Yunus b. Abd al-Rahman: The Salman al-Farsi of his Times (I)

سمعت الرضا عليه السلام يقول: يونس بن عبد الرحمن في زمانه كسلمان الفارسي في زمانه

 Yunus b. Abd al-Rahman in his times is like Salman al-Farsi was in his times [Imam al-Ridha]

 

Prologue: A Day in the Life

كان ليونس بن عبد الرحمن أربعون أخا يدور عليهم في كل يوم مسلما، ثم يرجع إلى منزله فيأكل و يتهيأ للصلاة، ثم يجلس للتصنيف وتأليف الكتب …

Yunus b. Abd al-Rahman had fourty brothers (in faith) whom he would visit every day to greet, then he would return to his home and eat before preparing for Salat. Then he would sit to author and compose books …

 

Obscure Origins

Yunus b. Abd al-Rahman (d. 208) – who became a famous companion of the Imams and one of the greatest scholars in Shi’ism – was a Mawla (non-Arab) with obscure origins. His lineage is unknown beyond his first and last names. Both of these – Yunus (Jonah) the son of Abd al-Rahman (Servant of the All-Merciful) – are generic and typical of new converts to Islam. Beyond this nothing can be said.

Indeed there was early speculation as to him being a foundling (orphaned boy with missing parents) who was adopted by the family of Yaqtin.

علي بن محمد القتيبي قال: سالت الفضل بن شاذان عن الحديث الذي روي في يونس انه لقيط آل يقطين قال: كذب، ولد يونس في آخر زمان هشام بن عبد الملك ويقطين لم يكن في ذلك الزمان انما كان في زمن ولد العباس

Ali b. Muhammad al-Qutaybi asked al-Fadhl b. Shadhan concerning what is reported about Yunus – that he was a foundling of the family of Yaqtin. He (Fadhl) said: It is lies! Yunus was born towards the end of the reign of Hisham b. Abd al-Malik (the Umayyad) and Yaqtin was not there in those days, he was in the age of the descendants of Abbas (i.e. the Abbasid dynasty).

While Fadhl denies the patronage of Yaqtin over Yunus from the earliest times, he does not dispute the basic fact of Yunus being a foundling. The fact that such a question could be asked shows how obscure his ancestry was.

It is my contention that one of the reasons for this extraordinary honour of being compared to Salman, is because Yunus, just as Salman, was the quintessential Ajam (outsider) with no pedigree to speak of, who rose to the peak of our egalitarian Madhhab by marshaling his intellectual abilities in the service of the Imams.

 

Early Life

Yunus speaks of his earliest encounter with al-Sadiq whom he saw from afar in the Masjid of the Messenger of Allah in Madina, but his young age did not allow him to go and meet the living legend directly.

He says:

وقال العبيدي: سمعت يونس بن عبد الرحمان يقول: رأيت أبا عبد الله عليه السلام يصلي في الروضة بين القبر والمنبر ولم يمكنني أن أسأله عن شئ

I saw Aba Abdillah عليه السلام praying in the Rawda between the grave and the pulpit but I was not able to ask him anything.

 

Student

Yunus narrated from two of the Imams i.e. al-Kadhim and al-Ridha and travelled far and wide to collect Hadith from the living companions of al-Baqir and al-Sadiq.

As he says in an autobiographical note:

وافيت العراق فوجدت بها قطعة من أصحاب أبي جعفر عليه السلام و وجدت أصحاب أبي عبد الله عليه السلام متوافرين فسمعت منهم و  أخذت كتبهم …

I journeyed to Iraq and found there a small portion of the companions of Abi Ja’far (al-Baqir) عليه السلام and found the companions of Abi Abdillah (al-Sadiq) عليه السلام plentiful. I heard from them and took their books …

His principal mentor was the brilliant theologian Hisham b. al-Hakam.

Imam al-Ridha says about a contemporary:

هو من غلمان أبي الحارث – يعني يونس بن عبد الرحمن – وأبو الحارث من غلمان هشام …

He is from the students of Abi al-Harith, that is Yunus b. Abd al-Rahman, and Abu al-Harith (i.e. Yunus) is from the students of Hisham (b. al-Hakam)  …

Yunus accompanied Hisham in almost all his debate sessions and studied with him in the latter’s Masjid in Baghdad for years on end.

 

His Knowledge

Yunus became so accomplished in knowledge of the religion that al-Ridha directed people to refer to him when seeking answers to their questions.

