Published in  
February 3, 2024

The Schools of Fiqh and the Books of Hadith

As Islam spread across the world, the sahaba also set out from Madinah in the capacity of governors, judges, and teachers to teach Islam and settled down across various parts of Arabia. As people asked them questions about new issues that arose, they exercised their best judgment in understanding and deriving the ruling from the Qur’an and Sunnah as was the methodology mentioned in the hadith of Mu’adh. These leading companions had many students who in turn taught other students and this is how early schools developed.

The Development of the Schools of Fiqh

Allah says,

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا ٱلذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُۥ لَحَـٰفِظُونَ

Indeed, it is We who sent down the message (Qur’an), and indeed, We will be its guardian. [Surah al-Hijr, 9]

فَسْـَٔلُوٓا۟ أَهْلَ ٱلذِّكْرِ إِن كُنتُمْ لَا تَعْلَمُونَ

So ask the people of the message if you do not know. [Surah an-Nahl, 43]

The Messenger of Allah ﷺ sent Mu’adh to Yemen, so he said: “How will you judge?” Mu’adh said: “I will judge according to what is in Allah’s Book.”
He (ﷺ) said, “If it is not in Allah’s Book?” Mu’adh said: “Then with the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah.”
He (ﷺ) said: “If it is not in the Sunnah of Messenger of Allah ?” Mu’adh said: “I will endeveour to make ijtihad and spare no effort.”
He (ﷺ) said: “All praise is due to Allah, the One Who made the messenger of the Messenger of Allah suitable.” [Tirmidhi]

Imam al-Ajurri رحمه الله writes, “A person is walking without direction in the dark. Then comes a man and places a light, because of which the people safely find their way to the destination. This is like the scholar who lights the way against the darkness of the dunya, and against the plots of Shaitan towards Allah.”

As Islam spread across the world, the sahaba also set out from Madinah in the capacity of governors, judges, and teachers to teach Islam and settled down across various parts of Arabia. As people asked them questions about new issues that arose, they exercised their best judgment in understanding and deriving the ruling from the Qur’an and Sunnah as was the methodology mentioned by Mu’adh above. These leading companions had many students who in turn taught other students and this is how early schools developed.

Scholars after the sahaba have worked tirelessly for centuries to collect, authenticate, codify, explain, and teach the religion to the people. As is with all sciences, some scholars excelled and showcased mastery of different subjects over their peers. Each of these scholars had a certain methodology of deriving and teaching fiqh to the people based on the Quran and Sunnah. Some of these famous early Imams were:
- Ibrahim al-Nakhai (d 96 AH) in Kufah
- Sufyan al-Thawri (d 97 AH) in Kufah
- Abu Amr al-Awzai (d 158 AH) in Greater Syria
- Abu Hanifah (d 150 AH) in Kufah
- Layth ibn Sa’ad (d 175 AH) in Egypt
- Malik ibn Anas (d 179 AH) in Madinah
- Sufyan ibn Uyaynah (d 198 AH) in Makkah
- Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi’i (d 204 AH) in Baghdad and Egypt
- Ahmad ibn Hanbal (d 241 AH) in Baghdad
- Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari (d 310 AH) in Baghdad
- Dawud ibn Ali az-Zahiri (d 270 AH) in Persia

There were many other such scholars. The students of these scholars continued the teachings upon the methodology of their teacher and the chain of teaching continued. This gave rise to what is known as a madhab or a school of fiqh. A madhab linguistically means “a way” and this referred to the latter scholars following the methodology of the Imam in dealing with the primary texts to extract rulings.

Some of the madhaib died out as the works of the Imam weren’t documented properly or the students weren’t able to take their teacher's work forward. There are many other factors like the presence of other scholars in the same vicinity who became famous, the adoption or push from the ruling government etc among many other factors that affected the adoption of a certain madhab across different places. Today, we have 4 primary madhaib that are adhered to around the world namely the schools of Imams Abu Hanifa, Malik, al-Shafi’i, and Ahmad. The Ummah has agreed to the knowledge and status of these scholars. These 4 madhaib have centuries of continuous research, peer review, teaching, and authoring of different levels of books by hundreds of scholars that explain the school, its methodology, and the corresponding evidence.  

It is a gross misrepresentation and a blatant lie to showcase the works of these scholars and the madhaib as merely a collection of their opinions and as though they are not grounded in the roots of the Quran and Sunnah. Each of the famous 4 madhaib traces its roots back to the leading scholars from among the sahaba.

𝐄𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐲𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐈𝐬 𝐂𝐨𝐧𝐧𝐞𝐜𝐭𝐞𝐝

A lot of the time we see the adherents of the madhaib go to extremes when it comes to following their madhab. They attack, bad-mouth, and spread discord in the community in the name of the madhab. This is a fringe faction that lacks knowledge and doesn’t represent the wider community. In reality, we see how the Imams treated each other with utmost respect and love.

