AL-SAKHAWI ON THE TITLES OF SCHOLARS: SHAYKH AL-ISLAM, MUHADDITH, and HAFIZ
Translated by Recep Senturk, Columbia University Posted with permission.
The great hafiz Shams al-Din Muhammad ibn `Abd al-Rahman al- Sakhawi (831-902 H) was along with hafiz Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (849/1445-911/1505) the star student of Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Hajar al-`Asqalani (773/1372-852/1449), the last of the great huffaz (hadith masters). The following is taken from Sakhawi's introduction to his biography of Ibn Hajar entitled "al-Jawahir wa al-Durar fi Tarjamat Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Hajar (al-`Asqalani)" [Pearls and Diamonds: the Biography of Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Hajar of `Asqalan], ed. Hamid Abd al-Majid and Taha al-Zayni (Cairo: Wizarat al-Awqaf, al-Majlis al-A`la li al-Shu'un al-Islamiyya, Lajnah Ihya' al-Turath al-Islami, 1986). There is no copyright. The book begins with the invocation: "al-hamdu lillah al-ladhi ja`ala al-`ulama' warathat al-anbiya' wa al-salatu wa as-salam `ala nabiyyihi muhammadin sayyid al-asfiya' wa `ala alihi wa sahbihi al-sadat al-atqiya' salatan wa salaman da'imayni yastawjiban rutbat al-awliya'" which means: "Glory to God Who has made the Learned the inheritors of the Prophets, and Blessings and Peace on His Prophet Muhammad, the Master of the Pure Ones, and upon his Family and Companions the Pious Authorities, Blessings and Peace perduring as befits the rank of the Friends of God."
Definition of Shaikh al-Islam, Muhaddith and Hafiz
"Shaikh al-Islam," as inferred from its use as a term among the authorities, is a title attributed to the follower of the Book of God and the example of His Messenger, peace be upon him, who possesses the knowledge of the principles of the Science (of Religion), has plunged deep into the different views of the scholars, has become able to extract the legal evidences from the texts, and has understood the rational and the transmitted proofs at a satisfactory level.
At times, this title is given to those who have reached to the level of sainthood, and from whom people derive blessings both when they are alive and when they are dead. Similarly, whoever has tread the true path of the People of Islam and has come out unscathed from the folly and ignorance of youth; and whoever has become a living apparatus for others (in solving problems or winning a struggle) and a refuge in every difficulty: these are the meanings of the word as used by the general public.
At times, this title is also given to one who grows old in the fold of Islam and becomes outstanding among his peers for his long life and enters into the meaning of the hadith "There will be a light for those who grow old in the fold of Islam" [al-Hakim, ch. on Kuna, ending with the words: "... and has not changed his word"].
This title was not common among the earlier generations after the two Shaikhs, al-Siddiq and al-Faruq, may God be well pleased with them, and we know that `Ali, may God be well pleased with him, applied it to them. Al-Muhibb al-Tabari [615/1218-694, Shafi`i hafiz and faqih] related in his book "al-riyad al-nadirah" [The Resplendant Groves], without providing a chain of authorities, that Anas, may God be well pleased with him, said: "A man came to `Ali ibn Abi Talib, may God be well pleased with him, and said: O Commander of the Faithful, I heard you saying on the pulpit: "O God, help me as you helped the rightly-guided and enlightened caliphs. Who are they?" Anas said: Tears welled in `Ali's eyes and began to pour down, then he replied: Abu Bakr and `Umar, may God be well pleased with them, the two leaders of rightful guidance and the two shaykhs of Islam, the two men of Quraysh, the two who are followed after the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him. Whoever follows these two gains respect; whoever lives up to the legacy of these two is guided to a straight path; whoever sticks with these two is from God's party, and God's party--they are the saved."
Al-Dhahabi reported in "al-Kashif" on the authority of Ibn al-Mubarak (118/736-181) -- mark him, O Reader, as one who was a Shaykh al-Islam: "The only one to carry the title Shaykh of Islam is Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, may God be well pleased with him, who preserved the zakat (poor-tax) and fought against the apostates. Know him very well." The report ends here.
