Laying the Foundation: A Historical Analysis of Kūfah’s Academic Development

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Translator’s Preface

The profound influence ones environment has in shaping his personality, worldview, public-spaces-01-islamic-archesand knowledge is a universally accepted fact. It is as the age-old proverb goes, “Tell me the company you keep, and I will tell you who you are.” As such, to appreciate the early Muslim scholars of ‘Irāq, in particular those of Kūfah, it is of paramount importance to understand the academic status of their hometown and those who helped shape it. The following is an excerpt from the book Fiqh Ahl al-‘Irāq which explains the stages the city of Kūfah went through until it developed into an unparalleled city of knowledge, from its inception when ‘Umar dispatched ‘Abd Allāh ibn Mas‘ūd (Allāh be pleased with them) until the era of Imām Abū Hanīfah.[1]

The author commences by highlighting the lofty rank and vast knowledge of Kūfah’s first mentor, ‘Abd Allāh ibn Mas‘ūd (Allāh be pleased with him). Thereafter, he speaks about the shift of the khilāfah in the era of ‘Alī (Allah be pleased with him) from Madīnah to Kūfah which increased the amount of Companions and scholars who travelled and took residence there. From among the Companions, one-thousand five hundred took residence in Kūfah, apart from those who spent time and taught there. Further, he enumerates the names of prominent students of ‘Alī and Ibn Mas‘ūd, such as Qādī Shurayh, Abīdah al-Salmānī, and ‘Alqamah who were leading authorities of their time. He then discusses the status of Ibrāhīm al-Nakha’ī and his student Hammād ibn Abī Sulaymān, who was the teacher of Imām Abū Hanīfah. By this, he establishes the chain of knowledge from the Companions until Imām Abū Hanīfah. He concludes with a few incidents on the excellence of Kūfah in the sciences of Hadīth, Fiqh, Arabic, and Qirā’ah.

An idiomatic translation was adopted and subtitles were added in many places to make the article more reader friendly. The footnotes of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Fattāh Abū Ghuddah and Mawlānā Yūsuf Banūrī were selectively added and notified; for the sake of brevity, these were often abridged. An attempt was made by the translator to reference all the quotations and necessary passages. These references alongside other footnotes from the translator were placed in square brackets.

Muntasir Zaman


Laying the Foundation: A Historical Analysis of Kūfah’s Academic Development

By ‘Allāmah Zāhid al-Kawtharī

Translated by Muntasir Zaman[2]

It is necessary now to preset the status of Kūfah from its inception until the era of Imām Abū Hanīfah, for the benefit of those who do not know how it was distinguished from other cities during that time until it evolved into the horizon of developed jurisprudence.

It is well known that until the culmination of the reign of the third rightly-guided khalīfah Madīnah (may Allāh increase its honor) was the cradle of revelation and the residence of most of the Companions (Allāh be pleased with them) except those who travelled to distant lands to fight in the path of Allāh, spread Islām, and educate the Muslims.

When (‘Umar) al-Fārūq became the khalīfah, and ‘Irāq was conquered at the hands of Sa’d ibn Abī Waqqās, he instructed the establishment of Kūfah. Thus, in the year 17 AH the city of Kūfah was founded. He placed around Kūfah the eloquent tribes of the Arabs and dispatched ‘Abd Allāh ibn Mas‘ūd to teach its residents the Qur’ān and educate them on matters of religion. And he told them, “I have preferred you with ‘Abd Allāh over myself.”[3]

‘Abd Allāh Ibn Mas‘ūd

‘Abd Allāh ibn Mas‘ūd secured such a lofty rank among the Companions that the likes of ‘Umar were in need of his knowledge and skill. It was regarding him ‘Umar stated, “A great vessel filled with understanding” and according to one narration “filled with knowledge.”[4] The following narrations were in reference to him:

  • “I am pleased for my followers what Ibn Umm ‘Abd is pleased for them.”[5]
  • “And hold firm to the covenant of Ibn Mas‘ūd.”[6]
  • “Whosoever wishes to recite the Qur’ān precisely as it was revealed, let him recite according to the recitation of Ibn Umm ‘Abd.”[7]
  • “Learn the Qur’ān from four people.” Among them, Abd Allāh ibn Mas‘ūd was mentioned first.[8]

Hudhayfah (Allāh be pleased him) said, “’Abd Allāh ibn Mas‘ūd resembled the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) the most in terms of guidance, conduct, and character, such that he would conceal himself from us by entering the Prophet’s home. The eminent companions of the Prophet knew that Ibn Umm ‘Abd was the closest to Allāh.” And Hudhayfah requires no introduction. The books of hadith are filled with narrations on the virtue of Ibn Mas‘ūd.[9]

‘Abd Allāh Ibn Mas‘ūd was fully dedicated to educating the people of Kūfah and teaching them the Qur’ān from the year Kūfah was established until the end of ‘Uthmān’s (Allāh be pleased with him) reign. A reliable scholar mentioned that four thousand scholars have studied under him and his students.[10] Alongside Ibn Mas‘ūd in Kūfah were the likes of Sa’d ibn Abī Waqqās, Hudhayfah, ‘Ammār, Salmān, and Abū Mūsā from among the selected Companions who assisted him in fulfilling his task.

When ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib (Allāh be pleased with him) shifted the khilāfah to Kūfah, he was pleased to see the large number of jurists therein and stated, “Allāh have mercy upon Ibn Umm ‘Abd, for he has filled this city with knowledge” and according to one narration “The students of Ibn Mas‘ūd are the lamps of this city.” The gate to the city of knowledge (i.e. ‘Alī Ibn Abī Tālib) paid no less attention to knowledge than he did; hence, he also took up the task of educating the people of Kūfah. Thus, after ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib made Kūfah the capital of the khilāfah and the high ranking Companions and their jurists moved there, it evolved into an unparalleled Islāmic city in terms of its abundant jurists, hadith scholars, and experts in Qur’ānic sciences and Arabic. [11]

While al-Jīzī and al-Suyūtī enumerate three-hundred Companions who resided in Egypt, you will find al-‘Ijlī enumerating approximately one thousand five hundred Companions, among whom were seventy participants of the battle Badr, to have taken Kūfah as their home, apart from those who resided therein for some time and disseminated knowledge after which they left. This was in Kūfah alone, let alone the other cities of ‘Irāq.

As for the mutilated words of Rabī‘ah and Mālik regarding the people of ‘Irāq, it is definitely unproven from them; such recklessness does not befit their status. There is no need to expound on this issue now, so we will suffice with an indication. It would take a massive book to document the biographical entries of the students of ‘Alī and Ibn Mas‘ūd (Allāh be pleased with them). There is a great opportunity for those who wish to write on this subject.

Masrūq ibn al-Ajda’, the senior Successor, said, “I found the knowledge of the Prophet’s companions reach it peak at six individuals: ‘Alī, ‘Abd Allāh, ‘Umar, Zayd ibn Thābit, Abū al-Dardā’, Ubayy ibn Ka’b. Thereafter, I found the knowledge of these six culminate at ‘Alī and ‘Abd Allāh.” Ibn Jarīr said, “No one had well-known companions who documented their verdicts and schools of thought in jurisprudence, except Ibn Mas‘ūd. He would abandon his opinion for the opinion of ‘Umar and would seldom oppose his view, and he would rescind his verdict for the verdict of ‘Umar.”

Among the jurists from the Companions were those who would advise their pupils to join Ibn Mas‘ūd as an acknowledgment of his vast knowledge, just as Mu’ādh ibn Jabal advised his pupil ‘Amr ibn Maymūn al-Awdī to join Ibn Mas‘ūd in Kūfah.

Students of ‘Alī and Ibn Mas‘ūd

I do not wish to enumerate the names of all the students of ‘Alī and Ibn Mas‘ūd, but there is no harm in mentioning a few:

  1. Abīdah ibn Qays al-Salmānī (d.72 AH). When approached with an intricate case, Shurayh would consult al-Salmānī, as mentioned in al-Muhaddith al-Fāsil of al-Ramahurmuzī.[12] Shurayh was known for his expertise in jurisprudence and judicial affairs.
  2. Amr ibn Maymūn al-Awdī (d.74 AH). As we mentioned, he was from the early companions of Mu’ādh ibn Jabal. He lived a long life and was a mukhadram.[13] He witnessed the days of Ignorance and performed one hundred Hajj and ‘Umrah.[14]
  3. Zirr ibn Hubaysh (d.82 AH). He lived a long life and was a mukhadram. At the age of one hundred twenty, he would lead the people in Tarāwīh.[15] He was the transmitter of Ibn Mas‘ūd’s Qirā‘ah, which was then transmitted by ‘Āsim, and Abū Bakr ibn ‘Ayyāsh transmitted it from him; this Qirā‘ah contains al-Fātihah and al-Mu’awwidhatayn. As for the anomalous modes of recitation transmitted from Ibn Mas‘ūd, they are not from his Qirā‘ah. Rather, they are words related from him regarding Tafsīr, which someone later documented as his Qirā’ah as is apparent from Fadā’il al-Qur’ān of Abū ‘Ubayd.[16] Zirr was the most proficient in Arabic; Ibn Mas‘ūd would ask him regarding Arabic. [17]
  4. Abū ‘Abd al-Rahmān ‘Abd Allāh ibn Habīb al-Sulamī (d.72 AH). He presented his recitation of Qur’ān to ‘Alī (Allāh be pleased with him) who was his source in Qirā’ah. He dedicated himself solely to teach Qur’ān to the people of Kūfah in the Masjid for forty years as related by Abū Nu’aym via his chain of transmission. Under the instruction of their father, both the martyred grandchildren (i.e. Hasan and Husayn) learned Qirā’ah from him. ‘Āsim learned the Qirā’ah of ‘Alī, which is the Qirā’ah transmitted by Hafs via ‘Āsim. The Qirā’ah of ‘Āsim via both routes are of the highest category of tawātur (mass transmission) in every link. Al-Sulami also presented his recitation of Qur’ān to ’Uthmān and Zayd ibn Thābit.[18]
  5. Suwayd ibn Ghafalah al-Madhhijī. He was born in the year of the Elephant. He accompanied Abū Bakr and those after him until he passed in the year 82 AH in Kūfah.[19]
  6. ‘Alqamah ibn Qays al-Nakha’ī (d. 82 AH). Ibn Mas‘ūd said regarding him, “I do not know anything except that ‘Alqamah also knows it.”[20] It is reported in al-Muhaddith al-Fāsil:

Al-Hasan ibn Sahl al-‘Adawī, from the people of Rāmahurmuz, narrated to us, he said: ‘Alī ibn al-Azhar al-Rāzī narrated to us, he said: Jarīr narrated to us from Qābūs, who said, “I asked my father, ‘Why do you go to ‘Alqamah and and not the companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)?’ He replied, ‘O my beloved son, because the companions of the Prophet consult him for legal opinions.’”[21]

