Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri
ابن شهاب الزهري‎

Muhammad ibn Muslim ibn Ubaydullah ibn Shihab al-Zuhri
محمد بن مسلم الزهري

محمد بن مسلم بن عبيد الله بن عبد الله بن شهاب بن عبد الله بن الحارث
بن زهرة بن كلاب بن مرة بن كعب بن لؤى بن غالب بن فهر بن مالك بن النضر بن كنانة القرشى

Decorative Lines

Muhammad ibn Muslim ibn Ubaydullah ibn Shihab al-Zuhri (Arabic: ابن شهاب الزهري‎) (died AH 124/741-2), usually called simply Ibn Shihab or al-Zuhri. He was a central figure among the early collectors of sīra.

Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri

Muhammad ibn Muslim ibn Ubaydullah ibn Shihab al-Zuhri

  • Died: AH 124 (741/742)
  • Ethnicity: Arab
  • Era: Islamic golden age
  • Region: Damascus
  • Main interest(s): Hadith, sīra

Life

Ibn Sa’d has an account purporting to be in al-Zuhri’s own words describing how he left his home in Madinah, went to Damascus to standardise the application of law and was recruited into the administration of the Caliph Abd al-Malik. The Caliph observed that his father had supported Ibn al-Zubayr against him in the recent civil war. But the Caliph’s policy toward the Zubayrites was reconciliation and his father’s politics were not held against him.

No connected account of al-Zuhris life after that has come down to us. There is no evidence he ever again lived in Madinah. Abd al-Malik died in AH 86 (705 CE) and al-Zuhri continued to serve the Umayyad court the rest of his life. He died in AH 124 (741–2 CE).

In the initial conversation with Abd al-Malik the names of earlier Islamic scholars whom al-Zuhri had come in contact with in Madinah are mentioned: ‘Abdullah ibn Tha’laba al-‘Adawi (though he is disparaged), Said ibn al-Musayyib, Urwah ibn Zubayr, ‘Ubaydullah ibn ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Utba, Abu Bakr ibn ‘Abdul-Rahman ibn al-Harith, Kharija ibn Zayd ibn Thabit and ‘Abdul-Rahman ibn Yazid ibn Jariya. There are many stories about the strength of al-Zuhri’s learning and all the scholar’s in the west who were alive when he died quoted from him in their own works.

Some sources, but not Ibn Sa’d, say that he had a son named Ahmad ibn Abu Bakr al-Zuhri.[citation needed]

Umayyads

Many of the areas under the Umayyads had previously been under the Romans or the Persians and previously had their own legal systems. The Qazis used as judges by the Umayyads did not implement a standardised version of jurisprudence. To standardise the legal systems and in complex legal cases, many scholars in Madina would advice these judges.

To enhance their education, many Umayyad rulers also sent their children to Madina for education. Shihab al-Zuhri later worked in Damascus and also taught the son of Caliph Hisham (died AH 125/743). This does not mean that he supported the Umayyads. Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri felt that his student Walid would become a corrupt and oppressive ruler. His relationship with the spoilt prince Walid (ruled for one year 125 after al-Zuhri’s death) got so bad that Walid only survived after his father restrained Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri from killing him spoilt son

Sunni view

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.

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].

Non-Muslim view

Harald Motzki regards al-Zuhri as reliable.

Early Islamic scholars

Notes

Our sources do not agree about his name. The form used in the text comes from Ibn Ishaq where it appears on page 4 of Guillaume’s translation of “Sirat Rasul Allah”. On the other hand Ibn Sa’d (in Ayeasha Bewley’s translation called “The Men of Madina – vol II, pages 273–81) first says it was Muhammad ibn ‘Ubaydullah ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Shihab and then quotes him as saying his name was “Muhammad ibn Muslim ibn ‘Ubaydullah ibn ‘Abdullah ibn Shihab ibn ‘Abdullah ibn al-Harith ibn Zuhra

(Ibn Qayyim, a`laam al- Muwaqqi’in, vol. 3, [Beirut: Daru’l-Jayl], p. 85). This statement however did not prevent al-Laith from quoting many hadiths from al-Zuhri if we are to believe the isnads in al-Bukhari

  • The Quran
  • The Great Fiqh
  • Al-Muwatta’
  • Sahih al-Bukhari
  • Sahih Muslim
  • Jami` at-Tirmidhi
  • Mishkât Al-Anwar
  • The Niche for Lights
  • Women in Islam: An Indonesian Perspective by Syafiq Hasyim. Page 67
  • ulama, bewley.virtualave.net
  • Proof & Historiography – The Islamic Evidence. theislamicevidence.webs.com
  • Atlas Al-sīrah Al-Nabawīyah. Darussalam, 2004. Pg 270
  • Umar Ibn Abdul Aziz by Imam Abu Muhammad ibn Abdullah ibn Hakam died 829

Further reading

There is an excellent 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)

Biography of Imam
Ibn Shihab az-Zuhuree (d.292H)

His Name and Lineage:

He is Abu Bakr Muhammed ibn Muslim ibn Ubaydullah ibn Abdullah ibn Shihab ibn Abdullah ibn al-Harith ibn Zuhrah ibn Kilab ibn Murrah ibn Ka’b ibn Lu’ay ibn Ghalib al-Qurayshee az-Zuhuree al-Madanee.

