Muhammad ibn Sahnun

(d. 256) of North Africa

[For his lineage, see his father Sahnun]

He learned fiqh with his father and listened to Ibn Abi Hassan, Musa ibn Mu'awiya, 'Abd al-'Aziz ibn Yahya al-Madani and others.

He travelled to the east and in Madina he met Abu Mus'ab az-Zuhri and Ibn Kasib. He listened to Salama ibn Shabib.

Abu al-'Arab said, "He was an imam in fiqh and reliable. He possessed knowledge how to defend the positions of the people of Madina. He knew traditions and was a sound writer. There was no one in his time more skilled in the various categories of knowledge than him as far as I know."

Abu Ibn Dulaym said, "Fiqh and debate were his major interests. He had eloquent proof and defense of the Sunna and the school."

Ibn Harith said, "He was a man of knowledge, an eminent faqih, skilled in fiqh and investigation. He knew the differences of the people and how to refute the people of sects and to defend the school of Malik. He was capable of writing well and he sat in his father's seat after his death."

Yahya ibn 'Umar said, "Ibn Sahnun was the most abundant of the people in proof and the most informed of them in it. He used to debate his father and he used to listen to some of his father's books during his lifetime. People studied with him before his father came out. When his father came out, he sat with the people to listen to his father along with them."

Sahnun said, "I only compare him to Ashhab."

He said, "I was not cheated in my son Muhammad except that I feared that his life might be short."

Sahnun used to say to his teacher, "Only teach him by kind words and praise. He is not one of those who learn through rebuke and beating. Leave him to my luck. I hope that he will be unparallelled and the unique one of his age."

'Isa ibn Miskin was asked, "Who was the best you saw in knowledge?" He replied, "Muhammad ibn Sahnun."

He also said, "I have not seen anyone after Sahnun like his son. That was the opinion of the community in the east as well as others."

Hamdis al-Qattan said, "I saw the scholars at Makka, Madina and Egypt. I did not see the like of Sahnun among them, nor the like of his son after him."

Ibn Mughith mentioned that he was mentioned to Qadi Isma'il ibn Ishaq. He said regarding him, "An imam son of an imam."

It was mentioned to him once what the Iraqis had written in books. Isma'il said to him, "We have someone who wrote twenty sections on the questions of jihad. That was Muhammad ibn Sahnun." He boasted it over the people of Iraq.

Ibn Harith said, "He was one of the foremost huffaz in free debate. He wrote many books and talented writing. He had about 200 books on various areas of knowledge."

When Muhammad ibn 'Abdullah ibn 'Abd al-Hakam examined his book and the book of Ibn 'Abdus, he said about Ibn 'Abdus's book, "This is the book of a man who has brought the knowledge of Malik properly." He said on Ibn Sahnun's book, "This is the book of a man who glorified Allah through knowledge."

Ibn al-Jazzar said, "Ibn Sahnun was the Imam of his age in the school of the people of Madina in the Maghrib, combining qualities which are rarely combined in others. He had skilled fiqh, knowledge of tradition, debate and hadith and defense of the school of the people of the Hijaz. He was generous with his property, noble in his company, helping people, obeyed, magnanimous with his property and rank, and notable with kings and common folk. He had excellent insight into important matters."

Hamdis said, "I went one day to Muhammad ibn Sahnun and he brought out the Book of the Retraction of Testimony for me and asked me, 'Whose handwriting is it?' I said, 'Sahnun's handwriting.'

"The two sons of Ibn 'Abdus denied that it was by Sahnun. He said to a man, 'Take the book to them and do not let them touch it. Show it to them page by page and ask them, 'Whose handwriting is it?'

"The man did that and they said, 'The handwriting of Sahnun, but we did not think that.'

"He said 'Tell them, "Wretches! My station is your station, but I am with him in the house while you are outside!"'"

His books

Ibn Sahnun wrote his book, al-Musnad, on hadith (and it is large), and his great book called the Collection. In it he compiled the various types of knowledge and fiqh. There are a number of books on it, about sixty in number. He has another book other types of knowledge as well.

