Ulum al-Hadith is a vast ocean of a science. It requires extensive reading and study over many, many years. Here is a suggested curriculum for aspiring students of hadith, consisting of a combination of Arabic and English works. It is based on my own experiences and advice from consulting with scholars, as well as the wonderful Multaqa Ahl al-Hadith forum. This is the sort of guide I wish I had when I began studying. One may not necessarily study all the works in each level but extensive study is absolutely required to attain mastery. Note that each level is predicated on studying parrallel levels in other sciences (especially fiqh and usul al-fiqh).
This objective of this stage is to become acquanited with the major features of the hadith literature, nomenclature, sciences, as well as the content of prophetic narrations.
One of the best places to start with regard to the major hadith books is Studies in Hadith Methodology and Literature (revised Malaysian edition) by Mustafa al-A’zami followed by Hadith Literature by Muhammad Zubayr Siddiqi (ITS edition by Abd al-Hakim Murad). These two English classics introduce one to the main canonical texts, their features, as well as some methodology of hadith scholars. These could be supplemented by The Garden of the Hadith Scholars by al-Dihlawi, though it is not as essential as the former two.
Moving on to nomenclature, there are a number of good introductory works. Introduction to the Sciences of Hadith by Suhaib Hasan is a brief but popular work in English. Another decent start is al-Manhal al-Latif by Muhammad b. ‘Alawi al-Maliki. A modern classic is Taysir Mustalah al-Hadith by Mahmud al-Tahan (which has a commentary called Islah al-Istilah by Tariq Awad Allah). Ibn al-Mulaqqin’s Tadhkirah is another good choice for this stage. However, I think al-Wadih fi Mustalah al-Hadith by shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Shaya’ (professor of hadith at Jami’at al-Imam in Riyadh) is the best introductory work right now. It is clear, comprehensive, and organised with tables and charts which attest to his experience as a teacher as well as an author. It gives the student a solid foundation for further study.
A really beneficial book, that builds on the above as well as introducing more sciences related to hadith, is A Textbook of Hadith Studies by Hashim Kamali.
By now, one should be ready to dip into the study of the meanings of hadiths, and the obvious place to begin is by memorising al-Arba’un by Imam al-Nawawi, alongside reading its brief but excellent Sharh Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id, which may actually have been written by Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani. This should be followed by Jami’ al-‘Ulum wa al-Hikam by Ibn Rajab. These two commentaries introduce elements of the hadith scholars’ methodology which will be vital later on. Possibly the best commentary for fiqh discussions is Fath al-Mubin by Ibn Hajar al-Haytami. An unusally thorough English commentary based on a number of contemporary Arabic works is by Jamal al-Din Zarabozo.
The objective of this stage is to deepen one’s knowledge of hadith sciences and nomenclature, as well as widen one’s familiarity with popular and well-known hadiths, as well as understanding their contents’ implications.
An excellent and comprehensive book on hadith literature for this stage is al-Kattani’s al-Risalat al-Mustatrifah, which has an audio commentary by shaykh Hatim al-‘Awni. This should be followed by Akram al-‘Umari’s Buhuth fi Tarikh al-Sunnah.
One must now master Nukhbat al-Fikar and its commentary Nuzhat al-Nazar, both by Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani. The first step to this is with the modern commentary on Nukhbat al-Fikar called Nahj al-Mubtakar by al-Shirbini as well as Hatim al-‘Awni’s audio lessons and transcribed notes (mudhakkirah). This should be accompanied with reference to Tariq b. Awad Allah’s Sharh Nukhbat al-Fikar. Thereafter, Nuzhat al-Nazar (edited by Nur al-Din ‘Itr) should be studied with the excellent audio commentary by Hatim al-‘Awni (with its mudhakkirah) as well as the written commentary by Tariq Awad Allah. Taqrib Nuzhat al-Nazar by ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Shaya’ is also essential. Mastering this stage will make all subsequent study much easier.
The next book to study should be ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah’s edition of al-Muwqizah (al-Dhahabi’s abridgement of Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id’s al-Iftirah) with its commentary by Hatim al-‘Awni (originally audio but also transcribed and published) and Abdullah al-Sa’d’s printed commentary. It is a brief but excellent book that complements Ibn Hajar’s aforementioned work. Another additional work at this stage that one may reference is Ahmad Shakir’s al-Ba’ith al-Hathith (Sharh Ikhtisar Ulum al-Hadith by Ibn Kathir) with the recorded audio class of Tariq Awad Allah. However, the trio of Nukhbah-Nuzhah-Muwqizah is sufficient for this stage.
Now one can move onto studying and memorising famous narrations in ‘Umdat al-Ahkam by al-Maqdisi alongside reading its outstanding commentary Ihkam al-Ahkam by Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id. This will introduce fiqh al-hadith (an essential skill) as Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id deduces the rulings from each hadith in a masterful way. Those with aspiration may also read the commentaries of Ibn al-‘Attar and Ibn al-Mulaqqin, though Ibn Daqiq al-‘Id is a great summary of what one needs.
Thereafter, memorise and study Bulugh al-Maram by Ibn Hajar with its excellent commentary, Subul al-Salam by al-San’ani, another classic in fiqh al-hadith. Two contemporary commentaries that stand out are Minhat al-‘Allam by Abdullah al-Fawzan and I’lam al-Anam by Nur al-Din ‘Itr. The hadiths found in Umdat al-Ahkam and Bulugh al-Maram are the foundations of legal rulings and one really should memrorise them as they will pop up again and again in one’s future studies.
The final collection to memorise and study is Riyadh al-Salihin by al-Nawawi. The best commentary is Dalil al-Falihin by Ibn ‘Allan, which summarises from classical commentaries such as Fath al-Bari and al-Nawawi’s Sharh Sahih Muslim. A short, but excellent, contemporary sharh is Nuzhat al-Muttaqin by Mustafa Khinn and associates. A good large contemporary commentary is Kunuz Riyadh al-Salihin. Through these three works (i.e. ‘Umdat al-Ahkam, Bulugh al-Maram, and Riyadh al-Salihin), one will have grasped the spirit and essence of the Sunnah.
The most important books to prepare for at this stage are the Sahihayn of al-Bukhari and Muslim. In order to become easily acquainted with the contents of the Sahihayn, Salih al-Shami’s al-Wafi bi-ma fi al-Sahihayn is an excellent choice which some even recommend memorising, though one could otherwise study separately the mukhtasars of al-Zabidi and al-Mundhiri, on al-Bukhari and Muslim respectively. Whilst covering each hadith, refer to Ibn al-Athir’s al-Nihayah fi Gharib al-Hadith for obscure or ambiguous vocabulary and research the general meanings of each hadith, where possible, in al-Munawi’s Faydh al-Qadir and al-Tibi’s Sharh Miskhat al-Masabih. These provide clear and brief commentary on many famous hadiths.
