The Battle of the Pen
Between Imam As-Sakhawi [902H] & Imam As-Suyuti [911H]
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
As-Sakhawi and As-Suyuti were both students of Al-Hafith Ibn Hajr [852H] and both prominent scholars of the Sha’fi Jurisprudence; However ,As-Sakhawi actually studied with Ibn Hajr and As-Suytui learned from Ibn Hajr’s books. Imam As-Suyuti’s father used to take him Al-Hafith’s classes in Cairo when he was only 3 years old.
Imam As-Sakhawi was a historian with a great mastery in the science of Hadith, while As-Suyuti was a linguist, a historian, an erudite in Tafsir and a Muhaddith; nonetheless both of these scholars were considered then what we call today “Senior Scholars.”
These two scholars had many grievances between themselves, as most contemporaries do. The dispute between these two Imans is often referred to as “The Battle of the Pen”.
These two Imams disputed about various subjects which lead them write essay after essay ,back and forth, criticizing each other. Imam As-Sahkhawi used to criticize Imam As-Suyuti in a manner unbefitting of an Alim. He condemned As-Suyuti in the harshest manner possible in his history book attacking his honor . Therefore, Imam As-Suyuti replied back with an essay titled: “Torching As-Sakhawi’s history book”. Imam As-Sakhawi’s history book “The Radiant light “caused a lot of people to split up in partisanship; thus dividing the students of these two Imans into two sides of followers. i.e the followers of As-Sakhawi and the followers of As-Suyuti.[May Allah have mercy and forgive them both]
Imam As-Sakhawi wrote that Imam As-Suyuti was ill-mannered towards his mother; he used to hit her, and was weak in math. Imam As-Sakhawi went as far as to accuse Imam As-Suyuti of stealing the works of their teacher, Ibn Hajr and then passing them around as his writings. Unfortunately, this dispute kept a lot of their students occupied in things that weren’t beneficial and instead each group went around defending the honor of their teacher.
After this attack Imam As-Suyuti fired back at As-Sakhawi writing that he wrongfully slandered others, was ignorant in the verdicts of the Shariah, was weak in Hadith and in Tafsir and was deprived from being an actual student.
In fact during that time in Egypt there were many scholars going at each other’s neck in issues, and the ironic thing that about of all this is they were all contemporaries. For example there were issues between As-Sakhawi and Al-Baq’ee ,other arguments between Al-Baq’ee and Al-Qastallani[923H]. And Allah’s aide is sought.
Nevertheless, the dispute between As-Sahkhawi and As-Suyuti is built on five issues; apart from them both being peers, who shared the arena dawah. The issues were;
1-Seeing the Prophet (ﷺ) while awake.
Imam As-Suyuti said his book Tanwir Al-Halik, that it was possible see the Prophet and Angels while awake. As-Sakhawi denied this possibility and wrote an entire book refuting As-Suyuti for his view.
In Suyuti’s response to As-Sakhawi’s he included a poem mentioning that the person, who denies that ability to see the Prophet while awake is a Kafir, and this topic goes back to Allah’s ability, similar to how Allah can resurrect the dead; as mentioned in the Quran.
Seeing the Prophet after death
This is included in possibilities
Say to the one who says impossible
don’t argue in the issues which are deep
You don’t know what’s possible or impossible
and the like and so on in knowledge
Imam As-Suyuti took this position from a clear wording of the hadith found in Sahih Al-Bukhari. Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “He who sees me in his dream will see me in his wakefulness (or he (ﷺ) may have said it is as though he has seen me in a state of wakefulness), for Satan does not appear in my form.”
Imam As-Sakhawi refuted this stating that no one from the Salaf ever narrated they saw the Prophet [ﷺ] in that state and if anyone would have seen him while awake, then it would have been Fatimah. She went through a severe saddness after his [ﷺ] death for six months. Therefore As-Sakhawi’s argument was if it’s possible, how come none of his companions narrated to us they saw the Prophet [while awake]?
In this issue Imam As-Sakhawi went with the position of his teacher Ibn Hajr who clarified the misconceptions around the hadith in Fathul Bari.
