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Sahnun ibn Sa'id ibn Habib at-Tanukhi (c. 776-7 – 854-5) (160 AH – 240 AH ) was a jurist in the Maliki school from Qayrawanmarker in modern-day Tunisiamarker.


His original name was 'Abd al Salam. 'Sahnun' was a nickname given to him, meaning a type of sharp bird; this is said to have referred to his quickness of mind. His father was a soldier from Homsmarker in Syriamarker. The family claimed descent from Tanukh, a tribal confederation that originated in the south of the Arabian Peninsula.


In his youth Sahnun studied under the scholars of Qayrawanmarker and Tunismarker; in particular he learned from `Ali bin Ziyad, who had learned from Imam Malik. In 178 AH he traveled to Egypt to study under other pupils of Malik, who died before Sahnun had the financial means to reach them. Later on he continued to Medinamarker and studied under other prominent scholars, returning to North Africa in 191 AH.

At the age of 74 Sahnun was appointed Qadi (judge) of North Africa by the Aghlabid emir Muhammad I Abul-Abbas. He had refused the appointment for a year, only accepting after the emir swore to give him a free hand in matters of justice, even if this involved prosecuting members of the emir's family and court. Upon accepting the appointment, he was said to have told his daughter Khadija, "Today your father has been slain without a knife." He was known to be scrupulous in his judgments and courteous towards litigants and witnesses, but strict towards the men surrounding the emir; he refused to allow them to send representatives on their behalf in litigation, and refused a request from the emir not to interfere in their illegal ventures.


Sahnun died in Rajab of 240 in the Hejira calendar. The men surrounding the emir famously refused to join his funeral prayer, due to his harshness against them; nonetheless the emir conducted the funeral prayers in person, and the people of Qayrawan were greatly upset by his passing.

Theological Views

Sahnun was known for his strong orthodoxy, even to the point of refusing to pray behind a Mu'tazilite imam. He excluded heretical sects from the mosque, including the Ibadi, Mu'tazilites and others. The Encyclopedia of Islam, the standard Western academic work on Muslim history, states:
Hitherto, in the multiple circles of scholarship, representatives of all tendencies were able to express themselves freely in the Great Mosque of Kairouanmarker.
In a process amounting to a purging of the community of scholars there, Sahnun put an end to this "scandal".
He dispersed the sects of the ahl al-bida; the leaders of heretical sects were paraded ignominiously, and some were compelled to recant in public.
Sahnun was one of the greatest architects of the exclusive supremacy of Sunnism in its Maliki form throughout the Muslim West.


Sahnun's greatest contribution to Muslim scholarship was al-Mudawwana, a compendium of the legal opinions of the school of Medinamarker as stated by Imam Malik, after the death of the Imam. The compilation and revision process involved four mujtahid imams of the Maliki school: Asad ibn al Furat (d.213 AH); Ibn al-Ashab (d.204); Abu `Abd Allah `Abd al-Rahman Ibn al-Qasim al-`Utaqi, known as Ibn Qasim (d.191 AH), and Sahnun himself. It is referred to as "al Umm", or "the Mother", of the Maliki school. Sahnun's revision and transmission of the Mudawwana was the major factor in the spread of the Maliki school across the West of the Muslim world.


"Everything I see is disliked

except planting the spear in the shade of the horse,

And standing in the darkness,

guarding people at the furthest outpost."

"If someone does not act by his knowledge, his knowledge does not benefit him."

"By Allah, I have been tested by this qadiship and by the rulers. By Allah, I will not eat a morsel for them nor drink a drink for them nor wear a garment for them nor ride an animal for them nor take a gift from them. I go to them and I speak to them harshly regarding what entails action and wherein lies salvation."


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