Imam al-Layth’s letter to Imam Mālik

For the context of this letter, please refer to this post.

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

Form al-Layth b. Sa`d to Mālik b. Anas.

I salute you with peace and praise Allah besides whom there is no God.

May Allah grant prosperity to us both, and bless us with the good in this world and the next.

I have received your letter, and I am pleased to read that you are doing well. May Allah keep you like this, and may He complement it by helping you to thank Him and by increasing His favor upon you.

You wrote that you have looked through the books I sent you, corrected them and placed your seal on them. I have received them. May Allah reward you well for the work you’ve done. These were books attributed to you that came into my possession, and I wanted to verify them by having you examine them.

You mentioned that my requesting you to verify the things that had come to me from you motivated you to give me advice on your own initiative, and that you hoped your words would find a place in my regard. You assured me that you held back from doing so in the past only because I had refrained from bringing up such matters before, and not because of any lack of high regard for me.

You’ve heard that I have issued legal verdicts contrary to the practice of the community and country where you live, and that I must fear for myself because people depend upon my legal verdicts. Further, you say that the generality of people are but followers of the people of Madinah, since that was the place of emigration and that was where the Qur’an was revealed.

You are right in what you have written here, and it has met with my approval as you had wished. I do not think anyone associated with religious knowledge is more averse to issuing irregular legal verdicts than I am. Nor do I know of anyone else who holds the past scholars of Madinah in higher esteem or adheres more strongly to the legal verdicts in which they were agreed.

As for what you mentioned about the Prophet’s place in Madinah, and how his Companions witnessed the Qur’an being revealed to him, and how Allah taught them through him, and how the rest of the people as a consequence are their followers on account of it, it is all just as you say.

Then you go on to quote Allah’s words: “And the first to lead the way, of the emigrants from Mecca and the people of Madinah, and those who followed them in goodness, Allah is well pleased with them and they are well pleased with Him, and He has made ready for them gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever. That is the supreme triumph.” [Sūrah al-Tawbah: 100]

Many of those who were the “first to lead the way” left Madinah to strive in Allah’s path, seeking His pleasure in doing so. They mobilized armies and people mobilized around them. Being amongst the people, the Companions conveyed to the them Allah’s Book and the Prophet’s Sunnah, and withheld nothing from them that they knew.

In every contingent of people, there was a group who would, for Allah’s sake, teach Allah’s Book and the Sunnah of His Prophet. They would exercise their best judgment in the matters that the Qur’an and Sunnah didn’t clarify for them. They were corrected in their efforts by Abū Bakr, `Umar, and `Uthmān, whom the Muslims had chosen for themselves [as their leaders]. Furthermore, these three men did not neglect or ignore the Muslim armies. Quite the contrary, they would write to them on every possible occasion to establish the faith, and warn against dissension, all with reference to Allah’s Book and the Sunnah of His Prophet. They did not leave out anything that the Qur’an had explained or that the Prophet practiced or that the people decided upon after his demise. So if there is something that the Companions of Allah’s Messenger practiced in Egypt, Syria or Iraq during the time of Abū Bakr, `Umar and `Uthmān, and which remained in practice throughout their lives, and which they did not command the people to do differently, then we do not consider it allowable that the Muslim ranks would innovate a matter today that was not the practice of their predecessors from the Companions and their Successors, especially since most of the scholars have passed away and those who remain are not of the same caliber.

Moreover, the Companions of Allah’s Messenger disagreed on many of the legal verdicts they issued. I would have mentioned some of these disagreements to you, except that I know you are well aware of them.

Likewise, the Successors disagreed on many things after the time of the Companions, people of the caliber of Sa`īd b. al-Musayyib. Their disagreements were quite substantial.

Then those that came after them differed, and I’ve seen this everywhere, including Madinah. The foremost among them in those days were Ibn Shihāb [al-Zuhrī] and Rabī`ah b. Abī `Abd al-Rahmān. You are acquainted with some of Rabī`ah’s disagreements firsthand, since you were there. I heard what you said about that, and I have also heard what the senior authorities of Madinah said, people like Yahyā b. Sa`īd, `Ubayd Allah b. `Umar, and Kathīr b. Farqad, until what you disliked about it all forced you to stop attending his lessons.

I spoke with both you and `Abd al-`Azīz b. `Abd Allah about some of Rabī`ah’s opinions we took exception to, and you both agreed with me regarding what I disapproved of. All three of us disliked the same things. Still, Allah be praised, Rabī`ah possessed greet good. He was sensible, eloquent, and distinguished. His observance of Islam was impeccable. He had true love for his brothers in general and for us in particular. May Allah have mercy on him, forgive him and bless him with a reward even better than his deeds might have been.

Ibn Shihāb used to contradict himself a lot when we met him. When we would write to him, he would sometimes respond to a single question in three ways – despite the good sense and considerable knowledge he possessed – each contradicting the other, and he wouldn’t recall his previous opinions on the issue. This is what led me to stop accepting his opinions, though you disliked my doing so.

I know one of the things you fault me for is my not accepting his opinion that a Muslim in the army may combine two prayers together on a rainy night. Now Syria, Allah knows, gets much more rain than Madinah, but none of the people who led them ever combined two prayers together on a rainy night. Among them were Abū `Ubaydah b. al-Jarrāh, Khālid b. al-Walīd, Yazīd b. Abī Sufyān, `Amr b. al-`Ās, and Mu`ādh b. Jabal. You know what Allah’s Messenger said about him: “Mu`ādh b. Jabal is the most knowledgeable among them about what is lawful and forbidden.” He also said: “Mu`ādh will be one step ahead of the scholars on the day of judgment.

Then you have Abū Dharr, Zubayr b. al-‘Awwām and Sa`d b. Abī Waqqās in Egypt, and seventy Companions in Homs who had witnessed Badr, and they were with all the Muslim armies. Ibn Mas`ūd, Hudhayfah b. al-Yamān and `Imrān b. Husayn were in Iraq, and `Alī b. Abī Tālib spent a good number of years there as well, and he was accompanied by many other Companions. Never once did any of them combine the Maghrib and `Ishā’ prayers together…..

……I have also heard legal verdicts from you that I did not approve of, and I used to write to you about some of them, but when you did not write back to me on those matters, I feared that it bothered you, so I stopped writing to you about what I disliked and refrained from commenting on your opinions…..

…. Among these things is that you say that the Prophet gave Zubayr ibn al-‘Awwaam only the share of a single mounted fighter while scholars all narrate that he gave him four shares: two for each of the two horses and refused to give him anything for his third horse. The entire ummah is agreed on this hadith–the Syrians, the Egyptians, the Iraqis and the Africans, and no two disagree about it, so it is not appropriate for you to go against the entire ummah, even if you have heard something from someone you trust.

I have left out a lot of things like this. I hope that Allah blesses you with success in doing good and grants you a long life, because I have great hopes that that you will benefit the people and fear a great loss if someone like you were to pass away. Then I have my own feelings of contentment knowing you are there, even though you live so far away.

This is the esteem in which I hold you and what I really think of you, so believe it. Do not forget to write telling me your news and how your children and family are doing. Let me know if you, or anyone with you, needs anything, since it would be my pleasure to help out. At the time of writing this, we here are doing well and enjoying prosperity, may Allah be praised. We ask Him to grant us both the ability to thank Him for what He has given us, and to complete His favor and blessings upon us.

Peace be upon you.

 

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