Abu Dawood Sijistani (202–275H) أبو داوود السجستاني
Abu Dawood followed different principles than others who collected hadith. To him, a weak hadith was always preferable to a person’s individual opinion, so long as the weak hadith did not go against the grain of more authentic evidence. Hafiz Abu `Abdullah ibn Mandah noted: “Abu Dawood would record a hadith (and little els) because, in his opinion, weak ahadith were stronger than the opinions of men.”
One of those envied by the emperors, when emperors were Muslims, was Abu Dawood Sulayman ibn Ash’ath originally of the Azd tribe of Yemen. In his times (third century Hijri ), he was the foremost scholar of Hadith in Basrah. He was born in Sijistan, a vast province of what is today southern Afghanistan.
After completing his education, Abu Dawood settled in Basrah. Given his obvious merits and degree of scholarship, he was held in high esteem by the authorities in his time. The `Abbasid ruler, al-Muwaffaq, showed him the deepest respect. He visited the scholar at his residence those days when Abu Dawood went about in a garment tailored to have two types of sleeves: one narrow and the other wide. When asked about the reason for his strange way of dressing, he answered: “The wide one is for books, while the other is in no need of that.”
But his cordiality with the Abbasid rulers never allowed any of their non-Shari’ah-complying requests to be fulfilled by him. Muwaffaq requested that Abu Dawood teach his children Hadith. He agreed. But when he said that he should hold separate classes for them, he refused.
Abu Dawood’s travels in search of knowledge commenced quite early in his career; indeed, some reports suggest that he was already on the road by the time he was fifteen; and by the end of the longer journey of life itself, he had no equal in the science of the traditions. More. He had no equal in worship and personal piety. Even an ascetic like Sahl Tustari once approached Abu Dawood and said that he wished to make a request, but on condition that Abu Dawood will fulfill it, if he is able. Abu Dawood agreed with the attached condition and asked what it was. Tustari said, “Stick out your tongue with which you narrate so many of the Messenger’s ahadith , so that I may kiss it.” Abu Dawood complied.
As he moved from one place to another, Abu Dawood learnt ahadith from Muslim ibn Ibrahim, `Abdullah ibn Rajaa, Abu Walid Tayalisi, Musa ibn Isma`il and their contemporaries at Basrah. In Makkah, Abu Dawood studied a Hadith under Qa`nabee and Sulayman ibn Haribn When he tarried in Kufa for a while, he studied ahadith under Hasan ibn Rabi`, Ahmad ibn Yunus Yarbu`i and many others. He collected ahadith of Abu Tawbah Rabi’ ibn Naafi in Aleppo and of Abu Ja`far Nufayli, Ahmad ibn abi Shu`ayb and several other leading scholars of Harran. It was from Haywah ibn Shurayh, Yazid ibn Abd Rabbih and many others that Abu Dawood obtained ahadith at Hims. At Damascus, he sat before Safwan ibn Salih and Hisham ibn `Ammar. In Khorasan, to which he travelled in the company of his son Abu Bakr, he was lucky to study under Is-haq ibn Raahawayh and his contemporaries. He recorded ahadith at Nishapur, very early in his career. At Balkh, Abu Dawood was taught by Qutaybah ibn Sa`eed while at Rayy, he studied under Ibrahim ibn Musa. In Egypt, it was under Ahmad ibn Salih and others that he studied the science of Traditions. According to Ibn Hajr, the number of Abu Dawood’s teachers from whom he himself narrated – and recorded in his Sunan and his other works–stood at around 300.
Of all his eminent teachers, it was the venerable jurist and Traditionist Ahmad ibn Hanbal who, perhaps, exercised the greatest influence on Abu Dawood while he was at Baghdad. Visiting the city while he was just eighteen, Abu Dawood became a close student of Ahmad ibnHanbal. Abu Dawood composed his Sunan quite early in his career, and had it checked by Ahmad ibn Hanbal who praised it, being quite impressed by the work. In turn, Abu Dawood was led to compile a book – entitled Masaail Ahmad – containing the various questions put to Ahmad ibn Hanbal and his corresponding answers. He said about Ibn Hanbal: “Sitting with Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal was an immersion in the Hereafter. The affairs of this world were never mentioned in his sessions. I never heard him mention this world at all.” He often saw Ibn Hanbal’s buttons undone and, at times, socks and sandals mismatched.
Abu Dawood trained his son Abu Bakr also in the same disciplines. Consequently, he grew into one of the biggest names in Baghdad as far as ahadith-memorization skills were concerned. Abu Dawood would take him with him in his long journeys in search of knowledge even when Abu Bakr was still a child. In his own days, Abu Bakr composed the well-known work, Book of Lamps (al-Masaabeeh) . He was a man indifferent to the world, and given much to worship. When he died, 300,000 or more people attended his funeral.