Imam Abu Hanifa رحمه الله sent one of his primary students Imam Abu Yusuf رحمه الله to study with Imam Malik رحمه الله in Madinah. Imam Abu Yusuf learned Imam Malik’s methodology of Hadith and we see that influence in the evidences used by the Hanafi madhab. Qadhi Abu Yusuf would go on to become the first Grand Judge (Qadhi al-Qudat) of the Ummah. Imam Muhammad al-Shaybani رحمه الله would also study with Imam Malik for three years.

Imam ash-Shafi‘i رحمه الله was born in Makkah in the year of Imam Abu Hanifa’s death, 150 AH. Imam al-Shafi'i studied with Imam Malik in Madinah and memorized his famous Muwatta by the age of ten. Imam Malik taught the Muwatta in Masjid al-Nabawi for 40 years. Imam al-Shafi’i later moved to Baghdad at the age of 29 where he studied with Imam Muhammad al-Shaybani.

Imam Ahmad رحمه الله studied under the scholars of Baghdad. He started studying Hadith at the age of 16. This was the same year Imam Malik passed away. Hammad Ibn Zayd, the Imam of Basra also passed away in the same year. Imam Ahmad traveled and studied under Imams Sufyan ibn Uyaynah, al-Shafi’i, and Qadhi Abu Yusuf.

The love and respect between Imam al-Shafi’i and Imam Ahmad is well known. Imam al-Shafi’i said, “I left Baghdad and did not leave behind me anyone more virtuous, more learned, more knowledgeable than Ahmad ibn Hanbal.”

Imam Ahmad said to the son of Imam al-Shafi’i, “Your father is one of the six people I have been asking Allah every night to reward.”

In turn, from the students of Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal رحمه الله are: Imam Bukhari and Imam Abu Dawud among many others. When Imam Bukhari رحمه الله completed his Sahih, he chose Imam Ahmad to review it for him.

Imam al-Saffarini al-Hanbali رحمه الله said,

وهل كتبُ الفقه إلا زُبدة الكتاب والسُّنة وثمرتُها؟

"And are not the books of jurisprudence but the cream of the Quran and Sunnah and their fruit?" [Jawab al-Saffarini]

A lot of the time as readers, we focus on the text of the hadith but overlook the chain of narration that brings it to us. In it lies a whole different kind of beauty. A beauty of thousands of years of scholarship, the legacy of the true Muslim heroes, the dedication, hard work, and an undying spirit to preserve the Sunnah.

حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ إِدْرِيسَ عَنْ مَالِكٍ عَنِ ابْنِ شِهَابٍ عَنْ عَبْدِ الرَّحْمَنِ بْنِ كَعْبِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ أَنَّهُ أَخْبَرَهُ أَنَّ أَبَاهُ كَعْبَ بْنَ مَالِكٍ كَانَ يُحَدِّثُ أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ: «إِنَّمَا نَسَمَةُ الْمُؤْمِنِ طَائِرٌ يَعْلُقُ فِي شَجَرِ الْجَنَّةِ حَتَّى يُرْجِعَهُ اللَّهُ تَبَارَكَ وَتَعَالَى إِلَى جَسَدِهِ يَوْمَ يَبْعَثُهُ.

Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal narrates in his Musnad that Muḥammad ibn Idris (ash-Shafi'i) narrated to us from Malik (ibn Anas), from Ibn Shihab (az-Zuhri), from Abd ar-Rahman ibn Ka‘b ibn Malik, that he told him that his father, Ka‘b ibn Malik — used to narrate that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:

إِنَّمَا نَسَمَةُ الْمُؤْمِنِ طَائِرٌ يَعْلُقُ فِي شَجَرِ الْجَنَّةِ حَتَّى يُرْجِعَهُ اللَّهُ تَبَارَكَ وَتَعَالَى إِلَى جَسَدِهِ يَوْمَ يَبْعَثُهُ

“The soul of the believer is a bird that perches in the trees of Paradise until Allah — the Blessed and Exalted — restores it to its body on the Day He resurrects him.”

This chain has 3 of the 4 legendary Imams of Fiqh. Imam Zuhri holds a high status as the Imam of Imams. To showcase his stature, the names of a few of his students include the likes of Malik ibn Anas, Sufyan ibn Uyaynah, Layth ibn Sa’d, Ibn Jurayj among many others.

At the end of the day, every person has to ask a person of knowledge for guidance and answers unless they are a specialized scholar themselves who can extract rulings from the Quran and Sunnah directly. This takes decades of careful study and research which cannot be achieved by laymen.  When these illustrious Imams talk about talking from the Quran and Sunnah, we need to understand the proper context. They were addressing their students and scholars alike and not to the lay people and non-specialists in fiqh and hadith.

