His father Yahya was from the tribe of Masmuda in Tangier.
Concerning the start of his quest for knowledge and his journey
Ar-Razi said, "The reason that Yahya ibn Yahya began his search for knowledge was that one day he passed by Ziyad while he was speaking to his companions. He sat with him. Ziyad liked that and brought him near one day. He said to him, "My son, if you are resolute to learn, then cut off some of your hair and put your clothes in order (he was wearing servant's clothes).' Yahya did that. Ziyad was happy with him and taught him until he surpassed his students."Then after a time, Ziyad said to him, 'The men from whom we took knowledge are still slive. It is a failure in you to relate from those below them.'
"Ziyad lent Yahya some money since he had refused his father's money, and he set out. He went on hajj and listened to Malik and al-Layth. He met Malik in 179, the year in which Malik died. He went to Andalusia and had only remained a short while before his father died while in his post in Algeria. He took what was wholesome of his father's property and then returned and went on hajj and met the lofty companions of Malik."
Ibn Harith mentioned the like of this and that Yahya had two journeys from Andalusia. He listened to Malik, al-Layth and Ibn Wahb in the first of them. In the second one, he confined himself to Ibn al-Qasim and studied fiqh with him.
Ibn al-Fardi, Abu 'Umar ibn 'Abdu'l-Barr and others said that Yahya listened to the Muwatta' of Malik ibn Anas from Ziyad at the beginning of his studies. He listened to Yahya ibn Mudar. Then he travelled when he was 28 and listened to the Muwatta' from Malik hismelf, except for the Book of I'tikaf, about which he was unsure. He continued to relate it from Ziyad. He listened to Nafi' ibn Abi Nu'aym al-Qari', al-Qasim ibn 'Abdullah al-'Umari, Husayn ibn Damira, and 'Abdullah ibn Nafi'. In Makka, he listened to Sufyan ibn 'Uyayna and to al-Layth ibn Sa'd and to the Muwtta' and Collection from 'Abdullah ibn Wahb in Egypt. He listened to the questions of Ibn al-Qasim and he took ten books from him an wrote down his oral transmission.
Abu 'Umar said, "He went to Madina to listen to Malik and found him ill. He stayed in Madina until Malik died, may Allah have mercy on him, and attended his funeral. Then he brought a great deal of knowledge to Andalusia. After 'Isa ibn Dinar, he was the source for the fatwas in Andalusia. His transmission of the Muwatta' was taken by people.
Abu 'Abdu'l-Malik ibn 'Abdu'l-Barr said, "The school of Malik spread through him and 'Isa ibn Dinar. People came to hear the Muwatta' of Malik. They admired how he wrote it down and they imitated him and followed him."
Concerning something of his virtues and reports
Ahmad ibn Khalid mentioned that none of the people of knowledge in Andalusia since the time Islam entered it had the precedence, immense worth, and sublime renown which Yahya ibn Yahya had. Amir 'Abdu'r-Rahman ibn al-Hakam respected him like a father and did not reject his words and he sought his advice in all of business and about whom he should appoint and dismiss. That is why there were many qadis in his time.
Amir 'Abdu'r-Rahman pestered him accept appointment as qadi and but he refused. The Amir delegated someone to make him sit in the mosque and tell the people, "This is your qadi." He refused to judge. Yahya said to him, "The place I am in is more beneficial for you than what you want. When people are wronged by a qadi, you can have me look into his judgements for you. If I am a qadi, you will be wronged from me as they are wronged from the qadis. Who then will they go to to look into my judgements?" They left him alone.
Ibn Lubaba said, "The faqih of Andalusia was 'Isa, and its man of action was Ibn Habib and the man of intellect was Yahya ibn Yahya."
It is related about him that one day he was sitting among the group of the group of the companions of Malik when someone said, "The elephant is here!" All of Malik's companions went out to look at it. Malik said to him, "Why don't you go out and see it since it does not exist in Andalusia?" Yahya told him, "I came from my land to look at you and learn from your guidance and knowledge and not to look at the elephant." Malik liked him and called him a man of intellect.
Ibrahim ibn Baz said, "By Allah. There is no god but Him. I have not seen anyone more graver than Yahya ibn Yahya at all. I did not see him spit or cough in his assembly nor move from his state. He took on the clothes and manner of Malik."
Yahya said, "When I said farewell to Malik, I asked him to give me some advice. He said to me, 'You must have good counsel for Allah and His Book and the Imams of the Muslims and their common people.' Then I went to al-Layth. When it was time for me to leave him, I said the like of that I had said to Malik to him and he told me the like of what he had said."
