An allegation against Imam as-Subki

The charge leveled against Imm Taqiyy ad-Dn as-Subk is that despite possessing all the requirements for ijtihd, he did not perform ijtihd, and preferred to remain within the bounds of his madhhab, since the adoption of independent ijtihd would preclude him from rising to positions which were reserved for fuqah of the madhhib.

This allegation appears in a conversation between Ab Zurah Ahmad ibn al-Husayn al-Irq and his teacher Sirj ad-Dn Umar ibn Rusln al-Bulqn. The former asks the latter the reason why as-Subk does not adopt independent ijtihd despite having all the requirements. The latter does not know. Ab Zurah then suggests this reason, and al-Bulqn agrees.

The points requiring discussion are four:

1. How is the adoption of ijtihd supposed to manifest itself?

2. as-Subks character

3. The ijtihd of as-Subk vs the ijtihd of al-Bulqni

4. as-Subks opponents


It appears from the conversation between Ab Zurah and al-Bulqn that as-Subk did not perform ijtihd. However, this contention does not tally with the facts. As-Subks son Tj ad-Dn Abd al-Wahhb, in his fathers biography in Tabaqt ash-Shfiiyyah al-Kubr, has given us a list of the masil in which his fathers independent ijtihd led him to opinions completely outside the madhhab. (vol. 10 pp. 226-234) The list contains 54 masil. In another list (vol. 10 pp. 234-266) thrice as long than the first one, he tabulates the masail in which his father adopted positions within the madhhab at variance with the official positions of ar-Rfi and an-Nawaw. This too, is an exercise requiring a certain level of ijtihd.

But let us assume that al-Bulqn and Ab Zurah were unaware of the above. Would it then mean that as-Subk did not practice ijtihd? That conclusion can only be drawn by someone labouring under the impression that the performance of ijtihd must, as a matter of necessity, lead to the adoption of positions that differ from the official position of the madhhab. When a faqh of a madhhab performs independent ijtihd he will arrive either at a position different from that of his madhhab, or he will discover that the position of his madhhab was in fact the correct one. The value of the ijtihd which leads back to the madhhab is in no way less than the ijtihd leading away from the madhhab. To expect that every exercise of independent ijtihd must lead away from the madhhab betrays a lack of understanding.

Thus in the case of as-Subk, his ijtihd was not restricted to the 50-odd cases in which he adopted positions completely outside the madhhab. In the hundreds, if not thousands of other masil in which he concurs with the madhhab the chances of him having adopted those positions as a matter of ijtihd and not taqld, are as great as in the case of his ijtihd-based departures from the madhhab. The only difference lies in the fact that the latter are obvious while the former are oblivious.

The history of the madhhab contains abundant examples of ijtihd which leads to conformity with the madhhab rather than departure from it. The case of al-Qaffl al-Marwaz comes to mind. This faqh, who was the shaykh of the Khursn tarqah of the madhhab, used to say: We are not muqallids of ash-Shfi. Rather, our ijtihd coincided with his. This same statement was echoed by his pupil al-Qd Husayn, Shaykh Ab Al as-Sinj, al-Ustdh Ab Ishq al-Isfaryn and others. (Tuhfat al-Muhtj vol. 10 p. 109)


A person who takes the conversation between Ab Zurah and al-Bulqn at face value cannot be blamed for forming an impression of Imm as-Subk as an avaricious, impious and egotistic person who is prepared to abandon ijtihd for the sake of worldly gain. But does this correspond to what is known about the character of Imm as-Subk?

The character of Imm as-Subk is a topic on which many pages can be filled, and in fact have been filled in the past. Suffice to say that the austerity and piety of Imm as-Subk, and his complete disregard for the world, and disdain of wealth and splendour is a matter of consensus between his biographers. The historian Salh ad-Dn al-Al said of him: People say that there has not appeared anyone like him (as-Subk) since al-Ghazl. I am of the opinion that they do him an injustice. To me he is comparable to no one less that Sufyn ath-Thawr. (Tabaqt ash-Shfiiyyah al-Kubr vol. 10 p. 197)

His first appointment as qd came at the age of 56, and up to that age he lived a life of isolation, only given to teaching and writing. His appointment as chief justice of Shm in 739 came at the insistence of the Mamlk king, Barqq. He persistently refused the appointment, but the king would not excuse him. Eventually, after a long and tedious meeting with the king, he was forced to accept the appointment. (Tabaqt ash-Shfiiyyah al-Kubr vol. 10 p. 168) It goes without saying that this is not the behaviour one would expect of someone who is prepared to abandon ijtihd for the sake of appointments.


