The Seven Fuqaha’ of Madina – Shaykh Muhammad Abu Zahrah

(This is taken from the section on Imam Malik in The Four Imams by Muhammad Abu Zahrah)

We should briefly mention the seven fuqaha‘ since they were largely responsible for the transmission of knowledge of Madina and were the source of most of Malik’s knowledge. Indeed we are indebted to them for much of the knowledge of Islam and the Sunna which we possess today. Malik mentioned them as being the fuqaha‘ and the bearers of knowledge.

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1. Sa’id ibn al-Musayyab

The first of them in position and importance in knowledge was Sa’id ibn al-Musayyab, may Allah be pleased with him. He was from Makhzum, the sub-tribe of Quraysh. He was born during the khalifate of ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab and died in 93 AH, so he lived through the rule of ‘Uthman, ‘Ali, Mu’awiya, Yazid, Marwan, and ‘Abdu’l-Malik.

He completely devoted himself to fiqh. He was not concerned with tafsir of the Qur’an as was ‘Ikrima, the client and student of Ibn ‘Abbas and transmitter of his fiqh and tafsir. According to the tafsir of at-Tabari, “Yazid ibn Abi Yazid said: ‘We used to ask Sa’id ibn al-Musayyab about the lawful and unlawful; he was the most knowledgeable of people. We asked him about the tafsir of an ayat of the Qur’an and he said, ‘Do not ask me about any ayat of the Qur’an. Ask the one who claims that none of it is hidden from him,’ meaning ‘Ikrima.”

Sa’id met a great number of the Companions, and took from them and studied with them. What he especially sought were the judgements of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and the judgements of Abu Bakr, ‘Umar and ‘Uthman. He took half of his knowledge from Zayd ibn Thabit, and most of his transmission was from Abu Hurayra, his father-in-law, since Sa’id was married to his daughter.

He learned the fiqh of ‘Umar from his companions to such an extent that he was considered the main transmitter of the fiqh of ‘Umar. Ibn al-Qayyim called him “the transmitter of ‘Umar and the bearer of his knowledge.” Ja’far ibn Rabi’a said, “I asked ‘Irak ibn Malik, ‘Who among Malik’s sources has the most fiqh?’ He replied, ‘The one among them with the most fiqh and knowledge of the judgements of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, the judgements of ‘Umar, and the judgements of ‘Uthman, and the one with the knowledge of what people did is Sa’id ibn al-Musayyab. The one with the most hadiths is ‘Urwa ibn az-Zubayr. You could not wish for a greater ocean than ‘Ubaydullah (ibn ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Utba),’ ‘Irak continued, ‘I think that the one among them with the most fiqh is Ibn Shihab because he joined their knowledge to his.’

Az-Zuhri said, ‘I used to seek knowledge from three men: Sa’id ibn al-Musayyab, who had the most fiqh of all, ‘Urwa ibn az-Zubayr, who was a bottomless ocean, and if you wish to find a kind of knowledge not found with anyone else you would find it with ‘Ubaydullah.’” (I’lam, vol. 1, p. 18)

Ibn al-Musayyab concentrated on fiqh. His concern with hadith was to learn the judgements of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and he also learned the traditions containing the judgements of the khalifs since he was concerned to know the judgements and fatwas of the khalifs. The most prominent in his transmission of the knowledge of the fiqh of the Companions was ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, for his time was the pre-eminent time of fiqh, judgements and fatwas because the state was expanding and events occurred which made them necessary.

Since Ibn al-Musayyab followed the traditions of ‘Umar in judgement and fiqh, ra’y (opinion) had great importance in his view because ‘Umar frequently formed an opinion on matters about which there was no explicit text in the Book of Allah or the Sunna of the Messenger. So Ibn al-Musayyab also used ijtihad (independent reasoning) to answer problems presented to him about matters on which there was no explicit text from the Book or Sunna or judgement or fatwa of a Companion: he would give a fatwa based on his opinion which did not exceed what was proper. That is why it is transmitted that he used to give fatwa when others feared to do so.

He was the Imam of the fuqaha’ of Madina in the time of the Tabi’un. He did not refuse to give a fatwa when there was need for one. His opinion was based on the firm pillars of fiqh: the Qur’an and hadith, and the judgements of the Prophet and Rightly-Guided Khalifs.

