An excellent scholar who dedicated his life to educating Muslims in the 4th Century (Hijri) in Tunisia.
Ibn Abi Zayd was known for his outstanding scholarship, excellent character and earnest worship. Because he was a Maliki scholar, some called him the "Young Malik."
Abu Muhammad, 'Abdullah ibn Abi Zayd was born in 310H (921CE) in the city of Al-Qayrawan, which still carries the same name in today's Tunisia. And, even though biographers did not know much about his early childhood, they wrote much about his childhood experiences in his city.
Times were tough for the Muslims of North Africa, who were struggling under the reign of the Ubaydi governors. The Ubaydah, which controlled North Africa around 279H, was a heretical shi'ah sect that was determined to abolish Islam from the area. All scholars who dissented with the new religion were persecuted and killed. Those who survived either had to hide or did not show their scholarship. Another major deviation from true Islam was spread of extreme Sufism, which was encouraged by the Ubaydi governors.
Abu Muhammad devoted two of his books (Ar-Radd alal-Bakri and Kash at-Talbis) to answer some of the Bid'ah (innovations in the religion) believed by the Sufis. But, that era was also characterised by clear emphasis on education (tarbiyah) and spreading of knowledge ('ilm). And although most of that was done secretly, this trend represented the best way the Muslim scholars could devise to deal with the forces of evil that overwhelmed the area for about two centuries. Indeed, education was the objective that underlined all of Ibn Abi Zayd's work.
Abu Muhammad's strong interest in education was fostered and encouraged in his own city, Al-Qayrawan, which remained a major Islamic center for scholarship and education for many centuries. There, he had the opportunity of being the student of many scholars like Ibn al-Haddah, Ibn al-Labbad, Habib ibn ar-Rabi' among others. Also, many of his contemporaries were distinguished scholars in the various branches of knowledge. They all spoke highly of his knowledge and character. Most of Al-Qayrawan's masajid and schools were equivalent to modern-day universities. People came to this city seeking knowledge from everywhere, and many of them became Abu Muhammad's students and successors. Later, some of them wrote of his generosity and continuous efforts in helping his students pursue their studies.
Ibn Abi Zayd wrote about 35 books and treatises some of which consisted of a large number of volumes. One of the most famous books, An-Nawader wa'z-Ziyadat, was recently published in a 15-volume edition that exceeded 8,000 pages. This book is considered an important encyclopedia of Fiqh. Abu Muhammad wrote it with the purpose of putting together a book that covers all aspects of the Islamic Fiqh and includes summaries of all of the Maliki scholars up to his time. This encyclopedia truly reflects the profound scholarship and broad knowledge of its author.
His most important contribution, however, has been the book of Ar-Risalah or the Epistle. This book, devoted to the education of the young, reflects the strong interest Abu Muhammad had in education, and thus gives him the prominent position one of the earliest proponents of education in history. The book is a summary of the main aspects of 'Aqidah (Faith), Fiqh (Jurisprudence) and Akhlaq (character) and thus it explains the essences of education in terms of these three principles. It was divided into 45 small, easy to read and understand chapters. Abu Muhammad wrote this book, which was his first, at the age of seventeen. The book was well received at the time but scholars' interest in it never subsided.
Today there are at least 50 books that were wrote at different times to interpret Ar-Risalah, explain it or elaborate on it. Orientalists and other Western scholars have also shown wide interest in this book and its education methodology and the fact that it describes the educational stands of those times. Later, it was translated into English in 1906CE by British Orientalist Russell, and into French by Fagnan in 1914 and Barcher in 1945.
Abu Muhammad died in the year of 386H (997CE) in Al-Qayrawan where he was buried. May Allah have mercy on him.
(s) From Al-Jumuah Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 9