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Friday, September 15, 2006

The Ethics of Disagreement in Islam: Knowledge and Refinement

Answered by Dr. Taha al-Alwani

The Ethics of Disagreement in Islam: Knowledge and Refinement

Chapter Eight: Knowledge and Refinement

Training and Manners of the A'immah

Like the Companions of the first generation and their immediate successors - the Taabi`oon - the leading scholars of the second and third centuries had many differences on issues which required ijtihaad. Since their differences were not motivated by any form of egoism or desire to create discord, one can venture to say that they were all on the right path. It is perhaps no exaggeration to say also that these scholars were singularly dedicated to the pursuit of truth and to attaining the pleasure of God. They were highly trained and qualified, and this is why their verdicts were accommodated by scholars of all ages. It was common practice among them to endorse the judgments of those who passed sound verdicts irrespective of the schools of law they belonged to and to ask God's forgiveness for those who seemed to have erred. They had a high mutual regard for one another.

When faced with a difficult issue, some jurists would consult the literature of another school without any hesitation or embarrassment, even though they might not agree on the type of evidence used. They of course felt free to consult any substantiated text. Having arrived at their verdicts, they would issue them with such concluding phrases as "this is more cautious," "this is preferable," "this is how it should be," "I dislike this, or "this does not appeal to me." They did not feel impeded by any unwarranted restrictions or any fear of unfounded accusations. They were easy-going and open-minded, and their concern was to facilitate matters for people.

Among the Companions of the Prophet, their Successors, and the leading scholars after them, there were several differences relating, for example, to the preparation for and the performance of salaah. Some recited the Basmalah at the beginning of Soorat al Faatihah and others did not. Some uttered it aloud and others did not. Some recited the Qunoot supplication as part of the Salaat al Fajr (Dawn Prayer) while others did not. Some renewed their wudoo' (ablution) after nose-bleeding, vomiting, and cupping while others did not. Some considered that any physical contact with women nullified wudoo' while others did not. Some renewed their wudoo' after eating camel meat or food cooked on a direct fire while others saw no need for that.

These differences never prevented them from performing salaah behind each other. Aboo Haneefah and his followers, as well as al Shaafi`ee and other leading scholars, performed salaah behind the a'immah of Madinah from the Maalikee school and others as well, although these a'immah did not recite the Basmalah, whether silently or audibly. It was reported that Aboo Yoosuf, a leading scholar of the Hanafee school, performed salaah behind al Rasheed. Aboo Yoosuf found later that al Rasheed had been cupped. He did not repeat the salaah, although he was of the opinion that cupping nullifies ablution.

Ahmad ibn Hanbal believed that nose-bleeding and cupping nullified ablution. He was asked if people could perform salaah behind an imam who did not renew his ablution after bleeding. He replied: "How could I not pray behind Maalik and Sa`eed ibn al Musayyib?"

According to al Shaafi`ee, the qunoot supplication is a firm practice of the Prophet. Yet he is reported to have performed Salaat al Fajr near the grave of Aboo Haneefah but did not make the qunoot supplication. When asked about this, al Shaafi`ee replied: "How can I deviate from him while I am in his presence?" He is also reported to have said: "Perhaps, we have inclined to the school of thought (madhhab) of the people of Iraq." [ Hujjat Allaah al Baalighah, 335.]

Maalik was the most knowledgeable scholar of hadeeth transmitted by the people of Madinah and the most accurate in dealing with chains of transmitters (isnaad). He was also the one most acquainted with the practices of `Umar ibn al Khattaab and the sayings of `Abd Allah ibn `Umar, `Aa'ishah, and the seven prominent jurists among the Companions of the Prophet. He was one of the pioneers in establishing the science of hadeeth reporting and making juristic verdicts. The hadeeth which he collected and the verdicts he made are contained in his book Al Muwattaa', in which he compiled the reliable ahaadeeth known to the people of the Hijaz, the sayings of the Companions, and the verdicts of the second generation of Muslims which he verified. The chapters of the book are classified in accordance with the branches of jurisprudence with considerable scholarship.

