Al-Awza`i

`Abd al-Rahman ibn `Amr ibn Yuhmad Abu `Amr al-Awza`i (88-158), Shaykh al-Islam, the Wise Scholar of the People of Sham, one of the mujtahid imams of the Salaf along with the Four Imams, Sufyan al-Thawri, al-Tabari, Dawud al-Zahiri and others, the first – with Ibn Jurayj and Abu Hanifa – to compile the Sunna of the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him — and the Companions under fiqh subheadings. Born orphaned and poor in Ba`labak and raised in al-Kark in the Bekaa valley, he came to live in the area known as – and populated by – “the variegated tribes” (al-Awza`) in Damascus then moved to Beirut where he remained garrisoned until his death, his fame having spread to the entire Islamic world of his time. One of those who combined assiduous worship with science and the affirmation of truth, he is considered a Proof in himself (hujja) as a narrator, known for his superlative understanding of the Law, great erudition, and piety. Al-Shafi`i said: “I never saw a man whose fiqh resembled his hadith more than al-Awza`i.”1

He narrated from a host of Tabi`in, among them `Ata’ ibn Abi Rabah, Abu Ja`far al-Baqir, `Amr ibn Shu`ayb, Makhul – whom he surpassed in knowledge, – Qatada, Rabi`a ibn Yazid al-Qasir, Bilal ibn Sa`d, al-Zuhri, Yahya ibn Abi Kathir – his first shaykh,- `Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Qasim, `Ata’ al-Khurasani, `Ikrima, `Alqama, Ibn al-Munkadir, al-Walid ibn Hisham, Muhammad ibn Sirin, Nafi` – Ibn `Umar’s freedman – and many others. From him narrated his two shaykhs al-Zuhri and Yahya ibn Abi Kathir, Shu`ba, al-Thawri, Malik, Sa`id ibn `Abd al-`Aziz, Isma`il ibn `Ayyash, Baqiyya, Yahya al-Qattan, and many others.

Al-`Abbas ibn al-Walid said: I never saw my father admire anything in the world as much as he admired al-Awza`i. He used to exclaim about him: “Glory to You! You do what You wish.” O my son! Kings are powerless to discipline themselves and their own children the way that al-Awza`i disciplined himself. I never in my life heard him say an excellent word except the listener was bound to observe that it applied to him. Nor did I ever see him laugh without restraint. Whenever he addressed the subject of our return to our Maker, I would say to myself: I wonder, is there one heart in this gathering that is not weeping?

Al-Hiql said: “Al-Awza`i gave replies covering about seventy thousand issues.” `Abd al-Rahman ibn Mahdi said: “The People (al-nas) in their time were four: Hammad ibn Zayd in al-Basra, al-Thawri in al-Kufa, Malik in al-Hijaz, and al-Awza`i in al-Sham.”2 Isma`il ibn `Ayyash said: “I heard people say, in the year 140, that in our day the wise scholar of the Umma is al-Awza`i.” When the latter came to Mecca, Sufyan al-Thawri walked ahead of him shouting: “Open the way for the Shaykh!” Malik compared the two saying: “One of them [Sufyan] is more knowledgeable than the other, but is not fit to be the Imam [i.e. the Caliph], while the other [al-Awza`i] is.” This was also the opinion of al-Fazari, `Ali ibn Bakkar, and Ibn al-Mubarak.

He was fearless in telling the truth to princes. After massacring the Banu Umayya, the harsh king `Abd Allah ibn `Ali – al-Saffah’s uncle – summoned him and asked him in front of his court: “What is your opinion of what we have done?” Al-Awza`i related: “I thought to myself and decided to tell him the truth, bracing for certain death. I narrated to him the hadith: ‘Actions are only according to intentions.’3 He said: ‘What do you say about our killing the people of that dynasty?’ I narrated to him the hadith: `Killing a Muslim is forbidden except in three cases: adultery after marriage, apostasy after Islam, and unlawful manslaughter.’4 He continued: ‘Tell me about the caliphate, is it not our inheritance as stipulated by the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him?’ I replied: ‘Had this been the case, `Ali – Allah be well-pleased with him – would have never left anyone come before him.’ He said: ‘But what do we say about the treasury of the Banu Umayya?’ I replied: ‘If they were licit to them, they are illicit to you, and if they were illicit to them, they are even more illicit to you.'”

Al-Awza`i did not rise from his place of morning prayer until sunrise, and the sun did not pass the zenith except he was seen standing in prayer. Al-Walid ibn Mazyad said: “No-one surpassed him in intensity of worship.”Among his sayings:

* Marwan al-Tatari said that al-Awza`i said: “Whoever stands in prayer at night at length, Allah shall make the station of the Day of Resurrection easy for him.”

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