Sahnun ibn Sa’id ibn Habib at-Tanukhi
(c. 160/776-7 – 240/854-5) The famous Maliki jurist of Qayrawan, author of the Mudawwana)
His kunya was Abu Sa’id. His family was was Syrian from Hims. His father Sa’id came in the army of Hims. His son Muhammad said, “I asked, ‘My father, are we descended from Tanukh?’ He said to me, ‘What need do you have of that?’ I continued at him until he told me, ‘Yes, and that will not avail anything with Allah.’”
Sahnun was his title. His name was actually ‘Abdu’s-Salam. One of the shaykhs of the people of hadith reported that one of the shaykhs of North Africa said, “Sahnun was named after a sharp bird because of his sharpness in questions of fiqh.”
Concerning his quest and journey
Sahnun studied knowledge in the Qayrawan with its shaykhs: Abu Kharija, Bahlul, ‘Ali ibn Ziyad, Ibn Abi Hassan, Ibn Ghanim, Ibn Ashras, Ibn Abi Karima, hir brother Habib, Mu’awiya as-Samadahi and Abu Ziyad ar-Ra’ini.
His son said, “He went out to Egypt at the beginning of 178 AH while Malik was still alive. Malik died when he was 18 or 17. He travelled to Ibn Ziyad in Tunis during the time when Ibn Bukayr travelled to Malik.”
Sahnun said, “I was with Ibn Wahb when the answers of Malik were repeated to him.” He was asked, “What stops you from listening to them?” He replied, “Lack of dirhams.”
He said another time, “May Allah revile poverty! If it had not been for it, I would have reached Malik!”
He listened to those of the Madinans who were there who died before 188, like Nafi’ who died in 186. In his journey to Egypt and the Hijaz, Sahnun listened to Ibn al-Qasim, Ibn Wahb, Ashhab, Tulayb ibn Kamil, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abdu’l-Hakam, Shu’ayb ibn al-Layth, Yusuf ibn ‘Amr, Sufyan ibn ‘Uyayna, Waki’, ‘Abdu’r-Rahman ibn Mahdi, Hafs ibn Ghiyath, Abu Dawud at-Tayyalisi, Yazid ibn Harun, al-Walid ibn Muslim, Ibn Nafi’ as-Sa’igh, Ma’n ibn ‘Isa, Abu Damra, Ibn al-Majishun, Mutarrif and others.
He went to North Africa in 191. He said, “I went to Ibn al-Qasim when I was 25 and I came to North Africa when I was 30. The first to read to me was ‘Abdu’l-Malik Zunan.”
He mentioned that al-Bahlul ibn Rashid wrote instructing ‘Ali ibn Ziyad to let Sahnun listen. ‘Ali took the Muwatta‘ and came to him to let him listen to it in his place. He said to him, “Bahlul wrote to me to tell me that you are one of those who seek knowledge for Allah.”
Al-Furat said, “I heard Sahnun say, ‘A question was obscure for me so that I wanted to return to Madina about it so that it would become clear to me.’”
Sahnun said, “When I went on hajj, I accompanied Ibn Wahb. Ashhab was accompanied by his orphan and Ibn al-Qasim was accompanied by his son Musa. When I alighted, I questioned Ibn al-Qasim. We walked in the day and discussed questions. In the night, each went to his party in the prayer. Ibn Wahb said, ‘Don’t you think that this Maghribi should learn in the day and not study in the night?’ Ibn al-Qasim replied, ‘It is a light which Allah puts in the hearts.’”
Concerning his place in knowledge and praise of him
Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Tamim said in his book, “Sahnun was reliable, preserving knowledge, a faqih. He had qualities which are rarely found in the same person. He was brilliant in fiqh, truthful in scrupulousness with sternness regarding the truth, asceticism in this world and humility in food, dress, and liberality. He did not accept anything from the rulers.”
Abu Bakr al-Maliki said, “In addition to this, he was soft-hearted, full of tears, humble, lacking in artifice. He was a man noble qualities, good manners, sound heart, who was harsh against the people of innovations. He did not fear the criticism of any critic for Allah. His imamate spread in the east and the west and the people of his age They agreed about his excellence and precedence. He had many virtues. Abu’l-’Arab at-Tamimi wrote a book devoted to them.”
Ashhab was asked, “Who comes to you from the Maghrib?” He replied, “Sahnun.” It was said, “And Asad?” He said, “Sahnun. By Allah, he has ninety-nine times more fiqh than him.”
Ibn al-Qasim encouraged him to stay with him to seek knowledge and not to go out to raid when he tried to become skilled in it. Ibn al-Qasim said to Ibn Rashid, “Tell your friend (i.e. Sahnun) to sit. Knowledge is better for him than jihad and has more reward. He should give this horse which he came with to one who is in a similar state to fulfil it for him. The like of Sahnun has not come to us from North Africa nor did I see his like after him.”
‘Amr ibn Yazid said, “The first of what I learned in the questions of the prayer was from Sahnun. If I had said that Sahnun had more fiqh than all the companions of Malik, I would be telling the truth.”