Al Muwattaa' is the fruit of forty years of scholarly effort. It was the first book on hadeeth and jurisprudence which appeared in the history of Islam. Its contents were validated by seventy contemporary scholars from the Hijaz. Nonetheless, when the khaleefah al Mansoor wanted to have several copies made and distributed to the new Muslim regions with the intention of getting people to follow its line and thus put an end to differences and dissension, Maalik was the first to reject this suggestion. He is reported to have said to al Mansoor:

"Don't do this. People [in various parts of the Muslim lands] already possess a body of knowledge based on reports they have received and sayings of the Prophet they have heard prior to this. Each group of people acts according to what came to it first, and so there are variations in people's practices. Leave the people of each region to follow what they themselves choose."

The khaleefah acquiesced in Maalik's wish and prayed that God should grant him success. [ Hujjat Allaah al Baalighah, 307; al Fikr al Saamee, 1/336.]

Maalik's advice to the khaleefah and his refusal to have al Muwattaa' - a book he had worked on so scrupulously and for so long - officially prescribed as the standard text of hadeeth and jurisprudence leave us in no doubt about his breadth of understanding and open-mindedness as well as his complete lack of egoism. He was able to see the limits and dangers of authoritarian rule.

Al Layth's Letter to Maalik

Perhaps one of the best practical examples of the ethics and norms of disagreement was the letter sent to Maalik by al Layth ibn Sa`d, the leading scholar and jurist in Egypt at the time. The letter, in which al Layth gave his views on the various issues on which he differed with Maalik, was a hallmark of knowledge and gracefulness. The letter is too long to quote in full, but here are a few excerpts to illustrate its content and tone:

From your letter which I have received, I am pleased to know that you are in good health. May God make your health last and enable you to show gratitude to Him. May He shower more of His abundant goodness on you . . .

You have been informed that I make juristic rulings for people which are at variance with the practice of the people of Madinah. You pointed out that I should fear for my own soul about the verdicts I make for the people here and also that they should follow the practice of the people of Madinah, to which the Prophet migrated and in which the Qur'an was revealed. What you have written in this respect, God willing, is right and I trust that may response to your comments will please you.

Among those who are blessed with knowledge, there is no one who dislikes odd or contrary verdicts more than I, or who has a greater preference for the past scholars of Madinah, or who adopts more readily the verdicts on which they are unanimous. Praise and gratitude are due to God, the Lord and Sustainer of the worlds. No associate has He.

Al Layth ibn Sa`d goes on to state the differences of opinion bet ween him and Maalik over the authority of the practice of the people of Madinah. He points out that many of the early Companions of the Prophet who were brought up under his guidance and instruction had disseminated the teachings of the Qur'an and the Sunnah through various lands as far as they could. He also pointed out that the followers of the second generation had their differences of opinion about many issues. By way of example, he mentions Rabee`ah ibn Abee `Abd al Rahmaan, but states his disagreement with him on certain matters. Then he says:

In spite of this, praise be to God, Rabee`ah was a person who possessed abundant goodness. He had an original mind and an eloquent tongue. He was a man of obvious grace and good manners, and had a genuine love for his fellow Muslims in general and for us in particular. May God grant him His mercy and forgiveness and the best recompense for his deeds.

Next, Ibn Sa`d mentions some of the issues over which he and Maalik were at variance, for example: combining Salaat al Maghrib and al `Ishaa' on a rainy night; passing judgment on the evidence of a single witness; paying the delayed portion of a dowry only in the event of a divorce; performing the Prayer for Rain (Salaat al Istisqaa') before delivering the khutbah (sermon).

Ibn Sa`d concludes his letter by saying:

I have omitted many issues apart from these. I pray that God grants you success and long life because of what I hope people will benefit thereby and because of what I fear they will lose with the passing away of one such as you. Let me assure you of my feeling of nearness to you in spite of the distance that separates us. This is the position of esteem in which I hold you. Do not stop writing to me with news of yourself, your children and family, or if there is anything you want me to do for you personally or for anyone for whom you have a special concern. I would be most pleased to do any service in this regard. At the time of writing this letter, we are in good health, praise be to God. We ask God to enable us to thank Him for what He has favored us with and to continue to bestow His favors on us. May the peace and mercy of God be on you. [ The full text of al Layth's letter is given in I`laam al Muwaqqi`een, 3/83-88; and in al Fikr al Saamee, 1/370-6.]

