We continue our reading into the words and insights left to us by Imam Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi – accomplished scholar, copious writer and committed traditionalist – as per his celebrated hagiography of Islam’s scholars, sages and other personalities, Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala:
When Great Minds Think Alike: After recording the words of Ishaq b. Rahuwayah: ‘If al-Thawri, al-Awza‘i and Malik agree upon any matter, it is sunnah,‘ Imam al-Dhahabi comments:
‘Rather the sunnah is what the Prophet, upon whom be peace, made so, or the Rightly-Guided Caliphs after him. As regards consensus (ijma‘), it is whatever the scholars of this ummah, both past and present, have unanimously concurred upon: [including] a consensus which is probable (zanni) or tacit (sukuti). Whosoever diverges from such a consensus, among the Successors (tabi‘un) or their followers – due to stances arrived at via independent legal judgement (ijtihad) – it is tolerated from him alone.
As for those who disagree with the three aforementioned senior scholars, then this is not considered to be opposing the consensus, nor the Sunnah. All that Ishaq intended was that if they concur upon any given matter, then it is most probably correct. Just as we say today that it is almost impossible to find the truth to be outside of whatever the Four Mujtahid Imams concurred upon. We say this whilst at the same time admitting that their agreement on an issue doesn’t constitute a consensus of the ummah: though we are wary of stating, in an issue on which they agree, that the truth is otherwise.’1
The Praiseworthy Trial: While describing the ordeal endured by Imam Malik in which he was severely beaten so much so that ‘his arm was wrenched out of its socket and an enormous wrong had been perpetrated against him. Yet, by God, Malik didn’t cease to be held in high esteem,’ al-Dhahabi wrote:
‘This is the result of a praiseworthy trial which only serves to raise a person’s rank and esteem in the sight of believers. Whatever the case, it is what our own hands earn; yet God pardons much. “Whoever God intends to show goodness to, He tries him through ordeals.”2 The Prophet, peace be upon him, further stated: “Everything decreed for the believer is good for him.”3 God, exalted is He, said: We shall try you until We know those of you who strive and those who are patient. [47:31] The following words were revealed by God about the battle of Uhud: When disaster befell you after you had inflicted losses twice as heavy, you exclaimed: “How did this happen?” Say: “It was from yourselves.” [3:165] God also said: Whatever misfortune befalls you, it is what your own hands have earned, and He pardons much. [42:30]
Thus a believer, when he is tried, shows patient, takes admonition, seeks forgiveness of God and does not busy himself in blaming the one who mistreated him. For God’s judgement is just. Instead, he should thank God that his faith remains intact, realising that worldly punishment is both lighter and better for him.’4
A Falcon Among Fledglings: Imam al-Shafi‘i remarked: ‘People are all dependents of Abu Hanifah in jurisprudence (fiqh).’ After citing these words, Imam al-Dhahabi says:
‘Leadership in fiqh, along with its minutiae, is undeniable for this Imam. It is a matter about which there is no doubt: Intellects cannot be sound at all / If daytime needs a proof. His life would require two separate volumes to depict – God be pleased with him and have mercy on him. He died as a martyr in the year 150H, at the age of seventy, after being poisoned. A huge dome has been built over him in Baghdad, and a magnificent tomb; though God knows best.’5
1. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala (Beirut: Mu’assasah al-Risalah, 1998), 7:116-7.
2. Al-Bukhari, no.5645.
3. Muslim, no.2999.
4. Siyar A‘lam al-Nubala, 8:80-1.
5. ibid., 6:403.