Yasid ibn Bashir used to esteem Sahnun and respect him. He said, “I was in Tunis and his station in Islam and his blessing reached me. One of his adherents would come to me and I would recognise adab [good behaviour] in him. Sometimes one of Harmala’s men would come to me and I would discern lack of adab in him. I said to him, ‘Why are you not like the one to whom Sahnun teaches adab?’”
Abu Zayd ibn Abi’l-Ghamr said, “None with more fiqh than Sahnun came to us except one with a perter tongue than him came to us,” i.e. Ibn Habib.
Yunus ibn ‘Abdu’l-A’la said, “He is the master of the people of the Maghrib.” Hamdis said, “Or was he not the master of the east and west?”
Sulaym ibn ‘Imran said, “When I asked Asad about a question, he answered me from a deep sea and the meaning of his answer was, ‘Do not ask for more.’ When I asked Sahnun, he answered me from a deep sea and the meaning of his answer was ‘Ask more.’ Knowledge was in the breast of Sahnun like a sura of the Qur’an for the one who memorised it. Sahnun was a man of right action.”
Sahnun said, “I memorised these books until they became like the Umm al-Qur’an in my breast.”
Abu Bakr ibn Hammad said, “I heard Sahnun say, ‘I have the oral transmission of two years from Sufyan ibn ‘Uyayna in my house.”
Another said, “We were with Ibn al-Qasim and he said, ‘If anyone is fortunate with these books, it is Sahnun.’ Then he returned to Ibn ‘Abdu’l-Hakam and said, ‘If Abu Muhammad accepts, it is by knowledge. If Asbagh accepts, it is by a riwaya.’”
Sa’id ibn al-Harith said, “Sahnun was a man of intellect with firmness and scrupulousness with firmness. He knew the schools of the people of Madina with great firmness. I have sat with the people of this land since I reached it and I did not see anyone more generous by nature than Sahnun.”
Muhammad ibn Sahnun said, “My father said to me, ‘When you want to go on hajj, you will come to Tripoli and there are men of Madina there, and to Egypt, and there are transmitters there, and to Madina, and there is the tribe of Malik there, and to Makka. Strive as much as you can. If you bring me a single phrase from Malik which does not have a root of Malik which does not have a root with your shaykh, know that your shaykh is remiss.”
Sulayman ibn Salam said in his assemblies, “I went to Egypt and I saw that there were many scholars there: ‘Abdu’l-Hakam, al-Harith ibn Miskin, Abu’t-Tahir, Abu Ishaq al-Barqi and others. I went to Madina and there was Abu’l-Mus’ab and al-Farawi. I went to Makka and there were thirteen men of hadith there. I went to other towns and I met their scholars and men of hadith. I did not see with my eye the like of Sahnun and his son after him.”
‘Isa ibn Miskin said, “Sahnun was the godfearing person of this community. Between Malik and Sahnun, there was none with more fiqh than Sahnun.”
One of them said, “I came to the kings and spoke to them. I did not see anyone who put more awe in my hear than Sahnun.”
Ash-Shirazi said, “Leadership came to him in knowledge in the Maghrib. His statement was relied on and he wrote the Mudawwana. The people of the Qayrawan relied on it and he had companions which none of the companions of Malik had. The knowledge of Malik spread from him in the Maghrib.”
‘Abdu’r-Rahman az-Zahid said, “When Asad went out to Iraq, I asked his advice on whom I should go to listen to.” He said, “You must have this shaykh (i.e. Sahnun). I do not know of anyone like him.”
Concerning the rest of his qualities
Abu’l-’Arab said, “Sahnun was of medium height and his complexion was between white and brown. He had a good beard, much hair, wide-set eyes, wide and shoulders. He was silent a lot and and spoke little. He spoke a lot with wisdom and was very dignified, He cut off his moustache according to the amount of the comb and he dressed well. He had a hernia in his abdomen and he wrapped it with wool. He had a nag on which he rode. He was rarely seen doing supererogatory prayers in the mosque.”
Ibn Bistam said, “Sahnun had a tall hat. Sometimes he wore it and dark round garment. Sometimes he carried it in his hand with onions and other things to his house while he was wearing it in humility.”
Sulayman ibn Salim said, “Sahnun adopted the school of the people of Madina in everything, even in livelihood. He used to say, ‘I do not like that the livelihood of man be other than according to what is in his hand. He is not obliged to more than what is in his hand. If he needs a woman, he seeks her according to the amount which he has in his hand in her provision and moderation until he still has enough for him in his hand. If he has halal money, he relies on it and devotes himself to worship. If he does not have it, then he must acquire it by his hand. That is better for him than asking people. If he does not need a wife, I prefer that he leave that. Consuming people’s property in poverty and sadaqa is better than consuming them with knowledge and the Qur’an.”
