Imam Abu Dawood (202AH – 275AH)

by Alimah Alisha Akaloo

In the name of Allah, The Beneficient, The Merciful.

As mentioned in the Biography of Imam Malik, the Arab culture of those days did not take kindly to referring to some one by their first name, hence a system developed whereby amongst other styles of referring to someone, their paternity was also mentioned along with their name.

This was stretched in some cases by referring to several preceding generations rather than to just the immediate paternity as in the case of Imam Abu Dawood whose name we find being mentioned along with his son’s name as in Abu (father of) Dawood followed by his own name of Sulaiman and then seven of his preceding forefathers’ names are mentioned, see the example: Imam Abu Dawud Sulaiman ibn(s/o) Ash`ath ibn(s/o) Ishaq ibn(s/o) Bashir ibn(s/o) Shaddad ibn(s/o) `Umar ibn(s/o)`Imran al-Azdi Sajastani. Interestingly here we see his birthplace also being mentioned at the end of the linked chain of names of seven previous forefathers as i n Sajistani

Imam Abu Dawood was born in Sajistan, a famous city in Khurasan in the year 202 A.H. However, the Imam spent a greater part of his life in the modern day country of Iraq which at that time had several centers of Learning and Basrah was one such center. Imam Abu Dawood like his predecessors such as Imam Malik and many of his successors also traveled widely for the purpose of checking out the possessors of Hadiths for ensuring their reliability before accepting any narrations from them. Collection was thus an arduous task of verification. In the course of his research, Imam Abu Dawood traveled to places like Baghdad, and he also went to Hijaz (now known as Saudi Arabia), Egypt, al-Jazirah , Nishapur in India, Syria and Isfahan in Iran.

Special Attributes

Imam Abu Dawood was reputed to have a truly amazing Memory. It is said that he would read a book just once and it’s entire contents were then recorded in his memory. He was exceptionally talented in the sciences of Hadiths distinguishing the sound one from the weak ones whose chain of narrators had breaks in them or where one of the links in the chain was not reliable.

His Peers Offered him Tribute.

Amongst the scholars who have spent a large part of their lives in the study of Hadiths only four are thought to have achieved positions of supreme eminence and these are: Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim, Imam Abu Dawood and Imam Nasa’i.

Imam Abu Dawood was regarded by many of his time as “Imam al-muhaddithin” (phonetically pronounced in English as Moohuddisseen) i.e. the Imam of all the scholars of Hadith. However, Hadith was not his only field of expertise, he had a keen insight into Fiqh [Jurisprudence] as well, and was known for his ability to exert his intellect on complex issues. His knowledge of various subjects it seems was so wide and he drew his interpretations from so many different angles that scholars cannot clearly pinpoint any particular school of thought to which he subscribed to, opinions varying between him being a Hanbali and a Shafaei Jurist, perhaps, he was both at the same time.

His Peers and His Students.

The depth of the sources of Imam Abu Dawood’s learning stretches back to about 300 teachers whom he met and learnt from, the most notable of them being Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal the initiator of one of the four major schools of thought in Islamic Jurisprudence. Three of Imam Dawood’s students rose to such eminence that they have become household names in their own right and became famous for their own compilations of Hadiths, these are Abu `Isa al-Tirmidhi, Abu `Abdur-Rahman An Nasa’i, Ibn Arabi, and Imam Muslim who was his compatriot as well, there being a difference of only two years in their ages, Imam Dawood being born in 202 AH whilst Imam Muslim was born in 204 AH.

Books By Imam Dawood.

Imam Dawood wrote the following Books Kitab Al Radd Ala’ Ahl al Qadar, Kitab Al Masa’il, Musnad Malik, but by far, the most renowned of all of his books is his compilation of Hadiths known as Sunan Abu Dawood

[circa 241 AH] which contains about 4800 traditions of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) out of a total of about 500,000 which he had collected. Such was the intensity of effort at ensuring authenticity involved in preparing this compilation that he chose to include less than 10% of what he had known in it.

This compilation of Hadiths [Sunan Abu Dawood] is ranked number 3 amongst the most acknowledged of all the compilations coming after only Sahih Bukhari and Muslim. This can be regarded as another tribute to Imam Dawood that one of his student’s work Sahih Muslim is placed one rank above his own work.

The 4 Hadiths which stand out above the rest.

Having collected about 500,000 Hadiths and deciding to include less then 10% of those in his compilation, Imam Abu Dawood then chose 4 which he thought were the most illuminating of them all, and these are:

Deeds are to be judged only by intentions.

Part of a man’s good observance of Islam is that he leaves alone that which does not concern him.

None of you can be a believer unless you love for your brother that which you love for yourself.

The permitted (halal) is clear, and the forbidden (haram) is clear, between these two are doubtful matters. Whosoever abstains from these doubtful matters has saved his religion.

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