A people disconnected from their past will never move confidently into the future. At Zaytuna College, we believe we must acknowledge and remain connected to the giants who have laid the intellectual and spiritual foundation upon which we aspire to build.
Imam Abu Dawud
(d. AH 275, Basra)
Abu Dawud opened a letter he addressed to the people of Mecca with the following advice: “Peace upon you. Verily, I encourage you to praise Allah, the one besides whom there is no other God. And I beseech (God) that He sends His mercy upon Muhammad, peace upon him, every time he is mentioned. May Allah grant all of us a state of well being that will never be followed by any tribulation or torment.”
Imam Abu Dawud (Sulayman b. al-Asha‘ab b. Ishaq al-Azdi) was a master hadith scholar who collected many hadiths. He traveled in search of hadith throughout the Muslim world. He is the compiler of one of the seven major hadith collections, Sunan Abu Dawud.
Qadi Abu Bakr b. al-‘Arabi
(d. AH 543, Fez)
“I utilized a small amount of a sort of learning, which is in fact closer to ignorance than knowledge, and accompanied it with a minimum amount of adab and yet it was enough to rescue us from death.”
Qadi Abu Bakr b. al-‘Arabi (Muhammad b. ‘Abd Allah b. Muhammad b. al-Mu’afiri) was a Maliki judge, hadith scholar, historian, and mujtahid; he traveled to the eastern Islamic world and studied with al-Ghazzali. His works include Awasim min al-qawasim and Aridat al-ahwadi, a commentary on Imam Tirmidhi’s book. His exegesis on the Qur’an is entitled Ahkam al-Qur’an. He is commonly confused with the Andalusian Sufi Muhyi al-Din ibn ‘Arabi.
Imam Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani
(d. AH 852, Cairo)
“By the gate of your generosity stands a sinner, who is mad with love./
O best of mankind in radiance of face and countenance!/
Through you he seeks a means (tawassala), hoping for Allah’s forgiveness of slips;/
from fear of Him, his eyelid is wet with pouring tears./
Although his genealogy attributes him to a stone (hajar),/
how often tears have flowed, sweet, pure and fresh!/
Praise of you does not do you justice, but perhaps,/
In eternity, its verses will be transformed into mansions./
My praise of you shall continue for as long as I live,/
For I see nothing that could ever deflect me from your praise.”
Imam Ibn Hajar al-'Asqalani (Ahmad b. Ali b. Muhammad) was originally from Asqalan (Palestine); early in his career he was interested in poetry and literature, later he turned to hadith and became a hadith scholar, encyclopedest, and historian. Though it was unusual at the time, his books became famous during his life. He was handsome, well to do, well traveled, and married scholarly women. He served as a judge in Egypt, and wrote a commentary on al-Bukhari, entitled Fath al-Bari, as well as histories and books on the hadith sciences, including biographies and assessments of accuracy of the chains of transmission. Al-Sakhawi, his student, wrote a grand biography of him, Jawahir wa durar.
(d. AH 256, Khartang)
“I used to earn five hundred silver coins a month and I spent them all seeking sacred knowledge. (This is because) what is with Allah endures.”
Imam al-Bukhari (Muhammad b. Ismail b. Ibrahim b. al-Mughira, Abu ‘Abd Allah) is the undisputed hadith master, compiler of the famed Sahih, and considered by Muslims to be the most authentic source for prophetic traditions. Many believe his work is second in importance only to the Qur’an. Al-Bukhari was an orphan; by the time of his death he had memorized hundreds of thousands of hadith and traveled throughout the Islamic world in his efforts to verify chains of hadith transmission. He is said to have prayed two rak’as for guidance before writing any hadith in the Sahih; he wrote many other books, including two well-known histories: al-Tarikh al-kabir and al-Tarikh al-saghir, and a work on literature: al-Adab al-mufrad.
Imam Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi
(d. AH 748, Damascus)
“(Knowledge is) not the profusion of narration, but a light which God casts into the heart. Its condition is followership and the flight away from egotism and innovation.”
Imam Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi (Muhammad b. Ahmad b. ‘Uthman, Abu ‘Abd Allah) was a historian, an expert in Qur’anic recitation, and a scholar of textual criticism of hadith. He wrote the twenty-three volume Siyar alam al-nubala’, which is known for its accurate descriptions of scholars, and a thirty-six volume history, Tarikh al-Islam al-kabir. Imam al-Dhahabi went blind seven years before his death.
Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali
(d. AH 505, Tus)
“Knowledge without action is insanity, and action without knowledge is vanity. Know that knowledge today will not distance you from sin, nor bring you into obedience, nor distance you from the fire of Hell tomorrow. If you do not act today and do not derive lessons from your past days, you will say on the Last Day: ‘Return us to our previous life, and we will do good deeds,’ and it will be said to you: ‘O Fool, it is from there that you have come.’”
Imam al-Ghazzali (Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Ahmad, Abu Hamid) traveled far and wide in search of knowledge. He was appointed professor in the prestigious Nizamiyah college in Baghdad, capital of Abbasid caliphate. He then left his teaching position for a life of asceticism. Al-Ghazzali was a Shafi‘i jurist and perhaps the Islamic world’s most famous Sufi author, popular until today for his very readable and clear works on Islam. His most famous work is Ihya ‘ulum al-din. He wrote Tahafut al-falasifah as a refutation of metaphysics.
Imam ‘Abd Allah b. Alawi al-Haddad
(d. AH 1132, Hadramawt)
“Be humble for humility is the attribute of believers. Beware of pride for God does not like the proud. Those who humble themselves are raised up by God, and those who are proud are abased by Him.”
Imam al-Haddad (‘Abd Allah b. Alawi b. Muhammad) was a Sufi and author of many books, including poetry, and the following: Aqidat al-tawhid, Da‘wat al-tamma wa tadhkirah al-ammah, Tabsirat al-waliy, and Masa’ilat al-sufiyah. He was blinded by chicken pox in his childhood; later in life, when oppressed by rulers of Tarim, he moved to al-Hawi. One of his students, Ahmad b. ‘Abd al-Karim al-Shajjar, collected his sayings into a book entitled Tathbit al-fu’ad.
Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali
(d. AH 795, Damascus)
“The scholars occupy the position of the prophets in a noble station between God and humanity.”
Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (‘Abd al-Rahman b. Ahmad) was a hadith scholar and jurist. He wrote a commentary on Imam Nawawi’s al-Arba’in, making them fifty hadith and calling it Jami’ ‘ulum wa al-hikam. He also wrote important works on jurisprudence and an influential book on Hanbali methodology.
Imam Raghib al-Isfahani
(d. AH 502, Isfahan)
“O One striving assiduously to hide his whims!
Verily, his strivings will only bring about more assiduousness.
The true lover (of God) has a voice rooted in his subconscious,
When it speaks his hidden whims will be known.”
Imam al-Isfahani (Abu al-Qasim al-Husayn b. Muhammad b. al-Mufaddal) was the author of al-Mufradat fi gharib al-Qur’an, a dictionary of uncommon terms in the Qur’an; he was known for his sharp intellect and quick mind.
Imam Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah al-Iskandari
(d. AH 709, Cairo)
“Nothing you seek relying on your Lord will ever be difficult, and nothing you seek relying on yourself will ever be easy.”
Imam Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah al-Iskandari (Ahmad b. Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Karim) was a Sufi imam and second in succession to al-Shadhili. He was the author of al-Hikam al-‘Ata’iyah, a significant work in the Shadhiliyah order. He adhered to the Maliki school with Shafi‘i leanings, and taught at al-Azhar.
Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyah
(d. AH 751, Damascus)
“(In Sura al-‘Asr), God swears, glorified is He, that everyone is lost except one who buttresses his intellectual strength with faith, who buttresses his physical strength with righteous deeds, and who buttresses others by counseling them with truth and patience. Truth is faith and righteous deeds, and the two of them are incomplete without patience.”
Imam Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyah (Muhammad b. Abu Bakr b. Ayyub) was one of the most famous students of Ibn Taymiyah; he was imprisoned with his shaykh in the citadel of Damascus. He is the author of many works on theology, jurisprudence, and Sufism; he wrote Zad al-ma‘ad while traveling on pilgrimage. His work ‘Ilam al-muwaqqi'in is a book on the foundations of jurisprudence. He also wrote on many aspects of earthly life, such as love, and he authored a comprehensive work on the effects of Satan on human affairs (Ighathat al-lafhan).
