‘Ahadith were made supple for him just as iron was made supple for Dawud (عليه السلام)’
Abu Dawud Suliman bin al-Ash’ath al-Azdi as-Sijistani (رحمه الله تعالى)
أبو داود سليمان بن اشعث الازدي السجستاني
Some collections which include the seerah of the Imam are: Tahdhib al-Tahdhib by Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Tarikh Baghdad, Al-Kamal, Siyar A’lam an-Nubala, and Suw’alat Abu ‘Ubaid al-Ajjuri. Al-Hafiz Abu Tahir as-Silafi mentions the Imam in his introduction of al-Khattabi’s Ma’alam As-Sunan as does al-Allamah al-Azim Abadi in Ghayat al-Maqsud fi Sharh Sunan Abi Dawud and ‘Awn al-Ma’bud, Imam at-Tirmidhi (رحمه الله تعالى) mentions the Imam in his own Sunan, as he narrates from him. Much of what follows herein regarding Abu Dawud (رحمه الله تعالى) is related from the above and other authentic sources with sound chains of narrations, inshallah.
He is Abu Dawud, Suliaman bin al-Ash’ath bin Ishaq bin Bashir bin Shaddad bin ‘Amr bin ‘Imran al-Azdi as-Sijistani. His great-grandfather was ‘Imran of the Azd tribe, who was said to have been martyred during the Battle of Siffeen while fighting in the army of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (رضي الله عنه).
He was born in the year 202 after Hijrah in the well known region of Khurasan called al-Sijistan, and it is agreed upon that he died in the year 275 at the age of seventy-three in Basrah on the fifteenth day of the month of Shawwal on Jumu’ah; his Janazah was led by ‘Abbas bin ‘Abdul Wahid, and we ask that Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) includes him among those of whom Rasulallah (صلى الله عليه وسلم) spoke when he said upon the authority of ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr (رضي الله عنه):
«ما من مسلم عيوت يومَ الجمعة أو ليلة الجمعة إلا وقاه الله فينة القبر »
‘Any Muslim who dies on the day or night of Jumu’ah is protected by Allah from the tribulation of the grave.’
[Ahmad & Tirmidhi]
The place of his birth has been reported to be Sijistan, which was a famous town in Khurasan, situated in the vicinity of Makran and Sindh, opposite Hirat. As-Sijistani is derived from Sistan, a region which today stretches from south eastern Iran to south western Afghanistan. The term as-Sijizi is also used as an ascription for Sistan, hence sometimes Abu Dawud was called: Abu Dawud as-Sijizi as has been mentioned in the Sunan of Abu ‘Isa at-Tirmidhi (رحمه الله تعالى).
Abu Dawud attended his first school in Nishapur at the age of ten, after first completing his elementary education, where he studied under Muhammad ibn Aslam. At the conclusion of this initial study, he began to travel in pursuit of knowledge and ahadith, making his way to Baghdad by the time he was eighteen.
In 223 at the age of twenty one he visited Kufa, and from there he then traveled to Basrah, where he received the bulk of his ‘Ilm, predominately in the sciences of ahadith. His journeys seeking ‘Ilm took him throughout the expansive lands of the Ummah, visiting in his lifetime: Khurasan, Nishapur, al-Iraq, al-Hijaz, ash-Sham, al-Jazirah, Isfahan, Bagdad, Basrah and Misr.
Imam Abu Dawud met many of the foremost Muhadith and Fuqahah’ of his time and acquired from them a profound knowledge of ahadith and its sciences. He was recognized and renowned for having a strong, penetrating mind and a powerful memory, which was acknowledged by the Muhadith and ‘Ulama of his lifetime and thereafter. Ibn al-Jawzi is reported to have said about him: ‘Abu Dawud was an eminent Muhaddith and an outstanding ‘Alim. None have compiled a book like his Sunan.’
The Hafiz took ahadith from and studied under about three-hundred shuyukh. The most eminent of his teachers include: Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (رحمه الله تعالى), whom he studied under along with al-Bukhari (رحمه الله تعالى); he also took from Ishaq bin Ibrahim, Ishaq bin Rahwaih, Abu Thaur, Hisham bin ‘Abdul Malik al-Tayalisi, Yahyah bin Ma’in, Abu Bakr ibn Abi Shaibah, and his brother ‘Uthman bin Abi Shaibah, ‘Ali bin al-Madini, and ‘Abdullah bin Maslamah al-Qan’abi who was among those famous for narrating the Muw’atta’ of Imam Malik (رحمه الله تعالى).
His most famous students include his son, Abu Bakr ‘Abdullah bin Abi Dawud, Abu ‘Isa at-Tirmidhi, Abu ‘Abdur Rahman an-Nasa’i, Abu Bakr al-Khalal, ar-Ramahurmuzi, Ibn Abi ad-Dunya, ad-Duwlabi, and also those who narrate the Sunan from him.