Imam As-Suyuti wrote his own biography stating that he had mastered seven branches of knowledge and therefore he considered himself a Mujtahid. Imam As-Suyuti said that if he wanted to write about any issue, then he could do so, and mention all of their differences between the scholars, along with their evidences, and include the views of the four schools of jurisprudence. Imam As-Suyuti saw himself as the ONLY mujtahid in his era, and Al-Qasatallani said, “He’s conceited and looks down on his peers.”
3- Imam As-Sakhawi’s abusive language in his history book.
Imam As-Suyuti mentioned that Imam As-Sakhawi acted rudely and hurled predatory slurs at his contemporaries in his history book. Imam As-Sakhawi wrote that Imam As-Suyuti stole other scholars’ writings and went around passing them out like they were his books. Moreover he said that As-Suyuti used to attack the scholars, while he was fool who was ignorant of Mathematics.
Imam As-Suyuti responded with 2 books saying that As-Sakhawi used to misspell hadith. Also, in those books he called Imam As-Sakhawi stupid, ignorant, a liar and added that his hadith books were taken from the leftovers of Ibn Hajr’s.
Furthermore, As-Suyuti rejected the belief that Jarh wa Ta’dil could be used in their lifetime. Imam As-Suyuti decided that it was ONLY applicable for the earlier era of scholars, who were narrating hadith at the beginning stages, whereas in his era Jarh wa Ta’dil was only restricted to accepting and rejecting Hadith.
Imam As-Sakhawi answered this by saying that mentioning the faults and errors of people wasn’t backbiting and that Jarh wa Ta’dil mustn’t ONLY be applied to the narrators of hadith. Jarh wa Ta’dil is advice for the Ummah. A scholar can either be a righteous person who follows falsehood, or a scholar who is a sinner and too lenient in his Fatawa, or one who knowledge can’t be taken from. Therefore, Jarh wa Ta’dil is needed to advise the Muslim community at large.
As-Sakhawi’s history book has some conflicting messages inside of it as it relates to the scholars who were his peers. He mainly concentrated on those who lived during the 9th century. Imam As-Shawkani [1250H] said: As-Sakhawi’s biography book wrongfully exceeded the rights of people and the honor of senior scholars who were his contemporaries .
If a person reads some of the biographies As-Sakhawi wrote he’d find that he also criticized some of As-Suyuti’s students as well at times. For instance he wrote that Abul Jabbar ibn Ali Al-Aktabi lost his head like his Shaykh. In some other biographies he would accuse people of seeking fame, loving the life of this world ,and even seeking positions of power.
As-Sakhawi defended himself saying that he wrote and spoke about those people in that way, so that others could know their true reality. And As-Sakhawi’s supporters said he never used to back-bite anyone and what he wrote is what he held to be correct after he observed them.
4- Muhyadeen Ibn Arabi As-Soofee (638H)
As-Sakhawi criticized Ibn Al-Arabi and As-Suyuti was one of his staunch supporters; however he didn’t refute As-Sakhawi for his criticism of Ibn Arabi,but instead he went after Al-Baqa’I because he dishonored Ibn Arabi using the As-Sakhawi’s remarks. Al-Baqa’I’s book was called, “Enlightening the fool about the Kufr of Ibn Arabi”, so As-Suyuti’s reply was titled, “ Enlightening the fool that Ibn Arabi is free from those claims.”
Following this As-Sakhawi mentioned that As-Suyuti was deceived and leaned towards Ibn Arabi’s principles; since As-Suyuti said: Whoever curses Ibn Arabi or harms him has set himself up for a war with Allah.
As-Sakhawi had the position that there was no way interpret Ibn Arabi’s speech other than what he mentioned. On the other hand As-Suyuti defended Ibn Arabi saying that Sufis use words in way that really isn’t known to many people.
Imam As-Sakhawi said without a doubt the statements of pantheism are statements of Kufur. Ibn Arabi’s statements meant: Allah is with the universe, or everything in the universe is a manifestation of Allah.
Afterwards Imam As-Suyuti mentioned Ibn Arabi’s statements and As-Sakhawi’s side by side in an essay and mentioned the dangers of pantheism by considering Allah a part of everything that exists, but he didn’t mention any names. Later As-Sakhawi placed in the end of his book that the speech of Ibn Arabi was disbelief ,but he didn’t consider Ibn Arabi a Kafir; since he could have repented and refrained from continuing with that belief until his death.