الفضل بن شاذان قال: حدّثني عبد العزيز المهتدي و كان خير قمّي رأيته، و كان وكيل الرضا عليه السّلام و خاصّته فقال: إنّي سألته فقلت: إنّي لا أقدر على لقائك في كلّ وقت فممّن آخذ معالم ديني؟ فقال: خذ عن يونس بن عبد الرحمن

Abd al-Aziz al-Muhtadi said: I asked him (al-Ridha) saying: I cannot meet you every time – from whom should I take the teachings of my Diin? He said: Take them from Yunus bin Abd al-Rahman.

al-Fadhl b. Shadhan (who was one of Yunus’s students) goes so far as to say:

سمعت الفضل بن شاذان يقول: ما نشأ في الإسلام رجل من سائر الناس كان أفقه من سلمان الفارسي، و لا نشأ رجل بعده أفقه من يونس بن عبد الرحمن رحمه الله

There has not arisen in Islam a man from the rest of the people (i.e. ordinary people apart from the ‘Aimma) who was more knowledgeable than Salman al-Farsi, and their has not arisen after him one who is more knowledgeable than Yunus b. Abd al-Rahman – may Allah have mercy on him.

What is the secret behind achieving such a station in knowledge?

Yunus replies in his own words:

قال يونس: صمت عشرين سنة و سألت عشرين سنة ثم أجبت

I was silent for twenty years, then I asked for twenty years, only then did I begin answering.

This is an important lesson for all students of knowledge. It is imperative to have the humility to remain without pronouncing one’s views for a long span whilst seeking knowledge. It is only when one has mastered a subject in the true sense that one can go on to share his knowledge with others.

 

His Piety

A common feature that can be observed when studying the lives of the elite among the companions of the Imams is that they combined scholarship with practical application. Thus, they were seen to be the greatest worshippers of their time, had incredible self-restraint against sins and strived to live a life free of the worldly attractions. Yunus was no different in this regard.

وجدت بخط محمد بن شاذان بن نعيم في كتابه: سمعت أبا محمد القماص الحسن بن علوية الثقة يقول: سمعت الفضل بن شاذان يقول: حج يونس بن عبد الرحمن أربعا و خمسين حجة، و اعتمر أربعا و خمسين عمرة

al-Fadhl b. Shadhan says: Yunus b. Abd al-Rahman made the Hajj fifty four times and he made the Umra fifty four times!

In another variant we find:

و لقد حج يونس إحدى و خمسين حجة آخرها عن الرضا عليه السلام

 

Yunus made the Hajj fifty one times! The last time was on behalf of al-Ridha عليه السلام

 

His Authorship

Yunus was not satisfied by acquiring knowledge for himself but taught it to others via the primary means of authoring works.

His books were even praised by the Imams.

عن شيخنا المفيد في كتابه مصابيح النور، أخبرني ابن قولويه، عن علي بن الحسين بن بابويه، عن عبد الله بن جعفر الحميري، عن داود بن القاسم الجعفري قال: عرضت على أبي محمد صاحب العسكر عليه السلام كتاب يوم وليلة ليونس فقال لي: تصنيف من هذا؟ فقلت: تصنيف يونس مولى آل يقطين فقال: أعطاه الله بكل حرف نورا يوم القيامة

Abi Hashim Dawud b. al-Qasim al-Ja’fari said: I presented the book ‘Yawm wa Layla’ of Yunus to Abi Muhammad al-Askari عليه السلام. He said to me: Who authored this? I said: It has been authored by Yunus the Mawla of the family of Yaqtin. He said: May Allah give him a light for every letter on the day of judgment.

Note that Kitab ‘Yawm wa Layla’ was most probably a book outlining the devotional activities recommended to be performed by ‘day and night’.

 

Ashab al-Ijma

Yunus is named by al-Kashshi as one of the six Fuqaha from the companions of Abi Ibrahim al-Kadhim عليه السلام and Abi al-Hasan al-Ridha عليه السلام about whom the whole sect is united in unhesitatingly accepting what can be authentically traced back to them, considering them unimpeachably truthful, and acknowledging their superiority in their understanding of the religion and knowledge of it.

al-Kashshi concludes his list by saying:

وأفقه هؤلاء يونس بن عبد الرحمان وصفوان بن يحيى

The most knowledgeable of these six were Yunus b. Abd al-Rahman and Safwan b. Yahya.

 

Struggle against the Waqifa

محمد بن يحيى العطار، عن محمد بن أحمد، عن محمد بن جمهور، عن أحمد بن الفضل، عن يونس بن عبدالرحمن قال: مات أبو إبراهيم عليه السلام وليس من قوامه أحد إلا وعنده المال الكثير، و كان ذلك سبب وقفهم وجحدهم موته، طمعا في الاموال، كان عند زياد بن مروان القندي سبعون ألف دينار، وعند علي بن أبي حمزة ثلاثون ألف دينار، فلما رأيت ذلك وتبينت الحق وعرفت من أمر أبي الحسن الرضا ماعلمت، تكلمت ودعوت الناس إليه فبعثا إلي وقالا: مايدعوك إلى هذا؟ إن كنت تريد المال فنحن نغنيك وضمنا لي عشرة آلاف دينار، وقالا لي: كف، فأبيت وقلت لهما: إنا روينا عن الصادقين عليهم السلام أنهم قالوا: إذا ظهرت البدع فعلى العالم أن يظهر علمه، فإن لم يفعل سلب نور الايمان، وما كنت لادع الجهاد في أمر الله على كل حال، فناصباني وأضمرا لي العداوة

Yunus b. Abd al-Rahman said: Abu Ibrahim (al-Kadhim) عليه السلام died while there wasn’t a man among his agents who did not have in his hands a lot of wealth (belonging to the Imam), and that was the reason for their ‘stoppage’ (becoming Waqifa) and opposition to acknowledging his death, being covetous of the wealth. Ziyad b. Marwan al-Qandi had with him seventy thousand gold coins and Ali b. Abi Hamza had thirty thousand gold coins.

