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Early scholars of Islam

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Early scholars of Islam

This article is about the early scholars of Islam in the history of Islam.

Analyses and Study of Early Documents

Common calligraphic representation of Muhammad's name

The Quran sets the rights, the responsibilities and the rules for people and for societies to adhere to, for instance, not dealing in interest. Muhammand then provided an example, which is recorded in the hadith books, showing people how he practically implement these rules in a society. After the passing of Muhammad, there was a need for jurists, to decide on new legal matters where there is no such ruling in the Quran or the Hadith, example of Islamic prophet Muhammad regarding a similar case.[1][2]

All the Muslims follow the Quran and the example of Muhammad. The differences between the denominations in Islam are primarily political. The Sunnis give more importance to the Quran and the books containing the hadith, examples of Muhammad, but since all the early scholars and all the four caliphs worked together, the Sunnis accept all the first four caliphs, as they were elected by the community. They also accept all the early imams (scholars) for their knowledge. While the Shias who constitute around 10-20% of the Muslims are more hereditary and only accept Ali the fourth caliph and only accept the male descendent of Ali through his son Hussein as imams. But different branches of Shia accept different brothers.

All these scholars were taught by Muhammad's companions, many of whom settled in Madina.


Muwatta[3] by Malik ibn Anas was written as a consensus of the opinion, of these scholars.[4][5][6] The Muwatta[3] by Malik ibn Anas quotes 13 hadiths from Imam Jafar al-Sadiq.[7]

Much of the knowledge we have about Muhammand is narrated through Aisha the wife of Muhammad, also a renowned scholar of her time. Aisha raised and taught her nephew Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr.

Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakrs mother was from Alis family and Qasims daughter Farwah bint al-Qasim was married to Muhammad al-Baqir and was the mother of Jafar al-Sadiq. Therefore Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr was the grand son of Abu Bakr the first caliph and the grand father of Jafar al-Sadiq whose views the twelver Shias follow. The twelver Shia do not accept Abu Bakr as the first caliph but do accept his great grand son Jafar al-Sadiq.

Aishas also taught her nephew Urwah ibn Zubayr. He then taught his son Hisham ibn Urwah, who was the main teacher of Malik ibn Anas whose views many Sunni follow and also taught Jafar al-Sadiq. Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, Hisham ibn Urwah and Muhammad al-Baqir taught Zayd ibn Ali, Jafar al-Sadiq, Abu Hanifa, and Malik ibn Anas.

According to Ibn Katheer, Ibn Jareer said that the minister of marriage, Raja bin Haiwah for the Ummayad ruler Sulaiman said that when Sulaiman was on his death bed I told him "Indeed amongst the things that preserves the caliph in his grave is his appointment of a righteous man over the muslims." So he wrote a letter appointing a scholar from Madina, Umar bin Abdul Azeez. To allow the Ummayads to accept this, Raja then advised him to make his brother Yazeed bin Adbul Malik the successor after Umar bin Abdul Azeez.[8] Umar bin Abdul Azeez was a grand son of Omar, the second Caliph from his mothers side. After his appointment he set up a committee of the main jurist in Madina including Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, Urwah ibn Zubayr, Ubaidullah bin Abdullah bin Utbah, Abu Bakr bin Abdur-Rahman bin al-Harith bin Hisham, Abu Bakr bin Sulaiman bin Abu Hathmah, Sulaiman bin Yasar, Salim bin Abdullah, Abdullah bin Amir bin Rabee'ah and Kharijah bin Zaid bin Thabit, in Madina to advise on legal matters.[9] The work of Malik ibn Anas and successive jurists is also based on the work of this early committee in Madina. Malik ibn Anas also refers to there Fuqaha' of Madina.[10] Madina at the time had the largest number of Muhammad's companions.

Umar bin Abdul Azeez also reduced the taxes the Muslims were paying. This reduced the finances and reduced external expansion. After the death of Umar bin Abdul Azeez, the Ummayad ruler Yazeed bin Adbul Malik took over and tried to reinstate the taxes which resulted in rebellion. 30 years later the Ummayad rule came to an end.[11][12] During the Abbasids period fiqh became more centralized[13]

Jafar al-Sadiq, Imam Abu Hanifa and Malik ibn Anas worked together in Al-Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina. Along with Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, Muhammad al-Baqir, Zayd ibn Ali and over 70 other leading jurists and scholars.

