Imam Muslim

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(AH 202–261)
By `Abdul Hamid Siddiqui
Muslim Scholar—Al-Azhar University
Imam Muslim
The full name of Imam Muslim is Abul Husain Muslim ibn Al-Hajjaj Al-Qushairi An-Naisaburi. He belonged to the Qushair tribe of the Arabs, an offshoot of the great clan of Rabi`ah. He was born in Nishapur in AH 202/817 CE or AH 206/821 CE. His parents were religiously minded persons and as such he was brought up in a pious atmosphere. This left such an indelible impression on his mind that he spent the whole of his life as a God-fearing person and always adhered to the path of righteousness. He was in fact a righteous man of high caliber. His excellent moral character can be well judged from the simple fact that he never indulged in backbiting, a very common human failing.

Imam Muslim traveled widely to collect traditions in Arabia, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, where he attended the lectures of some of the prominent traditionists of his time such as Ishaq ibn Rahwaih, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, `Ubaidullah Al-Qawariri, Qutaibah ibn Sa`id, `Abdullah ibn Maslamah, Harmalah ibn Yahya, and others.

Having finished his studies, he settled down at Nishapur. There he came into contact with Imam Al-Bukhari and was so much impressed by his vast knowledge of Hadith and his deep insight into it that he kept himself attached to him up to the end of Al-Bukhari's life. He was an ardent admirer of another great teacher of Hadith, Muhammad ibn Yahya Adh-Dhuhali and attended his lectures regularly. But when the difference of opinion between Muhammad ibn Yahya and Imam Al-Bukhari, on the issue of the creation of the Qur'an, sharpened into hostility, Imam Muslim sided with Imam Al-Bukhari and abandoned Muhammad ibn Yahya altogether. He was thus a true disciple of Imam Al-Bukhari.

Imam Muslim wrote many books and treatises on Hadith, but the most important of his works is the collection entitled Al-Jami` As-Sahih. Some Hadith commentators are of the opinion that in certain respects it is the best and most authentic work on the subject. Imam Muslim took great pains in collecting 300,000 hadiths, and then after a thorough examination of them retained only 4,000, the genuineness of which is fully established. (1)

He prefixed to his compilation a very illuminating introduction, in which he specified some of the principles that he followed in the choice of his material.

Imam Muslim has to his credit many other valuable contributions to different branches of Hadith literature, and most of them retain their eminence even to the present day. Amongst these Kitab Al-Musnad Al-Kabir `ala Ar-Rijal, Al-Jami` Al-Kabir, Kitab Al-Asma' wal-Kuna, and Kitab Al-`Ilal are very important.

His Methods of Classification and Annotation

After the Qur'an, Bukhari's Sahih is the most reliable book of Islamic Shari`ah. Muslim's Sahih comes next to it. However, in certain respects the latter is considered superior to the former. Imam Muslim strictly observed many principles of the science of Hadith that were slightly ignored by his great teacher Imam Al-Bukhari (may Allah have mercy on both of them). Imam Muslim considered only such hadiths to be genuine and authentic as had been transmitted to him by an unbroken chain of reliable authorities and were in perfect harmony with what had been related by other narrators whose trustworthiness was unanimously accepted and who were free from all defects.

Moreover, Imam Al-Bukhari, while describing the chain of narrators, sometimes mentioned their kunyah s (epithets) and sometimes gave their names. This was particularly true in case of the narrators of Syria. This created confusion, which Imam Muslim avoided.

Imam Muslim took particular care in recording the exact words of the narrators and pointed out even the minutest difference in the wording of their reports.

Imam Muslim also constantly kept in view the difference between the two well-known modes of narration, haddathana (“he narrated to us”) and akhbarana (“he informed us”). He is of the opinion that the first mode is used only when the teacher is narrating the hadith and the student is listening to it, while the second mode of expression implies that the student is reading the hadith before the teacher. This reflects his utmost care in the transmission of a hadith.

Imam Muslim took great pains in connecting the chain of narrators. He recorded only hadiths that at least two reliable tabi`in (successors) had heard from two Companions, and this principle was observed throughout the subsequent chain of narrators.

His Students

Imam Muslim had a very wide circle of students who learned Hadith from him. Some of them occupy a very prominent position in Islamic history, for example, Abu Hatim Ar-Razi, Musa ibn Harun, Ahmad ibn Salamah, Abu `Isa At-Tirmidhi, Abu Bakr ibn Khuthaimah, Abu ‘Awanah, and Al-Hafiz Adh-Dhahabi.

His Death

Imam Muslim lived for 55 years in this world. He spent most of this short lifespan learning, compiling, teaching, and transmitting Hadith. He always remained absorbed in this single pursuit, and nothing could distract his attention from this pious task. He died in AH 261/875 CE and was buried in the suburbs of Nishapur.

(1) It is essential to remove one of the serious misgivings under which so many Orientalists and Westernized Muslim scholars are laboring. When they are told that Imam Muslim selected 4,000 hadiths out of a total collection of 300,000, they think that since quite a large number of hadiths were unreliable, they were therefore rejected. They then jump to the conclusion that the whole stock of Hadith is spurious and should be rejected outright. This betrays utter ignorance of the critics, even about the elementary knowledge of hadith. Matn (text) is not the basis on which the number of hadiths is calculated. Hadiths are counted on the chain of transmission. Thus when we say that Imam Muslim collected 300,000 hadiths and included only 4,000 in his compilation, it does not imply that he rejected the rest of the whole lot of the Prophet's sayings as being unreliable. What this means is that the words and deeds of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) were transmitted to Imam Muslim through so many chains of transmission, out of which he selected 4,000 chains as most authentic and narrated the text on their authority. A text ( matn ) that is transmitted through one hundred isnads is in Hadith literature treated as one hundred traditions. For example, the text of the first hadith in Al-Bukhari (The Actions Are Based on Intention) is counted as a selection of one out of 700 hadiths since it has been transmitted through such a large number of isnads.

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