‘Abdu’l-Jabbar ibn Khalid said, “We used to listen to Sahnun in his house at the coast. He came out to us one day and he had a plow on his shoulder and a tool in his hands. He told us, ‘The slave boy had a fever yesterday. When I finish, I will let you listen.’ I said to him, ‘I will go and plow, and you let out companion listen. When I finish, read to me what I have missed.’ He did it. When I came to close to his supper, it was barley-bread and old oil.”
‘Isa said, “Sahnun was silent for Allah and his words were for Allah. When he wanted to talk, he was silent. When he wanted to be silent, he spoke.”
Ibn Mu’attib said, “Sahnun used to buy a quarter ratl of meat every day with which to break his fast and then he abandoned that following the Salihun in their food. Sahnun did not do anything except for Allah. That is why his importance was great.”
Ibrahim ibn Shu’ayb said, “Sahnun used to come out to us while we were sitting for him in his assembly. By Allah, I do not know that he ever greeted us in his assembly. During that time, he walked in the markets and he did not pass by anyone but that he turned to him and greeted him. This was out of respect of knowledge and the awe that he had with his students.”
Concerning his appointment as qadi and his behaviour
Sahnun was appointed qadi of North Africa in 234 when he was 74. He remained qadi until his death.
Abu’l-’Arab said, “When Ibn Abi’l-Jawwad was dismissed, Sahnun said, ‘O Prophet, appoint to this community the best of it and the most just,’ and he was the one who was appointed after him.”
‘Urayb the scribe mentioned that one day Sahnun passed by Ibn Abi’l-Jawwad and he saw some injustice on his part and said, “O Allah, do not make me die until I see him before a just qadi who will judge him by the truth.’”He was dismissed and Sahnun was appointed and he tried him. People said, “Your supplication has been answered.”
When Muhammad ibn al-Aghlab wanted to appoint Sahnun, he gathered the fuqaha’ together for consultation. Sahnun indicated Sulayman ibn ‘Imran, and Sulayman indicated Sahnun. Others indicated Sulayman. They came in one by one and they spoke as they did the first time and most of the fuqaha’ there had the opinion of the Kufans and Sulayman shared their opinion. Sulayman said, “I did not think that he asked for counsel about Sahnun. I went on hajj and I saw the people of Egypt were pleased that he was among them. No one else merits the qadiship while Sahnun is alive.” Ibn al-Aghlab sent Ibn Qadim to Sahnun and he said to him, “I want to put you in charge of the qadiship of my flock.” So he told him, “May Allah make the Amir thrive! I do not possess the power for it. Shall I direct you to one who is strong? Sulayman ibn ‘Imran.”
Muhammad ibn Sahnun said, “Sahnun was appointed qadi after it was offered to him for a year and being treated very harshly. Muhammad ibn al-Aghlab swore the strongest oaths to him and he was appointed on Monday, the third of Ramadan in 234. He took some days to look into the qadiship and searched for helpers and then sat for the people on the following Sunday in the General Mosque after he had prayed and made much supplication.”
Sahnun said, “I did not think that I should accept this business until there were two promises from the Amir. One of them was that he would give me what I wanted and give me a free hand in all that I wanted to the extent that I said to him, ‘I will start with the people of your house, their relatives, and your aides, even if there were injustices before towards the people and their property a long time ago since my predecessor did not dare act against them.’ He told me, ‘Yes, begin with them, and make the truth flow on my head.’ I said to him, ‘Allah!’ and he said to me, ‘Allah!’ three times. In his resolution in this, he brought me what a man fears for himself and I thought that I did not find anyone who deserved this matter and I did not find in myself any capacity to refuse it.”
Sulayman ibn Salim said, “When the appointment of Sahnun was completed, people met him,. I saw him rising on an animal without a robe or hat and distress was on his face. No one dared to congratulate him. He went on until he came to his daughter Khadija, who was one of the best women. He told her, ‘Today your father has been slaughtered without a knife.’ People then knew that he had accepted the qadiship.
When he was appointed, ‘Awn ibn Yusuf came to him and said to him,. “Do we congratulate you or console you?” Then he was silent. He said. “It has reached me that whoever has it come to him without seeking it is helped in it. Whoever brings it by asking is not helped in it.” Sahnun told him, “Whoever intercession appoints, intercession dismisses. Whoever intercession appoints, judges by intercession.”
Jabala said, “Sahnun did not take provision for himself nor any gift from the Sultan in his entire qadiship. He took for his aides, scribes and judges from the jizya-tax of the People of the Book.
“I heard him say to the Amir, “The provision of my aides has been withheld and they are your employees. They did your work in full and that is not allowed for you. The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, ‘Give the employee his due before his sweat is dry.’”
Ibn Sahnun said, “Sahnun used to beat the litigants when they abused each other verbally or objected to the testimony. He said, ‘If the testimony is resisted, how can they testify?’ He disciplined the litigant if he accused the witness of a fault or disparagement. He said, ‘Ask me about the clear proof. They are like that.’ He told the litigants, ‘I am more concerned with that than you are. It is up to me rather than you.’ When a witness came to him and was afraid of him, he would turn from him so that he would feel at home and lose his terror. If that went on for a long time, he eased it for him and said to him, ‘I do not have a whip or a stick. There is no harm for you. Give what you know and leave what you do not know.”
