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Imam Az-Zuhri

Imam Muhammad ibn Shihab Az-Zuhri [50 AH- 124 AH] was an erudite narrator of hadith, a brilliant, celebrated and generous scholar. Ibn Taymiyya described him in these succint but remarkable words : “Az-Zuhri has guarded Islam for about seventy years ”[1].

Birth and Childhood:

He was born in the year 50 AH. His full name was Muhammad ibn Muslim ibn Ubaidullah ibn Abdullah ibn Shihab ibn Abdullah ibn Al-Harith ibn Zuhrah ibn Kilab ibn Murrah ibn Ka’b ibn Luayy ibn Ghalib[2]. He was mostly known as Az-Zuhri or Ibn Shihaab. Muslim bin Ubaidullah, father of Ibn Shihab was with Abdullah ibn Zubair. He fought on his side in the war against Banu Marwan[3]. He was born after the era of four righteously guided Successors – during the Caliphate of Muawiyah.

Education:

Imam Az-Zuhri was indeed, an epitome of seeking knowledge. Allah endowed him with strong desire for knowledge, unrelenting determination and an unrivaled strong memory. Az-Zuhri started seeking knowledge very early in his life that he was able to narrate from some Companions, may Allah be pleased with them. He would tour all the regions in search of hadith, and he did not leave any place in which there was potential knowledge without travelling there. Some of his notable teachers are:

  1. Saeed bin Al-Musayyab:

He sat in the company of Saeed ibn al-Musayyab for eight years and in other narration six years benefitting from his knowledge. It is narrated upon the authority of Sufyaan ibn uyaynah that Az-Zuhri said “We could only be able to get out hadith from Ibn Al-Musayyab when he was angry. I have sat down with him for six years with my knees touching his and I would not dare ask him about a hadith without adding, ‘so and so said such and such, and so and so said such and such’.”[4]

  1. Urwah bin Zubair ibn Al-Awwam:
  2. Abu Salamah
  3. Ubaidullah ibn Abdullah[5]
  4. Alqamah ibn Waqqas
  5. Abdullah bin Umar: Two hadeeth from him

It is recored on the authority of Qatadah that the last companion to die in Makkah was Abdullah ibn Umar and Az-Zuhri was sixteen years old at that time[6].

Abdur Razzaq As- Sanani said that he asked Ma’mar as to whether or not Az-Zuhri heard from Ibn Umar, and that Ma’mar answered, “Yes, he heard from him two hadeeth”[7]

  1. Anas bin Malik
  2. Sahl ibn Sa’ad
  3. Abu Hurayrah – One hadeeth recorded from him in Tirmidhi.

His Knowledge of Quran and Sunnah:

Az-Zuhri memorized the Quran while he was young. He was so proficient in it that Nafi’, who was an imam in recitation of the Quran would recite to him[8]. In addition to his erudition in recitation of Quran and its sciences, he had also collected the Sunnah and the traditions of the Companions. It was reported by Abu Dawud at-Tayalisi, He said “We found that most of the hadith is with four persons: Az-Zuhri, Qatadah, Abu Ishaq and Al-A’mash. Az- Zuhri is most knowledgeable of them in respect to isnad (chain of transmitters)[9]”.

Shu’aib Abi Hamzah narrated that Az-Zuhri said, “I was travelling between Hijaz and Syria for forty five years and I did not find any unique hadith and I did not find anyone to benefit me with a unique hadith. [This means he had encompassed all the hadith that he missed nothing thereof][10]

Abdur Rahman ibn Mahdi said he heard Malik ibn Anas saying, “I read seventy hadith to Az-Zuhri and I made a grammatical error in one hadith. He shook his camel and angrily said, ‘People no more understand’ ”[11]

Imam Shafi’i narrated that Malik ibn Anas said, “Whenver Az-Zuhri entered Al-Madinah, no scholar would narrate hadith there until he left”[12]

Lath ibn Saad, “I do not know a scholar who is more knowledgeable than Ibn Shihab. If you heard him exhorting, you would say, ‘This is his area of perfection.’ If you heard him speaking about the Arabs and their genealogy you would say, ‘This is the only area he specialized in’ and if you heard him speaking about the Qur’an and the Sunnah, his speech in these aspects would be most comprehensive.’”[13]

Ma’mar narrated, “People mentioned Az-Zuhri and they did not find anyone to be compared him with except ash-Sha’bi”[14]