They include the Book of Travel in 20 books, his Book on Teachers, his Treatise on the One who cursed the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, a treatise on the proper behaviour of adversaries in two parts, a book on the explanation of the Muwatta' in four sections, the Book of the Proof against the Qadariyya, the Book of the Proof against the Christians, The Book of Ibaha (Free-thinking), the Book of the Refutation of the Speculators, the Book of Scrupulousness, the Book of the Imam and Refutation of the People of Idolatry, the Book of the Refutation of the People of Innovations in three books, the Book of the Refutation against ash-Shafi'i and the people of Iraq ( a book of answer consisting of four books), The Book of the Tabaqat of 'Ulama' in seven sections, the Book of Drinks and Strange Hadith in three books, and the Book of History in seven sections.

One of them said, "Ibn Sahnun wrote his great book in 100 sections, 20 on sira, 25 on examples, 10 on the adab of the Qadis, 2 on shares of inheritance, 1 on affirmation, 4 on history and the Tabaqat, and the rest on the various varieties of knowledge."

Another said, "He wrote on the rules of the Qur'an."

The rest of his reports and good qualities

Ibn Sahnun said, "My father came to me while I was writing the Book of the Prohibition of Nabidh. He said to me, 'My son, you are refuting the people of Iraq and they have subtle minds and sharp tongues. Beware lest your pen take you to that for which you will ask to be pardoned."

Abu al-Qasim al-Ilbiri mentioned that Ibn Sahnun came after the death of Sahnun with his companions to visit 'Abd ar-Rahman ibn 'Abd Rabbih the Zahid. He greeted him and he returned the greeting to him and left him sitting where the assembly ended and he did not turn to him until he left.

When the next Jumu'a came, Muhammad asked his companions to go to visit him a second time. They said to him, "We saw that he did not turn to you."

He said, "This was not my desire. He is a man of righteousness. We hope for the blessing of his supplication. Sahnun used to go to him and received blessing by his supplication and he went to him about important matters."

Ibn Sahnun and his companions returned to him. When he saw him standing on his feet, he greeted him and sat him in his place and continued to turn to him until he left. He was asked about that seeing what he had done the first time.

He said, "By Allah, I only desired Allah by that. I saw people gathering to him and I feared that I would tempt him. I said what I did to test him. That night I dreamt that someone was saying to me, 'Why didn't you turn to Ibn Sahnun when he is one of those who fear Allah?' (One variant has: "He is one of those who love Allah and His Messenger?")"

It reached Ibn Sahnun and he wept for a long a time and said, "Perhaps it was because of my defence of the Sunna of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace."

It reached Ibn Sahnun and he wept for a long a time and said, "Perhaps it was because of my defence of the Sunna of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace."

When he went out to the hajj, he stayed in Egypt with Abu Raja' ibn Ashhab ibn 'Abd al-'Aziz and the scholars and notable men of Egypt came to greet him as did Ibn al-Madini. He sat a long time with him so as to be alone with him. When he went out, Abu Raja' said, "I asked him about him and he said, 'By Allah, I have not seen any with more knowledge than him nor with a sharper mind than him in spite of his youth."

At that time he was 35. Then he wrote the two books on the Imamate in gold ink and sent them to the Caliph.

'Isa ibn Miskin said, "The like of them has not been written in this science."

Sulayman ibn Salim said, "Then al-Muzni and Harun ibn Sa'id al-Ayli disagreed on a question, they took it from judgment to Muhammad ibn Sahnun."

Sulayman ibn Salim said, "Two men of Kinana came to listen to knowledge. They were heading for Ibn Abi al-Minhal and Ibn Qadim. They spent the night with that intention and one of them dreamt that someone questioned him and he told him about their destination and where they were going. He said, 'Let me show you the one you seek.'

"The dreamer said, 'He took me on a sloping road until he stood me at a mosque where a shaykh was sitting with people around him. He told me, "Here. Seek knowledge from this one and it will be incalculable.""