Another said, “The first thing which Sahnun investigated was the markets. The governors rather than the qadis used to look into it. He looked to see what livelihoods in it were correct and if there was any fraud in goods. He put superintendents in charge of that. He punished people for cheating. He banned from the markets those who merited that. He was the first to investigate the regulation by the qadis. He was the first qadi to break up the circles of the people of innovation in the mosque. He drove the people of sects from it. There had been circles of the Sufriyya (a Kharijite group), the Ibadiyya, and the Mu’tazilites in it. They had circles in which they debated and displayed their deviation. He barred them from being Imams of the people, teachers of children or mu’adhdhins. He commanded that they not meet together and he punished a group of them after this who had disobeyed his command and he had them paraded around the city. A group of them were moved to repent.”
He was the first qadi to put an Imam in the mosque to lead the people in prayer. That had been left up to the Amirs. He was the first of them to put deposits with custodians. Before that, they had been kept in the houses of the qadis. He was the first to send superintendents to the deserts. He would write to them. Before him, one would write to a group of the virtuous men among them. The qadis after him adopted this course of action.
He would sit in a room in the mosque which he built for himself since he saw a lot of people and spoke a lot. Only two litigants would be present with him and whoever testified between them in their claim, while all other people were apart from him. He did not see them nor listen to the clamour. He was not concerned with their business. Sitting in that room became a custom for the Maliki qadis. When an Iraqi was appointed. he destroyed it. When a Madinan was appointed, he built it and gave judgement in it.
Sahnun used used to write the names of people on pages which he put before him. He summoned them one by one unless someone came to him in pressing need or grief.
He used to flog with the whip and whatever punishment was light in the mosque. When hudud-punishments were imposed, he removed those people from the mosque for punishment. He punished often by slapping on the back of the neck.
‘Isa ibn Miskin said, “By his appointment over the Shari’a, people obtained the truth. There was no qadiship in North Africa like his.”
Sa’id ibn Ishaq said, “Whoever was appointed qadi of North Africa made a profit except for Sahnun.”
Concerning his reports with the kings and his firmness in the truth
Abu’l-’Arab said, “He did not grant authority in a right which he was dealing with. When there was a lot of denial of complaints by the men of Ibn al-Aghlab [the ruler] and he refused to accept representatives for them in the litigation other than themselves, the Amir sent to him and complained to him about it saying that he was harsh to them. He said, “You are harsh against them and they have complained of you and I think that you should be excused from their evil, so do not look into their business.’”Sahnun told the messenger, ‘This is not what is between me and him. Tell him, ‘You have forsaken me, may Allah forsake you!”‘ When the messenger conveyed the message to the Amir, he said to him, ‘What can be do with him? He desires Allah.’”
Ibn Abi Sulayman and others said, “Market inspectors were not known in North Africa until it happened that Sahnun was at the door of his house when Hatim al-Jazari passed by him. He had with him some captives taken in Tunis. Sahnun told his companions, ‘Get up and get them.’ They went and rescued them from Hatim and brought them to him. Hatim fled on horseback, tearing his garment. He came to the Amir and complained about the business. The Amir sent to Sahnun, ‘Return the captives to Hatim.’ Sahnun said, ‘They are free men. They are not captives. I have freed them.’ The Amir replied to Sahnun, ‘They must be returned.’ Sahnun refused and said to the messenger, ‘May Allah make Hatim your intercessor on the Day of Rising!’ He made him take an oath to convey that to the Amir. Sahnun then said, ‘This man (i.e. Hatim) acted thus.’ He commanded that he be imprisoned and he threw his turban on his neck and he was carried to prison. Mu’attib followed him. He said, ‘Hatim, do not cause evil between the Amir and the Qadi.’ Mu’attib gave him seven dinars and Hatim left the captives. Mu’attib informed Sahnun about that and so he ordered that Hatim be freed from prison.”
Ibn al-Haddad said, “I was with Sahnun one day when the messenger of the Amir Muhammad ibn al-Aghlab came to him. He ordered him to return the women to Hatim, saying that they were his. Sahnun said, “Even if they were slaves, the like of Hatim is not to be trusted ….’ He left and then cam back and said, ‘He says to you, “Are you jesting? Return them as I have commanded you.”‘ Sahnun stood up and said, ‘I am jesting? By Allah, there is no god but Him! He is the one who is jesting!’ three times. ‘By Allah, I will not do it until he cuts off my head from my body.’ Muhammad, his son, came and said to him, ‘Father, don’t do it. Write to him and do not be disagreeable to him.’ He wrote to him while his son was saying, ‘Less than that!’ until he finished, sealed the letter and sent it to him.
“Ibn al-Aghlab took it and struck the ground with it. Then he said, ‘I don’t know whether he is in charge of us or us of him!’ His face became black and no one came to see him until after ‘Asr. He gave his companions permission to enter and he said to them, ‘I do not think that this man means other than good to us. Send to him to send us the inspectors so we can write out scrolls for them which they can take to the furthest part of my domain so that they enlist whatever freewomen they find (i.e. in a register).’ That happened. Sahnun was not content until the books which he had written for them were opened and he read them and then was content.”
