Dr Muhammad Ibrahim’s edition of Imam al-Nawawi’s Tashih al-Tanbih is currently the critical edition of this important work. On page 57 he quotes al-Subki from a manuscript of Tarshih al-Tawshih in an interesting passage regarding the composition dates of al-Nawawi’s later works in fiqh, namely Rawda, Minhaj, Tashih al-Tanbih, and al-Majmu’. To this I add al-Suyuti’s comments from Minhaj al-Sawi, al-Nawawi’s comments within his books, and my own observations in order to get an idea of the chronological relationship between al-Nawawi’s works.
al-Tibyan commenced on Thursday 12th Rabi’ al-Awwal in 666 and was completed on Thursday morning 3rd Rabi’ al-Akhir 666 when the imam was 35 years old.
al-Adhkar was completed in Muharram in 667 when he had just turned 36.
al-Arba’un was completed in 668.
Rawdat al-Talibin began on Thursday 25th Ramadan 666 and was completed on Sunday 15th of Rabi’ al-Awwal 669 when he was 38.
Minhaj al-Talibin was completed on 19th Ramadan in 669 when he was 38.
Riyad al-Salihin was completed on Monday 14th Ramadan in 670 when he was 39.
Tashih al-Tanbih was completed on Friday 27th Rajab 671 when he was 40.
al-Majmu’ Sharh al-Muhadhab commenced on a Thursday in Sha’ban 662. Now, this could be a typo intending 672 because the introduction in al-Majmu’ refers to Rawdat al-Talibin. However, al-Nawawi adopted such an expansive approach in the earlier chapters that it had reached a few volumes in manuscript by the time he had completed the chapter on menstruation (which itself is huge!). Thereafter, he mentions that he will adopt an intermediate style, between excessive length and extreme brevity. Nevertheless, al-Nawawi reached Bab al-Jana’iz on the Day of Ashura 673. He then began Kitab al-Zakah on the same day. He completed Bab al-Ihram on Monday 9th Shawwal in 673 and began Bab Sifat al-Hajj on the same day. He completed the Quarter on Ibadah on Sunday 14th Rabi’ al-Awwal 674. He never managed to complete Kitab al-Buyu’, reaching Bab Riba before dying in 676 aged 45, may Allah have mercy on him. He achieved in his short life what most scholars cannot in a life twice as long.
Other works that were incomplete when the Imam died are al-Tahqiq (considered to be an abridgement of al-Majmu’), al-Tanqih fi Sharh al-Wasit of Imam al-Ghazali, and Bustan al-Arifin.
To the discerning eye, it is worth noting that Imam commenced and completed his works mostly during holy days and months. This might partly explain the blessings he had in the time of composition and the widely received acceptance his works have had to this day.
It is from these completion and incompletion dates that the muta’akhirin established a hierarchy of al-Nawawi’s works. What is interesting is that Rawdat al-Talibin was completed just before Minhaj al-Talibin, and that these works were written simultaneously. There is certainly a close relationship between these two works. A student studying al-Minhaj might reap immense rewards through supplementing his studies with reading and reviewing al-Rawdah.