2. ‘Urwa ibn az-Zubayr

The second of the seven fuqaha’ who formulated the fiqh of Madina in the time of the Tabi’un was ‘Urwa ibn az-Zubayr ibn al-‘Awwam. He was the brother of ‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr and the nephew of ‘A’isha, may Allah be pleased with her. He was born in the khalifate of ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan and died in 94 AH. He lived through the seditions which occurred after the murder of ‘Uthman until authority was settled with the Marwanids. Although his brother, ‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr, wrested the rule from ‘Abdu’l-Malik ibn Marwan, and the conflict became intense between them, it is not known that he became involved in the business or helped his brother in any way. It is clear that he completely devoted himself to study, studying fiqh and hadith. In hadith he was, as his student Ibn Shihab said, “a sea undiminished by buckets.” Ibn al-Musayyab had the most fiqh of the Tabi’un in Madina. ‘Urwa had the most hadiths. He learned the fiqh of the deen from a group of the Companions, particularly ‘A’isha, the Mother of the Faithful. She was foremost in general knowledge, rules for the apportionment of shares of inheritance and rulings. Al-Qasim ibn Muhammad, the son of her brother, took knowledge from her as did ‘Urwa, the son of her sister Asma’.

‘Urwa was the person with the greatest knowledge of the hadiths of ‘A’isha. He said, “Before ‘A’isha died, I saw that I had become one of four authorities. I said, ‘If she dies, there will be no hadith which will be lost from those she knows. I have memorised all of them.”

It is clear that ‘Urwa was concerned with recording the fiqh and hadith he learned and it is related that he wrote books; but he was afraid that they might become books alongside the Book of Allah and so he destroyed them. His son Hisham related that he had books which he burned on the day of the Battle of Harra. He later he regretted that, however, and used to say, “I would rather have them in my possession than my family and property twice over.”

He was a hadith transmitter and a faqih who followed the path of tradition and he did not give fatwas in the way that Ibn al-Musayyab did.

3. Abu Bakr ibn ‘Abdu’r-Rahman

The third of those fuqaha’ was Abu Bakr ibn ‘Abdu’r-Rahman ibn al-Harith. He died in 94 AH. He was devout and devoted to worship and asceticism to the extent that he was called ‘the Monk of Quraysh’. He related from ‘A’isha and Umm Salama. He was a faqih and hadith transmitter. He also did not give fatwa as Ibn al-Musayyab did. Tradition dominated his fiqh.

4. Al-Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr

The fourth of the seven was al-Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, the nephew of ‘A’isha, may Allah be pleased with her. He died in 108 AH. He learned hadith and fiqh from his aunt and from Ibn ‘Abbas. He was a hadith transmitter. He criticised the use of a hadith if its text was put before the Book of Allah and the well-known Sunna. He was a faqih and so he had both fiqh and hadith. His famous student, Abu’z-Zinad ‘Abdullah ibn Dhakwan said about him, “I never saw a faqih with more knowledge than al-Qasim. I never saw anyone who had more knowledge of the Sunna than him.” It is clear that as well as piety he had aspiration (himma) and cleverness, and resolve in things. That is why Malik related that ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdu’l-‘Aziz said, “If I had authority in the matter, I would appoint the blind one of Banu Taym,” meaning al-Qasim ibn Muhammad.

5. ‘Ubaydullah ibn ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Utba ibn Mas’ud

The fifth of those fuqaha’ was ‘Ubaydullah ibn ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Utba. He transmitted from Ibn ‘Abbas, ‘A’isha, and Abu Hurayra. He was a teacher of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdu’l-‘Aziz and had a profound effect on his intellect and person. In addition to his knowledge of fiqh and hadith and his good character, he composed poetry. He died in 98 or 99 AH. It is also said that it was earlier than that, in 94 AH.

