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Muhammad ibn Muslim ibn Ubaydullah ibn Shihab al-Zuhri[1] (Arabic: ابن شهاب الزهري‎; died AH 124/741-2), usually referred to simply as Ibn Shihab or al-Zuhri in hadith literature. He was a central figure among the early collectors of sīra—biographies of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad and hadith literature.

Muhammad ibn Muslim ibn Ubaydullah ibn Abdullah ibn Shihab al-Zuhri
محمد بن مسلم بن عبید الله بن عبد الله بن شهاب القرشی الزهری
TitleMuslim scholar
Born50 AH
DiedAH 124 (741/742)
EraIslamic golden age
Main interest(s)Hadith, sīra

Sufyān said, “I saw al-Zuhrī with his hair flowing to his shoulders and his beard dyed in a fading red colour. It looked as though he dyed it with katam. He was bleared-eyed. I was 17 years old when he came to visit us in the year 123AH and he stayed until 124AH. Mālik was misled by al-Zuhrī’s dyed beard which made him think al-Zuhrī was a young man. Layth ibn Saʿd said, “al-Zuhrī wore a garment dyed in red.”


Ibn Sa'd[2] has an account purporting to be in al-Zuhri's own words describing how he left his home in Medina, went to Damascus to standardise the application of law and was recruited into the administration of the Caliph Abd al-Malik. The Caliph observed that his father had supported Ibn al-Zubayr against him in the recent civil war. But the Caliph's policy toward the Zubayrites was reconciliation and his father's politics were not held against him.

No connected account of al-Zuhri's life after that has come down to us. There is no evidence he ever again lived in Medina. Abd al-Malik died in AH 86 (705 CE) and al-Zuhri continued to serve the Umayyad court the rest of his life. He died in AH 124 (741–2 CE).

His TeachersEdit

He narrated from

  • Sahl ibn Saʿd,
  • Anas ibn Mālik,
  • Sāʾib ibn Yazīd,
  • Abdullāh ibn Thaʿlabah ibn Suʿayr,
  • Maḥmūd ibn Rabīʿ,
  • Maḥmūd ibn Labīd,
  • Shabīb Abū Jamīlah,
  • Saʿīd ibn Musayyib

and many others.

Abu Hatim stated, “The most proficient of Anas ibn Mālik’s students were al-Zuhrī, Qatādah and Thābit al-Bunanī, in that rank.”

al-Zuhrī related, “I sat with Saʿīd ibn al-Musayyab and I did not hear anything but the matters of the Hereafter. I sat with ʿUbaydullāh and I did not hear anyone with more rare narrations than him, and I found ʿUrwah as an ocean of knowledge, who could not be disrupted by vessels.” In the initial conversation with Abd al-Malik the names of earlier Islamic scholars whom al-Zuhri had come in contact with in Madinah are mentioned: 'Abdullah ibn Tha'laba al-'Adawi (though he is disparaged), Said ibn al-Musayyib, Urwah ibn Zubayr, 'Ubaydullah ibn 'Abdullah ibn 'Utba, Abu Bakr ibn 'Abdul-Rahman ibn al-Harith, Kharija ibn Zayd ibn Thabit and 'Abdul-Rahman ibn Yazid ibn Jariya. There are many stories about the strength of al-Zuhri's learning and all the scholars in the west who were alive when he died quoted from him in their own works.[2]


Some sources, but not Ibn Sa'd, say that he had a son named Ahmad ibn Abu Bakr al-Zuhri.[citation needed]


Many of the areas under the Umayyads had previously been under the Byzantines or the Persians and previously had their own legal systems. The Qazis used as judges by the Umayyads did not implement a standardised version of jurisprudence. To standardise the legal systems and in complex legal cases, many scholars in Madina would advise these judges. To enhance their education, many Umayyad rulers also sent their children to Madina for education. Shihab al-Zuhri later worked in Damascus and also taught the son of Caliph Hisham (died AH 125/743). This does not mean that he supported the Umayyads. Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri felt that his student Walid would become a corrupt and oppressive ruler. His relationship with the spoilt prince Walid (ruled for one year 125 after al-Zuhri's death) got so bad that Walid only survived after his father restrained Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri from killing his spoilt son [2]


Sunni viewEdit

Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri is regarded as one of the greatest Sunni authorities on Hadith. The leading critics of Hadith such as Ibn al-Madini, Ibn Hibban, Abu Hatim, Al-Dhahabi and Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani are all agreed upon his indisputable authority. He received ahadith from many Sahaba (Companions) and numerous scholars among the first and second generations after the Companions narrated from him.

On the other hand, in his famous letter to Malik ibn Anas, Laith ibn Sa`d writes:

Ibn Shihab would give many contradicting statements, when we would meet him. While if any one of us would ask him something in writing, he, in spite of being so learned, would give three contradictory answers to the same question. He would not even be aware of what he had said about the issue in the past. This is what prompted me to give up what you do not approve of [i.e. quoting a narrative on the authority of ibn Shihab].[3]

Non-Muslim viewEdit

Harald Motzki regards al-Zuhri as reliable.[4]

Early Islam scholarsEdit


  1. ^ Our sources do not agree about his name. The form used in the text comes from Ibn Ishaq where it appears on page 4 of Guillaume's translation of "Sirat Rasul Allah". On the other hand Ibn Sa'd (in Ayeasha Bewley's translation called "The Men of Madina – vol II, pages 273–81) first says it was Muhammad ibn 'Ubaydullah ibn 'Abdullah ibn Shihab and then quotes him as saying his name was "Muhammad ibn Muslim ibn 'Ubaydullah ibn 'Abdullah ibn Shihab ibn 'Abdullah ibn al-Harith ibn Zuhra
  2. ^ a b c cited above
  3. ^ (Ibn Qayyim Al-Jawziyya, a`laam al- Muwaqqi'in, vol. 3, [Beirut: Daru'l-Jayl], p. 85). This statement contradicts al-Laith's tremendous praise for him found in books of hadith narrators, such as Tadhhib al-Kamal, nor did it stop him quoting many hadiths from al-Zuhri if we are to believe the isnads in traditional Sunni hadith books
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-03-11. Retrieved 2006-09-28.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

Further readingEdit

  • There is an excellent modern discussion of al-Zuhri, his life, works and legacy in the eighth chapter of Azami's Studies in Early Hadith Literature: Mohmammad Mustafa Azmi "Studies in Early Hadith Literature: with a Critical Edition of Some Early texts" 1st edition 1968, 3rd edition 1992 used, American Trust Publications, ISBN 0-89259-125-0.
  • Boekhoff-van der Voort, Nicolet, Umayyad Court, in Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God (2 vols.), Edited by C. Fitzpatrick and A. Walker, Santa Barbara, ABC-CLIO, 2014, Vol. II, pp. 659–663. ISBN 1610691776 (An Entry on the Umayyad court and, in particular, the impact of Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri by a leading specialist on al-Zuhri)

External linksEdit