If one decides on studying al-Zabidi’s mukhtasar, al-Tajrid al-Sari, then there are two excellent commentaries, both based on Fath al-Bari: ‘Awn al-Bari by Siddiq Hasan Khan and Manar al-Qari by Hamza Qasim.
The objective of this stage is to begin preparing for the thorough and exhaustive study of the major hadith literature.
An excellent book that covers a wide range of topics related to hadith is the aptly-named Hadith by Jonathan Brown. This should be read alongside Studies in Early Hadith Literature by Mustafa al-A’zami, his 1966 Ph.D thesis at Cambridge, which is available in Arabic too.
As an introduction to the major hadith narrators and critics, whom one needs to know for mastery, as well as the emergence of classical Sunnism, Scott Lucas’ Constructive Critics, his 2002 Ph.D thesis at Chicago, is an outstanding work.
An excellent introduction to how scholars differ in their understanding of the texts of hadith is The Differences of the Imams by Zakariyyah Kandhlawi. This must be followed by the outstanding Athar al-Hadith al-Sharif fi Ikhtilaf al-A’imma al-Fuqaha by Muhammad ‘Awwamah. One may also add to these Shah Wali Allah’s al-Insaf as well as his Hujjat Allah al-Baligha. Understanding these issues is crucial and often neglected by hadith students. Usul and fiqh must always be combined with hadith.
Nur al-Din ‘Itr’s book Manhaj al-Naqd, which introduces a wide range of topics, should be covered as a precursor to his edition of Muqaddimah Ibn al-Salah. The importance of mastering this text cannot be stressed enough, as its structure is the basis for a number of subsequent works which can be referenced alongside its study. The audio class of Hatim al-‘Awni is excellent and should be listened to completely for a solid grounding. Tariq Awad Allah has an edition that includes the Nukat of both Ibn Hajar and al-‘Iraqi. One must also read the nukat of al-Zarkashi. Shaykh Ahmad Ma’bad Abd al-Karim always advises that one read these nukat in chronological order: al-‘Iraqi, then al-Zarkashi, then Ibn Hajar.
The final mustalah book for this level is Tadrib al-Rawi by al-Suyuti, which is an excellent sharh of al-Imam al-Nawawi’s Taqrib. This should be combined with al-Sakhawi’s Sharh al-Taqrib wa al-Taysir. The best edition of Tadrib is by Muhammad ‘Awwamah, but also two good editions are by al-Faryabi and Tariq Awad Allah. Listen to Shaykh Ahmad Ma’bad Abd al-Karim’s recorded classes.
At this juncture, two contemporary works must be covered which raise questions on nomenclature and other hadith sciences according to the methodology of the earlier scholars. The first is al-Manhaj al-Muqtarah by Hatim al-‘Awni and the second is Tahrir ‘Ulum al-Hadith by Abdullah al-Juday’. These two works are very original and insightful and have proved to be quite controversial. However, they are two scholars whom I admire for their scholarship and I appreciate the questions that they raise. Another in this area is a good introduction to methodological differences between earlier scholars and later ones by Hamza al-Mallibari called al-Muwazana bayna al-Mutaqaddimin wa al-Muta’akhirin.
As a counterbalance, Dhafar Ahmad al-‘Uthmani’s Qawa’id fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith argues that the classical sciences of hadith are subjective and not absolute, whilst championing Hanafi usul al-hadith. That is to say, classical ‘ulum al-hadith were developed for the most part by hadith scholars influenced by al-Shafi’i and thus implicitly undermined the usul of the Hanafis (and by extension the Malikis). Whilst one may not agree with all of his arguments, it does offer an important different perspective and underlines the subjective nature of the science, which may open it up for further development. I personally feel that as of today, al-Shafi’i won the argument because you rarely, if ever, see Hanafis or Malikis rejecting sahih ahad hadiths and championing mursal hadiths, ‘amal ahl al-madinah, and other non-textual sources. They no longer use the usuli arguments of the founders of their schools because the common Muslims aren’t as convinced by those as evidence. Al-‘Uthmani seems to understand this and tries to address it.
The above should provide a good framework for the study of by al-Risalah by Imam al-Shafi’i, which some have rightly argued is one of (if not the) earliest treatises on hadith methodology, in addition to being incredibly influential in the development of hadith science, in the sense that later hadith scholars took up al-Shafi’i’s arguments and developed them further. Joseph Lowry’s insightful 1999 Pennsylvania Ph.D thesis Early Islamic Legal Theory clarifies al-Shafi’i’s concept of al-Bayan. Tariq b. ‘Awad Allah’s al-Naqd al-Banna further clarifies explains al-Shafi’i’s conditions for accepting murasil from tabi’in.
At this stage one could also add Ma’alim al-Sunnah al-Nabawiyyah, by shaykh Salih al-Sahmi, who strove in this collection to gather the sahih and hasan individual hadiths, without repetition, from fourteen major hadith sources: (1) al-Bukhari, (2) Muslim, (3) al-Nasa’i, (4) Abu Dawud, (5) al-Tirmidhi, (6) Ibn Majah, (7) al-Darimi, (8) Malik, (9) Ahmad, (10) al-Bayhaqi, (11) Ibn Khuzaymah, (12) Ibn Hibban, (13) al-Hakim, and (14) al-Maqdisi. It contains just under 4,000 hadiths and is an excellent introduction to the textual content of the major hadith collections. Indians tend to prepare for the dawrah al-hadith with the popular Mishkat al-Masabih by al-Tabrizi, which was abridged from al-Baghawi’s Masabih al-Sunnah. However, I think Ma’alim al-Sunnah is a worthy alternative due to its wider sourcing and relatively better selections in terms of soundness.
To really expand one’s understanding of the fiqh of the famous hadiths, an outstanding book is Imam al-Baghawi’s Sharh al-Sunnah. This masterpiece is highly regarded by our contemporary senior researchers (such as Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut and Abdullah al-Turki) due to its balance between hadith and fiqh. It contains just over 4,400 hadiths that are widely circulated among the hadith scholars, with valuable insights and commentary by al-Baghawi. Studying this before the major works will place one at a massive advantage over those who neglect it.
The objectives of this stage are reading the major hadith works with commentary and takhrij as well as becoming acquainted with the main features of ‘ilm al-rijal (biographical data), and al-jarh wa al-ta’dil (narrator criticism), as well as responding to criticisms levelled against ‘ulum al-hadith.