Yet, when Abu Bakr showed laxity while narrating Hadith, he had to face the wrath of his father who accused him of lying; that is, if a statement made by `Ali ibn Husayn and recorded by Dhahabi, is to be believed. In time, this would divide the scholarly world into two camps: those who played down Abu Dawood’s observation as a severe father’s reproachful remark, and the other who treated Abu Dawood’s testimony against his son seriously.
The names of those who studied under Abu Dawood are too numerous to be listed here. Among the more prominent students, however, are Abu `Isa Tirmidhi who narrated from him in his Jami ’ and according to some reports, Imam Nasa’i . Of those students who narrated his Sunan are: Muhammad ibn abi Bakr, Abu Tayyib Ahmad ibn Ibrahim, Ahmad ibn Ali, Abu Sa`id ibn A`rabi, Ali ibn Hasan, Muhammad ibn Abdul Malik Rawwas.
Abu Dawood had the deepest respect for his compatriots who were also engaged in the same task. He said: “Of all the scholars of Hadith,I found none who memorized the traditions with greater precision or in greater numbers than Yahya ibn Ma`in, and there was none more pious and with a deeper understanding of the implications of the traditions than Ahmad. On the other hand, the most knowledgeable of the hidden flaws in the traditions was `Ali ibn Madini. And I have seen Ishaq ibn Rahawayh – despite his own vast store of knowledge and of memorized texts – giving precedence to Ahmad ibn Hanbal and acknowledging his special status.”
He also had praises for the other leading jurists and the deepest of respect to pray for them in words, “May Allah have mercy on Malik: he was an Imam. May Allah have mercy on Shafe’i: he was an Imam. May Allah have mercy on Abu Hanifah: he was an Imam.”
When he heard what `Ali ibn Ja`d had to say about Mu`awiyah and Ibn Umar, he lowered his estimation of Ali ibn Ja’d’s stature as a narrator of ahadith. Muhammad ibn `Ali Aajuri asked Abu Dawood, “Which of the two holds a higher status in your opinion – `Ali ibn Ja`d or `Amr ibn Marzooq?” He replied, “`Amr holds a higher place with us than `Ali ibn Ja’d, for the latter has been tainted with an evil remark inasmuch as he said, ‘It wouldn’t bother me if Allah punished Mu’awiyah’”
Abu Dawood followed different principles than others who collected Hadith. To him, a weak Hadith was always preferable to a person’s individual opinion, so long as the weak hadith did not go against the grain of more authentic evidence. Hafiz Abu `Abdullah ibn Mandah noted: “Abu Dawood would record a Hadith (and little else) because, in his opinion, weak ahadith were stronger than the opinions of men.” He was willing to rely upon narrators as long as they were not unanimously declared unfit (matrook), and as long as the transmission chain (Isnad) was continuous with no missing links between the narrators. He could thus declare Awwam ibn Hamzah to be an acceptable narrator although his Shaykh, Yahya ibn Ma`in, declared him weak. In this case, Abu Dawood is reported to have said: “We have not seen that he has any munkar Hadith that would require him to be judged weak.” The case of Nuh ibn Qays is similar inasmuch as Abu Dawood found him “reliable (thiqah) ,” although the opinion of Yahya ibn Ma`in was that he was weak.
An opinion held by scholars about the Kitab As-Sunan of Abu Dawood is that it is a collection replete with ahadith of hasan (sound) status. While this might sound disconcerting to those who find the use of any Hadith below the rank of Sahih (authentic) as disturbing, the doctors of Hadith have themselves given several reassuring definitions for a hasan hadith . In fact, perhaps the most pessimistic definition of a hasan hadith was held by none other than Abu Dawood himself. He, along with Balqini and Ibn Kathir, considered hasan ahadith to be a category between Sahih (authentic) and Da`if (weak). Other authorities like Abu Sulayman Khattabi believed that the hasan hadith is one whose origin as well as narrators are well-known. According to him, most ahadith are of this type and most scholars consider them acceptable. The great Muhaddith , Tirmidhi defined the hasan hadith as one having no one in the Isnad who was accused of lying, and that did not contradict a more authentic evidence, and as one having a text (Matn) similar to its own reported by another Isnad.
As a natural corollary to his encyclopedic knowledge of narrator quality and history as a critical tool of Hadith verification, Abu Dawood possessed, and maintained, an updated information source on the scholars of the various provinces in Muslim lands. He was constantly aware, and in detail, as to which ahadith were restricted to a particular city or area and which ahadith were reported by scholars of more than one province or territory. For his time and age, this was an amazing accomplishment: one which showed, more than anything else the extent to which the great Muhadditheen would go to develop the study of Hadith into as exact a science as it was humanly possible to do so.
Hafiz Musa ibn Harun’s statement that ‘Abu Dawood was created in this world for Hadith, and in the Hereafter for Paradise,’ is certainly not off the mark. When his Kitab As-Sunan was read out to him, Ibn Arabi commented: “If a man had nothing with him except for the Book of Allah, and this book (of Abu Dawood), he would need absolutely nothing else to go along with them.”