5- As-Suyuti was a student of As-Sakhawi but debated him.
Another reason for the fallout between these two scholars was the fact that As-Suyuti debated As-Sakhawi in a manner exposing his faults to the public, and for that reason As-Sakhawi added in the bio of As-Suyuti the words “He studied with me for a very long time.”
In the end Imam As-Suyuti got older and wiser at the age of 40, and this was when he just stopped responding to those who were attacking him and focused on writing books. He completely stopped giving verdicts and teaching, but he would still intermingle with the people from time to time. In one book As-Suyuti explained that he faced a lot of heartache and pain from his peers after he was allowed to issue edicts ,so for that reason, he decided that he wouldn’t be answering any questions from there on.
One remarkable response As-Suyuti wrote about his trials was. “ Isn’t this the era of patience, where the patient person long-suffering is like the one holding on to hot coal? I prefer to live by the advice of the Prophet [ﷺ]… He [ﷺ] ordered the scholars to concentrate on themselves, remain indoors quietly and avoid the common-folk.”
A Few practical Life Lessons from this account
- One thing for certain is people are people even though they become scholars and this doesn’t mean that they won’t act out of character at times. For this reason, we have the Prophet [ﷺ]to look at for our number 1 role model.
- Competition between contemporaries is an age-old crisis that causes division among the Muslims and the common folk. The layman gets carried away and wastes his time trying to defend his teacher or caught up in following the conflict.
- Sometimes the scholars get upset and use vulgar language when they criticize their peers and their students, who they will consider are supporters of falsehood; however this mustn’t diminish the ranks of the critic or the criticized if they are both peers.
- It’s better to avoid supporting a scholar just because your heart leans towards him. Instead it’s always correct to support the truth.
- The older we get the wiser we should become! Imam As-Suyuti just grew older and saw that the bickering back and forth was taking too much of his energy and wasting his time, so began only writing. At the time of As-Suyuti’s death it’s said that had authored around 600 books. And for that reason his nickname was “ Abu Books”
- 40 years old is the age of wisdom and reflection for your life and a gauge for you to reflect on your future ending which draws nearer every day.
- Father’s should take their children to the classes of their teachers and this will allow that child to grow up with love for the people of knowledge.
- The Prophet’s advice affected As-Suyuti and other scholars before him in regards to people who split up the ranks of Muslims due to their affection with their sheikh’s opinions.
Abu Umayyah ash-Sha’bani said:I asked AbuTha’labah al-Khushani: What is your opinion about the verse “Care for yourselves”.He said: I swear by Allah, I asked the one who was well-informed about it; I asked the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) about it.He said: No, enjoin one another to do what is good and forbid one another to do what is evil. But when you see niggardliness being obeyed, passion being followed, worldly interests being preferred, everyone being charmed with his opinion, then care for yourself, and leave alone what people in general are doing; for ahead of you are days which will require endurance, in which showing endurance will be like grasping live coals. The one who acts rightly during that period will have the reward of fifty men who act as he does. Another version has: He said (The hearers asked:) Messenger of Allah, the reward of fifty of them?He replied: The reward of fifty of you.
- Scholars can become conceited and fall into self –amazement. Imam As-Suyuti used praise himself and considered himself to be the most knowledgeable of his era.
- Scholar’s aren’t always people of Tamyee’[ watering down the Minhaj] when they support another scholar who errs, it could just be that the scholar understands the speech of the one he supports in way others don’t . The example of Ibn Arabi’s words between As-Suyuti and As-Sakhawi understandings show this.
- Sometimes scholars refute each other in correspondences that people pay attention to during that era, and afterwards the generations who follow them don’t even know why these books were written or give them importance. The back and forth refutations between As-Sahkawi and As-Suyuti were numerous and today many of the books aren’t even read, not mentioned ,or published.
- Scholars will accuse their peers of being stupid, ignorant, fame seekers, and much more. Imam As-Sakhawi even accused As-Suyuti of being a thief. He said that As-Suyuti stole the books of Ibn Hajr and put his name on them. As-Sakhawi said: “All of those books are my Shaykh’s. It would have been better if he only stole them without coping them.”
- Sometimes scholars will criticize the intentions of others.