Mastery of mustalah revolves around encyclopedic works, which should be cross-referenced and studied simultaneously. I would take a thorough study of Fath al-Mughith by al-Sakhawi as the base and reference the others. It is a masterful commentary on Zayn al-Din al-‘Iraqi’s Alfiyyah. This also has recorded classes by Shaykh Ahmad Ma’bad Abd al-Karim. The best edition is Maktabat Dar al-Minhaj, edited by ‘Abd al-Karim al-Khudayr in 5 volumes.
Using Fath al-Mughith as the foundation, work through (in the following order) Tahir al-Jaza’iri’s Tawjih al-Nazar, which is highly recommend by contemporary experts in the field. Thereafter, al-Suyuti’s own sharh on his own Alfiyyah, al-Bahr alladhi Zakhr fi Sharh Alfiyyat al-Athar (with Ahmad Shakir’s notes). This contains, as the author mentions, issues not covered by al-‘Iraqi. In fact, he gathered issues not found elsewhere, as he was a master compiler. Finally, Tawdhih al-Afkar by al-San’ani (author of Subul al-Salam). This also contains issues not covered elsewhere. These four books pretty much cover everything in nomenclature. Mastering these will open up doors in reading the musnad hadith works. Make sure you master the contents.
A popular work that introduces and addressing the challenges leveled against ‘ulum al-hadith is al-Sunnah wa Makanatiha by Mustafa al-Siba‘i, which responds to some of the objections raised by Orientalists. Alternatively, or additionally, Nur al-Din ‘Itr has al-Sunnah al-Mutahirah wa al-Tahadiyat covering similar ground. ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Mu’allami’s al-Anwar al-Kashifa addresses criticism of narrators, Abu Hurayrah specifically. These should be followed by On Schacht’s Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence by Mustafa al-A’zami, Harald Motzki’s collection of articles in Analysing Muslim Traditions, and The Evolution of a Hadith by Dr. Iftikhar Zaman (his 1991 Ph.D thesis at Chicago).
One should now learn the biographies of the major narrators through al-Mashur min al-Asanid al-Hadith by Adil b. Abd al-Shakur al-Zuraqi, as well as his Tabaqat al-Mukthirin. One should research these major figures in the books of rijal, beginning with Tahrir Taqrib al-Taqrib by Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut and Bashar ‘Awwad Ma’ruf as well as Tariq b. Awad Allah’s Tahdhib Taqrib al-Tahdhib for the summary (both are refinements of Ibn Hajar’s Taqrib al-Tahdhib which inexplicably has mistakes and inconsistencies), then Ibn Hajar’s Tahdhib al-Tahdhib for more detail, and finally al-Mizzi’s Tahdhib al-Kamal. Write all the relevant biographical data down in your own note book and review constantly. You will be seeing a lot of these narrators in your future studies!
The outstanding ahkam book to study at this stage is Tarh al-Tathrib fi Sharh al-Taqrib (published by Dar al-Badr/Shuruq) by Wali al-Din al-‘Iraqi (d.826). It is a completion of the commentary of his father, the great mujaddid Zayn al-Din al-‘Iraqi (d.806), on his own work Taqrib al-Asanid. It comments on the hadiths of the strongest narrators according to the structure of a sunan/ahkam work. For whatever reason, the book has been wrongfully overlooked in favour of works likes Nayl al-Awtar by al-Shawkani. If you see how comprehensive he explains each hadith, you will not need any other sharh, even from Fath al-Bari or Sharh al-Nawawi!
These famous chains should also be checked in Tuhfat al-Ashraf by al-Mizzi to see which hadiths they have produced. These are the figures who will feature prominently in one’s study of the major works, and so getting the gist of their biographies and relationships beforehand gives one a massive advantage later on. One must know how nuanced grading can be and will learn that refraining from rash judgements on chains of hadith without extensive research of each chain and hadith in context is wise and proper.
Takhrij can begin with Mahmud al-Tahan’s popular book Usul al-Takhrij wa Dirasat al-Asanid. ‘Imad ‘Ali Jumu’ah has an excellent chart form of this. This should be followed by Hatim al-‘Awni’s audio class on takhrij as well as its printed transcript (mudhakkirah), al-Takhrij wa Dirasat al-Asanid, which the shaykh highly recommends. Takhrij al-Hadith by ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Shaya’ is an excellent textbook which covers the essentials for students. Couple this with his Dirasat al-Asanid.
To see how takhrij is practically applied, one excellent reference is Badr al-Munir by Ibn al-Mulaqqin (he called himself Ibn al-Nahwi) and it’s abridgement Talkhis al-Habir by his student Ibn Hajar.
All of the previous study should now have prepared one for engaging with the hadith literature. Many scholars recommend commencing with al-Sahihayn but Nur al-Din ‘Itr and Shah Wali Allah argue (convincingly, in my view) that the famous al-Muwatta of Malik should be one’s first major work for, in ‘Itr’s words in Manhaj al-Naqd, it is the ‘easiest in length, shortest in chains, and has a most excellent selection of hadiths.’ Thereafter, one should study the Sahihayn of al-Bukhari and Muslim, beginning with al-Bukhari. Whilst reading these three works, each narrator must be researched extensively in Tahdhib al-Kamal, as they are the pivots upon which the strongest hadiths depend. Do not rely on short works such as Taqrib al-Taqrib for this. It is a beginners book meant only for quick review and the habit of some of the muta’akhirin (even among commentators) of relying on it is frankly poor practice and low aspiration.
Al-Muwatta should be prepared for with Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr’s Muqaddimah al-Tamhid together with Ibn al-Salah’s Wasl al-Balaghat al-Arba’ah fi al-Muwatta’, both of which have been edited and published by ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah in Khams Rasa’il fi ‘Ulum al-Hadith. Also read the three other treatises in the collection as they touch upon essentials of hadith study such as the difference between hadathana and akhbarana. Thereafter read Umar F. Abd-Allah Wymann-Landgraf’s updated 1978 Chicago Ph.D thesis, Malik and Medina, which has valuable insights into the terminologies used by Malik, which really will help in understanding Malik’s intend and methodology. There are many commentaries on al-Muwatta, but the greatest are unquestionably al-Tamhid (more for ‘ulum al-hadith) and al-Istidhkar (more for fiqh), both by Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr. One would do well to also reference al-Baji’s al-Muntaqa (which is easier) and Ibn al-‘Arabi’s al-Masalik. For an abridged summary of the Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr and al-Baji, Sharh al-Zurqani is an excellent place to start. Awjaz al-Masalik by al-Kandahlawi is very clear (although the irrelevant defense of Hanafi views therein is a distraction), but the best modern commentary is by Ibn ‘Ashur’s Kashf al-Mughatta. I still think that Bashar ‘Awwad Ma’ruf’s second edition of al-Muwatta in two volumes is the best one, though Kilal Hasan Ali’s is excellent too.
