Ibn Ibad and the Ibadi School of Islamic Law
Abdullah ibn Ibad, after who is named a school of Fiqh that has been followed from the first Islamic century up to the present day, belonged to Murrah, a clan of the major tribe of Tameem. Yet reports about him are scarce even in the sources of the Ibadi school itself. However, a prominent contemporary Ibadi scholar believes that Abdullah ibn Ibad moved from Najd, where his tribe lived, to Basrah in southern Iraq. Few reports mention that he was born during the Prophet's lifetime, and that he saw the Prophet briefly, which means that he was one of his companions; but such reports are not taken too seriously. Most reliable Ibadi sources consider him to belong to the Tabieen generation. It is not known whether Abdullah ibn Ibad took any active part in the civil wars that took place in the Muslim state at the end of the reign of the third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, and during the time of Ali ibn Abi Talib, (may God be pleased with them both). However, he was unhappy about the rule of Muawiyah, criticising certain practices that he believed to be contrary to the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
What is more confusing is that we do not have reliable information about his death. However, it is perhaps safe to say that he died towards the end of the reign of Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, the Umayyad Caliph who died in 86 H, (706 CE). Nevertheless, some reports mention him with regard to events during the reign of Marwan ibn Muhammad, the last Umayyad Caliph, but these reports should be discounted as totally unreliable. The first reliable report about him mentions that he went to Makkah to defend it against the Umayyad army led by Husayn ibn Numayr during Yazeed's reign.
When Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr was trying to oust the Umayyad rulers and to become the Caliph, Abdullah ibn Ibad was in a delegation that tried to win him over to their point of view. This delegation pledged their full support to him if he would declare his acceptance of their views and distance himself from his father as well as the two leading companions of the Prophet, Uthman and Talhah. When he categorically refused, many of them, including Abdullah ibn Ibad, left and returned to Basrah.
The question that arises here is who were these people, and what group did they form? The answer is that they were the remainder of the group that disputed with Ali ibn Abi Talib after he had accepted the arbitration on his conflict with Muawiyah. This group fought the River Battle against Ali which he won decisively. It was about these that Ali was asked whether they were unbelievers, and his answer was: "No. It was from unbelief that they fled." He was asked whether they were hypocrites. Denying this, he said: "Hypocrites remember God but little." In his answer, he confirmed that these people were pious and remembered God often. He was then asked what were they, and he said: "They are a group of people who have been misguided, and they have been blinded and unwilling to listen. They have rebelled and fought against us, so we had to fight them."
Their trip to try to win Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr over to their cause took place many years later, because he did not seek to be a Caliph until after Muawiyah's death, and Muawiyah was Caliph for 20 years.
This group was at the time going through a difficult period, with some people trying to take over its leadership by force. Most prominent among these was Nafi' ibn al-Azraq, who labelled all other Muslim groups as unbelievers and idolaters. At this point Abdullah ibn Ibad took a clear stand opposing Nafi' ibn al-Azraq and his Khawarij supporters, advocating public resistance to them. It was at that point that the Ibadi school began to take shape, and hence it is known by Abdullah ibn Ibad's name, although Ibadi sources give him a secondary role in its establishment. There is no doubt, however, that Ibn Ibad was the most prominent scholar among this group, declaring his views clearly and openly, benefiting from the strong protection that his tribe could provide for him. Moreover, the Ibadi school needed to make its views clearly understood in an environment when numerous groups, splinter groups, ideas and principles were appearing in the Muslim world. Hence, Abdullah ibn Ibad was the one who undertook to voice their rejection of such ideas including those of the Mu'tazilah, the Shia and the Khawarij. It is believed that in his activities, Ibn Ibad was carrying out the instructions given to him by Jabir ibn Zayd, the real founder of the Ibadi school.
Abdullah ibn Ibad carried out further political activities, including exchanging letters with the Umayyad Caliph, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan (d. 86 H). All Ibadi sources praise him for writing to Abd al-Malik, but they do not mention whether he lived beyond Abd al-Malik's reign.
Jabir ibn Zayd belongs to the Azd Arabian tribe and it is believed that he was born in the village of Farq, which is not very far from Nizwa in Oman. As a child, he moved with his family to Basrah in southern Iraq. Perhaps the reason for this move was that some of his relatives were in the army raised by the local governor, Uthman ibn Abi al-Aas, to fight the Persians. It is said that the man who killed the Persian army commander was Jabir ibn Hadeed al-Yahmadi, a relative of Jabir ibn Zayd. This suggests that several members of Jabir's family were in that army and they settled in Basrah afterwards. All this took place during the reign of Uthman ibn Affan, the third Caliph. Most sources say that Jabir was born either in 18 or 21 H (639 and 642 CE). This means that Jabir belongs to the second Islamic generation, the Tabieen.
We have little information about his childhood or his parents, but we have good information about his education at a time when Islamic studies were not yet firmly established and formalized. He memorized the Qur'an at an early age, and he learnt the hadith, acquiring very solid grounding in this area. He learnt the hadith mostly from a large number of the Prophet's companions whom he met in Basrah, Madinah and Makkah. It is reported that Jabir felt that the pilgrimage could afford a chance to meet a large number of the Prophet's companions who would come from all over the Muslim world. But this would not be a casual meeting, as most of them would organize sessions in the Prophet's mosque in Madinah and the Sacred Mosque in Makkah. Hence, he performed the pilgrimage frequently, with some reports mentioning that he did the pilgrimage at least forty times.
