Shaikh Abu Salih Nasr al-Baghdadi

August 21, 2013

The exemplary guide, learned scholar and pious ascetic, Shaikh Abū Ṣāliḥ Naṣr b. ‘Abdu-r Razzāq b. Sayyiduna-sh Shaikh ‘Abdu-l Qadir al-Jīlī-al-aṣl al-Baghdādī-al-mawlid, studied Islamic jurisprudence under his father and other experts in the field. He also received instruction in other traditional subjects, from his father, from his paternal uncle, ‘Abdu-l Wahhāb, and from Abū Hāshim ar-Rawshānī, as well as from other scholars. He became a professor and narrator of Prophetic Tradition, taught by dictation, provided formal opinions on legal problems, and engaged in public debate.

His Birth and Passing

He was born on the night of Saturday, the 14th of the month of Rabī’ al-Ākhir, in the year 564 A.H. He passed away shortly before daybreak on the night of Sunday, 16th of Shawwal, in the year 633 A.H. He was buried at the Battle Gate [bāb ḥarb], beside the tombstone of Imam Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal.

His Mother

His mother was Umm al-Karam Tāj an-Nisā’ bt. Faḍā’il at-Tarkīnī. She studied and became a narrator of Tradition [ḥadīth]. She was endowed with an abundant share of goodness and righteousness. She died in Baghdād, and was buried at the Battle Gate. May Allah have mercy on her.

His Knowledge and Roles

In his Generations [ṭabaqāt], al-Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Rajab al-Ḥanbalī states:

(Shaikh Naṣr b. ‘Abdu-r Razzāq) was a jurist, a debater, a Traditionist, a pious ascetic, and a preacher. He became the Chief Justice [qaḍā’ al-quḍāt], the Shaikh of the age, and the pillar of the religion [imād ad-dīn]. He memorised the Qur’an in his early youth, and learned the Prophetic Tradition [ḥadīth] from his father and his paternal uncle, ‘Abdu-l Wahhāb.

He was awarded diplomas by Abu-l ‘Alā al-Hamadānī, Abū Mūsā al-Madīnī, and other professors. He possessed an eloquence and fluency of speech, and an excellent manner of expression. He issued formal opinions on legal problems, and he became the director of his grandfather’s schoolhouse.

His Appointment as Chief Justice

He was appointed to the office of Chief Justice [qaḍā’ al-quḍāt] in Baghdād, the City of Peace [madīnatu-s salām]. He adhered to the legal doctrine [madhhab] of Imam Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal (may Allah be well pleased with him). He was thus the first of his [Ḥanbalī] colleagues to be summoned to the post of Chief Justice.

His appointment took place on Wednesday, the 8th of Dhu-l Qa’da in the year 622 A.H., during the Caliphate of Imām aẓ-Ẓāhir bi-Amri-Llāh. The bracelet of honour was conferred upon him, and his confirmation was proclaimed in the three major congregational mosques [jawāmi’] of the City of Peace. He thus embarked on an excellent and praiseworthy career, in which he always followed the straight path.

He used to dictate the Prophet Tradition [ḥadīth] in his courthouse sessions, and the people would write it down. At times, witnesses would record in writing some of his general comments and those related to cases, with his permission.

His appointment to the high office did not cause him to alter his character. He retained his humble modesty, and kept to the lifestyle for which he was known for before his appointment. When he went out to the congregational mosque [jami’] to attend the Friday prayer, he used to walk on foot.

He continued his work as a judge [qāḍī] for the remainder of aẓ-Ẓāhir’s life. When the Caliphate [khilāfa] passed to his aẓ-Ẓāhir’s son Imām al-Mustanṣir bi-Llāh, the new Caliph confirmed him in office for a period of four months and a few days. He then dismissed him on the 23rd of Dhu-l Qa’da in the year 623 A.H.