He travelled to study under Abū al-Dardā’ in Shām, and to ‘Umar, Zayd, and ‘Ā’ishah in Madīnah. He was among those who collected the knowledge of all the cities.[22]

  1. Masrūq ibn (al-Ajda’/‘Abd al-Rahmān) al-Hamdānī (d. 63 AH). He lived a long life and was a mukhadram. He witnessed the days of Ignorance. He travelled extensively in the pursuit of knowledge.[23]
  2. Al-Aswad ibn Yazīd ibn Qays al-Nakha‘ī (d. 74 AH). He lived a long life and was a mukhadram. He visited Makkah eighty times for Hajj and ‘Umrah. He was the nephew of ‘Alqamah, and the maternal uncle of the Imām of ‘Irāq, Ibrāhim ibn Yazīd al-Nakha‘ī.[24]
  3. Shurayh ibn al-Hārith al-Kindī (d. 70 AH). He lived a long life and was a mukhadram. During the reign of ‘Umar (Allāh be pleased with him) he was the judge of Kūfah. He held this post for sixty-two years until the days of al-Hajjāj. ‘Alī ibn Abī Tālib (Allāh be pleased with him) said regarding him, “Shurayh, proceed, for you are most proficient among the Arabs in judicial affairs.[25][26] It suffices a judge to be accepted in judicial affairs during the era of the rightly guided khalīfahs and the Umayyad Dynasty. By means of his intricate verdicts, he nourished the jurisprudence of the people of Irāq and he trained them in practical jurisprudence.[27]
  4. ‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn Abī Laylā. He met one hundred twenty Companions, and was a judge. He drowned alongside ibn al-Ash‘ath and thus became a martyr in the year 83 AH.[28]
  5. ‘Amr ibn Shurahbīl al-Hamdānī
  6. Murrah ibn Sharāhīl
  7. Zayd ibn Sūhān
  8. Al-Hārīth ibn Qays al-Ju‘fī
  9. ‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn al-Aswad al-Nakha‘ī
  10. ‘Abd Allāh ibn ‘Utbah ibn Mas‘ūd
  11. Khaythamah ibn ‘Abd al-Rahmān
  12. Salamah ibn Suhayb
  13. Mālik ibn ‘Āmir
  14. ‘Abd Allāh ibn Sakhbarah
  15. Khilās ibn ‘Amr
  16. Abū Wā’il Shaqīq ibn Salamah
  17. ‘Ubayd ibn Nadlah
  18. Al-Rabī‘ ibn Khaytham[29]
  19. ‘Utbah ibn Farqad
  20. Silah ibn Zufar
  21. Hammām ibn al-Hārith
  22. Al-Hārith ibn Suwayd
  23. Zādhān Abū ‘Amr al-Kindī
  24. Zayd ibn Wahb
  25. Ziyād ibn Jarīr
  26. Kurdūs ibn Hāni’
  27. Yazīd ibn Mu‘āwiyah, among other students of ‘Alī and Ibn Mas‘ūd

Most of the abovementioned have met and studied under ‘Umar and ‘Ā’ishah as well. They would issue verdicts in the presence of the Companions. If the Hadīth or Fiqh of these personalities were read in the presence of an insane person he would regain his sanity! Thus, those who understand what they speak will not direct any criticism towards their Hadīth and Fiqh.

They were followed by a generation that did not meet ‘Alī or Ibn Mas‘ūd. However, they studied under their students, and collected the knowledge of the lands to their knowledge. Ibn Hazm only mentioned a small of fraction whereas their numbers are overwhelming and their affairs are well known.

We will not list their names here. However, we will draw the attention of the reader to the number of those Qurrā’ jurists in specific from the two generations who took up arms alongside ‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn Muhammad ibn al-Ash‘ath against al-Hajjāj al-Thaqafī, among whom were the likes of Abū al-Bakhtarī Sa‘īd ibn Fayrūz, ‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn Abī Laylā, al-Sha‘bī, and Sa‘īd ibn Jubayr. In Ahkām al-Qur’ān, al-Jassās writes “Four thousand Qurrā’ who were the greatest Successors and jurists took up arms against him. Alongside ‘Abd al-Rahmān ibn Muhammad ibn al-Ash‘ath they fought him.”[30]

A glance at the scholars of all the lands[31] will reveal that he who abandoned his father, accepted rewards from the judges, and complied to the rulers is regarded to be in the best condition. Few among them considered opposing injustice by exerting every conceivable effort. By virtue of this, the affairs of Kūfah in terms of religion, character, jurisprudence, Qur’ānic sciences, Sunnah, and Arabic is present before an unbiased researcher.

This is what prepared an unparalleled center for Kūfah over the centuries; if this were not the case, Kūfah would not have been the retreat for those conscious of their religion, with the oppressed fleeing to Kūfah throughout the days of oppression during the Umayyad era.

Sa‘īd ibn Jubayr alone gathered the knowledge of Ibn ‘Abbās such that he would tell the people of Kūfah when they would ask him for legal verdicts, “Is Ibn Umm al-Dahmā’ (i.e. Sa‘īd ibn Jubayr) not in your presence?”[32] This was to remind them of the vast knowledge Allāh granted him exclusively such that it would suffice them from the knowledge of Ibn ‘Abbās.

Ibrāhīm Al-Nakha‘ī

Ibrāhīm ibn Yazīd al-Nakha‘ī was from this generation. He gathered the scattered knowledge of both generations after studying under ‘Alqamah. Abū Nu‘aym said, “Ibrāhīm met Abū Sa‘īd al-Khudrī, ‘Ā’ishah, and the Companions after them (Allāh be pleased with them).”[33]

‘Āmir ibn Sharāhīl- regarding whom Ibn ‘Umar said when he saw him narrating reports concerning al-maghāzī (military campaigns), “He retains them better than me even though I witnessed them with the Messenger of Allāh (peace and blessings be upon him)”[34]-would prefer Abū ‘Imrān Ibrāhim al-Nakha‘ī over the rest of the scholars. When he (Ibrāhīm) passed away in the year 95 AH, he said to a person who attended the funeral, “You have buried the most knowledgeable person.” The person asked, “More knowledgeable than al-Hasan?” He replied, “More knowledgeable than al-Hasan, the people of Basrah, the people of Kūfah, the people of Shām, and the people of Hijāz” as related by Abū Nu‘aym via his chain of transmission.[35]

The experts regard the mursal narrations of Ibrāhīm al-Nakha‘ī authentic; rather, they prefer them to his musnad narrations as mentioned by Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr in al-Tamhīd.[36] Al-A‘mash said, “Every time I presented a narration to Ibrāhīm he knew something about it.”[37] He also said, “Ibrāhīm was an expert in distinguishing hadīths. When I would hear hadiths from some of our companions, I would present them to him.”[38]

Ismā‘īl ibn Abī Khālid said, “Al-Sha‘bī, Abū al-Duhā, Ibrāhīm, and our companions would gather in the Masjid and discuss hadith among themselves. When a legal verdict was required regarding which they lacked the necessary expertise, they would all turn to Ibrāhīm.”[39] Al-Sha‘bī said regarding Ibrāhīm, “He grew up in a household of Fiqh, so he acquired their Fiqh. Thereafter, he sat among us, acquired our finest Hadith, and added it to the Fiqh of his household. Thus, when we gave news of his demise, we actually gave news of the demise of knowledge. He left no one equal to him.”[40] Sa‘īd ibn Jubayr said, “You are asking me when Ibrāhīm al-Nakha‘ī is in your midst?”[41]

In Hilyat al-Awliyā’, Abū Nu‘aym transmits:

Abū Muhammad narrated to us: Abū Usayd narrated to us: Abū Mas‘ūd narrated to us: Ibn al-Asbahānī narrated to us: ‘Aththām narrated us from al-A‘mash who said, I have never seen Ibrāhim issue a ruling based on his logic.’”[42]

A similar report is found in Dhamm al-Kalām of Ibn Matt.[43] Accordingly, the opinions of Ibrāhīm al-Nakha‘ī transmitted in the chapters of jurisprudence- in al-Āthār of Abū Yūsuf, al-Āthār of Muhammad ibn al-Hasan, and al-Musannaf of Ibn Abī Shaybah, etc.- are regarded as ‘Āthār (non-prophetic narrations). Truth be told, he would narrate and exercise judgment. When he would narrate, he was evidence, and when he would exercise judgment, he was a shoreless ocean, as he fully possessed the necessary tools for ijtihād. He said, “Legal theory is incomplete without transmission, and transmission is incomplete without legal theory” as related by Abū Nu‘aym via his own chain of transmission.[44] This was the ideal methodology for practicing upon Hadith and legal theory.

In al-Faqīh wa al-Mutafaqqih, al-Khatīb said:

Abū Bishr Muhammad ibn ‘Umar al-Wakīl informed us: ‘Umar ibn Ahmad ibn al-Wā‘iz informed us: ‘Abd al-Wahhāb ibn ‘Īsā ibn Abī Hayyah[45] narrated to us: Muhammad ibn Mu‘āwiyah narrated to us: Abū Bakr ibn ‘Ayyāsh narrated to us:  al-Hasan ibn ‘Ubayd Allāh al-Nakha‘ī narrated to us:

I asked Ibrāhīm, ‘Have you heard (from those before you) the rulings that you issue?’ He told me, ‘No.’ I asked, ‘So you issue ruling without hearing them?” He, ‘I heard what I heard. When I am faced with something that I did not hear, I analyze it in light of what I heard.”[46]

This is what jurisprudence is in reality.

Hammād Ibn Abī Sulaymān

It was under the tutelage of such a high-ranking Imām that Hammād ibn Abī Sulaymān, the teacher of Imām Abū Hanīfah, acquired knowledge. Hammād was continuously in the companionship of Ibrāhīm. In Tārīkh Asbahān, Abū al-Shaykh said:

Abū Bakr Ahmad ibn al-Hasan ibn Hārūn ibn Sulaymān ibn Yahyā ibn Sulaymān ibn Abī Sulaymān narrated to us, he said: I heard my father say: my father narrated to me from my grandfather, he said:

Once Ibrāhīm instructed Hammād to purchase meat for one dirham in a basket. While returning, his father met him while he was on his conveyance and the basket was in his hand, so he rebuked him and threw it from his hand. When Ibrāhīm passed away, the people of hadith and the Khurāsānis came to the house of Muslim ibn Yazīd-the father of Hammād. At night, he came out to meet them with candle light due to the darkness of night. They said, “We are not looking for you; rather, we seek your son.” He went back in the house and told his son, “O my beloved son, attend to these people. I now understand that the basket (i.e. your service to your teacher) has brought you to these people.”

