Yahya ibn Aktham

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Abu Muhammad Yahya ibn Aktham (Arabic: أبو محمد يحيى بن أكثم‎, died 857) was a ninth century Islamic jurist. He twice served as the chief judge of the Abbasid Caliphate, from ca. 825 to 833 and 851 to 854.


Yahya was born in Marw in Khurasan and was a member of the Banu Tamim; he himself claimed descent from the judge Aktham ibn al-Sayfi. He studied hadith and fiqh in Basra, and is usually characterized as having been affiliated with the Hanafis, but he may alternatively have been a Shafi'i or part of an independent Basran school. In 817-8 he was appointed as qadi (judge) of Basra, and he held that position until 825.[1]

Following his dismissal from Basra, Yahya was selected by al-Ma'mun (r. 813–833) to serve as chief justice (qadi al-qudat). Yahya enjoyed strong relations with the caliph and became an immensely influential member of the administration, with all decisions made by the viziers being reportedly submitted to him for approval first.[2] In 831 he participated in al-Ma'mun's campaign against the Byzantines and was put in command of a raiding party which set out from Tyana,[3] and in the following year he accompanied the caliph to Egypt and briefly acted as judge there.[4]

By the end of al-Ma'mun's reign, however, Yahya had fallen out of favor, and he decided to return to Iraq. Throughout his career he had been forced to defend himself against consistent allegations of pederasty,[5] and by the time of al-Ma'mun's death he was also facing accusations of financial mismanagement.[6] As a supporter of Sunni orthodoxy,[7] he was also opposed to the Mu'tazilite belief that the Qur'an had been created, which put him at odds with the caliph's adherence to Mu'tazilism.[8] Following the accession of al-Ma'mun's brother al-Mu'tasim (r. 833–842), Yahya lost his position and was replaced with the Mu'tazilite Ahmad ibn Abi Du'ad.[9]

In 851, following the abandonment of Mu'tazilism by al-Mutawakkil (r. 847–861), Yahya was again made chief judge and he moved to Samarra. During his judgeship he appointed a mix of qadis, selecting both men who had formerly been affiliated with Mu'tazilism, as well as those who appealed to the orthodox Hanbalis. He remained chief judge until July 854, when al-Mutawakkil dismissed him in favor of Ja'far ibn 'Abd al-Wahid ibn Ja'far ibn Sulayman. His money and land were also seized at the time of his dismissal, and he was placed under house arrest.[10]

In 857 Yahya decided to go on the pilgrimage and intended to take up residence in Mecca. Upon learning that al-Mutawakkil had forgiven him, he changed his mind and set out to return to Iraq, but he died on the journey in April 857 and was buried in al-Rabadhah.[11]


  1. ^ Ibn Khallikan 1871, pp. 33–36; Al-Mas'udi 1873, pp. 43, 48–49; Melchert 1997, pp. 43–44; Stewart 2004, p. 344; Bosworth 2002, p. 246.
  2. ^ Ibn Khallikan 1871, p. 34; Melchert 1997, pp. 44–45; Stewart 2004, p. 344; Bosworth 2002, p. 246.
  3. ^ Al-Tabari 1985–2007, v. 32: p. 188; Bosworth 2002, p. 246.
  4. ^ Ibn Khallikan 1871, p. 47; Al-Kindi 1912, pp. 441–42; Melchert 1997, p. 45; Stewart 2004, pp. 344–45; Bosworth 2002, p. 246.
  5. ^ Ibn Khallikan 1871, pp. 38 ff.; Al-Mas'udi 1873, pp. 43 ff.; Bosworth 2002, p. 246.
  6. ^ Al-Tabari 1985–2007, v. 32: p. 230; Melchert 1997, p. 45.
  7. ^ Ibn Khallikan 1871, p. 33-34.
  8. ^ Hinds 1993, pp. 2-3.
  9. ^ Melchert 1997, p. 45; Stewart 2004, p. 345; Bosworth 2002, p. 246.
  10. ^ Ibn Khallikan 1871, pp. 47–48; Al-Tabari 1985–2007, v. 34: pp 116-17, 131-32; Al-Mas'udi 1873, pp. 214–15; Melchert 1996, pp. 325–26, 327, 328, 329; Melchert 1997, p. 45; Stewart 2004, p. 345; Bosworth 2002, p. 246.
  11. ^ Ibn Khallikan 1871, p. 48; Al-Mas'udi 1873, p. 289; Melchert 1997, p. 43; Stewart 2004, p. 344; Bosworth 2002, p. 246.


  • Bosworth, C.E. (2002). "Yahya b. Aktham". The Encyclopedia of Islam, New Edition, Volume XI: W–Z. Leiden and New York: BRILL. p. 246. ISBN 90-04-12756-9.
  • Hinds, M. (1993). "Mihna". The Encyclopedia of Islam, New Edition, Volume VII: Mif–Naz. Leiden and New York: BRILL. pp. 2–6. ISBN 90-04-09419-9.
  • Ibn Khallikan, Shams al-Din Abu al-'Abbas Ahmad ibn Muhammad (1871). Ibn Khallikan's Biographical Dictionary, Vol. IV. Trans. Baron Mac Guckin de Slane. Paris: Oriental Translation Fund of Great Britain and Ireland.
  • Al-Kindi, Muhammad ibn Yusuf (1912). Guest, Rhuvon (ed.). The Governors and Judges of Egypt. Leydon and London: E. J. Brill.
  • Al-Mas'udi, Ali ibn al-Husain (1873). Les Prairies D'Or, Tome Septieme. Ed. and Trans. Charles Barbier de Meynard and Abel Pavet de Courteille. Paris: Imprimerie Nationale.
  • Melchert, Christopher (1997). The Formation of the Sunni Schools of Law, 9th-10th Centuries C.E. Leiden: Brill. ISBN 90-04-10952-8.
  • Melchert, Christopher (1996). "Religious Policies of the Caliphs from al-Mutawakkil to al-Muqtadir: AH 232-295/AD 847-908". Islamic Law and Society. 3 (3): 316–342. JSTOR 3399413.
  • Stewart, Devon J. (2004). "Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari's Al-Bayan 'an Usual al-Ahkam and the Genre of Usul al-Fiqh in Ninth Century Baghdad". In Montgomery, James E. (ed.). 'Abbasid Studies: Occasional Papers of the School of 'Abbasid Studies, Cambridge, 6-10 July 2002. Leuven: Peeters. ISBN 90-429-1433-5.
  • Al-Tabari, Abu Ja'far Muhammad ibn Jarir (1985–2007). Ehsan Yar-Shater (ed.). The History of Al-Ṭabarī. 40 vols. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Preceded by
Ali ibn Harmalah al-Taymi
Chief judge of the Abbasid Caliphate
ca. 825–833
Succeeded by
Ahmad ibn Abi Du'ad
Preceded by
Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Abi Du'ad
Chief judge of the Abbasid Caliphate
Succeeded by
Ja'far ibn Abd al-Wahid ibn Ja'far al-Hashimi