By Dr. John Voll
Taken from shaukani’s blog
A powerful revivalist impulse emerged in the Islamic world of the eighteenth century. Some of the leaders, like Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahab or Shah Wali Allah in India, are well known. However, the foundations of this revivalism remain relatively obscure and personalities who inspired its leaders remain shadowy figures in history. One such person is Muhammad Hayyat al-Sindi, who was a teacher of the founder of the Wahabi movement. A closer examination of this Medinese scholar and the intellectual community of which he was a part can provide insight into the conditions which helped to inspire a prominent revivalist. Even more important, however, such analysis provides a basis for discerning some of the relationships among a number of the major eighteenth century movements. Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahab came to Madina as a relatively young scholar and studied under Muhammad Hayyat al-Sindi. He was introduced to this teacher by ‘Abdallah ibn Ibrahim ibn Sayf, another scholar with whom he had studied. Scholars have described Muhammad Hayyat as having an important influence on Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahab, encouraging him in his developing determination to denounce rigid imitation of medieval commentaries and to utilize informed individual analysis (ijithad).
Muhammad Hayyat also taught Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahab a rejection of popular religious practices associated with ‘ saints ‘ and their tombs that is similar to later Wahabi teaching. It is apparent, then, that Muhammad Hayyat, and his general intellectual milieu, have some importance for an understanding of the origins of at least the Wahabi revivalist impulse. Muhammad Hayyat appears to have had a modest fame in his day as a teacher of hadith. Major historians of his time like ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti and Muhammad Khalil al-Muradi gave him some notice, but he was not one of the dominant intellectual leaders of the period. He was, rather, a quiet scholar who attracted a variety of students and who participated in a vigorous community of hadith scholarship in Madina. Only a general outline of his life is given in the biography. He was born in a village in Sind, in present-day Pakistan and traveled in the province to get his basic education. From there he went to the holy cities in Arabia, where he settled, first as a student and then as a teacher, becoming, in the praise rhetoric of al-Muradi, the ‘bearer of the banner of the Sunna in Madina.
As a student, Muhammad Hayyat was associated with a number of the prominent teachers of his time. In terms of his own life, the most important of these was Abi al-Hasan Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Hadi al-Sindi, like himself an emigrant from Sind. Abi a1-Hasan had attained substantial fame as a teacher in the Prophet’s mosque and Muhammad Hayyat became his close associate, eventually taking over his teaching sessions after Abi al-Hasan’s death. Three other teachers are also mentioned: ‘Abdallah ibn Salim al-Bagri, Hasan ibn ‘li al-’Ajami, and Abi al-Tahir Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Kirini. In addition, it is noted that he was initiated into the Naqshabandiyys tariqa by ‘Abd al-Rahmin al-Saqqaf.
There is some diversity among the four ‘ academic ‘ teachers, but in certain respects they have basic similarities that help to define Muhammad Hayyat’s intellectual position. They are diverse in terms of madhhab and origin. Two are Hanafi and two are Shafi’i. One was born in India and, while the other three were born in the Hijaz, their families had come to the region relatively recently,’Abdallah’s from Basra, Aba al-Tahir’s from Persian and Hasan’s name could imply a foreign, possibly Persian, background. However, these men had a distinctive feature in common : they appear to have been strongly influenced, especially in hadith study, by the same general school of thought.
The most obvious feature in their common background is their relationship to Ibrahim ibn Hasan al-Kirini, a famous Medinese teacher of that time. Three of the four-’Abdallah, Abi al-Hasan, and Abd a1-Tahir-were students of Ibrahim. (Abi al-Tahir was his son.) The fourth, Hasan al-’Ajami, appears to have been older, and studied with Ibrahim’s major teacher Amad al-Qashashi,as well as other prominent teachers of Ibrahim. A more detailed examination of the instructors of Muhammad Hayyat’s teachers emphasizes their scholarly linkages even further. While Ibrahim al-Kirini seems to have been a dominant figure in this scholarly group in the holy cities, he is, in a broader picture, only a focal point within a larger web of intellectual interrelationships, which appear for this group to centre around two prominent teachers of an older generation, Ahmad al-Qashiishi in Arabia and Muhammad al-Babili in Egypt. All four of Muhammad Hayyii’s instructors have close links with these two men.