There are many discussions and debates recorded in biographical works and historical writings which display great erudition and precision and which are filled with glowing examples of the proper ethics and norms of disagreement. This spirit of enlightened discourse suffered only with the emergence and spread of rigid imitation (taqleed). This meant that people followed the rulings and practices of a particular school of thought to the exclusion of all others, and even regarded others as deficient or misguided. The result was a hardening of attitudes and positions among scholars and a certain rigidity towards knowledge itself. This was especially true after the passing away of reputable scholars, of whom al Ghazzaalee has said:

Some of the remaining scholars of the second generation continued to uphold the exemplary pattern set up by their predecessors. They adhered steadfastly to the purity of Islam and the established practice of the early righteous scholars. They shunned close contact with those in political authority and refused to be compromised.

The khulafaa' out of necessity insisted on appointing them as judges and governors, but when they failed to enlist their approval there were worldly, self-seeking opportunists ready to take the place of the pious and the righteous. In this respect, al Ghazzaalee says:

People of this ilk saw the dignified and honored status of the scholars and the fact that, despite their reluctance and refusal, they were offered positions as a'immah and governors. These self-seeking people proceeded to acquire knowledge to fulfill their desire for scholarly repute and positions of honor. They engaged in the study of jurisprudence. They presented themselves to governors and sought their friendship and patronage. Some of them were successful, but none could claim to be free from the degradation and humiliation of pleading for material favors and official ranks. Jurists who were once sought by persons in authority thus became the seekers of patronage and status. They had maintained their integrity and honor through their refusal to bow to persons in authority. Now they were compromised and humiliated by ingratiating themselves with rulers. This is apart from those scholars of God's religion whom the Almighty has blessed with success in every age. [Ihyaa' `Uloom al Deen, 1/14 ff.]

Al Ghazzaalee has thus depicted the actual situation of scholars who had become infatuated with the quest for the material world and for whom religion was the only way to reach the gates of princely patronage. In this desire to attain the love of rulers, knowledge was devalued.

Maalik used to say:

Do not acquire this knowledge [of religion] from four types of people: the foolish and the incompetent; the self-seeking opportunists who seek to propagate their own innovations; the liars who falsify people's reports even if they do not do so using the sayings of the Prophet; and those who are known for their goodness, righteousness, and regular performance of worship but who are ignorant of the basis of what they practice and speak about. [Al Intiqaa', 16.]

He also said:

This knowledge is religion itself. Be careful from whom you acquire your religion. I know of seventy people who, while pointing to the Prophet's mosque, would say: `The Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, said while at these very columns . . . ,' but I have never believed anything they said. They were people who would prove to be honest if they were to be entrusted with the public treasury, but when it comes to academic honesty they would fail to live up to that expectation. Thus we avoided consulting these people until Ibn Shihaab came to us and we started to crowd at his door seeking reliable knowledge. [Al Intiqaa', 16.]

It was unlikely that great disagreements would have occurred amongst people who had these merits and characteristics as those of Ibn Shihaab. Even if difference did occur, they only resulted from the individual's pursuit of the truth for the truth's sake, and not from any egoistical ends. In order to appreciate the standard of ethics and the norms of behavior which the early righteous scholars practiced in dealing with differences, let us look at a few examples of exemplary conduct which they set.

Aboo Haneefah and Maalik

We have already alluded to the major difference between the leading scholars, Aboo Haneefah and Maalik, and their basic variations in approach when tackling new issues. There was also a marked difference in age between the two men, but all this did not tarnish their mutual respect and fellowship. The famous Qaadee `Iyaad, in his book Al Madaarik, recorded that al Layth ibn Sa'd met Maalik in Madinah as he was coming out of a meeting with Aboo Haneefah:

"I see that your forehead is bathed in perspiration," said al Layth.

"I sweated in my meeting with Aboo Haneefah. He is really a jurist (faqeeh), O Egyptian!" said Maalik.

Later, al Layth met Aboo Haneefah and said to him:

"How excellent are the remarks of this man (Maalik) concerning you!"

"I have not met anyone more quick-witted and truly perceptive than he," acknowledged Aboo Haneefah in return. [Al Intiqaa', 16.]

Muhammad ibn al Hasan and Maalik

Muhammad ibn al Hasan was a very close and prominent colleague of Aboo Haneefah and was the one who kept record of his judgments. He left his home and went to live for three years with Imam Maalik, during which he studied al Muwatta' directly from him. One day the two distinguished scholars Muhammad ibn al Hasan and al Shaafi`ee were conferring.