Ibn Harith said, "Yahya did not think that there should be qunut in the Subh prayer or other prapers following al-Layth. He also disagreed with Malik about accepting an oath with the witness. He did not think that there should be judgement by it. He also took the statement of al-Layth on that. He thought that land could be rented for what is produced according to the school of al-Layth."
His son 'Ubaydullah related that his father said, "I was with the chamberlain 'Abdu'l-Karim ibn Mughith in the raid on Narbonne and my friend Sa'id ibn Muhammad ibn Bashir was with me. He respected us and sent to us and asked for our advice. Sometime he singled me out to be sent for until I told him, 'Do not do it. Perhaps that will annoy my friend.' One day he sent me with a gift of 100 dinars and the like of it to Sa'id. I sent it to him and said, 'As for myself, I have no need of it. Praise be to Allah, but I will join it to my friend's because he has need of it.' When Allah gave victory to the Muslims, we came home. He said to me one day, 'Abu Muhammad, I want to honour you and your friend, so I will give you a position in Andalusia.' I said, 'How will that be?' He said, 'I will give you a place with me where you will be heard.' I said, 'By Allah, you want to abase us, not honour us!' He said to me, 'Abu Muhammad! Only think the best! What was the opinion of those before you when you honoured them?' I said, 'May Allah not reward them from themselves or you! By Allah, they have betrayed Allah and His Messenger!' He was ashamed and apologised."
Ahmad ibn 'Abdu'l-Barr mentioned that one of the qadis of Cordoba (whom he named) had an excellent position. Yahya ibn Yahya indicated that he should be appointed. This qadi obeyed him in his judgement and did not turn from his opinion when the fuqaha' disagreed with him. There was a cas in which Yahya stood alone alone and all of them opposed him. The Qadi deferred judgement out of modesty before their assembly. Then another case followed in which he asked his advice as well. His letter reached Yahya when he ws vexed about hishesitation to implement the first judgement. So he returned it to his messenger and said, "We will not break his seal nor give him any advice since he hesitated in what I indicated of the judgement of so-and-so and found fault with it."
When his messenger went to him and informed him what he had said, he was disturbed by that and rode immediately to Yahya to apologise. He said to him, "I did not think that this matter would have this effect on you. I will judge by your opinion on my next day, Allah willing." Yahya said to him, "You will do that in truth?" He said, "Yes."
He said to him, "Now you have truly provoked my wrath. I thought that since your friends opposed me, you had hesitated asking Allah for good through the Istikhara and examining the statements. If you go following passion and giving judgement by the pleasure of a weak creature, there is no good in what you bring nor in myself being pleased with it in you. You should resign. If not, I will request your dismissal." So he got up and submitted his resignation and was dismissed.
Yahya said, "I sought after knowledge until Allah made ready what He had decreed. Then I knew that people needed me. During my time with Ibn al-Qasim in Egypt, I desired women and so I purchased a slavegirl there. By Allah, I did not see her face for a single day as long as she stayed with me until I sold her since I was preoccupied with Ibn al-Qasim and his knowledge. Ibn al-Qasim was a source of knowledge, scrupulousness and Imamate."
He was asked, "Abu Muhammad, is the desire for this matter part of what will corrupt the intention?" He said, "No, by Allah, the one who does not desire that is not intelligent. Allah Almighty says, 'Make us an Imam for those who are fearful.'" (25:74)
Yahya said, "I went to 'Abdu'r-Rahman ibn al-Qasim and he asked me, 'From where, Abu Muhammad?' I said, 'From 'Abdullah ibn Malik.' He said to me, 'Fear Allah. Most of these hadiths do not have any action based on them.' Then I went to 'Abdullah ibn Wahb and he said to me, 'From where?' I said, 'From Ibn al-Qasim.' He said to me, 'Fear Allah, Abu Muhammad. Most of these questions are opinion.'"
Then Yahya returned and said, "May Allah have mercy on both of them. Both of them were right in what they said. Ibn al-Qasim forbade me to follow the hadiths which do not have any action and he was correct. Ibn Wahb forbade me to let opinion dominate me and use too much of it. He commanded me to follow and he was correct."
Yahya used to collect the questions which Ashhab, Ibn Nafi' and other companions of Malik were asked about. He recorded them and read them out to Ibn al-Qasim to see what his school was in them. Ibn al-Qasim began to disagree with them. When Yahya saw that, he folded up his book and put it in his sleeve. Ibn al-Qasim asked him, "What's up with you?" He replied, "Those men have a right just as you have a right. I wrote down their knowledge from them and I did not think to expose them to attack. If this is the case, I have no need of that." Something similar occurred when he listened to Ziyad.
