By Jonathan Brown (Georgetown University)Â
I once found myself trapped on a phone call with an exercised adherent of the á¸¤anafÄ« school of Islamic law who made it clear that the conversation was not going to end until I acknowledged that AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«fa (d. 767), the schoolâ€™s founder, was the greatest Hadith scholar in Islamic history. This is not unheard of, as followers of the á¸¤anafÄ« school have, from time to time, strayed into excessive adulation. Such was the case with some staunch á¸¤anafÄ«s who claimed that, when Jesus returns, he will rule without exception by the details of á¸¤anafÄ« law (thankfully, responsible á¸¤anafÄ« scholars reined them in). Nor are á¸¤anafÄ«s alone in their love for their tradition or reverence for its founder.
Unique among the founding figures of the four Sunni schools of law, MÄlik b. Anas (d. 795), author the Muwaá¹á¹aÊ¾, remains uncontroversial and beloved by all. The earliest articulations of Sunni Islam already recognized him as a pillar of Sunni identity, yet even those whom the earliest Sunnis viewed with suspicion, like Abu á¸¤anÄ«faâ€™s disciples, Muá¸¥ammad b. al-á¸¤asan al-ShaybÄnÄ« (d. 805) and AbÅ« YÅ«suf (d. 798), sought out the Muwaá¹á¹aÊ¾ and the opportunity to study with MÄlik. MÄlik became a figure of universal approbation among Sunnis and, as weâ€™ll see, establishing a connection to him was quite appealing to later adherents of the Sunni doctrinal schools of law. MÄlikâ€™s Muwaá¹á¹aÊ¾ represented a collection of common and foundational scriptural evidence for Sunni reasoning on law, at the same time as MÄlikâ€™s own process of legal reasoning in the Muwaá¹á¹aÊ¾ challenged those like AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«fa who had adopted a different method. MÄlikâ€™s centrality and universality are revealed by an illustrative, if ultimately marginal and slightly amusing, debate among later, non-MÄlikÄ«, Sunni scholars, one that exemplifies both MÄlikâ€™s standing in the Sunni tradition and that traditionâ€™s occasional lapses into chauvinistic infighting.
In the chapter on sales in the Muwaá¹á¹aÊ¾, MÄlik narrates from his teacher NÄfiÊ¿, from the Companion Ibn Ê¿Umar, who heard Prophet (may Godâ€™s peace and blessings be upon him) say, â€œDo not make an offer after someone else has made a firm offerâ€ (#2105). MÄlikâ€™s (most?) famous student al-ShÄfiÊ¿Ä« (d. 820) narrates this Hadith from MÄlik in his own work. And al-ShÄfiÊ¿Ä«â€™s (most?) famous student Ibn á¸¤anbal narrates it from him in turn in his famous collection of hadith, the Musnad.
But were these scholars really each the greatest or most illustrious student of their teachers? As the ShÄfiÊ¿Ä« scholar TÄj al-DÄ«n al-SubkÄ« (d. 1370) suggests, one could name students of Imam al-ShÄfiÊ¿Ä« other than Ibn á¸¤anbal, ones whose efforts went into building the ShÄfiÊ¿Ä« school of law instead of founding (even if unintentionally) the rival Hanbali school. And, of course, it was no settled matter that MÄlikâ€™s most illustrious student was al-ShÄfiÊ¿Ä« to begin with.
Hadith critics considered the chain of transmission to the Prophet via MÄlik, from NÄfiÊ¿, from Ibn Ê¿Umar to be one of the soundest and most reliable. One famous ShÄfiÊ¿Ä« polymath from Khurasan, AbÅ« Maná¹£Å«r al-BaghdÄdÄ« (d. 1037-8), thus extrapolated that the soundest of chains was al-ShÄfiÊ¿Ä«, from MÄlik, from NÄfiÊ¿, from Ibn Ê¿Umar, from the Prophet. This was obvious, he noted, since scholars of Hadith had reached consensus that â€˜the most illustrious (ajall)â€™ transmitter from MÄlik was his student al-ShÄfiÊ¿Ä«. Another scholar, AbÅ« Bakr al-á¸¤ÄzimÄ« (d. 1188-9), compiled a book of Ibn á¸¤anbalâ€™s Hadith narrations from al-ShÄfiÊ¿Ä« and with great pomp titled it The Golden Chain (Silsilat al-dhahab).