His Birth:

He was born in the year 50 [AH] according to Duhaym, and according to Khalifah ibn Khayyat he was born in the year of 51 [AH].

His Appearance:

Sufyan said, “I saw az-Zuhuree with his hair flowing to his shoulders and his beard dyed in a fading red colour. It looked like as if he dyed it with katam. He was bleared-eyed. I was 17 years old when he came to visit us in the year 123 [AH] and he stayed until 124 [AH].

Malik was misled by az-Zuhuree’s dyed beard which made him think az-Zuhuree was a young man.

Layth ibn Sa’d said, “az-Zuhuree wore a garment dyed in red.”

His Teachers:

He narrated from Salh ibn Sa’d, Anas ibn Malik, Saaib ibn Yazeed, Abdullah ibn Tha’labah ibn Su’ayr, Muhmud ibn Rabee, Mahmud ibn Labid, Shabib Abu Jamilah, Sa’eed ibn Musayyab and many others.

Abu Hatim stated, “The most proficient of Anas ibn Malik’s students were az-Zuhuree, Qatadah and Thabit al-Bunanee, in that rank.”

az-Zuhuree related, “I sat with Sa’eed ibn al-Musayyab and I did not hear anything but the matters of the Hereafter. I sat with Ubaydullaah and I did not anymore with more rare narrations than him and I found Uwrah as an ocean of knowledge, who could not be disrupted by vessels.”

His Search for Seeking Knowledge:

Abu Zinaad said, “az-Zuhuree would write everything when he sought knowledge. I saw him with my eyes with slates which he used to write hadeeth on.”

Abu Zinaad said, “He used to carry with him wooden slates and paper on which we would write what he heard, and we used to laugh at him.”

Az-Zuhuree said, “My knees touched the knees of [I studied with] Ibn Musayyab for eight years.”

Az-Zuhuree said, “I moved inbetween Hijaz and Sham for forty-five years and I did not find a rare hadith neither did I find who narrate to me a rare hadith [which I didn’t know].”

His Manners in Seeking Knowledge:

Abdullah ibn Umar al-Umari mentioned that az-Zuhuree said, “I narrated a hadith to Alee ibn al-Husayn and when I completed doing so he said, “May Allaah bless you. That is how it was narrated to us.”

Malik said, “You did not use to write?” He answered, “No..” and did you not ask anything to be repeated? He answered, “No…”

Sa’d ibn Ibraheem said, “az-Zuhuree did not excel us in regards to knowledge except that he would ask anything he wanted and would not waste any effort.”

Az-Zuhuree said, “I have never asked a scholar to repeat what he said to me.”

Abu Zinaad said, “We used to follow az-Zuhuree when he would visit the scholars. He used to carry with him wooden slates and paper on which we would write what he heard.”

Malik said, “I read seventy ahadeeth to az-Zuhuree and I made an error in grammar in one of them, he said to me, “He shook his camel and angrily said, “People do not understand anymore.”

Az-Zuhuree used to seek knowledge from Urwah and other than him and when he would return home, he would wake one of his housemaids from sleep and tell her, “So and so narrated such and such..” She would asked, “What has that got anything to do with me!?” and he would replied, “I know it has nothing to do with you, however I just heard it and wished to revise it.”

Adh-Dhahee mentioned that az-Zuhuree disliked eating apples and used to drink honey he said that it helped his memory.

Az-Zuhuree used to say, “He would wishes to memorised ahadeeth should eat dried grapes.”

Praise for az-Zuhuree

Amr ibn Denaar said, “I have not seen anyone precise in their narration of hadeeth than az- Zuhuree.”

Sa’eed ibn Abdul Azeez said, “If knowledge comes to us from az-Zuhuree who is in Hijaz, we would accept it.”

Ahmed ibn Hanbal said, “az-Zuhuree is the best of people in regards to hadeeth and the most skilled in regards to their chain of narrations.”