The Thulathiyyat

The Scholars of Hadith used to strive for having the shortest chains of narrations. They would travel far and wide to achieve this. An isnad that consists of fewer links is considered as more reliable since the possibility of error and doubt increases with every additional link in the chain.

The Thulathiyyat ahadith or traditions are those specific ahadith that have only 3 narrators in the chain of narration (sanad) between the one who relates the hadith and the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. These three narrators would consequently be:
- A Sahabi
- A Tabi’i
- A Tabi’i at-Tabi’i

In the famous Sahih of Imam al-Bukhari رحمه الله, he has 22 such ahadith. These Thulathiyyat are called the ‘Pride of Imam al-Bukhari by the scholars due to the short link between Imam al-Bukhari and the Messenger of Allah ﷺ.

It is related by Imam al-Bukhari رحمه الله in his Sahih, "It was narrated that al-Makki bin Ibrahim said that it was narrated that Yazeed bin Abi ‘Ubayd said on the authority of Salamah ibn al-Akwa’ رضى الله عنه that he heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ say, “Whoever attributes something to me that I haven’t said, then let him take his place in Hellfire.”

This is the first hadith of the Thulathiyyat of Imam al-Bukhari رحمه الله and one of the most authentic ahadith in existence.

An interesting fact to mention is that Imam al-Bukhari رحمه الله related half of the Thulathiyyat through his teacher, Sheikh al-Makki ibn Ibrahim رحمه الله. Sheikh al-Makki ibn Ibrahim was a student of Imam Abu Hanifah رحمه الله.  Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal رحمه الله also narrates hadith on the authority of Sheikh al-Makki ibn Ibrahim, as well Imam Yahya ibn Yahya al-Laythi رحمه الله.

Imam Ahmad رحمه الله also has Thulathiyyat in his magnum opus, The Musnad. They are 332 in number and were compiled by al-Allamah Imam as-Saffarini al-Hanbali رحمه الله who also authored a commentary on them.

The Six Books of Hadith

The Companions of the Prophet (رضي الله عنهم) taught and transmitted to us the entire life of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) from how he washed his hands, spoke, walked, slept, smiled, dealt with his family, all the way to the intricacies and details of Islam. History stands witness that this level of authentic detail cannot be found regarding any other leader or figure.

The ahadith of the Prophet were recorded even during his own lifetime. Abdullah ibn Amr ibn al-ʿAs had a scroll that he named al-Sahifah al-Sadiqah (The Scroll of Truth).’ that had approximately 1,000 narrations. These were later recorded and narrated in Imam Ahmad’s al-Musnad. Another famous record was that of Hammam ibn Munabbih, who learned from Abu Hurairah رضي الله عنه which contains about 138 narrations. The Sunnah continued to be recorded and transmitted in written and oral formats generation after generation.

Umar ibn Abdul Aziz during his caliphate sent out official instructions across all directions, and specifically to Madinah for the ahadith of the Messenger of Allah to be brought together to be compiled. Imam al-Zuhri was of the first people to compile authentic ahadith of the Prophet at the instructions of Umar ibn Abdul Aziz. This era was the era of compilations. After this in the second century after hijrah, Imam Malik was the first person to compile a complete work on Islamic Law based on the narrations of the Messenger of Allah which consisted of approximately 1,720 ahadith. It was known as the most authentic book at the time. In the third century after hijrah, came a book that remains unparalleled to date that is the Musnad of Imam Ahmad ibn Ḥanbal which has approximately 30,000 ahadith.

After this period, we get the most famous books of Hadith that are known as the al-Sihah al-Sittah or the Kutub al-Sittah. It is incorrect to call them al-Sihah al-Sittah as not all the ahadith mentioned in these works are sahih.

1. Sahih al-Bukhari

Actual Title: al-Jāmiʿ al-Musnad al-Ṣaḥīḥ al-Mukhtaṣar min umūr Rasūl Allāh wa sunanihi wa ayyāmihi

Author: Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ismail ibn Ibrahim ibn al-Mughirah ibn Bardizbah al-Juʿfī al-Bukhari (d. 256 AH) from Bukhara. It is a city in current-day Uzbekistan.

Total Number of Ahadith: 7,397

This work was compiled over 15 years.

2. Sahih Muslim

Actual Title: al-Musnad al-Ṣaḥīḥ al-Mukhtaṣar min al-Sunan bi Naql al-ʿAdl ʿan al-ʿAdl ilā Rasūl Allāh (صلى الله عليه وسلم)

Author: Abu al-Ḥussayn Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj ibn Muslim al-Qushayri al-Naysaburi (d. 261 AH) from Nishapur (or Nisabur or Naysabur). It is a city in Northeastern Iran.