When al-Quwayba’ attacked Muhammad ibn al-Aghlab, one of the generals said, “Today we will master Sahnun. Either his deen or this world of his will be lost.” They said to the Amir, “Sahnun is an obedient herald. Command him to help you against this Kharijite.” The Amir sent to him and informed him of the matter and asked for his counsel in fighting them and to inform the people of their duty in that. Sahnun said to him, “The one who directed you to this has deluded you. When did the qadiship share with the kings in putting their power in order?” He got up and left him.
Ibn al-Aghlab used to say about his relations with Sahnun, “Sahnun did not ride any animal for us. Nor did he weight his sleeve with a purse. He did not fear us.”
One of them mentioned that one of Ibn al-Aghlab’s generals left one of the wars with a number of free women. Sahnun sent to all the nomads in the Sufiyya and about a thousand of them gathered for him. They said, “Command us whatever you will.” He said, “Choose a hundred men from yourselves.” They remained with him until Maghrib without knowing what he wanted. After he prayed, he told them, “You will go to the house of so-and-so and knock on his door. When he opens, convey my greetings to him. Tell him to bring out the free women whom he brought from Algiers this moment and do not let him have any opportunity to lock the door so that he and those with him will not have the opportunity of rallying and driving you off. The business would then lead to bloodshed. If he is polite to you and refuses you, then distract him until seven old men of you go to the middle door and call out to the women, ‘Where are the free women captured in Algiers? They are to come out to the Qadi.’ When all of them have come out, bring them and leave him.” They did what he had commanded them. When he refused them, they held him until the old men brought them out as Sahnun had ordered them. They took them to Sahnun. The general rode to the castle and found that its gates were locked. He spent the night there until morning. He came to Ibn al-Aghlab and he had torn his clothes and plucked out his beard. He began to weep and he questioned him. He told him what had happened and he disliked that. He sent a boy to Sahnun to command him to return them. Sahnun said to him, “Tell him, by Allah, there is no god but Him! I will not remove them from my house until you dismiss me from the qadiship.” Then he sent his son Muhammad with his letter with the youth to the Amir. He said to him. “Tell me: this is your letter and Allah has made so-and-so your intercessor on the Day of Rising.” He reached him and conveyed what he had said to him. Muhammad said, “This is your letter which you sent to undertake the business of the Muslims wherever you see fit.” Abu’l-’Abbas said, “Give greetings to your father and tell him, ‘May Allah repay you with good from yourself and from us and from Islam. You did well first and last, and we will satisfy our general from our own property. Act according to your good opinion.” That reached Sahnun and the people gathered to him and they were thankful for what he did. He said to them, “Allah loves thankfulness from His slaves, so go to the door of the Amir and thank him for supporting the truth. That contains correctness for both the elite and the common people.” They did that.
Sulayman ibn ‘Imran said, “Sahnun came to to complain about litigation being moved from his door to that of at-Tabni, his associate in the qadiship. That was when al-Aghlab was unable to dismiss Sahnun due to his place in the hearts of people and so he delegated judgement to at-Tabani, a coarse, ignorant man, in order to counter Sahnun. So litigants moved from his door to that of at-Tabani. When that was mentioned to Muhammad ibn al-Aghlab, he said, ‘I do not have any knowledge of this.’ Then he turned to one of his companions and said, ‘Do you have any knowledge of this?’ He said, “No.’ Sahnun struck his hand on his own beard and exclaimed, ‘He is playing with me while I have been an Imam in knowledge for sixty years! This one testified for me. (i.e. Ibn ‘Imran).’ I said, ‘What need do you have of that? I met people in Egypt who wished that you had been with them.”
Ziyadatullah ibn al-Aghlab wrote to the scholars of North Africa to ask about a question and they replied except for Sahnun. He was censured for that. He said, “I dislike to answer him.” He wrote to him a second time thinking that the recognition of the Amirs was something burdensome.
Ibrahim ibn ‘Abdus said to him, “Leave the land of the people. Yesterday you did not pray behind their qadi and today you will not answer their question!” Sahnun said, “Do you answer a man who makes fun of the deen? If I had known that he intended the truth, then I would have answered him.” That was before he became qadi.