Al-Shafi‘i was taught by Malik ibn Anas. Ahmad ibn Hanbal was taught by Al-Shafi‘i. Muhammad al-Bukhari travelled every where collecting hadith and his father Ismail ibn Ibrahim was a student of Malik ibn Anas[14][15][16][17][18][19]

In the books actually written by these original jurists and scholars, there are very few theological and judicial differences between them. Imam Ahmad rejected the writing down and codifying of the religious rulings he gave. They knew that they might have fallen into error in some of their judgements and stated this clearly. They never introduced their rulings by saying, "Here, this judgement is the judgement of God and His prophet."[20] There is also very little text actually written down by Jafar al-Sadiq himself. They all give priority to the Qur'an and the Hadith (the practice of Muhammad). They felt that the Quran and the Hadith, the example of Muhammad provided people with almost everything they needed.

"This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion" Quran 5:5.[21]

These Scholars did not distinguish between each other. They were not Sunni or Shia. They felt that they were following the religion of Abraham as described in the Quran

"Say: Allah speaks the truth; so follow the religion of Abraham, the upright one. And he was not one of the polytheists" (Qur'an 3:95).

They were against the formation of sects as described in the Quran

"Turn in repentance to Him, and fear Him and establish prayer and do not be of those who associate others with Allah or of those who have divided their religion and become sects, every faction rejoicing in what it has." (Qur'an 30:31-32).

Most of the differences are regarding Sharia laws devised through Ijtihad where there is no such ruling in the Quran or the Hadiths of Islamic prophet Muhammad regarding a similar case.[20] As these jurists went to new areas, they were pragmatic and continued to use the same ruling as was given in that area during pre-Islamic times, if the population felt comfortable with it, it was just and they used Ijtihad to deduce that it did not conflict with the Quran or the Hadith. As explained in the Muwatta[3] by Malik ibn Anas.[4] This made it easier for the different communities to integrate into the Islamic State and assisted in the quick expansion of the Islamic State.

To reduce the divergence, ash-Shafi'i proposed giving priority to the Qur'an and the Hadith (the practice of Muhammad) and only then look at the consensus of the Muslim jurists (ijma), and analogical reasoning (qiyas).[4] This then resulted in jurists like Muhammad al-Bukhari[22] dedicating their lives to the collection of the correct Hadith, in books like Sahih al-Bukhari. Sahih translates as authentic or correct. They also felt that Muhammads judgement was more impartial and better than their own.

During the Abbasid period, many history books were also written as a reference for future generations, recording everything people were saying about the early history of Islam. They were not subject to the same level of authenticity checks.

These scholars also laid the foundations of Science in the medieval Islamic world and some scientists and Mathematicians on the List of Muslim scientists were taught by these scholars, they then taught other scholars. Islam discourages the belief in superstition. Hence these scholars felt that humans could truly appreciate God magnificence, by studying Gods creation.

Quran 45:3[23] "Indeed, within the heavens and earth are signs for the believers."

For them Islam and science were linked[24][25][26] The students of these scholars also preserved and translated the Greek and Latin manuscripts during the Dark Ages in Europe. They were also instrumental in the making of the European Renaissance[27][28][29][30] Many of the early advances in astronomy were made because the Muslims relied on the Sun, the Moon and the stars for the times to pray, and the time of Ramadan and the direction to the Mecca, for the direction to pray and for navigation in the desert and the sea.

Scholars Diagram


Political denominational differences

The differences between the denominations in Islam are political and appeared after Muhammad due to politics in the Middle East.

Many nations in the Middle East like Egypt, Iran, Syria and Iraq are very old. The populations are very tribal and nationalistic. There were conflicts between them for thousands of years. First it was the Roman–Persian Wars. They led to the Byzantine–Sassanid wars. Then the Ottoman–Persian Wars started. In many cases the front lines were also at the same location, during the different wars.

In Syria and Iraq many Christian sects appeared along these tribal lines. Local populations of Jews and indigenous Christians, persecuted as religious minorities and taxed heavily to finance the Byzantine–Sassanid Wars, often aided Muslims to take over their lands from the Byzantines and Persians, resulting in exceptionally speedy conquests.