Muhammad ibn al Hasan ventured to say:

"Our colleague [meaning Aboo Haneefah] is more knowledgeable than yours [meaning Maalik]. Moreover," he added as if to provoke al Shaafi`ee, "it is not befitting that Aboo Haneefah should remain silent while Maalik speaks."

Imam al Shaafi`ee replied: "Tell me in all honesty, who is more knowledgeable bout the Sunnah of the Prophet, peace be on him - Maalik or Aboo Haneefah?"

"Maalik," replied Muhammad ibn al Hasan, and went on to add, "But our colleague [Aboo Haneefah] is more informed and skilled in analogy."

Al Shaafi`ee conceded that this was so and went on: "Maalik is more knowledgeable in the Book of God than Aboo Haneefah. So whoever is more knowledgeable in the Book of God and in the Sunnah of His Messenger has priority to speak." Muhammad ibn al Hasan could not say anything more. [Al Intiqaa', 16.]

Al Shaafi`ee and Muhammad ibn al Hasan

Al Shaafi`ee said: "One day I was having a discussion with Muhammad ibn al Hasan. There was so much talk and disagreement between us that I noticed Ibn al Hasan's jugular vein swelling up due to rage and fury." [Al Intiqaa', 16.] Nonetheless, Muhammad ibn al Hasan said: "If there is any person who disagrees with us and yet is able to convince us of his position, it is al Shaafi`ee." When he was asked why this was so, he replied: "Because of his clarity of mind and exposition, and his certainty in knowledge which shows itself quite clearly in the process of questioning, answering, and listening." [ Al Intiqaa`, 38.]

These are some examples of the ethics and norms of proper behavior in disagreement as demonstrated by the leading scholars. From these examples, we can see that the successors of the second generation followed the exemplary patterns set by their righteous forbears. They all drank deeply from the source of prophetic guidance and example. The good conduct of our righteous forbears was not only confined to avoiding defamation and slander, for their overriding concern was for precision and certitude in all their intellectual pursuits. They therefore also steered away from matters about which they had no knowledge and were extremely careful in making juristic rulings lest they should err. Such features of their conduct are evident in a statement made by `Abd al Rahmaan ibn Abee Laylaa, who said:

In this mosque [the Prophet's mosque in Madinah], I knew one hundred and twenty of the Companions of the Prophet. There is not anyone among them who, if asked about a saying of the Prophet or to give a ruling on an issue, would not wish that some other Companion would reply instead.

In another version he is reported to have said:

People would present an issue to one of the Companions. This Companion would refrain from passing judgment and would refer the questioner to another Companion. The process would go on until the issue would be referred back to the Companion who had been consulted first. [ Ithaaf al Saadah al Muttaqeen, 1/278-80.]

Muslim scholars in these early times had raised themselves above emotional impulses when issues of knowledge were concerned and were willing to admit any deficiency on their part and defer to others. They would be very circumspect when faced with a critical issue lest they give an erroneous and potentially harmful judgment. A case in point is that of a man who was sent by his people to ask Maalik about a particular issue. It took the man six months to reach Maalik. When the issue was put to Maalik, he said to the man:

"Tell those who sent you that I have no knowledge about this matter."

"Who then knows about it?" asked the man.

"The one whom Allah has endowed with knowledge," said Maalik and quoted the verse of the Qur'an in which the angels, when asked by God to tell Adam about the nature of all things, said: "Glory be to You. Of knowledge we have none except what You have taught us" (2: 32).

It is related that on another occasion Maalik was asked about forty-eight issues. To thirty-two of these, his reply was: "I do not know." Also, Khaalid ibn Khaddaash reported: "I came to Maalik from Iraq to ask his opinion on forty issues, and he only answered five of these." Ibn `Ajlaan used to say: "If a learned man failed to understand the wisdom of the saying `I do not know,' his judgment would be erroneous."

Maalik himself used to quote the saying: "A learned man should instill into his students the habit of saying `I do not know' so that this habit should become a principle to which they should resort. In this vein, if someone is asked about something he does not know, he should say: `I do not know.'"

And Aboo al Dardaa', the Companion of the Prophet, is reliably reported as having said: "[To say] `I do not know' is half of knowledge."