Among those who heard his Sunan from him and narrated ahadith from him are al-Lu’lu’i Abu ‘Ali Muhammad bin Ahmad bin ‘Amr, Ibn Dasah Abu Bakr Muhammad bin Bakr bin Muhammad bin ‘Abdul Razzaq al-Tammar al-Basri, ar-Ramli Abu ‘Isa Ishaq bin Musa bin Sa’id, and Ibn al-Arabi Abu Sa’eed Ahmad bin Muhammad bin Ziyad bin Bashr.
And from those who transmitted some of his other works are: Abu Bakr Ahmad bin Sulaiman al-Najjar, Isma’il bin Muhammad al-Saffar, and ‘Abdullah Muhammad bin Ahmad al-Basri.
Abu Dawud was a scholar and a man of principle; he was noted for his encyclopedic knowledge of ahadith, his photographic memory, his upright character, and his kindness. And it has been reported that Abu Dawud resembled his teacher Imam Ahmad ibn al-Hanbal not only in physical appearance but also in his taqwa, ‘ilm, akhlaq and temperament.
Imam Abu Dawud رحمه الله تعالى was a religious man. He led a pious and ascetic life and devoted most of his time to ‘ibadah, devotion and adhikar. He renounced pleasure in worldly things and always kept away from the company of sultans, courtiers, and men of rank and dignity.
As-Subki relates that once Abu Dawud was visited by Abu Ahmad Talhah al-Muwaffaq al-‘Abbaasi, the celebrated commander and brother of the Khalif al-Mu‘tamid al-‘Abbaasi, and the governor of Basrah. When Abu Dawud enquired as to the purpose of his visit, al-Muwaffaq replied that his objective was threefold. Firstly, he wished to invite Abu Dawud to reside at Basrah, which had become deserted on account of the Zanj insurrection, in the hope that it would be repopulated if famous scholars and their students moved there.
Secondly, he requested Abu Dawud to give classes to his sons. Thirdly, he asked him to make these classes private, given them a place of prominence due their rank, so that ordinary students would be excluded. Abu Dawud accepted the first two requests, but expressed his inability to comply with the third. In his view all were equal regarding knowledge, and Abu Dawud would not tolerate any distinction between high and low in regards to acquiring knowledge. The result was that the sons of al-Muwaffaq attended the lectures side by side with anyone else that wished to attend.
The Imam was highly respected for his abilities in ascertaining the validity and grades of ahadith; meticulously distinguishing the Sahih ahadith from the Da’if, Mu’allal and Maudu’ narrations, as well as criticizing and evaluating them. He has been ranked third from among the four shuyukh of his era renown for their analysis and critical examination of ahadith, the four being: al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, and al-Nasa’i.
Regarding his remarkable retention of ahadith Suliaman bin Shu’bah wrote about the Hafiz Abu Dawud in ‘Uluww al-Himmah‘: ‘The students of Abu Dawud wrote over 40,000 ahadith from him, and he did not refer to a book to narrate any of them.’
His mastery and command over the sciences of ahadith earned him great distinction among his contemporaries and he was widely considered to be the Imam al-Muhaddihn by his peers and students.
Abu Dawud was not recognized solely for his aptitude in the field of hadith but was also known to have a keen insight of fiqh and ijtihad and was counted amongst the prominent Fuqahah’ of his era. Some scholars are of the opinion that Imam Abu Dawud held the most notable position in fiqh and ijtihad, from among the Muhadith, second only to Amir al Mumineen fil Hadith Imam al-Bukhari (رحمه الله تعالى).
His acumen for jurisprudence was such that he alone, from amongst the authors of the Sihah Sitta, was chosen for inclusion in the work by Abu Ishaq al-Shirazi, Tabaqat al-Fuqaha’. And from among the innovative and exceptional features of his Sunan was his decision of the exclusive inclusion of ahadith al-ahkam, distinguishing it as a collection of ahadith, which previously were compiled in a more general format containing narrations of varied subject matters known typically as either Masanid or Jawami’ while Abu Dawud’s pioneering work functioned primarily as an easily referenced manual of fiqh.
Regarding his legal legerdemain, it has been recorded in Siyar A’lam an-Nubala’ that al-Hafiz adh-Dhadhabi said:
‘Along with his Imamat in Hadith and its fields, Abu Dawud was among the major Fuqahah’, for his book proves that. He was among the distinguished companions of Imam Ahmad; he attended his lessons for a lengthy period of time, and he asked him about delicate issues, in both Furu’ and Usul (branches and fundamentals) and he stayed upon the Madhab of the Salaf regarding the Sunnah and submitting to it and not delving into problematic Kalam (meaning ‘philosophy’ and its introduction into the Din which led to the birth of such deviant sects as the Mu’tazalah).’
