By Dr. G.F. Haddad

Al-Sābūnī, Ismā`īl ibn `Abd al-Rahmān ibn Ahmad ibn Ismā`īl ibn Ibrāhīm ibn `Amir, Abū `Uthmān al-Sābūnī al-Shāfi`ī (d 449), Shaykh al-Islām, the foremost pious jurist, hadīth Scholar, preacher, commentator of Qur'ān, "the true Imām of the Muslims and the real Shaykh of Islām" (al-Bayhaqī), "Sword of the Sunna, Repeller of bid`a" (`Abd al-Ghāfir al-Fārisī), and "Scourge of the deviants" (Abū Ishāq al-Isfarāyīnī), of awesome fame in the regions of Khurāsān and among the signatories of the Ash`arī statement written by Imām al-Qushayrī at the time of the anti-Ash`arī fitna there. Ibn al-Subkī said that when the anthropomorphists of Herāt saw his fame, they began to name Abū Ismā`īl `Abd Allāh al-Ansārī, the author of the anti-Ash`arī book Dhamm al-Kalām, with the same title of Shaykh al-Islām.
He was the student of the Ash`arī Imām Abū Muhammad al-Juwaynī the father of Imām al-Haramayn. Al-Sābūnī said: "If Shaykh Abū Muhammad had been born among the Israelites, they would have transmitted his immense merits to us and he would have made their pride."
Al-Sābūnī held gatherings of dhikr and wa`z for seventy years and was imām in Naysabūr for twenty. Orphaned as a boy after his father Abū Nasr was killed for his preaching, he was raised by the Ash`arī Sūfī Imām, Abū al-Tayyib Sahl al-Su`lūkī who then attended al-Sabūnī's gatherings and praised him for his high manners, intelligence, eloquence in both Arabic and Persian, memorization, and mastery of the Qur'ān and Sunna as did the other Imāms of the time such as Abū Ishāq al-Isfarāyīnī and Ibn Fūrak.
Out of respect, al-Sābūnī would face away from al-Su`lūkī when delivering a sermon, but Abū al-Tayyib said to him: "Face me and do not look away from me!" Abū `Uthmān said: "I am ashamed to speak in your face." The Imām said: "Observe his wisdom." Al-Bayhaqī narrated: "I swear that the Imām Abū `Abd Allāh al-Hākim, in spite of his great age, hadith Mastery, and scholarliness, used to get up for the Teacher [al-Sābūnī] when he entered to see him, call him 'the peerless Ustādh,' publicize his knowledge and merit, and repeat his words in his discourse."
Among al-Sābūnī's sayings:
* "I never narrated a hadīth nor a non-Prophetic report in a gathering except I possessed its chain of transmission; nor did I ever enter the library except in a state of ritual purity; nor did I ever narrate hadīth, nor hold a gathering, nor teach, except in a state of ritual purity."
* "Ever since I knew that the Prophet MHMD used to recite Sūrat al-Jumu`a and Sūrat al-Munāfiqīn in the first two rak`ats of the Night prayer on Jumu`a, I never missed reciting them."
* "Allāh is much exalted beyond what both the negators (al-mu`attila ) and anthropomorphists (al-mushabbiha ) claim. I tread, in the verses that mention the Attributes of the Creator and the authentic Prophetic narrations in that chapter..., the path of the pious Predecessors and the Imāms of the Religion in accepting them and narrating them after ascertaining the soundness of their transmission chain, citing them in their external wordings, confirming them, fully assenting to them, but guarding against any belief of modality or anthropomorphism in them, avoiding what leads to rejecting them or altering them through reproved figurative interpretation (ta'wīl) for which Allāh never gave authority, nor did the Companions, Successors, and pious Salaf say anything like it." [1]
Al-Sam`ānī said that supplication is answered at Ismā`īl al-Sābūnī's grave. [2]

[1] 1In Ibn al-Subkī, Tabaqāt al-Shāfi`iyya al-Kubrā (4:288).
[2] Ibn al-Subkī, Tabaqāt al-Shāfi`iyya al-Kubrā (4:271-292 §368).