Umayyad Mosque

In 639, Muawiyah I was appointed as the governor of Syria after the previous governors Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah and Muawiyah brother died in a plague along with 25,000 other people.[44][45] To stop the Byzantine harassment from the sea during the Arab-Byzantine Wars, in 649 Muawiyah I set up a navy; manned by Monophysitise Christians, Copts and Jacobite Syrian Christians sailors and Muslim troops. This resulted in the defeat of the Byzantine navy at the Battle of the Masts in 655, opening up the Mediterranean.[46][47][48][49][50] Muawiyah's wife Maysun was also a Jacobite Syrian Christians from the Kalb tribe in Syria. Maysun often took her young son Yazid to Palmyrene in the Syrian desert, where he spent a lot of time with her bedouin tribe.[51]

The Quran and Muhammad talked about racial equality and justice as in the The Farewell Sermon.[52][53][54][55][56][57][58] Tribal and nationalistic differences were discouraged. But after Muhammad's passed away the old tribal differences between the Arabs started to resurface. Following the Roman–Persian Wars and the Byzantine–Sassanid Wars deep rooted differences between Iraq, formally under the Persian Sassanid Empire and Syria formally under the Byzantine Empire also existed. Each wanted the capital of the newly established Islamic State to be in their area.[42] Previously, the second caliph Umar was very firm on the governors and his spies kept an eye on the governors. If he felt that a governor or a commander was becoming attracted to wealth or did not meet the required administrative standards, he had him removed from his position.[59]

Early Muslim armies stayed in encampments away from cities because Umar feared that they may get attracted to wealth and luxury. In the process, they may get away from the worship of God and become attracted to wealth and start accumulating wealth and establishing dynasties.[60][61][62][63] "Wealth and children are [but] adornment of the worldly life. But the enduring good deeds are better to your Lord for reward and better for [one's] hope." Quran 18:46[64] "O you who have believed, let not your wealth and your children divert you from remembrance of Allah . And whoever does that - then those are the losers." Quran 63:9[65] Staying in these encampments away from the cities also ensured that there was no stress on the population and also that the populations remained autonomous and kept their own judges and representatives. Some of these encampments later grew into cities themselves, like Basra and Kufa in Iraq and Fustat in Egypt.[66] Some cities also had agreements with the Muslims, such as during the Siege of Jerusalem in 637 CE.

Uthman ibn Affan

As Uthman ibn al-Affan, the third caliph became very old, Marwan I a relative of Muawiyah I slipped into the vacuum and became his secretary and slowly assumed more control and relaxed some of these restrictions. Marwan I had previously been excluded from positions of responsibility. In 656, Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr the son of Abu Bakr and the adopted son of Ali ibn Abi Talib and the great grandfather of Ja'far al-Sadiq showed some Egyptians, the house of Uthman ibn al-Affan. Later the Egyptians ended up killing Uthman ibn al-Affan.[67]


Ali was then elected as the Caliph. The Iraqis wanted the capital of the newly established Islamic State to be in Kufa, in Iraq, so as to bring revenues into their area and oppose Syria, their old enermy previously under the Romans.[42] They convinced Ali to come to Kufa and establish the capital in Kufa. Ali listened to them and moved the capital to Kufa. Muawiyah I the governor of Syria, a relative of Uthman ibn al-Affan and Marwan I wanted the culprils arrested. Marwan I and some people in Iraq who later became the Kharijites manipulating every one and created conflict. Ali and Muawiyah got sucked in a continuation of the Roman-Persian Wars. The front lines were at the same location. Again it was the Syrians and the Iraqis fighting.

The Kharijites in Iraq were initially very extreme in their support of Ali's, but in the process caused a lot of trouble. Every time Ali tried to negotiate, they would attack at night and cause skirmishes. Later when Ali made peace with Mu'awiyah, they started to attack innocent people. They considered everyone as an enermy. Ali then had no choice but to confront them at the Battle of Nahrawan. Ali according to both the Sunni and the Shia books was against sectarianism. The following sermon of Ali exists in both the Sunni and the Shia books. It was given by Ali after the Battle of Nahrawan in which he tried to stop the Kharijites.

"Ali says: With regard to me, two categories of people will be ruined, namely he who loves me too much and the love takes him away from rightfulness, and he who hates me too much and the hatred takes him away from rightfulness. The best man with regard to me is he who is on the middle course. So be with him and be with the great majority of Muslims because Allah’s hand of protection is on keeping unity. You should beware of division because the one isolated from the group is a prey to Satan just as the one isolated from the flock of sheep is a prey to the wolf. Beware! Whoever calls to this course of sectarianism, even though he may be under this headband of mine."[68]

kharijites who were initially very extreme in their support of Ali's caliphate, later killed Ali after he made peace with Mu'awiyah.