Ghassan Abdul Jabbar’s Bukhari is an excellent introduction to the man and his work. This should be followed by Scott Lucas’ article The Legal Principles of Muhammad b. Isma’il al-Bukhari and Mohammad Fadel’s article Ibn Hajar’s Hady al-Sari. After this, Jonathan Brown’s The Canonization of al-Bukhari and Muslim, his 2006 Ph.D thesis at Chicago, is an absolutely essential read. It is better than most Arabic books on the Sahihayn.
Sahih al-Bukhari must accompanied by Ibn Hajar’s classic commentary Fath al-Bari, for those with aspiration, or al-Qastallani’s Irshad al-Sari, which is based on Fath al-Bari and al-‘Ayni’s ‘Umdat al-Qari. Ibn Hajar’s introduction to Fath al-Bari contains many fine points of detail and criticism, addressing some of the objections in al-Daraqutni’s al-Ilzimat, which should be read alongside this introduction with the audio commentary of Abdullah al-Sa’d. This will further introduce one, in addition to the previous study of al-Tamyiz, to ‘ilal al-hadith (hidden defects), which is the most difficult aspect of ‘ulum al-hadith. Nur al-Din ‘It’s book on al-Bukhari’s fiqh and chapter headings, al-Imam al-Bukhari wa al-Fiqh al-Tarajim, should also be consulted. One good modern commentary by Anwar Shah al-Kashmiri, Faydh al-Bari, also discusses the fiqh of al-Bukhari’s chapter titles really well, and also objects to Ibn Hajar at times, but Indian Hanafi hadith commentaries tend to be motivated by defending Hanafi fiqh against the Ahl al-Hadith more than trying to understand the methodology of the authors. The best edition to study Sahih al-Bukhari is undoubtedly still al-Sultaniyah in the edition of shaykh Muhammad Zuhayr al-Nasr, followed by the Maknaz al-Islami edition. All other editions (as of 2016), including Dar al-Ta’sil, presently fall short.
Before commencing with Sahih Muslim one should read Hatim al-‘Awni’s Ijma’ al-Muhaddithin, which addresses common misconceptions regarding the conditions of al-Bukhari and Muslim as well as the mu’an’an controversy discussed in Muslim’s Muqaddimah. A controversial thesis, it should be read with Ibrahim al-Lahim’s al-Ittisal wa al-Intiqa.
Thereafter, the Muqaddimah of Imam Muslim and Kitab al-Tamyiz (ed. Mustafa al-A’zami) with the audio of Abdullah al-Sa’d are excellent starting points for preparing to study Sahih Muslim as well as introducing hidden defects (‘ilal).
One must study Sahih Muslim with at least Sharh al-Nawawi, for the fiqh, and al-Kawkab al-Wahhaj by Muhammad al-Amin al-Harari additional benefits in discussing the chains. Fath al-Mulhim by al-‘Uthmani also has some interesting observations and discussions apart from the usual Indian Hanafi defence. One must bear in mind Imam Muslim’s methodoly. He arranges the hadith in each chapter according to degrading levels of strength. Thus, the first one or two hadiths are the basis (asl) of the topic or argument, of which there are 3,145, and the following hadiths are supports (mutaba’at), from a total of 7,748. Most commentaries miss this point too, focusing instead on fiqh of hadiths rather than hadith methodology. Critics have often failed to understand this subtle point and have criticised the mutabi’ hadiths when their main purpose is to support the asl hadiths. A good teacher should be able to point these out and differentiate between them. Another key point to note is that Imam Muslim never wrote chapter headings or titles. He simply gathered the hadiths of a particular issue together in order of strength. Later, commentators wrote chapter headings, which they deduced from the contents of the topical hadiths. Most editions of Sahih Muslim use Imam al-Nawawi’s chapter headings, due to his great standing in both fiqh and hadith. However, one should check earlier and later commentaries to see how different scholars have understood the chapters. Sometimes, chapter headings have misplaced Muslim’s priorities in certain narrations as well as missing the methodological point being made by focusing on the fiqh rather than the method. The best edition of Sahih Muslim is still al-‘Amirah edited by Muhammad Zuhayr al-Nasr. One should also benefit from al-Faryabi’s edition due to its useful footnotes drawing on al-Daraqutni’s criticisms, among others.
Whilst reading the Sahihayn, keep at hand Mustafa Bahuw’s al-Ahadith al-Muntaqadah fi al-Sahihayn. This collects together and evaluates a lot of research into the criticised hadith in al-Sahihayn. It is a valuable reference.
At this juncture, before commencing with the major Sunan works, one should know that the objectives of this stage are to master ‘ilal (hidden defects), ‘ilm al-rijal (biographical data), and al-jarh wa al-ta’dil (narrator criticism).
Moving on to narrator criticism (al-jarh wa al-ta’dil), one excellent introduction is al-Raf’ wa al-Takmil by al-Laknawi (edited by ‘Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah). This should be accompanied by Hatim al-Awni’s Khulasat al-Ta’sil with audio and transcript commentary and Dawabit al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil by ‘Abd al-‘Aziz ‘Abd al-Latif. Abdullah al-Sa’d has three recorded series that are excellent: al-Qawa’id, al-Dawabit, and al-Mubahith fi al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil. Finally, Ibrahim al-Lahim’s book al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil, has a good level of coverage of the topic.
Building upon Abdullah al-Sa’d’s audio commentaries upon Muslim’s Tamyiz and al-Daraqutni’s Ilzimat, Hatim al-‘Awni’s book and audio commentary al-Madkhal ila Fahm ‘Ilm al-‘Ilal is a brief, but excellent, step into ‘ilal. This should be followed by Hamza al-Mallibari’s al-Hadith al-Ma’lul and Ali al-Sayyah’s al-Hadith al-Mu’all and al-Manhaj al-‘Ilmi fi Dirasat al-Hadith al-Mu’all. Tariq b. ‘Awad Allah’s al-Irshadat must be studied as an excellent and practical book that builds on the previous ‘ilal studies by focusing on mistakes that are frequently made in strengthening hadiths with mutaba’at (follow-up) and shawahid (witnessing) narrations.
At this juncture, Shurut al-A’immah al-Khams by al-Hazimi and Shurut al-A’immah al-Sittah by al-Maqdisi, which discuss the conditions each of the Imams (al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, al-Nasa’i, and al-Tirmidhi) stipulated for including hadiths in their collections, should be read and summarised in a chart. Keep referring back to this chart throughout and try to determine whether al-Maqdisi’s and al-Hazimi’s deductions are always precise. Both are found alongside Abu Dawud’s Risalah (see below) in Abd al-Fattah Abu Guddah’s Thalath Rasa’il fi ‘Ilm Mustalah al-Hadith.