Yahya ibn Sa’eed said, “No one from the people of knowledge had what ibn Shihab had.” Ayyoub said, “I have not met anymore more knowledge than az-Zuhuree.”

His Students:

Ata ibn Abee Rabah, Umar ibn Abdul Azeez, Ayyub as-Sakhtiyyani, Malik in Anas, Sufyan ibn Uyaynah, Ibn Jurayj, Ja’far ibn Barqan, Muslim, al-Bukharee and many others.

Yahya ibn Ma’een said, “The most reliable scholars with regards to narrating hadeeth from him were, Malik ibn Anas, Ma’mar, Yunus, Aqil, Shu’aib and Ibn Uyaynah.”

al-Awzaa’ee mentioned that az-Zuhuree gave him a script and said “Narrate its content with my permission.”

Some of the people of hadeeth did not relate knowledge from az-Zuhuree because of some things they saw him doing. Abu Ja’far ar-Raa’zee said, “I did not write any ahadeeth from az-Zuhuree because he used to dye his hair black.”

His Mannerisms:

Sa’eed ibn Abdul Azeez said, “We would go visit az-Zuhuree and he would host us with many types of foods.”

Adh-Dhahabee said, “az-Zuhuree was modest and highly respected in the government of Bannu Umayyah.”

His Death:

Ibn Sa’d, Khaleefah and az-Zubair said, “Ibn Shihab died on the 17th Ramadaan 124 [AH].”

Taken from Siyar A’laam an-Nubalaa of Imam adh-Dhahabee.

Imam Az-Zuhri

Imam Muhammad ibn Shihab Az-Zuhri [50 AH- 124 AH] was an erudite narrator of hadith, a brilliant, celebrated and generous scholar. Ibn Taymiyya described him in these succint but remarkable words : “Az-Zuhri has guarded Islam for about seventy years ”.

Birth and Childhood:

He was born in the year 50 AH. His full name was Muhammad ibn Muslim ibn Ubaidullah ibn Abdullah ibn Shihab ibn Abdullah ibn Al-Harith ibn Zuhrah ibn Kilab ibn Murrah ibn Ka’b ibn Luayy ibn Ghalib. He was mostly known as Az-Zuhri or Ibn Shihaab. Muslim bin Ubaidullah, father of Ibn Shihab was with Abdullah ibn Zubair. He fought on his side in the war against Banu Marwan. He was born after the era of four righteously guided Successors – during the Caliphate of Muawiyah.

Education:

Imam Az-Zuhri was indeed, an epitome of seeking knowledge. Allah endowed him with strong desire for knowledge, unrelenting determination and an unrivaled strong memory. Az-Zuhri started seeking knowledge very early in his life that he was able to narrate from some Companions, may Allah be pleased with them. He would tour all the regions in search of hadith, and he did not leave any place in which there was potential knowledge without travelling there. Some of his notable teachers are:

Saeed bin Al-Musayyab:

He sat in the company of Saeed ibn al-Musayyab for eight years and in other narration six years benefitting from his knowledge. It is narrated upon the authority of Sufyaan ibn uyaynah that Az-Zuhri said “We could only be able to get out hadith from Ibn Al-Musayyab when he was angry. I have sat down with him for six years with my knees touching his and I would not dare ask him about a hadith without adding, ‘so and so said such and such, and so and so said such and such’.”

  • Urwah bin Zubair ibn Al-Awwam:
  • Abu Salamah
  • Ubaidullah ibn Abdullah
  • Alqamah ibn Waqqas
  • Abdullah bin Umar: Two hadeeth from him

It is recored on the authority of Qatadah that the last companion to die in Makkah was Abdullah ibn Umar and Az-Zuhri was sixteen years old at that time.

Abdur Razzaq As- Sanani said that he asked Ma’mar as to whether or not Az-Zuhri heard from Ibn Umar, and that Ma’mar answered, “Yes, he heard from him two hadeeth.”

  • Anas bin Malik
  • Sahl ibn Sa’ad
  • Abu Hurayrah – One hadeeth recorded from him in Tirmidhi.

His Knowledge of Quran and Sunnah

Az-Zuhri memorized the Quran while he was young. He was so proficient in it that Nafi’, who was an imam in recitation of the Quran would recite to him. In addition to his erudition in recitation of Quran and its sciences, he had also collected the Sunnah and the traditions of the Companions. It was reported by Abu Dawud at-Tayalisi, He said “We found that most of the hadith is with four persons: Az-Zuhri, Qatadah, Abu Ishaq and Al-A’mash. Az- Zuhri is most knowledgeable of them in respect to isnad (chain of transmitters)”.