After Ali was assassinated by Kharijites in 661 his son Hasan ibn Ali took over. Six months later in 661, in the interest of peace, Hasan ibn Ali, highly regarded for his wisdom and as a peacemaker, the fifth Rightly Guided Caliphs for the Sunnis and the Second Imam for the Shias and the grandson of Muhammad, made a peace treaty with Muawiyah I. In the Hasan-Muawiya treaty, Hasan ibn Ali handed over power to Muawiya on the condition that he be just to the people and keep them safe and secure and after his death he does not establish a dynasty.[69][70] This brought to an end the era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs for the Sunnis and Hasan ibn Ali was also the last Imam for the Shias to be a Caliph. Following this, Mu'awiyah broke the conditions of the agreement and began the Umayyad dynasty, with its capital in Damascus. Later his son Yazid I, an oppressive ruler took power.

All these original jurists and scholars then acted as a counterbalance, against the rulers. When they saw injustice, all these scholars spoke out against it. As the state expanded out side Madina, the rights of the different communities, as they were constituted in the Constitution of Medina still applied. The Quran also gave additional rights to the citizens of the state and these rights were also applied. Ali, Hassan and Hussein ibn Ali gave their allegiance to the first three caliphs because they abided by these conditions. Later Ali the fourth caliph wrote in a letter "I did not approach the people to get their oath of allegiance but they came to me with their desire to make me their Amir (ruler). I did not extend my hands towards them so that they might swear the oath of allegiance to me but they themselves extended their hands towards me".[71] But later as fate would have it (Predestination in Islam) when Yazid I, an oppressive ruler took power, Hussein ibn Ali the grand son of Muhammad felt that it was a test from God for him and his duty to confront him.

Then Aishas nephew Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakrs cousin confronted the Umayyad rulers after Hussein ibn Ali was betrayed by the people of Kufa and killed by Syrian Roman Army now under the control of the Yazid I the Umayyad ruler.[72] After a lengthy campaign, on his last hour Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr asked his mother Asma' bint Abu Bakr the daughter of Abu Bakr the first caliph for advice. Asma' bint Abu Bakr replied to her son, she said:[73] "You know better in your own self, that if you are upon the truth and you are calling towards the truth go forth, for people more honourable than you have been killed and if you are not upon the truth, then what an evil son you are and you have destroyed yourself and those who are with you. If you say, that if you are upon the truth and you will be killed at the hands of others, then you will not truly be free". Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr left and was later also killed and crucified by the Syrian Roman Army now under the control of the Umayyads.

Aishas brother Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr the son of Abu Bakr the first caliph and raised by Ali the fourth caliph was also killed by the Ummayads.[74] Aisha then raised and taught his son Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr who later taught his grandson Jafar al-Sadiq. In 740, Abu Hanifah supported his friend Zayd ibn Ali against an Umayyad ruler. Abu Hanifah, Malik ibn Anas and Zayd ibn Ali's family feared that Zayd ibn Ali would get betrayed in Kufa.[75][76][77][78] Zaydis believe that on the last hour of Zayd ibn Ali, he was betrayed by the people in Kufa who said to him: "May God have mercy on you! What do you have to say on the matter of Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Khattab?" Zayd ibn Ali said, "I have not heard anyone in my family renouncing them both nor saying anything but good about them...when they were entrusted with government they behaved justly with the people and acted according to the Qur'an and the Sunnah.".[79][80] In 767 Abu Hanifah died in prison when he refused to support the Abbasid ruler Al-Mansur and Malik ibn Anas was flogged.[81][82] Imam Ahmed Hanbal confronted a ruler and was tortured and sent to an unlit Baghdad prison cell for nearly thirty months.[83]

After witnessing what happens due to the lust for wealth and power, others like Hasan of Basra advocated piety and the condemnation of worldliness which later influenced the development of the Sufis. It was further developed by Al-Ghazali.

The Arabs were fighting along tribal lines and the Persians were fighting the Romans for hundreds of years before Muhammad. Muhammad managed to stop the Arabs from fighting each other by providing justice. But after his death the tribal differences resurfaced. Ali got stuck in their troubles. The troubles of Iraq and Syria at the time found their way into later history books and then into the sects in Islam. Ali and Muawiyah father were second cousins.

Some of the elite in the old empires of the Middle East felt discontented with the passage of their empires and did not like the Arab Caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar, their ideas eventually found their way into the religious differences. In many cases the preislamic customs of the populations that converted to Islam were also absorbed into their rituals.[84] This also amplified the differences. During the Arab-Byzantine Wars the Byzantines benefited when there were political disagreements between the Muslims and used the time to establishment of the themata.[85]

After the Mongolian invasion and the subsequent reduction in the literacy rates, people began to label them selves as belonging to denominations rather than actually reading the books of these scholars.