Prior to this, Abū al-Shaykh said:

Ahmad ibn al-Hasan narrated to us, he said: I heard my maternal cousin ‘Ubayd ibn Mūsā say: I heard my grandmother relate from her great grandmother ‘Ātikah the sister of Hammād ibn Abī Sulaymān, she said: al-Nu’mān would card cotton by our door, purchase milk and vegetables for us, and carry out other chores. When a person would come to ask a question, he would ask him what his question was. The questioner would say, “So and so” and he would reply, “The answer is so and so.” Thereafter, he would tell the questioner, “Wait a moment.” He would then tell Hammād, “A person came to ask so and so and I replied so and so. What is your opinion?” He would say, “They narrated to us so and so, our companions said so and so, and Ibrāhīm said so and so.” He would say, “Can I relate this from you?” He would answer in the affirmative. Thus, he would return to the questioner and say, “Hammād said so and so.”

This was their manner of accompanying and serving one another during their pursuit of knowledge. By virtue of this, they acquired the blessing of knowledge.

In al-Kāmil, Ibn ‘Adī narrated via the route of Yahyā ibn Ma‘īn from Jarīr, from Mughīrah, who said: Hammād ibn Abī Sulaymān said, “I met ‘Atā’, Tā’ūs, and Mujāhid. Your children are more knowledgeable than them; rather, your grandchildren are more knowledgeable than them.”[47] He only said this to acknowledge the bounty of Allāh, and to refute a Shaykh of hadith transmission who did not possess knowledge of jurisprudence such that he would incorrectly pass legal verdicts and say, “Perhaps some children here will oppose me in these verdicts.”

What benefit will ones seniority in transmission have when he is deprived of comprehension? By saying ‘children,’ he intended the junior scholars of Kūfah, such as Hammād and his companions. Hammād as well as his close companions surpassed them in jurisprudence. If you are in doubt, compare the Fiqh that has been inherited from this group and that group, then judge as you wish! The discussion is not regarding mere transmission.

In al-Kāmil, Ibn ‘Adī narrated via the route of Yahyā ibn Ma‘īn from Ibn Idrīs, from al-Shaybānī, from ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Iyās al-Shaybānī that he said, “I asked Ibrāhīm, ‘Who should I ask after you?’ He replied, ‘Hammād.’”[48] Hammād ibn Abī Sulaymān passed away in the year 122 AH.

Al-‘Uqaylī said:

Ahmad ibn Mahmūd al-Harawī narrated to us, he said: Muhammad ibn al-Mughīrah al-Balkhī, he said: Ismā‘īl ibn Ibrāhīm narrated to us: Muhammad ibn Sulaymān al-Asbahānī narrated to us, he said:

When Ibrāhīm passed away, a group of five Kufans among whom was ‘Umar ibn Qays al-Māsir and Abū Hanīfah collectively gathered forty thousand dirhams and went to al-Hakam ibn ‘Utaybah and asked, “We collected forty thousand dirhams to present to you so that you may lead us…” However, al-Hakam refused. Thus, they went to Hammād ibn Abī Sulaymān with the same proposal and he accepted…”[49]

Transmission and Comprehension

We will suffice on the above anecdotes of this generation, due to its abundant personalities and countless incidents, adding two more reports which display the vastness of Kūfah in transmission and comprehension in that generation.

In al-Muhaddith al-Fāsil, Abū Muhammad al-Rāmahurmuzī said:

Al-Husayn ibn Bayān narrated to us: Sahl ibn ‘Uthmān narrated to us: Hafs ibn Ghiyāth narrated to us from Ash‘ath, from Anas ibn Sīrīn who said, “I came to Kūfah and found four thousand people studying Hadith and four hundred who had already studied Fiqh.”[50]

Which city from the cities of the Muslims apart from Kūfah will you found such a large number of hadith scholars and jurists? This also shows that the responsibility of a jurist is extremely difficult because of which their numbers are not as many as the transmitters.[51] Al-Rāmahurmuzī also said:

‘Abd Allāh ibn Ahmad ibn Ma‘dān narrated to us: Madhkūr ibn Sulaymān al-Wāsitī narrated to us, he said: ‘Affān heard a group of people say, “we copied the books of so and so, and we copied the books of so and so,” so I heard him say:

I feel that people of this nature will not succeed. We would come to a person and hear from him what we did not hear from someone else, and we would go to that person and hear from him what we did not here from this person. Then we came to Kūfah and stayed there for four months. If we wanted to write one hundred thousand hadīths, we could have written them. However, we only wrote fifty thousand hadiths. We were only prepared to take from people dictation except for Sharīk because he refused us. We did not find anyone in Kūfah who was lahhān and mujawwiz (i.e. lenient in transmission and unmindful of proficiency). [52]

A city where the likes of ‘Affān wrote fifty thousand hadiths in four months with such composure whereas Musnad Ahmad contains much less than that. Can such a city be regarded as deficient in hadith? This is in spite of the fact that the hadiths of the Haramayn are common among the scholars of other cities in that generation due to their frequent Hajj trips. So many of them performed forty Hajj and ‘Umrah, or more. Abū Hanīfah alone performed fifty-five Hajj.[53] You will find al-Bukhārī say, “I fail to count the amount of times I entered Kūfah in the pursuit of hadith”[54] whereas he enumerates the amount of times he entered the remainder of cities. This also indicates towards the discussion at hand.

The previous report indicates that Kūfah was free from grammatical errors which Hijāz, Shām, Egypt were filled with in that era. You will find in the speech of Ibn Fāris his defense of Imām Mālik in this regard.[55] The statement of al-Layth regarding Rabī‘ah you will find in al-Hilyah[56] and the statement of Abū Hanīfah regarding Nāfi‘ in the book of Ibn Abī al-‘Awām.[57]

As for the statement transmitted from Abū Hanīfah, it is without a continuous chain.[58] Assuming it is correctly attributed to him, its reasoning in Arabic grammar is apparent.[59] In al-Lahanah, al-Mubarrad[60] went to great lengths in citing the stories of those who made grammatical errors, except for those from the cities of ‘Irāq. Mas‘ūd ibn Shaybah related some of them in al-Ta‘līm.[61]

Proficiency in Arabic

Moreover, (the people of) Egypt lived alongside the Copts and (the people of) Shām lived alongside the Romans, and Hijāz was visited by every kind of non-Arab particularly after the era of the senior Successors in addition to the absence expert linguists therein who would safeguard it from every intruder and those who make grammatical errors. As for Kūfah and Basrah, the Arabic language was developed therein. The people of Kūfah tended to the formation of all the Arabic dialects during the era of revelation to facilitate proper understanding of the secrets of the Qur’ān and Sunnah and the variations of Qirā’ah. The people of Basrah adopted the path of choosing between the dialects what deserved to be the future language. Thus, one of the two approaches cannot suffice without the other.

From this we learn the center of Kūfah in jurisprudence, Hadīth, and Arabic. As for the (sciences) of Qur’ān, then three of the seven Imāms (of Qirā’ah) were Kūfan: ‘Āsim, Hamzah, al-Kisā’ī. Add, Khalaf, the tenth from among the ten (Qurrā’). The explanation of the Qirā’ah of ‘Āsim has already passed.[62]


[1] Al-Kawtharī, Fiqh Ahl al-‘Irāq, pp.51-65

[2] The title has been changed by the translator.

[3] [Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqāt al-Kubrā, Beirut: Dār Sādir, ed. Ihsān ‘Abbās, vol.6, pp.7,8]

[4] [Ibid., vol.2, p. 344]

[5] [al-Hākim, al-Mustadrak, Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al’Ilmiyyah, ed. Mustafā ‘Atā, vol.3, p.359, no.5387/5388]

[6] [al-Tirmidhī, al-Jāmi‘ al-Kabīr, Beirut: Dār al-Gharb al-Islāmī, ed. Bashshār ‘Awwād, vol.6, p.149, no.3805]

[7] [Ibn Mājah, al-Sunan, Cairo: Dār Ihyā’ al-Kutub al-‘Arabiyyah, ed. Fuad ‘Abd al-Bāqī, vol.1, p.49, no.138]

[8] [al-Bukhārī, al-Jāmi‘ al-Musnad al-Sahīh, Beirut: Dār Tawq al-Najāh, ed. Zuhayr al-Nāsir, vol.5, p.36, no.3808]

[9] Among them is what al-Bukhārī and Muslim narrated in Sahīhayn via Masrūq who said: ’Abd Allāh ibn Mas’ūd said, “By Him besides whom there exists no deity, no chapter was revealed except that I know where it was revealed, and no verse was revealed except that I know where it was revealed. If I knew anyone more knowledgeable than me regarding the Qur’ān, who can be reached on camel back, I would travel to him.” In his book al-Tabaqāt al-Kubrā (vol.2, p.343), Ibn Sa‘d narrated via the illustrious Tābi‘ī Masrūq ibn al-Ajda‘, a senior scholar and jurist of Kūfah, who said, “I sat in the company of the companions of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and I found them like ponds from which water is extracted: a pond that quenches the thirst of one person, another that quenches the thirst of two people, another that quenches the thirst of ten people, another that quenches the thirst of a hundred people, and another that quenches the thirst of all the people in the world. I found ‘Abd Allāh ibn Mas‘ūd from the last category. (‘Abd al-Fattāh)

[10] He is Imām al-Sarakhsī: al-Mabsūt, vol.16, p.68. (al-Kawtharī)

[11] In al-Tabaqāt al-Kubrā (vol.6, pp.5-11), Ibn Sa’d wrote, “[Chapter:] Categories of the people of Kūfah, and naming those who resided in Kūfah from the Sahābah, Tābi‘ūn and those after them from the people of understanding and knowledge.” Thereafter, before mentioning the biographies of the Sahābah and those after them, he mentioned many statements from the Companions and Successors regarding the scholars from the Companions and Successors, the eminent influence, and lofty status among other cities Kūfah was blessed with. From them, I selected the following reports alongside their chains:

  • Wakī‘ ibn al-Jarrāh informed us, he said: Sufyān narrated to us from Habīb ibn Abī Thabit, from Nāfi‘ ibn Jubayr who said: ‘Umar ibn al-Khattāb said, “The authorities reside in Kūfah.”
  • Al-Fadl ibn Dukayn informed us, he said: Sharīk narrated to us from ‘Ammār al-Duhnī, from Sālim, from Salmān who said, “Kūfah is the dome of Islām and the people of Islām.”
  • Ahmad ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn Yūnus informed us, he said: al-Hasan ibn Sālih narrated to us from ‘Ubaydah, from Ibrāhīm who said, “Three hundred from those who pledged allegiance under the Tree and seventy Companions who participated in Badr came to Kūfah.”…
  • ‘Ubayd Allāh ibn Mūsā informed us, he said: ‘Abd al-Jabbār ibn ‘Abbās informed us from his father who said, “I sat in the company of ‘Atā’ and asked him questions. He asked me where I came from, so I told him from Kūfah. ‘Atā’ said, “Knowledge only comes to us from you (the people of Kūfah).”
  • In Siyar A’lām al-Nubalā’ (vol.8, p.208), al-Dhahabī mentioned in the entry of Qādī Sharīk al-Kūfī (d. 177 AH), “Sharīk said from Ash‘ath, from Muhammad ibn Sīrīn who said, ‘In Kūfah, I found four thousand youngsters in the pursuit of knowledge.” (‘Abd al-Fattāh, abridged)