Shaykh Ahmad Ma’bad ‘Abd al-Karim also advises one study al-Bahr al-Muhit by al-Zarkashi because he contains a lot of usul al-hadith which is important for this stage. You must then see how Ibn Hibban divides the hadiths in his Sahih according to the various categories of ahkam, giving for example, 100 or more forms of obligation or prohibition indicated in hadiths. This is essential. His book is a masterpiece of riwayah and dirayah, demonstrating that he was truly an Imam. By understanding his method here, and knowing usul al-fiqh, you can arrive at rulings yourself. You will know that a hadith indicates obligation, recommendation, permissibility, dislike, or prohibition.
The shaykh also suggests al-Bayhaqi’s Madkhal al-Sunan al-Kubra, al-Hakim’s Ma’rifat al-Iklil, and al-Khatib al-Baghdadi’s al-Kifayah, and al-Jami’ li-Akhlaq al-Rawi.
When studying the forthcoming sunan works, analyse each chain of transmission independently. It is crucial to remember that each chain needs to be analysed individually and in context, understanding the methodology of the early hadith masters, and referencing ‘Ilal al-Daraqutni, ‘Ilal Ibn Abi Hatim , and ‘Ilal Ibn al-Madini. One should be very careful in grading hadith and should strive to understand rather than innovate new gradings. Check one’s own reseach against that of Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut, Nasr al-Din al-Albani, and Abdullah al-Sa’d’s audio commentaries.
The Sunan of Abu Dawud should be prepared for by reading Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah’s edition of his Risalah ila Ahl Makkah, which some have argued is one of the first treatises on nomenclature and methodology alongside Muslim’s Muqaddimah and al-Shafi’is Risalah. Abdullah al-Sa’d has an excellent audio commentary, focusing on ‘ulum al-hadith, of the opening chapters. Check your own research against his. Also, refer to the gradings and justifications of Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut and Nasr al-Din al-Albani. When these three agree, it should suffice. When they differ, research it extensively. Three commentaries to refer to are Mu’alim al-Sunan by al-Khattabi for a brief overview, ‘Awn al-Ma’bud for some good discussions on the fiqh, and Badhl al-Majhud for more clarification in the chains. The best edition of Sunan Abi Dawud is by Muhammad ‘Awwamah, which has met great aclaim among contemporaries.
The Mujtaba of al-Nasa’i should be introduced with Hatim al-Awni’s Mashayikh al-Nasa’i wa Dhikr al-Mudallisin. Abdullah al-Sa’d has an excellent audio commentary, focusing on ‘ulum al-hadith, of the opening chapters. Check your own research against his. Also, refer to the gradings and justifications of Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut and Nasr al-Din al-Albani. When these three agree, it should suffice. When they differ, research it extensively. The best commentary is Sharh Sunan al-Nasa’i by al-Wallawi, though I also like Sharh al-Shanqiti. The first is very clear and makes life easy for the student. Nevertheless, one must focus on how al-Nasa’i collects chains to teach ‘ilal al-hadith. The best edition of Sunan al-Nasa’i probably is by Dar al-Ta’sil, but Dar al-Ma’rifah’s edition with the hashiyah has been met with the most approval by contemporary scholars.
The Jami’ of al-Tirmidhi should be introduced through Nur al-Din ‘Itr’s al-Imam al-Tirmidhi wa al-Muwazana Bayna Jami`ihi wa Bayn al-Sahihayn, which was his Ph.D thesis at al-Azhar as well as Ibn Rajab’s Sharh ‘Ilal al-Tirmidhi (edited by Nur al-Din ‘Itr) with Hatim al-‘Awni’s audio commentary. This wonderful book helps to understand al-Tirmidhi’s use of tahsin. I would also add that Dr. ‘Adab al-Hamsh’s al-Imam al-Tirmidhi wa Manhajuhu fi Kitabihi al-Jami’ is an excellent study in three volumes. Abdullah al-Sa’d has an excellent audio commentary, focusing on ‘ulum al-hadith, of the opening chapters. Check your own research against his. Also, refer to the gradings and justifications of Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut and Nasr al-Din al-Albani. When these three agree, it should suffice. When they differ, research it extensively. My favourite commentary is Tuhfat al-Ahwadhi by al-Mubarakfuri, through whom my ijazah in al-Tirmidhi goes (the same path as shaykh Ibn ‘Aqil). Another good reference is ‘Aridat al-Ahwadhi by Ibn al-‘Arabi al-Maliki. The best edition of Jami’ al-Tirmidhi is best Shu’ayb al-Arna’ut but ‘Isam Musa Hadi’s edition points out some typos and errors in it. Ahmad Shakir’s edition, though incomplete, has very valuable footnotes. Make sure to reference al-Daraqutni’s Kitab al-‘Ilal, where possible.
The Sunan of Ibn Majah is where where should practically apply all of one’s skills attained through the previous studies for an academic investigation and engagement with Ibn Majah. It should be prefaced with Muhammad al-Nu’mani’s al-Imam Ibn Majah wa Kitabuhu al-Sunan. My own preference is to isolate the zawa’id of Ibn Majah and analyse those chains independently, comparing my results against the research of al-Arna’ut and al-Albani. Don’t rely on al-Busiri due to the weakness of the editions and some zawa’id that appear to be missed or included when not zawa’id. Rather, isolate them using your gained takhrij skills and Tuhfat al-Ahraf. Our count is that there are in fact 1,213 zawa’id hadiths (with repetition) but 1,476 in al-Busiri’s Misbah al-Zujajah. From these, 98 hadiths have a sahih isnad, 113 are sahih with mutaba’at (follow-up hadiths), 219 are sahih with shawahid (witnessing hadiths), 58 have a hasan isnad, 42 are hasan with mutaba’at, 65 are hasan with shawahid, 6 are possibly hasan in sha Allah. The best edition is the second Maknaz edition, published in two volumes in 2016.
By now, one should be well-prepared to read the hadith literature. The next step is yours. Indians like to move on to al-Tahawi’s two books: Sharh Mushkil al-Athar and Sharh Ma’ani al-Athar. Some Arabs move on to the zawa’id of Musnad al-Darimi, Ibn Khuzaymah, Ibn Hibban, and al-Daraqutni. Others prefer to delve into Musnad Ahmad. It took me a while to realise this, even after repeatedly seeing it exhorted to by many hadith masters and jurists of the past, but my preferred step now at this stage is to go on to al-Bayhaqi’s Sunan al-Kabir. Also known as al-Sunan al-Kubra, it is practically a mustadrak of the major hadith corpus, and truly one of the masterpieces of Islam. Research any issue and see how it is presented by al-Bayhaqi and you will quickly realise that this is a magnificant treasure trove. Managing to complete reading it (my version is 24 volumes!) can be assisted by al-Dhahabi’s abridgement in 10 volumes.
Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi in Jami’ li Akhlaq al-Rawi and Ibn al-Salah, in his Muqaddimah, recommend the following curriculum which has been approved, expanded, and commented upon by al-Nawawi in al-Taqrib, al-Suyuti in Tadrib al-Rawi, al-Iraqi in his Alfiyyah, al-Sakhawi in Fath al-Mughith, and Zakariyah al-Ansari in Fath al-Baqi:
Commence by studying the sahih works of al-Bukhari and Muslim with care and attention. Al-Ansari and al-Sakhawi both state (perhaps from their teacher Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani) that al-Bukhari takes precedence due to the extreme care he took in extrapolating rulings, which is the greatest objective in studying hadiths, and its superiority over other collections in soundness. Al-Sakhawi added that al-Bukhari should be studied first unless called to Sahih Muslim by necessity, such as its narrator being the only one who has it and one fears his dying, as the narrators of Sahih al-Bukhari are many.
Thereafter, one should study the sunan works of Abu Dawud, al-Nasa’i, and al-Tirmidhi. Al-Ansari and al-Sakhawi state the same justifications here, either from each other or taken from their teacher Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, namely that Abu Dawud takes precedence because of the great number of ahadith al-ahkam that it includes; thereafter al-Nasa’i as it trains one in hidden defects (‘ilal); then al-Tirmidhi due to the care he gives in indicating the hadiths in each chapter and section as well as indicating the gradings of each hadith. All this should be done by mastering precision and understanding their meanings.
Within this group, one must not neglect al-Bayhaqi’s Sunan al-Kubra, completed in 432 when the author was 48, ‘for we know not its like in its field’ as Ibn al-Salah said, who adds a caution not to be decieved by naysayers. Al-Nawawi said one should be devoted to it, as nothing has been written like it, and al-Suyuti agreed. Al-Sakhawi said that one must not limit oneself from it (by sufficing with the aforementioned sunan works) due to its comprehensiveness in most of the ahadith al-ahkam. Ahmad Shakir said in al-Ba’ith al-Hathith that it is the biggest book in legal hadiths (it has almost 22,000 narrations). Al-Sakhawi added that its true place should precede all of the other sunan works (i.e. Abu Dawud, al-Nasa’i, al-Tirmidhi, etc.), coming in rank only after al-Sahihayn, but they take precedence only due to being earlier. I might add that al-Dhahabi considered it to be one of the four masterpieces a scholar cannot do without, alongside al-Muhalla by Ibn Hazm, al-Mughni by Ibn Qudamah, and al-Tamhid by Ibn Abd al-Barr. Taj al-Din al-Subki said no other book had been written with such classification, arrangement, and quality. It includes most (if not all) of the hadiths found in al-Bukhari and Muslim, as well as many of those in Abu Dawud, al-Nasa’i, and al-Tirmidhi. The claim that al-Bayhaqi was unaware of al-Nasa’i and al-Tirmidhi is unfounded, because al-Bayhaqi refers to their narrations within his book, as Najm Abd al-Rahman Khalaf mentions in his book ‘al-Mawarid’ on al-Bayhaqi’s sources. Khalaf also includes, among hundreds of al-Bayhaqi’s sources: al-Bazzar, Ibn Khuzaymah, Abu ‘Awanah, al-Tahawi’s Sharh Ma’ani al-Athar, al-Daraqutni, Musnad Abu Hanifah, Musnad al-Shafi’i, Musnad Abu Dawud al-Tayalisi, Musnad al-Humaydi, Ibn Abi Shaybah, Ishaq b. Rahuwayh, Musnad Ahmad, Musnad al-‘Adani, Musnad al-Darimi, al-Musaddad, Musnad Abu Ya’la al-Mawsili, and many more. Scott Lucas argues that al-Bayhaqi cemented and sealed the hadith canon, and his choices were honoured by succeeding scholars.
Al-Khatib added Sahih Ibn Khuzaymah and al-Suyuti further added Ibn Hibban to this group, as did al-Sakhawi who also included Abu ‘Awwanah, Musnad al-Darimi, Musnad/Sunan al-Shafi’i, Sunan al-Kubra by al-Nasa’i because of the additions that it includes, Sunan Ibn Majah, Sunan al-Daraqutni, and Sharh Ma’ani al-Athar by al-Tahawi.
Then one should move on to the remaining musnad works that a scholar of hadith needs, such as Musnad Ahmad. Al-Sakhawi also added Abu Dawud al-Tayalisi, Ibn Humayd, al-Humaydi, al-‘Adani, al-Musaddad, Abu Ya’la, and al-Harith b. Abi Usamah, whose hadiths are higher than the aforementioned musnad works due to his living earlier.
Thereafter, move on to the musannaf works, beginning with Malik’s Muwatta. Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi said that al-Muwatta is the predecessor for this type (i.e. musannaf works) and thus it is necessary to start with it. Al-Suyuti adds Abd al-Razzaq and Ibn Abi Shaybah to this group, as does al-Sakhawi. Al-Sakhawi mentioned that musannaf works are of a lower ranking due to the majority of their contents being non-connected hadiths such as murasil.
One should then study ‘ilal al-hadith, headed by the works of Ahmad and al-Daraqutni. Al-Sakhawi added Ibn ‘Uyaynah, Ibn al-Madini, Muslim’s al-Tamyiz, Ibn Abi Hatim (whom he ranks with Ahmad and al-Daraqutni) with its commentary by Ibn Abd al-Hadi, al-Tirmidhi with Ibn Rajab’s commentary, and other works.
Alongside this one should study the ‘ilm al-rijal works, the best of which are al-Bukhari’s Tarikhal-Kabir and Ibn Abi Hatim’s al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil. Al-Khatib ranks alongside these the views of Yahya b. Ma’in.
Finally, do not forget to study works on the precise spelling of names, the most complete of which is al-Ikmal by Ibn Makula.
Al-Nawawi added that Ibn al-Athir’s Nihayah fi Gharib al-Hadith as well as hadith commentaries should be relied upon throughout studying all of the above.
Ibn al-Salah concludes that every time one passes a problematic name or difficult word, one must research it and study it. One should follow the path of the early masters, who would memorise hadith with chains little by little, as few as two a day, reviewed day and night, in order to have complete mastery in the end.