- Criticisms between peers aren’t given attention as mentioned by many scholars of the past in Jarh wa Ta’dil. Imam Ad-Daraqutni was asked about Abu Musa and Bundar and he replied ” take from both except the speech they say about each other.” NOTE: if this is the case for scholars who criticize each other, then how about young du’at and translators who speak about their peers?!
- Students will sometimes follow the criticisms of their teachers. For example As-Sakhawi criticized Ash-shaykh Zakiriyah Al-Ansari as being liar. Then his student Al-Baqa’I described Shaykh Zakiriyah as being a chatterbox, who loves fame and boasting about his achievements.
- A person can be an Imam in Jarh wa Ta’dil and wrongfully evaluate and even oppress others. Imam Ash-Shawkani said: As-Sakhawi was an Imam but he frequently maltreated the senior scholars who were his peers.”
- Scholars have written their own biographies in the past. Imam As-Suyuti wrote his bio.
- Ash-Shaykh Abdul Wahhab ibn Abdil Lateef wrote that As-Suyuti was a grandmaster in many areas of the religion. In fact he surpassed As-Sakhawi in deriving verdicts, understanding the texts, the mastery of Arabic, and Tafsir. And As-Sakhawi was grandmaster in Hadith, isnad, narrators, Ilal, and history. Imam As-Sakhawi between two was considered the inheritor of Ibn Hajr’s knowledge and for that reason in Hadith As-Sakhawi is giving precedence over As-Suyuti and returned to for understanding.
- Imam Ash-Shawkani said: The dispute and criticisms between As-Sakhawi and As-Suyuti mustn’t be used as a proof for any side. This is based on the principle that Jarh wa Ta’dil isn’t accepted between peers when it appears there is some competition
- As-Sakhawi: was Muhammad ibn Abdir Rahman [831- 902H] His nickname was the traveler since he used to travel a lot in pursuit of knowledge. He had about 200 plus teachers and out of all them he stayed close to Al-Hafith Ibn Hajr [852H] .He died in Madinah and is buried next to Ibn Malik ibn Anas. He wrote a large number of books and many of them deal with the subject of history,and his explanation for Alfeeyah of Iraqi widely read and respected.
- As-Suyuti: Abdur Rahman ibn Al-Kamal[849-911H] He is often referred to as Jalal Ad-deen As-Suyuti. Born in Cairo and buried there next to his father. Some of As-Suyuti’s teachers were, Muhyideen Al-Kafeegi, Zakiriyah Al-Ansari, Al-Bulqeene,who was the first that gave him Ijazah to teach and issue fatwa. This took place in 866 H.
Arranged, Compiled and Prepared by;
Abu Aaliyah Abdullah ibn Dwight Lamont Battle Sr.
Doha,Qatar 1438H ©
Disclaimer: This paper mustn’t be used to attack the honor of any scholar today or from the past. It is merely a history lesson that shares some beneficial reflections and minhaj lessons for 1438/2016
- البدر الطالع في 1/ ص22
- فتح المغيث بشرح ألفية الحديث للحافظ السخاوي .
دراسة وتحقيق .
د/ عبد الكريم الخضير .
د/ فهيد بن عبد الله آل فهيد .
مكتبة المنهاج للنشر و التوزيع .
المملكة العربية السعودية الطبعة الاولى : 142
- تنافس السخاوي والسيوطي مع بعض مواضع التنافس
الحافظ السخاوي وتنافسه مع الجلال السيوطي
بحث مقدم في مادة طرق فهم الحديث
المدرس: أ.د. على مصطفي يعقوب
إعداد الطالب: سلطان فطاني بن رضوان بن سعيد
- الاكليل في استنباط التنزيل للامام السيبوطي
دراسة و تحقيق
د عامر بن علي العرابي
 Sahih Muslim 2266
 In this era Imam Abdul Aziz bin Baz rejected this and refuted in detail in his discussion about seeing the Prophet while celebrating his birthday.
 Refer to Fathul Bari for the above mentioned Hadith.
 الضوء الامع 4/66
 البدر الطالع [1/333]
 فتح المغيث بشرح ألفية الحديث للحافظ السخاوي
Have you read part 1 of this collection?
Available on the Gazette.