Abu Dawood tarried in Tarsus for 20 years composing the Musnad in which he collected four thousand ahadith. Adding further weight to the authenticity of Abu Dawood’s collection is the fact that there is no Hadith in the compilation for which he did not first get the approval of scholars like Ahmad ibn Hanbal and Yahya ibn Ma`in. Ahmad ibn Hanbal died in 241H when Abu Dawood was still in his thirties. Upon completion, he showed it to Ahmad ibn Hanbal who issued a favorable opinion.
Ibrahim Harbi (c. 280H) said about his work, “Hadith was made pliant for Abu Dawood the way iron was made pliant for Prophet Dawood.”
However, after compilation, Abu Dawood kept refining his collection. Lu’lu’ee, an important transmitter of the Sunan, recorded that Abu Dawood did not mention hadith number 911 in his fourth reading of the book. Also significant, in this connection, is the statement of `Ali ibn Hasan ibn `Abd that after having heard the Sunan Abi Dawood six times, he found that a portion of it remained unread the sixth time.
According to Buqaa`i there are six types of ahadith in Abu Dawood’s Sunan:
1. Sahih : Possibly, he meant Sahih li-Dhatihi (rigorously authenticated in, and of itself).
2. Similar to the Sahih : By this, he possibly meant Sahih li-Ghayrihi (rigorously authenticated owing to corroborating evidences).
3. Near the status of Sahih : Here, he possibly meant Hasan li-Dhatihi (authentic in, and of, itself).
4. Those on flimsy grounds.
5. Those about which Abu Dawood himself said, “What I have said nothing about, is serviceable.” What he meant was that those ahadith about which he was silent could be used merely as corroborating evidence alone.
6. If the ahadith about which Abu Dawood was silent can be corroborated by other evidences, then that type of ahadith would be the Hasan li-Ghayrihi (authentic due to corroborating evidence).
Before Abu Dawood, the works of Hadith scholars were either comprehensive compilations arranged by topic or compilations organized according to the names of the Companions of the Prophet who narrated them. In addition to ahadith about rules, these works also contained reports, stories, advice on spiritual matters and etiquette. In al-Khattabi’s view, not only had no one ever thought of compiling a comprehensive work exclusively devoted to rules of behavior, but none had been able to abridge and condense the relevant portions of long traditions of the Prophet in the manner that Abu Dawood eventually did. This was perhaps the main reason for Abu Dawood’s Kitab As-Sunan having peaked in popularity among the doctors of Hadith studies, and for students to travel long distances just to learn at his feet: a regular feature of his life right up to its fag end.
In Abu Dawood’s own words, prior to his final selection process, he had written down 500,000 ahadith, and from which he selected 4,800. Yet, and in general terms, Abu Dawood suggested that a believer will find it sufficient in the practice of his religion if he were to go by just four ahadith from his collection:
1. ‘Actions are (judged) by intentions (behind them).’
2. ‘Part of the perfection of a person’s Islam is leaving alone that which does not concern him.’
3. ‘One is not a true believer until he likes for his brother what he likes for himself.’
4. ‘The lawful (Halal) is clear and the prohibited (Haram) is clear, and between them are doubtful matters. One who stays clear of the doubtful matters protects his honor and his religion, while the one indulges in the doubtful things destroys his honor and religion.’
His Kitab As-Sunan has seen many abridgements and commentaries. Among the better known commentators are Khattabi (Ma’aalim As-Sunan); Hafiz al-Mundhiri (Al-Adad al-Mawdood fee Hawaashee Sunan Abee Daawood); Hafiz Suyuti (Mirqaat as-Su’ood ilaa Sunan Abee Daawood); Shams-ul-Haqq ‘Azimaabaadi (`Awn al-Ma`bood: Sharh Sunan abi Dawood). Many others have been done, before and after, but this last one is considered one of the best commentaries.
Abu Dawood penned other important books such as: Kitab al-Marasil (The Book of Narrations with a missing link in their chains of transmission or Isnads), Masa’il al-Imam Ahmad, Al-Naasikh wa al-Mansukh (The Abrogating and the Abrogated), Kitaab az-Zuhd (The Book of Asceticism), As’ilah li Imaam Ahmad, Kitaab al-Qadr (The Book of Divine Decree) , Dala’il al-Nubuwwah (The Signs of Prophethood) , Fada’il al-Ansar (The Merits of the Ansar), Akhbaar al Khawaarij (Reports about the Khawarij), and many others.
Ibn Hibban said about Abu Dawood: “Abu Dawood was one of the Imams of the world in his understanding, his knowledge, his devotion to worship, his piety and his technical proficiency. He compiled knowledge, composed books and defended the traditions of the Prophet .”