The major differences appeared and were institutionalised after the Safavid invasion of Persia by Ismail and the subsequent Safavid conversion of Iran to Shia Islam due to the politics between the Safavids and the Ottoman Empire.[86]

In 700/1301, Safi al-Din assumed the leadership of a significant Sufi order in Gilan, from his spiritual master and father-in-law Zahed Gilani. Due to the great spiritual charisma of Safi al-Din, the order was later known as the Safaviyya. Like his father and grandfather Ismail headed the Safaviyya Sufi order. An invented genealogy claimed that Sheikh Safi (the founder of the order and Ismael's ancestor) was a lineal descendant of Ali. Ismail also proclaimed himself the Mahdi and a reincarnation of Ali.[87] Ismail then invaded Iran.

Monument commemorating the Battle of Chaldiran built on the site of battlefield

After taking over Iran, Ismail then confronted the Ottomans and was defeated at the Battle of Chaldiran by the Ottomans. The consequences of the defeat at the Battle of Chaldiran were also psychological for Ismail: the defeat destroyed Ismail's belief in his invincibility, based on his claimed divine status.[88] His relationships with his Qizilbash followers were also fundamentally altered. The tribal rivalries between the Qizilbash, which temporarily ceased before the defeat at Chaldiran, resurfaced in an intense form immediately after the death of Ismail, and led to ten years of civil war (930-40/1524-33) until Shah Tahmasp regained control of the affairs of the state.

After the Battle of Chaldiran, to consolidate his position and get the Persians to back him he needed to create differences between the Ottomans and the Persians. He then imported Twelved Shia Imams from else where to convert the population. To consolidate their position, Ismail the leader if the Safavid's also exploited the deep rooted differences between areas formally under the Persian Sassanid Empire and areas formally under the Byzantine Roman Empire. Differences that existing from the Roman-Persian Wars and the Byzantine-Sassanid Wars.

Under the oppressive rule of dervishes (futuvva). Increasingly, members of the religious class, particularly the mujtahids and the seyyeds, gained full ownership of these lands, and, according to contemporary historian Iskandar Munshi, Persia started to witness the emergence of a new and significant group of landowners.[91] From then on many seyyeds also further propagated the idea that Ali should have been the first caliph and that by becoming the first caliph, Abu Bakr had broken the link that proved that they should have more rights.

Before that point Jafar al-Sadiq disapproved of people who said anything bad about his great grand father Abu Bakr the first caliph. Many early Scholars like Jafar al Sadiq who some shia follow and Qasim his grandfather from his mother side are as much related to Ali the fourth Caliph, as they are to Abu Bakr the first caliph.

Zaydis, the oldest branch of the Shia and the largest group amongst the Shia before the Safavid Dynasty in the sixteenth century and currently the second largest group, even used Hanafi jurisprudence like the Sunni.[20][92][93] As Abu Hanifa and Zayd ibn Ali worked together. Jafar al-Sadiq and Zayd ibn Ali did not them selves write any books. The Zaydis were also forced to convert to the Twelver Shia by the Safavids. Zayd ibn Ali was the son of Zayn al-Abidin and the uncle of Jafar al-Sadiq. Zaydis believe that on the last hour of Zayd ibn Ali, he was betrayed by the people in Kufa who said to him: "May God have mercy on you! What do you have to say on the matter of Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Khattab?" Zayd ibn Ali said, "I have not heard anyone in my family renouncing them both nor saying anything but good about them...when they were entrusted with government they behaved justly with the people and acted according to the Qur'an and the Sunnah."[79][80]

In the 18th century the Salafi movement led by Ibn Abd al-Wahhab in today's Saudi Arabia emerged.

All the early scholars and Muhammad had been against the development of sects and wanted people to follow the Quran and the example of Muhammad, but later money and politics, played a major part in the development of sects. Since the concept of God is so well defined in the Quran, that God is One and Only, is Eternal and Absolute and does not have children, so the only thing that they could differ on is politics i.e. who has the right to rule. Whether a ruler should be elected or be hereditary. The differences are almost entirely political.

Since the Constitution of Medina (Arabic: دستور المدينة‎, Ṣaḥīfat al-Madīnah), was drafted by the Islamic prophet Muhammad the Jews and the Christians continued to use their own laws in the Islamic State and had their own judges.[94][95][96]


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