6. Sulayman ibn Yasar

The sixth was Sulayman ibn Yasar. He was a client of Maymuna bint al-Harith, the wife of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. It is said that she gave him a kitaba contract and stipulated an amount of money he must pay for his freedom. It is reported that he asked permission to visit ‘A’isha. He said, “She recognised my voice. She said, ‘Is it Sulayman?’ Then she asked, ‘Have you paid what she stipulated for you?’ I said, ‘Yes, nearly. There is only a small amount outstanding.’ She said, ‘Come in. You are still owned as long as you still owe anything.’”1 He transmitted from Zayd ibn Thabit, ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar, Abu Hurayra, and the wives of the Prophet, Maymuna, A’isha, and Umm Salama. Sulayman had fine understanding. His knowledge and understanding of fiqh were increased by his study of people’s affairs and knowledge of their states. He was the overseer of the Market of Madina when ‘Umar ibn ‘Abdu’l-‘Aziz was its governor. He died in 100 AH.

7. Kharija ibn Zayd ibn Thabit

The seventh was Kharija ibn Zayd ibn Thabit who died in 100 AH. He was a faqih in legal opinion (ra’y), like his father Zayd well-known for that and the science of shares of inheritance. That is why Kharija had few hadiths, and many fatwas based on opinion. Because of his great knowledge of the shares of inheritance, he used to distribute people’s inheritances according to the Book of Allah Almighty. Mus’ab ibn ‘Abdullah said, “Kharija and Talha ibn ‘Abdu’r-Rahman gave fatwa in their time. People accepted their statements and they distributed people’s inheritance – houses, palm-trees and property – and they wrote out documents for people.”

In addition to his knowledge, fiqh and fatwa and his connection to people at the beginning of his life, Kharija was one of the devout worshippers of Madina. Worship moved him at the end of his life to withdraw and be alone, which is why not much of his fiqh and knowledge spread.


Those are the seven fuqaha’ who, together with those of their generation who also knew the fiqh of the Companions and the Prophet, formed the school which formulated the fiqh of Madina and gave it a distinctive character. Its basis was giving fatwa according to the fatwas of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and proceeding in their own way in respect of deriving judgements when they did not find a directly relevant fatwa which had been passed down. Sometimes they would exercise ijtihad according to their own opinions but only in the way in which the Companions had done; and they did not complicate the ramifications of problems in the way that the people of Iraq did.

It should be pointed out that those fuqaha’ were not traditionists in all respects. They were traditionists and legists who studied the fiqh of the First Generation, and they deduced from it and gave fatwas when they did not find a tradition from the Prophet or his Companions, using their intellects to arrive at a deduction based well-known judgements of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace. Some of them had mainly knowledge of hadith and little fiqh and fatwa, like ‘Urwa ibn az-Zubayr, but most of them concentrated on fatwa and fiqh.

This would seem to suggest that the fiqh of opinion had a prominent position among them, which would in turn tend to make them seem similar to the people of Iraq. However, the difference between their opinion and that of the scholars of Iraq lies in the fact that the scholars of Iraq used to give fatwas on whatever questions came up as well as in respect of things which had not even occurred, in the form of hypothetical questions which they devised. Furthermore, their opinion was not confined to deduction based firmly on transmitted judgements of the Companions.

The Madinans only gave fatwas about matters which had actually arisen. The fiqh of opinion was used by them only to derive principles from the fatwas of the Companions and the judgements of the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, which had been transmitted to them and were being acted upon on a daily basis around them in the city of Madina where they had been made.

The fiqh of those seven scholars was learned by Ibn Shihab, Rabi’a and all of their generation. Then Malik learned from that generation. His shaykhs included some for whom fiqh and opinion was predominant and others for whom hadith was predominant. Hadith dominated the fiqh of Ibn Shihab, and opinion rather than hadith came first for Rabi’a ar-Ra’y and Yahya ibn Sa’id. Thus it is not strange that we find that opinion played a large role in Malik’s fiqh.


Selection of books to understand the Maliki school:

For more information, please click on the pictures below

The Four Imams Their Lives, Works and Their Schools of Thought:

The Four Imams and Their Schools: Abu Hanifa, Malik, Al-Shafi’i, Ahmad:

Malik and Medina: Islamic Legal Reasoning in the Formative Period:

The Madinan Way: The Soundness of the Basic Premises of the People of Madina:

The Origins of Islamic Law: The Qur’an, the Muwatta’ and Madinan Amal:

The Origins of Islamic Law ; The Qur’an, the Muwatta and Madinan ‘Amal :

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