Studies in Hadith and Islamic Law

The Life and Works of al-Kamāl Ibn al-Humām


The Life and Works of al-Kamāl Ibn al-Humām

By Shaykh Muḥammad ʿAwwāmah

Translated by Muntasir Zaman

[The following excerpt is an abridged translation of the biography of Ibn al-Humām, the 9th century Ḥanafī legal theorist and jurist, whose erudition was acknowledged in countless fields like language, law, and Ḥadīth. For the entire piece, see Shaykh ʿAwwāmah, Dirāsah Ḥadīthiyyah Muqāranah, pp.221-37]


His name was Kamāl al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn Humām al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Wāḥid, better known as al-Kamāl ibn al-Humām. His ancestry was from [the Turkish province of] Sivas, but he was born in Alexandria and grew up and passed away in Cairo. His student al-Sakhāwī writes, “He was possibly born in the year 790 AH, as I have read from his own writing.”[1] He hailed from a family of knowledge and repute. His father was a judge in Sivas who later became a judge in Alexandria and married the daughter of the Maliki judge of Alexandria; she gave birth to al-Kamāl [lit. perfection].[2]

Academic standing

He studied the rational and transmitted sciences from the scholars of Alexandria and Cairo. He studied Qurʾānic exegesis under al-Aqṣarāʾī, Islamic law under Qārīʾ al-Hidāyah, and the sciences of Ḥadīth from Abū Zurʿah al-ʿIrāqī, among others. He was recognized for “remarkable brilliance, intelligence, and composure” from a young age. Al-Sakhāwī writes, “He would frequent the class of al-ʿIzz ibn Jamāʿah, who would pause the class when he sensed Ibn al-Humām’s coming because of his brilliance.”[3]

Al-Sakhāwī then enumerates Ibn al-Humām’s academic qualifications, “He was a learned Imām, well versed in the principles of theology, Qur’ānic exegesis, Islamic law, legal theory, inheritance law, math, spirituality, Arabic grammar, rhetoric, logic, literature, and the art of debate. He was a sign [of excellence] for people and the leading researcher of his time, who possessed evincive proofs, many personal views, and robust preferences. He was the most articulate, sharp, and meticulous scholar I have seen. He had no qualms in retracting his views when he erred even if a novice corrected him.”[4] This is his standing in the sight of the Ḥadīth expert, al-Sakhāwī, who studied with more than 1,200 teachers, among whom was Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar. The abovementioned description indicates several qualities.

First, they demonstrate Ibn al-Humām’s polymathic erudition and grasp of multiple sciences that few adequately grasped. His books, albeit few in number, testify to this.

Second, he was articulate unlike others who were described as “his writing is clearer than his speech.” He possessed both forms of clarity: clarity of the pen and clarity of the tongue. Al-Abnāsī states, “Although our teacher al-Bisṭāmī was more knowledgeable, al-Kamāl possessed better memory and was more articulate.”[5]

Third, he was patient and tolerant, qualities that are essential for a student to achieve full potential. This brings to mind an episode from the life of Ibn al-Humām. In 813 AH, he frequented the company of Muḥibb ibn al-Shiḥnah in Cairo. Thereafter, he accompanied Ibn al-Shiḥnah as he returned to Aleppo, leaving behind his family and home, until the latter’s demise in 815 AH.

Fourth, he possessed a noble academic trait: the search for truth regardless of its source. This was a trait that characterized many a scholar, but the fact that al-Sakhāwī specifically highlighted it in Ibn al-Humām indicates that it was pronounced in him. When Ibn al-Humām became an instructor of Fiqh at al-Qubbah al-Munṣūriyyah, he assembled a large scholarly gathering where he invited his teachers, such as Ibn Ḥajar, al-Sirāj al-Qāriʾ, al-Bisṭāmī, and al-Aqṣarāʾī. The attendees acknowledged his academic prowess. He achieved this as a young adult. This was the only issue his critics raised against him—what a despicable reason to criticize!