When I observed this and the truth became obvious to me and I recognized the matter as rightly belonging to Abi al-Hasan al-Ridha I began speaking and calling the people to him (al-Ridha) so they both sent for me and said: What is motivating you to do this (support al-Ridha)? If it is money you want then we will make you rich and they promised me ten thousand gold coins and they said: Stop (your activities in support of al-Rida)!

But I refused and said to them: We have narrated from the Sadiqayn that they said: If innovation rears its head then it is upon the scholar to reveal his knowledge and if he does not do so then the light of faith is snatched away from him.

I am not one of those who can abandon struggling in the way of Allah under any circumstance.

So they held hatred and began to harbour enmity towards me.

 

Three Trends Among the Companions

One can discern different trends when looking at the companions of the Imams. This is to be expected in light of the natural variation between individuals. It also explains why the Imams treated different companions differently.

Most of the companions were Traditionists who limited themselves to transmitting material they heard directly from the Imams and did not go beyond that. This is not to say that they were unintelligent or did not possess a basic understanding of the content. However, they did not apply reasoning to further expound on the Imams statements or place their words in a broader framework.

A fewer number of companions – those who had the pre-requisite intellectual abilities – were trained by the Imams for a different role. These companions were able to undertake a rational systemization of the creed (inferred from general statements of the Imams) and its defense (through logical argumentation). Two major clues useful in identifying them is that they moved beyond the literal words of the Imams (by understanding the supra-structure in the teachings of the Imams and extending it to novel situations) and that they were allowed to engage in theological debates (which would put them in novel situations where no words of the Imams exist). These are the Rationalists.

Even rarer are a select number of companions who not only became prominent in passing down material from the Imams (as Traditionists do) but also engaged in independent rational thinking within the guidelines provided by the Imams (as Rationalists do). Such last are the hybrid Traditionist-Rationalists.

 

Yunus as a Traditionist-Rationalist

One may consider Yunus to be a typical Traditionist. He authored conventional books of Hadith on Fiqhi subjects (based on the titles) and appears in the chains of 263 straight-forward narrations in what survives of our corpus with this name.

But this is proven mistaken when one considers that al-Kulayni creates two separate chapters in al-Kafi just to reproduce his words.

The first one is titled:

 باب تفسير مايحل من النكاح وما يحرم والفرق بين النكاح والسفاح والزنا و هو من كلام يونس

Chapter elucidating what is permissible of Marriage and what is forbidden, and the difference between Nikah, Sifah and Zina, and it is from the words of Yunus

A long passage follows where Yunus is quoted by Ismail b. Marrar among other students as saying:

كل زنا سفاح وليس كل سفاح زنا، لان معنى الزنا فعل حرام من كل جهة، ليس فيه شئ من وجوه الحلال …

Every Zina is Sifah but not every Sifah is Zina, and that is because the essence of Zina is an act that is forbidden from every angle, there is no element of permissibility in it …

The second one is titled:

باب العلة في أن السهام لا تكون أكثر من ستة وهو من كلام يونس

Chapter on the Reason why the Inheritance Portions are never more than six and it is from the words of Yunus

This time Muhammad b. Isa quotes Yunus as saying:

العلة في وضع السهام على ستة لا أقل ولا أكثر …

The reason behind the portions being six – not more than that nor less – is due to …

In both cases he is speaking in the first person and not quoting the Imams. This proves his independent streak of applying reason to distill and summarize the words of the Imams in Fiqh. As would be expected of a Rationalist.

Another indicator of his Rationalist nature is that he was allowed to engage in theological debates and is widely known for his polemics in using reason to defend the Madhhab. Yunus was closely moulded by Hisham b. al-Hakam (perhaps the greatest Traditonist-Rationalist of all) and indeed he was considered his successor over the so-called ‘school of Hisham’.

As al-Fadhl comments:

ومضى هشام بن الحكم رحمه الله وكان يونس بن عبد الرحمن رحمه الله خلفه كان يرد على المخالفين …

Hisham b. al-Hakam passed on – may Allah have mercy on him – and Yunus b. Abd al-Rahman – may Allah have mercy on him – took his place and began rebutting the opponents …

His prolific nature in polemics is confirmed by Fadhl:

ألف ألف جلد ردا على المخالفين

Yunus authored a thousand volumes in rebutting the opponents.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s