Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri
ابن شهاب الزهری
BornAH 58 (677/678)
DiedAH 124 (741/742)
Shaghb wa-Bada, Umayyad Flag.svg Umayyad Caliphate
RegionSyria, Hejaz
Main interest(s)Hadith, prophetic biography, fiqh
RelationsAbdullah ibn Muslim al-Zuhri (brother)
Muslim leader
Influenced by
Arabic name
Personal (Ism)Muḥammad
Patronymic (Nasab)Ibn Muslim ibn ʿUbayd Allāh ibn ʿAbd Allāh ibn S̲h̲ihāb
(بن مسلم بن عبيد الله بن عبد الله بن شهاب)
Teknonymic (Kunya)Abū Bakr
(أبو بكر)
Toponymic (Nisba)al-Zuhrī

Muhammad ibn Muslim ibn Ubaydullah ibn Abdullah ibn Shihab al-Zuhri (Arabic: محمد بن مسلم بن عبید الله بن عبد الله بن شهاب الزهری, romanizedMuḥammad ibn Muslim ibn ʿUbayd Allāh ibn ʿAbd Allāh b. S̲h̲ihāb al-Zuhrī; died 124 AH/741-2 CE), also referred to as Ibn Shihab or al-Zuhri, was a tabi'i Arab jurist and traditionist credited with pioneering the development of sīra-maghazi and hadith literature.

Raised in Medina, he studied hadith and maghazi under Medinese traditionists before rising to prominence at the Umayyad court, where he served in a number of religious and administrative positions. He transmitted several thousand hadith included in the six canonical Sunni hadith collections and his work on maghazi forms the basis of the extant biographies of Muhammad.[1][2] His relationship with the Umayyads has been debated by both early and modern Sunnis, Shias and Western specialists in Islamic studies.


Early life and career[edit]

Muhammad ibn Muslim al-Zuhri was born c. AH 58 (677/678) in the city of Medina. His father Muslim was a supporter of the Zubayrids during the Second Fitna, while his great-grandfather Abdullah fought against Muhammad at the Battle of Uhud before converting to Islam.[3]

Despite hailing from the Banu Zuhrah[4] — a clan of Quraysh — Zuhri's early life was characterised by poverty, and he served as the breadwinner for his family. As a youth, Zuhri enjoyed studying poetry and genealogy, and possessed an excellent memory which enabled him in this pursuit.[5] He consumed honey syrup in a bid to sharpen it further, and wrote voluminous notes on slates and parchment to aid with memory recall.[6]

Dedicating himself to the study of hadith and maghazi narrations in his twenties, he studied under the Medinese scholars Said ibn al-Musayyib, Urwah ibn Zubayr, Ubayd-Allah ibn Abd-Allah and Abu Salamah, the son of Abd al-Rahman ibn Awf.[7] He referred to them as four "oceans of knowledge".[4] Using the traditions that were transmitted to him, Zuhri compiled a maghazi work of which fragments can be found in the writings of his students Ibn Ishaq and Ma'mar ibn Rashid.[8][9] He may have been the first to combine multiple maghazi reports into one to produce a single, coherent narrative with collective chains of narration - a technique later used by Ishaq and Al-Waqidi.[10]

Encounter with Abd al-Malik[edit]

In the account of the 9th-century Shia historian Ya'qubi, a teenage Zuhri was taken to caliph Abd al-Malik (r. 685–705) while visiting Damascus in c. AH 72 (691/692). The caliph sought to prevent the Syrians from performing the Hajj in Mecca, which was controlled by the Zubayrids. Adducing a hadith from Zuhri that permitted pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Abd al-Malik ordered the construction of the Dome of the Rock to serve as a site for a substitute pilgrimage.[11]

Ignác Goldziher states that Zuhri fabricated the hadith at the behest of the caliph.[12] However, the historicity of the encounter has been disputed by Muhammad Mustafa al-Azami, Nabia Abbott and Harald Motzki, as Zuhri was then a young and unknown figure, others also transmitted the hadith and his source Said ibn al-Musayyib would not consent to his name being used in a forgery.[13][14][15]

