Clans of sapient virtue
November 17, 2013
Bridge over nascent waters:
Building households of enduring virtue
Rather than a focus on feeding ideological clans, which met their extinction as quickly as they sprang into life, notable Muslims in the past took great care to nurture evergreen trees of excellence within their households.
That was true of Morocco and Jakarta, or Syria and Khorasan in between.
In this nimble writing, which is meant to be no more than the mooting of an issue for further discussion and elaboration, we will introduce the household of Baqī b. Makhlad in Islamic Spain. We would have loved to add the household of Muhammad b. Waddāh, his twin in founding the school of in-depth hadīth transmission and study in that region, but time is against us, as it is regrettably against most people in this age of disposable wisdom.
There are now books specifically devoted to renowned households of scholarship in Muslim countries, which trace the genesis and evolution of such human spaces in which excellence, in the form of healthy knowledge and civic engagement, was planted firmly in one familial soil, passed from father to son across generations, and made to flourish in different luxuriant branches season after season.
Naturally, there has to be a foreordained growth Allah has willed for that garden, as Imām Mālik synthetically underlined when drawing attention to his own son insouciantly playing with a falcon during one of his lessons.
We are not humanists, so we believe that our efforts are blessed with enduring fertility only in the presence of Divinely granted success.
In our view, some of the mainstays of establishing households of durable excellence in this field consist in the following:
• We must have a sense of mission. We must clearly envision the centrality of our ummah. We must eagerly desire to play a meaningful role in the destiny of the ummah, to be agents of significance in it.
• We must have a direction. We cannot simply live to survive, to make ends meet or enjoy a slice of this world while engaging in the minimum worship to guarantee an otherworldly pass or prevent our spiritual death in this life. There has to be a greater good which is purposefully aimed at.
• We must have an identity and a keen sense of that identity. Members of the household of Baqī b. Makhlad knew who they were. They were conscious of their roots, and embraced them with affectionate reverence. They were Muslims, but they were also Andalusian Arabs with a tradition, a set of shared values, and a common culture delineating their human features in relation to the distinguishing features of other such human units. They did not reject their origin. They were not oblivious to it either, as if it was something unsettling to be smothered through indifference or passive negation. That is why we talk of a “household of Baqī b. Makhlad” in the first place.
• The children and the grandchildren must accordingly feel at all times affiliation to an identifiable organism; an organism which, through its peculiar genius, contributes to orientating the forward march of the larger units, e.g. the country (the tribe or the continent), the madhhab, the course of scholarship in a particular age, the Abode of Islam. It must know its special place within these broader maps and how those maps configure themselves on the wider canvas.
• The sets of parents must coalesce around that project and around that nurtured identity. They must be ad idem for them to be repositories of a sustainable flame of greatness. It does not matter whether the woman comes from the same ethnic group or not (and excess insularity of marital choices stagnates the lineage), so long as there is cohesiveness around a mission, larger than the immediate material fortunes of a household, at the center of which there need to be the man and the genius associated with his blood and stock. I liaised recently with a descendant of Shaykh Zarrūq striving to perpetuate the virtue of his progeny: we are unaware, conversely, of known Islamic legacies based on matriarchal lines.
• It is not enough to have an inner perception of the uniqueness of one’s household and the role it plays: it must be voiced, talked about, embedded in written documents, reinforced on public occasions, celebrated by capable outsiders (patrons, interviewers, biographers, promoters and so on).
• One individual in any such household will naturally emerge as the custodian of the specificity of its valuable contribution. When such a human type disappears in one generation, the household is close to eclipse. The family of my late teacher in Tunis, the Nayfar family, was deeply rooted in cross-generational eminence over a number of centuries, but in this age of decadence the visible products of its genius are falling into oblivion, unattended to save by one surviving son of my late teacher. It is imperative therefore to give full support to whichever household member emerges at any given time as the outstanding perpetuator of genial specificity, as its solidifying spokesperson.