The Cairene á¸¤anafÄ« jurist and Hadith scholar Mughulá¹Äy (d. 1361) would not let such claims go uncontested. If we look at those who transmitted MÄlikâ€™s Muwaá¹á¹aÊ¾ from the perspective of Hadith specialists, Mughulá¹Äy asked, was al-ShÄfiÊ¿Ä« really the most accomplished? And in terms of illustriousness, surely the fact that AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«fa had narrated Hadiths from MÄlik undermined ShÄfiÊ¿Ä« claims.
Indeed, it seemed that AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«fa had narrated one or two Hadiths from MÄlik, as the two great ShÄfiÊ¿Ä« Hadith scholars, al-DÄraquá¹nÄ« (d. 995) and al-Khaá¹Ä«b al-BaghdÄdÄ« (d. 1071), both acknowledged. And, as á¸¤anafÄ« devotees frequently reminded their peers, did AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«fa not enjoy unmatched standing among his competition? Unlike MÄlik or any other early scholar, AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«fa had actually narrated Hadiths directly from at least one Companion of the Prophet, namely Anas (though non-á¸¤anafÄ« Muslim historians retorted that he had only seen Anas and not actually narrated any Hadiths from him). Surely this elevated AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«fa above any other narrator of Hadiths or narrators of the Muwaá¹á¹aÊ¾ from MÄlik.
Not so fast! Mughulá¹Äy’s ShÄfiÊ¿Ä« interlocutors in Mamluk Egypt made their objections known. Ibn á¸¤ajar (d. 1449), known simply as â€˜the Hadith master (al-á¸¥Äfiáº“),â€™ observed that AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«faâ€™s narrations of Hadiths from MÄlik had not been conclusively established (lam tathbut). Many Hadith scholars had in fact raised doubts about the accuracy of the chains of transmission that were said to prove that AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«fa had narrated Hadiths from MÄlik. And Ibn á¸¤ajarâ€™s famous teacher, Zayn al-DÄ«n al-Ê¿IrÄqÄ« (d. 1404), had pointed out that, even if we were to concede that AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«fa had narrated Hadiths from MÄlik, the two narrations that were cited as evidence did not proceed from MÄlik to the Prophet via the Golden Chain of NÄfiÊ¿, from Ibn Ê¿Umar. Â And was this not the issue under debate?
If anyone could parry this attack and restore á¸¤anafÄ« standing in this admittedly marginal debate it would be Mehmet Zahid Kevseri (d. 1952), the last senior academic official (shaykh dars) of the Ottoman Empire and a Hadith scholar whose command of the Islamic sciences and manuscripts continues to dazzle researchers to this day. Kevseri had penned numerous treatises highlighting the á¸¤anafÄ« schoolâ€™s excellence. The Syrian judge and famous Islamic scholar, Ê¿AlÄ« al-á¹¬aná¹ÄwÄ« (d. 1999), described him with praise very a propos this issue: â€˜After I met him, I studied with no one else. Except that he had two fatal flaws: his blind favoritism in favor of AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«fa and his hatred of Ibn Taymiyya.â€™
Sure enough, in 1941 Kevseri composed a short treatise entitled The Firmest Path on MÄlikâ€™s Narration from AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«fa and AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«faâ€™s Narration from MÄlik. In it Kevseri meticulously mines obscure manuscripts to establish a related claim (one which is arguably much more consequential), namely that AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«fa and MÄlik had met each other in Medina, discussed Islamic law and theology at length and had great esteem for one another. But positive results for the matter of Hadith transmission were not forthcoming. Kevseri was too exact a scholar to look past the problems with the claim, and he concludes that there is no reliable evidence that AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«fa narrated Hadiths from MÄlik. It had been well established that AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«faâ€™s son, á¸¤ammÄd, had studied with the author of the Muwaá¹á¹aÊ¾. In the case of one of the two Hadiths, one Ê¿ImrÄn bin Ê¿Abd al-RahÄ«m (d. 895) had (intentionally or not) switched the segment of the chain â€˜IsmÄÊ¿Ä«l from (Ê¿an) á¸¤ammÄd son of (bin) AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«faâ€™ to â€˜IsmÄÊ¿Ä«l bin á¸¤ammÄd from (Ê¿an) AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«faâ€¦â€™.
Kevseri no doubt considered this whole argument silly. As he had amply demonstrated elsewhere, Muslims worldwide remained indebted to AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«fa in their understanding of law and theology. Narrating the Muwaá¹á¹aÊ¾ or any Hadith from a figure of MÄlikâ€™s stature would be a blessing. But, as Kevseri noted, there is â€˜no blessingâ€™ in claiming chains of transmission that are made up.
