyā b. Yaḥyā’s recension of the Muwaṭṭaʼ. Mālik’s criticism of the Mashriq/Iraq fits well within the Cordoban Umayyads’ wider anti-ʽAbbāsid policies. Moreover, Mālik also included in his Muwaṭṭa’ a transmission that reminded the Berbers of the close links that existed between them and the Umayyads:

According to Mālik, Ibn Shihāb said, “It reached me that the Messenger of God (pbuh) collected an annual poll-tax from the Zoroastrians of Bahrain, that ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb took such a tax from the Zoroastrians of Persia, and that ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān took it from the Berbers of the Maghrib.”[17]

During the fourth/tenth century, when Abd al-Rahman III (r. 300/912-350/961) and his successors confronted the Fatimids in North Africa and fought to gain the Berber tribal leaders to their side, the Cordoban Umayyad caliphs repeatedly wrote to their Berber allies that their conversion to Islam had taken place when their ancestors ruled in Damascus. The ‘historical material’ found in Yaḥyā b. Yaḥyā’s recension of the Muwaṭṭa was thus highly suitable in different ways to give support to the Cordoban Umayyads against their enemies. It should not come as a surprise that the only book Abd al-Rahman III is said to have studied was Mālik b. Anas’s legal work.


* This paper has been written within the project Local contexts and global dynamics: al-Andalus and the Maghrib in the Islamic East, financed by the Spanish Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities, FFI2016-78878-R AEI/FEDER, UE.

[1] Mālik b. Anas, al-Muwaṭṭaʼ by Mālik b. Anas (d. 179/795) [The recension of Yaḥyā b. Yaḥyā al-Laythī (d. 234/848), English translation by Mohammad Fadel and Connell Monette, Harvard Series in Islamic Law I, Harvard University Press, 2019: see for example Book 2, Chapter 31,number 168, Book 3, Chapter 1, number 182, and Chapter 5, number 211, Book 9, Chapter 22, number 460, Book 21, Chapter 14, number 1331, Book 45, Chapter 2, number 2552.

[2] See among others the studies by Yasin Dutton, The Origins of Islamic Law: The Qurʾan, the “Muwaṭṭaʾ” and Madinan ʿAmal, 2nd ed. New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002; Yasin Dutton, Original Islam. Malik and the madhhab of Madina, London and New York: Routledge, 2007; Umar F. Abd-Allah Wymann-Landgraf, Mālik and Medina: Islamic legal reasoning in the formative period, Leiden: Brill, 2013.

[3] Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan al-Shaybānī, al-Ḥujja ʿalā ahl al-Madīna, Beirut: ʿĀlam al-Kutub, 1983. See also Robert Brunschvig, “Polémiques médiévales autour du rite de Mālik”, Al-Anda­lus 15 (1950), 337-435, and Abdelmajid Turki, Polémiques entre Ibn Ḥazm et Bāğī sur les principes de la loi musulmane. Essai sur le littéralisme zahirite et la finalité malikite, Alger, 1976 (Arabic translation Beirut: Dār al-gharb al-islāmī, 1986), excellent studies on the attacks against the Malikis and their defence.

[4] Qāḍī ʿIyāḍ, Ikmāl al-muʿlim bi-fawāʾid Muslim, ed. Yaḥyā Ismaʿīl, Manṣūra: Dār al-Wafā’, 1419/1998, vol. 4, p. 511. Cf. Mālik b. Anas, al-Muwaṭṭaʼ by Mālik b. Anas (d. 179/795), Book 21, Chapter 14, number 1331.

[5] Hassan Lachheb, Dear Prophet: the tradition of sending letters to Muḥammad and the making of the Maghribī Prophet, Doctoral diss., Indiana University 2016 https://search.proquest.com/openview/f4d7bb3b4b0c1954911b856cf2a68417/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y.

[6] Mālik b. Anas, al-Muwaṭṭaʼ by Mālik b. Anas (d. 179/795), numbers Book 9, Chapter 24, number 477, Book 45, Chapter 5, number 2562 and cf. Book 22, Chapter 4, number 1359.

[7] For the meaning of this expression when applied to the materials collected in the Muwaṭṭaʼ see Mālik b. Anas, al-Muwaṭṭaʼ by Mālik b. Anas (d. 179/795), translators’ introduction, p. 31.

[8] See for example Mālik b. Anas, al-Muwaṭṭaʼ by Mālik b. Anas (d. 179/795), Book 35, Chapter 2, number 2119 and Book 35, Chapter 18, number 2159. For other instances of the negative representation of Iraq and Iraqis, see Book 2, Chapter 5, number 64 and Book 21, Chapter 17, number 1336.

[9] See for example Mālik b. Anas, al-Muwaṭṭaʼ by Mālik b. Anas (d. 179/795), Book 20, Chapter 24, number 1011, Chapter 56, number 1164, Book 32, Chapter 2, number 1726, Book 40, Chapter 11, number 2384, Book 44, Chapter 5, number 2545.

[10] Joseph Schacht, The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979; Christopher Melchert, The formation of the Sunnī schools of law, 9th-10th centuries C.E., Leiden: Brill, 1997.

[11] Edited by Muḥammad Abū l-Ajfān and ʽUthmān Battīkh, Beirut: Muʽassasat al-Risāla, 1406/1985. English translation by Abdassamad Clarke, A Madinan view of the Sunna, Courtesy, Wisdom, Battles, and History by Abu Muhammad Abdullah Ibn Abi Zayd a-Qayrawani (d. 386 AH), London: Ta-Ha Publishers, 1999.

[12] For the meaning of this expression when applied to the materials collected in the Muwaṭṭaʼ see Mālik b. Anas, al-Muwaṭṭaʼ by Mālik b. Anas (d. 179/795), translators’ introduction, p. 31.

[13] See respectively ed. ʽAbd al-Ḥafīẓ Manṣūr, Kuwait: al-Shurūq, ca. 1392/1972; ed. ʽAbd al-Majīd Turkī, Beirut: Dār al-gharb al-islāmī, 1995, and ed. ʽAbd al-Majīd Turkī, Beirut: Dār al-gharb al-islāmī, 1999. The recension by ʽAlī b. Ziyād (ed. Muḥammad al-Shādhilī al-Nayfar, Beirut: Dār al-gharb al-islāmī, 1400/1980) is preserved partially and does not include the Kitāb al-jāmiʽ..

[14] On this see Mālik b. Anas, al-Muwaṭṭaʼ by Mālik b. Anas (d. 179/795), translators’ introduction, p. 9, note 5 and the references there given.

[15] Ed. Bashar Awwad Marouf, 17 vols., London: al-Furqān Islamic Heritage Foundation, 2017, vol. 10, p. 385-6.

[16] I am quoting here from Maribel Fierro, “Heresy in al-Andalus”, The legacy of al-Andalus, ed. S. Jayyusi, Leiden: Brill, 1992, 895-908, p. 895. It goes without saying that this representation can be  easily challenged.

[17] Mālik b. Anas, al-Muwaṭṭaʼ by Mālik b. Anas (d. 179/795), Book 16, Chapter 24, number 758.

Leave a Reply