Patronage by the Umayyads[edit]

As his stature as a scholar grew, Zuhri came to the attention of the Umayyads. He enjoyed the patronage of Abd al-Malik after being introduced to him in c. AH 82 (701/702) and of his successor al-Walid I (r. 705–715).[16]

Zuhri's study circle was praised by the deeply religious Umar II (r. 717–720), who was engaged in scholarly pursuits in Medina. Upon his accession, he ordered prominent traditionists to commit their hadith to writing as part of his vision to codify the sunnah. Zuhri was tasked with compiling their manuscripts into books,[17] copies of which were sent to cities throughout the caliphate.[18]

During the reign of Yazid II (r. 720–724), Zuhri accepted an offer of judgeship from the caliph. He also served the Umayyads as a tax collector and as a member of the shurta.[19]

Hisham (r. 724–743) employed Zuhri as a tutor for his sons, permitting him to live at the court in Resafa.[20] There, Hisham compelled Zuhri to write down hadith for the young Umayyad princes - a move that troubled the scholar, who was opposed to the practice. He later complained about the coercion, adding "Now that the rulers have written it [hadith], I am ashamed I do not write it for anyone else but them."[21] Zuhri remained at Resafa for the next two decades, where he continued to teach new students and hold lectures in which he transmitted hadith.[9]

Retirement and death[edit]

Toward the end of his life, Zuhri retired to an estate granted to him by the Umayyads in Shaghb wa-Bada, located on the border of the Hejaz and Palestine. He died from illness in 124 AH/741-2 CE. In his will, he designated the estate as sadaqah and requested to be buried in the middle of a nearby road so that passers-by could pray for him. His grave was visited by al-Husayn ibn al-Mutawakkil al-Asqalani, who described it as being raised and plastered with white gypsum.[22]


Alongside the casual attendees of his lectures, Zuhri taught at least two dozen regular students. These included:

Relationship with the Umayyads[edit]

Views of Zuhri's contemporaries[edit]

Zuhri's attachment to the Umayyad court was negatively perceived by a number of his contemporaries. A statement attributed to Malik ibn Anas criticises Zuhri for using his religious knowledge for worldly gain,[26] while Yaḥya ibn Maʻin forbade comparisons of him with al-A’mash as he "served in the administration of the Umayyads". Others defended his integrity: Amr ibn Dinar implied Zuhri had no desire to forge traditions for the Umayyads, even in exchange for bribes.[27] Similarly, Abd al-Rahman al-Awza'i stated that Zuhri did not seek to appease the authorities.[27] In addition, Ma'mar ibn Rashid quotes Zuhri as laughing at the Umayyads' claim that Uthman, a member of the Banu Umayya, signed the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah rather than Ali.[28]

Views of modern scholarship[edit]

The exact nature of Zuhri's relationship with the Umayyads has been debated by modern scholars. In Goldziher's view, Zuhri was a pious scholar who was nonetheless compelled, if not willing, to forge traditions for them.[29] In contrast, Muhammad Mustafa al-Azami and Abd al-Aziz Duri argue for the independence of Zuhri. They cite instances where he refused to falsely answer religious questions in a manner that would benefit the Umayyads, and an incident where he threatened to kill a young al-Walid II, who he tutored, for his bad manners.[30] Michael Lecker argues against attempts to dissociate him from the Umayyads, but suggests he earned a degree of freedom within the court.[31]


Influence on hadith and maghazi-sirah literature[edit]

Zuhri's traditions and fiqh opinions were transmitted by his students and are included in Sunni hadith corpus. Zuhri is cited as an informant for approximately 3,500 narrations in the six canonical Sunni hadith collections.[2] Malik ibn Anas refers to Zuhri for 21% of the traditions in his Muwatta, while Ma'mar ibn Rashid and Ibn Jurayj refer to Zuhri for 28% and 6% of the traditions in their respective corpora in the Musannaf of Abd al-Razzaq.[32] Ma'mar and Ibn Ishaq, both students of Zuhri, rely heavily on their teacher's traditions in their respective prophetic biographies. Ma'mar's Kitab al-Maghazi relies heavily on maghazi traditions transmitted during Zuhri's lectures,[33] as does Ibn Ishaq's Sirat Rasul Allah, although the latter also includes large amounts of material from popular storytellers and Biblical accounts.[34]