Imam ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani
(d. AH 561, Baghdad)
“When the thankfulness of the servant is genuine, it is not only a matter of utterance by the tongue, but also the heart's acknowledgment of the Lord's bestowal of gracious favor.”
Imam ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jilani (‘Abd al-Qadir b. Musa b. ‘Abd Allah, Abu Muhammad) was one of the great mystics of Islam and the founder of the Qadiri sufi order. He wrote al-Fath al-Rabbani, Futuh al-ghayb, Fuyudat al-Rabbani, and al-Ghunya li-talibi tariq al-haqq.
(d. AH 478, Nishapur)
“I do not eat or sleep out of habit, but only if sleep overcomes me whether by night or by day, and only if I need to eat, whatever the time.”
Imam al-Juwayni was a Shafi‘i jurist and theologian; the Nizamiyah school in Nishapur was built for him by Nizam al-Mulk. He wrote al-Burhan (lit., the proof) and al-Waraqat (lit., paper sheets, a popular manual set to verse that many memorized); extensive commentaries; a work on the principles of Islamic jurisprudence; and many works on theology, among which is al-Irshad and al-Shamil. Imam al-Ghazzali was among his most famous students.
(d. AH 264, Egypt)
“I have been looking into al-Shafi’i’s Risala for fifty years, and I do not recall a single time I looked at it without learning some new benefit.”
Imam al-Muzni (Ismail b. Yahya b. Ismail, Abu Ibrahim) was a student of Imam Shafi‘i, and a Shafi‘i scholar in his own right. He was considered a key promoter of al-Shafi‘i’s school and wrote al-Mukhtasar, a summary of the school’s rulings.
(d. AH 676, Nawa)
“The specifications of the Way of the Sufis are five: to keep the Presence of Allah in your heart in public and in private; to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet by actions and speech; to keep away from people and from asking them; to be happy with what Allah gave you, even if it is less; and to always refer your matters to Allah.”
Imam al-Nawawi (Yahya b. Sharaf Abu Zakariyah Muhyi al-Din) was an imam of the later Shafi‘i school, the author of Riyad al-salihin and Minhaj al-talibin. He wrote but did not complete his commentary on Sahih al-Bukhari; his complete commentary on Muslim’s Sahih is considered to be among the best in its class. He authored al-Arba’in, or Forty [hadiths] and many other works. He was known for his brave political stance and successfully petitioned the Mamluk sultan Rukn al-Din Baybars on behalf of Damascene residents who sought relief from heavy tax burdens during a drought that lasted many years.
(d. AH 671, Egypt)
“The scholars are those who know the power of Allah. They are in no doubt of His punishment no matter what the sin is.”
Imam al-Qurtubi (Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Abu Bakr, Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Ansari) was a scholar of hadith, theology or creed (aqidah), and author of the extensive Qur’anic commentary, al-Jami’ li-ahkam al-Qur’an. He also wrote on Arabic grammar and the science of Qur’anic recitation.
Fakhr al-Din al-Razi
(d. AH 606, Herat)
“The world is a garden, whose gardener is the state;
The state is the sultan whose guardian is the Law;
The Law is a policy, which is protected by the kingdom;
The kingdom is a city, brought into being by the army;
The army is made secure by wealth;
Wealth is gathered from the subjects;
The subjects are made servants by justice;
Justice is the axis of the prosperity of the world.”
Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (Muhammad b. Umar b. Hasan b. al-Husayn, Abu ‘Abd Allah) was an encyclopedist; he wrote on theology, philosophy, medicine, and a Qur’an exegesis (Mufatih al-ghayb), described by scholars as everything but Qur’anic commentary, because he included philosophy, theology, grammar, rhetoric, and more. He was known for his many public debates, which sometimes incited crowds and mobs against him. He was a luminary and a scholar’s scholar. He wrote a great work (al-Mahsul) on the principles of Islamic jurisprudence; considered a main text of the discipline.
(d. AH 902, Cairo)
“Whoever records a biography of a believer, it is as though he has brought him or her back to life.”