Ismail al-Harawi (396-481 al-Ansari al-Harawi, a Sufi of the Hanbali school) came to be known with this title. His full name was `Abdullah ibn Muhammad al-Ansari, a Hanbali scholar and the author of "Manazil al-Sairin" and "Dhamm al-Kalam." Abu `Ali Hassan ibn Said al-Mani`i al-Shafi`i and Abu al-Hassan al-`Ukkari were also known with this title. Ibn al-Sam`ani said about the latter that he was called Shaykh al-Islam. He also was a Shafi`i.
Among the scholars of the Hanafi school the following carried this title:
- Abu Sa`id al-Khalil b. Ahmad b. Muhammad b. al-Khalil al-Sajzi, who died after 370; -
Abu al-Qasim Yunus b. Tahir b. Muhammad b. Yunus al-Basri -- Ibn Mandah mentions him --
who died in 411;
- The judge Abu al-Hasan Ali b. al-Husayn b. Muhammad al-Sundi who died in 461--he may also have been called Rukn al-Islam (Pillar of Islam);
- Abu Nasr Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Saa'id al-Saa'idi -- Dhahabi said about him: He is one of those who are called Shaykh al-Islam -- who died in 482;
- Ali b. Muhammad b. Ismail b. Ali al-Isbijai, who died in 535;
- His student, the author of al-Hidaya, Burhan al-Din Ali b. Abu Bakr `Abd al-Jalil al-Farghani, who died in 593;
- Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Muhammad al-Hulmi;
- al-`Imad Mas'ud b. Shaybah b. al-Husayn al-Sindi;
- Abu Sa'd al-Mutahhar b. Sulayman al-Zanjani;
- Sadid b. Muhammad al-Hannati.
The master Abu `Uthman Isma`il b. `Abd al-Rahman b. Ahmad al- Sabuni al-Shafii was also known by this title. Ibn al-Sam`ani gave it to him in al-Dhayl. Also known by this title was Taj al- Din al-Firkah, who was a Shafi`i. Ibn Daqiq al-`Id (d. 702; said to be the Renewer of the seventh century) gave this title to his master (al-`Izz) Ibn `Abd al-Salam. He said: He is Shaykh al- Islam. Also known by this title were Abu al-Faraj b. Umar the Hanbali, the first who undertook the jurisdiction for the Hanbalis (in Mecca), Ibn Daqiq al-'Id himself, Ibn Taymiyya -- Abu al- Hajjaj al-Mizzi (654/1256-742/1341 Shafi`i hafiz of Damascus) did not give this title to anyone else among his contemporaries besides Ibn Taymiyya -- Ibn Abi `Umar, Taqi al-Din al-Subki, in whose time and in whose son's time the use of this title increased, especially in Damascus. Later, Siraj al-Din al-Bulqini (Ibn Hajar's shaykh) was given this title. I read in Ibn `Ammar's own hand that it was used exclusively for him...
Since the beginning of the eigth century innumerable people have been given this title, to the extent that even the chief judges came to be called with it even if they lacked the knowledge and the age. Indeed, ignorant writers and other than they took to attributing individuals all manners of qualities which nowadays exist only distributed among different persons. Those who confirm them in this abuse are the strangest of all. Verily we belong to God and to Him do we return.
Ibn Hajar, may God have mercy on him, entirely merits being called with this title because he had most of the qualities that are mentioned above, and when that title was used by the authorities in his time he was meant and no-one else. Even if he was not an authority in everything, in the field of the hadith of the Prophet he was, beyond question, Shaykh al-Islam. Ahmad ibn Hanbal, whose piety is beyond question, called Abu al-Walid al-Tayalisi and Ahmad b. Yunus "Shaykh al-Islam" although they had only the knowledge of hadith, whereas Ibn Hajar's authority was not limited to one field only. May God have mercy on them and us.
Peace and Blessings upon the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions