Imam Ibn Abidin

This biography of Imām Ibn Áābidīn Shāmī based on the biographical note in the preface of Radd al-Muĥtār, the Dār Iĥyā at-Turāth edition. Original Arabic by Shaykh Ábd al-Jalīl Áţā of Damascus.

Sayyid Muĥammad Amīn ibn Sayyid Úmar ibn Sayyid Ábd al-Ázīz ibn Sayyid Aĥmed ibn Sayyid Ábd ar-Raĥīm ibn Sayyid Najmuddīn ibn Sayyid Muĥammad Şalāĥuddīn better known as ‘Ibn Áābidīn’ is praised in these words: the prominent, praiseworthy and noble scholar; an ocean of knowledge; the master scholar [jahbadh]; the great jurist [faqīh]; the genius; the finest among the later scholars and the seal of the research scholars; one with an exalted ancestry [hasīb,nasīb]; the erudite Imām; the litterateur.

The Imām was born – raĥimahullāh – in Damascus (Syria), in a family of scholars and high ancestry in the year 1198 AH. His lineage reaches Sayyid Sharīf Zayn al-Áābidīn and from him to Sayyidah Fāţimah, the daughter of the Master of all creation, şallAllāhu álayhi wa sallam. Ibn Áābidīn’s father Sayyid Úmar and his mother were both famous for their righteousness and taqwā [being fearful of Allāh]. May Allāh have mercy on them.

He grew up in his father’s care in the Qanawāt area in Damascus. He memorized the Qur’ān at a very young age and was a frequent visitor at his father’s shop where he learnt the skills of the trade [to enable him earn an honest livelihood]. Sometimes, he would recite the Qur’ān in the shop. On one such occasion, a passerby objected to his recitation in a public place, since people neither listen to the Qur’ān nor pay heed to what is being recited. He also pointed out a few minor mistakes in his recitation. Immediately, he set out seeking good reciters to correct his mistakes.

He was referred to the master reciter of his time, [shaykh al-qurrā’a, állāmah] Muĥammad Saýīd ibn Ibrāhīm al-Ĥamawī (d.1236 AH). He perfected his tajwīd under him and memorized Shāţibiyyah, Maydāniyyah and Jazariyyah. He also learnt Shafiýī fiqh from him and memorized Az-Zabd. He learnt Arabic grammar and morphology [naĥw, şarf] before finally completing his studies and obtaining a general degree of authorization from him [ijāzatun áāmmah].
Allāh táālā had destined him to meet the greatest scholar of his age, Shaykh Shākir al-Áqqād, famously known as Ibn al-Miqdam Saád. Under him, he read books of Qur’ānic exegesis, juristic principles, inheritance, taşawwuf, mathematics [tafsīr, ĥadīth, uşūl, farāyiđ, taşawwuf, ĥisāb] and the rational sciences.
Áqqād was instrumental in changing his madh’hab to that of Imām al-Aážam [Ibn Áābidīn was a Shāfiýī earlier]. He read major books of Ĥanafī fiqh under him like Multaqā al-Abĥur, Kanz ad-Daqāyiq, its exegesis Baĥr ar-Rāyiq, Dirāyah and Hidāyah.

He began reading Durr al-Mukhtār under well-known scholars, the most famous among whom was Shaykh Saýīd al-Ĥalabī. Ibn Áābidīn’s meeting with Shaykh Shākir was a giant stride in his career as a scholar and a pilgrim upon the spiritual path. No wonder then, he remained in his company for seven years, after which Shaykh Shākir would present him to his own teachers and recommend them to grant him authorizations. His chain of transmissions [sanad] became more elevated and shorter than the earlier ones. He also became a member [murīd] of the Qādirī order to which he kept forever. [Ţarīqah of Ghawth al-Aážam Shaykh Ábd al-Qādir Jīlānī Rađiyallāhu ánhū]

After the death of Shaykh Shākir Raĥimahullāh, he continued studying under his deputy, Shaykh Saýīd al-Ĥalabī. Al-Ĥalabī was the most learned man in Shaykh Shākir’s circle and was also the foremost Ĥanafī scholar of his time. He loved Ibn Áābidīn so much that he did not start his lessons until Ibn Áābidīn was present. The lessons of Durr al-Mukhtār were held next to the Umawī mosque after morning prayers.
Ibn Áābidīn was very handsome and charismatic; he was tall and had a good physique. He was mild mannered, kind and always cheerful; yet, he was always dignified and poised. He had a certain awe about him which commanded respect. His speech was full of wisdom and foresight.