Three of the four were students of al-Babili, along with Ibrahim, and only Ibrahim’s son, Abi at-Tahir, did not have direct contact since he was too young. If one constructs an ‘ intellectual family tree ‘, Muhammad Hayyat had at least eight lines of connexion with al-Biibili. Similar ties can be seen with al-Qashashi. Ibrahim al-Kirini was his successor in his major teaching post, so the ties with Ibrahim lead to al-Qashashi. In addition to Hasan al-’Ajami’s direct connexion with al-Qashashi, there are at least four other instructors of Muhammad Hayyat’s teachers who were students of al-Qashashi. Thus, in the ‘ family tree ‘ there are at least six lines linking Muhammad Hayyat with al-Qashashi. The interconnected nature of this ‘ academic community ‘ is further emphasized by the fact that five of the six men who are parts of the linkage between Muhammad Hayyat and al-Qashashi were also links between him and al-Babili.
The picture that emerges from this pattern of student-teacher relationships is one of a relatively closely intertwined intellectual community. There is no evidence to show that this ‘ school ‘ was in any way formally organized. However, it seems safe to assume that these scholars had at least some basic common views and either knew each other personally or were well known to each other by reputation. This particular group or tradition was centred in Makka and Madina, although most of the men had relatively wide-ranging educations. The most common place to which they went for further education was Egypt, with the result of the close ties with the Egyptian teacher, al-Babili. In addition, many of the group took advantage of the educational opportunities provided by scholars coming to the holy cities on pilgrimage. Thus the names of prominent scholars from throughout the Islamic world appear on some of the teacher lists.
A total of names appear in biographies as either teachers of Muhammad Hayyat or their teachers. Of these, 16 appear as a part of the integrated ‘ family tree ‘ of student-teacher relations, while 11 appear as teacher of only one of the men and no other direct connexion is indicated in the biographies. This grouping of scholars as a whole has a number of interesting characteristics. The group is more broadly cosmopolitan than the five direct teachers of Muhammad Hayyat. Their birthplaces and areas of early study range from India and Persia to Algiers and Morocco. The group as a whole is widely traveled and very few received their full education in just one or two places. Some had direct dealings with political and military officials but none of them held a significant ‘ official ‘ religious post for any length of time, except for one teacher o f Hasan al-’Ajami. That man was the Hanafi Mufti of ‘ the Hijaz regions and al-Madina.
Perhaps related to this is the fact that out of the 24 scholars whose madhhab is given or can be reasonably inferred, 12 only three, including this mufti and al-’Ajami, are Hanafi. The third, Abi a1-Hasan al-Sindi, was of Indian origin. The prominence of the Hanafi madhhabin India may explain his position and also Muhammad Hayyat’s own atypicality in this regard, since he was also a Hanafi. The five scholars of Maghribi origin were Maliki in madhhab. All of the remaining 16 were Shafi’i. Especially in the light of the emphasis often given to the Hanbali background of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, it is remarkable to note that none of the teachers, or even the teachers of the teachers, of Muhammad Hayyat, is identified as Hanbali. Thus, while the group is not explicitly defined by madhhab affiliation, it does appear to have some relationship to the legal schools. The core of the group is Shafi’i, with a solid leaven of Maliki scholarship. It was not closed to other schools but their participation was limited.
It is also notable that most of these 27 scholars had some Shafi affiliations. This is most frequently described in general terms rather than having the name of a specific tariqa given. One order that is specifically mentioned is the Naqshabandiyya, into which Muhammad Hayyat was initiated. Perhaps the most notable Naqshabandiyya affiliates in the general group are Ibrahim al-Kirini and Ahmad al-Qashashi. Thus while little concrete can be said about the specific affiliations of this cluster of scholars, it is possible to note that they were not opposed to Sufism and at least some of them were affiliated with the reformist Naqshabandiyya tradition.