That scholars devoted time, and even wrote short treatises, exploring the extent to which they could affirm an intellectual connection with MÄlik, no matter how tenuous or marginal, speaks volumes regarding the stature of MÄlik in the Sunni tradition. While MÄlikâ€™s status in later Sunni thought became quasi-legendary, that should not distract us from recognizing the very real role that MÄlik played in the early development of Sunni law and Hadith tradition. The Muwaá¹á¹aÊ¾ played an essential role in the consolidation of what would become Sunnism. The availability of this new translation will offer students of Islam a more direct window into the formation of early Sunni identity, and MÄlikâ€™s role in that process.
 Ê¿Abd al-á¸¤ayy al-LaknawÄ«, al-FawÄâ€™id al-bahiyya fÄ« tarÄjim al-á¸¥anafiyya (Karachi: QadÄ«mÄ« Kutub-khÄne, n.d.), 6.
 AbÅ« JaÊ¿far al-á¹¬aá¸¥ÄwÄ«, al-Sunan al-maâ€™thÅ«ra liâ€™l-imÄm Muá¸¥ammad b. IdrÄ«s al-ShÄfiÊ¿Ä«, ed. Ê¿Abd al-MuÊ¿á¹Ä« AmÄ«n QalÊ¿ajÄ« (Beirut: DÄr al-MaÊ¿rifa, 1986), 279-80.
 Aá¸¥mad Ibn á¸¤anbal, Musnad (Maymaniyya print numbering), 2:108.
 Al-Khaá¹Ä«b al-BaghdÄdÄ«, TÄrÄ«kh BaghdÄd, ed. Muá¹£á¹afÄ Ê¿Abd al-QÄdir Ê¿Aá¹Ä, 14 vols. (Beirut: DÄr al-Kutub al-Ê¿Ilmiyya, 1997), 12:440-1. Al-DhahabÄ« (d. 1348) laconically seems to affirm the claim in his biography of AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«fa in his Siyar, but he also notes that Ê¿ImrÄn b. Ê¿Abd al-Raá¸¥Ä«m of Isfahan (d. 281/895) â€˜forged the Hadith of AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«fa, from MÄlikâ€™; al-DhahabÄ«, Siyar aÊ¿lÄm al-nubalÄâ€™, ed. ShuÊ¿ayb al-ArnÄâ€™Å«á¹, et al., 25 vols. (Beirut: Muâ€™assasat al-RisÄla, 1992â€“98), 6:392; idem, MÄ«zÄn al-iÊ¿tidÄl fÄ« naqd al-rijÄl, ed. Ê¿AlÄ« Muá¸¥ammad al-BijÄwÄ«, 4 vols. (Beirut: DÄr al-MaÊ¿rifa [no date], reprint of 1963â€“64 Cairo Ê¿ÄªsÄ al-BÄbÄ« al-á¸¤alabÄ« ed.), 3:238.
 Al-Khaá¹Ä«b and other Hadith scholars acknowledged that AbÅ« á¸¤anÄ«fa had seen Anas b. MÄlik; al-Khaá¹Ä«b, TÄrÄ«kh BaghdÄd, 13:325.
 Ibn á¸¤ajar, Nukat, 53.
 Al-Ê¿IrÄqÄ«, al-TaqyÄ«d waâ€™l-Ä«á¸Äá¸¥, 23.
 This statement was related to me by one of al-á¹¬aná¹ÄwÄ«â€™s students, Niáº“Äm al-YaÊ¿qÅ«bÄ«, in 2010. I have not found it in any written source.
 Muá¸¥ammad ZÄhid al-KawtharÄ«, Aqwam al-masÄlik fÄ« baá¸¥th riwÄyat MÄlik Ê¿an AbÄ« á¸¤anÄ«fa wa riwÄyat AbÄ« á¸¤anÄ«fa Ê¿an MÄlik, addended to Iá¸¥qÄq al-á¸¥aqq bi-ibá¹Äl al-bÄá¹il fÄ« mughÄ«th al-khalq, ed. Aá¸¥mad á¸¤asan TalÄwÄ« (Cairo: al-Maktaba al-Azhariyya, 2012), 103.
 Al-KawtharÄ«, al-Taá¸¥rÄ«r al-wajÄ«z fÄ«-mÄ yabtaghÄ«hi al-mustajÄ«z ([Cairo]: Maá¹baÊ¿at al-AnwÄr, 1941), 4.