An Indian shaykh once told his teacher Al Áqqād, when he left Ibn Áābidīn behind waiting at the door: ‘Bring along the young man, for I see the light of Prophethood shine between his eyes’.
He received degrees of authorization from major scholars of his time, from his shaykhs, and their shaykhs. This was on account of his shaykh Áqqād, who introduced him to his own shaykhs and grand-shaykhs when he noticed the extraordinary intelligence, sincerety and talent of the young man. Given below are the degrees of the authorization he obtained:

  • A general degree of authorization from the famous shaykh, Muĥammad al-Kuzbarī al-Kabīr, the muĥaddith of his time who passed away in 1221 AH. He signed the certificate of authorization in the year, 1210 AH when Ibn Áābidīn was only a little over twelve years old.
  • Another general degree from the great scholar and famous muĥaddith shaykh, Aĥmed al-Áţţār who passed away in 1218 AH. He granted him this ijāzah in 1216 when he was about eighteen years old.
  • Another general degree of authorization from the great scholar, Al-Amīr al-Kabīr (d.1232 AH), which he had it sent to him in 1228 AH.
  • An ijāzah to narrate from the reciters of Damascus, through his first teacher Muĥammad Saýīd al-Ĥamawī (d.1236 AH) which includes many prominent scholars of that time.
  • And the degree from his own shaykh, Muĥammad Shākir al-Áqqād, famously known as Ibn Miqdam Saád.

Ibn Áābidīn began writing when he was barely seventeen. Among his earliest writings were annotations on books that he read from his shaykh, Áqqād, especially on Baĥr ar-Rāyiq and Durr al-Mukhtār.

He worked very hard and kept a steady progress until eventually, he become the foremost authority on Ĥanafī fiqh in his time. In the times of Shaykh Ĥusayn al-Murādi, he was made the chief muftī of Damascus. He received questions through mail from all over the world on various matters to which he replied, sometimes in a very detailed manner.

The Ĥāshiyah or the Marginalia on Durr al-Mukhtār, is his magnum opus in which he compiled the preferred rulings [of Ĥanafī fiqh], thereby making it an authority in the Ĥanafī madh’hab. Durr al-Mukhtār is a concise work; thus, many matters have been omitted to keep it concise. Sometimes, descriptions are cryptic except for a sharp eye and an experienced master. Ibn Áābidīn saw the need for its exegesis, and inclusion of many matters omitted therein.

Incidentally, earlier authors who attempted such a comprehensive work, passed away before they could complete their work. Usually these books did not progress beyond the section on ijārah [hiring, renting] like Fat’ĥ al-Qadīr [Kamāl ibn Humām] for example. Therefore, Ibn Áābidīn started his marginalia from the part on ijārah saying ‘If death takes me sooner, this should serve as the completion of the unfinished earlier ones. But if I live long enough, I shall return to make it a whole, complete work’

He began writing the Marginalia under the auspices of his shaykh, Saýīd al-Ĥalabī after he finished reading Durr al-Mukhtār the first time and from the notes he had made for the same. Thereafter, he read it once more with the annotations of Ibrāhīm al-Ĥalabī. In the meantime he would show his drafts to the shaykh who would be pleased and say: ‘The time has come for this huge collection to be finally ordered and the giant task to be completed’.

As mentioned earlier, he started from the part on ijārah and went on till the end. He then started it from the beginning and finished at ijārah. Once it was completed, he began ordering the manuscript, but death didn’t spare him time to complete the fair copy of his manuscript.

His son Álāuddīn, later completed the fair copy and appended his own notes spanning two separate volumes, and named it Qurrat al-Úyūn al-Akhyār, bi Takmalati Radd al-Muĥtār.

A pious life spent in earning the pleasure of his parents, and duteous to Allāh; a life spent in amassing knowledge and good deeds extinguished on Wednesday, the 21st of Rabiý ath-Thānī, 1252 AH. He was only 54 when he died.

His funeral prayer was led by his own teacher Saýīd al-Ĥalabī who broke down, weeping and clutching his his own beard said: ‘I was treasuring you, for what comes after my old age’. Prayers were held in the Sināniyyah mosque and he was buried – in accordance with his will – near the grave of Shaykh Álāuddin al-Ĥaşkafī, the author of Durr al-Mukhtār and next to the great muĥaddith Şāliĥ al-Jaynīnī in Damascus.
May Allāh be pleased with him and grant him the most extensive of paradises.


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