Sarakhsī (d. 483/1090) on Evaluating Witness Testimony in Early Islamic Courts

In this excerpt from his legal treatise, the Hanafī jurist al-Sarakhsī relays how the imperial grand judge Yaḥyā b. Aktham (d. 242/857) upheld the Ḥanafī position regarding the eligibility of non-Muslims to serve as witnesses. Yaḥyā was said to have permitted non-Muslim testimony against any other non-Muslims. He explained his position, writing that, “consulting the opinions of the earliest jurists, I have found no one forbidding the testimony of the protected people, except two [conflicting] opinions attributed to Rabīʿa.” Further, Sarakhsī relays the Ḥanafī criterion for witness eligibility which developed in a specific hierarchical framework. Muslims were placed above non-Muslims and, within that, locals above outsiders (dhimmī vs. ḥarbī). As Ahmed El Shamsy notes in Justice and Leadership in Early Islamic Courts, this framework equates the right to give testimony with the right to demonstrate legal authority (wilāya) over another.

This source is part of the Online Companion to the book Justice and Leadership in Early Islamic Courts (ILSP/HUP 2017)—a collection of sources and other material used in and related to the book.  

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