Maalik and Ibn `Uyahnah

Sufyaan Ibn `Uyaynah [ Sufyaan ibn `Uyaynah (d. 198 AH) was an authority on hadeeth and a jurist. He was born in Kufah and died in Makkah.] was a close associate of Imam Maalik. al Shaafi`ee said that "Were it not for both of them, knowledge in the Hijaz would have disappeared." [ Al Intiqaa', 22.] Ibn `Uyaynah, however, was inclined to defer to Maalik. It is related that once he mentioned a hadeeth and was afterwards told that Maalik differed with him on the hadeeth. "Do you compare me with Maalik?" retorted Ibn `Uyaynah. "My status compared to Maalik's is, as the poet Jareer says, like the strength of a suckling camel when compared to that of a grown-up one."

Ibn `Uyaynah related a hadeeth of the Prophet, peace be on him: "People might travel to the farthest corners of the earth in search of knowledge, but they will not find anyone more knowledgeable than the learned man of Madinah." When asked who was alluded to in this hadeeth, Ibn Sufyaan said it was Maalik ibn Anas and added:

He [Maalik] never reported any unreliable hadeeth; he never accepted any hadeeth from anyone whose trustworthiness and reliability were not beyond question. I have a feeling that Madinah will come to ruin after the death of Maalik ibn Anas. [ Al Intiqaa', 22.]

Maalik and al Shaafi`ee

Al Shaafi`i said:

Maalik ibn Anas is my teacher. I derive knowledge from him. When people mention scholars, Maalik stands out as a star. There is no one that I trust more wholeheartedly than Maalik ibn Anas." [ Al Intiqaa', 22.]

He also used to say:

If a hadeeth is reported by Maalik, its reliability should be readily accepted because if he had any doubt about any hadeeth he would disregard it completely. [ Al Intiqaa', 22.]

Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Maalik

Aboo Zar`a al Dimashqee said:

I heard someone asking Ahmad ibn Hanbal about his stand when faced with a hadeeth over whose transmission Sufyaan and Maalik disagreed. Ibn Hanbal replied: "Maalik is dearer to me." "He was then asked, `What if al Awzaa`ee and Maalik were in disagreement?" Ibn Hanbal replied, `Maalik is preferable in my opinion', although [I regard] al Awzaa`ee as one of the leading scholars." Ibn Hanbal was then asked about Ibrahim al Nakha`ee without comparing him with Maalik, since al Nakhaa`ee was not one of the experts on hadeeth (ahl al hadeeth). Ibn Hanbal replied: Al Nakha`ee has to be placed among his contemporaries." Then he was asked for his advice about a man who wanted to learn by heart a hadeeth transmitted by a single individual. He replied: "Let him learn the hadeeth reported by Maalik."

Opinions on Aboo Haaneefah

Shu`bah ibn al Hajjaaj [ Shu`bah ibn al Hajjaaj (d. 160 AH) was known as the Ameer al Mu'mineen in hadeeth.] was a leading authority on hadeeth while Aboo Haneefah, as we have already seen, belonged to the school of reasoning (ahl al ra'i). Despite the differences in their methodologies, Shu`bah had a high regard for Aboo Haneefah. There was a bond of genuine affection between them and they corresponded with each other. Shu`bah used to authenticate Aboo Haneefah's works and request him to speak. When the news of Aboo Haneefah's death reached him, he said: "Gone with him is the jurisprudence of Kufah. May God bestow His mercy on him and on us." [ Al Intiqaa', 126.]

When someone asked Yahyaa ibn Sa`eed al Qattaan about Aboo Haneefah, he said: "Conscious of God, he only recommends and extols that knowledge with which God Almighty has endowed him. As for myself, by God whenever I deem any of his pronouncements to be preferable, I adopt them."

This shows that divergence in views did not prevent these scholars from accepting what they perceived to be good from one another. In addition, each would mention the virtues and merits of the other and acknowledge their ideas when they quoted them in support of their own arguments.

There are many accounts which tell of the high esteem in which `Abd Allaah ibn al Mubaarak held Aboo Haneefah. He always spoke of him in a favorable manner and attested to his integrity. He often quoted him and praised him. He would not allow anyone to disparage him in his own mosque. One day someone in his circle of students tried to sneer at Aboo Haneefah. Ibn al Mubaarak said to him: "Be quiet! By God, if you had met Aboo Haneefah you would have seen the strength of his intellect and his nobility."