The Amir 'Abdu'r-Rahman had intercourse with a slavegirl of his during the day in Ramadan. Then he regretted that and sent for Yahya and his companions. He asked them what he should do. Yahya answered immediately and said, "The Amir, may Allah honour him, must fast for two consecutive months." When Yahya said that, the people fell silent. When they went out, they asked him, "Why did you say that specifically to him rather than anything else about the choice between feeding poor people and setting slaves free?" He said, "If I had opened this door for him, he would have had intercourse every day and then set slaves free. I imposed the most difficult course on him so that he will not do it again."
Concerning his words, wisdoms, his keeping himself free of blame, his intellect, and his dress
He said to another person who had asked him about a question of perjury which had occurred in his assembly, "You should not ask the scholars about all that takes place in your assembly which does not harm your deen. That is better for you. Peace."
Yahya was told that al-Hasan had said, "If it were not for the fools, this world would not have thrived." Yahya said, "But I say, 'If it had not been for the forbearing, this world would not have thrived.'"
Yahya began to seek refuge and said, "O Allah, do not make us fearful of any of Your creatures!" many times. Then he said, "A man whom Allah makes fearful of the best of His creation is a bad man."
Yahya used to say, "Put timidity between you and people. It is better for establishing your respect."
A man asked him about a question outside of his assembly and he disliked that. He said, "When I sit in the assembly of the asker and the answerer, then I will answer you." He was asked, "Why don't you relax in your assembly as you do when you are alone?" He replied, "If I had done that, there would have been dalliance in front of me. I want to be followed as I followed someone else."
The chamberlain 'Abdu'l-Karim ibn Mughith heard Yahya ibn Yahya speaking on the words of Allah, may He be blessed and exalted! "Children of Adam! We have sent down on you a garment with which to cover your private parts and feathers and the garment of taqwa." (7:25) He said, "The garment of taqwa is tranquillity, gravity and good behaviour." Then Yahya said, "And acting on what is like it."
He was asked about asceticism in this world and said, "Whoever is only content with the halal in it is ascetic in it, even if he is devoted to it and eager for it."
He said, "When death comes to someone while he is seeking knowledge, there is only one degree between him and the Prophets of the Garden."
It was said to Yahya, "Those who passed desired poverty." He objected to that. He said, "The one who has intellect should not desire what the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, sought refuge from."
Yahya used to wear fine embrodiered material, i.e. cotton, which was very expensive, during the 'ids, and when he went to the Amirs.
The trial of Yahya ibn Yahya
Yahya was one of those suspected of bringing about the revolt against Amir al-Hakam ibn Hisham in Cordoba. Allah gave al-Hakam victory over those who had attacked him and let him confiscate their property. The rest of them went away, and those who fled included 'Isa ibn Dinar and Yahya ibn Yahya.
It is reported that Yahya left with his brother Fath who was a leader in the dispute. They disguised themselves at the gate of the Jews of Cordoba intending to flee. The Amir had warned the people of the gates to kill all of those who passed them whom they suspected. Yahya's brother went to the head of the doormen because of friendship which existed between the two of them. He was confident of him for that reason that he would give him safekeeping and advise him about those who opposed him. His brother Yahya told him not to do that. When he came near, he uncovered his face and sought as soon as his eyes fell upon him, he seized him and commanded that his head be struck off while Yahya was looking at one side. It increased his alarm and he went to great lengths to disguise himself.
He lodged with some people from Masmuda, his tribe, on his way. They wanted to assassinate him to take what money he had with him. The daughter of one of them warned him about that. When they gathered for 'Isha' with him, he got up as if to relieve himself and then mounted a mare which he found in the house and saved himelf on it. When it seemed to them he had been gone a long time, they went out and found that he had left. He went until he was safe and stopped at Toledo and returned their mare to them. Its people accepted him and gave him protection.
His protector was known as Abza. Amir al-Hakam demanded that they surrender him to him. They did not do it and they refused him by their own might. The Amir's letter came to him at last about returning to his land and he gave him a safe-conduct and promised to return his goods and money to him. Yahya had written to him about that. He returned to Cordoba during the end of the reign of al-Hakam. He remained honoured for the rest of his days and he his knowledge was famous.
When he went to Cordoba, he sold all his slaves and wanted to replace them. He was asked about that and said, "We disliked to have accompany us those who knew the flight and the abasement which afflicted us."
He died on 22nd of Rajab in 234. Ibn al-Fardi said that. Ar-Razi said, "In the evening of Wednesday of the 22nd of Dhu'l-Hijja." It is said that he died in 233. Abu 'Umar al-Hafiz related that. He was 82 when he died. He left two sons.
When Yahya died, he made Qadi Muhammad ibn Ziyad ibn Rabi', one of his close friends, his trustee, and he is the one who prayed over him after his death.
Yahya ibn Yahya left a famous bequest for the seekers of knowledge.