Shu’aib Abi Hamzah narrated that Az-Zuhri said, “I was travelling between Hijaz and Syria for forty five years and I did not find any unique hadith and I did not find anyone to benefit me with a unique hadith. [This means he had encompassed all the hadith that he missed nothing thereof]”

Abdur Rahman ibn Mahdi said he heard Malik ibn Anas saying, “I read seventy hadith to Az-Zuhri and I made a grammatical error in one hadith. He shook his camel and angrily said, ‘People no more understand’ ”

Imam Shafi’i narrated that Malik ibn Anas said, “Whenver Az-Zuhri entered Al-Madinah, no scholar would narrate hadith there until he left”

Lath ibn Saad, “I do not know a scholar who is more knowledgeable than Ibn Shihab. If you heard him exhorting, you would say, ‘This is his area of perfection.’ If you heard him speaking about the Arabs and their genealogy you would say, ‘This is the only area he specialized in’ and if you heard him speaking about the Qur’an and the Sunnah, his speech in these aspects would be most comprehensive.’”

Ma’mar narrated, “People mentioned Az-Zuhri and they did not find anyone to be compared him with except ash-Sha’bi”

Ibn Al-Madini said, “Knowledge about the trustworthy narrators revolved around six people: In Hijaz, there are Az-Zuhri and Amr ibn Dinar; in Basra, there are Qatadah and Yahya ibn Abi Kathir; and in Kufah, there are Abu Ishaq and al-A’mash”

Ibn Al-Madini also said, “Four scholars assumed fatwa: Hakam, Hammad, Qatadah and Az-Zuhri. But in my view, Az-Zuhri was the most learned of them all”

When the name of Az-Zuhri was to mentioned in the presence of Amr ibn Dinar, the later used to say “What does Az-Zuhri has? I met Jabir ibn Abdullah, and he did not met him; I met Ibn Umar and he did not meet him! ”. When Az-Zuhri came to Makkah, Amr (who was then unwell) was informed of his arrival. He was then taken to him on his request and when he met him he did not come back to his students until in the night. He was asked, ‘How did you find Az-Zuhri?’ He said, ‘By Allah, I have never seen someone who is like this Quraishi man!’

Students of Az-Zuhri:

Az-Zuhri was one of the greatest links of hadith narration between the companions and those who came after them. His chains are regarded some of the shortest and the most connected. This is the reason for which the scholars pay great attention to his students and their chains of narrators. Some of his main students are:

  • Yunus
  • Imam Malik ibn Anas
  • Sufyaan ibn Uyaynah
  • Ubaidullah ibn Umar
  • Ma’mar
  • Aqil
  • Shuayb
  • Al-Awzai
  • Laith ibn Sa’d
  • Abdur Rahman
  • Imam Al-Awzai
  • Some of his sayings

Az Zuhri said “There are three things if found in a judge, he is not a judge:

  • Dislike for criticism
  • Love of praise and
  • Aversion to removal from the position
  • ‘’Shunning the company of useless people is wisdom, and avoiding them is better than talking to them”

Death

Az-Zuhri once told Umar bin Abdul Azeez, ‘Commander of the faithful, remove al-Waleed. For, it is a manifestation of fulfilling your covenant to Allah to remove him.’ Umar ivn Abdul Aziz said, ‘I fear that the soldiers would reject that.’ And Az-Zuhri said, ‘Send me then to the soldiers. I will convince them one by one until they will all agree to his removal.’ But Umar refused. Al-Waleed then sent some people to Az-Zuhri’s property at Bada and it was destroyed and its date trees were felled.

Az-Zuhri upon knowing this sued Al-Waleed to the court of Umar bin Abdul Azeez. Az-Zuhri had bought the property from the people whom Messenger of Allah (saws) had allocated it to. He brought the documents to support his case against al-Waleed. Umar told Az-Zuhri, ‘There is no one who can give judgement against al-Waleed except you. So, make the decision.’

Thereupon Az-Zuhri said, ‘Commander of the faithful, order that a date tree should be planted in place of each tree that al-Waleed felled and each tree should be nurtured until it grows to the same level that it was before it was felled. Also, I should be paid compensation for the work I have done on it.’ Umar approved that decision and made it binding. Al-Waleed later would tell Az-Zuhri, ‘If one day Allah gives me power over you, you will know’ and az-Zuhri would say, ‘Allah is more just than to give a foolish person power over me.’

Al-Waleed ibn Yazid had vowed to kill Az-Zuhri if he became caliph, but Allah willed that the latter died few months before Al-Waleed’s assumption of the caliphate. Az-Zuhri died in the month of Ramazan in 124 AH. He died at Shaghab, a place between Al-Madinah and Ailah.