Al Shaafi`ee is reported to have said that he heard Maalik being asked about `Uthmaan al Batti. Maalik replied: "He was a man of average ability." Then he was asked about Ibn Abee Shabramah, and he again said: "He was a man of average ability." Then he was asked about Aboo Haneefah, and he replied: "If he came to the brick walls of this mosque and argued with you, saying that they were made of wood, you would really believe that they were wood." [ Al Intiqaa', 147.] This was a pointer to Aboo Haneefah's skill in analogical deduction. Al Shaafi`ee's most frequently quoted comment on Aboo Haneefah was: "Regarding jurisprudence, people are like dependent children before Aboo Haneefah." [ Al Intiqaa', 136.]

In the study sessions and seminars conducted by these scholars, only the good and the beneficial were mentioned. If anyone tried to disregard or contravene the conventions of proper ethics and behavior in which they were conducted, that person would be immediately corrected. He would not be given any chance to slander or sneer at anyone. Al Fadl ibn Moosaa al Sinanee [ Al Fadl ibn Moosaa (d. 191 AH) was from the town of Seenaan in Khuraasaan. He was a reliable scholar and an authority on the pronouncements of the second generation of Muslims - the Taabi`oon.] was asked to comment on those who scornfully attacked Aboo Haneefah. He said:

Aboo Haneefah confronted such people with knowledge they could grasp and also with knowledge that they were intellectually not able to grasp. He left them nothing that they could stand on, and they resented him for this. [ Al Intiqaa'.]

These are some of the reports and comments which have been made by leading scholars of hadeeth who used to differ with most of Aboo Haneefah's interpretations and conclusions. However, their differences with him did not prevent them from extolling his virtues and merits, for they were confident that these differences were not motivated by any egoism or arrogance on his part but by the mutual pursuit of truth. Were it not for these high ethical standards and refined manners, a great deal of the jurisprudence of our early and respected scholars would have fallen into oblivion or been cast aside. These scholars came to the defense of other scholars only because they knew that their responsibility was to safeguard Islamic jurisprudence, which is indispensable for the moral protection and well-being of the Muslim Ummah.

Opinions on al Shaafi`ee

Ibn `Uyaynah was a distinguished scholar and one who was held in high esteem. Yet when people came to him for an explanation of some point in the Qur'an or for a judicial ruling, he would refer them to al Shaafi`ee with the words: "Ask this person." Often, on seeing al Shaafi`ee he would say: "This is the best young man of his time." And when he heard of the death of al Shaafi`ee, he said: "If Muhammad ibn Idrees has died, then the best man of his time has died."

Yahyaa ibn Sa`eed al Qattaan used to say: "I pray to God for al Shaafi`ee even in my salaah." `Abd Allaah ibn `Abd al Hakam and his son Muhammad were followers of the Maalikee school of thought, but the father advised the son to remain close to al Shaafi`ee because he had not seen anyone who had "more insight into the principles of knowledge or jurisprudence." It seems that Muhammad acted on his father's advice because he is reported to have said: "Had it not been for al Shaafi`ee, I would not have known how to reply to anyone's argument. Through him I have learnt whatever I have. He is the one, may God bless him, who instructed me in analogical reasoning and he was an upholder of the Sunnah and established practice. He was a good and virtuous person. He had an eloquent tongue and a firm, exacting intellect." [ Al Intiqaa', 73.]

Ahmad and al Shaafi`ee

`Abd Allaah, the son of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, once asked his father:

"What sort of person was al Shaafi`ee? I hear you frequently praying for him."

"Al Shaafi`ee, may God bless him," said his father, "was like the sun to the world, and like good health to people. Can you think of any substitute or compensation for these two vital necessities?"

Saalih, another son of Ahmad ibn Hanbal, was met by Yahyaa ibn Mu`een who asked him:

"Isn't your father ashamed of what he is doing?"

"What is he doing?" asked Saalih.

"I saw him with al Shaafi`ee," said Yahyaa. "Al Shaaf`ee was riding and he was on foot holding the rein of al Shaafi`ee's mount."

.Saalih later related this to his father who said:

"If you see him again, tell him that I say that if he wishes to gain true knowledge and understanding, let him come and take hold of the other side of the reins of al Shaafi`ee's mount." [ Al Intiqaa', 73.]