Concerning his inquisition
More than one scholar said, “Sahnun was present at a funeral and Ibn Abi’l-Jawwad, who was the qadi before him, arrived. He had the opinion of the Kufans and he held that the Qur’an was created. He led the funeral prayer. Sahnun came back and back without praying behind him. The Amir Ziyadatullah heard about that and commanded that a message be sent to the governor of the Qayrawan to beat Sahnun with 500 lashes and to shave his head and beard. His wazir, ‘Ali ibn Hamid, heard about that and he told the postman to wait until he went to the Amir at midday when he was asleep. He said to him, “What has reached me about such-and-such?” He said, “Yes, it is so.” He said, “Do not do it. Al-’Uka was destroyed on account of his flogging al-Bahlul ibn Rashid.” He asked, “This one is like al-Bahlul?” “Yes, he replied, “and I have held back the post out of concern for the Amir.” He thanked him and did not carry out his command. While Sahnun was reading to the people, the news came of what Allah had removed from him. He was told, “You should go to ‘Ali ibn Hamid and thank him.” He said, “I will not do it.” He was told, “Send your son to do that then,” but he still refused. It was said, “Write to him then.” He refused and said, “But I will praise Allah who moved ‘Ali ibn Hamid to this. It is more fitting to thank Him.”
When Ahmad ibn al-Aghlab was appointed Amir, he subjected people to the inquisition regarding whether the Qur’an was created and proclaimed it in Qayrawan, Sahnun fled to ‘Abdu’r-Rahim az-Zahidi in the castle of Ziyad. A man called Ibn Sultan was sent there to search for him. He was hateful about Sahnun and coarse and harsh. When he reached Sahnun, Ibn Sultan said to him, “The Amir has sent me to you and he intended it to be me because of my hatred for you so that I would take harsh measures with you. My intention has failed me in that and I would shed my own blood rather than your blood. So go wherever you like in the lands and I will be with you. Or stay and I will stay with you.” Sahnun thanked him and said, “I will not expose you to this. I will go with you.” He went out and his friends escorted him. ‘Abdu’r-Rahim said to the messenger, “Tell the Amir, ‘You have estranged me from our friend and brother in this great month (and it was the month of Ramadan). May Allah strip you of what you have and make you estranged from Him!’” When he reached the Amir, he gathered his generals to as well as his qadi Ibn Abi’l-Jawwad He questioned him about the Qur’an. Sahnun said, “As for something I began from myself, no. But I listened to those from whom I learned and from whom I took, and all of them said, ‘The Qur’an is the word of Allah and it is not created.’” Ibn Abi’l-Jawwad said, “He is a kafir, so kill him and his blood is on my neck.” Another who had his opinion said the like of that.” One of them said, “He should be cut up into four parts and each part should be put in a place in the city. It should then he said, ‘This is part of the one who did not say such-and-such.’” The Amir asked Da’ud ibn Hamza, “What do you say?” He said, “To kill him by the sword would be rest.” It is said that the one who said this was ‘Ali ibn Hamid and al-Hadrami and the men of the sunna among the companions of the Sultan. He added, “However in taking the life, we will be taken as answerable for it. There should be a call given in Qayrawan that he will not give fatwas and he will not let anyone listen to him and that he will keep to his house.” He did that and ten responsible men were put in charge of him. He went back and did that and commanded the guards to take the clothes of whoever went into him. Suhd said, “I went to him and I had some dirhams with me which I could use to buy vback my clothes from the guards if they seized me. Allah saved me. I said, ‘Innovation is spreading and its people are mighty.’ He said, ‘Don’t you know that when Allah wants to cut off an innovation, He exposes it?’”
Ibn Waddah said, “I entered Egypt and I met al-Harith ibn Miskin and he asked me about Sahnun. I said to him, ‘He is grieved from the Amir.’ Al-Harith said, ‘Al-Awza’i said that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “When Allah loves a slave, He gives power over him to the one who will injure him.”‘”
Concerning the rest of the virtues of Sahnun, his fear of Allah, his fear, his asceticism, his carefulness in fatwas, his worship, and poverty. Something of his words, counsels and reports
One of his companions said, “I got married and on the night of my wedding, I invited a group of my friends, and they included a man from the people of the east among the companions of Ibn Hanbal. He came to us while we were listening to him. Our companions in the first part of the night engaged in recitation, weeping, worshipping, and in humility. Then after that they hurried to the corners of the house to pray. The shaykh said, ‘Whose companions are these? Who is their leader? By Allah, I have never seen more noble than them. They would not keep a man’s company without our scholars in the east. By Allah, I have not seen the like of these men.”
Ibn Harith said, “I heard them say, ‘Sahnun was the most blessed man of knowledge to enter the Maghrib.’ His companions were lamps in every land. They numbered about 700 men who declared having been in his company. They benefitted in his assembly and I heard them say, ‘Sahnun was the most intelligent of people as a companion and the best of people as a companion in the area of the deen and the companion with the most fiqh.’ Sahnun fasted fifteen Ramadans in the castle of Ziyad as a Murabit.”
Al-Maliki related that he went into the house of Sahnun while he was standing doing the night-prayers and he took what was in the house and he was not aware of it. Then he took the hat from his head and he did not turn around because of his preoccupation with what he was doing.
When Asad ibn al-Furat was Qadi, he sent to Sahnun, ‘Awn, Ibn Rashid and Musa as-Sumadihi and asked them about a question of judgement. Ibn Rashid and ‘Awn answered him in it and Sahnun refused to answer. When they left, they censured him for not answering. He said to them, “I was prevented when you rushed to answer. You erred and I disliked to contradict you. We would then come to him as brothers and leave as enemies.” The aspect of their error was made clear to them and they thanked him and admitted it and returned to Asad to tell him of their retraction.
