When the Sunan was read out to Ibn al-Arabi (560-638 Hijri), he commented: “If a man had nothing with him except for the Book of Allah, and this book (of Abu Dawood), he would need absolutely nothing else to go along with them.”
A Short Biography of Imam Abu Dawood
Hafiz Musa ibn Harun (died on 294 Hijri) narrated that Allah has created Imam Abu Dawood for two reasons: firstly, in order to preserve the Prophetic Traditions in this world and, secondly, to enter Paradise in the hereafter.
Imam Abu Dawood was certainly one of the giants of Islam whose contribution in the field of Hadith is unmatchable. The name of this great Imam was Sulaiman ibn Ahs Aas ibn Ishhaq ibn Basir ibn Shaddad ibn Amar ibn Imran ibn Azadi As-Sijistani. Al Azadi was a pure Arab tribe from Yemen. He was born around 202 Hijri at a place called Sijistan, southern Afghanistan. At that time 7th Abbasyd Caliph Al Mamun ibn Haroon-ur-Rashid was on the throne.
Imam Abu Dawood’s contemporary scholars were like Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim, Imam Tirmidhi and so many other giants in the field of Ahadith. In their generation, the preservation of Prophetic Traditions reached its pinnacle. That is why their time period is called the golden age of Hadith.
From childhood, Imam Abu Dawood had tremendous zeal towards the Prophetic Traditions. Like most of the other Scholars of his time, Imam Abu Dawood traveled to different parts of the Muslim world to acquire knowledge about the Prophetic Traditions from the giant scholars of his generation. The number of his teachers was around 300.
Imam Abu Dawood was one of the favorite students of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (died on 241 Hijri). Some of the scholars reported that Imam Abu Dawood used to resemble Ahmad ibn Hanbal the most. Despite being the teacher, Imam Ahmad narrated Hadith from his student Imam Abu Dawood.
The Imam was also a student of scholars like Qutaybah ibn Saeed (died on 240 Hijri), Mohammad ibn Bashar Al Bundar (died on 252 Hijri), and Mohammad ibnu Musanna (also known as Abu Musa) (died on 252 Hijri). These three scholars had one unique attainment which was that all the six authors of “Kutubus Sittah” i.e. six most authentic books of Ahadith were students of them. Imam Abu Dawood also had the opportunity to learn Ahadith from scholars like Sulaiman ibn Harb (died on 224 Hijri) and Yahyia ibn Moieen (died on 233 Hijri).
Imam Abu Dawood was a successful teacher and his students carried out his legacy with excellence and contributed immensely towards the preservation of this religion Allah. It is reported that a total of forty-five of his students were regarded as narrators of Hadith. Imam Abu Dawood’s son Abdallah was his student throughout his life and he became a scholar of Hadith. Subsequent scholars of Islam considered Abdallah ibn Abu Dawood as a trustworthy narrator of Hadith.
Some of the famous students of Imam Abu Dawood were Imam Abdur Rahman An-Nasai (died on 303 Hijri) and Mohammad ibn Isa At-Tirmidhi (died on 279 Hijri). According to famous Islamic scholar Ibn Kathir (died on 774 Hirjri) Muhammad ibn Yazid ibn Abdillah Ibn Majah (died on 310 Hijri) was also a direct student of Imam Abu Dawood.
Imam Abu Dawood wrote several books and well known among them are (i) Questions put forward to Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal; (ii) Letter to the people who deny Qadr (predestination), and (iii) Al Marasil. The book Al Marasil is an introduction to narrations which has missing individual in between people. The Imam wrote another book titled ‘Letter to the People of Makkah’ in which he mentioned his purpose and methodology for writing his most famous book called ‘Sunan’ also known as Sunan Abi Dawood.
We will discuss briefly about his book Sunan Abi Dawood. Imam Abu Dawood himself narrated that he has collected around 300,000 Ahadith of the Prophet and out of them he has only selected around 4,800 (without repetition). Imam Abu Dawood’s primary interest was in Fiqh (legal rulings) and as a result, his collection focuses purely on legal Ahadith.