Ranking among the Ḥanafī scholars

His own statement serves as the best testimony to this, bearing in mind that he was recognized for his humility. Al-Sakhāwī writes, “Ibn al-Humām would state expressly that he would have reached the rank of ijtihād were it not for incessant health issues.” His student al-Suyūṭī quotes him, “I do not follow anyone’s opinions in the rational sciences.”[5] Ibn ʿĀbidīn’s and al-Laknawī’s observation that he reached the rank of ijtihād refers to ijtihād in the Ḥanafī legal school—not unrestricted ijtihad—which is also the category of Imām al-Marghīnānī.


His most notable trait was humility and respect for his teachers. While describing the aforementioned scholarly gathering, al-Sakhāwī writes, “Out of respect for his teachers, he refused to sit in the instructor’s seat despite the attendees’ persistence; instead, he sat in the reciter’s seat.”[6] He possibly felt that “respect is better than obeying commands (al-adab khayr min imtithāl al-amr).” Upon returning from Ḥajj, he first visited his teacher Saʿd al-Dīn al-Dīrī to convey his greetings before going to his own home.

Even the titles of his books portray humility. He titled his commentary on al-Hidāyah Fatḥ al-Qadīr li al-ʿAjiz al-Faqīr (The Opening from the All-Powerful for the Feeble Destitute).” Other titles include “al-Musāyarah (the Pursuit)” and “Zād al-Faqīr (Provisions for the Destitute).” His books do not give off an air of accomplishment nor do they make claims of being masterpieces of research and perfection; he lets the contents of his books do the talking. His academic traits can be gleaned from his largest and most prominent book, Fatḥ al-Qadīr. Some of these traits are as follows.

First, Ibn al-Humām’s primary objective was the search for truth and abiding by the demands of the evidence, which was also the objective of all Muslim scholars. At times, the truth becomes apparent for him in another legal school and he follows it. In Fatḥ al-Qadīr, he cites the ḥadīth of Anas that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) told the barber to cut, and he gestured to his right side and then to the left. He then states, “This demonstrates that the Sunnah of shaving the head [after the rituals of stoning and sacrifice] is to begin with the right side. This position is contrary to what is mentioned in the books of the [Ḥanafī] madhhab, and this is correct.”[7] Imām al-Kashmīrī commends Ibn Daqīq al-ʿĪd for his spirituality and abstinence from partiality. He then states, “In our ranks (i.e. the Ḥanafīs), Ibn al-Humām, the researcher and author of Fatḥ al-Qadīr, is similar to him as regards to harmonizing the path of the people (the Ṣūfīs) and the sciences of the Sharīʿah and in impartiality.”[8] That being said, he maintained his affiliation with the legal school and its founder. It is incorrect to exclude him from the scholars of the Ḥanafī legal school.

Second, he was not affectatious in deducing proofs. He disliked when his fellow Ḥanafī scholars were affectatious in responding to the proofs of the opposition, because they have adequate proofs that would suffice them from doing so. He equally disliked such behavior when it came from the opposing legal schools. Third, he avoids delving into anomalous views that contradict the position of mainstream scholarship. When he occasionally cites such a view, he ensures that he explains its flaws.[9]

Fourth, a reader of Fatḥ al-Qadīr will notice his manners in dealing with earlier scholarship. Imām al-Marghīnānī relates from Imām Abū Ḥanīfah that he suspended his view on the temporal limitations of the word “dahr” in the scenario where a person vows not to do something for the period of a dahr. Imām Abū Ḥanīfah states, “I am not sure about it.” Ibn al-Humām annotates, “His hesitation in maintaining a stance is evidence of his acumen, religiosity, and humility. May Allah have mercy on us through him.”[9] The reader will also notice his manners in his phraseology and selection of words.


He was among those who illuminated their knowledge with piety and their piety with knowledge—that is true perfection (kamāl). His understanding of taṣawwuf was not one of outward appearance or sanctifying personalities. He understood it as a practical application of Islam in all areas and adopting the practices of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Al-Suyūṭī writes, “He experienced a great deal of illuminations and miracles that the spiritual masters experience. At first, he chose absolute seclusion, but masters of the path counseled him: return, for indeed the masses need to benefit from your knowledge.”[10] A reader of Fatḥ al-Qadīr will see many passages where the author’s spirituality becomes evident. At times, he relates their [the Ṣūfīs] opinions, personal habits, and methods of spiritually training their disciples.[11] Under the discussion of drinking Zamzam water, he quotes Ibn Ḥajar “Countless scholars drank it and achieved what they sought” and then adds, “This feeble slave asks Allah to make this drink a source of steadfastness and death upon the reality of Islam.”[12]