Ibn Rajab writes about his appointment and subsequent dismissal:

When the Caliph an-Naṣir died, he was succeeded by his son, aẓ-Ẓāhir, who proved to be one of the best of all the Caliphs [khulafā’]. He was one of their finest in lifestyle, and one of their most distinguished in religious devotion, righteousness and justice.

He abolished non-religious taxes [mukūs], rejected all forms of wrongdoing and oppression [maẓālim], and took great pains to ensure the proper implementation of the rules of the Sacred Law [ahkām ash-sharī’a].

According to Ibn al-Athīr: ‘If one were to say: “No one like him (aẓ-Ẓāhir) has reigned as Caliph, not since ‘Umar b. ‘Abdu-l Azīz,” the speaker will be telling the truth.’ For every position of authority, he would always select the most righteous candidate he could find.

This is why he appointed Abū Ṣāliḥ (i.e. Shaikh Naṣr b. ‘Abdu-r Razzāq) to this judgeship [qaḍā’], the supreme judicial office in his empire. It is said that the Shaikh attached a pre-condition to his acceptance of the post viz. that he must have the power to enforce the inheritance rights of close relatives.

The Caliph told him: ‘Give every holder of a right his right and proper due. Beware of offending Allah, but do not be afraid of offending anyone other than Him.’ He commanded him to insist, without compromise, on the delivery of what was rightfully due, in every case where a person’s right had been established by lawful means.

The Caliph also sent him ten thousand gold coins, with which to settle the debts of those debtors held in his prison, who could not find a means of settlement. Then he charged him with the supervision of the hubus [awqāf] available for general purposes, as well as the hubus earmarked for the Shafi’ī and Hanafī universities, the Sultan’s congregational mosque [jami’], and the congregational mosque of Ibn al-Muṭṭalib. The Shaikh was thereby empowered to appoint and dismiss professors at all the universities [madāris], including the Niẓāmiyya, the most famous of them all.

When aẓ-Ẓāhir died, his son al-Mustanṣir confirmed the Shaikh in office for a considerable period of time. The new Caliph summoned him on the occasion of the inaugural pledge of allegiance [mubāya’a], in order to establish him in a position which he had temporarily delegated to someone else. He had not yet announced his decision, when the Shaikh said: ‘How I wish your father had never appointed me.’ It was then that the Caliph declared his appointment.

During the days of his term in office, the call to prayer [adhān] would be given at his courtroom door, and he would lead the congregation in the performance of the ritual prayer [ṣalat]. When he went out to the mosque, he would go as a pedestrian. He dressed in simple cotton cloths. In giving judgement, he always paid scrupulous attention to the facts of the case. He was strongly committed to the truth, and his way of life was modelled on the practice of the righteous predecessors [salaf].

When al-Mustanṣir eventually dismissed him, he uttered these poetic verses:

I praised Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He),
when the judgement on me was dismissal from the office of judge.

I give thanks to al-Mustanṣir, the victorious [manṣūr],
and I pray for him over and above the ordinary supplication.

Ibn Rajab ends by saying:

No one from among our (Ḥanbalī) companions, so far as I know, was ever appointed Chief Justice [qaḍā’ al-quḍāt] before him. In Egypt, for sure, none but he ever held that office.

His Guesthouse

Ibn Rajab states:

After being relieved of the judgeship, he settled in the family schoolhouse, teaching, providing formal opinions on legal problems, and attending the public sessions and private meetings held by eminent figures.

Then al-Mustanṣir commissioned a guesthouse [ribāṭ] for him. He had it built in the district in Baghdad known as Monastery of the Greeks [Dair ar-Rūm], and installed him in it as a Shaikh. The Caliph treated him with great honour and respect, and used to send him ample funds for him to distribute as he deemed fit.

His Book & Praise of him

Ibn Rajab mentions:

The Shaikh compiled a book to which he gave the title, Guidance for Beginners [irshād al-mubtadi’īn]. Many students have learned Islamic jurisprudence from it, and found it very useful.