Imm Taqiyy ad-Dn as-Subk was not the only Shfi faqh of his era to have reached the level of ijtihd. Another one who reached it was this very same Sirj ad-Dn al-Bulqn. Such was his level of erudition that he was regarded by many as the mujaddid of the eighth century. As-Sakhw quotes his mentor Ibn Hajar as saying that al-Bulqn possessed the full requirements for ijtihd. (ad-Daw al-Lmi vol. 6 p. 88) Yet we find that his recorded departures from the madhhab are markedly less than those of as-Subk. In fact, it is quite difficult to pinpoint the instances of his departure.

We also know that he had accepted positions of teaching as well as judicial appointments in his lifetime. Would it therefore be justified for us to apply the same standard to him as Ab Zurah has applied to as-Subk and say that despite having the full ability for ijtihd he desisted from practicing it in apprehension that he might lose out on appointments?

No, that would not be justified. The correct way of dealing with aspersions cast by one recognised scholar on another is to disregard it as what the muhaddithn term kalm al-aqrn badihim f bad, disparaging remarks of contemporaries, which are often inspired by subjective factors. As to what subjective reasons there were for al-Bulqn to acquiesce to Ab Zurahs disparaging conclusion, that will come to light in what follows.


The brilliance of Imm Taqiyy ad-Dn as-Subk had started showing even in his youth. It was inevitable that he would engage the ulam of his time in discussion, and that he would rise above them. The fact that he excelled his contemporaries is attested to even by Ibn Taymiyyah. In fact, it on record that Ibn Taymiyyah had greater respect for as-Subk than anyone else in his time. (Tabaqt as-Shfiiyyah al-Kubr vol. 10 p. 194)

Some of the discussions which he had with the older generation of ulam of his time gave rise to negative feelings towards him on account his age. Amongst the names mentioned in this regard are those of Ibn al-Katnn, Ibn Adln and Ibn al-Ansr. (Tabaqt as-Shfiiyyah al-Kubr vol. 10 p. 379)

Now, turning to the biography of al-Bulqn we discover the following: Amongst his shuykh in fiqh are Taqiyy ad-Dn as-Subk, but most of his learning was received from Shams ad-Dn Ibn Adln, Shams ad-Dn Ibn al-Qammh, Najm ad-Dn Ibn al-Aswn and Zayn ad-Dn Ibn al-Katnni. (ad-Daw al-Lmi vol. 6 p. 85)

With two of as-Subks opponents Ibn Adln and Ibn al-Katnn featuring prominently amongst his main teachers of fiqh, it becomes understandable, to a certain degree, how al-Bulqn could be ill-disposed towards as-Subk, under whom he himself had studied very little. His attitude towards as-Subk was in all probability inherited from his teachers.

The correct manner of dealing with instances of this nature is to place it within its proper historical and circumstantial perspective. This has been the way the ulam dealt with the disparaging remarks of Imm Mlik against Muhammad ibn Ishq, the remarks against Imm Ab Hanfah by his contemporaries, the remarks of Ab Htim and Ab Zurah ar-Rz against Imm al-Bukhr, the remarks of Ibn Mandah against Abu Nuaym and vice versa, and the mutual disparagements of as-Sakhw and as-Suyt.

To do what Sayyid Sbiq has done to use the remarks of Ab Zurah al-Irq and Sirj ad-Dn al-Bulqn against Imm Taqiyy ad-Dn as-Subk as evidence that the fuqah abandoned ijtihd for the sake of positions and appointments smacks of opportunism compounded by a lack of adequate respect for the ulam of the past, and regrettably aided by a failure to understand the context of such statements.

Be that as it may, for the observer who looks back at the past and right now, our past includes Sayyid Sbiq the manner of response is dictated not by sentiment, but rather by Divine Revelation: Those who come after them, say: Our Rabb, forgive us and our brothers who preceded us in faith. And place not in our hearts rancour towards those who believe. Our Rabb, You are Most Kind, Most Merciful. (al-Hashr:)