Shia view[edit]

Shia scholars specialising in biographical evaluation hold differing assessments of Zuhri. Due to his service for the Umayyads, Shaykh Tusi, Allamah Al-Hilli and Muhammad Baqir al-Majlisi considered him a Sunni and an enemy of the Ahl al-Bayt; the latter grading him as a da'if transmitter. Despite this, Tusi includes traditions from Zuhri in his collections Tahdhib al-Ahkam and Al-Istibsar.[35] Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei and Muhammad Taqi Shushtari view Zuhri as a pro-Alid Sunni based on an account of him seeking the counsel of Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin after accidentally killing a person. For the same reason, a third group, including Muhammad Taqi Majlisi, maintains Zuhri was a Shia and that his traditions are authentic (sahih).[36]

Sunni view[edit]

Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri is regarded as one of the greatest Sunni authorities on Hadith. The leading critics of Hadith such as Ibn al-Madini, Ibn Hibban, Abu Hatim, Al-Dhahabi and Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani are all agreed upon his indisputable authority. He received ahadith from many Sahaba (Companions) and numerous scholars among the first and second generations after the Companions narrated from him.

On the other hand, in his famous letter to Malik ibn Anas, Laith ibn Sa`d writes:

Ibn Shihab would give many contradicting statements, when we would meet him. While if any one of us would ask him something in writing, he, in spite of being so learned, would give three contradictory answers to the same question. He would not even be aware of what he had said about the issue in the past. This is what prompted me to give up what you do not approve of [i.e. quoting a narrative on the authority of ibn Shihab].

Early Islamic scholars[edit]