"In the morning, the dreamer said to his friend, 'Let us go to where he took me yesterday,' and he told him the dream. 'He went with me and I went to the place which I had seen in the dream until he came to the mosque of Ibn Sahnun.' He recognized him by the dream which he had seen and told him and greeted him. They kept to him."

One of the inhabitants of the castle related that he went out one night in the castle after 'Isha'. There was someone reciting in one of the houses: "He swore to them, 'I am one of those who give you good advice.' So he enticed them into it by means of trickery." (7:21-22) and he kept repeating it.

He said, "I listened and tears were falling on the mat until he went out to the dawn prayer with his face veiled. I continued to watch him. It was Muhammad ibn Sahnun."

'Isa ibn Miskin said, "I asked Ibn Sahnun, 'How is sprinkling done?' He said, 'You spread out the garment and then sprinkle it and then turn it over and sprinkle it. Then you dry it.'"

'Isa was asked, "Both sides of the same layer?" He said, "Yes.

It is possible, and Allah knows best, that this is when it is with something when he is unsure about its purity on both sides or one of them, and is not certain, or if he doubts that the impurity has penetrated it."

'Isa said, "I took two books from him as matrices. I went to the prayer when he had arrived before me. I brought them out from my sleeve and I put them down. Muhammad took them and put them in his sleeve and prayed. He shamed me by what he did."

Ibn al-Lubbad said, "Muhammad ibn Sahnun performed the hajj in 235. They made a mistake about the day of 'Arafa. Muhammad thought that was allowed in their hajj. He disagreed with what his father said about it."

At-Ta'i related from Abu Aslam al-Maliki the consensus of Malik, Abu Hanifa and ash-Shafi'i on the allowance in this matter."

One of them said, "I was with Muhammad ibn Sahnun when Ya'qub al-Jazari came to him and recited:

            Muhammad, son of the one whose cases were implemented with justice,
             and son of a man who was faithful to Allah, hoping for His pleasure and fearing Him.
            Your father was a father whose worldly concerns were abased for the Garden
             of Paradise, Anyone your father entrusts with his love, Allah is his Master.
            If a man obtains the forgiveness for which he hopes,
             a letter from you will grant my need if I am given it.
            So bestow and grant it to me and attend to me,
             and may Allah attend to you!

Muhammad ibn Sahnun said to him, "Yes, and with honour." He wrote what he needed for him.


Abu al-'Arab said, "Ibn Sahnun was one of the most easy of people: generous, noble, helping people when they went to him."

Ibn Harith said, "He was noble in himself, generous with his property and his rank. He gave dozens of dinars to those who came to him and wrote to the one whom he took an interest in for plenty. He gave away substantial property, had precedence with kings, was a man of note with the common, active with burdens, of wide device and excellent insight into important matters.

He was the permanent support for Sulayman ibn 'Imran and 'Abdullah ibn Talib. That was when he was concerned with Sulayman until his father asked him to be his scribe and then appointed him qadi of Baja.

When Sahnun died and Sulayman ibn 'Imran was appointed Qadi of the Qayrawan in his place, he dealt badly with the company of Muhammad ibn Sahnun and the state between them deteriorated until Sulayman sent to him about it and Muhammad came to him with some people who followed him. Sulayman spoke harshly to him and recalled some of his words, "How much you need one who will make you eat the cotton of this hat of yours!" He did not venture to say anything disagreeable to him.

Sulayman used to give him nicknames and injure him verbally.

A man came to Ibn Sahnun and said to him, "Abu 'Abdullah! The messenger conveys and it not blamed. Ibn al-Qiyyar sends greetings to you and says 'I came to a people such that if the heaven had rained on them for forty years, they will would not grow." He meant Sulayman ibn 'Imran.

Ibn Sahnun said, "This is the reward of the one who does something for other-than-Allah."

This evil state between them continued until Ibn Sahnun went into hiding fearing for himself. While he was in hiding, he wrote to the governor, Muhammad ibn al-Aghlab what 'Uthman had written to 'Ali:

           If I am eaten, then you should be the eater.
             If not, give me immunity and I will not be torn.