Imam al-Sakhawi (Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Muhammad) was a Shafi‘i jurist known for his biographies and histories, including al-‘Alan bi-al-tawbikh li man thamma ahl al-tarikh, a work on historiography. He was Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani’s neighbor and student; he traveled throughout the Islamic world, to Mecca, Medina, Damascus, and throughout Syria; ultimately he returned to Cairo where he taught hadith.
(d. AH 204, Cairo)
“Never do I debate a man with a desire to hear him err in his speech, or to expose the flaws in his argument, and thus vanquish him. Whenever I face an opponent in debate I silently supplicate, ‘O Lord, help him so that truth may manifest itself in his heart and on his tongue. If it be that the truth is on my side, may he follow me; and if the truth be on his side, may I follow him.’”
Imam al-Shafi‘i (Muhammad b. Idris b. al-Abbas, Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Qurayshi al-Makki) studied with Imam Malik and Abu Hanifah’s students in Baghdad, then moved to Egypt and founded the later Shafi‘i school. He authored al-Umm and al-Risalah, the original work on usul al-fiqh (Islamic jurisprudential principles). He traveled far and wide throughout the Muslim world in search of knowledge and spent time with Bedouins in order to learn classical Arabic before it was corrupted and changed by the growing Muslim world.
Imam Taj al-Din al-Subki
(d. AH 711, Cairo)
“I am among those individuals who if they hear something virtuous endeavor to spread it; if they see something questionable endeavor to hide it; and if they witness good in people that would move eyes to tears, endeavor to attach their hearts to it.”
Imam Taj al-Din al-Subki (‘Abd al-Wahhab b. ‘Ali b. ‘Abd al-Kafi, Abi Nasr) was a Shafi‘i jurist and the author of Tabaqat al-Shafi‘iyah al-kubra, a comprehensive biography of Shafi‘i scholars arranged chronologically, then alphabetically. Al-Subki was from a long line of scholars; his father was Taqi al-Din al-Subki, a contemporary of Ibn Taymiyah with whom he had many public debates.
Imam Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti
(d. AH 911, Cairo)
“Pursuit of the science of the hearts—knowledge of its diseases such as jealousy, arrogance and pride, and leaving them—are an obligation on every Muslim.”
Imam Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (‘Abd al-Rahman b. Abu Bakr b. Muhammad, Jalal al-Din) was a polymath: a hadith master, historian, and exegete. He is one of the famed Jalals of the Tafsir al-jalalayn. He grew up an orphan in Cairo; at the age of forty, he gave up successful work teaching and committed himself to writing books; and completed over five hundred books in various disciplines. Al-Suyuti wrote perhaps the most comprehensive manual on Qur’anic sciences, al-Itqan fi ‘ulum al-Qur’an, which he completely revised upon finding more source material. His autobiography is Tahadath bi na’mat Allah; it is unique in Muslim literature.
Imam Abu Ja’far al-Tabari
(d. AH 314, Baghdad)
“I am amazed by someone who recites the Qur’an and does not know its explanation. How can such a person find any enjoyment in his recitation?”
Imam al-Tabari (Muhammad b. Jarir, Abu Ja’far) is most known as a historian, jurisprudent, and Qur’an scholar. He founded his own school of fiqh (al-Jaririyah) and wrote a commentary on the Qur’an, Jami’ al-bayan, commonly known as Tafsir al-Tabari, as well as Tarikh al-rusul wa muluk, a multi-volume history.
Imam Abu Jaf’ar al-Tahawi
(d. AH 321, Cairo)
“Only a fanatic follows another blindly!”
Imam al-Tahawi (Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Salama, Abu Ja’far) was a Hanafi jurist and a hadith scholar who studied at al-Azhar. He studied with al-Muzni and was a Shafi’i jurist, then with Ahmad b. Imran and followed the Hanafi school. He is known for his work, al-Aqidah al-Tahawiyah, a concise summary of the essentials of the Islamic creed. He wrote a commentary on the Qur’an and a work on hadith work entitlied Mushkil al-athar.
(d. AH 544, Marrakesh)
“Advice for the sake of the common Muslims is to guide them to their best interests, help them in the affair of their religion, and this world by word and action, reminding those of them who forget, enlightening the ignorant, giving to the needy, veiling their faults, repelling what will harm them, and securing what will benefit them.”