Sahnun said, “People are bold towards me in asking fatwa from the least of them in knowledge. A man has one door of knowledge and he thinks that all the truth is in it.”
Sahnun said, “I have memorised questions. Among them are those which have eight statements from eight Imams on them, so how can I be hasty to answer until I choose?” That is the business in holding back the answer, or as he said,
‘Isa said, “I said to Sahnun, ‘Questions come to you which are famous and understood and yet you refuse to answer them.’ Sahnun said, ‘Speed to answer correctly is a greater trial than the trial of money.’”
Yahya ibn ‘Umar said, “When I came to Sahnun, I asked about him. I was told, ‘He has gone to the desert.’ I came to him and saw a hairy man wearing a wool jubbah and a head kerchief. He was doing his ploughing and his work. I thought little of him and I regretted those I had left in the east and going to him. I said, ‘I don’t think that he retains any knowledge.’ He greeted me. When I sat with him in knowledge, I saw a sea that buckets could not touch. By Allah the Immense, I have never seen his like. It was as if knowledge was gathered between his eyes and his breast.”
Sahnun said, “It is ugly behaviour for a man of knowledge when someone comes to his assembly and he is not found in it. He asks about him and is told, ‘He is with the Amir,’ or ‘He is with the wazir,’ or ‘He is with the Qadi.’ This and its like was part of what the scholars of the tribe of Israel did. It has reached me that they gave them the indulgence which they wanted and they left what should be acted upon and that in which rescue lay for them since they disliked to make it burdensome for them. By my life, if they had done that, they would have been saved and their wage would have been incumbent on Allah. By Allah, I have been tested by this qadiship and by the rulers. By Allah, I will not eat a morsel for them nor drink a drink for them nor wear a garment for them nor ride an animal for them nor take a gift from them. I go to them and I speak to them harshly regarding what entails action and wherein lies salvation.”
He was told, “Yahya ibn al-Mada does not like you.” He said, “Praise be to Allah who did not join my love and the hatred of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar in the same heart!”
Sulayman ibn Salim said, “I saw that when the Book of Jihad by Ibn Wahb and the Book of Asceticism was read to Sahnun, he wept until the tears flowed onto his beard.”
One of them said, “I came to Sahnun and he was wearing a tasbih on his neck which he used for glorification of Allah.”
Habib said, “Sahnun used to quote these verses:
Everything I see is disliked except planting the spear in the shade of the horse, And standing in the darkness, guarding people at the furthest outpost.”
Al-Abyati related that Sahnun spoke on the hadith about someone who alarms the people of Madina and said, “They are not its inhabitants. They are those who say what they say, wherever they may be.”
He did not drink from the cisterns which the Sultans had built out of scrupulousness. He gave a fatwa to allow it and said, “They are stones which they have gathered to whcih Allah has given water.”
One of his companions said, “Sahnun went out one day to the companions angry. There was grief in his face. Then a bedouin came to him. (One variant has “a slaveboy of his”) and whispered something to him. Sahnun laughed and he commanded the reading. Then he said to his companions, ‘In this year, we have had much fruit and produce, and I was not afflicted by any affliction. I feared that I had fallen from the eye of Allah Almighty. This one came to me and told me that the sturdiest of my camels has died and I was happy at that. I recognised that Allah has remembered me and replaces what departs.’”
Ahmad ibn Abi Sulayman said, “The men of knowledge used to eat the food of ‘Ali ibn Hamid, the wazir, except for Sahnun and his son. He did not come to them nor eat their food. They tried to encourage him to allow his son to come. He said, ‘I fear that visiting them will become a habit.’”
Hamdis said, “One day I came to him while he was eating bread which he moistened with water and dipped into salt. He said, ‘I do not eat it out of ascetism in this world. But it is so that I will not need those men and be contemptible to them.’ Then he shouted for a slavegirl and she brought a purse which contained twenty dinars. He said, ‘Give it to those virtuous men who are living with you. If you do not find three, then two. If you do not find two, then one.’”
Al-’Anbari said, “Sahnun’s revenue came from his olives. He had 500 dinars a years. The year had not passed but that he had debts due to the abundance of his sadaqa and favour.”
Section on his wisdoms and words
He said, “To leave a daniq (1/6 of a dirham) of what is forbidden by Allah is better than 70,000 hajjs followed by 70,000 ‘umras all blessed and accepted, and better than 70,000 horses in the way of Allah with their provision and equipment, and than 70,000 camels sacrificed by the Ancient House of Allah and better than setting free a thousand slaves from the tribe of Isma’il (i.e. Arabs).”
These words of his reached ‘Abdu’l-Jabbar ibn Khalid and he said, “Yes, and better than all the earth has right up to the clouds of the sky in gold and silver which you earn and spend in the way of Allah Almighty and by which you only desire the face of Allah.”