Abu Dawud was not unfamiliar with the fiqh, positions, opinions and works of the predominant jurists of the ninth century and there can be found among his own books those that relate and examine such issues from other distinguished ‘Ulamah, as in his Musnad Malik, as well as his Masa’il of Imam Ahmad and several other works attributed to him dealing with Imam ibn Hanbal.
Although it is widely known and accepted that Abu Dawud was a student of Imam Ahmad ibn al-Hanbal (رحمه الله تعالى), there is some ikhtalaf among the scholars and biographers as to whether he was to be considered Hanbali in regards to his fiqh or madhab, as al-Shirazi posits, or instead classified as Shafi’i in relation to his fiqh, or further to be categorized as adhering to another school of law altogether, as some others have stated.
It can not be said, however, that he agreed with or took all of the positions regarding either of the two illustrious Imams, in regards to the criticism and categorization of ahadith or that which is derived from them, fiqh, as he himself mentions in his Risalah, when commenting upon his inclusion of mursal ahadith: ‘al-Shafi’i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal have criticized them. In my opinion they are authentic and reliable in the absence of musnad and muttasil ahadith…’ And it is apparent that Abu Dawud, like many of the ‘Ulamah, may have agreed and differed with his peers in regards to methodology or rulings, despite having benefited from them in terms of his learning and knowledge.
Despite such differences in matters of classification, it is agreed upon that the Imam was a competent and exceptional Fuqaha’ and Mujtahid, proficient in discerning both the minute and major issues and aspects of fiqh and possessing a vast knowledge on issues of Ijma` and Khilaf, thus manifesting a strong capability in determining the most correct position by means of his own methodology, and also in rendering legal verdicts, all irrespective of any school of law he may have favored.
Regarding the works authored by Abu Dawud, al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (رحمه الله تعالى) mentions the following, which he recorded in al-Mu’jam al-Mufahas know variously as Tajrid Asanid al-Kutb al-Mashhurah wal-Ajza’ al-Manthur, all with authentic chains leading back to the Imam Abu Dawud:
- A’lam An-Nubuwwah
- An-Nasikh wal Mansukh
Ibn Hajar also attributes the following works to the Imam in Taqreeb at-Tah’theeb:
- Fadaa’il al-Ansaar
- Kitab al-Radd ‘Ala Ahl al-Qadar
- Musnad Malik
- Kitab al-Masa’il
There is also his Risalah Abi Dawud ila Ahli Makkah outlining, in his own words, his methodology and intent regarding the compilation of his Sunan. Although not authored by Abu Dawud, there is a collection of his answers to questions he was asked, compiled by Abu ‘Ubaid al-Ajurri, titled Suw’alat Abi ‘Ubaid al-Ajurri ‘an Abi Dawud. He is reported to have authored many other works in addition to these; however, those mentioned here previously are those which have been recorded and authenticated by al-Hafiz Ibn Hajar.
As-Sunan Abi Dawud
Without doubt, the most well known and prolific of the Imam’s works is his Sunan, for which he is reported to have examined five-hundred thousand ahadith, four-thousand eight-hundred of which he selected for inclusion in As-Sunan, a labour which is said to have occupied him for twenty years in Tarsus.
He mentions this himself in his Risalah when he writes: ‘… I wrote from Rasulallah صلى الله عليه وسلم, five-hundred thousand ahadith, selecting from them what I included in this book, so I collected four thousand ahadith in it, mentioning what is Sahih and what resembles close to that.’
Al-Khattabi mentions in Ma’alam as-Sunan:
‘The book of the Sunan, by Abu Dawud is a noble book, there has not been another book written in knowledge of the religion that is like it. … I heard ibn al-‘Arabi say, while we were listening to him (recite) this book; he pointed to the copy which was in front of him (saying); “If a man does not have any knowledge with him except that of the Mushaf which is Kitaab ul Allah, (and) then this book, he would not have a need for any knowledge at all beyond the two of them.”’
He further narrated the following regarding Abu Dawud and his Sunan: ‘Abu ‘Umar Muhammad bin ‘Abdul Wahid az-Zahid the companion of Abu al-Abbas Ahmad bin Yahya informed me, saying: “Ibrahim al-Harbi said; when Abu Dawud wrote this book, ahadith were made supple for him just as iron was made supple for Dawud (عليه السلام)”’
Al-Manhaj ul Sunan
In his Risalah Abu Dawud (رحمه الله تعالى) elucidates the methodology utilized in the compilation of his Sunan saying:
‘There are no Matruk (abandoned) narrators in the book of As-Sunan, which I wrote, and when there is a Munkar Hadith I clarified that it is Munkar and there is nothing other than it (the Munkar Hadith) which is similar for that topic. … Whatever Hadith there is in my book that has a severe weakness, then I have clarified it, and whenever I did not mention anything about it, then it is Salih (good) and some of them (the Hadith) are more correct than others.’