In his Qaṣīda Lamiyya, aṣ-Ṣarṣarī eulogises Imam Aḥmad (b. Ḥanbal) and his companions  (may Allah be well pleased with them all). In one verse the poet says:

In our own age, in the field of Islamic jurisprudence,
Abū Ṣāliḥ Naṣr is a guide for every hopeful student.

His Characteristics and Virtues

During his early youth, his father had taught him many a valuable lesson. He was trustworthy and honourable. He had a keenly inquiring mind, and always verified the authenticity of any information he transmitted and received. He was extremely well-versed in the Prophetic Tradition [ḥadīth], and his grasp of the legal doctrine [madhhab] was extensive.

When discussions revolved around questions of scholarly disagreement [khilāf], he spoke with eloquence and wit. His mode of expression was charming, and he conveyed his meaning in a beautiful style. He was modest to the point of humility, gentle and kind in disposition, gracefully refined in social relations, good-humoured, sagaciously polite, courageous, a man amongst men, undaunted by any problem or danger that might arise.

His Aloofness to the Haughty

He had the utmost respect for scholars and saints, and had complete disdain for those of arrogance and pride, regardless of their worldly ranks. He is known to have said (may Allah bestow his mercy upon him):

I was in the office of the Grand Vizier, al-‘Amthī, writing my document concerning the licenses granted to Christians. While I was in the building, I found myself in the company of Munaḥḥib ar-Razzāz the Traditionist [muḥaddith], Ibn Zuhair al-‘Adl, and Ibn al-Marwazī representing the Shaikh of Shaikhs.

Suddenly, in came a man of dignified appearance, dressed in a fine suit of clothes. As soon as he uttered the greeting of peace, they all sprang to attention, and declared their readiness to serve him. I followed their example as I assumed that he must be one of the Islamic jurists [fuqahā’].

I asked about him, and they told me: ‘He is Ibn Karam, the Jew, and the Governor of the Imperial Mint [dār aḍ-Ḍarb].’ The man was obviously accustomed to dignity and respect, for he went and sat himself down, adopting the posture of someone condescending to receive homage.

‘Get up,’ I told him, ‘and come over here!’ He came and stood in front of me, and I said to him: ‘Woe unto you! When you first entered, I imagined that you must be one of the jurists of Islam. That is why I stood up in your honour. But in my estimation—woe unto you!—you are not of that stature.’

I repeated this rebuke several times, while he stood there saying: ‘May Allah preserve you! May Allah grant you long life!’ Then I said to him: ‘Scram over there, far away from us!’ So off he went.

His Unstinting Trust in Allah

He also said:

In the month of Rajab, I was entitled to collect a fee from the Christian alms-due [sadaqa naṣiriyya], which I received from the priests [badriyya]. It so happened one year that this event took place on a Wednesday, when I had gone to pay a visit to the tomb of Imam Aḥmad [ibn Ḥanbal].

When I returned from the visit, I discovered that the people had already collected their fees, and had gone their separate ways. Someone told me: ‘Your fee is with the Christian called Thomas. It was placed in his care, so you had better find him, and collect it from him.’

To this I responded: ‘By Allah, I shall not go looking for him, nor shall I seek my sustenance from an unbeliever [kāfir].’ I promptly returned to my house, putting my trust in Allah (Glory be to Him), and recited these poetic verses to myself:

O my soul, there is no substitute for our religion,
so forget about this world, and do not quarrel with me!

It ill befits us to go chasing a polytheist [mushrik],
since polytheism is the source of every sinful error.

If we have any debt to pay, we do have a Creator
who will settle it—such is my hopeful expectation.

That fee remained with the Christian. I did not venture to seek him out, and he did not send it to me, until he was killed the following year, in the month of Jumādā al-Awwal. The gold was then taken from him house and delivered to me.

His Children

He was blessed with three children: Shaikh Abū Mūsā Yahyā, Shaikha Amatu-Llah Zainab, and Shaikh Abū Naṣr Muḥammad—his notable spiritual inheritor (see next chapter).

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