[12] [See: al-Rāmahurmuzī, al-Muhaddith al-Fāsil, Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, ed. ‘Ajjāj al-Khatīb, p.241]

[13] [A mukhadram is he who was alive during the Days of Ignorance and the era of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), and he accepted Islam but did not meet the Prophet; see: Ibn al-Salāh, Ma‘rifat Anwā‘ ‘Ilm al-Hadīth, Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, ed. Nūr al-Dīn ‘Itr, p.303]

[14] [al-Dhahabī, Siyar A‘lām al-Nubalā’, Beirut: Mu’assisat al-Risālah, ed. Shu’ab al-Arna’ūt et al., vol.4, p.160]

[15] [This is mentioned regarding Suwayd ibn Ghafalah; see: al-Asfahānī, Hilyat al-Awliyā’, Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-‘Arabī, vol.4, p.174]

[16] [Abū ‘Ubayd, Fadā’il al-Qur’ān, Damascus: Dār Ibn Kathīr, ed. Marwān al-‘Atiyyah, p.325

[17] [Ibn Sa‘d, al-Tabaqāt al-Kubrā, Beirut: Dār Sādir, ed. Ihsān ‘Abbās, vol.6, p. 105]

[18] [al-Dhahabī, Siyar A‘lām al-Nubalā’, Beirut: Mu’assisat al-Risālah, ed. Shu’ab al-Arna’ūt et al., vol.4, p.267]

[19] [Ibid., p.69]

[20] [al-Mizzī, Tahdhīb al-Kamāl, Beirut: Mu’assisat al-Risālah, ed. Bashshār ‘Awwād, vol.20, p.305]

[21] [al-Rāmahurmuzī, al-Muhaddith al-Fāsil, Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, ed. ‘Ajjāj al-Khatīb, p.238]

[22] [al-Dhahabī, Siyar A‘lām al-Nubalā’, Beirut: Mu’assisat al-Risālah, ed. Shu’ab al-Arna’ūt et al., vol.4, p.53]

[23] [Ibid., p.63]

[24] [Ibid., p.50]

[25] You should keep in mind that this is coming from the person regarding whom it was said, “The most knowledgeable in judicial affairs is ‘Alī.” Only those people will recognize a person of virtue who are from among them. (Banūrī)

[26] [Ibn ‘Asākir, Tārīkh Dimashq, Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, ed. ‘Amr al-‘Amrawī, vol.23, p.22]

[27] [al-Dhahabī, Siyar A‘lām al-Nubalā’, Beirut: Mu’assisat al-Risālah, ed. Shu’ab al-Arna’ūt et al., vol.4, p.100]

[28] [Ibid, p.262]

[29] In Khulāsat al-Tadhhīb, al-Khazrajī spelled it in this manner i.e. on the scale of ‘Aylam. Others have spelled it as ‘Khuthaym’ on the scale of ‘Suhaym.’ (‘Abd al-Fattāh)

[30] [al-Jassās, Ahkām al-Qur’ān, Beirut: Dār Ihyā’ al-Turāth al-‘Arabī, ed. al-Qamhāwī, vol.1, p.88]

[31] The author is alluding to the distinguished status of Kūfah and its scholar in terms of knowledge, god-consciousness, scrupulousness, piety. This is important, so know it well. (Banūrī)

[32] [al-Asfahānī, Hilyat al-Awliyā’, Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-‘Arabī, vol.4, p.274]

[33] [Ibn al-Jawzī, al-Muntażam fī Tārīkh al-Mulūk wa al-Umam, Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, ed. Muhammad and Mustafa ‘Atā, vol.7, p.22 with a variation]

[34] [al-Tabarānī, al-Mu‘jam al-Kabīr, ed. Sa‘d al-Humayyid and Khālid al-Juraysī et al., vol.13, p.181, no.13885]

[35] [al-Asfahānī, Hilyat al-Awliyā’, Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-‘Arabī, vol.4, p.220]

[36] [Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, al-Tamhīd li mā fī al-Muwatta’ min al-Ma‘ānī wa al-Asānīd, Morocco: Wizārat ‘Umūm al-Awqāf, ed. Mustafā al-‘Alawī and Muhammad al-Bakrī, vol.1, p.38]

[37] [al-Rāzī, al-Jarh wa al-Ta‘dīl, Beirut: Dār Ihyā’ al-Trāth al-‘Arabī, ed. ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Mu‘allimī, vol.2, p.145]

[38] [al-Asfahānī, Hilyat al-Awliyā’, Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-‘Arabī, vol.4, p.219]

[39] [Ibid., p.221]

[40] [Ibid.]

[41] [Ibid.]

[42] [Ibid., p.222]

[43] [al-Harawī, Dhamm al-Kalām wa Ahlihī, Madīnah: Maktabat al-‘Ulūm wa al-Hikam, ed. ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Shibl, vol.2, p.184, no.333. The author’s name and lineage is as follows: ‘Abd Allāh ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn ‘Ali ibn Ja‘far ibn Mansūr [ibn Matt]; see: al-Dhahabī, Siyar A‘lām al-Nubalā’, vol.18, p.503. As such, it is clear that al-Kawtharī attributed the author of Dhamm al-al-Kalām to one of his ancestors higher up in his lineage.]