Muhammad (570–632 the Constitution of Medina, taught the Quran, and advised his companions
`Abd Allah bin Masud (died 650) taughtAli (607–661) fourth caliph taughtAisha, Muhammad's wife and Abu Bakr's daughter taughtAbd Allah ibn Abbas (618–687) taughtZayd ibn Thabit (610–660) taughtUmar (579–644) second caliph taughtAbu Hurairah (603–681) taught
Alqama ibn Qays (died 681) taughtHusayn ibn Ali (626–680) taughtQasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr (657–725) taught and raised by AishaUrwah ibn Zubayr (died 713) taught by Aisha, he then taughtSaid ibn al-Musayyib (637–715) taughtAbdullah ibn Umar (614–693) taughtAbd Allah ibn al-Zubayr (624–692) taught by Aisha, he then taught
Ibrahim al-Nakha’i taughtAli ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin (659–712) taughtHisham ibn Urwah (667–772) taughtIbn Shihab al-Zuhri (died 741) taughtSalim ibn Abd-Allah ibn Umar taughtUmar ibn Abdul Aziz (682–720) raised and taught by Abdullah ibn Umar
Hammad bin ibi Sulman taughtMuhammad al-Baqir (676–733) taughtFarwah bint al-Qasim Jafar's mother
Abu Hanifa (699–767) wrote Al Fiqh Al Akbar and Kitab Al-Athar, jurisprudence followed by Sunni, Sunni Sufi, Barelvi, Deobandi, Zaidiyyah and originally by the Fatimid and taughtZayd ibn Ali (695–740)Ja'far bin Muhammad Al-Baqir (702–765) Muhammad and Ali's great great grand son, jurisprudence followed by Shia, he taughtMalik ibn Anas (711–795) wrote Muwatta, jurisprudence from early Medina period now mostly followed by Sunni in Africa and taughtAl-Waqidi (748–822) wrote history books like Kitab al-Tarikh wa al-Maghazi, student of Malik ibn AnasAbu Muhammad Abdullah ibn Abdul Hakam (died 829) wrote biographies and history books, student of Malik ibn Anas
Abu Yusuf (729–798) wrote Usul al-fiqhMuhammad al-Shaybani (749–805)Al-Shafi‘i (767–820) wrote Al-Risala, jurisprudence followed by Sunni and taughtIsmail ibn IbrahimAli ibn al-Madini (778–849) wrote The Book of Knowledge of the CompanionsIbn Hisham (died 833) wrote early history and As-Sirah an-Nabawiyyah, Muhammad's biography
Isma'il ibn Ja'far (719–775)Musa al-Kadhim (745–799)Ahmad ibn Hanbal (780–855) wrote Musnad Ahmad ibn Hanbal jurisprudence followed by Sunni and hadith booksMuhammad al-Bukhari (810–870) wrote Sahih al-Bukhari hadith booksMuslim ibn al-Hajjaj (815–875) wrote Sahih Muslim hadith booksDawud al-Zahiri (815–883/4) founded the Zahiri schoolMuhammad ibn Isa at-Tirmidhi (824–892) wrote Jami` at-Tirmidhi hadith booksAl-Baladhuri (died 892) wrote early history Futuh al-Buldan, Genealogies of the Nobles
Ibn Majah (824–887) wrote Sunan ibn Majah hadith bookAbu Dawood (817–889) wrote Sunan Abu Dawood Hadith Book
Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni (864- 941) wrote Kitab al-Kafi hadith book followed by Twelver ShiaMuhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (838–923) wrote History of the Prophets and Kings, Tafsir al-TabariAbu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari (874–936) wrote Maqālāt al-islāmīyīn, Kitāb al-luma, Kitāb al-ibāna 'an usūl al-diyāna
Ibn Babawayh (923–991) wrote Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih jurisprudence followed by Twelver ShiaSharif Razi (930–977) wrote Nahj al-Balagha followed by Twelver ShiaNasir al-Din al-Tusi (1201–1274) wrote jurisprudence books followed by Ismaili and Twelver ShiaAl-Ghazali (1058–1111) wrote The Niche for Lights, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, The Alchemy of Happiness on SufismRumi (1207–1273) wrote Masnavi, Diwan-e Shams-e Tabrizi on Sufism
Key: Some of Muhammad's CompanionsKey: Taught in MedinaKey: Taught in IraqKey: Worked in SyriaKey: Travelled extensively collecting the sayings of Muhammad and compiled books of hadithKey: Worked in Persia

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lecker 2012.
  2. ^ a b Calculated from the biodata at his entry in muslimscholars.info. He has 1186 narrations in Sahih al-Bukhari, 688 in Sahih Muslim, 678 in the Sunan of an-Nasa'i, 445 in the Sunan of Abu Dawud, 293 in the Sunan of Ibn Majah and 279 in Jami' al-Tirmidhi - a total of 3569.
  3. ^ al-Azami 1978, pp. 278-279.
  4. ^ a b Anthony 2015, p. xxiv.
  5. ^ al-Azami 1978, p. 278-279.
  6. ^ Duri 1957, p. 2.
  7. ^ al-Azami 1978, p. 279.
  8. ^ Duri 1957, p. 1-2.
  9. ^ a b Anthony 2015, pp. xv-xxix.
  10. ^ Görke 2011, p. 172.
  11. ^ Lecker 1996, pp. 41-42.
  12. ^ Goldziher 1971, p. 44.
  13. ^ al-Azami 1978, pp. 290-292
  14. ^ Abbott 1978, p. 21.
  15. ^ Motzki 2004, p. 114.
  16. ^ Abbott 1978, p. 21-22.
  17. ^ Abott 1957, pp. 24-25.
  18. ^ al-Azami 1978, pp. 280, 282.
  19. ^ Lecker 1996, pp. 23, 39.
  20. ^ al-Azami 1978, pp. 288-289.
  21. '^ Motzki 2004, p. 86, citing a narration found in Ibn Abd al-Barr's Jami: "The rulers made me write [the tradition down] (istaktabani). Then I made them (i.e. the rulers' princes) copy it (fa-aktabu-hum). Now that the rulers have written it (i.e. the tradition), I am ashamed I do not write it for anyone else but them."
  22. ^ Lecker 1996, pp. 54-59.
  23. ^ Anthony 2015, p. xxiv.
  24. ^ Motzki, Anthony et al. 2009, p. 10.
  25. ^ a b c d e f Abbott 1957, pp. 172-178.
  26. ^ Lecker 1996, p. 35.
  27. ^ a b Lecker 1996, p. 34.
  28. ^ Anthony 2015, p. 43. "Abd al-Razzaq said: Ma'mar reported to us: 'I asked al-Zuhri about this, and he laughed and said, "The scribe was Ali ibn Abi Talib, but were you to ask them - by which he meant the Umayyads - they would say it was Uthman."'
  29. ^ Goldziher 1971, p. 47. He says, "His piety probably caused his conscience to be troubled occasionally but he could not forever resist the pressure of the governing circles. [...] This account can only be understood on the assumption of al-Zuhri's willingness to lend his name, which was in general esteemed by the Muslim community, to the government's wishes"
  30. ^ See, for example al-Azami (1978) pp. 288-289 and Duri (1957) p. 11, where he says: "However, from a stormy argument from Hisham, it is evident Zuhri was free from Umayyad influence."
  31. ^ Lecker 1996, p. 37.
  32. ^ Motzki, Anthony et al 2009, pp. 5, 12, 18.
  33. ^ Anthony 2015, p. xix-xx.
  34. ^ Duri 1957, p. 12.
  35. ^ Vahidnia, Naqizaidh et al. 2014, pp. 7, 13.
  36. ^ Vahidnia, Naqizaidh et al. 2014, p. 8.