The household of Baqī b. Makhlad had the good fortune of a multiplicity of such gifted spokespersons.
Some of the giants in that sequence are briefly listed here under.
Eventually, as it was said by historians, no household boasted a richer mine of scholarly talent than Baqī’s. The only two rivals of sorts were Banū Mughīth in Cordova and Banū al-Bājī in Sevilla (Imām Abu’l-Walīd came from that clan), yet Baqī’s household had pride of place in that trio as well.
1. The originator, Baqī b. Makhlad b. Yazīd al-Qurtubī (201-276 AH), one of the chief huffāz of the ummah, who authored a large-sized Musnad and an excellent Tafsīr, the like of which no one had penned as Ibn Hazm stated (with all that he was known for his critical mordacity), and who brought the science of accurate hadīth-examination to the Iberian Peninsula. In the East, he received direct knowledge at the hands of 284 teachers, almost all of whom were famed for their impeccable qualities.
2. His son, Judge Ahmad b. Baqī b. Makhlad (d. 324 AH). Muhammad b. al-Hārith al-Khushanī, the reputable biographer who personally associated with him over a long period, described him as someone regaled with generous nobility and proficiency in his pursuits, as eloquent, a moving orator, and a prolific writer. He was an indefatigable memorizer of the Qur’ān, yet he would read from the mushaf, like his father, lest he missed the blessing of looking into it. When he passed away, the funeral prayer was recited by his own son ‘Abur-Rahmān, as instructed by his father Baqī in a testamentary disposition. Events like births and funerals, and ceremonies like weddings, are important passages in entrenching the identity of a clan and the internal and external perception of its tangible identity.
3. ‘Abdur-Rahmān b. Ahmad b. Baqī b. Makhlad (d. 366 AH): A precise writer, a reliable transmitter of hadīth, and a fluent speaker who presided over sedate gatherings free from coarseness or vulgarity.
4. Makhlad b. ‘Abdir-Rahmān b. Ahmad b. Baqī b. Makhlad (d. 408 AH): When he died, he was buried in the area of the cemetery reserved for the tribal clan of Banu’l-‘Abbās, and his own son ‘Abdur-Rahmān b. Makhlad conducted the funeral prayer. One of the latter’s brothers in turn was:
5. Muhammad b. Makhlad b. ‘Abdir-Rahmān b. Ahmad b. Baqī b. Makhlad, a faqīh who transmitted and taught his forefather’s Musnad and Tafsīr through a fully familial narrative chain: from his father Ahmad b. Makhlad from Ahmad’s father Makhlad b. ‘Abdir-Rahmān b. Ahmad from ‘Abdur-Rahmān’s father Ahmad b. Baqī from Ahmad’s father, the progenitor Baqī b. Makhlad.
6. ‘Abdur-Rahmān b. Makhlad b. ‘Abdir-Rahmān b. Ahmad b. Baqī b. Makhlad, a Cordovan endowed with a fine calligraphy and brilliant skills in recounting stories and anecdotes, who acted in the judiciary for a while, and was subsequently employed as inspector of the police and the market in his home town, a function he performed admirably, conduct-wise, as mentioned to us by Ibn Bashkuwāl in his seminal As-Silah, one of the biographical cornerstones on luminaries of al-Andalus. Therein, Ibn Bashkuwāl described this household as one of “knowledge, high-mindedness, virtue and majesty”.
7. Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Makhlad b. ‘Abdir-Rahmān b. Ahmad b. Baqī b. Makhlad (d. 532 AH): He was skilled in juristic answers to novel contingencies, as well as in the forefront of expertise on how to phrase contractual terms and conditions (= contract-drafting) and how to pinpoint defects in contracts. He granted a number of scholarly authorizations to Ibn Bashkuwāl. He was also one of the teachers of al-Qādī ‘Iyād, who mentioned him in that capacity in his index of teachers, Al-Ghunyah. Al-Qādī ‘Iyād included in it a report recounted by his said teacher (Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Makhlad b. ‘Abdir-Rahmān b. Ahmad b. Baqī b. Makhlad) from Baqī b. Makhlad, through a full transmission chain. A Musnad is a work arranged in accordance with the transmitters of reports rather than the chapters of fiqh. ‘Ubaydullāh and Ishāq, two sons of Yahyā b. Yahyā, the celebrated transmitter of Mālik’s Muwatta’, came to Baqī b. Makhlad lamenting the fact that in his Musnad he had granted sequential preference to Abū Mus`ab az-Zuhrī followed by Yahyā b. Bakīr, with their father Yahyā b. Yahyā placed only third in that list. Baqī b. Makhlad said to the two of them in reply: ‘My sequential prioritizing of Abū Mus`ab az-Zuhrī is due to the saying of Allah’s Messenger, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam: “Give priority to Quraysh, and do not prioritize others over them” [Banū Zuhrah were Qurashites: The great ‘Abdur-Rahmān b. ‘Awf belonged to them]. As for Ibn Bakīr being prioritized by me (over your father), it is based on his being older, as the Messenger of Allah, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam, in fact said: “Give preference to your elders, in hierarchical order”, and on his having heard the Muwatta’ from Mālik ten times, as opposed to your father who only heard it from him once.’ When Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Makhlad b. ‘Abdir-Rahmān b. Ahmad b. Baqī b. Makhlad met his death, he was buried in the said cemetery of Banu’l-‘Abbās alongside his ancestors, and his own son, Abu’l-Hasan, prayed over him amid a large crowd of people in attendance.
8. ‘Abdur-Rahmān b. Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Makhlad b. ‘Abdir-Rahmān b. Ahmad b. Baqī b. Makhlad (d. 532 AH): A judicial offer in Cordova for a long time, he was buried in the selfsame cemetery and prayed over by his brother Abu’l-Qāsim after dying on a Friday.
9. ‘Abdur-Rahmān b. Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Makhlad b. Baqī b. Makhlad (d. 573 AH): He was a jurist and an adviser to the political class, of far-reaching erudition and endowed with an exalted rank.
10. Makhlad b. Yazīd b. ‘Abdir-Rahmān b. Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Baqī b. Makhlad (d. 622 AH): He was appointed marriage officer in Cordova. He was fond of books on Sufism and heart-softening tales.
11. Ahmad b. Yazīd b. ‘Abdir-Rahmān b. Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Baqī b. Makhlad (d. 625 AH): He was the Chief Justice of Morocco, as termed by Ibn al-Abbār in his Companion to Ibn Bashkuwāl’s said biographical text (= At-Takmilah). He wrote therein that Ahmad b. Yazīd was one of the stars of perfected manhood in al-Andalus. He served as judge in Marrākush [Morocco and Spain were essentially one entity for many centuries]. In Silah as-Silah, an appendix to Ibn Bashkuwāl’s work by Ibn az-Zubayr (a profound exegete of Allah’s Book), the biographer of judges from Malaga, an-Nubāhī, is quoted as saying that Ahmad b. Yazīd, Baqī b. Makhlad’s said descendant, was the Imām of the people in Arabic and linguistics, who had written one of the best books on the subject of allegorical āyāt in the Qur’ān, which he never parted with, whether he was at home or on a journey. He wrote clearly and concisely, eschewing tedious prolixity altogether. In his judicial verdicts he leaned towards the Literalist school.
We have therefore a panorama stretching across some four centuries, with a portfolio of interests ranging from intellectual research to active engagement in civic society, from law to politics, from the Book and the Sunnah to Arabic studies via general fiqh, specialist jurisprudence, Sufism, oratory and story-telling.
Both Baqī and Makhlad bear the meaning of lasting and going on, of persisting and subsisting.
Success is by Allah.