Ibn al-Aghlab said, "Who tears him? May Allah tear him!"

Then Sulayman's authority was removed from him, and he was safe from him.

It is said that when Ibn Sahnun had been in hiding for a long time, he went for refuge to the governor. He rode in disguise to him and the teacher of the governor's teacher met him. Ibn Sahnun asked him if he would ask the governor for permission to leave the Qayrawan and he did so.

The governor said, "If I give Sahnun permission to leave, with whom will I remain? Tell him that I have removed Sulayman ibn 'Imran's authority over him."

Ibn Sahnun and appeared and went through the Simat al-A'dham until he reached the mosque and prayed in it. Sulayman heard about that and he knew that he was safe and his authority over him had been removed.

Muhammad ibn Sahnun appeared and his leadership was established. Sulayman and a group of the Iraqis were aggrieved by him. Sulayman re-directed his ire against the companions of Ibn Sahnun and seized Furat ibn Muhammad and had him flogged.

One day while Muhammad ibn Sahnun was walking, the master of the prayer at the Qayrawan, known as Ibn Abi al-Hawajib, met him. He was one of his enemies. He gestured to his ear and Ibn Sahnun gave it to him. He whispered to him, "So-and-so, son of so-and-so" which was an ugly curse. Ibn Sahnun answered him aloud, 'Your need will be granted." Those present were deceived.

Ibn Abi al-Hawajib went and told that to Sulayman ibn 'Imran. He said to him, "If you have spoken the truth, then you are embalmed."

Ibn Sahnun rode to Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Hadrami and asked him to recommend to the governor that Ibn Talib be put in charge of the prayer. The governor granted him that. Al-Hadrami conveyed that to Ibn Sahnun who asked him to conceal that until the time of the khutba.

Ibn Sahnun went to Ibn Talib and informed him about that. He told him, "Prepare. When you see Ibn Abi al-Hawajib go to the Maqsura, then get up in front of him and ascend the minbar and speak."

On Jumu'a, Ibn Abi al-Hawajib went to the mosque, and went down in the Maqsura, Ibn Talib came and bowed beside Ibn Sahnun and Sulayman ibn 'Imran at the minbar.

When Ibn Abi al-Hawajib went to the Maqsura, which was a stone in the front of the mosque, and lifted his foot to the step of the minbar, Ibn Talib ascended the minbar and put on the sword and the custodian grabbed hold of Ibn Abi al-Hawajib's garment and pulled him.

At that point Sulayman ibn 'Imran was dozing. He was only startled by Ibn Talib's voice which was eloquent saying, "Praise be to Allah who is thanked for what I have been blessed with and praise be to Allah who is thanked for what I have been blessed with and praise be to Allah who hindered what would have been rebellion had he so willed. Praise be to Allah who is settled on His Throne and encircled His kingdom and Who will be seen in the Next World."

A gloom came over Sulayman ibn 'Imran and Ibn Sahnun's face beamed. Ibn Talib continued his khutba and the prayer ended.

When Sulayman went to his house, he gathered the shaykhs of the Qayrawan and ordered them to go to the governor to declare that he considered Ibn Abi al-Hawajib to have good character. They were to request that he restore him to being in charge of the prayer.

The news reached Ibn Sahnun and he sent to al-Hadrami and informed him about the business. When the people were waiting a long time at the castle, al-Hadrami sent to them, "Are you not ashamed to ask the governor to lower his nephew when he wanted to elevate him and honour your companions? (Ibn Talib was one of the nephews of the governor.) Go. We did not ask you to attest to his good character or to detract from it."

The people went away. That was the beginning of Sulayman's misfortunes. Then the position of Ibn Talib continued to grow until Sulayman was dismissed and Ibn Talib was appointed Qadi of North Africa in his place.

Ibn al-Aghlab sent to Ibn Sahnun and asked him, "What do you say about Yazid [ibn Mu'awiya]?"

He replied, "May Allah make the governor thrive! I do not say what the Ibadites say nor do I say what the Murji'ites say."