Qadi Ayyad was a Maliki scholar of hadith and Arabic, and the author of al-Shifa’, a biography of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. He also wrote on hadith, including works on al-Muwtta’ and a highly regarded commentary on Sahih Muslim. His works on the hadith sciences continue to be studied by scholars today.
Imam Ahmad Ibn Ashir
(d. AH 1163, Sila)
“Depend on God. Be happy with what He sent.
Love God. Be abstinent and to Him repent.”
Imam Ibn Ashir (Ahmad b. Ashir b. ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Hafi al-Silawi) wrote a book titled al-Fahrasta, biographies of famous scholars of his time; and wrote Tuhfat al-za’ir, a biography of Ahmad b. Muhammad b. ‘Umar b. Ashir al-Andalusi who died in 764 or 765.
Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal
(d. AH 241, Baghdad)
“The best of my days is when I awaken and find my cupboards bare. For that is a day my reliance on Allah is complete.”
Ibn Ahmad b. Hanbal (Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Hanbal, Abu ‘Abd Allah al-Shaybani) was a scholar of hadith who traveled for sixteen years throughout the Islamic world in an effort to gather hadith. He memorized one million hadith, thirty thousand of which were recorded in his famous work, al-Musnad. He survived the trials (al-mihna) over the createdness of the Qur’an, a doctrine advocated by the Mut‘azili, who had persuaded the Abbasid caliph to adopt the position and enforce adherence to it.
Qadi Ibn Khaldun
(d. AH 808, Cairo)
“Prestige is an accident that affects human beings. It comes into being and decays inevitably. No human being exists who possesses an unbroken pedigree of nobility from Adam down to himself.”
Qadi Ibn Khaldun (‘Abd al-Rahman b. Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Muhammad) originally trained as a government employee and served under various rulers; his involvement in many (failed) usurpations led to his retirement from politics. He emigrated to Cairo, but in the course of the journey lost his family and all his property in a shipwreck off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt. In Egypt he was appointed a Maliki judge (and dismissed and reappointed many times); there he wrote his most famous work, al-Muqaddimah. This book is considered the first work on sociology and historiography, a science that he invented. Ibn Khaldun’s history, Kitab al-‘ibar, is one of the first detailed Berber histories. He was, during his long and eventful life, also ambassador (from Damascus) to Tamerlane.
Imam Malik b. Anas
(d. AH 179, Medina)
“The shield of the scholar is, ‘I do not know,’ so if he neglects it, his statement is open to attack.”
Imam Malik (Malik b. Anas b. Malik) was a jurist and founder of the school of Islamic law that bears his name; he wrote the famous book of hadith, al-Muwatta’, which is known for taking into consideration the practice of the people of Medina. He is also considered part of the golden chain of narration, the most authentic chain to be found in Bukhari and Muslim. Imam al-Shafi‘i was one of his most well known students.
(d. AH 185, Jerusalem)
Rabi'ah would say, before beginning her night prayers: ''The eyes have fallen asleep and the heedless are engulfed in their heedlessness. Now Rabi’ah, the sinner, stands before You. Perhaps You will gaze upon her with a blessed gaze that will prevent her from sleeping during the time of Your service.''
Rabi’ah al-‘Adawiyyah is, in the view of some, the first woman Sufi. Born in Basra to a destitute family, she eventually accepted the mystic path, became an ascetic under the tutelage of Hasan al-Basri, and later introduced her own spiritual insights to the Sufi tradition. In particular, she is the source of the concept of Divine Love (mahabbah), which emphasizes that an ascetic’s motivation in worship and the service of God should be love, not hope or fear.
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Imam Ahmad Zarruq
(d. AH 899, Takrin)
“Watch your eye, should it ever reveal to you the faults of others, say to it: ‘O my eye, other people have eyes too.’”
Imam Ahmad Zarruq (Ahmad ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Isa) was a scholar from Fes, Morocco. He was orphaned of both his mother and father within the first seven days of his birth. His grandmother, an accomplished jurist, raised him and was his first teacher. He later became one of the most prominent and accomplished legal, theoretical, and spiritual scholars in Islamic history, and is considered by some to be a renewer of his time (mujaddid). He was also the first to be given the honorific title “Regulator of the Scholars and Saints” (muhtasib al-‘ulama’ wa al-awliya’).