Ibn Al-Madini said, “Knowledge about the trustworthy narrators revolved around six people: In Hijaz, there are Az-Zuhri and Amr ibn Dinar; in Basra, there are Qatadah and Yahya ibn Abi Kathir; and in Kufah, there are Abu Ishaq and al-A’mash”[15]

Ibn Al-Madini also said, “Four scholars assumed fatwa: Hakam, Hammad, Qatadah and Az-Zuhri. But in my view, Az-Zuhri was the most learned of them all”[16]

When the name of Az-Zuhri was to mentioned in the presence of Amr ibn Dinar, the later used to say “What does Az-Zuhri has? I met Jabir ibn Abdullah, and he did not met him; I met Ibn Umar and he did not meet him! ”. When Az-Zuhri came to Makkah, Amr (who was then unwell) was informed of his arrival. He was then taken to him on his request and when he met him he did not come back to his students until in the night. He was asked, ‘How did you find Az-Zuhri?’ He said, ‘By Allah, I have never seen someone who is like this Quraishi man!’[17]

Students  of Az-Zuhri :

Az-Zuhri was one of the greatest links of hadith narration between the companions and those who came after them. His chains are regarded some of the shortest and the most connected. This is the reason for which the scholars pay great attention to his students and their chains of narrators. Some of his main students are: [18]

  1. Yunus
  2. Imam Malik ibn Anas
  3. Sufyaan ibn Uyaynah
  4. Ubaidullah ibn Umar
  5. Ma’mar
  6. Aqil
  7. Shuayb
  8. Al-Awzai
  9. Laith ibn Sa’d
  10. Abdur Rahman
  11. Imam Al-Awzai

Some of his sayings

Az Zuhri said “There are three things if found in a judge, he is not a judge:

  1. Dislike for criticism
  2. Love of praise and
  3. Aversion to removal from the position [19]

“Shunning the company of useless people is wisdom, and avoiding them is better than talking to them”[20]

Death:

Az-Zuhri once told Umar bin Abdul Azeez, ‘Commander of the faithful, remove al-Waleed. For, it is a manifestation of fulfilling your covenant to Allah to remove him.’ Umar ivn Abdul Aziz said, ‘I fear that the soldiers would reject that.’ And Az-Zuhri said, ‘Send me then to the soldiers. I will convince them one by one until they will all agree to his removal.’ But Umar refused. Al-Waleed then sent some people to Az-Zuhri’s property at Bada and it was destroyed and its date trees were felled.

Az-Zuhri upon knowing this sued Al-Waleed to the court of Umar bin Abdul Azeez. Az-Zuhri had bought the property from the people whom Messenger of Allah (saws) had allocated it to. He brought the documents to support his case against al-Waleed. Umar told Az-Zuhri, ‘There is no one who can give judgement against al-Waleed except you. So, make the decision.’ Thereupon Az-Zuhri said, ‘Commander of the faithful, order that a date tree should be planted in place of each tree that al-Waleed felled and each tree should be nurtured until it grows to the same level that it was before it was felled. Also, I should be paid compensation for the work I have done on it.’ Umar approved that decision and made it binding. Al-Waleed later would tell Az-Zuhri, ‘If one day Allah gives me power over you, you will know’ and az-Zuhri would say, ‘Allah is more just than to give a foolish person power over me.’[21]

Al-Waleed ibn Yazid had vowed to kill Az-Zuhri if he became caliph, but Allah willed that the latter died few months before Al-Waleed’s assumption of the caliphate. Az-Zuhri died in the month of Ramazan in 124 AH. He died at Shaghab, a place between Al-Madinah and Ailah[22].


[1] Shaadharaat adh- Dhahab 1/162

[2] Siyar A’laam An-Nubala 5/326

[3] Tarikh-e-Dimashq 55/323

[4] Hilyah Al-Awliya – 3/366

[5] Siyar A’laam An-Nubala – 4/289

[6] Ibid 55/314

[7] Ibid

[8] Tadhkirah al-Huffaz -  1/109

[9] Siyar A’laam an-Nubala 5/402

[10] Ibid 5/335

[11] Tarikh Baghdad – 55/352

[12] Tareekh Dimashq 55/331

[13] Tahdhib al-Kamal 26/437

[14] Siyar Alaam an-Nubala 5/345

[15] Ibid

[16] Ibid

[17] Tareekh Dimashq 55/345

[18] Sharh al-ilal by Ibn Rajab , 1/117

[19] Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah  9/343

[20] Tareekh Dimashq 55/381

[21] Tareekh Dimashq 63/327

[22] Tareekh Dimashq 55/383

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