He was passionate about teaching at every given moment. Students flocked to him because he offered what others did not. The following are some of his students: [1] Sirāj al-Dīn ʿUmar al-Shāfiʿī (d. 861 AH), [2] Muḥammad Ibn al-Fālātī (d. 870 AH), [3] Sharaf al-Dīn Yaḥyā al-Munāwī (d. 871 AH)—Ibn al-Humām’s son in law, [4] Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad al-Aqṣarā’ī (d. 872 AH), [5] Ibn Amīr Ḥājj (d. 879 AH), [6] Qasim ibn Quṭlūbughā (d. 879 AH), [7] Shams al-Dīn al-Sakhāwī (d. 902 AH), [8] Ibn Abī Sharīf (d. 905 AH), [9] Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭī (d. 911 AH)—Ibn al-Humām was one of his caretakers after his father’s demise, and [10] Zakariyyā al-Anṣārī (d. 926 AH). The names of the last six are well-known in the world of knowledge and research, which is no surprise given that their teacher was Ibn al-Humām.


For his age, Ibn al-Humām did not write extensively, but his books demonstrate his erudition. The following are some of his books:

  • Iʿrāb Ḥadīth Kalimatān Khafīfatān.
  • Taḥrīr al-Uṣūl, his famous book on legal theory that concisely synchronizes between the legal principles of the Ḥanafīs and the Shāfiʿīs.
  • Risālah fī Taʿāruḍ al-Nafy wa al-Ithbāt, a response to a query presented in the gathering of Barsbey in 838 AH.
  • Zād al-Faqīr, a treatise on the rulings of prayer and purification.
  • A commentary of Ibn al-Sāʿātī’s Badīʿ al-Niẓām in legal theory.
  • Fatḥ al-Qadīr li al-ʿĀjiz al-Faqīr, a commentary on al-Hidāyah vis-à-vis Fiqh and Ḥadīth. Upon his demise, he only completed until the chapter of Representation (al-Wakālah), i.e. roughly three-fourths of the book.
  • Fatḥ al-Afkār fī Sharḥ Lamaʿāt al-Anwār.
  • Mukhtaṣar al-Uṣūl. Ibn al-Humām cites this in Fatḥ al-Qadīr, but further investigation is required because he may have just called his book al-Taḥrīr a summation (Mukhtaṣar).
  • Al-Musāyarah fī al-ʿAqāʿid al-Munjiyah fī al-Ākhirah, a theological treatise that follows the sequence of Imām al-Ghazālī’s theological tracthence, the name al-Musāyarah (the Pursuit).

These books demonstrate expert scholarship and impartial research. May Allah reward him on behalf of Islam and knowledge.

[1] Al-Sakhāwī, al-Ḍawʿ al-Lāmiʿ, vol.8, p.127.

[2] Al-Laknawī, al-Fawāʾid al-Bahiyyah, p.180.

[3] Al-Sakhāwī, al-Ḍawʿ al-Lāmiʿ, vol.8, p.128.

[4] Ibid., p.131.

[5] Ibid., p.129.

[5] Al-Suyūṭī, Bughyat al-Wuʿāh, vol.1, p.167.

[6] Al-Sakhāwī, al-Ḍawʿ al-Lāmiʿ, vol.8, p.129.

[7] Ibn al-Humām, Fatḥ al-Qadīr, vol.2, p.177.

[8] Fayḍ al-Bārī, as cited in the introduction to Naṣb al-Rāyah, vol.1, pp.8, 107.

[9] See, for instance, Fatḥ al-Qadīr, vol.3, p.174.

[9] Ibid., vol.4, p.72.

[10] Al-Suyūṭī, Bughyat al-Wuʿāh, vol.1, p.167.

[11] See, for instance, Fatḥ al-Qadīr, vol.1, p.174.

[12] Ibid., vol.2, p.191.

1 comment

  • In the introduction to al-Musayara, Ibn al-Humam explains that the work initially served as a summary of al-Ghazali’s al-iqtisad fil-i’tiqad. However, after making several of his own additions to the work he decided to name it al-musayara; an allusion to camels (al-musayara) which travel in tandem.

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