This community of scholars is the context within which Muhammad Hayyat taught. Available sources provide information about 20 students who studied under him in Madina. An examination of these men aids in providing a fuller picture of the educational background of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab. In a broader sense it provides a case study in the spread of influence of the group of scholars of which Muhammad Hayyat was a part. The importance of being located in Madina is illustrated by the variety of the students. The Medinese scholarly community in general was able to contact people from throughout the world of Islam because of the Pilgrimage. This means, however, that a list of the students of any Hijazi scholar will tend to be heterogeneous and not from particular academic group, since many would only stay in Madina for a relatively short time before returning home. At the same time, it was thus possible for Medinese scholars to have at least some influence over the development of Islam in many different areas.
The list of students of Muhammad Hayyat under study here has a recognizable bias. It is compiled primarily on the basis of biographical information appearing in the works of al-Muriidi and al-Jabarti. As a result, all 20 men have some connection with the eastern Arabic-speaking world and none of the men listed by these two historians settled as mature scholars outside of that region. However, some hint of the broader nature of Muhammad Hayyat’s ’student body ‘ can be seen in the birthplaces. Three of them were born in the eastern Islamic world and three came from the regions of Rum. The remaining 14 all came from the eastern Arab world, but even here there is substantial diversity. Four were born in Madina and four came from Aleppo, and the other six came from different places : one each from Yaman, Najd, Jerusalem, Baghdad, Nablus, and Damascus. It is noteworthy that while a number of these students had North African teachers and Muhammad Hayyat himself appears to have had associations with North African scholars, none of his listed students are of North African origin. Since both al-Muradi and al-Jabarti are quite conscious of the activities of Maghribi scholars, this may indicate something more than just data bias. It is possible that a Hanafi teacher like Muhammad Hayyat with ‘ eastern ‘ connexions would not attract Maliki scholars in the same way that some of his Shafi’i colleagues would.
In general terms of madhhab affiliation, none of Muhammad Hayyat’s listed students were Maliki. In contrast to the general scholarly community of which he appears to have been a part, the majority of his students (twelve) were Hanafi and only five were Shafi’i. Out of the twelve Hanafis, seven either came to hold ‘ official’ religious positions or became in some way closely associated with the Ottoman state. Four of the other five were Shafi shaykhs or teachers of Sufism, and only one was a regular teacher of hadith. ls In contrast to this, all five of the Shafi’i students had little or no direct connexion with ‘religious officialdom ‘ and were basically scholar teachers in the various legal sciences. Among the three other students, one was a Sufi recluse, whose madhab given, the second was a prominent Hanbali teacher of madhab in Nablus, and the remaining student was Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab himself, a Hanbali whose family had had and maintained close connexions with local ruling princes in central Arabia.
Similar diversity can be seen in terms of the associations of this group of students with the Shafi tradition. Of the 20 scholars, 12 are explicitly noted as participating directly in some way in Sufism. Seven are identified as members of major tariqas, three either taught or wrote Sufi books, one was a miracle-working Sufi recluse, and one may said to be ‘ beloved of the people of the tariqas. Within this grouping there is no apparent correlation between Sufi affiliation and either geographic origin or madhhab. Even in the case of the two Hanbalis, one, Muhammad al-Saffiirini, had association with a tariqa. This was not unusual among eighteenth-century Hanbalis in the Syrian region.
There are relatively few tariqas that are explicitly mentioned. The most frequently noted is the Naqshabandiyya. Four of the seven are said to be members of this order. The second order of apparent importance in this group is the Khalwatiyya, with the other three men noted as affiliates. Although two of the students were mernbers of more than one order, none of the seven is said to have been a member of both the Khalwatiyya and the Naqshabandiyya. One man from each of these two orders was described as having Qadiriyya connexions. The only other orders mentioned by name are the ‘Aydarusiyya and the Wafii’iyya, which are other tariqas of the Naqshabandi/Qadiri, ‘Abd al-Rahman al-’Aydarisi.