And it can be understood regarding the methodology of Abu Dawud that in the case of the ahadith which he believed to be salih, he made no comments whatsoever; some of which are weak, but he did not find them to be severely weak and regarding this al-Hifiz ibn Mandah commented in Muqaddimah Ibn as-Salah: ‘Abu Dawud narrated weak chains of narration when he did not find anything else for the topic, because that is stronger to him (a Munkar or Mursal Hadith) than a man’s opinion.’
Thus it is established, regarding the methodology of Abu Dawud, that he only accepted the mursal hadith provided he could not find a musnad hadith in relation to the issue being addressed and only provided that if a musnad hadith is known, that it was not in conflict or contradicted by the mursal narration. The Imam is reported to have authored an entire work on the subject of mursal ahadith titled Kitab al-Marasil.
Regarding his grading and selection of the material in his Sunan he drew attention to the defects of certain ahadith he cited, as well as the relative value of the variant texts from which they were drawn. He also often took only those parts of long ahadith which were relevant to the fiqh of the chapter in which they were included, thus making the reason of inclusion clear and concise, and making each section succinct regarding the supporting texts for a given position.
Although Abu Dawud retained the scrupulous exactitude of his predecessors in compiling the material which he collected, he differed from them in the criteria of selection and in content. In his Sunan, he included not only the sahih traditions, but also some other accounts that had been classed by other scholars as weak or doubtful, in concerning this he mentions in his Risala:
‘I have tried to the best of knowledge and belief to transmit sahih and hasan ahadith in this book. I always preferred those ahadith which were superior in respect to the isnad. I narrate the mursul ahadith when musnad and muttasil ahadith are not available, for marasil are also recognized as authentic by early Fuqaha’ like Malik, al-Thauri and al-Auza’i. Al-Shafi’i and Ahmad ibn Hanbal have criticized them. In my opinion they are authentic and reliable in the absence of musnad and muttasil ahadith, however I do not consider them as (equal.)
I have not included in it (As-Sunan) any hadith which has been unanimously rejected by the ‘ulemah. Similarly, I have refrained from narrating ahadith from those narrators who have been rejected by the muhaddihn. I do not take into consideration munkar and da’if ahadith, but in the absence of sound ahadith on a subject, (and) I have transmitted them after describing the reasons of their weakness and rejection.
Where I have kept silent regarding those ahadith whose isnad are not considered to be sound, they should be considered to be sound and reliable. Similarly I have taken much care in collecting in it the ahadith which are well known and those which have been generally followed and practiced by the people, instead of transmitting gharib and shadhdh ahadith.’
This was not necessarily a defect in his book, as some critics of ahadith, such as Shu‘bah, had the tendency to be too strict in their criticisms of the narrators. None the less, Abu Dawud collected the most reliable traditions known to him on every subject of fiqh, quoting the sources through which the traditions had reached him, together with the various versions of the accounts in question.
Since Abu Dawud collected ahadith which no one else had ever assembled together and took such care in his compilation, and due to the precise nature of his arrangement and explanation it has been widely accepted as a standard work by ‘ulemah; as was mentioned by al-Khattabi: ‘Sunan Abu Dawud is an excellent book. No such unparalleled work has been produced so far in religious sciences. It has gained popularity among people. It has a decisive position among various classes of ‘ulemah and fuqaha’. All have equally benefited from it. The people of Iraq, Misr, Maghrib, and most of the countries depend upon it.’ While Imam ibn Kathir رحمه الله تعالى said: ‘[It] is considered to be a famous and popular work among the ‘Ulemah.’
Sunan Abu Dawud is the most comprehensive of all the Sunan with regard to ahadith ul ahkam which is not only regarded as the first work of its type in hadith literature, but is also generally seen as the best and most reliable. And amongst as-Sita it is agreed upon by the majority of ‘ulemah that it is third in importance after the Sahihayn. It was reported that when the Sunan was presented to Imam Ahmad ibn al-Hanbal he was said to have appreciated it greatly.
And many of the ‘ulemah have commented that alongside the Quran one needs little else to understand and implant the religion. Such as Muhammad ibn Makhlad who is reported to have said: ‘When Abu Dawud presented the Sunan to the people after its completion, the muhadithin considered it a book worthy of being followed like Quran.’ And similarly Ibn al-A’rabi said: ‘There is no need of acquaintance of anything after acquiring the knowledge of the Quran and of Sunan Abu Dawud.’ And Zakariya ibn Yahya al-Saji said: ‘The Quran is the foundation of Islam and Sunan Abu Dawud is its pillar.’
We ask that Allah reward this extraordinary ‘Alim and accept from him all his works and deeds and makes him one who continues to benefit the Ummah and Muslims by his achievements.