Shaykh Nur al-Din ‘Itr mentions in Manhaj al-Naqd the following curriculum:
One should begin with the most important works written during the age of codification and compilation, chief of which is Malik’s Muwatta, for it is the easiest in length, shortest in chains, and has a most excellent selection of hadiths. Thereafter, one should study the Sahihayn of al-Bukhari and Muslim.
After that, one should study with care the sunan works of Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, al-Nasa’i, and Ibn Majah – mastering with precision and understanding.
After that, one should study the musnads of Ahmad and Abu Ya’la, of which it is said that ‘musnads are like rivers, but Abu Ya’la’s is like the sea.’
Thereafter, one should study the comprehensive collections which gather together hadiths from a number of books, as well as the takhrij references that trace the paths of hadiths in a specific book.
One must take care to study the commentaries, especially the most important ones, namely Fath al-Bari and al-Nawawi’s Sharh Sahih Muslim.
Ibn al-Athir’s al-Nihayah fi Gharib al-Hadith gives complete clarity to obscure words, to the point that it is, in effect, a brief commentary for every hadith.
Shaykh Nur concludes that every time one passes a hadith that one does not know, one must study it deeply and research it, as well as difficult names or words.
Shaykh Hatim al-Awni al-Sharif of Makka gives valuable advice in his booklet, Nasa’ih Manhajiyah li-Talib ‘Ilm al-Sunnah al-Nabawiyah, the summary of which follows with my own comments and rearrangement:
Obsessively read the Sahihayn,
devoting a period each day for their study so that one can complete reading them in a year. One should aim at a minimum to do this over four years, during high school or university, so that one graduates having read them several times. Thereafter, one should read the works which strove to include only sahih narrations:
- Ibn Hibban
- Ibn Khuzaymah
Thereafter one should read the sunan works carefully, checking and researching the veracity of their ahadith:
- Abi Dawud
- Sunan al-Kubra li’l-Bayhaqi
If one has aspiration then one should memorise hadith, utilising the following books in order:
- al-Arba’in al-Nawawiyah (with zawa’id Ibn Rajab)
- Umdat al-Ahkam
- Bulugh al-Maram
- al-Lu’lu wa al-Marjan
One should also read commentaries on the hadith collections, beginning with easier ones:
- al-Nawawi – Sharh Sahih Muslim
- al-Qurtubi – Sharh Sahih Muslim
- al-Tibi – Sharh Mishkat al-Masabih
- al-Munawi – Fayd al-Qadir
One should always have Ibn al-Athir’s Al-Nihayah fi Gharib al-Hadith at hand as it explains the difficult vocabulary. It is easier to read this alongside the hadith instead of the commentaries, in order to get a general understanding of the hadith. Beware, however, of narrating hadiths which you do not understand.
Thereafter one should read the expansive commentaries:
- Ibn Hajar – Fath al-Bari
- al-Tahawi – Sharh Mushkil al-Athar
- al-Iraqi – Tarh al-Tathrib Sharh al-Taqrib
- Ibn Abd al-Barr – al-Tamhid
Ulum al-Hadith should begin as young as intermediate school (aged twelve) with the following:
- Taysir Mustalah al-Hadith by al-Tahan or
- Taysir Ulum al-Hadith by Amr Saleem or
- Sharh Lughat al-Muhadith by Tariq Awad Allah or
- Nukhbat al-Fikar (the best text at this level) with an easy contemporary sharh such as that by Abd al-Karim al-Khudayr
After that, at high school level (aged fifteen or so):
- Nuzhat al-Nazar (the best text at this level) or Al-Ba’ith al-Hathith or al-Ghayah Sharh al-Hidayah by al-Sakhawi
Thereafter, one should study:
- Muqadimah Ibn al-Salah with Nukat Ibn Hajar, al-Iraqi, and al-Zarkashi as well as shaykh Hatim’s own audio commentary, which is the most detailed available
This should be followed by:
- al-Iqtirah by Ibn Daqiq al-Eid and its versification by al-Iraqi for memorisation
- al-Mawqizah by al-Dhahabi, which shaykh Hatim has explained in a printed sharh based on his audio lectures
Then one should move on to the encyclopaedic works such as:
- Tadrib al-Rawi by al-Suyuti
- Fath al-Mughith by al-Sakhawi
- al-San’ani – Tawdih al-Afkar
- al-Khatib – al-Kifayah
- al-Hakim – Ma’rifat Ulum al-Haith
- Ibn Rajab – Sharh ‘Ilal al-Tirmidhi (upon which shaykh Hatim has audio commentary)
- Ibn Abd al-Barr – Muqadimah al-Tamhid
- al-Khalili – Muqadimah al-Irshad
After this one ends with comprehending and studying the methodology of the Mutaqqimin:
- al-Shafi’i – al-Risalah
- Muslim – Muqadimah
- Abi Dawud – Risalah ila Ahl Makka
After Nuzhat al-Nazr or whilst studying the Muqadimah of Ibn al-Salah one should begin to extensively read the following takhrij works in order to see how the theory of mustalah is practically applied:
- Mahmud al-Tahan – Usul al-Takhrij wa Dirasat al-Asanid
- Shaykh Hatim’s audio class on takhrij as well as its mudhakkirah, which the shaykh highly recommends
- Ibn al-Mulaqqin – Badr al-Munir
- Ibn Hajar – Talkhis al-Habir
- Nasb al-Rayah by al-Zayla’i
- Tanqih al-Tahqiq by Ibn Abd al-Hadi
- Silsilatayn by al-Albani
- Irwa al-Ghalil by al-Albani
Then one should study one or more books which deal specifically with the methodology of al-jarh wa al-ta’dil:
- Dawabit al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil by Abd al-Aziz Abd al-Latif
- Dawabit al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil ‘ind al-Hafiz al-Dhahabi
- al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil by Ibrahim al-Lahim
- Khulasat al-Ta’sil by Hatim al-Awni
- al-Laknawi – al-Raf’ wa al-Takmil
- Abu al-Hasan al-Masri – Shifa’ al-‘Ilil
One should read books which deal with the sources of the Sunnah:
- al-Kattani – Risalat al-Mustatrifah
- Akram Diya’ al-‘Umari – Buhuth fi Tarikh al-Sunnah al-Musharifah
At this stage one should analyse chains of transmission independently. It is crucial to remember that each chain needs to be analysed individually and in context, understanding the methodology of the early hadith masters. One should be very careful in grading hadith and should strive to understand rather than innovate. If one begins this stage as early as possible, after Muqaddimat Ibn al-Salah or whilst studying takhrij works such as Talkhis al-Habir, one will reap immense benefits later on. The following books should be referred to often:
- al-Mizzi – Tahdhib al-Kamal
- Ibn Hajar – Tahdhib al-Tahdib
- al-Dhahabi – Mizan al-I’tidal (abridged from Ibn ‘Adi’s al-Kamil)
These works derive from the following early sources:
- Ibn Abi Hatim – Al-Jarh wa al-Ta’dil
- al-‘Uqayli – Al-Du’afa
- Ibn Hibban – al-Majruhin
- Ibn ‘Adi – Al-Kamil
The final word will be with the following master critics:
- Yahya b. Mu’in
- Ahmad b. Hanbal
- Al-Bukhari – al-Tarikh al-Kabir
Read through all the imams’ words on a narrator will give one great perspectives and one should strive to study this in detail. When one finds much difference of opinion about a narrator, one should research his status extensively. One must also study deeply, and in immense detail, the books which deal with hidden defects (‘Ilal):
- Ali b. al-Madini – Al-‘Ilal
- al-Tirmidhi – Al-‘Ilal al-Kabir
- Ibn Abi Hatim – Al-‘Ilal
- Al-Daraqutni – ‘Ilal al-Ahadith (the most expansive work)
At this stage one will have reached a high degree of mastery and proficiency in hadith. One should then embark upon research projects in service of the Sunnah. One must know the rank of the critics as one knows the status of the critiqued, especially when verdicts differ, in order to give preponderance to one view over an other:
- al-Mutashaddidun (the strict)
- al-Mutasahilun (the lenient)
- al-Mu’addilun (the fair)
1. The Mutashaddidun are the critics with strict verdicts of disparagement. However, if they appraise a narrator, his standing is respected. Examples follow with the hadith scholar who deemed them so in brackets:
- Shu’ba b. al-Hajjaj (Ibn Hajar)
- Sufyan al-Thawri (Ibn Hajar)
- Yahya b. Sa’id al-Qatan (al-Dhahabi)
- ‘Affan b. Muslim (al-Dhahabi)
- Abu Nu’aym (al-Dhahabi)
- Yahya b. Ma’in (al-Dhahabi, also said to be fair)
- ‘Ali b. al-Madini (al-Dhahabi – highly respected master critic whose appraisal alone almost assures validity)
- Abu Hatim al-Razi (al-Dhahabi)
- ‘Uthman b. Abi Shaybah
- Ibn Khirash (al-Dhahabi)
- al-Nasa’i (Ibn Hajar)
- Abu’l-Fath al-Azdi (al-Dhahabi)
- Ibn Shahin (contadictory at times)
- Ibn Hibban (al-Dhahabi, but from the lenient when it comes to unknown narrators)
- Malik b. Anas
- Ibn Hazm
2. The Mutasahilun are the ones with leniency in expressing verdicts of al-Jarh & al-Ta’dil:
- al-Tirmidhi (though this assessment is being reassessed by contemporary scholars of the mutaqaddimun movement)
- Ibn Khuzaymah
- Ibn Shahin (contradictory at times)
- Ibn Hibban (al-Dhahabi – but from the strict when it comes to reliable narrators)
- al-Hakim al-Nisaburi
3. The Mu’addilun or the Mutawassitun are the just/moderate critics with the soundest scale of disparaging and appraising narrators. Their verdicts are of the first rank and take precedence over others when their is difference:
- Abd al-Rahman b. Mahdi (al-Dhahabi – with a bit of strictness)
- Ibn Sa’d (al-Dhahabi – with some leniency)
- Ahmad b. Hanbal (with a little leniency)
- Yahya b. Ma’in (with a little strictness)
- Abu Dawud (with a little leniency)
- Abu Zur’ah al-Razi (his verdicts are praised alot by al-Dhahabi)
- al-Nasa’i (with a touch of strictness)
- Ibn ‘Adi
- al-Daraqutni (al-Dhahabi)
- al-Khatib al-Baghdadi (with some leniency)
- Ibn Hajar (with a touch of leniency according to some contemporary scholars)
The following are considered to be the master critics due to their fair verdicts and extensive criticism:
- ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Mahdi
- Ibn Sa’d
- Ahmad b. Hanbal
- Abu Zur’ah
- Ibn ‘Adi
Shaykh Abdullah al-Sa’d offered the following advice during one class for students of hadith:
Ilm al-riwayah begins with al-Bukhari and Muslim whilst listening to recorded commentaries where possible.
Then move onto Bulugh al-Maram because it covers the common hadith related to fiqh and is very valuable in this regard alongside the commentary Subul al-Salam and Al-Basam.
Thereafter move on to al-Muntaqi by Majd b. Taymiya with Nayl al-Awtar Mustalah due to the massive amount of hadith covered (approx. 5,000)
Ilm al-Hadith has a theoretical and a practical aspect. The top of the list in theoretical are Ma’rifat ‘Ulum al-Hadith by al-Hakim and al-Kifayah by al-Khatib al-Baghdadi. One should also study Ibn al-Salah’s book as well as Ibn Rajab’s Sharh al-‘Ilal and Ibn Hajar’s Nukat ‘ala Ibn al-Salah. Al-Mawqizah is another very beneficial book. Sufficiency is found in studying the following in order: Al-Mawqizah, Muqaddimah Ibn al-Salah with Nukat Ibn Hajar, Ma’rifat ‘Ulum al-Hadith by al-Hakim, Al-Kifayah by al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, and Sharh ‘Ilal by Ibn Rajab.
The practical aspect of ilm al-hadith is found in takhrij works which trace the locations of the hadith to allow one to research and collect all the paths in order to assess the state of the hadith. The best books for this are: Talkhis al-Habir by Ibn Hajar, Al-Zayla’I’s Nasb, Al-Tahqiq by Ibn Abd al-Hadi, and Bayan al-Waham wa al-Ilham by Ibn al-Qattan al-Fasi which is a very valuable book. If one reads these books one finds massive benefit.
Thereafter move onto Jami’ al-Tirmidhi and take notice of how he arrives at his rulings and the terminologies that he uses – a true work of art. Then move onto ‘ilal works, beginning with Muslim’s kitab al-Tamyiz which is excellent.
Thereafter, al-Tirmidhi’s al’-Ilal al-Kabir followed by ‘Ilal al-Daraqutni before Abi Hatim as it is easier – Abu Hatim’s book is difficult.
Then research the chains in al-Muwatta because they are of the highest standard such as:
- Malik – Nafi – Ibn Umar
- Hisham b. Urwa – His father – Aisha
- Zuhri – Abi Salamah b. Abd al-Rahman – Abu Hurayrah
- Abi Zinad – al-A’raj – Abi Hurayrah
An excellent book in this area is ‘al-Mashur min al-Asanid al-Hadith’ by Adil b. Abd al-Shakur al-Zuraqi. He also has Tabaqat al-Mukthirin. One should research these names in the books of rijal.