Jabir ibn Zayd was a diligent scholar. He met no fewer than 70 of the Prophet's companions who took part in the Battle of Badr, the first major battle the Prophet fought against the idolaters of Quraysh. He learnt from them all the ahadith they learnt from the Prophet and all what they had to report. He also met Aishah, the Prophet's wife, and asked her about aspects of the Prophet's life at home. He even discussed with her some of the political problems in which she played a prominent role. Besides Aishah, Jabir ibn Zayd studied under a number of scholars who were among the Prophet's companions, such as Abdullah ibn Umar, Abdullah ibn Massoud, and Anas ibn Malik. However, his most important teacher was Abdullah ibn Abbas. The two became close friends with great respect for each other. It is reported that Ibn Abbas said: "If the people of Basrah would only listen to Jabir ibn Zayd, he would give them thorough knowledge of God's book." A man from Basrah called al-Rabie asked Ibn Abbas his views on a certain question. Ibn Abbas's reply was: "Why ask me when you have Jabir ibn Zayd in your midst?"
Recognition of Jabir's great scholarship was unanimous among his contemporaries. Al-Bukhari quotes Jabir ibn Zayd as saying: "As I was doing the tawaf, Abdullah ibn Umar passed by me and said: ‘Jabir! You are a true scholar and people will ask you for rulings. Do not give any ruling unless it is based on a clear text from the Qur'an or a confirmed Sunnah. Unless you have such a strong basis, you will ruin yourself and others.'" Indeed in scholarly merit, Jabir ibn Zayd is sometimes ranked ahead of his contemporary al-Hasan al-Basri, an acclaimed leading scholar.
Jabir was indeed the leading Mufti in Basrah, issuing rulings on whatever problems were put to him. He continued to teach the hadith and the Qur'an to his students. Jabir formulated a clear understanding of the highly complex history witnessed by the Muslim community in the early period, benefiting by two important factors: his association with Ibn Abbas who witnessed many of the political events in that period and his living in Basrah, one of the most important centres of events at the time. However, his profound understanding of politics made him steer a very cautious course, away from all political activities. Instead he devoted all his time to teaching Islam, leading a pious and simple life. He says: "I have prayed God for three things, which He has kindly granted me: a goodly and pious wife, a comfortable mount and lawful income that suffices for my needs one day at a time." His friends once asked him about his wealth, and he said: "None of you is richer than me: I do not have a single dirham and I owe nothing to anyone." Thus, he considered freedom from debt to be the mark of wealth, even though he had no money.
Jabir is classified as reliable by all main hadith scholars who accept his reporting of authentic ahadith. His students recorded much of his rulings, and some of these records survive in manuscript form. These rulings and Jabir's heritage, which was much more voluminous than what survives today, form the basis of the Ibadi school of Fiqh. Jabir died in 93 H, 711 CE.
The question that is often asked is whether Jabir ibn Zayd was knowingly establishing a school of Fiqh, or a political movement, both of which are applicable to the Ibadi school. This is a difficult question to answer, with Ibadi sources strongly emphasizing that he was, and other reports, particularly through sunni scholars, denying this. Be that as it may, Jabir was a scholar of high calibre, who steered away from politics, but certainly had his own views concerning the events that led to the emergence of numerous sects and schools in the early days of Islam.
Another figure of great importance in the emergence of the Ibadi school was Abu Ubaydah Muslim ibn Abi Kareemah who was a scholar of the Tabieen generation. He studied under Jabir ibn Zayd, Suhar al-Abdi and Jaafar ibn al-Simak. Reports suggest that Abu Ubaydah met a number of the Prophet's companions whom Jabir had also met. He transmits many ahadith that he heard from Jabir ibn Abdullah, Anas ibn Malik, Abu Hurayrah, Ibn Abbas, Abu Saeed al-Khudri and Aishah. It is said that he pursued his studies for forty years and then taught for forty years. But he was the one most instrumental in laying down the foundations of the Ibadi school. He apparently had strong organizational talents. There is no doubt that Abu Ubaydah was a man of great qualities. He was strongly devout, spending much time in worship. Furthermore, he was a distinguished orator, splendid teacher and a scholar of vast knowledge in Fiqh, theology and hadith. He benefited by all these qualities in providing a solid foundation for the Ibadi school.
The Ibadi school does not differ with other Islamic schools in referring to the Qur'an and the Sunnah for judgement on all matters. Indeed the Ibadi school attaches great importance to the hadith. Its early and major figures were all distinguished scholars of hadith. The third source the Ibadi school accepts as a basis of rulings is the views of the Prophet's companions.
There are certainly some Fiqh rulings in which the Ibadi school differs with some or all other Islamic schools, but these differences are all on matters of detail, and, therefore, inconsequential. There could be no reason to discount the Ibadi views, or ijtihad, on such matters. However, the issue to which the Ibadi school attaches great importance is that of loyalty and disclaim, or wala' and bara'. That is, with whom a Muslim may consider himself in a bond of brotherhood, and whom he should disown. Thus a Muslim has a bond of loyalty with all prophets, all people mentioned in the Qur'an as having believed in God, such as the priests referred to in verses 82-85 of Surah 5, the People of the Cave mentioned in Surah 18, the people who followed the Prophet Jonah, Pharaoh's sorcerers who believed in Moses, Mary and her mother, Pharaoh's wife, etc. and all true Muslims. A Muslim disowns all those branded in the Qur'an as having disbelieved in God and His messengers, such as Pharaoh and his men, the wives of Noah and Lot and all unbelievers and all those who commit cardinal sins or persistently commit minor sins without repenting of them. Also Muslims must disown oppressive rulers and those who actively support them.
Today the Ibadi school is predominant in Oman, and there are several areas where it continues to be followed. These are Zanzibar, and parts of Libya, Tunisia and Algeria.
by: Adil Salahi, Mon 14 February, 2005