Sahnun used to say, “The likeness of a little knowledge in a virtuous man is like the sweet spring in the sweet earth in which its owner plants what he will use. The likeness of much knowledge in the vicious man is like the bubbling spring in the salt swamp which is bitter both night and day and is of no use.”
Sahnun used to say, “If someone does not act by his knowledge, his knowledge does not benefit him.”
Sahnun used to say, “Whoever does not act by his knowledge, knowledge does not benefit him. Rather it harms him. Knowledge is a light which Allah Almighty places in the hearts. When he acts by it, Allah illuminates his heart. If he does not act by it and loves this world, the love of this world blinds his heart and knowledge does not illuminate him.”
Concerning his nobility and generosity
Another said, “On that day, Sahnun ransomed the captives of the Muslims and he thought that the Amir would give him what he would ransom them by and Sahnun took the money by which he ransomed them as a loan. When he came to the Amir, he refused to give him the ransom-money, so Sahnun demanded of the captives what he used to ransom them. He said to them, ‘You were the slaves of the enemy and did not own any of your property and you were not safe from trial in your deen. Whoever gives I will leave. Whoever refuses I will hold.’”
Abu Da’ud al-Qattan said, “Sahnun sold some olives of his for about 300 dinars and paid that to me. He used to send the ticket to me to give sadaqa from that money until it was spent. I came to him with those tickets so that he could take account of them for me. He said to me, ‘Does any of the money remain?’ I replied, ‘No.’ He threw the tickets away and did not take account from me. He said, ‘When the money is finished, why should I take account of it?’”
Al-Maliki related that al-Jazari said, “While I was with Sahnun, a man came and asked him about two or three questions. Then he said, ‘What is today? What is tomorrow? What is after tomorrow?’ Sahnun said to him in reply, ‘Today is action. Tomorrow is reckoning, and what is after tomorrow is repayment.’ When he turned around, I followed him until he went to the graves. When I feared he would depart, I said to him, ‘Wait for me!’ He said, ‘What do you want? I am a man of the jinn. I was visiting the assembly of Abu Sa’id asking him about questions, and you have deprived me of the questions.’ Then he vanished. Then Iwent on hajj. While I was doing tawaf someone behind me pulled me by my garment, and turned and it was the jinn. He greeted me and told me about those I had left behind. Then he said to me, ‘I have seen students frequenting a shaykh!’ I went to the man with him. When he looked at the group, the man pulled me by the garment and he had gone pale. He said, ‘This is Iblis. By Allah, if he had seen me, he would have killed me!’ I said to him, ‘What should I do?’ He said, ‘Go back and strike him on the head and say, “Accursed one! Cursed one! What has brought you here?” I did it and he melted until he became like smoke. I told the students the story and they were amazed and they tore up what they had written from him.”
Qadi Abu’l-Fadl said, “In the Sahih of Muslim Ibn Mas’ud reports, ‘Shaytan takes on the form of a man and people come to him and he gives them hadiths which are lies. They leave him. A man among them says, “I heard a man whose face I recognise but I do not know who it is.”‘”
In it, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Amr ibn al-’As reportedthat he said, “There are shayatin imprisoned in the seas whom Sulayman shackled. They are about to emerge and read a Qur’an to the people.”
Abu’l-Hasan al-Qabisi related that he said, “A man came to Sahnun and sat until the people had left. He began to weep and Sahnun asked him the reason for that. He mentioned to him that he had had a dream which he thought meant something dreadful. He said that he had dreamt that it was as if the Rising had taken place and the people were gathered. Sahnun came and he saw that he was thrown into the Fire after he had chains and fetters on him. Sahnun told him be patient and sent to the leaders of the Christian church. Two of them came to him and he asked him, ‘Has anyone of yours died whom you respect?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Have you dreamt anything of him?’ They said, ‘Yes, many dreams,’ and they described his high position in the dreams. He sent them off and then said to the man, ‘Do you doubt that those men and their dead man are among the people of the Fire?’ He said, ‘No.’”He said to him, ‘Know that shaytan comes to the believer with what will prevent him from good and amd makes its people hateful to him. He comes to the unbeliever with a state that will be envied and makes him firm in his disbelief. He saw you frequenting us and wanted to harm you.’”
Concerning the death of Sahnun
There is no disagreement that Sahnun died in Rajab, 240. Abu’l-’Arab said, “On Sunday before midday on the third of it.” Another said that it was the seventh.
He was buried the same day and Amir Muhammad ibn al-Aghlab prayed over him and sent a shroud and qanut-perfume to him, but his son shrouded him in another one and gave that one away as sadaqa.”
The men of Ibn al-Aghlab asked to be excused from the prayer over him. They said, “You know what was between us and him and that he rejected us and we rejected him,” because most of them were Mu’tazilites. “We came out by our obedience to you. If we pray over him, the people would think that we liked his state.” So he excused them and came and prayed among his slaves and the common people of the Sunna and a group of Muslims.
He was 80 years old when he died.
Thanks to Aisha Bewley’s website
© 2012 As-Sunnah Foundation of America