[44] [al-Asfahānī, Hilyat al-Awliyā’, Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-‘Arabī, vol.4, p.225]

[45] This narrator with his entire lineage was not found in the writing of our Shaykh al-Kawtharī. I corrected it from al-Faqīh wa al-Mutafaqqih. (‘Abd al-Fattāh)

[46] [al-Baghdādī, al-Faqīh wa al-Mutafaqqih, Saudī Arabia: Dār Ibn al-Jawzī, ed. ‘Ādil al-Gharāzī, vol.1, p.498]

[47] [Ibn ‘Adī, al-Kāmil fī Du‘afā’ al-Rijāl, Beirūt: Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, ed. ‘Ādil Ahmad, vol.3, p.5]

[48] [Ibid., p.6]

[49] [al-‘Uqaylī, al-Du‘afā’ al-Kabīr, Beirūt: Dār al-Kutub al-‘Iliyyah, ed. ‘Abd al-Mu‘tī al-Qal‘ajī, vol.1, p.304. al-Kawtharī left parts blank perhaps for the possibility of misunderstanding. He cited the entire quotation with the necessary clarification in his footnotes on Manāqib al-Imām Abī Hanīfah of al-Dhahabī (Hyderabad Deccan: Ihyā’ al-Ma‘ārif al-Nu‘māniyyah) p.14.]

[50]  [al-Rāmahurmuzī, al-Muhaddith al-Fāsil, Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, ed. ‘Ajjāj al-Khatīb, p.560]

[51] This was due to the difficulty of Fiqh, which was based on comprehension and deep insight of texts from the Qur’ān, Hadith, and non-prophetic reports, reconciling and giving preference between proofs, and the sciences of rhetoric and the Arabic language. There is no doubt in the ease of transmission for one who is dedicated merely to memorization, reception, and impartment. There are clear texts from accepted senior authorities of Hadith that show the difference in terms of difficulty and ease between the two sciences: Qur’ān and Hadith. Among them is this statement which our Shaykh cited from al-Muhaddith al-Fāsil of al-Rāmahurmuzī. Among them is what is mentioned in Manāqib al-Imām Ahmad of Ibn al-Jawzī (p.63), “Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Khallāl said:  Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Hamīd al-Kūfī narrated to us, he said: I heard Yahyā ibn Ma‘īn say-when he was asked regarding a juristic ruling- “This is not our task; it is the task of Ahmad ibn Hanbal.” (‘Abd al-Fattāh, abridged)

[52] [al-Rāmahurmuzī, al-Muhaddith al-Fāsil, Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, ed. ‘Ajjāj al-Khatīb, p.559]

[53] [al-Makkī, Manāqib al-Imām Abī Hanīfah, Hyderabad Deccan: Dā’irat al-Ma‘ārif al-Niżāmiyyah, vol.1, p.253]

[54] [Ibn ‘Asākir, Tārīkh Dimashq, Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, ed. ‘Amr al-‘Amrawī, vol.52, p.58]

[55] [Ibn Fāris, al-Sāhibī fī Fiqh al-Lughah al-‘Arabiyya, ed. Ahmad Hasan, p.34]

[56] [al-Asfahānī, Hilyat al-Awliyā’, Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-‘Arabī, vol.3, p.261]

[57] [Ibn Abī al-‘Awām, Fadā’il Abī Hanīfah wa Akhbāruhū wa Manāqibuhū, Makkah: al-Maktabat al-Imdādiyyah, ed. Latīf al-Rahmān al-Bahrā’ijī, p.127]

[58] [He is alluding to the words “bi Abā Qubays” in the following statement attributed to Imām Abū Hanīfah: lā wa law ramāhū bi Abā Qubays. According to common grammar laws, it should have been bi Abī Qubays.]

[59] [The statement of the poet is commonly presented in citations of Arabic grammar: “inna abāhā wa abā abāhā qad balghā fī al-majd ghāyatāhā.” Moreover, such usage is acceptable according to many Arab tribes. See: al-Kawtharī, Ta’nīb al-Khatīb, p.41.]

[60] [For the correct pronunciation of his title and the reason behind it, see: Mahmūd Mustafā, I‘jām al-A‘lām, Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, p.178]

[61] In the book entitled “Muqaddimat KItāb al-Ta‘līm” by Mas‘ūd ibn Shaybah al-Sindī, pp.223-231. (‘Abd al-Fattāh)

[62] [In the entry of Zirr ibn Hubaysh (#3) and ‘Abū ‘Abd al-Rahmān al-Sulamī (#4) mentioned above under the section “The Students of ‘Alī and Ibn Mas‘ūd.”]

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2 thoughts on “Laying the Foundation: A Historical Analysis of Kūfah’s Academic Development

    […] The profound influence ones environment has in shaping his personality, worldview, and knowledge is a universally accepted fact. It is as the age-old proverb goes, “Tell me the company you keep, and I will tell you who you are.” As such, to appreciate the early Muslim scholars of ‘Irāq, in particular those of Kūfah, it is of paramount importance to understand the academic status of their hometown and those who helped shape it. The following is an excerpt from the book Fiqh Ahl al-‘Irāq which explains the stages the city of Kūfah went through until it developed into an unparalleled city of knowledge, from its inception when ‘Umar dispatched ‘Abd Allāh ibn Mas‘ūd (Allāh be pleased with them) until the era of Imām Abū Hanīfah.[1] […]

    […] [14] On the academic standing of Kūfah, see: al-Kawtharī, Fiqh Ahl al-‘Irāq, pp.51-65. A translation of this section is available here. […]

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