ABU `UTHMAN AL-SABUNI
ABU `UTHMAN AL-SABUNI
By Dr. G.F. Haddad
Al-Sâbûnî, Ismâ`îl ibn `Abd al-Rahmân ibn Ahmad ibn Ismâ`îl ibn Ibrâhîm ibn `Amir, Abû `Uthmân al-Sâbûnî al-Shâfi`î (d 449), Shaykh al-Islâm, the foremost pious jurist, hadîth Scholar, preacher, commentator of Qur’ân, “the true Imâm of the Muslims and the real Shaykh of Islâm” (al-Bayhaqî), “Sword of the Sunna, Repeller of bid`a” (`Abd al-Ghâfir al-Fârisî), and “Scourge of the deviants” (Abû Ishâq al-Isfarâyînî), of awesome fame in the regions of Khurâsân and among the signatories of the Ash`arî statement written by Imâm al-Qushayrî at the time of the anti-Ash`arî fitna there. Ibn al-Subkî said that when the anthropomorphists of Herât saw his fame, they began to name Abû Ismâ`îl `Abd Allâh al-Ansârî, the author of the anti-Ash`arî book Dhamm al-Kalâm, with the same title of Shaykh al-Islâm. He was the student of the Ash`arî Imâm Abû Muhammad al-Juwaynî the father of Imâm al-Haramayn. Al-Sâbûnî said: “If Shaykh Abû Muhammad had been born among the Israelites, they would have transmitted his immense merits to us and he would have made their pride.” Al-Sâbûnî held gatherings of dhikr and wa`z for seventy years and was imâm in Naysabûr for twenty. Orphaned as a boy after his father Abû Nasr was killed for his preaching, he was raised by the Ash`arî Sûfî Imâm, Abû al-Tayyib Sahl al-Su`lûkî who then attended al-Sabûnî’s gatherings and praised him for his high manners, intelligence, eloquence in both Arabic and Persian, memorization, and mastery of the Qur’ân and Sunna as did the other Imâms of the time such as Abû Ishâq al-Isfarâyînî and Ibn Fûrak. Out of respect, al-Sâbûnî would face away from al-Su`lûkî when delivering a sermon, but Abû al-Tayyib said to him: “Face me and do not look away from me!” Abû `Uthmân said: “I am ashamed to speak in your face.” The Imâm said: “Observe his wisdom.” Al-Bayhaqî narrated: “I swear that the Imâm Abû `Abd Allâh al-Hâkim, in spite of his great age, hadith Mastery, and scholarliness, used to get up for the Teacher [al-Sâbûnî] when he entered to see him, call him ‘the peerless Ustâdh,’ publicize his knowledge and merit, and repeat his words in his discourse.” Among al-Sâbûnî’s sayings: * “I never narrated a hadîth nor a non-Prophetic report in a gathering except I possessed its chain of transmission; nor did I ever enter the library except in a state of ritual purity; nor did I ever narrate hadîth, nor hold a gathering, nor teach, except in a state of ritual purity.” * “Ever since I knew that the Prophet used to recite Sûrat al-Jumu`a and Sûrat al-Munâfiqîn in the first two rak`ats of the Night prayer on Jumu`a, I never missed reciting them.” * “Allâh is much exalted beyond what both the negators (al-mu`attila ) and anthropomorphists (al-mushabbiha ) claim. I tread, in the verses that mention the Attributes of the Creator and the authentic Prophetic narrations in that chapter…, the path of the pious Predecessors and the Imâms of the Religion in accepting them and narrating them after ascertaining the soundness of their transmission chain, citing them in their external wordings, confirming them, fully assenting to them, but guarding against any belief of modality or anthropomorphism in them, avoiding what leads to rejecting them or altering them through reproved figurative interpretation (ta’wîl) for which Allâh never gave authority, nor did the Companions, Successors, and pious Salaf say anything like it.”  Al-Sam`ânî said that supplication is answered at Ismâ`îl al-Sâbûnî’s grave. 
 1In Ibn al-Subkî, Tabaqât al-Shâfi`iyya al-Kubrâ (4:288).  Ibn al-Subkî, Tabaqât al-Shâfi`iyya al-Kubrâ (4:271-292 §368).
© 2012 As-Sunnah Foundation of America