He asked, "What do they say?" He replied, "The Ibadites said that someone who commits a wrong action is one of the people of the Fire. The Murji'ites say that wrong actions are not injurious when there is tawhid. Yazid did something terrible and dreadful and Allah does what He wills to His creatures." Then he left.

He mentioned that one of Muhammad's Egyptian companions took possession of a bath-house in Egypt which a Jew was in charge of. The man argued with him and the Jew defeated him due to the man's lack of knowledge.

When Muhammad ibn Sahnun went on hajj, the man accompanied him. When they reached Egypt, he said to him, "May Allah make you thrive! Let us go to the bath-house which the Jew has."

When Muhammad was about to go out, the man went before him and engaged in argument with the Jew until it was close to the time for the prayer. Muhammad prayed Dhuhr and then returned with him to the argument until it was close to the time of 'Asr. Muhammad prayed. Then it was the same until Maghrib and until 'Isha', and then until Fajr. The people gathered and it was said, "The Maghribi faqih debates with the Jew!"

When it close to the Fajr prayer, the Jew stopped and the truth became clear to him. He gave in and the people said, "Allah is greater!" and their voices were loud.

Muhammad went out moping the sweat from his face. He said to his companion, "May Allah not repay you with good! An immense trial happened to me at your hands. You debate with a Jew while you are weak! If the Jew beats you because of your weakness, you will be tempted from the Decree of Allah by his temptation," or words to that effect.


It is mentioned that an Iraqi man used to abuse Muhammad ibn Sahnun and discredit him. Once his poverty became hard on him and it occurred to him to go to him. His wife told him not to do that because of what she knew of him. He did not accept her advice and went to him and said, "I have come to ask your help and pardon."

He said, "State your need." He said, "I have only come for that." He said, "Then you must state your need." He complained to him about his situation.

Muhammad said, "We belong to Allah and to Him we return!" He said, "My brother! This comes from you while I am in this world!"

He wrote a paper for him to the money-changer for twenty dinars. He said, "Buy what your family needs with it." The man did that and informed Ibn Sahnun about it. He was happy. Then he asked him, "Are you able to travel?" "Yes," he replied. So he wrote some letters for him. He said, "Take them to Constantine."

The man took them and delivered them to their people. He was shown honour and hospitality and was given 300 dinars. The man thought that they were for Muhammad ibn Sahnun and he had sent him to get them. When he reached the Qayrawan, he gave them to Muhammad ibn Sahnun along with the replies. Muhammad said, "We belong to Allah and to Him we return! The state of people!"

The man said to him, "Sayyidi, if anything remains, I will go back and do it for you." He said, "They are not mine. They are for you and that is what we asked for." He gave them to him.

In another story, an Iraqi man used to provoke him, even in front of his companions. He reviled him openly and secretly when he found him with the people. One day, he reviled him in his ear while he was with his companions. He replied, 'Yes, and with honour. When you finish, your need will be fulfilled."

The Iraqis heard about that and they suspected their companion and ruined him. He complained about his state to one of the righteous, and he directed him to Muhammad ibn Sahnun, and he went to him. Muhammad lent his ear to him, thinking that he was acting as he usually did. He said to him, "By Allah, I have only come to you in repentance and regret."

He made him sit down. At the end of his assembly, he took his hand and brought him to his room, He gave him 20 dinars and then wrote 30 letters for him to 30 of his companions asking each of them to purchase a slave-girl for him. So he was given thirty slave-girls. He ordered that five of them be sold. Their price was about 25, and he gave that to the man."

It is related that al-Maliki said, "Muhammad ibn Sahnun had nine beds. He wanted a concubine for each bed. He had a concubine called Umm Midam. He was with her one day while he was busy writing a book until night, Food was brought and she asked his permission. He told her, "I am busy now."

When it was long for her, she began to feed it to him but by bit until he finished it. What he was doing continued until the adhan for the Subh prayer. He said, "We were distracted from you for the entire night, Umm Midam. Bring what you have!" She said, "By Allah, Sayyidi, I fed it to you bit by bit." He said to her, 'I was not aware of that!"