Although the number of Khalwatiyya and Naqshabandiyya listed members is small, these particular students also help to define the religious scholarly community of which Muhammad Hayyat was a part. The Naqshabandi students are among the more prominent members of that period in the eastern Arab world: Ismail al-Uskandari was the ‘ shaykh of the Naqshabandi group in Madina ‘, while ‘Ali al-Muradi was the senior member of the leading Naqshabandi family in Syria and the Hanafi Mufti of Damascus for many years, had the Ottoman Sultan as a patron. ‘Abd al-Rahman al-’Aydarusi, a third Naqshabandi, was a prominent member of the great ‘Aydarus family which provided teachers and religious leaders for communities stretching from India to Cairo. The fourth listed member of the order was an Indian scholar who settled in Damascus under the patronage of the Muradi family. Thus Muhammad Hayyat, himself a Naqshabandi, can be said to have been associated, both through his teachers and his students, with some of the most prominent and influential groups within that tariqa as it was established in the eastern Arab world.
Although Muhammad Hayyat’s connexions with the Khalwatiyya do not appear to be as close, it is certainly worth noting that two of his three Khalwati students were associated with that order through the leading reviver of that tradition, Mustafa al-Bakri. One of these was Muhammad al-Samman, a leading student of al-Bakri. In addition, Mustafa himself studied under one of Muhammad Hayyat’s teachers, ‘Abdallah al-Basri, and one of the sons of Ibrahim al-Kiruni, as well as other men in the community of scholars with whom Muhammad Hayyat was associated. Thus, while the ties are more generalized, the new revivalist Khalwati tradition of Mustafa al-Bakri also appears to play a part in Muhammad Hayyat’s personal milieu. Through examining his students and his teachers, the position of Muhammad Hayyat al-Sindi thus becomes clearer. He was a quiet teacher of hadith in Madina but was in contact with and a part of some of the major movements of his day. Many of his students became men of some importance, as notables in the religious ‘ establishment, as tariqa leaders, or as teachers of hadith.
Although Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab is now the best-known ‘ revivalist among his students, he was not the only student with that approach. The others included Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Karim al-Samman, the student of al-Bakri whose own tariqa, the Sammaniyya, had influence in Yaman and the eastern Sudan, and Muhammad al-Saffarini, who came to dominate Hanbali scholarship in Nablus, one of the smaller centres of the madhhab. Al-Saffarini was said to have been ‘victorious for the Sunna and a suppressor of innovation. Scholars often search for possible sources of the ideas and inspirations of important historical figures. In terms of Islamic fundamentalism, many attempts have been made to show how the Wahhabis influenced other revivalist movements, but less has been done in analysing the context out of which Wahhabism itself grew. It certainly is possible to note the potential fundamentalism of the Hanbali tradition, especially as defined by Ibn Taymiyya.
It is, however, not at all clear that the spirit of Ibn Taymiyya was the dominant one among the Hanbalis of the eastern Arab world in the eighteenth century. It was a part of Muhammad Ibn Abd Wahab’s inspiratonib but one might also see inspiration for vigorous reform coining from the study of hadith as presented by Muhammad Hayyat. Through this teacher, Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab certainly must have had an introduction to a broader world of religious scholarship within which ideas of reform were developing. This picture is limited, however, if one simply looks at the brief information about Muhammad Hayaat himself. When the group of which he is a part is analysed, the point becomes stronger. Through Muhammad Hayyat, the founder of the Wahhabiyya can be seen in contact with the eighteenth-century revivalist impulses of the Naqshabandiyya and Khalwatiyya traditions. This line of analysis provides an even broader set of less direct connexions. The community of teachers in which Muhammad Hayyat participated played a quiet but important role in the Islamic world of that era. When the great Indian reformer Shah Wali Allah came to Arabia, he studied hadith under Muhammad Hayyat’s teacher, Abi ‘at-Tahir Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Kirrani. At a slightly earlier date, the students of Ibrghim al-Kiirani included Shaykh Yusuf, who later led a holy war against the Dutch in Indonesia and was exiled to South Africa, and ‘Abd al-Ra’iif of Singkel, who was a major influence in the revival of orthodox Sufism in Sumatra.
Thus, through Muhammad Hayyat al-Sindi and his scholarly tradition, one can place the founder of the Wahhabi movement in a world of Islamic revivalism that stretches from Indonesia to Africa. These various eighteenth-century movements assumed varying forms depending on local conditions and the personalities of the leaders. There is, however, a remarkable convergence of background around the small group of teachers of hadith in the holy cities. Men like Muhammad Hayyat do not often have a prominent place in history, but a careful analysis of their life and context can provide an opening to a better understanding of the major movements in history