Aboo Humayd ibn Ahmad al Basree reported that he was one day discussing a certain issue with Ahmad ibn Hanbal. A man from the audience told Ibn Hanbal that there was no authentic hadeeth on that issue. "If there is no authentic hadeeth on this issue, there is al Shaafi`ee's pronouncement on it, and the proofs he has used are the most reliable on this issue," replied Ibn Hanbal, thus demonstrating his confidence in al Shaafi`ee's scholarship. He later asked al Shaafi`ee for his ruling on a certain matter which the latter gave. Ahmad then asked him: "On what basis have you pronounced this ruling? Is there a hadeeth or written document on it?" Al Shaafi`ee replied that there was and he produced a relevant authentic hadeeth of the Prophet, peace be on him. [ Aadaab al Shaafi`ee wa Manaaqibuhu (The Manners and Traits of al Shaafi`ee), 86-7.] Ahmad ibn Hanbal is also reported to have said: "If I were asked a question on which I do not know a relevant saying (khabar), I would say: `Al Shaafi`ee says . . . ,' because he is an imam and a scholar from the Quraysh." [ Aadaab al Shaafi`ee wa Manaaqibuhu (The Manners and Traits of al Shaafi`ee), 86]

Daawood ibn `Alee al Isbahaanee reported that he heard Ishaaq ibn Raahawayh say: ".Ahmad ibn Hanbal met me in Makkah and said to me: `Come with me and let me introduce you to a man the like of whom you have never seen,' and he showed me al Shaafi`ee." Such was the high esteem in which Ahmad ibn Hanbal held al Shaafi`ee. It is not strange for a student to be fond of and grateful to his teacher. But al Shaafi`ee himself in return acknowledged his student's excellence and his knowledge of the Sunnah by saying to him: "You are more knowledgeable in hadeeth and in the biography of hadeeth narrators than I. If you hear of any authentic hadeeth, let me know whether it is related in Kufah, Basrah, or Syria. I will refer to it if it proves to be authentic." [ Al Intiqaa', 75.]

Al Shaafi`ee had such a high regard for Ibn Hanbal that he would not mention his name but would refer to him as "the reliable and trustworthy one" among his colleagues. [ Ibn al Jawzee, Manaaqib al Imaam Ahmad (The Traits of Imaam Ahmad), 116.]

These are just glimpses [ There is an urgent need to gather the legacy of the Ummah in this field and present it in an accessible and attractive form. We pray that the opportunity and the means for doing so will be made available.] which clearly show the high standards of ethics and behavior practiced by the eminent scholars of early times. These high standards were not affected by differences in approach and methodologies. These righteous forbears of ours were brought up into and guided by the teachings and exemplary patterns set by the noble Prophet, peace be on him. Selfish motives and impulses did not get the better of them in their rigorous pursuit of knowledge. Biographies and history books are replete with instances of scholarly interaction conducted in an intellectually exacting but highly refined and gracious manner according to the best traditions of Islam. This is an object lesson for us today, fragmented and disparate as we are. We need to return to this level of consciousness and refined and gracious behavior which our noble ancestors have demonstrated. This must be done if we are indeed serious in striving to reconstruct a truly Islamic pattern of life.

Admittedly, there were instances in which these lofty Islamic standards were not observed. But the responsibility for this failure lies with unthinking followers or recalcitrant individuals who became steeped in bigotry and fanaticism. These individuals or groups failed to perceive the true "scientific" spirit in scholarly interaction which accounted for the differences among jurists. Nor did they have any insight into the sublime norms of proper aadaab which emanate from pure intentions, a genuine search for truth, and a desire to ascertain the purpose of the Lawgiver. They were, it seems, the type of people about whom al Ghazzaalee said:

The jurists have become seekers [of favor and status] after they were once sought [for their knowledge and integrity]. They were highly respected when they shunned the blandishments of those in political authority, but they have now become disgraced by succumbing to them.

The one who is sought for his knowledge and integrity is the one who is free and is a master of himself; he does not deviate from the truth. The one who is a seeker of favor and status sells himself and is only concerned with pleasing his master.

Unthinking followers and self-seeking individuals set differences of opinion into a totally negative mold. Differences of opinion among genuine scholars were, to begin with, a source of blessing which helped develop Islamic jurisprudence, establish the relevance of Islam to changing circumstances, and safeguard public welfare. Later, differences of opinion became one of the most critical and dangerous factors contributing to disunity and internecine strife among Muslims. Indeed it became a scourge which dissipated much of the energies and potential of the Muslim Ummah; it caused people to become engrossed in matters which did not deserve the attention given to them.


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