Sulayman ibn Salim said, "Muhammad ibn Sahnun said to me, "I entered the mosque of the city of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. There was an immense circle in which a shaykh was reciting. I sat down as soon as I got off the mahmal while still wearing my travelling clothes. I found them arguing about a question regarding women who are umm walads. I put in a word on it and the shaykh made them take note of it and remained sitting. Then I added another word and he asked me, 'Where is your city?' I replied, 'May Allah make you thrive! I am a man on the hajj.' He asked, 'Where is your home?' I replied, 'North Africa.' He said, 'You must either be Sahnun's son or Sahnun's nephew. By Allah, who are you?' I replied, 'The son of Sahnun.'

"The shaykh got up for me with all of them. They greeted me and chided me for not telling them who I was, By Allah, I only left the mosque with the shaykh walking and writing down the question while I was dictating it to him."

Concerning his school regarding faith

Muhammad ibn Sahnun did not say, "If Allah wills" in the question of belief. As Ibn 'Abdus and others fought that. He used to say, "I am a believer with Allah."

Ibn 'Abdus and his companions and the people of Egypt and the east used to object to him saying that and to whoever said it. They attributed his positions to the Murji'ites.

A man in the circle of Abu adh-Dhikr the faqih once said that in Egypt. They objected to his saying that. Abu adh-Dhikr said, "We have a party in the Maghrib who are called the Sahnuniyya who say that."

Ibn Sahnun used to say, "A man knows his belief, so how can he know his belief and then doubt it?"

Conflict, debates, and issues continued among his companions after him with the companions of Ibn 'Abdus and others regarding the question. They used to call those who opposed them the Doubters (shukukiyya) by saying "if Allah wills."

The reports of some of them and what passed between them will come after this in its place which is appropriate to the book.


'Iyad said: "The question is discussed a lot and the Imams have spoken on it The reality of it is that it is a difference of words, not one of reality. Whoever refers to the unseen state and the seal and what has been previously decreed states that one says, 'Allah willing.' Whoever refers to his own state and the soundness of his belief at the moment does not say that."


Then another difference arose between them after 300 years in the statement of the "other". It is said, "Is he a believer with Allah or not?"

Words, issues and mutual alienation arose between Ibn at-Tibban, Ibn Abi Zayd, al-Mumsi, Abu Maysara, ad-Dawudi and others about that. We will mention some of it in their reports when their generation is mentioned.

The sound position in this is what Abu Muhammad ibn Abi Zayd said "If your secret is like what is public, then you are a believer with Allah."

Ad-Dawudi said, 'And will that be sealed for you."

As for Ibn at-Tibban and others, they make the general statement that he is a believer.

Muhammad ibn Abi Zayd (and he used to say what ibn Sahnun said) said, "Ibn Sahnun was scrupulous and did not ascribe this statement to his father."

His death

Muhammad ibn Sahnun, may Allah have mercy on him, died at the coast in 256, sixteen years after his father's death. He died at the coast and was brought to Qayrawan and was buried there at the age of 54.

He was born in 202 according to Abu al-'Arab. Ibn Harith said that he was born at the beginning of 200. We in an the elegy Ahmad ibn Sulayman wrote for him:

           He lived for 55 years.
             He guarded Islam except for eight years.

The governor at that time, Ibrahim ibn Ahmad ibn al-Aghlab, led the prayer over him and erected a dome over his grave. Tents were struck up around his grave and people remained in them for many months until the markets and buying and selling started up around his grave due to the number of people until Ibn al-Aghlab was alarmed that and sent to the nephew of Sahnun known as Ibn Lubda. Then people split up.

He was seen in a dream and was questioned. He said, "My Lord has married me to fifty houris since He knows of my love for women."

When he died, one of them dreamt of a cloud shadowing the Qayrawan while people were admiring its beauty. Then a speaker said, "Do you know who is above this cloud?" We answered, "No." He said, "Muhammad ibn Sahnun, and Allah Almighty has taken his hand."

The poets elegised him with many poems.

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