The Ahadith collected by Imam Abu Dawood can be divided into five categories like (i) Sahih (also known as Sahih Al Zatihi), (ii) Similar to Sahih (also known as Sahih li Gayrihi), (iii) closer to Sahih (Hasan li Zatihi), (iv) not extremely Weak (also known as Hasan li Gayrihi) and (v) extremely Weak.
One can ask that why the Imam has collected weak Ahadith for his Book. In order to get the answer to this question one needs to understand that, in usual circumstances, scholars first look into the verses of the Book of Allah and then authentic Ahadith for pronouncing legal verdicts. However, the matter gets complicated when the scholars encounter a novel situation where no Quranic verse or authentic Hadith seems to apply directly.
In such a situation, many scholars of the past used to pronounce the legal verdicts based on their ijtihad (opinion). However, some scholars including Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal used to give precedence to a weak Hadith, if found, over his own opinion and thus used those weak Ahadith as evidence while giving any verdict. Since Imam Abu Dawood wanted to collect every Hadith used by the scholars of the Fiqh (legal rulings), that is why his Sunan comprises Ahadith of different grades.
In this unprecedented book, Imam Abu Dawood also identified the errors of the narrators of the Hadith. He explained the difficult and complicated words stated in the Hadith. He further described the actions of the Companions of the Prophet in respect of the Hadith. When the Sunan was read out to Ibn al-Arabi (560-638 Hijri), he commented: “If a man had nothing with him except for the Book of Allah, and this book (of Abu Dawood), he would need absolutely nothing else to go along with them.”
Gradually Imma Abu Dawood became one of the influential scholars of his generation and his stature in the Muslim world can be understood from one historical fact. During the year 255 Hijri a revolt against the Abbasyd Caliphate was ignited by a man named Ali who falsely claimed himself an Alawitte (i.e. from the progeny of Ali Ibn Abi Talid). He has managed to cumulate a large number of slaves in his army and they took control of Basra. After several attempts, the Abbasyd army defeated Ali and expelled his army from Basra.
However, in 257 Hijri they recaptured Basra and destroyed the entire city to the ground. The people of Basra deserted the city and there remained nothing but ashes and rubbles. This fitna (trial) continued for 14 years and around 270 Hijri the city of Basra and its vicinity became politically stable but the great city lacked habitation of Muslims. At that time, the then Governor Abu Ahmad personally visited Imam Abu Dawood at Baghdad and urged him to move to Basra so that the deserted locality may start to see rehabilitation with the presence and gathering of students of knowledge.
Imam Abu Dawood agreed to migrate to Basra and continued to live there until he died. Scholars, students of knowledge, and Muslims again started to pour into the city and within a few years Basra regained its heritage and colour. In the year 275 Hijri (889 CE) the Imam passed away in Basra at the age of 73. The funeral prayer of the Imam was lead by Abban ibn Abdul Wahid Al Hashemi and then he was buried alongside the grave of another great Imam whose name was Sufiyan Ath-Thawri (97-161 Hijri).
Imam Ibn Taymiyyah (661-728 Hijri) once commented on the authors of Kutubus Sittah (six books of Hadith) and he mentioned that among them two are Mujtahid (who can deduce law from religious texts) and four are Ahlul Hadith (Scholars of Hadith) and he referred Imam Bukhari and Imam Abu Dawood as Mujtahid.
- About – Sunan Abi Dawud – Sunnah.com – Sayings and Teachings of Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه و سلم)
- Imam Abu Dawood: life, work, and process of compilation of Hadith [written by Dr. Mufti Mohammad Manzurur Rahman and published by Ashrafia Book House, Bangladesh].
- Lecture of Sheikh Navid Aziz at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biAfVgjCsL8&t=405s
- Lecture of Shaykh Aqeel Mahmood at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hlvexaY_Ye4
- This History of Islam: by Akbar Shah Najeebabadi