Tahawi Beliefs of Ahl al-Sunna

Tahawi Beliefs of Ahl al-Sunna

Imam al-Tahawi’s beliefs of Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`a

MS Document with references

Imam Abu Ja`far al-Tahawi (239-321) can be said to represent the creed of both Ash`aris and Maturidis, especially the latter, as he was also following the Hanafi madhhab. We have therefore chosen to include the entire translated text of his Statement of Islamic Doctrine commonly known as the `aqida tahawiyya. This text, representative of the viewpoint of Ahl al-Sunna wa al-Jama`a, has long been the most widely acclaimed, and indeed indispensable, reference work on Muslim beliefs, of which the text below is a complete English translation.

Imam Abu Ja`far Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Azdi, known as Imam Tahawi after his birthplace in Egypt, is among the most outstanding authorities of the Islamic world on hadith and jurisprudence (fiqh). He lived at a time when both the direct and indirect disciples of the Four Imams of law were teaching and practicing. This period was the greatest age of Hadith and fiqh studies, and Imam Tahawi studied with all the living authorities of the day. Al-Badr al-`Ayni said that when Ahmad died, Tahawi was 12; when Bukhari died, he was 27; when Muslim died, he was 32; when Ibn Majah died, he was 44; when Abu Dawud died, he was 46; when Tirmidhi died, he was fifty; when Nisa’i died, he was 74. Kawthari relates this and adds the consensus of scholars that Tahawi allied in himself completion in the two knowledges of hadith and fiqh, a consensus that included, among others, al-`Ayni and al-Dhahabi, with Ibn Taymiyya singling himself out in his opinion that Tahawi was not very knowledgeable in hadith. This is flatly contradicted by Ibn Kathir who says in his notice on Tahawi in al-Bidaya wa al-nihaya: “He is one of the trustworthy narrators of established reliability, and one of the massive memorizers of hadith.” Kawthari calls Ibn Taymiyya’s verdict “another one of his random speculations” and states: “No-one disregards Tahawi’s knowledge of the defective hadith except someone whose own defects have no remedy, and may Allah protect us from such.”

Tahawi began his studies with his maternal uncle Isma`il ibn Yahya al-Muzani, a leading disciple of Imam Shafi`i. However, Tahawi felt instinctively drawn to the corpus of Imam Abu Hanifa’s works. Indeed, he had seen his uncle and teacher turning to the works of Hanafi scholars to resolve thorny issues of fiqh, drawing heavily on the writings of Abu Hanifa’s two leading companions, Muhammad Ibn al-Hasan al-Shaybani and Abu Yusuf, who had codified Hanafi fiqh. This led him to devote his whole attention to studying the Hanafi works and he eventually joined the Hanafi school. He now stands out not only as a prominent follower of that Hanafi school but, in view of his vast erudition and remarkable powers of assimilation, as one of its leading scholars. His monumental scholarly works, such as Sharh ma`ani al-athar and Mushkil al-athar, are encyclopedic in scope and have long been regarded as indispensable for training students of fiqh. He was in fact a mujtahid across the board and was thoroughly familiar with the fiqh of all four schools, as stated by Ibn `Abd al-Barr and related by Kawthari, and as shown by Tahawi’s own work on comparative law entitled Ikhtilaf al-fuqaha’.

Tahawi’s “Doctrine” (al-`Aqida), though small in size, is a basic text for all times, listing what a Muslim must know and believe and inwardly comprehend. There is consensus among the Companions, the Successors and all the leading Islamic authorities such as the four Imams and their authoritative followers on the doctrines enumerated in this work, which are entirely derived from the undisputed primary sources of Religion, the Holy Qur’an and the confirmed Hadith. Being a text on Islamic doctrine, this work sums up the arguments set forth in those two sources to define sound belief, and likewise, the arguments advanced in refuting the views of sects that have deviated from the Sunna.

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