  • Lecker, M. (2012), “al-Zuhrī”, Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition, Edited by: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis, C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel, W.P. Heinrichs.
  • al-Azami, Muhammad Mustafa. (1978), Studies in Early Hadith Literature: with a critical edition of some early texts. Indiapolis, Indiana: American Trust Publications.
  • Duri, A. (1957), "Al-Zuhrī: A Study on the Beginnings of History Writing in Islam". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 19(1), 1-12.
  • Lecker, M. (1996), "Biographical notes on Ibn Shihab Al-Zuhri", Journal of Semitic Studies. 41. 21-63.
  • Rāshid, Maʿmar ibn; Anthony, Sean W. (2015), The Expeditions: An Early Biography of Muhammad. Edited by Joseph E. Lowry, NYU Press.
  • Goldziher, I. (1971), Muslim Studies, Vol. 2, edited by S. M. Stern and translated from German by C. R. Barber and S. M. Stern. London: Allen and Unwin.
  • Abbott, N. (1957), Studies in Arabic Literary Papyri II: Qur'anic Commentary and Tradition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Görke, Andreas (2011), “The Relationship between Maghāzī and Ḥadīth in Early Islamic Scholarship.” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, vol. 74, no. 2, 2011, pp. 171–185.
  • Motzki, H., Boekhoff-van der Voort, N., & Anthony, S. W. (2009), Analysing Muslim Traditions. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill.
  • Vahidnia, F., Naqizadih, H., & Raisian, G. (2014), Shi‘a Rijali Views of Muhammad ibn Muslim ibn Shihab al-Zuhri. Journal of Shi'a Islamic Studies 7(1), 5-21.
  • Motzki, H. (2004), Ḥadīth: Origins and developments. Routledge.

Further reading[edit]

  • There is a modern discussion of al-Zuhri, his life, works and legacy in the eighth chapter of Azami's Studies in Early Hadith Literature: Mohmammad Mustafa Azmi "Studies in Early Hadith Literature: with a Critical Edition of Some Early texts" 1st edition 1968, 3rd edition 1992 used, American Trust Publications, ISBN 0-89259-125-0.
  • Boekhoff-van der Voort, Nicolet, Umayyad Court, in Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God (2 vols.), Edited by C. Fitzpatrick and A. Walker, Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 2014, Vol. II, pp. 659–663. ISBN 1610691776 (an entry on the Umayyad court and, in particular, the impact of Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri by a leading specialist on al-Zuhri)

External links[edit]