A Short Biography of Imam Ibn Majah

Imam Ibn Majah dedicated his entire life to acquiring, teaching, and preserving the Prophetic traditions.

Imam Ibn Majah dedicated his entire life to acquiring, teaching, and preserving the Prophetic traditions.

The actual name of Imam Ibn Majah is Muhammad. It is interesting to know that ‘Muhammad’ was the real name of three out of the six Imams of Sia Sittah [six canonical books of Ahadith] but all these Imams were familiar by their Kunya (nickname) except Imam Muslim. Imam Ibn Majah’s full name was Abu Abdillah Muhammad Ibn Yazid Ibn Abdillah Ibn Majah Ar Rabai Al Qazwini.

There are three reports regarding why his name was ‘Ibn Majah’. Firstly ‘Majah’ was the title of his father, secondly ‘Majah’ was the name of the Imam’s mother and lastly, it was the name of Imam’s great grandfather. The most correct position is the first one.

Imam Ibn Majah was born in 209 Hijri (824 CE) in a city called Qazwin, Iran. In the same year, Imam At Tirmidhi was also born. Imam Ibn Majah and Imam At Tirmidhi were close acquaintances and they accompanied each other on several educational trips.

During his birth, the 7th Abbasid Caliph Al Mamun Al-Rashid was on the throne. The Imam grew up in this Islamic ambiance from his childhood. It was the time frame when Muslims excelled in every branch of education, including the preservation of Prophetic traditions.

The Imam started learning about the Deen from an early age under the supervision of his parents. Ibn Majah stayed in his hometown until the age of 21 and completed his education under all major scholars of the city of his time. From 230 Hijri the Imam started his educational trips and visited Basrah, Kufa, Baghdad, Makkah, Syria, Rayy, Egypt, Hijaz, Khurasan, Damishq, Nisapur, and Hims. 

An Introduction to the History of Hadith Compilation

One may wonder why the earlier scholars travelled so much, especially when travelling could be so time-consuming and toiling. There were several significant reasons for travelling to various cities.

We need to understand those earlier Muslim scholars used to make hijra (migration) to different lands frequently to spread the Deen of Allah. That is why prominent scholars have settled in different cities. There was no university during that time where one can have the luxury to attend lectures of giant professors one after another. Our pious predecessors had to take these painstaking journeys in order to acquire the finest knowledge from the giants of their generations. 

Another reason for the Muhaddiths (Hadith scholars) travelling is to identify the authenticity of Hadith. Collecting Hadith from its sources has many benefits. The authenticity increases with the shortage of the chain of narrators. In addition to that, the Muhaddith gets the opportunity to be acquainted with the narrator in person. It is undeniable that, had the scholars not travelled that frequently and reached such a variety of areas, the difference of opinion among the Muslim Ummah would have been more far-fetched, radical, and intolerant. The more the scholars travelled, their knowledge increased and more people were benefitted from their knowledge.

Unfortunately, the scholars of Hadith did not pay much attention to describing the cities they have travelled to. Had they done so, it could have been a great reliable resource. Subsequent travelers including the famous Ibn Batuta, who wrote about their travel experiences – but their reliability is not up to the standard of these giant scholars of Hadith.

How to Better Understand and Study Hadith

Imam Ibn Majah studied under 319 scholars of Hadith, and among them were Ahmed Ibn Sinan (died on 256 Hijri) and Hafiz Abu Hatim Ar Razi (died on 277 Hijri). According to famous historian Ibn Kathir (died on 774 Hijri), Ibn Majah was a student of Imam Abu Dawood (died on 275 Hijri). The Imam also acquired knowledge from great scholars like Abu Mushab Az-Zuhri who was a student of Imam Malik (died on 179 Hijri) and Rabi Ibn Sulayman (died on 270 Hijri) who was a student of Imam Shafi (died on 204 Hijri). Another giant scholar Mohammad Ibn Yahyiah Adh-Duhali An-Naisapuri (died on 258 Hijri) was also a teacher of Imam Ibn Majah.

Imam Ibn Majah dedicated his entire life to acquiring, teaching, and preserving the Prophetic traditions. So many students of knowledge studied at the feet of Imam Ibn Majah and narrated Ahadith from him and became exemplary scholars for the next generation. Some scholars like Sulaiman Ibn Yazeed Al Qazwini (died on 339 Hijri), Jafar Ibn Idris (died on 310 Hijri), Ahmad Ibn Mohammad Al Madani, and Ali Ibn Ibrahim Al Qattan were the direct students of the great Imam.

Imam Ibn Majah acquired vast knowledge in multiple branches of this religion. He wrote books on Hadith, Tafseer, and the history of the narrators of Hadith. His book on the history of the narrators, however, is unfortunately no longer available.

The book of Tafseer by Ibn Majah was one of the earliest and great works regarding the explanation of the Quran but unfortunately, it was destroyed during the invasion of Mongols. Imam Ibn Majah is also best known for his book Sunan Ibn Majah. The Imam examined more than 100,000 Ahadith with a complete chain of narrators and out of that he has selected few thousand Ahadith. There is a dispute among the scholars regarding the actual number of Ahadith but the range is within 4,000-4,500.

From the name Sunan, one may think that this book only comprises Ahadith relating to Fiqh. However, there are several chapters of Ahadith that do not have a relation with Fiqh e.g. book of interpretation of dreams, book of abstinence, and book of trials/fitan.

According to the famous Muhaddith of recent times Nasir Uddin Al Albani (died on 1420 Hijri), the book of Ibn Majah comprises 3503 authentic Ahadith and 948 weak Ahadith. Eminent Mufassir Allama Jalal Uddin Suyuti (died on 911 Hijri), who wrote a commentary on the entire Sunan Ibn Majah, narrated that there are around 39 fabricated Ahadith in the book of Ibn Majah.

There are differences of opinion among scholars of Hadith about the ranking of Ibn Majah as the sixth canonical book of Ahadith. Different scholars have mentioned different books of Ahadith for this sixth position like Al Muwatta of Imam Malik Ibn Anas (died on 179 Hijri), Al Musnad by Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (died on 241 Hijri), and Sunan by Imam At Darimi (died on 255 Hijri). However, the majority of scholars hold the view that the book of Ibn Majah should hold the sixth position due to the availability of the variety of Ahadith which were relied upon by the earlier Muhaddithun. This book contains around 1339 Ahadith which are not available in any other book of Sia Sittah.

Famous Hafiz Ibn Hazar Askalani (died on 852 Hijri), who was the author of Fath Al Bari (commentary of Sahih Bukhari), commented that “the book Sunan Ibn Majah is a very essential, ideal and wide-ranging book. The book, in one hand, contains numerous chapters and rare Ahadith and, on the other hand, it has many weak Ahadith”.  

The Imam passed away in the month of Ramadan of 273 Hijri at the age of 64. The Imam’s elder brother named Abu Bakr led the funeral prayer and the Imam’s son Abdullah along with his uncles took part in the burial. The famous poet of Imam’s hometown, Muḥammad Ibn Aswad Al-Qazwini, recounted the death of Ibn Majah as a great loss that shook the column of the throne of knowledge.


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