Total Number of Ahadith: 7,275

This work was compiled over 15 years.

3. Sunan al-Tirmidhi or Jamiʿ al-Tirmidhi

Actual Title: al-Jāmiʿ al-Mukhtaṣar min al-Sunan ʿan Rasūl Allāh (صلى الله عليه وسلم) wa maʿrifah ṣaḥīḥ wa al-maʿlūl wa ma ʿalayhi al-ʿamal

Author: Abu Isa Muhammad ibn Isa ibn Sawrah ibn Musa ibn al-Dahhak al-Sulami al-Tirmidhi (d. 279 AH) from Tirmidh. It is a city in the southernmost part of Uzbekistan.

Total Number of Ahadith: 4,318

4. Sunan al-Nasaʾi

Actual Title: al-Sunan al-Ṣughrā or al-Mujtabā

Author: Abu Abd al-Rahman Ahmad ibn Shuʿayb ibn Ali al-Nasaʾi (d. 303 AH) from Nasa in Khurasan which was the northeast province of Greater Iran.
Total Number of Ahadith: 5,803

5. Sunan Abi Dawud

Author: Abu Dawud Sulayman ibn al-Ashʿath al-Azdi al-Sijistani (d. 275 AH) from Sijistan. It lies along the border of eastern Iran and southwestern Afghanistan.

Total Number of Ahadith: 5,185

This work was compiled over 20 years.

6. Sunan Ibn Mājah

Author: Ibn Majah, Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Yazid al-Rabaʿī al-Qazwini (d. 273 AH) from Qazwin. It is a city in modern-day Iran.

Total Number of Ahadith: 4,341

Leading Narrators of the Sunnah

The 7 companions (رضي الله عنهم) who narrated the most Ahadith from the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم are:

Abu Hurairah (d. 59 AH): 5374 Ahadith
He had himself written down ahadith and had others write down aḥādīth from him as well. It is reported that he has several books of aḥādīth written in this manner for himself. More than nine students wrote aḥādīth from him and compiled their own collections.

Abdullah Ibn Umar (d. 73 AH): 2630 Ahadith
He had himself written down ahadith and at least 8 students are reported to have written ahadith from him.

Anas ibn Malik (d. 93 AH): 2286 Ahadith
16 people are reported to have written ahadith directly from him.

Aishah bint Abi Bakr (d. 58 AH): 2210 Ahadith
More than 3 people including her nephew Urwah, and the famous Amrah bint Abd al-Rahman are reported to have written ahadith from her.

Abdullah ibn Abbas (d. 68 AH): 1660 Ahadith
More than 9 students are reported to have written ahadith from him. At the time of his death, it is reported that he had books of hadith that could be loaded onto a camel.

Jabir ibn Abdullah (d. 78 AH): 1540 Ahadith
His students like Wahb ibn Munabbih had written down ahadith on the authority of Jabir and compiled them in the form of a sahifah that mostly covered ahadith pertaining to Ḥajj.

Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri (Saʿd ibn Malik) (d. 74 AH): 1170 Ahadith

May Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) be pleased with them all.

An easy way to memorize all the names is by using these couplets:

سَبْعٌ مِنَ الصَّحْبِ فَوْقَ الأَلْفِ قَدْ نَقَلُوا مِنَ الحَدِيثِ عَنِ المُختَارِ خَيْرُ مُضَرْ
أَبُو هُرَيرَةَ سَعْدٌ جَابِرٌ أَنَسٌ صِدِّيقَةٌ وَابْنُ عَبَّاسٍ كَذَا ابنُ عُمَرْ

Seven of the Companions narrated over a thousand
Ahadith from the chosen, the Best of Muḍar.
Abu Hurairah, Saʿd, Jabir, Anas,
Siddiqah, Ibn Abbas, and likewise Ibn Umar.

Narrated Zayd ibn Thabit رضي الله عنه: I heard the Messenger of Allah ﷺ say:

نَضَّرَ اللَّهُ امْرَأً سَمِعَ مِنَّا حَدِيثًا فَحَفِظَهُ حَتَّى يُبَلِّغَهُ فَرُبَّ حَامِلِ فِقْهٍ إِلَى مَنْ هُوَ أَفْقَهُ مِنْهُ وَرُبَّ حَامِلِ فِقْهٍ لَيْسَ بِفَقِيهٍ '

May Allah cause his face to shine (beauty, nobility, to be immensely blessed), the man who hears what I say and conveys it (to others). There are those who have knowledge but no understanding, and there may be those who convey knowledge to those who have more understanding of it than they do. [Abi Dawud]

Imam Sufyan Ibn Uyainah رحمه الله commenting on this said that this is why he found that a student of Hadith was always very youthful looking.

May Allah Allow us to follow and learn from these giants and Allow us to emulate even a fraction of what they did.

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